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Western Esotericism, Literature, Art, and Consciousness
SUNY series in
Western Esoteric Traditions
David Appelbaum, editor
Art. and Consciousness Arthur Versluis S t a t e U n i v e r s i t y o f N e w Yo r k P re s s .Restoring P a r a d i s e Western Esotericism. Literature.
Anne M. magnetic tape. Occultism—History. mechanical. literature. paper) 1. or otherwise without the prior permission in writing of the publisher. Series. No part of this book may be stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means including electronic. electrostatic. BF1411.Published by STATE UNIVERSITY OF NEW YORK PRESS. I. photocopying. NY 12207 Production. p. 1959– Restoring paradise : western esotericism. Laurie Searl Marketing. recording. Suite 700. II. Title. For information. 2.V47 135—dc22 2004 2004045292 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 . cm. Authur. Occultism in literature. 90 State Street. Albany. 3. art. Occultism in art. 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. and consciousness / Arthur Versluis. ISBN 0-7914-6139-4 (alk.—(SUNY series in Western esoteric traditions) Includes bibliographical references and index. address State University of New York Press. Valentine Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Versluis.
In memory of poet and scholar Kathleen Raine .
Contents Preface Acknowledgments Introduction: Initiatory Transmission and the Imagination What is Esoteric? Initiatory Transmission and Western Esotericism The Esoteric Imagination 1 Origins Alchemy of the Word The Field of the Imagination The Red Thread of Gnosis Conclusions 2 Historical Currents Divine Service: Chivalry and the Troubadours Books within Books: Jewish Kabbalism The Transfiguration of Earth: Alchemical Literature The Divine Science: Theosophic. Pansophic. Rosicrucian. and Masonic Literature ix xi 1 17 35 .
viii CONTENTS 3 Modern Implications Prospero’s Wand: Modern Esoteric Literature The Western Esoteric Traditions and Consciousness Literature. and Consciousness Notes Index 87 159 169 . Art.
O. At the very least. I also included references to Japanese Zen Buddhism and to the great Japanese philosopher Keiji Nishitani. literature. Soon it became clear that Restoring Paradise was to be a genuinely interdisciplinary argument whose subjects range across Western religious and literary history. V. traditions. but the work’s focus remains Western. I drew on a variety of both primary and secondary sources. Milosz. all the way from the early Christian era to twentieth-century poets and artists. wrote for a general audience across a range of fields rather than for specialists in one or more of the many periods. but as the book took shape. but in keeping with my original impetus. so did an unexpected thesis about initiation. Hence. and locales that play a role in supporting and amplifying the larger argument. This is the first extensive discussion of these authors together. In writing this book. and Cecil Collins. S.. and I hope that it will open the way to a new appreciation for each of them in this larger context. 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. I hope that Restoring Paradise will serve to introduce many readers to the richness of our common inheritance. Lewis. art. and consciousness itself. At the suggestion of an early reader. found where literature and religion meet in the works of such extraordinary figures as Charles Williams.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. H. figures. D. ix . C.
and to Studies in Spirituality. each of whom helped to make it a better work.). and to the editors of Gnostica 3. and “The Walls Do Not Fall” (excerpts) by Hilda Doolittle (H. de L. © 1945 by Oxford University Press. copyright renewed 1973 by Norman Holmes Pearson. xi .. 1994) and Meditations. to The Journal of Consciousness Studies. copyright renewed 1972 by Norman Holmes Pearson. Poems. in which earlier versions of parts of this book first appeared.D. including the adapted cover illustration. 1985). Mélanges offerts à Antoine Faivre (Louven: Peeters. from Trilogy. (Ipswich: Golgonooza. the estate of Cecil Collins and the Tate Gallery for citations and images.D. My thanks to New Directions Publishing for permission to quote from the works of the poet H. © 1944 by Oxford University Press. Milosz. “The Music of Dawn” from The Vision of the Fool and Other Works. (West Stockbridge: Lindisfarne. Many thanks also to the various readers and editors of this book during the course of its production. V. Pages from a Sketchbook (Ipswich: Golgonooza.Acknowledgments Grateful acknowledgments to Brian Keeble. from Trilogy. Used by permission of New Directions Publishing Corporation.). to Christopher Bamford and Lindisfarne Press for the citations from The Noble Traveller: The Life and Writings of O.D. 1997). 2001). in particular “Tribute to the Angels” (excerpts) by Hilda Doolittle (H.
and artistic traditions from antiquity to the present. literary. A wide range of new approaches to and reënvisionments of Western history. we will focus on a single theme: that of how spiritual initiation takes place in Western esoteric religious. and metaphysical or transcendent. requires that one consider the role that language plays in generating.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. are now appearing. 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. but also. however. how esotericism is transmitted in the West.2 In a model that I outline in two articles on method in the study of esotericism. and one that has ramifications in many directions. and these in turn may offer us new ways to understand both our past and our present in surprising ways. we must begin to go beyond historical research in order to understand not only who or what esoteric works.1 Here. not least of all for the understanding of art and literature. figures. even apophatic mysticism. provoking. As Steven Katz pointed out in Mysticism and Language (1992). or conveying spiritual experiences. or groups have been overlooked or marginalized. 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. and perhaps even more critically. religious. These are not. In this book. This is a vast and almost totally unexplored field. meaning experiential insight into the nature of the divine as manifested in the individual and in the cosmos. the study of mysticism. and otherwise. Yet for this to take place. artistic. I argue that esotericism has as its central characteristic gnosis.3 Gnosis may be divided into two broad categories: cosmological. mutually 1 .
and related currents of hidden knowledge in the European inheritance. do have certain characteristics in common. Christian theosophy. and although we will present a new way of understanding the phenomenon of Western esotericism in a contemporary light. this must be our primary focus. theosophy. Rosicrucianism. however. however disparate. examples of it include alchemy. we will focus primarily on Western esoteric traditions such as alchemy. Freemasonry. But because so little has been written on how Western esoteric traditions are transmitted. and social histories. The term Western esoteric traditions is broad. Metaphysical gnosis in its pure form is apophatic or via negativa mysticism like that of Meister Eckhart or Marguerite Porete. perhaps the most important of which is an emphasis on attaining spiritual knowledge. this has not been true until recently for the Western esoteric traditions. astrology. In particular. Western esoteric traditions have been denigrated or dismissed for centuries. Here. above all this is a book about knowing. 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. provoke. Although it seems that ours is a time when everything from the past is bound to come to light. Christian gnosis. magic. it can be described also as the transcendence of subject-object or self-other divisions. or convey spiritual awakening. but with occasional reference to what I see as in many respects an analogous Asian tradition—that of the Zen Buddhist koan. even if these also include metaphysical gnosis. To consider the pivotal role that language and image play in the transmission of esoteric spiritual traditions is not. Rather. to therefore reductionistically argue that these traditions represent nothing but linguistic constructions. or Hermeticism. Undoubtedly. for in order to create the modern world of machinery and science.2 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E exclusive but rather are complementary and overlapping. Yet these traditions. astrology. there has been much selective editing of our collective human inheritance. Cosmological gnosis is insight into the nature of the cosmos. Like the koan. including alchemy. In essence. but perhaps most edited of all were European currents of thought. the Western gnostic treatise uses words to provide an entry into dimensions of consciousness that transcend words. . Jewish Kabbalah. magic. and about how we come to know. and what ‘knowing’ by way of literature and language actually means. religious.4 The bias against esotericism derived in large part from the hegemony of rationalism and materialism. or mentioned only to be dismissed as merely outmoded relics. left out of literary. or gnosis. for although we will outline Western esotericism’s main currents here. of course. philosophical. that is what this book is about. But the time for such biases is past. on how initiation can take place in the absence of a direct historical lineage in the West. it was necessary for many people to abandon whatever did not fit a positivist paradigm. Not at all. mysticism. but necessarily so: it defines a vast range of traditions.
about reading as discovering esoteric knowledge of ourselves and of the cosmos. we find a definite prejudice in post-Christian societies against Christianity in general. our time resembles the early Christian era. and ways beyond the impasse at which we find ourselves today. when a panoply of religions. but in fact be discovering fundamental keys to understanding both the European esoteric inheritance. a single primary and overarching metaphor that we will be able to trace throughout the Western traditions in all their variety. This is without doubt the reason that there are so many new religious movements—combined with a widespread distrust and even ridicule of Christianity. an awareness that modern machinery for all its power impoverishes both outer and inner nature.INTRODUCTION 3 Why? For the first time in several hundred years. and cults existed side by side. At the same time on the religious front. and so a welter of new religious movements and groups has emerged. therefore. are fundamentally about reading: about reading nature. the Western esoteric traditions. and to understand their patterns and meaning. and particularly in the radical ecology movement. we find on the social front. many people have realized that despite all the material comforts made possible by our machinery. when we look at Western societies. Thus many have begun to cast about for ways to enrich their inner or spiritual lives. a metaphor that illuminates not only all the various disciplines and traditions. but even sheds light on the very nature of being human. in my view. despite their often almost bewildering variety. Chief among them is the growing conviction that positivism is bankrupt. To navigate one’s way through these movements. what their predecessors are. And underlying these is. nature. . proliferating wildly. we readily can see why the time is ripe for a reëvaluation of the Western esoteric traditions in light of our contemporary situation. the more we come to see certain underlying patterns. and there are many treasures to be found there. of course. about reading the stars. which increasingly in the West seems to intellectuals to be moribund except as a social phenomenon.5 But there are other reasons why an examination of the Western esoteric traditions might be especially apropos today. Given the present openness of many people to criticism of modernity. and to alternative forms of spirituality. their inner lives have become progressively more barren. sects. Yet beyond the pleasure of discovery we will find something else: for the more we study the field of Western esotericism. and continuity of the Western esoteric traditions. For as we will see. or as oppressive and as having spawned the destructiveness of modernity. it is more than useful to recognize whence they have emerged. In many respects. while at the same time we find reactionary fundamentalist Christian sectarianism that often only fuels others’ disdain for Christianity. By looking more closely at the origin. Thus. Western esotericism is. a vast field. we will not only be uncovering littleknown aspects of bygone days. which is often seen either as outdated.
also about union. the ‘I’ is recognized to be not stable but fluid.4 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E This theme of reading. is the nature of the ‘I’ and the ‘not-I’ in question. The word gnosis. or spiritual knowledge. 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. Why do we travel with Dante’s pilgrim through hell. yet this view of union is one that most and perhaps all literary readers and authors will intuitively recognize. minerals and stars. however. reading here guides one toward gnosis. Thus we can see that spiritual knowledge is of a different order than contemporary secular or scientific knowledge. in other words. but experience the marvel of living metaphor and rhythm for ourselves. but can be transmuted. of course. progressively realizing its fundamental identity with plants and animals.’ that is. If there are great writers. The ‘I’ need not remain at the mercy of its own selfishness. In every experience of literature. Reading here is defined in the broadest possible way. but in some sense leap the gap between ourselves and the author so as to actively participate in the writing. ‘Knowledge’ in contemporary usage is essentially ‘data. For the Western esoteric traditions approach such questions from a totally different view: for them. What is more. refers to spiritual knowledge. we enter into another’s world.’ Unexamined here. By contrast.’ itself a metaphor for our time. imaginatively enter into different lives. Likewise. we have developed machines that ‘read. and each requires the other. the accumulation of facts based in an apparently insurmountable division between self and other: ‘I’ accumulate facts about what is ‘not-I. we feel as someone else feels. reading in this context extends beyond ratiocinative knowledge limited to a split between the reading subject and the ‘object’ to be studied: instead. And when we read a great poem. so too there are great readers. we do not remain just a cataloguer of this or that remarkable confluence of words. and heaven. 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 will require much elaboration. is much deeper than it might at first appear. purgatory. it is at the heart of the Western literary continuum. but not necessarily knowledge in the sense in which we use the term today. as penetrating into the hidden mysteries of all that we see. but with consciousness itself. for it is grounded not in separation but in union. and thus there are no permanent divisions between ‘I’ and the cosmos. why do we travel with . we are not merely passive observers of a great aphorist. 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. Greek in origin. and ultimately with the divine. When we read a novel. The mystery of reading is. reading in the Western esoteric traditions has to do not merely with accumulating data. when we read the works of an Emerson.
in short to the full range of esoteric literature. we will see that literature (in the broadest sense of this word) is fundamentally about consciousness.” Although we will begin to unravel the intricacies of these mysteries of the word later. perhaps even experiencing hierophanxic moments of insight during which we suddenly see ourselves and the world around us in a new light. not about accumulating more information. that their authors did not take them seriously as alchemical or spiritual treatises.” 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. where we are from. Using the word literature in this way in no way implies that these works are ‘only’ literary—that is to say. what is the attraction of Melville’s Ishmael? These works. to intensely complex theosophic works such as those of Jacob Böhme. and where we are going. a supposition with a long history that goes back at least to Plato in his Phaedrus. but about qualitatively different ways of understanding who we are. we find that the written word is often seen not only as a means of transmitting spiritual understanding. drama. like so many others. Rather. We make connections. we travel ever more deeply into the worldview of the authors. As we look closer at the specific currents of Western esotericism. When I refer to literature “in the broadest sense of this word. What is more. we understand. 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. I am not arguing that such insights are identical to what one might experience when working in one of the Western esoteric traditions. but even as a vehicle for attaining spiritual understanding. but I am arguing that Western literature owes a very great deal indeed to the Western esoteric traditions. This is not to say that the written word is privileged over the oral tradition. 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. we will unveil various facets of what I believe are approaches to spirituality via literature that inform all of them. It is often commonly supposed that the written word is inherently inferior to the spoken or oral tradition. but neither is it to say that the written word is disparaged. Here “literature” refers also to alchemical treatises and to visionary narrations. and essays. The mysteries of the word represented in these various esoteric traditions are historical predecessors to and influences on what we now . and during the course of this book we will begin to unveil just how significant is this indebtedness. it will be useful to comment now on what is implied by this term.INTRODUCTION 5 Piers Ploughman among riddles and toward the apocalypse. and when we read them. it is to suggest that these works exist on a spectrum that also includes poetry. that at their heart the Western esoteric traditions are about reading the world’s and our own secrets. But when we begin looking at the Western esoteric traditions. are full of mysterious symbols and intricate encoded wordplays.
no longer quite so dismissive of perspectives. It is the very basis of industrialization to objectify every aspect of life. or reductive explanations or investigations would somehow. we may well say that Western esotericism represents the reverse or inverse of modernity. but for connection and union. Contemporary society is based on what we may call objectification. If the trajectory of modern society is toward a virtual reality for each individual. for in it we are seeking to unveil new and ancient ways of understanding not only the primal act of reading. one based not on division but on union. For objectification has permeated all of modern society. finally. and particularly literature. so pervasive is this objectification that it is extremely difficult to extricate oneself from this paradigm even if one wants to do so. everything. 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. most notably Western esoteric traditions. grounded in spirituality. quantitative. 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. Such objectification allows us to exploit and consume everything. including people.” and acknowledging them will require us to change the way we see literature as a whole. Those studying the humanities. the way we see the world. living divorced from humanity. and the divine. In this respect. have often turned more and more to quasiscientific approaches. indeed. the trajectory of the Western esoteric traditions is precisely the opposite: toward ever more profound knowledge of our unity with these realms. meaning that our investigations into and control of our world derives from our regarding all that surrounds us as objects to be manipulated. moving instead toward ever deeper understanding of how one is indivisible from these. or manipulation. and everything becomes a matter of techné. Thus this is in many respects a revolutionary book. who are reduced to machinelike functionaries.6 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E call “literature” or “literary tradition. it suffuses our language. that have not fit into a worldview emphasizing a self-aggrandizing self pitted against other—to emphasize instead a wholly different approach to knowledge. nature is reduced to “natural resources”. people most of all. Western esotericism in all its manifold forms has at its center the search not for manipulation or control deriving from objectification. as if catalogic. 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. And if at the beginning of the modern era there was a choice between these two . nature. we also have an opportunity to investigate the humanities with new eyes. from which we believe that we are separate. but also the even more primal act of knowing. By contrast. validate literature or the humanities in the face of scientism’s obvious and total victory.
works. But the question remains: how does one define esoteric in a satisfactory way? If one employs the largely cosmological characteristics proposed by Faivre. The reader. Indeed. crystals. that are intellectually influential and that are only now becoming more widely studied in universities. alone with an author.” In an effort to define the academic study of esoteric figures or groups and to separate it from popular definitions. In Western Europe. 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. W H AT I S E S O T E R I C ? The word esoteric is used today in a variety of ways. . however. But the fact remains that there are also figures.6 Subsequently. and so to maintain clarity. it may well be that out of this juncture will come a kind of cultural renaissance. But it is not particularly fruitful to speculate about social transformation in this field. alone communing with the alone through the medium of words—this is the figure that will govern our journey through Western esotericism. 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. one finds esoteric sometimes referring to an eclectic or syncretic collection of merchandise drawn from a wide range of cultures. perhaps symbolized best by the figure of someone reading an esoteric work from long ago. And in North America as well. so too that choice still exists today. fundamentally a marketing category for merchandise. And indeed.INTRODUCTION 7 ways. as we rediscover the Western esoteric traditions. and consciousness. particularly from the Renaissance and early modern periods. thus opening the field up to scholarship on contemporary as well as much earlier historical figures. and even from purportedly extraterrestrial origins. in the latter quarter of the twentieth century. literature. for Western esotericism entails individual awakening. we need to survey some of its meanings as well as to define it for our own purposes here. the academic study of esotericism is a developing field that may be succinctly and without derogation termed “esoteric studies. and so forth. and groups in Western European and North American history. esoteric popularly has become almost synonymous with New Age. particularly in light of their counterparts in the Asian esoteric traditions. 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. One finds under the rubric esoterik books on topics like pendulum dowsing.
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say, symbolic correspondences or “living nature.” It seems odd to exclude from one’s definition of esotericism authors such as Meister Eckhart or, to choose a twentieth-century example, Bernadette Roberts, when their work is clearly esoteric in the classic sense of being intended for a limited, elite audience “with ears to hear.” While one may indeed find ways to fit such via negativa gnostics into a schema of cosmological characteristics, it seems to me necessary to propose an elegant and simple definition of esoteric that will be useful for studying not only eighteenth-century Masonry or Rosicrucianism, but also the kinds of syncretic esotericism that one finds in the twenty-first century. Here, I use the word esoteric in a religious context to refer to individuals or groups whose works are self-understood as bearing hidden inner religious, cosmological, or metaphysical truths for a select audience. Such a definition can include alchemical, magical, Masonic, or gnostic groups or individuals, but in any case there is a separation between esoteric (from the Greek eso-, meaning “within” or “inner”) knowledge for a select audience and exoteric knowledge for the general populace. This definition includes the social-anthropologic sense of initiation as admission into a secret society, but extends it to include the full range of cultural works like those of literature and art, which may very well convey secrets hidden from the casual observer. It also includes the range of New Age or syncretic movements that emerged in the late twentieth century and that also claim access to hidden secrets of the cosmos. At the same time, this definition excludes the loose sense of esoteric as referring to the arcana of, say, computer functions or plumbing; it refers explicitly to knowledge of religious or cosmological mysteries.
I N I T I AT O R Y T R A N S M I S S I O N AND WESTERN ESOTERICISM In order to delve into the field of Western esotericism in relation to language and consciousness, we also will need to consider the nature of ‘initiation.’ This word carries a range of meanings, so we must begin by considering it. Literally, of course, the word means “beginning,” and this significance continues throughout its other meanings as well. The ‘initiate’ is one who has entered into a tradition or group. But beyond this, the word initiation takes on a variety of implications. In anthropology, the word generally is used for adolescents who undergo a tribal ritual and thereby enter into the community of adults. This is the sense in which the word is used by, for instance, Jean La Fontaine in Initiation, where he writes that the subject of his book is “rituals of initiation in the common sense of the term; that is, rituals of admission into secret societies . . . as well as those [rituals] which mark the passage between childhood and maturity.”7 But he hastens to add that initiation cannot be defined simply as ritual
admissions to groups, secret or not, because there are other elements generally involved. Among these are acquisition of powers through secret or special knowledge, and the crossing of a ritual boundary into special status defined by that knowledge. La Fontaine offers as examples of initiation several tribal groups and Freemasonry, and offers a largely sociological analysis of them. Yet there are other elements of initiation not dealt with in La Fontaine’s anthopological perspective that we must also consider. Mircea Eliade, in “Symbolism of the Initiatory Death,” draws our attention to initiation as a religious phenomenon, arguing that initiation entails a liquidation of one’s past and historical identity, and a reëntry into “an immaculate, open existence, untainted by Time.”8 Initiation, from a religious perspective, is a rebirth, a transition to a new or renewed mode of existence, a regeneration. This regeneration may take the form of transitional suffering in actuality, or it may entail symbolic suffering or entry into darkness and symbolic death, but in either case the initiate goes through a probationary period and then is born again into timelessness or immortality. This religious dimension of initiation is less commonly dealt with in contemporary social anthropology, but it is in fact closely tied with another aspect, that of lineage. Indeed, when we look at some religious traditions, we find that there is clearly an initiatory transmission of lineage carefully maintained. Examples of this can be found in Sufism, for instance, where the shaikh or master is the pupil of an earlier shaikh, whose line can thus be traced back historically to its founder as well as to the revelation of Muhammed. A similar concept of lineage can be found in Zen Buddhism, where in order to become a master or teacher, one must undergo considerable training, eventually receiving inka, or official recognition and entry into the historical lineage that goes back not only to the founder of that Zen lineage but to Shakyamuni Buddha himself. The concept here is that the historical lineage serves to convey the original and timeless spiritual insight of its originator; so the archaic symbolism of initiatory death and rebirth to which Eliade referred is transposed into the context of spiritual training, the verification and acknowledgement of the master, and entry into the company of the masters, at least for a few. Lineage, in other words, is historical transmission that can be traced from master to disciple who becomes master, who in turn has disciples, who in turn . . . Yet when we turn to Western European esoteric traditions, we find comparatively little of this pattern of historical transmission. The notable exception is Jewish Kabbalah, where there are in fact historical lineages of Kabbalistic masters; but when we turn to Christianity, or even to what may loosely be classified under Hermeticism (including alchemical and magical currents), we find somewhat less emphasis on such historical lines of transmission. And in fact the history of European Christianity reveals an unusual kind of bifurcation: on the one hand, we find a recurring tendency toward scriptural literalism and an
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emphasis on the importance of belief in doctrine that could be characterized as exoteric; while on the other hand, we find the recurrence of more esoteric tendencies, largely if by no means exclusively in heterodox movements or individuals. But the hostility of the more exoteric Christians toward those inclined to esoteric Christianity of various kinds (not to mention recurrent persecutions) has meant that the historical circumstances in Christianity mostly disallowed the kind of direct master-pupil-master-pupil historical esoteric transmission that we see in, for example, Zen Buddhism. In my book on Christian theosophy in the tradition of Jacob Böhme, Wisdom’s Children (1999), I proposed what I call “ahistorical continuity” to describe the kind of continuity one finds between, for instance, Valentinean Gnosticism in antiquity and the theosophy of Jacob Böhme in the seventeenth or eighteenth centuries without any historical lineage connecting them. Like Ioan Culianu, I propose that there are certain esoteric characteristics implicit in a religious tradition, and that although they may be latent for some centuries, someone like Böhme rediscovers or reawakens them in light of his own creative spirit. Examples of these characteristics include an emphasis on Wisdom or Sophia as the divine feminine; the hebdomad as a cosmological principle; the demiurge or spiritus mundi as an opposition to spiritual awakening, and others. Thus there are numerous clear parallels between Valentinean Gnosticism and Böhmean theosophy, but Böhme did not derive his thought from the former; he is, rather, an example of an ahistorical continuity.9 But the concept of ahistorical continuity is descriptive, not explanatory, and the question still arises of how initiatory traditions are transmitted in the West in the absence of continuous historic lineages and in an often hostile, persecutory ambience when it is not, as in the case of Böhme, a matter of a spiritual genius creating or recreating an entire gnostic tradition. Where does an isolated alchemist learn to become a master alchemist? The answer, in brief, is through encoded or symbolic literature and art. In essence, that is what this book is about; it is an in-depth examination of how initiation can take place through the written word or image. For although there are certainly some initiatory lineages in the conventional sense, these are more exceptions than commonplace, and the written word or image is in fact the primary means of initiatory transmission in the West. This is so even when there is an alchemical master-pupil relationship, for the alchemical secrets are still conveyed via enigmatic literature and image and the master aids in unveiling them. There is, of course, a clear Asian analogy for this transmission that takes place in part through the written word or through images: the koan tradition in Soto and Rinzai Zen Buddhism. The koan tradition, its history and applications, is considerably more than we can deal with here, but it is worth our while nonetheless to at least develop it as a reference point. As is well known, the koan is usually defined in the West as a clever paradox designed to be in-
there is no Zen enlightenment beyond thought and language in a realm of pure consciousness. and recent scholarship confirms that the koan traditions in Zen Buddhism are far more sophisticated than popular depictions of them might have it. then it is a breakthrough not out of. through language and image. but this is by no means to say that therefore there is no such thing as nonconceptual or transcendent knowledge unmediated by language or image. Instead of blaming thought and language for defiling a primordial consciousness. however. 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. one should recognize that only in thought and language can enlightenment be realized. From this viewpoint.10 Hori goes on to make the following final point. Dogen (1200–1253) heaped scorn on the idea of koan as irrational. in his Shobogenzo. not beyond it. Hori concludes: “Just as there is no free flying above the reach of gravity. but into conventional consciousness . we may have thought that freedom lay in ascent beyond gravity.INTRODUCTION 11 soluble by the rational mind and to propel the practitioner toward kensho (insight) or satori (awakening). The pupil is confronted with a koan by the master. The depiction of the koan tradition as irrational has long been criticized. This is fundamentally a Rousseauian notion of the individual as originally pure but polluted by society and language. but once we escaped the earth’s gravitational field. we discovered that we float helpless and uncontrolled without gravity. kensho is the realization of nonduality within ordinary conventional experience. and then moves to another koan in a more or less standardized series. If kensho is to be described as a breakthrough. Esoteric knowledge is expressed through literature and art.” Victor Sogen Hori argues that it is mistaken to hold that koans are a means for ascending out of thought and language into a state of pure consciousness. 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. In a provocative article entitled “Koan and Kensho in the Rinzai Zen Curriculum. Freedom in fact lies in gravity. eventually solves it with a spiritual realization. . It has become more or less commonplace for specialists in . At one time. Hori insists instead on what he terms a “realizational” model of understanding Zen koans. I believe. If kensho is the realization of nonduality. but also as regards Western esoteric traditions. In the context of the Rinzai koan curriculum. . a profoundly important point not only insofar as Zen Buddhist koan study is concerned. kensho is not a state of noncognitive consciousness awaiting the monk on the other side of the limits of rationality.”11 This is. then it itself cannot be separate and distinct from ordinary dualistic experience.
is the pervasive lack of initiatory lineages and thus of the immediate reproof or approval of a living teacher. but what is the nature of the images perceived by the imaginative faculty? Are images merely phantasms of one’s own mind. But that is not at all what I am arguing here—far from it. This role may be seen in some respects as analogous to that of the Zen Buddhist koan. I am arguing that in the West.12 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E ‘mysticism’ to attempt to legislate mystical or gnostic knowledge out of existence by claiming that the gnostic is merely entering or deploying another form of conceptual language. and the work of the practitioner is to enter into and realize for himself the truths that it contains. The same is true of the alchemical or gnostic treatise: the neophyte must work with and through it. an alchemical treatise stands as an enigmatic representation of a transmutative process. 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. In the absence of a well-recognized line of historical masters. as means of initiation. as I will propose here. or are they manifestations of some other reality beyond oneself? Or. until he has penetrated to its authentic meaning. has no one capable of discerning a right understanding from a wrong one. What makes Western esotericism different above all. frustrating though this may be. T H E E S O T E R I C I M A G I N AT I O N The word imagination of course derives from image. particularly those that clearly are esoteric in nature. the weight of initiatory transmission is transposed to literary and artistic works. I believe. Rather. esoteric literature and art can function rather like the koan in Zen Buddhism. Like the koan. literature and art play a very special kind of initiatory role. and thus also to the individual. But in fact we know from our own experience as readers that literature is a means by which we participate in an intermediate world or mesocosm created by an author. If we believe that the imagination is more or less exclusively individualistic. 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. The koan derives its name from a judicial term. then we cannot really speak of literature or the arts as being the vehicle of an initiatory or transmutative process. the implication being that there is no such thing as gnosis. for that matter. nor to say that there are no examples of initiatory lineages at all like those of Zen Buddhism. as in individual daydreams. and that this is in fact the primary means of initiatory transmission in the West—through word and image. I am arguing that in Western esoteric traditions. Rather. By . This is not to say that the West had or.
not all literature or art is esoteric or initiatory. but intended as a guide for the individual practitioner. One has to enter into and dwell in the imaginative realm the creator generates (or reveals) through the work. The reader or audience does not travel outwardly but inwardly. literature demands an audience who participates in creating the characters. using the term in a broad sense to mean the reader’s or audience’s openness to the esoteric work. an initiatory process that takes place through words and image. A literary or artistic work is esoteric not only when it conveys certain hidden meanings to an audience. and those who enter into it do so in order to undergo the process that it embodies. Imaginative participation is fundamental to art.12 As a result. This is the spirit in which an esoteric work is created and read or experienced. the images. in other words. and doing so is an initiatory process through which the reader or audience develops cosmological or metaphysical insights. this very perspective would make it impossible from the outset to . This work is circumscribed. We might even go so far as to suggest that an expressed or implied intent on the part of an esoteric work’s creator is a defining characteristic of such works: it forms a kind of ritual initiatory boundary. it is clear from its beginning that John Pordage’s “Letter on the Philosophic Stone” (ca. Obviously. Pordage’s letter is not accidentally or unconsciously esoteric—it is quite deliberately so. but also and even more because it entails a mutual intent on the part of the creator and the work’s audience. the action by the act of reading or viewing. it is for the few.” an entry into and residence in a visionary realm hidden from ratiocinative knowledge. Esoteric works draw upon this fundamental participation or sharing between the creator and the audience in order to entice. Although we could describe an esoteric work as a journey or the account of a journey. and employs parabolic language and images to that end. Imagination. What differentiates the esoteric work from others is the evident intent of the author that the work is esoteric and initiatory. if one were to attempt to read John Pordage’s treatise Sophia as symptomatic of delusions on his part. For example. toward perceiving the world in a fundamentally new way. even though all calls for imaginative participation on the part of the reader or audience. this would be in fact metaphoric for a process of transmutation. and hence the metaphoric journey might better be termed a “sojourn. guide. or provoke the reader toward a gnostic shift in consciousness. For instance. it is not for a general readership. literary or otherwise.INTRODUCTION 13 its very nature. This process takes place through the imaginative faculty. 1675) is intended for a reader who has passed a certain milestone in alchemical practice and now seeks further guidance. one cannot read esoteric works in the same way that one reads or perceives exoteric art without doing them an injustice. 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.
analogous to that of the Zen student who seeks an objectified. thus sealing it off from oneself as merely an object to be manipulated by the intellect and revealing oneself as a closed reader. But there is a third perspective. 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. not one’s own.” The gnostic. This leads us inevitably to the question with which we began. which is what I am proposing here. Pordage writes that in the Sophianic process of imaginative vision. This does not mean that one jettisons reason and becomes a ‘true believer. Yet if we answer “yes. in other words. 2. but here a new magical earth is brought . When one reads an esoteric work like John Pordage’s treatise on Sophia. Sophia (divine Wisdom) herself tells him (the gnostic) that “I am come to make in you yourself this new invisible creation. Sympathetic readers. and nothing less.” but this would be a purely exoteric answer that objectified the esoteric work of literature or art. graspable solution to a koan. From a contemporary rationalist perspective one might answer “no. For one does not have to conceive of imagination as a purely individual generative capacity. to understand them.” we may well then be positing the realm of the imagination itself as something objectified that exists outside oneself. This is a pervasive problem today because literary theoretical conventions tend to be hostile toward the very imaginative sympathy without which the reader is divorced from the work and cannot enter it but can only analyze it from without. inwardly in you and not constructed outside you. 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. who enter into a work imaginatively. and 3.14 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E enter into the work and imaginatively undergo the process of awakening to the hidden realm that he is describing. Closed readers—those who come to a work with predetermined theses that disallow their imaginative entry. a process explicitly closed to the exoteric reader. imagination could also be seen as a faculty of perception and transmutation. We can thus posit three kinds of readers of esoteric works: 1. one must enter into them openly and on their own terms. who see the work as mirroring a process that they seek to undergo in themselves. Initiates. of whether that which is imagined or revealed in an esoteric work possesses any existence of its own.’ only that one has to make the effort to understand an esoteric work as much as possible sympathetically from an imaginative entry into its realm. and this too presents problems. has awakened in him by divine Wisdom the creative power that brings external existence into being. one is in fact entering imaginatively into the process Pordage is describing.
INTRODUCTION 15 into being in him out of the Ungrund. taking place in a continuum in which divine power works and in which the reader or audience can participate vicariously at least. This process belongs neither solely to the individual gnostic nor solely to an outside power. if those images and that gnostic process are then also manifested in a work of art. then that work also belongs to this continuum and guides others into the same process of imaginative awakening. At work is a spontaneous inner generation of images for the gnostic. but rather a matter of perceiving (being open to) an inner creative process.13 This new paradisal earth is in the gnostic. This. is an initiatory process manifested through literature and art. In other words. since in either case there would be no co-creator or perceiver. . 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. and to the audience or initiate who vicariously participates in or witnesses the work and so has awakened the possibilities that the work represents. and in that work projecting a mesocosmic creative realm in which we can recognize aspects of ourselves anew. what the gnostic imagination perceives is what the creative power of Wisdom within it creates. This continuum is what makes possible not only Pordage’s gnostic experience of inner creation and a visionary paradisal earth. but these images exist in a mesocosmic realm between the gnostic and the divine. What is more. in sum. It is not so much a matter of visualization by an individual. then. 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. Thus imagination belongs neither to oneself nor to divine power alone. The paradisal earth that Sophia creates is not external to the gnostic. one can extend this analogically to all creative efforts. but neither is it wholly internal as a creation of the gnostic. but also the co-experience of the reader who participates in this process by reading the treatise. to the divine power within that creates. they represent divine manifestation in the gnostic faculty of imagination so that the gnostic can perceive and be guided toward what they represent and. The realm of the imagination. it is generated through the creative power of Sophia and perceived through the gnostic imagination. 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. Imagination takes place in a continuum of co-creation belonging to the gnostic who perceives. but resides in a continuum between the two. is by its very nature one of co-creation.
we are not so concerned with surveying the entirety of this period—a monumental task best left to others— but with the defining themes that will emerge again and again in later times. we must begin in antiquity. of whose life we know through the historical documentation of the gospels. the Book of Revelation. Christianity based on faith or belief in a historical Christ. And to find these themes. Here we have the fundamental division that has lasted throughout the subsequent history of Western esotericism: on the one hand. however. Although many aspects of what actually happened during this time may always be shrouded or lost. and resurrection. one characteristic appears prevalent above all others: the emphasis upon the written word. is profoundly different. Here. what we may call a 17 . From relatively early on. and. death. bolstered to some extent by apocrypha. needless to say. One is of course what we find in the canonical versions of the Bible. This. Christianity was centered around written accounts that took two primary forms. The other kind of writing.1 Origins ALCHEMY OF THE WORD To understand the origins of Western esotericism in all its various guises. beginning with the ambience for and emergence of the Christian Bible and affiliated works. still we can trace through this era the origin of the primary elements or currents in Western esotericism. and of this there are only two examples in the canonical Bible: some elements of the Book of John. remains central to what may be called conventional or exoteric Christianity—that is. we will look at representative or synecdochic writings. central to which are the gospel accounts of Christ’s life. When we look at the emergence of Christianity from the welter of religious traditions at the time. specifically at the beginning of Christianity.
the development of Buddhism. gnostic Christians continued to generate revelatory scriptural works because in their view. the Word was not literal but spiritual. which resembles Gnosticism far more than historicist Christianity: here. and on the other. 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. Such an approach to language is particularly common in modern times. symbolic.18 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E historicist emphasis. the very word mystery has the root meaning “silence. and indeed. as throughout world religious traditions. literal. on the other hand. both esoteric and exoteric tendencies center on how to interpret written language: should it be multilayered or monotonous. or historical. Some of the Church Fathers were in fact clearly esotericists and gnostics—the most prominent being Origen and Clement of Alexandria. and insisted on an objectified historical Christ in whom one must have faith in order to be saved. Consider. revelatory emphasis. where the idea that language might convey multiple layers of meaning has been almost completely jettisoned in favor of objectified technical language. What mattered to them was inward or esoteric understanding. Whereas the historicist Christians established a fixed canon of Biblical books that ended with the Revelation to John. the most moving and extensive undoubtedly being that in Apuleius’s The Golden Ass. The Johannine elements in Christianity owe a great deal to the various movements collectively known as Gnosticism in antiquity. legal. multilayered approaches. of course. we can see how anomalous it is. many modern people unwittingly inherit these tendencies still. and anti-mythic? This was the battle.” And written accounts of the mystery traditions are very rare. and mythic. be characterized according to people’s approach to language. and hence revelation could take place today just as in antiquity. that one can easily list them. The gnostics. not only outward fidelity to fixed written words from the past. for instance. When we consider the emergence of historicist Christianity in light of world religious traditions. Historicist Christianity has always taken a literal interpretation of the Bible. in this respect being peculiar to Christianity. an ahistorical. for on a worldwide scale ahistorical religious traditions predominate. individual spiritual revelation is incalculably more important than simple belief in a historical series of events. should it be ahistorical. Of course. By contrast. Plato alluded to this question in Phaedrus. This division between exoteric and esoteric can. Perhaps most interesting about this dichotomy is how it centers around approaches to written language. to make this dichotomy so clear-cut is to distort what was and remains a spectrum. and represent a central reference point for the subsequent reemergence of esotericism time and again. by and large eschewed literalist views of language in favor of more complicated. be it scientific. so rare—in fact. . In Christianity. the mystery religions of the time forbade writing about the mysteries: indeed. or technological.
and whose primary emphasis was on morality. true pronunciation. the seeds of all things. Who was rejected as heretical. in turn allied with similar numericalalphabetical mysticism involving the angels. who are worthy of it. but of communication. 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. or sacred Names of God: by vibrating the names of God in the permutations of the sacred letters and by knowing their proper. for in it we find the predecessors of all the later Western esoteric traditions. corresponding in some respects to the Platonic archetypes.” There have been many gnostics since who have also insisted that they remain orthodox. some Gnostic groups laid great emphasis on the inner meanings of language. and who will not use its power for selfish purposes. Such doctrines of the hidden names of God. asceticism. chiefly vowels. often seems more like an accident of history than an inevitability. that is. one is in touch with inconceivable power. but for a person to experience an organizing principle of creation itself. We may recall the first line of the Book of John: “In the beginning was the Word. and in fact close scrutiny of this time suggests that Jewish and Christian esotericisms are so intermingled as to be virtually inseparable. and who else was accepted as orthodox. In general. This use of language is fundamentally different from what we ordinarily expect: whereas usual comunication is horizontal. But there remains a spectrum in antiquity nonetheless. and it is the esoteric side of it that interests us here. For instance. a means not for one equal to convey information to another. however much their literalist opponents think differently. but make a great deal more sense when one considers that language in this context is not merely a matter of transferring data. in some of the Gnostic treatises of the Nag Hammadi library. but such an approach is not for everyone. and communion. are prevalent in Jewish esotericism during precisely the same time that Christian Gnosticism was flourishing.” or “In the beginning was the Logos.” “Logos” here refers to that which precedes and transcends manifestation. there were some gnostics who were not far from historicist Christianity. here it is vertical. it is reserved for those who are capable of it. and were reputed to use certain letters as intonations similar to mantras in Hinduism and Buddhism. Their repetition and intonation of certain letter combinations were ridiculed by literally minded Christians. We find a similar approach to language visible in Jewish esotericism in the doctrine of the Shemhamphorash. Likewise. of communing with the power that the letters correspond to.ORIGINS 19 who insisted that there was an orthodox gnosis and that it is the “crown of faith. Scholem remarks that Merkabah mysticism of the third and fourth centuries drew upon Greek language. And we in fact find such strings of apparently nonsensical letters. It is particularly useful to consider Gnostic spiritual traditions in light of what we have said regarding language. just . and spiritual illumination.
and even if monotheism often turns toward a fundamentalist literalism. its purpose is to restore the individual to a paradisal or transcendent state.2 Both the gnosis of the word and the gnosis of the image are extensions of the monotheism of the book. such images represent divine aspects. and its aim is twofold at least: microcosmically. then. are a means to creation’s redemption. are means in this process of individual and cosmic redemption—and so too are images. but if the letters were properly restored. and so we find numerous images from antiquity like lion-headed serpents. basilisks. through images. thereby making this conflict inevitable. 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 to which we may refer as a gnosis of the word. and so forth. all of which is entirely accepted within the orthodox tradition. 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. Both Jewish and Christian gnostic esoteric groups tended to think and express themselves mythologically. We may remember the four animals that symbolize the four Gospels. This gnosis of the word represents a ‘fixing’ of the mysteries. Such images are often found on amulets or talismans and are generally regarded as being ‘magical’ elements in Gnosticism. The letters. But monotheism is a rubric under which all manner of possibilities exist. and contain within them the seeds of the perennial struggle in all three forms of monotheism between those who take the word literally and those who advocate gnosis. and so forth.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 in fact are by no means absent from the larger Christian tradition. as does the creation of images. and in this regard man may be said to complete the work of God by being co-creator or co-redemptor. so the letters were altered. and macrocosmically. 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. 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.20 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E as Greek Christian mysticism drew upon Hebrew or Aramaic terms. But given the gnosis of the word that we have been discussing. Both word and image reveal and ‘fix’ the divine. as principles of creation itself. it is to restore the cosmos itself to its paradisal condition. Letters and numbers. paradoxically conveyed often through . 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. inconceivable power would be set loose.
” the “voice of the Light.” (X.” the being. in the first centuries of this era. and probably bear a relation to it similar to that between Plato and the mysteries. tells him. “I know what you wish. “for I am with you everywhere. One has the complex body of multiple traditions known as the mysteries. and this is especially evident in Phaedrus and Timaeus. they represent a collection of treatises that bear in common a set of themes and teachings sharing many similarities with gnosticism. But the Hermetica are not Christian or Jewish. Plato’s writing represents a setting down or fixing. in symbols and myths. which were also about death and resurrection. 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. As Hermes himself says in one of the dialogues. What marks the Hermetica most clearly despite the treatises’ diversity is their intimacy: the revelations are always one to one. and to his indebtedness to the mystery traditions. for the bodily senses fall away and he encounters a vast and magnificent being that proceeds to unveil to him the mysteries of existence. The most famous of the Hermetic dialogues is the Poimandres. “there is communion between soul and soul. of the mysteries tradition. but also in the Republic in his Myth of Er the Pamphylian.” when he reaches rest and joy (I. We have already alluded to Plato’s expressed distrust of writing.” but not like an ordinary sleep. number. nor for that matter are they exclusively Platonic. Poimandres.” And the revelations have much in common with Gnosticism. as when the path of one who died is traced through the spheres of the planets until the “eighth. while belonging to none (though they remain closest to Platonism). is self-evident. who died and came back to life in order to tell people what happens after death. These revelations at points have much in common with Christianity.” or ogdoad—going beyond the cosmos into transcendence. and one has an individual author drawing upon this in creative ways. Hermetism is about direct individual spiritual revelations. This corresponds closely with some Gnostic and Mandean texts which emphasize reaching the “eighth sphere. but share elements in common with all three. out of which emerges a “holy Word. We find a very similar approach to spiritual tradition in the body of writings known as the Corpus Hermeticum. particularly in the conveying of spiritual truth. but it also represents Plato’s own version of the mysteries. There is no one author of the Hermetica. as when the narrator sees a boundless and joyous light.25). which begins with the narrator falling into “a sleep. presented in the form of dialogues. which date to roughly the same time that Gnosticism was flourishing. In at least some respects.22b) . letter. The Hermetica themselves refer to Egyptian tradition. And they represent the writing down of an oral tradition.ORIGINS 21 the permutations of word.” From the very beginning.
Indeed. mercurial quality to it. not quite belonging to the sphere of religion. 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. and it is this that represents the red thread that will guide us through the labyrinths of the centuries. Platonism. Such a relationship goes beyond simply that of participants in a dialogue like Plato’s. and writings that reveal a great many similarities. It is. as there was to many of the movements of antiquity. the more one studies the emergence of esotericism in the early centuries of this era. no accident that so many of the Western esoteric traditions link themselves to the Hermetica. There are five primary currents in antiquity that feed into what we may call the Western esoteric traditions: Jewish esotericism. the more one recognizes the fluidity of the various traditions’ boundaries.” “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. what we find is something quite different. and is generally associated with the more or less random play of images. Like Hermes himself. willing to draw upon one or sometimes any of them. It is true that the language is sometimes Platonic. yet not strictly philosophical either. and there is a witness to the revelation. and are between one who embodies knowledge and one who seeks to embody it. the mystery traditions. but insisting above all on one’s own direct spiritual understanding or gnosis. and together provided a common ambience out of which emerged a panoply of sects. Hermetism reveals the ground occupied by Western esoteric traditions throughout the past several thousand years. 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. and . traditions. or direct knowledge of the divine.22 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E There is an initiator or revealer. they certainly intermingled. which Henry Corbin called the “active imagination. and depicting direct spiritual illumination of the initiate. always there is a fluid. Christian esotericism. The most important of these is the insistence upon gnosis. then. But such a term suggests that imagination is otherwise passive. But these currents themselves are not discrete from one another. here the dialogues often take place in an interworld of revelation. Occupying an intermediate space between religion and philosophy. precariously balanced on the periphery of religious traditions. when we survey the Western esoteric traditions. and Hermetism. Hermetism refuses to be pinned down or definitively discussed. it is clear that the Hermetic treatises occupy a peculiar place. For from what we have said.
But in order to understand the nature of this field of imagination. in this respect it does not appear to have an end: it is as though. a door was opened in heaven. there is no conclusion to the visionary sequence: we are never told that John returned to ordinary consciousness. when he weeps. of course. the Revelation definitely has a literary form as well.” the book concludes with the admonitions of Christ himself. quite well known. he sees the twenty-four elders. questions. Although the vision has a beginning. and the first voice which I heard was as it were of a trumpet talking with me . in other words. in the fourth chapter. where John meets. several other elements of the Book of Revelation have remained particularly important in subsequent . And immediately I was in the spirit. Then. Above all. and introduces the experience with virtually no biography whatever. and behold. The revelation of John takes place in an interworld. and the auditory part of the vision began.ORIGINS 23 I do not believe this to be true. a little book sweet as honey. Thereafter came a series of specific messages to the individual churches. and is questioned by the angels or divine powers. when he eats the book. saw and heard these things. It begins with some introductory remarks and salutations to the seven churches. and visionary experience all emerge on a spectrum in the field of imagination. 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. off the Greek coast. and one sat on the throne. It is true that the Book of Revelation recounts a visionary experience of John while he was exiled on the island of Patmos. mythology. However. John does not entirely return from it except to say “I. once introduced to this sequence. a mesocosm. but take place in their own time. . beginning with the Revelation to John. an angel gives him a rod by which he is to measure the temple of God and those that worship therein. John.” These remarks begin the actual visionary sequence. The visionary sequence in the Book of Revelation is. His is not a passive vision in which events only happen before him: in the fifth chapter. after which come the most prophetic and well known parts of the revelation. different kinds of time simultaneously here: there is the duration of the vision. Rather. an elder tells him to weep not. and does eat. he is told to eat. There are. and numerous striking images including the beasts with eyes before and behind them. and only then. turned. and behold. came the following: “After this I looked. and there is relatively little point here in elaborating its intricate numerical and visual symbolism. we will begin by looking at visionary experiences during the first few centuries of the present era. and he interacts with them. or field of the imagination. and there is historical time spread out and glimpsed in symbols. and where the earthly past. apparently visionary time. present. a throne was set in heaven. I believe that literature. At one point. only John’s remark that he heard a great voice. and in the tenth chapter. . In addition to its being a direct spiritual experience. Yet interestingly. there is the fact that it is a direct individual revelation: John sees and hears Christ himself. and future are visible.
In the tenth chapter. of course. 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). The Revelation. the way we see the cosmos itself changes. twelves.9). especially in the Book of Life wherein is written the names of those who belong to the Lamb (13. angels. and although the word eidolon early in the modern era . and one hundred forty-fours. we are eating his little book—we belong to a direct lineage or current. of letters and numbers revealing the secret powers of the divine. symbolizing his union with the esoteric center of spiritual life. all remind us of the prior traditions. and Hermetism. revealing the hidden forces beyond history and what happens to all humanity. and finds it bitter in his belly. The word eidetikos in Greek refers to a particular kind of knowledge associated with shape or form.12). and more than one group has seen itself as living during the end times. a gnostic encounter with elders.” as well as the repetition of geometric and numerical symbolism such as the sevens. The Revelation of John has an oneiric quality. John is given a little book to eat. of course.24 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Western esotericism. found in Judaism. is the prophetic element: more than one group has identified itself with the “woman in the wilderness” in the twelfth chapter. and are in a sense initiates. By reading the Book of Revelation that John subsequently writes after eating the little book.” during these the end times. John is united with its knowledge. One. the Book of Revelation of St. Another such element is the number and letter symbolism. but sweet as honey on his lips. we will recall. becoming symbolically charged. John eats the little book: it becomes part of him. the most symbolically resonant image of all is that of the book. And it has immense power for this reason: by entering into its world of references. possesses a special luminosity of symbolism that we may call “hieroeidetic. Additionally. there are “other books. in other words. After the various accounts of Christ’s life and death in the Gospels. And then there is.13).” which are opened during the Last Judgment in order to see the lives of those being judged (20. the very book that we are reading. we suddenly are given in the Revelation this overwhelming and astonishing visionary sequence that brings us completely outside the sphere of mundane human life. Every aspect of life is altered. Christian Gnosticism. these elements lend themselves very much to an esoteric interpretation: the symbols and numbers represent a secret knowledge known by the few symbolically designated as the “woman in the wilderness. John himself—for he is told to write by a voice from heaven (14. and by eating the book. The entire revelation is an unveiling of gnosis. it is like a collective dream in which we participate simply by reading. Christ’s repeated assertion that “I am the Alpha and the Omega. Taken together. and Christ whose symbolic heart is the written word. which has inspired countless commentaries or explanations.” symbolism charged with initiatory knowledge. which he does. This image is amplified by the presence of book imagery throughout the entire work. But for our purposes.
and is so thoroughly literary or bibliocentric in its essential symbols.ORIGINS 25 came to mean “phantom” or “apparition” without substance. or at the theosophic current that in turn manifests in Rosicrucianism. in all of these we find parallels to the Revelation. and images revealing the hidden nature and destiny of humanity. When we look at the various currents of the Western esoteric traditions. This meeting of above and below is also symbolized in the heavenly city of Jerusalem. but also esoteric in the fact that it takes place in this visionary field. The Book of Revelation is filled with hieretic. at the mystical tradition. Hieroeidetic knowledge is the visionary revelation of the unifying principles and powers informing the entire cosmic realm. in fact the word eidetic also often refers to a particularly luminous and vivid imagery found among young children and in dreams. Yet because it became canonical. but among numerous other revelations from the same era. and because of its mysterious and powerful imagery. a hearer. Whether one looks at the alchemical tradition and its symbolism. and some of which are found in the Nag Hammadi library of Gnostic writings. hieroeidetic knowledge is prior to and preparatory for gnosis. Hieroeidetic knowledge is not in itself gnosis—that is. and so it is charged with cosmological revelations. the Revelation does not stand alone. and of James and of Adam. for it exists at the meeting point of the transcendent and the immanent. seen by a seer. where we see the order of the transcendent manifesting itself in vivid. and what is heard. hidden knowledge that comes mediated in the field of the imagination through forms. profoundly symbolic numbers. Rather. This is not to say that the Western esoteric traditions all find their origin in Revelation. it is an image. words. Of course. all of which belong to the apocrypha. including the two books of Enoch. 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 . but rather that the Book of Revelation is paradigmatic. At the same time. The Revelation is unquestionably esoteric in its plethora of symbolism. and they remain separate even while meeting in this charged field of imagery. at the Kabbalistic tradition. But such knowledge remains partly in the realm of division or objectification: there is a revelatory encounter between John and all the angelic figures of the vision. we find that they correspond in striking ways to what we have seen delineated here in the Book of Revelation. the Ascension of Isaiah. hieroeidetic knowledge exists in the field of knower and known. and the Apocalypses of Peter and of Paul. and what is seen. it is not the spiritual revelation of union or unity. and as such takes place in the field of imagination midway between the mundane and the transcendent: there is a seer. where an encounter may take place. splendid earthly form: but again. with its emphasis on writing and encoded language. the Book of Revelation has had a far greater impact than all of these other visionary works combined. the Apocalypses of Baruch and Ezra.
reading about another’s vision may inspire one to experience a vision of one’s own. the act of reading gives birth to the act of writing. For just as one may consider a work as charged as the book of Revelation from outside. and an esoteric approach is to see it as paradigmatic and inspiring of one’s own revelation. And so we are drawn inexorably back to the nature of the book itself and the act of reading. There are numerous ways one can approach a work as extravagant in symbolism. ranging from external to internal. and reading is uniquely suited to create inward participation because in reading our habitual boundaries between self and other can disappear. often in a simple story. In other words. who found himself in the Minotaur’s labyrinth. how hieroeidetic a work is. is a particularly intense form of this inner participation or identification and union. There is an element of danger inherent in such proximity—those who come too close to the gods or angels may go mad or blind. we are drawn toward it. fascinated by its mysterious beauty. 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. THE RED THREAD OF GNOSIS A myth conveys. to the transcendent. a more intermediate or mesoteric approach is to see it as prophetic and revealing truths about our own world and lives.26 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Christianity itself. it is certainly not the only one. the literature of the Western esoteric traditions. What is it that makes a work hieroeidetically charged? Proximity to the invisible. Esoteric bears the meaning of ‘inward. or from exoteric to esoteric. without relevance to oneself. We return to the field of the imagination because this is where we come to know what it means to be alive. to make it one’s own. possesses a psychic or symbolic charge that allures us. or put better. and who was able to escape only through the help of King Minos’s own daugh- .’ of participation. But all literature takes place in the charged field of the imagination: it is simply a matter of how charged. The most external or exoteric is to regard it as an object of study. Esoteric literature. objectifying it. we return again and again over the centuries because we recognize in this mystery something more alive. far more than may at first appear. we can enter into a new world of symbols and meaning. has a certain value here: a symbol or image. for although the Revelation is the most well known. The analogy of electricity. as wild as the book of Revelation. And though we risk being burned. and exists more for entertainment. a constellation of letters and numbers. more vital than the mundane world of consumerism and the humdrum tedium of life without the invisible. Some literature is not so charged or hieroeidetic. We can identify with fictional or poetic characters. more electric. of being charged. So it is with the story of Theseus.
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
” “in the aeon the form of the union is different. This is the realm sometimes glimpsed in literature. This linguistic mysticism was represented in Gnostic practice by a secret initiation that consisted in the whispering of holy words of power into the ear of one who had been tested. and the entire name had thirty letters. it is the realm of living ideas or energies. just as there was in Jewish Merkabah mysticism and in the Pythagorean-Platonic tradition. we find plays on naming and namelessness. so that ultimately the “enormous sea” produced by a single letter is in fact infinite. From these observations we can begin to see something of the hidden significances of the mysticism of the word and the book. which is of a totally different order. words. although we refer to them by the same names. apparent boundaries between subject and object dissolve. so to penetrate into the deepest mysteries of human language is to penetrate into the metalanguage that gives birth to the cosmos itself. 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. As we ‘read’ these images. All of this suggests that there was in Christian Gnosticism.30 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E sound that in turn manifests others. toward transcendent degrees of consciousness of ever greater communion between subject and object. and numbers emerge in. we become intimate with them. the path from ordinary rational consciousness divided into subject and object.” One must “receive the light” in the “bridal chamber” before death. The gnostic visionary path is not separate from the way of negation—rather. not opposite or even complementary ways. or aeon. 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.”3 In other words. or who was faithful and near death (Ref. always emerging out of this relationship between the expressed and the inexpressible. we participate in what they represent. Throughout early Christian gnostic writings. One who pronounced the name was in fact pronouncing the powers that had brought the cosmos itself into being. VI. or one will . in dreams. sacred images. Such a metalanguage is implicit both in the human being and in the cosmos as a whole. This name was composed of four syllables. for each letter was also an angel and a forming power.xxxvi). and there is another kind of marriage that takes place in the invisible. between this world and the invisible realm of energies. but different aspects of the same way. and in religious experiences. and its light “never sets. in the Gospel of Philip. embody. a developed metalanguage that both reflects and leads toward its own transcendence. to become privy to these mysteries is to penetrate beyond ordinary humanity and to become divinized oneself. For instance. we read that “whereas in this world the union is one of husband with wife. Here we begin to see how the via negativa and the via positiva represent. the first of which had four letters. and reveal transcendence. Indeed. there is earthly marriage.
characteristic ways of understanding. Rather. The way of negation is not the opposite of affirmation. one can ‘read’ the invisible in the visible. but rather. the unnameable. can see the energies ordinarily veiled from humanity by its fallen. is. This is the way it is: it is revealed to him alone. The world has become the aeon. the first of these is its inexpressibility: it remains always transcendent. 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. unnameability emerges always out of the presence of names. . even though such writings somehow may have made their way into this or that monastic library. CONCLUSIONS Although the Western esoteric traditions unquestionably have their origins in the early centuries of the present era. Thus “the world has become the aeon”—in other words. The nameless and the named are not divided. divided consciousness. not to arbitrary designations. but its inseparable companion. my argument here is not about lines of influence so much as about modalities. And here we see emerging the second characteristic: the mystery of names. when one dies. one finds a gnosis of the divine names. 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. evokes. indeed. but hidden in a perfect day and a holy light. a collection of objects from which one remains separate. but is free in life and in death. This inexpressible gnosis is the “marriage” or union of subject and object. The Gospel of Philip goes on: “And again when he leaves the world he has already received the truth in the images. for such a one the world is transparent. to actual energies that the name itself embodies. gnostic paradigms. What are the characteristics of this red thread as we trace it through history? Naturally. For whether the gnostics belong to the Jewish Merkabah or the Christian Gnostic. but to inherent characteristics of what is named. Here naming refers. This is as true for the canonically accepted authors such as Clement of Alexandria or Dionysius the Areopagite as it is for Valentinus or Basilides. the invisible and the visible are no longer divided for the initiate. and perhaps to a lesser extent to the Hermetic or the Neoplatonic tradition. for the aeon is fullness for him. but also the actual energies that these images embody or represent.”4 In other words. what I call the red thread of gnosis that leads us out of the labyrinth. elusive.ORIGINS 31 not receive it after death—and one who receives that light is perfected and cannot be detained. These figures or images of marriage and light are ways of expressing the inexpressible gnosis. not hidden in the darkness and the night. The cosmos is no longer opaque. But the inexpressible is so only by contrast with the expressible.
a third characteristic. so that to work with them is to enter into the existential quality that is their real nature or kernel. letters. the images remain outside one and are taken literally as referring to history. According to rational consciousness. They are only the sensible expression. everyone. but as qualities pregnant with meaning. Even more intimately yet. numbers and letters can open up into aspects of consciousness itself. the images may be seen as corresponding to something in our own inward nature. a theosopher in the line of Jacob Böhme. my dear brother. including the gnoses of numbers and letters. Here. a gnostic view of numbers and letters sees them not as merely signifying something external. Regeneration alone shows us the ground. and images emerges the fifth characteristic. albeit few more wild than those of the Book of Revelation. By contrast. but instead express aspects of the invisible origin of the cosmos and of ourselves. Gnostic works reveal a wide array of images and myths. which all proceed from the one only essence . and therein we obtain the pure key. But this view of numbers corresponds to seeing reading as the accumulation of data: it remains objectified. of course. and are visible in major European literary works. including Piers Ploughman. to which I have already devoted some study. nor wholly from without. . Here we have the combination of all the elements we have discussed so far. but lives in an intermediate realm necessary for the birth of unitive consciousness. who wrote his friend Baron Kirchberger that “Numbers are no algebra. Such a gnosis of numbers is visible during the medieval period. separated from the subject who sees. A fourth characteristic is imagery. in his own degree. of which the quantitative designation is a husk. woven together into a .32 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E From the gnosis of naming emerges a range of related mysteries.”6 There is in Saint-Martin’s work a peculiar kind of mystical mathematics from which it is evident that here is indeed an order of knowledge entirely different from the merely quantitative. here they no longer are taken as having entirely historical dimensions. where we find definite traces of Latin number and letter transposition corresponding to what in Hebrew is termed gematria. numbers designate quantities that one can manipulate. as a panoply on an inner stage where we see acted out the soul’s dramas. More intimately.5 A similarly gnostic view of numbers appears again in the work of Louis-Claude de Saint Martin (1743–1803). but men have sometimes lowered them to it. What is more. without masters. of the different properties of beings. Such images may be seen in terms of degrees of union. on which conventional mathematics is founded. imagination proceeds neither wholly from ourselves. These number-letter transpositions yield many hidden significances. which emerge out of the inexpressible into the realms of conscious perception. whether visible or intellectual. Out of the gnoses of numbers. however. the images may be seen as reflecting inner aspects of the cosmos. which is the mystery of words and of the book. On the lowest level. .
and images. whether. Christian. we find that divisions between heretical and orthodox. and other currents that mingled to create the works we have been considering. and traditions best express his understanding. that of the inexpressible from which all of these gnoses derive and to which they inevitably lead. 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. words. it remains a tradition of the mysteries of the book. Jewish and Christian and Greek. Its mysteries of names. numbers. 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. Egyptian. To read such a work properly is to ingest it. Greek. just as in the subsequent Western esoteric traditions. from antiquity to the present. And when we look for these fundamental characteristics. By following the courses of Western esotericism. .ORIGINS 33 tapestry meant not only to point toward the gnostic experience. often do not hold at all. are meant to permeate and transmute one’s consciousness so that the invisible is no longer divided from the visible. in one form or another. to become it. in the complex admixtures of Jewish. remains a heterodox figure drawing upon whatever myths. Roman. and indeed even begins to approach the highest mystery. letters. but also to convey it. as John ingests the little book in Revelation. We can see that despite the bewildering variety of traditions that existed in the first centuries of this era. words. but instead participates in the energies and powers that give rise to and inform the cosmos. taken together. The esotericist or gnostic in antiquity. so that one no longer exists only in a rational separate consciousness in an objectified world. these gnostic characteristics remain visible. images.
if the poet is a woman) as the divine incarnate. When we consider the emergence of Western esoteric traditions in the modern era. 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. sees her (or him. and so must inquire whether the chivalric current had esoteric dimensions like those that we glimpsed in antiquity in Gnostic and other movements. That there were profound correspondences between the chivalric and the troubadour movements in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries of Europe is incontestable. The troubadour. Both the chivalric and the troubadour traditions were centered on service or duty.2 H i s t o r i c a l C u r re n t s DIVINE SERVICE: C H I VA L R Y A N D T H E T R O U B A D O U R S It is. only investigating whether there are elements corresponding to the mysticism of the word that we saw in antiquity. The chivalric ideals were conveyed through stories. of course. but we must do so in order to trace the Western esoteric traditions. Here I am not arguing that the chivalric or troubadour movements were gnostic. and entailed a moral code much higher than that of the rest of society. in giving honor to his beloved. It is true that there were important intervening figures like John Scotus Eriugena. for both are known to us through literature that reveals fundamentally similar attitudes. so much must be left to catalogue elsewhere. 35 . a leap to go from the first centuries of the Christian era to the Middle Ages. we cannot help but recognize there the influence of chivalry. and the troubadours’ tradition was conveyed through poetry or song. but here we are sketching the broad outlines of historical currents drawing on individual works.
Much more likely that here. as in so much of Western esotericism to follow. as for instance in the Grail cycles or in Parzival. for hidden meanings not accessible to outsiders. Instead. the soul’s liberation as one finds in Gnostic treatises. But was there any explicitly esoteric content in these traditions? In other words. that is to say. and that may have also in some quarters engendered initiatory groups. One does find an outright gnostic esotericism in the writings and sermons of Meister Eckhart and Johannes Tauler. One such group was the fedeli d’amore. we have already seen the explicitly esoteric nature of Gnosticism and other movements of the first few centuries C. or love’s faithful. perhaps occasionally forming themselves into larger groups only again to dissolve under pressure from the church or from other social circumstances. but one doubts very much that this reflects a widespread or organized esoteric tradition. a troubadour’s poem also can be read on at least two levels. even surreptitious. Of course. 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. there is esotericism visible in the songs of the troubadours. . never explicitly discussing. Both of these movements are fundamentally social in nature. There is esotericism visible on occasion in the stories written by individual authors or in particular cycles. likewise. Can we find anything approximating this earlier explicitly gnostic esotericism in the chivalric tales or the songs of the troubadours? The answer. When the troubadour or the knight pledges troth to a woman. they do not reflect what we see in those Merkabah or Gnostic or Hermetic traditions explicitly devoted to knowledge of the transcendent. relying on implication and multivalent symbols. But when we look at these movements as a whole. Undoubtedly much of this allusiveness had to do with the strictures imposed by the Roman Catholic church. who conveyed their mysteries through poetic references and imagery. I think. particularly the chivalric tradition.36 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Thus there is implicitly a dual quality to much of the writing associated with each of these traditions. is no. for example. as referring to an actual beloved woman and to the divine. in the background is also his relationship to the invisible. And so the chivalric and the troubadour traditions are fertile ground for esotericism.E. in that it remained an individual and somewhat anarchic tradition that one joined by self-election. it is implicitly also about his relationship to the divine. individuals sought and found as much as they could of such traditions on their own. but these were not part of either the chivalric or troubadour lines. and indeed even they ran afoul of church censors alert for any signs of Gnosticism’s recurrence. 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 troubadour movement was close to esotericism proper. But to this day the precise nature of this or similar societies remains largely closed to us. the esotericism that we find in the chivalric or troubadour tradition is allusive and elusive.
a Provençal poet named Master Kyot.” we are told that Flegetanis wrote. For. for not only is it given a JudeoChristian mythohistory. Parzival learns about the tradition of the Gral or grail from Trevrizent. both pagan and Christian. it is associated with angels whose place corresponds closely with that of Hermes and Hermetism. for the name disappears. and in Jewish and Gnostic esotericism more generally. most notably in the esoteric significances of writing and speaking. teacher of Eschenbach. [as] if their innocence drew them back again. Whether the name is of a boy or a girl. a descendent of Solomon himself and an astrologer. those who did not take sides. For instance.” and we are told that his being a Christian allowed him to enter into the true nature of the Grail. Trevrizent tells Parzival that he does not know whether those “neutral angels” were forgiven or damned in the end. Here the Stone is certainly associated with esoteric mysteries. But there is an even greater mystery about the Grail. had written of the hidden secrets in the constellations. and has a rich reward in heaven. for shortly Parzival and we are told about the magical Stone called the “Lapsit exillis. In any event. a hermit. He or she is forever after immune from the shame of sin. we do find traces in chivalric literature of some of the same themes that we saw in antiquity. worthy. Hearing this. there is no need to erase it. but God may have taken them back. upon which Trevrizent tells the story of King Anfortas and his wound. it was through books that Kyot traced his path to Parzival himself. He found that a man named Flegetanis. Naturally. noble angels. Afterwards a Christian progeny bred to a pure life had the duty of keeping it. when Lucifer and the Trinity began to war with each other. occupying a middle ground between these. “A troop had left it on earth and then rose high above the stars. then the chivalric life is his one desire. And beyond the mystery of naming lies the mystery of the Stone itself. Parzival exclaims that if chivalric deeds with shield and lance can win fame for one’s earthly self and paradise for the soul. Thus the disclosing of the Grail mystery came about through the mysterious decoding of an unfamiliar language. that is. . Kyot had to learn the characters’ ABC beforehand “without the art of necromancy. but there is another source. the stone has since been in the care of those whom God appoints. and this is the mystery of names. this reminds us rather strongly of the magical powers of naming in the Book of Revelation.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 37 Nonetheless. in Wolfram von Eschenbach’s Parzival. had to descend to Earth to that Stone which is forever incorruptible. whence had come the Grail. and shortly the child is fetched from whatever country. This story is of Anfortas’s pride and his wounding and lying sick. who discovered the primary version of the Grail cycle in Toledo written in “heathenish script” (presumably Arabic). and to whom God sends his angel. we are told. which has a peculiar mythohistory that Eschenbach briefly relates here.” on the top of which an inscription announces the name and lineage of one called to the service of the Grail.
Yet this implicit esotericism. we are told again to honor and never denigrate women. of course. and there is in this even a complementary relationship: a kingdom can be saved by asking the right question. we are left with a curious twist on the mystery of naming.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. Feirifiz outlines why Parzival shall do so by reference to the “seven stars” or planets. whether it be Trevrizent or Eschenbach himself who advises. never becomes explicit: the tale and the esotericism of the Grail that is its center never stray into otherworldly descriptions of journeys through the cosmos. but also with the changing of the moon. For instance. for instance) and of not speaking when one oughtn’t. Throughout the tale. and indeed it may be that the fusion of this-worldli- . like chivalric literature more generally. he is forced to leave—a repetition yet again of the constant theme throughout Parzival. the two nodes of which are called the “dragon’s head” and the “dragon’s tail. And near the end of Eschenbach’s story of Parzival. remains this-worldly in emphasis. entertaining.” This conclusively links the planets to consciousness. and that of all the Grail servers. This theme clearly holds for both men and women. we will recall. Parzival. Rather. we are told explicitly that Anfortas’s suffering. that of speaking when one ought to (asking the Question. why the king suffered—but Parzival himself had not done this and thus had already failed. like so many of the Western esoteric currents. And at the book’s conclusion. exists both within and without specific religious traditions. the Grail tradition is both independent and syncretic. but certainly it is safe to say that it also contains esoteric references central to the tale.” chiefly Saturn. or still less into discussions of spiritual illumination. in particular. of course. Saturn to suffering. we are told to honor women.38 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E and of how the servants of the Grail fell on their knees before the Grail. although intrinsic to the tale inasmuch as it concerns the mysteries of the holy Grail and of the inscriptions upon it. then naming them one by one in Arabic. the spotted knight. but if he were forewarned of the Question it would turn harmful.1 There are throughout this tale astrological references with esoteric implications. the knight is told by Feirifiz. and if he asked a Question. where suddenly they saw it written that a knight would come. intensifies with the “advent of the high planets. and that is the exalted position of women. and at the end of the tale. for a knight comes to live with a princess on the condition that she never ask his name. He was to ask. was cared for by twenty-five women who by serving it are exalted. The Grail. There remains one more aspect of the Grail tradition that we need to discuss further. and lost by asking the wrong one! Parzival is. then their sorrows would end. of his good fortune and that he shall ask the Question. When inevitably she does so. just as is Western esotericism more generally.
continence. Yet in the story’s conclusion. where we are told that this sign comes from Solomon himself. loving kindness. but with the five fingers. and the second that of bewitchment and bewilderment.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 39 ness and otherworldliness in the service of one’s chivalric duties and of the Grail is the key to chivalric literature more generally. these being liberality. whose enchantments together with the Green Knight . when Gawain to his shame tells the story of how he was fooled into wearing that braided belt. This esoteric symbolism emerges especially in the author’s discussion of the pentangle. and are called together the “endless knot” by the Gawain-poet. of course.3 Thus the passage on the pentangle is nested within a larger context of number and letter symbolism carried on by way of the poem’s repetition of key letters and numbers. but a way of conveying secret or esoteric meanings within a poem outwardly devoted to the telling of a story. the five virtues. For one certainly finds the same theme illustrated in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Thus the poem ends with the well known motto “Hony soyt qui mal pence. The Green Knight is a mysterious supernatural figure who puts Gawain to the test. instead of trusting only in this “endless knot” of the pentangle. we see Arthur and the entire court laughing and enjoying Gawain’s tale. trusts instead in the knotted “braided belt” given him by Morgan le Fay. part of a tradition that. Gawain is the story of a virtuous knight on his travels. and even wearing a sign of it themselves—a green one. in the image of the pentangle. When Gawain. the explicit story is clearly one of virtue upheld. and. with the five wounds of Christ. and behind him is the figure of Morgan le Fay. he ultimately feels shamed. the five joys of the Virgin Mary with her Child. All of these five categories add up to twenty-five. Once again. For the color green has a special symbolism that recurs throughout medieval literature and is especially prominent in Gawain. is marked with a tiny colored initial. courtesy. like Grail tales more generally. First.” meaning that good comes forth out of evil. This famous passage. 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. reveals a fall and a redemption: the characters go through suffering into a renewed union on a higher level. and is associated not only with the five wits or five senses. the number of maidens serving the Grail. And we should remember that Gawain is alliterative poetry. as I have elsewhere shown. and piety. Gawain’s symbol. like several others in the poem. the first is the true knot. is not simply the repetition of letters and numbers for the way they sound. At the end of Gawain. marking why Gawain is a fine man. And at this point we might remark on two aspects of this transformation. the poem. But there is an implicit esotericism that emerges in the work’s center. part of a scribal code of letters that mark critical junctures in the work. And this green marks my second point of observation. in Gawain as in Parzival.
which on the one hand is associated with jealousy. there are the lines of the young Raimbaut d’Orange (c.” or “the Green Isle. pus nons val arditz. become beautiful and haunting lyrics. Both chivalric and troubadour literary traditions are allusive enough to accomodate esoteric interpretations. and the illicit. being found in Islam associated with Khidr. which can seem so merciless and in which death is inevitable. which begins by discussing the “book of memory. yet on the other is associated with the beauty of Venus. yet it is also the symbol of new life. a group called “the Friends of God” who established a community called “L’Ile Verte. But one does not find this kind of overt esotericism among the troubadours and trouvères. growth. the hidden divine messenger. the licit and noble relationship symbolized by Guinevere. Or again.” La Vita Nuova is full of esoteric implications from its very beginning. and renewal. first must be humbled by the Green Knight and symbolically die with a snick of his neck.” The Friends of God were. One finds at the center of the Friends of God mysterious communications from a “Gottesfreund vom oberland. One does find esoteric themes. adulterous relationship offered by Morgan le Fay. We might remark here that the Gottesfreunde had a Meisterbuch with a gnostic alphabet representing the twentythree aspects of the spiritual path. not monastic or priestly.”] Or again. and continuing into at least the twentieth century in the novel The Green Face of Gustav Meyrink. as when the poet Bernart de Ventadorn (1150–1180) writes “Parlar degram ab cubertz entresans / e. Thus we have a dual symbolism of women—that is. This same duality inheres in the color green. although a lay group. The symbolism of green here corresponds to that of a more esoteric group around Rulman Merswin (1302–1387). Recalling the emphasis that Eschenbach laid on the astrological timing surrounding the . valgues nos gens! [Let us talk in secret signs. / And since talking directly can’t help us. yet at the same time. Gawain.” under whose spiritual guidance the circle proceeded. and although one can read such poems on multiple levels.4 But this secret language is that of lovers. but they are almost never explicitly esoteric. 1150–1173) playing on namelessness and naming. occasioned by his observation that he cannot find a name for his verses. there is little hint in any of this of open or even covert discussions of gnosis. and the death that inheres in and underlies them. Here even the kind of esotericism we find in the chivalric tales is muted and filtered into literary forms.” and then the lines written down in his little book that he entitles “The New Life. to be renewed. they set themselves apart from the rest of society by their spiritual vocation. perhaps cunning can. like the chivalric orders. The Green Isle represents an intermediate realm of spiritual passage.40 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E symbolize the bewitchments of the world. Among the most explicitly esoteric of medieval poems more generally is La Vita Nuova by Dante. green is the color of nature. and in fact the gnostic symbolism of green is quite widespread.
and exactly nine years later. and is in the tradition of the Book of Revelation. Dante ends this strange work. go far beyond it to include all manner of esoteric implications. an intervening figure in the tradition. we end by passing beyond space. Boethius goes on a journey of celestial memory that takes him to his true origin beyond the sphere of the stars. But there is more that ties this work to the esoteric lines we are tracing through history. and here. 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. in the ninth hour of the day. is a visionary poem. 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. Beatrice herself appears to Dante in a crimson dress as if she were an apparition. calls upon the “book of memory. So too does Love appear to him in terrible aspect during the beginning of the night’s nine last hours. thrice-blessed Lady. full of images.” The number nine recurs in various ways throughout the poem. who wishes to restore him to spiritual health by awakening his celestial memory and recalling him to his proper state of mind.” and at the poem’s end sends a sigh upward beyond the farthest sphere. as does the play that we see here on naming. Thus Dante’s greatest works. The strong imagination to which Dante refers is not just daydreaming. and religious inheritance into visionary narratives that in fact . and of beautiful images shimmering in space. There is. Within the work’s visionary interworld we enter into an archetypal realm of celestial numbers reverberating in time. like the great Divine Comedy. poems. In De consolatione.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 41 Grail. Vita Nuova and the Divine Comedy. philosophical. time. this time wearing a white dress. but the faculty of imaginal perception. was imprisoned and preparing to die when he wrote his Consolation as a summary of his understanding. who lived during the fifth century. And of course. as in the Divine Comedy. and words and ideas into the empyrean. though certainly showing the influence of the troubadour tradition. an allusion to the coming extraordinary visionary journey of the Divine Comedy. Boethius meets while in prison the divine figure of Philosophia. she called Beatrice by those who nonetheless fully do not know her name. with a final vision about which he will not now write. all of this corresponds closely to what we see in Dante’s Vita Nuova. albeit more literary. and to fuse the tradition’s literary. This is. but it is also bringing Vita Nuova to the closure of silence. and his commentary. that being Boethius in his Consolation of Philosophy. La Vita Nuova. Dante sees Beatrice again. where Dante is upbraided by the divine figure of Beatrice. ruling over him by virtue of a strong imagination. of course. of course. Boethius. and it turns back to that silence again at the end. where a “new perception” shows it a Lady of light.
yet he went further.” it was “depeynted in the sterres above / Who shal be slayn or elles deed for lov. 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. including Troilus and Cressida as well as The Knight’s Tale. above all. known as a primary literary figure in English history. knarry. and occasionally elsewhere in his work. And these are evoked .42 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E depict unfolding gnostic revelation. Chaucer. daunces” around her.” with “festes. Certainly there are no explicit and even relatively few implicit esoteric allusions. we find here too signs of the themes that have occupied our chivalric and troubadour poets. Chaucer drew on Boethius in his own work. is also a tale full of mythological and astrological references to the planets. which tells the story of how the knight Palamon and the lady Emelye were ultimately wedded. This is not to say that Chaucer was an esotericist in the sense of a Kabbalist or a Gnostic. Chaucer elaborates on the “noble theatre” of Theseus. we will concentrate on The Knight’s Tale because it illustrates some of our primary esoteric themes.” In that “portreiture.” “gastly for to see. One finds traces of this influence in a number of Chaucer’s poems. the themes of divine images that recall celestial memory.” and by “kervere of ymages. a nude Venus depicted with a golden garland and a “cokkow sittynge on hir hand. bareyne trees olde. in a new ambience produce new revelations that often seem to appear ex nihilo. especially of the knight for his lady. the theater of art. But all the same. and built by masters of “geometrie or ars-metrike. We see in Chaucer’s tale. and of divine service. but in fact represent continuations not of specific lineages so much as currents or approaches to transcendence. with an oratory. The western gate dedicated to Mars displayed a forest full of “knotty. 1343–1400) and Ramon Lull (1232–1316). instrumentz. This “theatre” was circular and a mile in circumference. In the third part of The Knight’s Tale. for Chaucer also translated Boethius’s Consolation of Philosophy from Latin to English. Earthy.” The eastern gate was dedicated to Venus.” Thus this tale. Chaucer was not that kind of poet. caroles. These references form a memory theater of images that govern the lists or battles taking place within their purview. The celestial images rule over the terrestrial actions within the circle of life. interested in depicting his sometimes bawdy characters and tales. Here. marked east and west by gates of marble. also incorporated esoteric elements into his poetry and prose. Like Dante. 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. but rather to recognize that esoteric elements flow in the mainstream of Western literature itself.” with a temple of Mars “wrought al of burned steel. however. what we might call literary reflections or manifestations of esoteric traditions. Chaucer was not an esotericist. here.
He asked how the Beloved’s presence differs from his absence. we are given the meditations of the hermit. In the ninety-ninth chapter. consisting chiefly in recounting the moral code of the knight. It represents the ninety-ninth chapter of Lull’s romance Blanquerna.” are familiar to students of . ‘As knowledge and remembrance differ from ignorance and oblivion’” (7). it was eclipsed and almost completely vanished until it was rediscovered in the late twentieth century. literature is not only entertainment. and indeed. Ars brevis. Lull was himself something of a troubadour. on the love of the soul for God couched in the terms of lovers. until he was thirty. The Book of the Lover and the Beloved is much more complicated. which tells the story of a man who rises to the position of pope. In fact. (part of his romance Blanquerna). only to leave and become a hermit contemplative. 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. The lover answered. one for each of the 365 days of the year. 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. bringing together the chivalric. like Chaucer. the careful reader might notice some resonances with esoteric Islam. The Book of the Lover and the Beloved. in the voluminous works of Ramon Lull become explicit. and esoteric streams into a remarkable fusion. Characteristic of his meditations is this: “The Beloved tested his lover in order to see if his love for him was perfect. For although Lull. Not surprisingly. unlike him Lull was primarily concerned with elaborating his astonishing system of universals known as the “Lullian Art. not just a set of correspondences. which alludes to the ninety-nine names of God in Islam. These terms. “knowledge” and “remembrance. chiefly through the heroic scholarly work of Frances Yates. Evidence of this is visible in his choice of ninety-nine for this chapter on contemplation. among his vast number of works are The Book of Chivalry.” The Art represents. but a complete way of knowledge that penetrates through all aspects of life. was also a syncretist who learned and taught Arabic and drew on his knowledge of esoteric Islam in his writings. and Ars generalis ultima. and of course his most well-known and influential works. was prolific. The Book of Contemplation. troubadour. Lull. given its astonishing scope. But what in Chaucer are only allusions. At this juncture. (a kind of chivalric code). for it includes other dimensions and reminds us of the celestial meanings behind human action.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 43 through literature. the Lullian Art was immensely influential during the medieval and early modern era. a tireless proselytizer for Christianity in Islamic countries. but with the advent of rationalism. The Book of Chivalry corresponds to what we saw already in the Grail and other chivalric literature. and unquestionably entails explicitly esoteric dimensions. We are concluding this discussion with Lull because his work encapsulates virtually everything that we have so far considered. and this is no accident.
Here we find a clear condemnation. since my Beloved contains all.44 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Sufism. and is founded on a special kind of alphabet. invoking evil spirits as good angels. was a means of investigating and coming to understand the true nature of things. investing them with the names of God and of good angels. and images. images.” But the Lover corrects this through the remembrance of truth. Lull himself was certainly accused of an inordinate and presumptuous lust for knowledge in the pursuit and teaching of this art. west. out of arrogance or presumption. by seeing the Sign of God in the east. as well as from the Grail tradition in particular. ‘Is your Beloved in the world then?’ He answered. and by writings. but for purposes of clarity. whose influence extended across Europe. meant to reflect that of humanity to the divine.’ They asked him. but are also familiar to us from our examination of the Western esoteric traditions more generally. ‘It is a book for those who can read in which is revealed my Beloved. Originally. some “insult the Name of God with curses and incantations. and therefore the world is in my Beloved. images. and writings in themselves. we find the following: “They asked the Lover. Lull created a kind of Christian Kabbalism.” In this falsified knowledge. but of those done with the wrong attitude. And through presumption. all errors are implanted in the world. and writings. 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. The cosmos represents the divine writing. that is. However. Of course. and profaning holy things with figures. Lull used more letters. Further. Spiritual knowledge is also celestial memory or remembrance.’”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. not of figures. we are also participating in this relationship. as the readers of Lull’s book. By means of these letters. there is a profanation of this true reading and writing. 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. most of all in the exposition of his art. rather than my Beloved in the world. just as the writer is in his book. ‘Yes. and that is the book. ‘What is the world?’ He answered.’ ‘And in what does this book consist?’ ‘In my Beloved. north and south. Such a proviso is particularly appropriate for Lull’s own work. he condensed his art into nine letters. This extraordinary art. But there is one theme above all others which we have been tracing that emerges clearly here. For in a delightful appendix consisting of questions posed to the Lover. and so the relationship between humanity and the divine is that of a reader and a writer. since there is absolutely no doubt that Lull himself extensively used figures. engraved in precious jewels and worn on him in order to always remind him. His brief alphabet extends from B to K (excluding J) and includes a range of mean- .
and even the Ars brevis represents a daunting set of combinations. . and although Lull himself explictly denied the transmutation of metals. difference. it was naturally applied to astrology and to alchemy. can produce an almost infinite series of correlations. a host of Lullian-based alchemical treatises emerged in the wake of his works. and so forth. angel. to which we can here offer only the briefest of introductions. “goodness. At the same time. and numerous other arrangements. Lull himself combined them using circles. Hence in many respects. triangles. it becomes difficult to believe that the placement of the A here could fail to have esoteric origins and meaning. found in the Ars compendiosa. tables. B signifies. and can be applied not only to philosphy and theology. B—Bonitas. depending upon how the letters are combined. what?.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 45 ings. has vast implications. concordance. trees. probably the most revealing of which for our purposes is the socalled “A” figure from the Ars compendiosa inveniendi veritatem. 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. Of course his work is unique. above all the view of literature as a vehicle for the transmutation of consciousness. and gluttony. whether?. The Lullian art. For this reason. 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. E—Potestas. prudence. justice. and avarice. 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. 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.” C signifies “greatness. Around the A in these figures is a geometric series of lines linking many of the letters in intricate correlations. Lull represents the juncture of almost all the currents we have thus far discussed. God. which is the unspoken origin of and connection between all the other letters arranged in a circle around it. The “A” figure is so designated because it contains in its center a letter A. for in essence the Lullian art most resembles Kabbalism. for instance.”6 Thus each letter contains within it a constellation of meanings that. and in the outer circle are the primary qualities asociated with each of the letters. it also represents a synthesis of the primary currents we have been discussing. And although Lull’s thought has been explored relatively recently as a system of logic. for example. it includes and transcends logic. I— Veritas. In the full art. the number of letters and qualities makes their range enormous. not least in its use of the combinations of letters. For instance. according to Lull in his Ars Brevis. or that from the Ars brevis. but to the physical world and indeed to virtually every aspect of life.
whose origins are still shrouded in mystery. Thus the transposed spiritual chivalry. 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. 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. French. BOOKS WITHIN BOOKS: JEWISH KABBALISM Around the same time that chivalric and troubadour literature was being written. And in Kabbalah we see not only some potential connections to earlier Gnostic traditions. or English gnostic. but what is more. the words. cross-fertilizing currents of Western esotericism. . 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. so that even if there were no direct influence of troubadour poetry on the spiritual love poems of a seventeenth.46 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E We also see this perspective visible in a muted way in chivalric and troubadour literature. we must first look at another primary current whose influence can hardly be underestimated: Kabbalism.or eighteenth-century German. troubadour. profoundly important and influential instances of the mysteries of the word as means of spiritual awakening. but this is virtually never the case. Jewish Kabbalah did not appear in a vacuum. intricately woven. the chivalric. the spiritual love poetry of the troubadours. commonplace to regard each of the primary currents of Western esotericism as having emerged ex nihilo and completely separate from its predecessors. it is as it was in the first centuries of this era—Jewish. and the alphabetical mysticism of Lull and others later appear in Christian theosophy. and other forms of esotericism are often closely linked and influence one another. Before we turn to the emergence of Western esoteric traditions at the cusp of the modern era. And as literature. In these traditions. of course. still there is an affiliation because all exist within the larger. Christian. however. It is. poetry and stories go beyond entertainment. and Freemasonry. for here literature possesses powerful cultural and spiritual dimensions. with the emergence in the twelfth century in Europe of Jewish Kabbalah (a Hebrew word meaning “tradition”). whose influence also extends well beyond their disappearance as living social movements. but out of a particular literary and religious ambience and with definite predecessors. there was an efflorescence of another kind of literature entirely. that the medieval authors created in order to convey their visions. Rather. How do these various currents reëmerge later in history? Chiefly through the influence of the books. Rosicrucianism.
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.E. The book Bahir. And it emerged during a period of established Jewish speculative mysticism in the Provençal region. not only in that they reflect and point toward a hidden wisdom tradition. disclosing them only in parabolic language. the mere fact of composing Kabbalistic literature or commentaries represents a disclosure of what is secret. and cosmogony. in particular the Merkabah mysticism that dates back to at least the second century C. Castile. It derived from the long line of previous Jewish mysticism. the crux of the paradox inherent in the mysteries of the word. Although there has been some controversy over his conclusions. for instance. and Kabbalism more generally. For instance. regardless of whether there was a direct historical link between the emergence of Kabbalism in Provençe. with at least some connections to the contemporaneous Cathar or Albigensian Christian heretical movement. or ten dimensions of the cosmos.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 47 We first encounter Kabbalistic literature in the Sefer ha-Bahir. and Nahmanides’ disciples intensified their protection of the secret Kabbalistic teachings. and Gnosticism of any sort in antiquity. But the Bahir. Scholem holds that there arrived in Provençe some time in the middle of the twelfth century a collection of older gnostic writings. Rabbi Isaac the Blind wrote a well-known letter to Nahmanides bemoaning the common contemporary tendency to write publicly about the Kabbalah. which in turn has been linked to the troubadours. and thus Kabbalism. many of which had at least passed through certain circles of the German Hasidim. There can be no doubt that the Kabbalistic works emerging during and after the twelfth century are esoteric.” Scholem concludes. . it is entirely enough to note the profound resemblances between these movements. and symbolism of Gnosticism suggests an Oriental origin for the most important among the ancient texts and sources of the Bahir. the Kabbalistic works of this period are deeply concerned with exactly these mysteries of word.8 But for our purposes. which in turn were edited and developed by a group of Kabbalists. and to recognize that Kabbalism explicitly continues our primary themes within the Western esoteric traditions.9 Yet at the same time. discusses at length the origin and meaning of the sephirot. has origins in a Jewish gnosticism of a much earlier date. dating to the Talmudic period. number. and elsewhere in Europe. It [the Bahir] has its roots in an entirely different world. 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 in fact. also may have roots elsewhere. Scholem’s assessment is that the Bahir. “The affinity with the language. which are also discussed in the Sefer Yezirah or Book of Creation. terminology.”7 What is this “entirely different world”? Certainly the Bahir emerged in the ambience of twelfth-century French Judaism.
there is a third possibility—that Moses de Leon composed through spiritual imagination. and so forth are absent from the Scroll of Law: these signs were hidden in the “interior of the Divine Throne. the “Oral Law” as female or receiver. We also see these alphanumeric mysteries in the Zohar. the Zohar is replete with alphanumeric mysticism.48 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E The sephirot mysteries in Bahir are intimately related to the mystical meanings of numbers and letters. but here takes on the meaning of “com- . 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. caught up in the spirit. For example.11 Of course. the tonal accents. is that Moses de Leon composed the Zohar himself by way of “conjuration of the Writing Name. spiritual.”12 And we are treated to a fascinating explanation of why the verse-divisions.”13 We might note that here the “Written Law” is seen as male. and that in this sense he really was copying from the transcendent source of the Kabbalistic tradition. supported by some contemporary testimony. informing the cultural. including the human body. But in any event. The Fountain of Wisdom consists in a discussion of tikkun.” Indeed. said to symbolize the abdomen. Opposite them are the twenty-two little letters of the lower world. it is not at all out of character for the Zohar to have connections to the mysteries of the “Writing Name. a word that usually means “restoration” in Hebrew. often said to be the culmination of the early Kabbalistic period. but another view. 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. for example. as a female is fertilized from the male. and that it regards the written word as being at the center of those mysteries. the ten fingers of human hands are said to correspond to the ten sephirot and to the commandments. One of the most influential Kabbalistic books of this period is the Fountain of Wisdom (Ma‘yan ha-Hokhmah). which sixteenth-century Kabbalist Moses Cordovero regarded as being among a handful of the most important works. this controversy itself reveals much about the nature of Kabbalism. which comprise a total of 613 letters.10 Thus we can see how here mystical numbers and letters reflect the hidden divine principles of the cosmos. 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. In section 124.” (that is. Although the origins of the Zohar are somewhat controversial.” and are the means by which “the Written Law fertilized the Oral Law. and which was central in the founding of Hasidism as well. But there is another work that helps shed light on what the nature of these alphanumeric mysteries might be. and natural realms at once. writing the Names of God) and through this power. he wrote the entire work without any precedent. including all twenty-two letters of the alphabet except tet.
inquiry . . 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.”17 By investigation. Its linguistic mysticism undoubtedly requires an oral commentary: here the written word remains opaque without vocal explication. Through this kind of multiplication. is the secret meaning of the verse from Exodus 33:23: “You will see My Back. from reading this extraordinary work. made transparent so . but My Face will not be seen.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 49 bination. eighty. action .”16 These five alefim are calculated by doubling as ten. This visionary understanding leads backward through the process of creation to its source. 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. there remains still the ’alef “pivotal amongst them. out of it emerges the Names. in the text the ’aleph is said to be “divided into five heads. voice. an ¯ “ether. and yod in turn becomes twenty.” which may or may not itself be an “a. . whispering.” from which four emerge—and between these four emerges a fifth.”14 In other words. one comes to understand how “all wisdom and understanding.” about which no one. the tenth letter. speech. so to say. “so as not to distort the knowledge of the image of the Holy One. Investigating this holiest of mysteries is prohibited even for a Moses. not even Moses. all comprehension and thought. utterance. .”18 This. forty.” One can easily see. in the Fountain of Wisdom. one comes to understand not only why the thirty or more versions of the Fountain are generally regarded as ‘corrupt. is allowed to ask questions.” The “Back” here is the mysteries of creation. For instance. we have gone behind the alphanumeric mysticism into the visionary understanding that precedes and informs it. . or aleph.” 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.” two vocalizations result: “â” and “a. we are told.” The ’alef is the mystery of the ether and the root-principle of all being.”15 Central to this linguistic mysticism is the letter A. corresponding to yod. yet when these Names are removed. Here we see the mysteries of the word laid bare. the “Face” is the Primal Darkness “that is the focal point of My existence. all are found in this Name. the essence of everything. the “unique master” that “radiates in the green flames. and 160.’ but even more why this work was traditionally explicated word by word from teacher to pupil. one also arrives at the seventy-two Names of God. tikkun is a kind of linguistic mysticism that through its praxis brings one into the “immeasurable light” “in the superabundance of the secret darkness. Here. in this context. In reading the intricate discussion of this letter’s transformations. and out of them all the “lanes” and “paths” and the countless lights of life. For prior to the Names and even prior to the Ether and root-principle of all being is the “Primal Darkness.” for when you open your mouth to say “ah.
sometimes with the influence of particular earlier esoteric authors. It may be that there is some historical link with Neoplatonism here. as Scholem remarks. sometimes without.20 For that matter. within the general currents of Western esoteric traditions. including thought. Thus there is a double quality to this mystery: it applies to the emergence of consciousness both within us and in the cosmos. but to the inner experience of how existence emerges from the Primal Ether. we have spontaneous investigations into some of the same mysteries that the Kabbalists investigated. but from the other. Just as in antiquity the Gnostics often laid emphasis on the mysteries of language and consciousness. for the Kabbalists “the world of language is therefore actually the ‘spiritual world. emerges.” but in early Kabbalism also is connected to “that which thought cannot attain. and so it is natural that common elements reemerge again and again historically.” or absolute transcendence out of which everything. But none of these correspondences necessarily indicate historical influence. We are viewing a pure mysticism of the word. It is obvious from Kabbalistic works themselves that they do not derive from scholastic but from direct knowledge. Although it is possible that medieval Kabbalism owes more than a little to the Gnosticism of antiquity. but also metaphysical. broadly speaking.50 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E that through them in the eye of imagination we can see the hidden principles and working of the cosmos itself. All of these exist. of which emergence ordinary human speech is but a reflection. as well as in Erigena and in Eckhart.’ Only that which lives in any particu- . that of hardened or congealed materiality. Indeed. since this absolute transcendence resembles the Greek akatalepton as well as the later incomprehensibilis of John Scotus Erigena. ’En sof literally means “infinity. 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. and how the Voice emerges from light through speech and breath. and how words emerge from primordial consciousness into being. where all that is seen in the eye of imagination is light and color and energy welling forth from the indefinable Primal Darkness. then. and this is corroborated by the very linguistic mysticism that they express.”19 But underlying the entire work is the gnosis of how light emerges from darkness. it is also entirely possible that in the works of the Gnostics and Neoplatonists. Its cosmological dimensions we have glimpsed in the intricate doctrines of the ten Sephirot and in the profound complexities of its alphanumeric gnosis. one also finds correspondences between the mysticism of ’en sof and the teachings of Meister Eckhart. its metaphysical dimensions are to be found especially in its use of the term ’en sof. not from this side. is not only cosmological. 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. Medieval Kabbalism. Here “Voice” refers not to ordinary human speech.
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
we find the English theosopher Jane Leade holding the same doctrine. precisely what she said had happened? It would seem that in this case as generally. even where it is roughly or awkwardly written. where one finds literature and religion fused. that ultimately all beings will be saved.54 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E treatise on Cabala alluded to a Kabbalistic doctrine of universal restoration. represents the confluence of literature and religion in esotericism. And when we look at Kabbalism. Here the written word becomes not opaque but transparent. To such approaches. and perhaps even of the origin and nature of consciousness. each letter and number potentially bearing infinite depths. rather than only trying to trace ‘horizontal’ historical influence. surface is nothing and depth is everything. an ornate mosque in whose center is a Christian cathedral. Nowhere is this more evident than in the history of Kabbalah. or vice versa. much less the possibility of transcendence. intricacy. In the twentieth century. in its willingness to go through the letters and words into the consciousness that they represent. and beauty. it may be better to look at ‘vertical’ or categorical similarities. perhaps more than any other Western tradition. Symbolic of Western syncresis is La Mezquita in Cordoba. many novelists and poets explicitly denounce even the idea of spirituality. One finds those who insist that the heart of Islamic Sufism is Christian. that the heart of Christianity is Jewish Kabbalism. Such an approach to literature. But before discussing these implications. or vice versa. we can see why it had such profound literary and religious influences. ramified throughout religious and literary history. its grandeur lies in the daring of its visionary heights. Western esoteric traditions are perpetually changing and self-renewing. not a barrier to but a vehicle for transcendence. Spain. This transcendence lends itself to syncretism. For Kabbalah. But is there any historical influence of Kabbalism on Leade? Or did she independently rediscover the same esoteric doctrines in vision. we shall turn to another primary current of the Western esoteric traditions: alchemy. If great literature like Dante’s attracts us because of its grandeur. however unfamiliar to us today. Here. Kabbalah represents a polar opposite—for it. but it is also important because it offers us a completely different way of understanding the very nature of writing. almost always willing to draw from another religion if it illuminates one’s own. with the prevalence of materialism and scientism. Indeed. In the eighteenth century. . that is. after all. literature increasingly lost even the inkling of bearing within it other dimensions. and so it goes right into the heart of the Middle Ages and Renaissance. But Kabbalistic literature opens up almost endlessly. it also fascinates us with its riddles and mysteries. which is. literature represents portals into the transcendent. and instead creep over the surfaces of things like painstaking caterpillars. and the boundaries between Judaism and Christianity far less distinct than usual.
especially to the need for humility and for reliance on divine grace. with their astonishing repertoire of exotic terminology. To the first-time observer. and also because alchemy is the transmission of mysteries that must be directly experienced. However. not entirely ‘pagan. but represents nonetheless a separate path of its own. as we saw earlier. yet in that its adherents claim to realize the gnosis at the heart of Christianity. because the opposition of exotericism to esotericism in Western Europe was often so violent. like the alchemical expression or riddle. Full of exotic images and peculiar language.” draws on the particular religious ambience within which it finds itself. And in fact Western alchemical works are highly literary. When we look at European alchemical works. and so it is little wonder that many historians of science have denigrated European alchemy as merely a strange predecessor to modern chemistry. we find that they reveal striking new applications and manifestations of Western esotericism. which in turn reflects GrecoEgyptian origins whose precise outlines likely never will be thoroughly traceable. Yet both the koan and the alchemical work emerge within stylized and traditional contexts. Hermetism itself occupies a syncretic place in the midst of numerous traditions. Because the Western alchemists’ place vis-à-vis Christianity was seldom entirely clear. we cannot help but notice religious references. itself also highly literary: the koan. to work it through. and a current representing a particular path between religion and literature. on the other transmitted by way of literature. alchemy. for only a few intrepid souls have ventured into this territory. but through meditative concentration and inspiration. and even with extended study often yield no certain interpretation. alchemists took to arcane ways of expressing themselves. as the “art of Hermes. Indeed. operating by metaphor and allusion and parabolic expression. European alchemical works resemble bizarre collections of riddles wrapped in enigmas. the term alchemy itself emerges out of the Arabic word al-kimiya. peripheral since it is not wholly Christian. hence on the one hand religious. Of course. to come to terms with it not just by rational explication. Western alchemy remains largely uncharted by modern scholarship. One might compare these means of arcane expression to the Zen Buddhist koan tradition. alchemical writings seem totally impenetrable. .’ yet not entirely Christian. So too. sort of a mistaken byway people once took before they saw the light of materialism and rationalism.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 55 T H E T R A N S F I G U R AT I O N O F E A R T H : A L C H E M I C A L L I T E R AT U R E Undoubtedly among the most enigmatic traditions of the human inheritance. Thus Western alchemy has a peculiar place. with their plethora of brilliant and resonant images. when we look more closely at specific works in the alchemical traditions. by virtue of its initial incomprehensibility. forces one to wrestle with it alone.
put another way. or the animal kingdom. The alchemist’s work consists in the awakening of dormant qualities in the natural world. be they in the mineral. Ramon Lull. This process of awakening entails a kind of double working. Such a list undoubtedly would include Hermes Trismegistus. And so Geber joins the line of figures in what is indisputably a literary transmission. Olympiodoros. refers by its own testimony to the transmutation and redemption of the physical world: its work takes place on Earth. All of these authors did write on alchemy.. it is by no means just a kind of metallurgy or chemistry. in the revelation of paradise. for all its symbolic complexity and mysterious allusiveness. and Morienus of the seventh century C. 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. thirteenth century). alchemical literature. who draws upon them in order to undertake the alchemical work himself and subsequently to write his own alchemical treatise. To list such names as Arnald of Villanova. Thus.E. partaking at once in the realms too of religion and literature. or animal into its paradisal original true nature. Fire burns up impurities and allows the transmutation of a fallen metal. either. as has historical placement. that is. so that their lineage from the alchemical perspective forms an Aurea catena or “golden chain” from antiquity to the present. even if it does not entirely belong to these. the vegetable. although we could here offer a historical survey of alchemy. and reveal the gnostic center of the tradition. Nicholas Flamel (fourteenth century). the embodying of spirit. Synesius. at heart. even if its work resembles these in some respects. and might include also such figures as Zosimos of Panopolis of the third century C. plant. 825–932 C. 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.—latinized as Rhazes).E. even if the alchemical labors to which these writers refer are certainly not literary but take place in a laboratory. . One places oneself in the line of what is.56 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E with constant reference to the accumulated prior works in relation to which any given work is seen. 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. a tradition transmitted through literature. we may well say that alchemy consists in the transmutations of the earth or. For alchemy extends into many realms. author of the Rosarium philosophorum (attr. Thus it is conventional for the author of an alchemical work to list predecessors to whom he is indebted. Indeed. or al-Rhazi (ca. What matters is that the works under the name Geber speak to the later alchemist. After all. Thus alchemy itself consists in processes that are at once spiritual and physical. Roger Bacon.. as well as Islamic figures such as Jabir ibn Hayyan of the eighth century (later latinized as Geber). and takes place by way of fire.E. and the spiritualizing of the body.
bracketed by mythological references. consisting in three alchemical treatises arranged and edited by none other than the alchemist. and author Michael Maier. For “The Golden Tripod” includes treatises by the Benedictine monk Basilius Valentinus. and are to come. and an abbot of Westminster named Cremer. Maier. He bore away the golden fleece from Colchis. If thou knowest the substance and the method. In order to understand the alchemical current of the Western esoteric traditions. His title. places these works in the context of a seventeenth-century struggle between the followers of “Dogmatic” or “Hermetic medicine.”28 And Maier concludes with this admonition: “Let this suffice thee. and where some might find the time to pursue the alchemical work. we find a confluence of major alchemical authors and works that will provide a useful introduction to the tradition. One finds in the literature numerous references to monks as alchemists. But we should recognize the elegant and highly literary nature of Maier’s expression. only goes to show the historical line that we are tracing. it is necessary to look more closely at exemplary works. Thomas Norton. between those who insist on a purely physical medicine consisting in the treatment of symptoms. “The Golden Tripod.” derives from the words of the Delphic priestess: “The feud between the Meropes and the Ionians will not cease until the Golden Tripod. Maier deliberately brackets his alchemical texts with literary epigrams.” that is. the conflict between merely physical medicine and Hermetic medicine can be resolved through the study of alchemy. But in a work titled “The Golden Tripod” (1618). . For he bore away the golden fruit from the Hesperian garden and blessed with them fair Germany’s fields. and gave it to us by mighty toil. we find such a plethora of both collections of images and written works that it is more than difficult to choose. .” In other words. and a medicine that includes other dimensions and is centered in the alchemical or spagyric arts of transmutation. and thou knowest all. We might begin by remarking on the fact that two of the three authors Maier included were Benedictines. Here. Basilius Valentinus and Eirenaeus Philalethes (seventeenth century). . useful in demonstrating some kind of continuity. but without value in revealing the actual nature of the alchemical tradition itself. of course. physician. as Valentine scatters abroad in this one book . the treatise joins what we may call a mythological field. preceding Valentinus’s treatise on the “great stone” with the words “Pactolus contains not such great treasures. which Vulcan cast into the sea. and historically it makes sense that the monasteries were places where writings from antiquity on could be stored.”29 Thus the alchemical work exists within a classical literary context. nor does gold-bearing Hebrus roll down such precious things in its golden sand. is brought into the house of the man who knows the things that are. Indeed. seek not many utensils for thy labor. it is enough. were.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 57 Michael Maier (early seventeenth century). composer. in his preface.
with a furnace and various kinds of glass and tools. the queen a three-flowered plant. learned men of the country gather to decide the meaning of this enigma. he cured a sick fellow monk completely. and this Mars has done. over a fire. and the commentary tells us of the uses of the stone.” pleads the case of her husband. including two archers shooting at targets. to be invisible.”34 The second of Maier’s treatises is Thomas Norton’s “Ordinal of Alchemy.” The first of the twelve keys shows a couple.” With its spiritual essence. and a man sowing seeds. On the title page of this little collection we see an alchemist’s laboratory. The practical instructions of the treatise are interwoven with literary passages. The twelfth key shows a man with a lion in a laboratory. The commentary here discusses putrefaction and resurrection. and the other planets holding a colloquy to decide what to do. while to the king’s right we see a leaping wolf. Here you see the perfection of our Art. despite its elliptical means of expression. 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. all shall be judged by fire and reduced to ashes. Shortly thereafter. a half-naked man with a scythe. a vanishing of all unhealthy matter. with Mars imprisoning Mercury under the control of Vulcan. as well as an angel blowing a horn. while the Moon. “a beautiful lady in a long silver robe. to become impalpable . and proved of the greatest efficacy.” which is of quite a different nature from Valentinus’s.33 The eighth of the twelve keys shows a man rising from the grave.”31 This combination of practical instructions and more figurative. performing all things whatsoever possible under the sun. the king bearing a staff. and separate it into its component parts” “prior to what it was before it became gold. and a venerable man with white hair and a flowing purple robe tells them “cause that which is above to be below. while around him are various figures.”32 The fourth of the twelve keys shows a skeleton atop a casket or box. and that which is palpable. .” For these apparently practical instructions become a tale about the planets as characters in a little drama. and the text tells us how at the end of the world. and this secret the entire subsequent treatise is meant to reveal. on the far left side a single candle. is at once literary and practical. and how one who possesses it “shall possess all in all. being bereft of images . experiences a renovation of his whole nature. the Sun. Saturn wants to kill Mercury. after which there will be formed a new heaven and a new earth. . The commentary here tells us that “whoever drinks of this golden fountain. before him a burning barrel. as when we are told to “take a quantity of the best and finest gold. a king and a queen. that which is visible. and to the queen’s left. as a result of which ultimately the great secret of alchemy was revealed to him. in the background a dead tree stump.”30 Eventually he found a mineral substance that “exhibited many colors. literary passages also includes a series of images called the “twelve keys.58 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Yet the treatise itself.
After admonitions about how we must avoid deceit and self-delusion. 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 the secret is not to be given out to anyone except the Abbot and Prior of the monastery. of . as opposed to literary and figurative allusions. three of rabusenum. so as not to lose legibility over time. and prepared in about four days. There is a long tradition of monasteries as sanctuaries for secret knowledge. Norton tells the story of how he himself was robbed of all he had.” and add to it five ounces of petroleum. Such. and so was let go. and two of willow charcoal. All are to be mixed in the “bath of Neptune. two of orange arsenic. and that all Norton’s instructions are useless except to the wise in light of direct experience. his last testament. Here we have a “full and accurate account of Alchemy without using any obscure technical terms. let his name be blotted out from the Book of Life. 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.”35 And indeed. Even though Dalton had discarded the Red Powder because it had become a source of grief and anxiety. To publish widely his alchemical testament would be to divulge what should remain the secret of those presumably capable of bearing its power. we can understand why he should impose such conditions. Only after such warning tales are we told in more specifics of the nature of the Art. itself an esoteric text made exoteric. Eventually sentenced to death and brought before the executioner. and “whoever does not observe this my mandate. The briefest and most specific of the three treatises is that entitled the “Treatise of Cremer. tells us to “take three ounces of tartar of good claret. and Cremer’s testament does corroborate it. Cremer in this. Dalton said he was happy to die. of course.” in a well-stoppered glass jar. Here reading can take place on multiple levels at once—there is the prosaic reading of instructions. and then of how a certain Thomas Dalton. two of living sulphur. and tortured for four years. he was thrown into a dungeon by one of the king’s retinue. was betrayed to King Edward by an assistant named Delvis who had been sworn to silence. This invocation of the Book of Life naturally suggests one of our primary themes in the study of Western esotericism: reading. who possessed a larger quantity of the Red Powder than any Englishman. we are told. In recent times.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 59 and much more inclined to tell stories.” Benedictine abbot of Westminster. a man named Herbert. But also he is invoking the very language of the Book of Revelation. are the sufferings of those who aspire to a knowledge of the Art. 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.”36 Here we return to the themes of the Book of Revelation—and despite the more or less prosaic terms of this testament. strong and pure. and protected by precisely the same invocation of the Book of Life. His testament is to be copied every sixty years. and given Cremer’s explicit instructions.
not only by looking at words on a page.” consisting in the imaginative landscape. The cosmos is created through the divine imagination. where we see literature conveying the transmutation of consciousness that manifests in the natural world as well. and the plant grows into its image as best conditions will allow. not all evestra are benefic. and animal realms. but is joined with them in the imagination. then. allegories. There are incalculable numbers of evestra. so too there is an inner world where the imagination may draw forth hidden things from ‘seed’ into flower. just as we might look at an image reflected in a mirror or water. one branch of alchemy. 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. According to Paracelsus. Imagination governs the development of things. these subtle realms and beings may be encountered in the realm of the imagination. to enter into it until its images and approach permeate one’s consciousness and become second nature? Such a “second nature. ethereal counterparts. air. and figurative expressions that so characterize alchemical literature. fire. beyond the book of nature is the Book of Life. But in any event.” Just as the sun draws forth the visible and growing forms of plants. the individual human being may participate in the divine imagination that brings forth nature itself. for they occupy different dimensions within it. literary allusions. Spagyric medicine. not merely from the outside and as other. One learns to read the inner significance of the book of nature. one may know the inner nature of anything. Through these evestra. Paracelsus tells us. everything that exists in the physical cosmos has what he calls evestra. To say. which exist in subtle matters of their own kind—for instance.’ then. water. Confronted with such a colloquy. poems. or earth—and which may know nothing of the human world even though they exist in the same cosmos. Here the individual mind is not separated from mineral. We may ‘read. Of course. vegetable. what is an aspiring alchemist to do but contemplate such a work. and so it is only natural that humanity also participates in this power. its subtle essence. Clearly the imagination plays a role in the processes of alchemy. to carry it within. which in turn may awaken the corresponding quality in the human being and thereby effect healing. which perceives and participates in these other subtler dimensions of existence. which Paracelsus in De virtute imaginativa called a “sun in the soul of man. but also through the power of the imagination. And of course. But here ‘imagination’ does not belong to any individual—rather. consists in the awakening of subtler dimensions of a given plant. but inwardly and as mysteriously connected to oneself by way of imagination. but then there is also another kind of reading that we see in the collections of images. that alchemy takes place in the imagination is not to say that it is imagi- . epigrams.60 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E course. for the image of what a flower or plant is exists germinally in the seed. allows one to see the actual landscape or “first nature” in a different way.
this Mist-Spirit-Water is Salt or Earth . . 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. and this is characteristic of the work as whole.” and to a host of Biblical references. This is the true Ground of Nature . Amor proximi proceeds instead to refer in passing to the knowledge of the “heathens. Of course. It is as though here alchemy. Many alchemical works are more susceptible to one interpretation than another—hence some. but the new ambience is not so much Hermetic with a tinge of Christianity as it is totally Christian. wine. and so forth. and salt—are not uncommon in physical alchemy. indeed. but here are clearly spiritualized. like Cremer’s testament. geschärft mit dem Wein der Weisheit. confronted by the emerging materialist science of chemistry. but that in this particular worldview.”38 It is revealing that the light of nature is said to lead to the “whole Machina mundi” (II. 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. But rather than proceeding toward specific instructions. The mechanistic worldview is all surface. . just as the true maguss leads us to Christ. one finds a new kind of alchemical literature whose primary implications are almost exclusively spiritual. The prefatory remarks to the work refer to the “heavenly Wisdom” who reveals the “two lights of nature and of grace. a matter of .HISTORICAL CURRENTS 61 nary. fire. The terms used in its title—oil. while others. Genesis 1:27. empowered with the Salt of divine and natural Truth). a distinctly modern image of the cosmos and a term that is in fact repeated in the work. bekräftiget mit dem Salz der göttlich und natürlichen Wahrheit (Amor Proximi. philosophy. these two poles became further separated. light air. which mist transforms itself into a water of life in the new birth. But during the late seventeenth and the eighteenth centuries. II Chronicles 13:5. like Valentinus’s. the true medicine of the soul is the pure light of grace. 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. and mist. may be interpreted in both ways at once. even here physical significances of alchemy are implied. more real than what we see in the physical. including Romans 1.74). sharpened with the Wine of Wisdom. emphasize their recipe quality.” The true medicine of the body is the pure light of nature. it is entirely real. as a spirit. flowing out of the Oil of Divine Compassion. moves away from physical alchemy into the realm of spiritual references alone.37 And thus “the true medicine is thus the heart of Wisdom: out of this heart (or eternal spiritual salt) emerges life. geflossen aus dem Oel der göttlichen Barmherzigkeit. . and medicine together” that leads us through Wisdom to God.
spiritual dimensions of the work. which concerns the transmutation of the planetary qualities in an individual. and which leads to the individual being a “true Theologus. Water. and based in the books of Teutonici philosophi Jacob Böhme (II. the great Universal-Stone wherein the fall and restoration of mankind is clearly to be seen with the eyes” (II. and hence we find a Christian alchemy. that is the mystery wherein all lies. and indeed have spiritual meanings as well within alchemical work. And what we are seeking is “a single subject in Nature. Thus. but here they are transposed to reveal a particular metacosmic vision. And so we find the three One. and it is not surprising that during the rise of secular science we find alchemical treatises that emphasize the inward. as a kind of counterpoint.80). is a perspective that is all depth. and one three . in whom the Cabala with all its sciences as a holy Fire and Blood is. here instead we are being introduced to the hidden nature. In fact. . we are told. Yet alchemy. easily translates into a dominant religion. However. Oil. for it is conceivable that physical alchemy could degenerate into nothing more than chemistry. or perhaps as its translation into Christian allegory. Fire. Of course it is possible to see the spiritualized alchemy of Amor Proximi as the abandonment of more physical alchemy.105). and is the ground of the revelation of the eternal Godhead” (II. nor whence they emerge (II.83). or Water is. these terms have an alchemical provenance. but they don’t really understand the spiritual nature of these elements. But we could also see this spiritual alchemy as the counterbalancing restoration of alchemy’s gnostic. Salt. such a degeneration is exactly what we find happening during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. and so the author leads us through a discussion of the metacosmic nature and history of humanity. the author writes “That the earth is dark. a true Astrologus. but here. There is a process of spiritual alchemy alluded to in Amor Proximi. in whom the philosophy as a holy Salt.83). inward dimension. but the Sun light. here the terminology of alchemy is spiritualized in order to discuss the awakening and rebirth of the individual. of existence. like Hermeticism. Here we find no interest in historical explanations. the depths.62 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E measurement and quantity leading to technology. for instance. .93). for here the “illuminated brotherhood” finds written the “holy Scripture” (II. in whom the Magia is a holy Light or Spirit. Certainly we do not find in this treatise the kind of alchemical work that we saw in the previous works. in harmony” (II. and a true Medicus. The Sophists want to seek the prima materia among the elements. and when either one is absent. Yet those who don’t seek God’s knowledge in nature also remain blind. Whoever wishes to understand practically this depth-perception must first have a fundamental knowledge of it. what is left soon ceases to be alchemy and may be absorbed into the dominant religion or may become chemistry. traditional alchemy consists in both inner and outer work at once.77). Oil. just as we find for instance Islamic .
albeit scorned when the art is claimed by frauds and puffers. not merely a pastiche. from spiritual to physical. of the second. for here we again see the confluence of our principal themes in Western esotericism. as well as Theo-Philosophia Theoretico-practica by Samuel Richter (1711). 1675). This is not . Gichtel was reputed at the time to have been a practicing alchemist since his light was often on long into the night.39 There are also the many references to alchemy that we find in Johann Georg Gichtel’s Theosophia Practica (letters from 1668–1710). The Opus Mago-Cabbalisticum is unquestionably a synthesis of many currents already touched upon. the Engelsbrüder or Angelic Brethren. and Kabbalistic themes. whom Gichtel claimed to be able to spot immediately. and of the third. and gnostic metaphysics. Christian theosophy. on mercury. Kabbalah. practical alchemy is seen as a subset of spiritual alchemy. 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.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 63 alchemy. and he and his spiritual circle. detailing an alchemical process of awakening and transmutation that could be read simultaneously as physical and as spiritual alchemy. including “Chymie” or alchemy. of course. we find numerous direct references to alchemy in Gichtel’s own letters. The implication. which produces mysticoalchemical works such as Amor Proximi. is among the clearest works on spiritual alchemy that we have encountered. it may be useful to concentrate on another work. on salt. But to see the way alchemy was incorporated into theosophy. astrological. which in turn is incorporated into the full breadth of theosophic discipline. astrology. but whose spiritual implications are always foremost. Hence the fundamental organization of the Opus is alchemical. a letter to a lady who had discovered the prima materia and had asked him for further guidance. Here practical alchemy is taken for granted as a real possibility. and whose ending is almost identical to the conclusion of Amor Proximi. subsisted without any visible means of monetary support. But such rumors aside. beginning with the organization of the first section. and in the end must conclude that in this theosophic worldview.”40 There can be little doubt that von Welling was drawing on a wealth of specific knowledge of alchemical.” the “fall of Lucifer” and the “eternal peace and gentle still joy of the eternal divine kingdom. and John Pordage’s Epistle on the Philosophic Stone (ca. Indeed. on sulfur. Opus Mago-cabbalisticum et theosophicum by Georg von Welling (1735). the Western alchemical current flows into Böhmean Christian theosophy. 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. the Opus Mago-Cabbalisticum et Theosophicum (1735) of Georg von Welling. is that Gichtel himself possessed the keys to the full range of alchemy. Pordage’s work. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.
His discussions of alchemy and astrology are very detailed and full of specific tables. Typical of von Welling’s syncresis is an illustration showing at the top the Ungrund. to properly prepare mercury. The Preparation of the Stone]” as well as “Non plus ultra Veritatis: das ist.” and so forth. Arrayed next to these names are their Hebrew equivalents. meaning the transcendent Godhead. he appends to his five-hundred-page Opus several alchemical treatises in their entirety. then in a Liquorem . next to which is the Kabbalistic term ’en sof. the basic Dionysian angelical hierarchy. including D. Die Bereitung des Steins [Celestial Manna: the Heavenly Manna Named. diagrams. das himmlische Manna genannt. one should not think that because von Welling aimed at such breadth as a pansophic esotericism requires. and “Manna Coeleste. tables. But it is with alchemy that von Welling’s work both begins and ends. and instructions. he elided many details. Hensing’s “Discurs von dem Stein der Weisen [Discourse on the Stone of the Wise]” (1722). and Kabbalistic references in a theosophic framework. .”41 Von Welling’s astrological instructions are equally detailed. and beneath which is a series of concentric circles labeled “Seraphim. 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. but might well also be called pansophic.” Further. von dem Universali und den Particularibus [Alchemical Questions on the Universali and the Particularibus]” (1726).64 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E to say that all of his sources were entirely accurate—for instance. or mercury. he begins each of his large sections with specific discussions of alchemical salt. Indeed. sulfur. “Alchimische Fragen. At the same time. Eine Untersuchung der Hermetischen Wissenschaft [Nothing More True: That is: An Investigation into Hermetic Science]” by Francisco Sebastiano Fulvo Melvolodemet. and calcify it by hand. . Beside these is a heptangle around which are arrayed the seven planetary symbols. The collection concludes with a translation into German of English alchemist George Ripley’s song of the newborn alchemical . 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 . diagrams. one needs to “reduce it in an alcohol. For instance. in other words. . some of his Hebrew seems rather distorted—but he had in mind producing a vast compendium of esoteric knowledge unified within a theosophic understanding. and in this regard he succeeded. and analyses clearly meant to produce not only a theoretical synthesis but a useful compendium of source material. a term of Jacob Böhme’s for the abyss prior to creation. and into these he weaves discussions using planetary and alchemical symbols. with a plethora of astrological symbols. .” “Thronen. charts. of Pisa. Here. prepare it in a series of alchemical operations in a pair of vials. Christian scripture.” “Cherubim. x (the Moon) and out of P (Saturn).
All of this underscores how alchemy and Hermeticism pervaded the pansophic esotericism that came to dominate the early modern period. but subtle and spiritual qualities as well. Thus we may well say that. we find that such aims are in fact vast indeed. but only with the guidance of the alchemical handbooks. In this sense. vegetable. for example.” for it consists not only in the creation of a particular form. of course. Alchemy. as well as with what these represent. of course. fire. In some respects. and the Hermeticism with which it is allied are religious chameleons. particularly in the profusion of brilliant images . Here. for its focus is not only in the mesocosm of the work. like a painting. alchemy extends this literary mysticism into the entire cosmos itself. alchemy is like learning to use a language. alchemy goes well beyond contemporary conceptions of art. a natural homology between alchemy and art. and that we will shortly examine further. when we look more closely at alchemical literature itself. which consists in the transmutation and restoration of all things. air. 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. One must learn both to ‘read. is a relatively modern phenomenon. While it is true that alchemical aims may at first seem circumscribed to the revelation of the philosopher’s stone. recipes. and to ‘write. Such perfecting takes place in the alchemist’s laboratory. and images. but even more in the perfection of humanity. as we have come to see it since the seventeenth century. but in a transmutation both of the focus of the work and of the artist. water.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 65 king. and this almost infinite adaptability undoubtedly derives from the universalism of their central perspective. or grammars. both seek to perfect this creativity. the alchemical work transcends that of the artist. animal. including not only chemicals and equipment. requiring long familiarity with special symbols. we can easily see. so that everything—mineral. but also in the microcosm of the artist. the stars and planets—is revealed as a cosmic language and as a spiritual means of transmutation. Here it is perhaps most useful to step back and consider how alchemy. however far-reaching. It is no coincidence that the alchemical work is also called the “great Art. Alchemy.42 Both entail emulating or paralleling the creativity of life itself. fits into our general discussion of Western esotericism and literature. consisting not only in the perfection of elixirs or medicines drawn from herbs and metals.’ There is. and in which writing can form a pathway to the divine. contemporary art and literature remain quite limited in scope by comparison to alchemy as spiritual illumination. capable of taking on whatever coloration fits with their surroundings. If Kabbalah entails a literary mysticism in which letters and numbers reveal secret spiritual depths. for its claims are to a lasting awakening and transmutation of the alchemist. letters.’ in the broadest possible sense. broadly seen.
humanity. alchemy consists in coming to understand the nature of consciousness and the consciousness of nature. For in alchemy literature is a means of transmitting precise knowledge of nature. and the divine that it is alchemy’s goal to restore. like those of science. albeit knowledge that is not quantitative but qualitative.66 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E and the complex kinds of linguistic riddles visible in alchemical works. and the divine. Here in alchemy. extends into a range of realms at once. and science are one. no doubt of that. 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. The ‘solution. and the restoration of the right . But in alchemical works. 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. who then are listed by later mystics—so too in alchemy earlier alchemists are invoked by the later ones in a litany of literary transmission. and that presupposes and requires humility before power greater than oneself. in the manner of a mathematical equation. except that an alchemical work is not simply decoded as if. Contemporary views of literature. so too is the apparent (but strictly modern) division between the sciences and the humanities. nature. religion. and also a successor’s primary guide to achieving transcendence. largely have been based in a fundamental division between the writer and the reader. But virtually no one has looked at alchemy as a field where all such apparent divisions are overcome. that alchemy is chiefly psychological. between subject and object. one would have the solution. Indeed. literature takes on a greater significance than simply alluding to an oral tradition where the real mysteries are conveyed. However. I would use the word decoding. literature. This unity is founded in the fundamental union of humanity. For there is here an operative mysticism of the word—the written word and image become a medium to express transcendence. Rather. Oral commentary by a master is important. were one to decipher what x and y mean. It is true that more recently theorists. the mysteries are conveyed primarily through literary riddles and parabolic expressions. and cannot be understood without reference to our inner human landscape of consciousness.’ in the case of alchemy. this is expressed in terms of the Fall and expulsion from Eden. like Jung. For not only is the division between self and other or between subject and object gradually revealed to be false in alchemy. In Christian terms. have begun to argue the insufficiency and even the falsehood of such easy divisions. as in Christian mysticism and in Jewish Kabbalism. both of physics and of literary criticism. alchemy is understood through living symbols that allow us to understand nature. between the observer and that which is observed. humanity. This is by no means to suggest. In alchemy. and the divine in ever more profound ways.
Western esotericism is not easily fixed or quantified but changes according to its historical context. During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. We should also keep in mind the growing split. 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. precisely what we find at the end of numerous alchemical treatises. the essential purpose of the resonant alchemical symbolism. 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. it has not only continued to exist to the present day. one must keep in mind its essential fluidity: alchemy during the early modern period did not exist alone. and against the divine. The major currents of modern Western esotericism developed in the context of burgeoning knowledge about the past. In the study of Western esotericism. with the invention of the printing press and with concomitant investigation into the numerous esoteric currents of antiquity. PA N S O P H I C . especially during the eighteenth. and Freemasonry. Indeed. and twentieth centuries. Rosicrucianism. Whereas in the medieval period and earlier. nineteenth. esotericism necessarily became even more eclectic in scope. This universalism is the dream that was to haunt virtually the entirety of modern Western esotericism. divided against the world. between the sciences and the . And it is to these that we will now turn our attention. it became possible to conceive of a universal approach to knowledge that included the whole of the human inheritance. We have already seen how alchemy emerged during the early modern period. Literature here is a means toward awakening greater consciousness. in the modern era. Such a restoration takes us beyond the separated consciousnesses in which we now find ourselves. R O S I C R U C I A N . THE DIVINE SCIENCE: T H E O S O P H I C . but also fed into other major currents of Western esotericism. esoteric universalism became more and more commonplace. but in relation to a host of other currents. it is perhaps more useful to keep in mind their social and historical contexts. But alchemy did not disappear thereafter. As we have seen. pansophy. written works were comparatively difficult to obtain. and brings us gradually by way of a spiritual process that includes physical and transphysical work. against ourselves. in particular Christian theosophy. toward the revelation of the fundamental consciousness informing all that lives.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 67 human relationship to nature and to the divine corresponds to a restoration of paradise. when its literature and imagery attained its most brilliant formation. even if its fundamental outlines or concerns remain the same. So it is with alchemy.
the discovery of more complex technology. the fields of alchemy. including. nor is that our aim. illustration and literature. Böhme lived during a time of social unrest. But Western esotericism. particularly during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. and the sciences and humanities in turn ever more separated from religion. medicine and astrology. say. all human knowledge was conceived of as unified—like a wheel whose spokes are the various disciplines and arts. aimed for a universal approach to knowledge that. But his inspiration came chiefly from within. and in religion. But here we do not have space for a complete survey of all such figures. rather than seeking to separate. John Pordage. all acted to separate religious faith from scientific investigation and from literature and the arts. and in general correspond to the description of “Renaissance man. Thus during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries we find numerous major esoteric figures who engaged in scientific investigations. For the Western esoteric traditions that emerged during this period. much more indebted to the medieval era than is usually supposed. Any study of modern Western esoteric traditions must consider the work of Jacob Böhme (1575–1624). and drawing from his visionary experiences. in the arts. Whereas in medieval Europe and England. we find a historical movement toward more and more specialized and fragmented knowledge. near Poland.68 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E humanities. or Aurora. instead seeks ever more firmly to conjoin them. to name only a few of the most luminary. in a border area where he came in contact with a range of esoteric traditions. our approach being thematic. trace the broader lineaments of recent Western esotericism.” One thinks of figures as diverse as Robert Fludd. archaeology. the “illuminated shoemaker” of Görlitz. including Kabbalism and Hermeticism. as we have already glimpsed in the case of alchemy. this sense of unity dissolved. the emergence of biology. quite the opposite movement. a city on the eastern side of Germany. at least in the secular world. nonsectarian and ecumenical approaches to spirituality. physical chemistry from metaphysics. explored theology and metaphysics. It is true that. and whose center is spiritual knowledge—with the advent of the Protestant era. as well as De Signatura . and geology. and the historical and comparative investigations into Christian origins. in the sciences. in Western esotericism we find. and Franz von Baader. However. Indeed. Rather. he wrote numerous works beginning with Die Morgenröte. The Copernican revolution. with each of the disciplines ever more separated from the others. and including a vast commentary on Genesis called Mysterium Magnum. chemistry. the historical movement of Western esotericism during the modern period is to unify the entire range of human knowledge. we will instead look closely at some seminal authors in the modern esoteric traditions and by so doing. practiced medicine and astrology. wrote literary works. comparative and syncretic. continued and developed this belief in a unified approach to knowledge. from the eighteenth to the twentieth century.
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
of Christian theosophy as well. Böhme’s writing and thought both paralleled and influenced that of the Brotherhood of the Rosy Cross. which first came to general public attention with the publication of the Fama Fraternitatis. as well as with its assertion of a secret order as keeper of profound and powerful knowledge and means. and who goes as well to Egypt—precisely where European esotericism has always located its sources of arcane knowledge. the book is a central image and source of wisdom.” C.44 For when we look at the actual wording of the Fama and the Confessio. was to follow Christ by renewing all arts to perfection. “so that finally man might thereby understand his own nobility and worth. both the Fama and the Confessio reveal the fundamental themes we have seen woven through the Western esoteric traditions. we find ample confirmation of all the primary elements of Western esotericism thus far traced. Hermeticism. are to be collected by the wise. according to the Fama. and how far his knowledge extendeth into Nature. C. But in any event. and why he is called Microcosmos.72 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Fama Fraternitatis (1614) and the Confessio Fraternitatis (1615). And of course this brief work. 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. a visionary trip to the Orient of the spirit. who travels among the Arabians and the Jews on a quest to Jerusalem. Not coincidentally. and later we are told that Paracelsus had also “diligently read over the book M: whereby his sharp ingenium was exalted. translates the “book M. “or a perfect method of all arts. To see the journey as a visionary recital also helps elucidate its most salient feature: the book. he begins a secret fraternity with only four members including him- . like us. This journey may also be seen as a kind of visionary recital. even if at times such orders did exist.”46 When C. like its complement the Confessio. Indeed. R. if not universalism. but at the same time it links the Rosicrucian movement from the very beginning with the most gnostic aspects of Islam and Judaism. R. and later. for it captured the imagination of the age with its tale of Christian Rosencreutz and his mysterious journeys through exotic lands and secret knowledge. we are told at the outset that were the learned wise. underscoring immediately the movement’s eclecticism. the gnostic goal of Kabbalism. returns eventually to Germany. in the Orient. R. generally speaking. and among Sufis and Kabbalists. and this is the “book M. caused a great stir in Europe.” These “Books of Nature. For from the very beginning of the Fama. whereas there is another more mysterious book that is the source of wisdom..” however. The Rosicrucians’ goal. But there are many other elements here that correspond exactly to our primary themes. travels to the Fez and to the Damascus of the mind.” into good Latin from Arabic. they could collect Librum Naturae. R. The Fama begins by telling the story of C..”45 This universal renewal and extension of knowledge is.
not the body? And does not the “one hundred thousand” resonate with the Book of Revelation. it is to read the universal book. he was placed in his tomb with a parchment book. the Confessio asks: “Were it not a precious thing. For when Christian Rosencreutz died. whereof all learned who make themselves known to us. And there is in the tomb’s description a great deal of arcane geometry and architecture. full of geometric symbolism. undestroyed. with a large dictionary . of the uniting of all arts and sciences. The description is often hard to follow. and come into our brotherhood. Certainly reading and writing are central to the Rosicrucian mysteries. they also made the first part of the book M. forms “sentences” and a kind of book of the hidden principles of nature and of the microcosm. as when we are told that every “side or wall is parted into ten figures. 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. shall find more wonderful secrets by us than heretofore they did attain unto . or are able to believe or utter. so that no one might later be deceived. and pay no mind to the Pope or Muhammed. by four persons only. first. Interestingly.” There is more.”50 Thus the essence of Rosicrucianism is the universal philosophy informing all arts and sciences. . that you could so read in one only book. and by them was made the magical language and writing. and all are sworn to write down all that they learn.”47 These early members of the Rose Cross order then collected of their own writings “a book of all that which man can desire.”48 But the import is clear: the tomb’s architecture itself. .”49 How could this mysterious building be invisible and untouched unless the building. Yet once again. all that which in all other books (which heretofore have been. are now. or hope for. . called I. and with mention of one hundred fortyfour thousand saved from the wicked world at time’s end? These themes. and hidden to the wicked world. . and withal by reading understand and remember. wish. recur as well in the Confessio. like the book. the which (if we well behold our age) containeth much of Theology and medicine . and of reading the mysterious book of books. every one with their several figures and sentences. sciences. of eclecticism or universalism. itself a work with intricate geometric symbolism. and shall be) hath been. . and arts. is. belongs to the mind and imagination. . “After this manner. The Confessio begins by telling us that its authors cannot be suspected of any heresy. the foundations and contents of all faculties. as they are truly shown and set forth Concentratum here in our book. but follow only Christ. and shall be learned and found out of them?”51 . we find references to far-flung places and hidden wisdom. a century old. “began the Fraternity of the Rose Cross. as well as a host of mysterious letters and Latin inscriptions. than that which is the head and sum.” the Fama continues. Among other questions. and we find this definition of the Rosicrucian philosophy: “No other Philosophy have we.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 73 self.
and above all. and endue them with learning . the universal revelation of Christ to humanity.” The authors of the Fama and the Confessio certainly believed in the hierohistorical significance of certain dates and astrological conjunctions connected.74 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Likewise. the Bible. These aspects of Rosicrucianism.”53 The implication throughout the Fama and the Confessio is that there is dawning a miranda sexta aetatis. yea. and writing in a “magic language. who as we have seen drew upon Kabbalistic sources. But this new revelation must be approached with humility. into all beasts .54 It is no coincidence that Böhme titled his first book Aurora. including the hierohistorical view of dates and the expectation of an impending apocalypse or unveiling. metahistorical events at the end of time. is hidden the real essence of Christianity itself. or worse than nothing. correspond closely to what we also find in Christian theosophy at roughly the same time. a new era for mankind. with all of its emphasis on hierogeometry. unto any man without the special pleasure of God. . in the which withall is expressed and declared the nature of all things. of course. . . with the date 1604.” Such an idea of a magic language has. . of course. . It certainly emerges in the Middle Ages in the works of Agrippa and Trithemius. and made. for instance. without and against the will of God. . yet shall we never be manifested . in which we find the sources of many subsequent works illustrated by . a very long history in the West. so hath he imprinted them most apparently into the wonderful creation of heaven and earth. for instance.”52 “These characters and letters. reminds us rather strikingly of the Book of Revelation. and grave warnings are given to those who approach its mysteries selfishly.”55 The implication is that here. and that one must approach it with humility or find nothing. or sixth age. it shall be so far from him who thinks to get the benefit and be partaker of our riches and knowledge. and held that there was emerging a new revelation. in the Rosicrucian mysteries. Agrippa and Trithemius are well known for their primary and influential works on magic. All of this. One can hardly miss the Biblical resonances of these final words of the Confessio: “Although we might enrich the whole world. we are told that to some it is permitted that they see and use “those great letters and characters which the Lord God hath written and imprinted in heaven and earth’s edifice. and have found out. an era that recalls the earlier hierohistorical mysticism of Joachim of Fiore and his complex theory of a coming “age of the Holy Spirit. stretching back at least to the Gnostics. Clearly for our purposes the most relevant aspect of these most seminal Rosicrucian documents is their embrace of linguistic mysticism. Throughout they emphasize reading the divine books of humanity and nature. yea. and quite probably to Egypt. From which characters or letters we have borrowed our magic writing. as God hath here and there incorporated them in the Holy Scriptures. 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. a new language for ourselves.
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.’s tomb. By 1623. in his controversial “conversations with spirits” along with Edward Kelley. universal culture dedicated to the investigation of the language of nature.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 75 sigils and magic squares. even a kind of nascent Rosicrucian witch-hunt. The Rosicrucian dream. or pansophia. 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. R. stellar and numerical patterns connected to specific angels. and it too has been used in magical workings. is the date of Dee’s death? And is it only coincidence that the Fama and Confessio make so much of a “magical language. a work so incredibly full of dense oneiric symbolism that next to it other literary works generally seem comparatively devoid of symbols. that is.” 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. discovered the “Enochian language. By using these stellar and numerical patterns in ritual magic. John Dee (1527–1604). and the outrageously baroque. one is calling upon the language of the stars in order to invoke the powers or intelligences with which they are connected. But it is worthwhile to note that the Rosicrucian furor lasted only a few short years. 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. written in the microcosm and in the macrocosm. there was a great deal of anti-Rosicrucian sentiment. we have no reason to delve into the question of whether there existed any such secret orders. demons. One also finds such a magical language in the work of Dr. was of a non-sectarian. as well as a developing mythology of Rosicrucianism. disappearing around 1620. Here.” which has subsequently played an extensive role in the history of magic in the West. it is a culture founded on Kabbalah and alchemy. One finds this word appearing frequently in Hermetic publications immediately following . on a pansophic mysticism. and the subsequent furor manifested itself in a host of other Rosicrucian works. peaceful. which we see outlined in the Fama and Confessio. the Confessio. or intelligences.56 Is it only coincidence that the date given as the discovery of C. particularly in France. if there was such a fraternity as claimed in the Fama and Confessio. who. as Frances Yates notes. it should be publicly proclaimed in this way. as well as in subsequent literature. The Enochian language is a mysterious tongue that requires tables or “keys” for its deciphering. or why. Here we must introduce the word pansophy. precisely the time of political upheaval in Germany and the advent of the Thirty Years’ War. brilliant. Here. 1604. and playfully symbolic Chemical Wedding of Christian Rosencreutz.
but one might well see chemistry as a dimunition of alchemy—for alchemy requires humility and selflessness. and inquiry into nature more generally. healing. but what the word signifies certainly does not disappear. for instance.. The pansophic current includes all the primary streams of esotericism. but one also finds the emergence of various other shades of magic. Stellatus cites Hermes Trismegistus (of course!). and draws eclecticly on much earlier ‘pagan’ traditions like those attributed to Egypt and Persia. and Michael Maier. It is true that chemistry. or magia naturalis. Ruechlin. including. pansophy resembles the aims and works of Giordano Bruno. as in for instance Joseph Stellatus’s Pegasus Firmamenti sive Introductio brevis in veterum sapientiam [Pegasus of the Firmament. it emphasizes magic. there is a long tradition of Kabbalism as . not specifically Christian. central to the subsequent emergence of modern forms of esotericism. Pansophy as a movement corresponds exactly to this kind of self-placement and synthesis: it is the emergence of a universalist Western esotericism willing to draw on all previous esoteric movements. The word pansophy itself largely disappears from the European vocabulary after the eighteenth century. cabala. and gnostic. that quixotic character still insufficiently studied. The most obviously included is natural magic. herbalism. and thus places himself squarely in the mainstream of the primary Western esoteric currents. 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. The pansophic view. or a Brief Introduction to the Ancient Wisdom. In many respects. alchemy. mechanism. Pansophy. The word Pansophia here separates this new form of esotericism from Theosophia. We might recall that. cabalistic. in order to form the basis for a new.p. whereas purely chemical experimentation requires nothing of oneself except to be a firmly rationalist observer. often with Kabbalistic influence. 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. although the Kabbalists we discussed earlier were almost exclusively interested in what we may call high mysticism. which is specifically Christian gnosis. various forms of magic. an esoteric universalism that includes alchemy. of course. 1618)]. derived from alchemy. but the pansophic impulse nonetheless has continued to govern Western esotericism up to the present day. certainly was temporarily vanquished by rationalist materialism. alchemical. hence on our separation from and manipulation of them. is universal. and technologism. in its aims and in the sources upon which it draws. in contrast to theosophy. but like Dee.76 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E the Rosicrucian announcements. universal culture like that imaged in Bacon’s New Atlantis or other utopias of the time. Christian or not. Paracelsus. magical. The latter are all based in an objectivization of the cosmos or of humanity as objects of study.
who makes a pact with Mephistopheles in order to gain knowledge. There are numerous such manuscripts with various versions of these ilustrations. even if it is illicit. diagrams.57 and in all cases is replete with examples of the effort to map universal knowledge not only physical but also metaphysical. as a somewhat medieval figure. One sees this desire to map the cosmos in the emergence. Yet the Faustian impulse to search out all knowledge and means of knowledge. Of course because of the ascent of rationalist materialism and secularism. nee non Magia. Once Protestantism and secularism began to emerge in Europe. D. including sorcery. in later Rosicrucianism. the pansophic impulse is fundamentally similar to the scientific: it consists in investigation into the mysteries of the unknown and of nature.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 77 the basis for magical practices including sorcery. including a French edition titled F. chiefly under the title Physica. et Hyperphysica. Here we have a massive compendium of magical knowledge. which later emerged in almost endless detail in the Geheime Figuren [Secret Figures] of the Rosicrucians. atque Chymia [Divine Figure of Theosoph. and perhaps all belonging to the late eighteenth century. and illustrations revealing the hidden nature of the universe.O. at the other pole research into the previously forbidden also becomes more common. with concentric circles marking divinity at the top. It was probably preceded by and certainly followed by other versions. printed by Theodore de Bry in 1582. The Faustian legend is so resonant still because it expresses something fundamental about the emerging modern period. and if at one pole rationalist disbelief in the transcendent becomes acceptable. was published at Altona in 1785–1788. we tend to think of Faust. and a series of . In some respects. almost all. of vast and intricate tables. Metaphysica. Cabballa: Not Only Magic and Philosophy. And in fact most grimoires have a Hebrew basis for the angelic and demonic names and characteristics that they list for invocation or evocation. was the Calendarium Naturale Magicum Perpetuum Profundissimam Rerum Secretissimarum Contemplationem [Perpetual Natural Magical Calendar] of Tycho Brahe. One also can see in such willingness to incorporate any form of knowledge whatever. de La Rose-Croix. The Geheime Figuren der Rosenkreuzer. predating the Rosicrucian furor but certainly influencing its later productions. But Chemistry].A. including the names and seals or sigils of angels in Hebrew and Latin. planetary correspondences.58 Characteristic of these esoteric illustrations is one entitled Figura Divina Theosoph. the pansophic impetus behind the legend of Johannes Faust. who refused to allow any boundaries to his search for knowledge. one finds a range of possibilities opening up. Among the first of these.. magic squares. This compilation is of special importance for us because it reveals the far-flung syncretic origins of the pansophic impulse. is peculiarly modern and in some respects characteristically pansophic.M. Philosophia. a series of extraordinarily complex illustrations. It is an astonishingly complex illustration. Cabball. and much else.
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 “Mineral Seed. and with the word Chaos. but even more because there is good reason to think of Western esoteric currents in general as being based in verifiable experimentation. yet there is ample reason to use such a term. in investigation without regard for dogmatic religious barriers. and Earth depicted as a ball exists between the elemental and intermediate realms. . or to Rosicrucianism. but a map of the hidden aspects of the world. Below that is an intermediate principial realm marked “Water.M. so too it was an era of hyperphysical cartography. in scholastic theology.A.O. The term occult sciences may raise an eyebrow. that is.” and so forth. Just as the eighteenth century was an era of physical cartography. such as “Ein Prophet gilt nichst in seinem Vaterlande [A prophet is not honored in his native land.O. Fundamentally the same characteristics mark the comprehensive esotericism represented by the D.M. manuscript and the efforts at a comprehensive cosmology found in modern science. For our focus is upon what such an illustration signifies.” “Vegetable Seed. in time and in eternity. Here. and Holy Spirit. for instance. of its hyperphysical dimensions. it seems entirely symbolically appropriate that Dr.” “Animal Seed.A. John Dee. Is there a direct indebtedness to Böhmean theosophy. the lower sphere represents the temporal realm. and in the effort to create a comprehensive map of the cosmos. Here chaos does not mean total confusion so much as ‘potentiality’. And thus when we look at an illustration from D. for instance. Extremely intricate hyperphysical cartography like this seems to be chiefly a creation of the early modern period. is an effort to render a mappa mundi. marked also Father.78 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E triangles and concentric circles below. partaking in both. here we have a different focus.59 There is a great deal of controversy over the precise relation of such a manuscript or illustration to Böhmean theosophy. such spiritual mapmaking has its predecessors in the medieval era. Son.” “Heavenly Seed. of efforts to survey the ethereal realms. but it appears the early modern mania for physical cartography had its exact complement in the occult sciences—indeed. marking a host of alchemical stages and enigmatic sayings as well as planetary and zodiacal symbols. surrounded by winged angelic forms. of course.” and has on either side gnomic sayings. the greatest occultist of his day. we find a more or less typical series of images: above is the Prima Materia. also was relied upon as Queen Elizabeth’s cartographer. in visual form. This middle realm is marked “Figura Cabbalistica. entitled “Unendliche Ewigkeit und Unerforschliche Primum Mobile” [“Infinite Eternity and Unknowable Primum Mobile”].]” Below is an elemental sphere marked with the zodiacal signs. as well as Jehovah in Hebrew. not only because many of the early major scientific figures were in fact also alchemists.
began in the medieval period as one of many craft guilds. This is the kind of comprehensive worldview visible in such illustrations as the ones we see emerging during the eighteenth century. and associated with the vast . but a profound intellectual who consciously sought to bridge the gap between the sciences and religion. invented an industrial process. of course. in the numerous volumes of Emanuel Swedenborg (1688–1772). and is certainly not limited to works labeled Rosicrucian. each of which guarded its particular mysteries. author of such works as Theomagia. denigrated in his own day as something of a plagiarist. And it is in the sociopolitical realm that the Rosicrucian impulse had considerable impact. originally a scientist. in other words. the social and political realm. science. who in his multivolume Göttliche und Wahre Metaphysica (Frankfurt/Leipzig: 1715/1746) (probably written during the 1670s. chronicled what one discovers in visiting in vision the various discarnate realms of existence. and it is also clearly visible in the major works of that era. who studied minerology. and became one of the most impressive writers on religious and spiritual themes of the nineteenth century. For all of the Rosicrucian. From the seventeenth until the twentieth centuries. and pansophic movements we have discussed in turn fed into Freemasonry. Another such figure. One sees this also. But such universalism is a constant theme from the seventeenth century on. Such a universalist goal does not exclude the human. and later in the development of modern Freemasonry. of course. the arts. Heydon’s Theomagia in particular attempts to be a kind of universal compendium of the occult sciences. or the Glory of the Rosie-cross. (London: 1663–1664) and The Wise-mans Crown. unlike these other more individualistic movements. Western esotericism often aims at universal knowledge. representing exactly such a compendium of knowledge in largely written form (albeit including also illustrations and tables). not so very long ago. a prolific chronicler of the unseen. or the Temple of Wisdom. (London: 1665). first with the consistent emphasis of Rosicrucian works on the transformation of society and the establishment of a utopia. theosophic. as for instance in the vast metaphysical cartography of John Pordage (1604–1681). but after his visionary entry into discarnate realms. And one sees the same effort to bridge the realms in the works of Franz von Baader (1765–1841).HISTORICAL CURRENTS 79 There was a time. stretching right into the nineteenth century. at a truly comprehensive metaphysics and cosmology. which. was John Heydon. maintained a definite organizational hierarchy and structure. Freemasonry. but published only in German). truly a Renaissance man. not a visionary. One finds the same effort at universality in theosophy. and specifically. and literature in a spiritually centered universe. We have already referred to Georg von Welling’s Opus Mago-Cabbalisticum et Theosophicum (1784). those of masonry belonging to the arts of architecture and building. when esotericists could imagine a unified cosmology that included religion.
the exact history of this transformation is sketchy at best. Masonry. contact probably having its origins in the lengthy period of communication between Islamic. and the sciences. 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. John’s College in Oxford. and Christian circles in Spain and Provençe. Robert Fludd went to St. the Kabbalah. to whom the term Renaissance man could certainly be applied. Physica Atque Technica Historia [History of the Macrocosm and Microcosm] (Oppenheim: de Bry. Jewish. and having left his military career to become a justice of the peace in Kent. Such publication was. flourished in the vicinity of Jewish scholarship and Kabbalism. Sir Thomas Fludd. and during this time began work on his major treatises. his father. primarily because of Kabbalistic influence that allowed Freemasonry to transform itself completely from a society devoted to the arts of building. traveled for a time as a tutor to aristocratic families on the Continent. Fludd was somewhat contentious as a young physician. semireligious occult fraternity. Fludd. Like Paracelsus himself. Plato and the Bible. (where he probably began to learn Paracelsian medicine). Martianus Capella and. 1617). It is true that there were other such guilds with their own rites and mysteries. having received a knighthood for his military service. if as a fraternity it had ever really existed at all. but as an influence Rosicrucianism remained powerful. and eventually returned to England to receive his doctorate in medicine. including his encyclopedic Utriusque Cosmi Maioris Scilicet et Minoris Metaphysica. but the Freemasons endured the longest. the conventional way of advertising one’s desire to join the fraternity. 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.80 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E cathedrals of medieval Europe. Fludd was among the first to develop a comprehensive esoteric framework for seeing the world. in 1616 and 1617. the arts. Of course. of course. Indeed. but it is clear that like Rosicrucianism. of course. there seems little doubt that Rosicrucianism itself— whose apocalyptic hopes for an immediate reform of humanity were dashed by the reality of the Thirty Years’ War in Germany—in turn fed into the Masonic stream. and although . on which he explicitly drew. clearly sought to incorporate the full range of human knowledge into his theosophia perennis. and Rosicrucianism. to a speculative. Indeed. and among his primary influences were Kabbalism. intended as a vast compendium of human knowledge including theosophy. and its universalist esotericism became immensely influential in Masonic circles chiefly through the auspices of Robert Fludd and Elias Ashmole.” published in Leiden. Freemasonry became the nexus for many prior esoteric traditions. Certainly it is the case that Rosicrucianism as a movement dried up fairly early. not surprisingly. Robert Fludd (1574–1637) was born into a Shropshire family.
Mersenne was a friend of the young René Descartes. almost exclusively for esoteric causes. Arthur Dee.” Elias Ashmole. he may indeed have provided a bridge between the earlier Rosicrucian movement and the nascent Masonic one. and back to England. for thus we can see direct evidence of the link between earlier Rosicrucianism and later Freemasonry. John Dee. it is clear that Fludd identified with the Rosicrucian views. 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. Dee’s son. .60 Then again. and especially his treatise Monas Hieroglyphica. 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. back and forth in an intricate series of associations and publications that certainly have not been exhaustively examined. Dr. he did say that the Rosicrucian “Pansophia or universal knowledge in Nature” was very like his own view. Marin Mersenne. used his wealth and influence primarily and one may even say. By the early 1630s. 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. was a remarkable figure who stood at the center of esoteric currents in England. That Ashmole knew of Fludd and his Rosicrucianism is certain.”61 But for our purposes. Himself an alchemist. was very influential in the founding of Rosicrucianism some years after Dee’s travels through Germany and Eastern Europe. born to an aristocratic family. since the Rosicrucians were traditionally sworn to silence. in the Ashmolean library at Oxford. astrologer. for he himself noted that “Robert Fludd in his apology for the Brethren of the Rosie Cross hath gone very far herein. and through his acquaintance with Elias Ashmole. And Dee and Browne in turn knew Ashmole. But in any event. and assiduous bibliophile. Yet this relationship itself is only the tip of a far greater network of associations and friendships as well as influences. Ashmole collected what undoubtedly was and remains one of the world’s greatest collections of papers and books. who was certainly acquainted with Fludd before Fludd’s death in 1637. having been initiated into a Masonic lodge in 1646. was himself an alchemist and esoteric scholar. who in turn was a friend of Sir Thomas Browne. one of the major English literary figures of the seventeenth century. Frances Yates convincingly argues that Dr. who was responsible in part for the renaissance of Rosicrucianism within English Freemasonry. most significant is the fact that Ashmole was demonstrably a Mason. Ashmole.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 81 Fludd later claimed that he received no reply. Such attacks undoubtedly prompted Fludd to write in his Clavis Philosophae that the name Rosicrucian must today be replaced by simply “the Wise.
was not simply an antiquarian. who had left Germany for England after the failure of the Palatinate. If this were the only instance of ‘magical language’ during this era of the emergence of Freemasonry as a vehicle for esotericism. . He also was a practicing Hermetic esotericist. All of this. never referred to it again. one could ignore it. and according to Ashmole’s note in 1653. conveyed to Ashmole “in Silables the true matter of the Philosopher’s Stone. the real . of course.” and transmitted orally from master to one disciple since antiquity. whose mentor was William Backhouse of Swallowfield (1593–1662). This was a Hermetic spiritual adoption. which in turn harks back to the “namelessness” and invisibility of the true Knights of the Round Table in chivalric literature. when Backhouse thought he was dying.” or what Comenius termed the Collegium Lucis. said to have its origins in the revelation of Hermes to his “spiritual son. had had connections with John Dee and Edward Kelley. using a symbolic metalanguage. It is significant that Ashmole. and John Comenius (1592–1690). . Samuel. and now in England all worked at the immediate transformation of society into a peaceful. an esoteric network of illuminated intelligentsia. and wrote himself in Theatrum Chemicum that the spiritual son was under an obligation never to reveal the mystery into which he was initiated. Backhouse contributed old alchemical manuscripts to Ashmole’s collection. but they are in any case gnostic. non-sectarian utopia where all the divisions of knowledge could be studied together. All three of the men had been active in Rosicrucian circles.” “bequeathed to me as a legacy. or as Kabbalistic. although certainly that impulse was strong in him.82 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Ashmole.64 These three men. except to his own spiritual son.62 Backhouse’s father. after recording this revelation. and must remain so. The true name is hidden. and William Backhouse adopted Ashmole as a “son. meaning that they convey the true and secret name and character of the philosophic work. himself an alchemist and antiquarian as well as a botanist and student of architecture. John Dury (1596–1680).”63 That this spoken revelation of the philosopher’s stone comes in “silables” suggests strongly the nature of the Western esoteric linguistic mysticism we have been tracing since antiquity. and only philosophers of the English Revolution. and Hartlib had worked to form such colleges both in Germany .” Samuel Hartlib (1593–1670). resonates closely with the Rosicrucian ideal of silence and invisibility. Comenius had developed a system of education based in analogical correspondences. but instead one finds that a linguistic mysticism was in fact at the heart of a movement that fired the English Civil War. Hugh Trevor-Roper remarks that Cromwell’s movement was impelled by “three philosophers . editor of the extensive Theatrum Chemicum Brittanicum collection of alchemical works. introduced Ashmole to Hermetic circles. These “silables” may be seen as alchemical hieroglyphs. .” attested in a note by Ashmole dated 3 April 1651. were at the center of a movement of educational and societal reform called the “invisible college. of course. .
. esoteric: to limit those who understand it.” certainly a pansophic goal. 2. For Dury listed under “Things to Be Observed” in his platform for social transformation: 1. means that “A Mason is oblig’d by his Tenure to obey the Moral Law . Such a language. which quickly established lodges all across Europe and in America. according to the Constitutions. there is little in the basic principles of Freemasonry to suggest a specific Masonic esotericism. like the symbolism of alchemy. there is another aspect of such a magical language: its universality. . which had a considerable influence in promoting Masonry’s nonsectarian tolerance. Arts and Sciences. and also to convey what cannot be conveyed in common language.65 Dury’s remarks here are interesting not least because they reveal his attraction to Jewish Kabbalism. Chymical. which from a Christian viewpoint could well be defined as “some extraordinary meanes to perfeit the knowledge and unvail the mysteryes” of the Scriptures. Its pansophic universality has its parallel in the universalism of Masonry. Meanes to perfeit the knowledge of the Orientall tongues and to gaine abilities fitt to deale with the Jewes. 3. the conjoining of all the disciplines in service of the “secrets of Nature. Early in the eighteenth century. the establishing of a “magical language” for the conveying of secret knowledge. needless to say. 4. visible in James Anderson’s Constitutions of the Freemasons (1723). whose calling is supposed to be neere at hand. whereby not only the Secrets of Disciplines are harmonically and compendiously delivered. .HISTORICAL CURRENTS 83 and in England. so that by the mid-eighteenth century much of the Western world was dotted with Masonic groups. Philosophicall. but it is on some remarks by Dury that we should now focus. and had often been seen as a means of connecting Christianity with Judaism. . A magical Language whereby secrets may be delivered and preserved to such as are made acquainted with it traditionally. . But most important for us is the final point. Freemasonry. but also the Secrets of Nature are thought to be unfolded . However.”66 But this rationalist tolerance marks exoteric Freemasonry. Some extraordinary meanes to perfeit the knowledge and unvail the mysteryes of the Propheticall scriptures. would transcend any national or cultural linguistic boundaries. The aim of a magical language is. Also important here is the third point. Masonry had a deist and rationalist quality that aided in its spread. and as Edmond Mazet remarks. 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. and Mechanical.
he became a tutor to various aristocratic families. has subsequently been credited with at least some of the inspiration for the later French philosophes and their Encyclopédie. the introduction of alchemical symbolism into the rites. with its general tendency to reject. The work has already been commenced in London. excepting only theology and politics. announced in Ramsay’s oration. it is not surprising that this project. From here he went on to stay with Pierre Poiret. especially in France. a theosophic circle in London. fraternal Freemasonry. . This esotericism was kindled by Andrew Michael Ramsay (1686–1743). developing complicated symbolism in its rituals. 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. but here they take on a distinctly rationalist flavor. he discussed the importance of chivalry and the Templars. On the one hand. while publishing numerous books. became prominent in French Masonry. By this means the lights of all nations will be united in a single work. solid. fellow craftsman. England. thus stimulating a host of higher degrees. Masonry became a vehicle for esotericism. Ramsay also called for a massive project of universal illumination: All the Grand Masters in Germany. suppress. one finds a continuous struggle since at least the eighteenth century between those such as Jean-Baptiste Willermoz (1730–1824). for instance. Ramsay. including. In this oration. Masonic values of rationalism. After her death. Thus we find that Freemasonry has a peculiarly dual relation to esotericism and modernity. or ignore esotericism. In it. deism. . and in 1737 gave an oration that had a profound effect. and a long tradition of eclectic esotericism among its members. . it quickly began to develop an esoteric emphasis. And during this time. a Scotsman who early in his life was a member of the Philadelphian Society of Jane Leade and Francis Lee.84 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Yet if early-eighteenth-century Freemasonry. and master mason. and nonsectarianism certainly helped develop the modern era. after which he became secretary to Madame Guyon.67 There are echoes in this project of the Rosicrucian aims of a century before. and useful in all the sciences and in all the noble arts. especially in England. and those who insist on a much more exoteric. a Böhmenist who then sent him on to Archbishop Fénelon. luminous. and indeed. and by means of the union of our Brothers it may be carried to a conclusion in a few years . On the other hand. nonsectarian basis. had an exoteric. consisting in three degrees of apprentice.68 Within Masonry itself. Italy. who had been initiated into Masonry years before. which will be a universal library of all that is beautiful. one of the founders of the Rectified Scottish Rite and a powerful proponent of speculative or esoteric Masonry. great.
to wit I am. and alchemical currents of Western esotericism. when we look closely at the emergence of Freemasonry. when “the secrets of Freemasonry [were] ordered aright as is now and will be to the end of the world for such as do rightly understand it—in three parts in reference to the blessed Trinity who made all things. but it also later drew explicitly and implicitly on the chivalric. according to the Sepher Yetsirah (1. the Order of the Gold and RosyCross. based as it is on the craft of building. even to this day.” which Edmond Mazet sees as “a clear allusion to the six permutations of the trigrammaton YHW. by which. In other words. especially with the founding of the Orden des Guelden-und Rosen-Cruetzes. the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite. we find that it definitely does draw upon earlier esoteric currents.” as well as references to those who are said to have the “Mason’s word. As we have already seen. in The Whole Institutions of Freemasons Opened (1725): “Yet for all this I want the primitive word. Rosicrucian.”71 And there are some Hebrew words in early Masonic documents—not surprisingly. and so it is not surprising to discover that in 1676 we find Masonry associated with the “Modern Green Ribbon’d Caball. we find an exorcism ritual to be used by Masons in the construction of a building. Freemasonry.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 85 Yet despite the insistence of some on a more exoteric Masonry. of human and divine architecture both. that is. In the Graham manuscript of 1726. and six for the fellow craft. God has sealed the six directions of space. the tradition has long been seen as maintaining occult knowledge. it continues to draw upon these and other currents to become itself among the most eclectic of esoteric traditions. as maintaining a special linguistic power that lies at the heart of building.” In other words. specifically. preserves its eighteenth grade as that of the Chevalier Rose-Croix.”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. six for the clergy. yet in thirteen branches in reference to Christ and his twelve apostles. the most popular form of contemporary Masonry. has a natural connection to Kabbalistic mysticism that also focuses on divine architecture. even if it is subject to periodic spasms of anti-esotericism.8). Indeed. which is as follows: one word for a divine. theosophic. from very early on in the development of modern Masonry. a ritual that relies upon “foundation words. and that as the Masonic current continues through the eighteenth century. I answer it was God in six Terminations. a Masonic Rosicrucianism begun in 1757 in Germany that incorporated Templar and alchemical symbolism too. since one finds Hebrew frequently in Rosicrucian illustrations and works as well. .”69 These words take their derivation from the building of Solomon’s Temple. such an emphasis on the powers of divine creation is characteristic of Kabbalism since the medieval period. the tradition is linked to Masonic linguistic mysticism.
the theme of our next section. pansophy. its secret “silable. but of individuals and circles within the larger stream of Masonic tradition. and this the esotericist unveils through visionary perception. Finally. and the divine. For according to Western esotericism generally. language is not just a means for objectification and separation. but actually the means for overcoming that objectification. Thus the esotericist plays a central role in the drama of cosmic redemption itself. we are disregarding the more or less social aspects of Freemasonry. For whereas modern society is founded on the objectifying separation of everything from the individual (allowing the exploitation of the entire cosmos. and Christian theosophy. but as the actual medium linking humanity. in this case a universal esotericism that unites all forms of knowledge. as well as its political dimensions that came to the fore with Adam Weishaupt and others during the eighteenth century. All of these esoteric currents further presuppose that humans are capable of spiritual regeneration and of attaining gnosis. we cannot help but recognize similarities among them all. magic. Above all. . or direct experiential knowledge of the divine. Rosicrucianism.86 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Like the Rosicrucianism that preceded it. by coming to learn the divine language of creation.” or signature. joining the humanities and the sciences under the aegis of a broadly conceived spirituality. the esotericist is actually redeeming or restoring the cosmos to its transcendent or paradisal origin. When we consider the seminal modern Western esoteric currents together. not just as the means of communication among people. nature. Here. of how humanity is meant to redeem the cosmos. we see a central distinction between them all and what we can characterize as the dominant modern materialist view. in Western esotericism. Masonry. not consume it. What is more. Kabbalah. speculative Masonry is a manifestation of the more general modern dream of universalism. all of these esoteric traditions are founded upon the overcoming of this objectification through the recognition of how microcosm and macrocosm are mutually illuminating. which has been sporadically realized by individuals. One might best say that Freemasonry contains the possibility of a universalist esotericism. divine language inheres in the whole of creation—each kind of creature bears within it the divine stamp. including humanity). including alchemy. of course. And this role is played out through reading and writing. Here. woven through all of these traditions is the theme of language. The universalist esotericist dream is not the provenance of Masonry as an organization.
Figure 1 Alchemical images from Michael M a i e r. T r i p u s A u r e u s ( F r a n k f u r t : 1 6 1 8 ) . .
Figure 2 Another alchemical image M i c h a e l M a i e r. from . T r i p u s A u r e u s ( 1 6 1 8 ) .
Figure 3 Theosophic image entitled “Serenity” from Jacob Böhme. . Theosophia Revelata. oder: Alle Götliche Schriften Jacob Böhmens (1730 ed.). edited by Johann Georg Gichtel.
oder: Alle Götliche Schriften Jacob Böhmens (1730 ed.). . Theosophia Revelata. edited by Johann Georg Gichtel.Figure 4 Theosophic image entitled “Three Principles” from Jacob Böhme.
.). Theosophia Revelata. oder: Alle Götliche Schriften Jacob Böhmens (1730 ed. edited by Johann Georg Gichtel.Figure 5 Theosophic image entitled “Earthly and Heavenly Mysterium” from Jacob Böhme.
Note that beyond the celestial hierarchy is the Ungrund. . which is here explicitly identified with the Kabbalistic ’en soph.Figure 6 Pansophic image from Georg von We l l i n g .C a b b a l i s t i c u m e t T h e o sophicum (Frankfurt: 1784). O p u s M a g o .
. (Frankfurt: 1784). O p u s M a g o .Figure 7 Pansophic image from Georg von We l l i n g . Note the threedimensional nature of the illustration.C a b b a l i s t i c u m e t T h e o sophicum. as well as the prominence of the figure of the eye.
.Figure 8 Pansophic image from Georg von We l l i n g .C a b b a l i s t i c u m e t T h e o sophicum (Frankfurt: 1784). O p u s M a g o .
“The Music of Dawn.Figure 9 Cecil Collins.” 1988. . and the evocative. Note the contrast between the g e o m e t r i c a l i m a g e s i n G e o rg v o n We l l i n g ’s illustrations. otherworldly nature of Collins’s work.
” 1976.Figure 10 Cecil Collins. “Paradise. .
The main character. so that we are left viewing the magician himself. And what strength I have’s my own. the magician Prospero. and the comedic drama is brought to its resolution. But release me from my bands With the help of your good hands. The Tempest. And pardoned the deceiver.3 Modern Implications P R O S P E R O ’ S WA N D : M O D E R N E S O T E R I C L I T E R AT U R E In the greatest of Shakespeare’s plays. Which was to please. Now I want Spirits to enforce. or else my project fails. Now ‘tis true I must be here confined by you. Which is most faint. has brought the play’s action to an end. Gentle breath of yours my sails Must fill. Prospero then offers the famous epilogue: Now my charms are all o’erthrown. Let me not Since I have my dukedom got. Or sent to Naples. dwell In this bare island by your spell. something remarkable happens at the play’s end. art to enchant And my ending is despair Unless I be relieved by prayer Which pierces so that it assaults 87 .
letters. Reading. This transference of magical power from the playwright and actor. often little more than the accumulation of data. is a prosaic matter. Initially. E.88 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Mercy itself and frees all faults. standing above a reclining woman. there are numbers. Here. reveals at a stroke the nature of magical esoteric literature. or in works by twentieth-century authors that convey various forms of initiatory transmission. we realize that we. and seen it implied in chivalric and troubadour literature as well as in theosophy. are the magicians. whose fascination with Hermetic and alchemical themes is well known and documented conclusively by M. shows a tall. it is often inverted and does not . I had intended to include here a study of the art of surrealist Max Ernst. and words—often Hebrew. In this most magical of plays. is to touch the nature of being itself. but the imagery is individualized and rendered surreal.1 Many of Ernst’s paintings reveal his use of alchemical imagery: his collage “The Laugh of the Cock” (1934). for example. today. by virtue of his skill with words. via the main character. pansophy. also a magician. To be a vehicle for the right words. a magical transferral has taken place: we realize that we are the magicians. As you from crimes would pardoned be. Rosicrucianism. Suddenly. To incant is to enchant. but rather a linguistic manifestation of what informs and transcends these objects. to invoke the forces of creation itself. behind whom is what at first glance resembles an alchemical retort with a candle in it. we may read in order to be diverted or entertained. but certainly not always—that in themselves are believed to powerful. Conventionally. Here Prospero. where the poet-singer is. ours the prayers that can free Prospero just as he in turn held the spirit Ariel in enchantment. Let your indulgence set me free. We have already seen this linguistic mysticism in Kabbalism. But this is not the way literature always has been seen. language is not a series of arbitrary signs used to designate objects. for most of us. but one can certainly trace throughout their history a thread that we might call the mysteries of the word. as audience. and Freemasonry. It is true that the Western esoteric traditions are very diverse. In all of these esoteric traditions. to sing or to say into being. and freed him. that ours is the magical breath to fill the sails. traditionally. we may read in order to gather information about a subject. having relinquished his magical power. Prospero’s transfer of power from himself to his audience is reminiscent of Celtic tradition. Warlick. to the audience. but there is no transference of magical power. in effect gives his wand to his audience. for instance. Ernst indeed draws on esoteric imagery. That is. winged creature in an ornate room. But closer examination of this and Ernst’s other works does not seem to reveal what we find in alchemical works themselves.
sometimes more implicitly. Milosz is without question among the most learned poets of modern times. Canticle of Knowledge: O. But his learning is of a particular kind. his parents somewhat cold and aloof. Milosz traveled widely. more . but there certainly is an area here worthy of further investigation. as with Emerson or Rilke. (1886–1961). It is true that esoteric themes or topics emerge in all sorts of unexpected places in modern literature. during which time his family sold their estate. for instance. Milosz’s outward life can be outlined rather succinctly. He wrote poetry touching on the despair and hollowness of modernity. D. and at twelve he was sent to Paris for schooling. Born to a wealthy family in Lithuania who lived on an estate called Czereïa. and who has incorporated the linguistic mysticism that emerges from them into his own poetry of the first order. Here.2 And even when we turn to literature of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. the poet H. not only in the case of Ernst. for instance. it would be possible to catalogue and survey how the Western esoteric traditions appear in relatively recent literary history. into the world of French intelligentsia. as can in fact be said of the works of. deeper study of how Western esotericism intersects with literature and consciousness in our own time. third. secular or not. as with Yeats or H. we find that there are not too many authors who know about or are even concerned with this understanding of language. sometimes explicitly. of even greater value is a vertical. V. with sections on each of the major currents. more or less. but in that of the entire surrealist movement. choosing a synecdochic study that will in turn illuminate aspects of literature that are today all too often overlooked. and entry. I will leave such a project for another time. Naturally. V. split further into sections on poetry and prose. S. While a broad. After a good education.. and perhaps for someone else to do. Milosz wandered the vast forests nearby as a child. horizontal survey is of value. turning then to H. Milosz and Spiritual Transmission through Poetry O. It is certainly worth doing. to the magical fiction of C. D. I cannot say with certainty whether or how Ernst’s works convey a particular kind of initiatory transmission. I will instead focus on several major figures and trace the influences on their work. Lewis (1898–1963) and others.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 89 seem to convey a particular kind of esoteric understanding. However. without question chiefly in the sphere of Hermeticism. D. And so we will concentrate first on the work of Oscar Vladislas de Lubicz Milosz (1877–1939). and so I will not discuss them further here.3 But it is relatively difficult to find a poet whose primary concern is with these various Western esoteric traditions. and finally to the remarkable art and writing of Cecil Collins (1909–1989). his mother Jewish.
and including such authors as Emanuel Swedenborg (1688–1772). also a tactile visionary. as he saw it.” However. which are what concern us here. who was trained as a scientist but went on to write voluminous works surveying the nature. he experienced a spiritual illumination. come to fruition in literary form. for that matter. so his nephew Czeslaw Milosz later wrote. Milosz also became active as a diplomat for Lithuania. 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. whose massive works are themselves scientific in their precise descriptions and careful elucidation of all the various “divine mansions. of heaven. and. S. . a Don Juanesque figure. One can. Goethe. in vision. to bring about a cultural renaissance that would join together the sundered limbs of human knowledge. Financially ruined during this time by the collapse of Russia. Milosz’s poetry. and became. in fact. participating in the League of Nations and serving until his retirement in 1938. its members have in common that most lived during the eighteenth century and that they sought. but are in fact also intended to invoke these experiences in the reader. but all of these under the sign of a Hermetic spirituality. Milosz’s predecessors in the Western literary tradition are indissolubly linked with religion and philosophy. and depicted as peculiarly concrete—the visionary realms of the spirit for him are palpable and his work certainly a kind of hyperphysical cartography. and invariably sought to conjoin not only the sciences and literature and the arts. Not so Milosz. in 1914. These Swedenborg saw. and the dwelling places of spirits. Swedenborg was. create a kind of lineage of such figures. Then. by way of a renewed Hermetic spirituality. Among these figures.90 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E or less like that of the early T. Eliot. LouisClaude de Saint-Martin (1743–1803). theosophy. in a mysterious way also embodies and is the experience. neither Pordage nor Swedenborg was a poet. hell. In both Swedenborg and Goethe we see the emergence of what we might call a nascent spiritual science. far more influential than is usually acknowledged in intellectual histories. Kabbalah. his effort to chronicle the visionary experience with a kind of new science of the spirit. and perhaps remains. Diverse as this list is in certain respects. But it is in Milosz that we see Swedenborg’s approach. whose poems and prose are not only recountings of visionary experiences. Swedenborg of course was himself preceded in this effort by John Pordage. and Western esotericism in general. though drawing on this tradition of scientific observation of visionary experience. William Blake (1757–1827). and both wrote in dry. It was during the first half of this service that Milosz wrote his most Hermetic works. and from this period on became a serious scholar of Hermeticism. and Johann Wolfgang Goethe (1749–1832). beginning of course with Paracelsus and Böhme. almost pedantic ways of their visionary experiences. he remains a primary force behind the works of William Blake. perhaps the most seminal is Swedenborg.
les voleurs de douleur et de joie. insisting instead on the inner creative life of the artist. The canticle continues: “A ceux. Milosz experiences this inner devastation as well as the powerful creative life awakened when one enters into the living realm of the spiritual imagination.”5 And he writes of the “sacred art of the Word. Contemporary sciences are founded in observation of the cosmos. At this juncture. which Milosz experienced at eleven o’clock in the evening. This isolation Blake rails against in his epic poems. turn their attention inward and become careful observers of the inner landscape. as the organizer of archetypes. it will no doubt be useful to look more closely at some of Milosz’s work. from the cosmos. knowledge and love. de science et d’amour.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 91 Here it may be useful to remark on the kind of new science we see emerging in these writers. / For those whom prayer has led to meditation on the origin of language. crown of human knowledge. ayant demandé. through a new metaphysics.” which “springs from the hidden depths of Universal Being. astronomy. to awakening it in his reader.” which. and does not in general investigate the nature of the observer’s own consciousness.”4 He discerned “a new mysticism. qui. the immense devastation of the self as it is torn asunder from the divine. on 14 December 1914. seems called upon. which “will contribute in large measure to realizing an inner synthesis of the great discoveries in physical chemistry.]” Thus the canticle is devoted to teaching on the nature of spiritual illumination. [For those who.” or “Canticle of Knowledge. that he anticipated a new poetry.”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. and from its fellow humanity and seemingly set adrift as an isolated being. Milosz’s work is explicitly dedicated not only to entering into this realm of the spiritual imagination. n’entendront rien à ces choses. / Les autres. the observer looks outward. to survive not only our industrial civilization but also Space-Time itself. Cartographers of consciousness. But the poet. and especially in Milosz. and like Blake. Milosz himself wrote in a brief and late treatise on poetry. at his “Cantique de la Connaissance. will understand nothing of these things. having asked.” from The Confession of Lemuel (1918). and in particular. have received and already know. to join up with ancient teachings.” telling us that “poetry. summarizing in some respects his life’s work. / Others. they are all intimately aware of the great schisms taking place in modern humanity. [The teaching of the sunlit hour of the divine nights. but indeed. and especially the figures we are discussing here. thieves of joy and pain. on reçu et savent déjà. and also prehistory and archaic history. seems bound. the passionate pursuit of the Real. “setting out from proven scientific foundations.]”7 . The “Canticle” begins with the striking line: “L’enseignement de l’heure ensoleillée des nuits du Divin. / A ceux que la prière a conduits à la méditation sur l’origin du langage.
and when he dedicates the canticle to those who have asked. addressed to the latter. “their substance is nameless. earth. he is alluding to Christ’s saying that those who ask will receive. suggesting that the center of prayer is knowledge. etc.—all say the same things to anyone who knows how to listen. of course. and which is “situated in the consciousness of the solar egg [situés dans la conscience de l’œuf solaire]. “meditation on the origin of language. those who are not affirmers. salt. but utterly serious—this is a poem about the mysteries at the heart both of language and of . not like “Patmos. mais bien les père des objects sensibles. ni les fils.92 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Milosz was unquestionably Christian in orientation. sun. The power to name sensible objects comes from supersensible knowledge of the archetypal realm to which our spirit belongs. but truly fathers of sensible objects.” We think that the sensible world is situated. [it is necessary to know the objects designated by certain essential words / Such as bread.” It is clear by now that Milosz is not dabbling with words here. but negators. lumière. as well as the names of metals. have received. he continues. eau. nor sons. 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. are merely thieves of love and knowledge. light. the names “were hurled from the motionless world of archetypes into the abyss of time’s turmoil.” Only divine poets see the world of archetypes and describe it reverently by means of the “termes précis et lumineux du langage de la connaissance [precise and luminous terms of the language of knowledge]. sang.]”10 This “arcana of language” is the “key to the world of light.” is not merely a sterile world of symbols. terre. In fact. water. “il est nécessaire de connaître les objets désignés par certains mots essentiels / Tels que pain. darkness.” “terre de la vision des archétypes [earth of the vision of archetypes]. from Pythagoras to Plato. to the initiate. corresponding to Plato’s realm of Forms or Ideas. 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.”8 This gnostic canticle is. blood. the names of things emerge from the realm of archetypes. but living. this allusion is close to Kabbalism in that it offers a gnostic interpretation of those verses.” Only “the spirit of things has a name”.” Indeed. Milosz continues his explanation of this linguistic gnosis in the “Canticle of Knowledge. soleil. But characteristically.” A linguistic gnosis is at the heart of the canticle. this “situated place.” These names precede existence in the sensible world and time’s turmoil. / For these names are neither brothers. ténèbres. and already know. sel. to Claude de Saint-Martin and Swedenborg.” writing that to understand the origin of language. but it is not so. ainsi que par tous les noms de métaux / Car ces noms ne sont ni les frères.” This earth of the vision of archetypes. through the initiates of Alexandria and Christian mystics.]”9 In other words. all that was in antiquity described in metaphors “exists in a situated place.
At such points. of blessing and of desolation. of love and of wrath. he calls us to the celestial gold. / In the passage from the egg to the sphere. But beyond these two worlds is the “word enveloped in sun. he means precisely what he says: “I have seen. and only describes what he has seen. And so it is here. “I have named you! [Je t’ai nommé!]”. and then comes the following passage: “te voici dans le rayon avant-coureur au sein du nuage figé. . muet comme le plomb.]”13 As we might recall. it is also the visible sun of the substantial world]. / In the leap and wind of the fiery mass. for as he told us before.” There is the earthly gold. .” This distinction between truth and lie. he tells us. “is the key to the two worlds of darkness and light. le mot chargé de foudre de ce temps dangereux. 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. Milosz tells us again.” These two worlds correspond to the two worlds of Böhme.” “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. Milosz exultantly writes. the word charged by the thunder of this dangerous time [la parole enveloppée de soleil. Adam. of the primal .” Simply that. he implicates us in the poem.” to names that precede and transcend their earthly counterparts. when Milosz addresses us directly. calls us through its language into the truth that language manifests. The man of light (“l’homme la lumière”) draws his knowledge from this supersensible sun in the “motionless” realm of substances. or in Milosz’s words. . but also of the Corpus Hermeticum. as well as the first chapter of John (In the beginning was the Word). / Dans le bond et le vent de la masse de feu. these ancient metaphors refer to “substances. Here. / In the appearance of the virginal spirit of gold. which recalls the primal naming of all things by the primal man. which only draw their value from their supersensible archetypes. that is.]”11 There is in the “Canticle of Knowledge” a continuous thread of allusions to gold and to the sun. . a revelation. Thus Milosz goes on to tell us matter-of-factly that he who has seen stops thinking and feeling. is the “key to the world of light. and the gold of celestial memory. 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 . mute as lead.]”12 This charged and sun-enveloped word reminds us of the account in Genesis of creation.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 93 existence. [truth does not make sacred language lie: . as well as to the “solar egg” of the soul. and “knowledge’s golden candlestick. [Here you are in the first ray in the womb of the fixed cloud.” But the allusions are not necessarily to earthly gold nor to the sun visible from the earth. the first section of “Poemandres” in the Corpus Hermeticum is also a visionary creation-account. For “la vérité ne fait pas mentire le langage sacré: car elle est aussi le soleil visible du monde substantiel.
]”16 See. for that matter. but “great trials of negation. and a kind of corporeality of language. Milosz tells us that he has “visited the two worlds.” for the key to the world of light also opens the—“other region. / being in place itself. and this is the “solar egg. he noticed that he had stopped before a mirror. in the visionary writings of Böhme.” those “lands of nocturnal din.” The “omnipotence of affirmation” is counterbalanced. and is the province of those who speak pure language. Here too we find the “leap and wind” of a fiery mass. cet immense cerveau délirant de Lucifer [This separated place.” We might recall that the mirror. [C’est ainsi que j’appris que le corps de l’homme renferme dans ses profondeurs un . In the concluding lines of the canticle. we find a spiritual corporeality. delirious. by “omnipotent negation” in “Ce lieu séparé. on this naked cold planet of iron and clay. because whether he is “dazzled by the solar egg. Thus. différent. in theosophic tradition. different. not light and serenity of recognition. / played with me as a father with his child. where he saw “the source of lights and forms. the only one situated.” selfknowing.” “mois je suis toujours dans le même lieu. j’étais plongé dans une profonde ignorance.” an “eternity of horror. innocent. hideous. and looked behind him. and that the knowledge of gold is also knowledge of light and blood.94 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E powers at work in the constant manifestation of existence.” Yet there is a realm beyond these two worlds of affirmation and negation. Milosz’s visionary experience here is quite simply parallel to and in the tradition of what we also see in “Poemandres” and. chaste archetypes.” just as in so much of Western esotericism.” or “hurled into the madness of the black eternity. here too we find the emergence of light and life in the opening of the “world of light” for the visionary seer. “the Father of Ancients. is the sign of Wisdom personified: Wisdom showed him the realm of Forms prior to existence.” and “marrow of iniquity. Milosz writes. Milosz tells us. this immense. / étant dans le lieu même.” “immense.” to a “place” where “myriad spiritual bodies reveal themselves to virtuous senses. of those who speak pure language. hideux. of light and darkness. le seul situé. even though I am certain that he was at least familiar with it. “I learned that in its depths man’s body encloses a remedy for all ills. [I am always in the same place.” This playing “between worst darkness and best light” emerges from beyond both darkness and light. wise.” yet also to a “place” of utter desolation. The ascent to the “solar place” that Milosz describes here brings one to the “omnipotence of affirmation.” “the world of profound. Thus the poet tells us not to weep for him. here too we find a kind of “fixed cloud”. when “like all nature poets I was sunk in profound ignorance [Comme tous les poètes de la nature. to whom Milosz was definitely indebted. Thus in the “Canticle of Knowledge.14 I am not suggesting that Milosz is directly alluding to the Corpus Hermeticum.]” Then one day. and at this moment the “sterile woman” in him died. Milosz muses on his early poetry. rather.”15 Here we find. Luciferic brain].
space and time!” And the adept suggests they both to kneel in adoration “devant le cher fourneau” [before this dear Furnace. by the grace of inner vision. because of its fusion of literature and Hermeticism. This poem. you speak the truth. let us make the sign. and is clearly expressing his own direct experience.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 95 remède à tous les maux et que la connaissance de l’or est aussi celle de la lumière et du sang.” Milosz has his character “The Adept” speaking with his inner spouse. again three times. trois vois—le signe. In some poems he has a choir or a chorus. dans cet œuf appuyé sur le feu nuptial. Et puisque nous connaissons depuis sept ans. to “tender metal partners in marriage. This understanding he expressed often in a peculiarly theatrical way. as well as in more modern movements like Freemasonry. innocents! [The parents sleep there. How beautiful and innocent they are!]”19 This reference. and his Hymns to the Night. in this egg resting on the nuptial flame. And in his allusions to the visionary descent into darkness. 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.” replies Beatrix. And then the adept makes a strange remark: “Les parents dorment là.]” To this Beatrix replies: “Farewell. but refers to an inner alchemy. Beatrix is surprised: “So you can see them? How? In this hermetic egg? With what eyes?” The adept replies: “Chère enfant. Milosz is close to Novalis (Friedrich von Hardenberg. “Master. who wrote too of the division and conflict between love and wrath. par la grâce de la vue du milieu. In this acknowledgement of fundamental duality in the cosmos. Thus the canticle.]”17 The canticle concludes with the poet’s prayer that when he is finally cleansed of both evil and good. but also of the inner desolation that one can also experience on earth. “The Adept’s Christmas Eve” begins with the Adept’s ritual gesture: “sept fois pour le passé. Qu’ils sont beaux. at its end. Frequently his poetry has a dramatic or semidramatic quality. Milosz is very much akin to Böhme. [1775–1802]). [Dear child. Beatrix. reaffirms the importance not only of the ascent to the knowledge of light. and with it the initiate asks for peace for Beatrix and for himself. et pour nos trois jours à venir. especially given Milosz’s own essentially solitary life. it affirms the significance not only of the virginal gold of the soul’s solar egg. I touch your brow.]” .” is unquestionably alchemical. and since we have now known one another seven years. tender metal partners in marriage. he will not lose the memory of the suffering he has undergone. but the descent into immense suffering and privation. je te touche le front. and clothed with the sun. tendres métaux époux.18 But Milosz has forged his own mode of expression. in his 1922 poem entitled “The Adept’s Christmas Eve. le signe! [seven times for the past. is especially of interest to us here. the sign!]” This is the sign of the cross. and for our three days to come. between the lightworld and the darkworld.
The woman in the poem. dancing in a circle in the rigor of red. including the way the Greco-Roman Mystery traditions fed into the Christian mysteries of symbolic death and rebirth. woman. partaking rather of a heightened. or like the language of a ritual enactment of the Greek mysteries. but a player on the poet’s inner stage. “The Adept’s Christmas Eve” draws on a range of allusions. [My chains of constellations are broken. The adept watches. the adept exults of “how all your [Beatrix’s] secret being breathes within me. he comes back to life. but the adept replies. the adept speaks of “seven deadly cries in the night. Beatrice. He opens his eyes and is reborn. tu te délivres. and all is finished”—yet this is also the moment of rebirth.]” To which Beatrix replies: “C’est la vie délivrée. 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.96 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E The language here is completely that of Hermeticism: indeed. white and pale blue.” And he repeats how extraordinary are “your eyes. charity. which became openings for him as he ascended into paradise in the Divine Comedy. the alchemy of inward marriage and of the spiritual birth of the alchemical child. the mystery of the sacred name emerges as the crux of the spiritual rebirth. Beatrix. Here we are looking at spiritual alchemy. and black. And in the conclusion of the poem. of course. at once also alluding to the birth of Christ. charitée. Thus the allusions to Dante’s poetry are subordinate to the poem’s initiatory psychodrama.” At the climax of this strange initiatic psychodrama.]”21 It is. your eyes!” The adept’s final line is: “Mes chaines de constellations sont rompues.” while the “oil of blind corruption. but also thrice-greatest Hermes. and to its incantory language. The adept’s fascination with Beatrix’s eyes—“your eyes. “I see only one. leaden and lachrymal. sometimes almost disjointed quality like hieratic speech heard in a dream. and what does he see? “Purity rises to the surface. but also countless other allusions to a kind of visionary inner alchemy. Yet Beatrix does not seem a human spouse. and the longstanding alchemical traditions as well. The alchemical . [It is life liberated.” sinks to the depths. your eyes!”—reminds us of Dante’s fascination with Beatrice’s eyes. her words are not ordinary or even precisely human.” not only references to the alchemical furnace. the poem is really an initiatic dialogue incorporating the language of alchemy. and “Lumière de l’or. is reborn!” Thus once again. Thus a new cry sounds seven times—Is it a name? asks the adept.]”20 Beatrix warns the adept of the legions of destroyers massed to ruin his creation. yellow. “I believe it is. [Light of gold. I tell you. undoubtedly reflects Dante’s beloved. partially because of her name’s meaning—thrice beatific—which in turn recalls not only the Trinity. you liberate yourself. For not only are there references to the “tender metal partners in marriage. any more than are those of the adept. impossible to miss the allusions here to Dante’s Divine Comedy. The Master forgives me.
. far beyond what we might think such a line may mean. Perhaps most interesting for us is the question of the poem’s reader. in what it reveals. 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.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 97 work. in an elliptical leap of extreme violence and with the noise of a strong wind.” Milosz’s commentary goes far. sometimes decidedly strange language of Milosz’s poetry brings the reader into a similar state to that Milosz is describing. “Yet I shall humble in the dust before you this brow which has received the crown. a light appears. by Milosz. rests in a horizontal position. at a small distance from the large cupric cloud which conceals from him the upper luminous level. after all. by a metallic red-hot egg. At the same instant. to read such a poem as “Canticle of Knowledge” or “The Adept’s Christmas Eve.” not to mention Ars Magna or The Arcana. eventuates in the birth of Christ in the alchemist or adept: all these traditions are brought together in the service of what we may call an Hermetic-alchemical initiatory psychodramatic poem. as unemotional as nature. And there is in this unfolding drama something profoundly impersonal. the large cloud vanishes.” The line is the fourth verse. 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. Milosz writes that his work is a “testament. in other words. not very high in the vaporous mass behind the top of his skull. He writes in exegesis that The revelation of a superior phenomenalism opens with a mystical consecration. as though the poet does not exist as an ego. oneself. exposing the upper region which is suddenly crossed. with the initiatory drama unfolding itself in an inner theater whose audience is. In his exegetic notes to his own prose work Ars Magna (whose title is drawn from the similarly named work by Ramon Lull).”22 To whom does this legacy belong. is also to participate in it. in such a way that it seems to be seen through the parietal bone. then? Undoubtedly. To whom is Milosz writing in such a poem. Whereas much of what we call modern poetry has only itself and the physical world for references. Milosz’s poems presuppose a visionary experiential reality behind and above them. To see how far Milosz’s work is from what we often call poetry. perfectly awake. archetype of the coronation of regents by divine right in the material world. The various phases of this rite correspond to the principal moments in the regeneration of a mineral. or rather.: initiate]. The incantory. perhaps we should examine one of his exegetic notes on a single line of his own “Poem of the Arcana.” a “faithful and pious narrative. When the ascent through the nebula is finished and the epopt [Gk.” and that “In the author’s mind. The poet of Ars Magna and the Arcana does not write for his contemporaries.
There is in Milosz’s work a paradoxical insistence on humility. we must bow down. It is perhaps useful. and for him such experience is more real than our mundane lives precisely because it is not constrained by duration or mensurability. because it springs from this archetypal reality. its secular hedonism and materialism. “who will read these pages with a filial respect for their author. though including many great poets. His is a peculiar combination of humility and pride intermingled. on which it alights like a crown. and in this there is a kind of reversal. scientifically.98 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Turning into a golden globe. meaning the archetypal realm. In all of this he assumes a prophetic voice. 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. Such experience is of the truly situated. Only what is behind or in the symbolic is ultimately real. Without question. and insists that his true reader will recognize the worth of his writings only far in the future. about an actual experience of spiritual coronation. Yet at the same time Milosz in his prose and poetry addresses himself to a future reader some centuries hence.” thus bringing his reader into the dialogue much as one finds in the Corpus Hermeticum and in other Hermetic dialogues or monologues since antiquity. and with unspeakable scorn for the epoch which saw their birth. for what seems situated and real in this world is revealed in the other to be unreal. at this point. moving up a little.” Milosz’s “superior phenomenalism” is his term for direct spiritual experience. and a scorn for our own era that bespeaks a kind of pride. is revelatory and prophetic in its very nature. Milosz . that.” and adds that “Behind the symbol there is an immutable situated reality. and plunges its omniscient stare for a long time into the deepest thought of the new King. one senses that his pride comes from a certainty of knowledge that is ignored and despised by the human world. thereafter. it descends slowly towards the top of the skull. just as he ignores and despises that world. This account suggests that Milosz is writing rather precisely.”24 He writes sardonically of the blindness and destructiveness of modern society with its industrial gigantism. one may even say. And authentic literature.23 There is still more. yet his erudition. he is among the most erudite of poets. becomes rounder. referring to the reader as “my son. as he put it in his last poem of 1936. is focused particularly on the syncretic Hermeticism that began to flower in the eighteenth century. to remark on the question of Milosz’s antecedents. stands still. it assumes the appearance of a magnificent golden sun of oval shape. its brutal mass wars. only he who bows down will be bowed down to. He insists that in order to understand. but this lengthy excerpt is sufficient to show that even a single rather mundane line in Milosz’s poetry has behind it far more experiential referents than we might ever have expected.
Swedenborg. These writers—and also Jewish exegesis—exerted a decisive influence upon Blaise Pascal.”27 “Psalm of the Morning Star” is so suffused in Hebrew and in Old Testament language as to be inseparable from them. Eugène Ledrain.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 99 wrote in a letter that he would like to lecture on a subject he knew thoroughly: “hermetic metaphysics and doctrines. Martinez de Pasqually. sought in them peace of spirit.” and . we cannot help but notice the parallel focus on Judaism and Kabbalah. [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. but in the tradition of many Christian Cabalists. Milosz not only had studied and read Hebrew. the disciple of the Kabbalist Raymond Martini. “Psaume de l’Étoile du Matin [Psalm of the Morning Star]. Claude de Saint Martin. he was well acquainted with Jewish Kabbalism. and then with his “spiritual guides: Goethe. but kept a Bible in Hebrew nearby as a constant reading companion.”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. 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. Swedenborg. We can see how deeply Milosz’s fascination with Judaism penetrated his work by examining his final poem.]28 The peculiar rhythm of the lines and line breaks makes this poem unusually difficult to follow. from Egypt up to today. the School of Alexandria.” 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. passing through the Pre-Socratics. Plato. alias René Descartes.” where he writes of how “shade covers An-Dor and / Pau of the land of Esau covers Matred Tolde Beith / Aram and all Spared of Judea. The allusions to Milosz’s favorite doctrines and language are here hidden in the allusions to Hebrew names and places. but it reveals at the heart of all things “a single new word. In the “Psalm” we read of another primary theme.” Milosz continued. the Neoplatonists of the Middle Ages. The Rosicrucian Polybius the Cosmopolitan. as when the poem refers to the “betrothed sister of the new canticle. looked forward to the day that the Jews would be converted to Christianity. the mystical eighteenth century.26 If we see here the depth of Milosz’s focus on Hermeticism in history.” first with his teacher of Hebrew.
the universal regent of faith. 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. science. and that he shared with much of the Christian theosophic tradition. in 1938. the archetypes of the cosmos exist inside letters. drawn together with a universalism that both resembles and includes Freemasonry.” Milosz writes that The personage who concerns us here is not the symbolic hero of the Templars or of Scottish Freemasonry in England. Eliot.” which are far more extensive than anything T. 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 . and books. . Milosz tells of his visionary experience.” in fact. libric mysticism that has haunted Western esotericism from antiquity. and the true poet. Hiram. as early as 1919.100 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E a mysticism that has “all those things” “sleeping in closed books” that open themselves under the poet’s hand.”29 Here we see the nascent Christian millennialism that pervades so much of Milosz’s work as he anticipated a future renaissance. it is not books that we are waiting for. just as in the Book of Revelation and just as in Kabbalism. S. if we may coin a word. wrote for his poetry. Milosz held. Le Forestier. we are waiting for the continuation and fulfillment of the only Book. La Clef de l’Apocalypse [The Key to the Apocalypse]. If the author has considered it useful to follow Lessing. Hermeticism and Kabbalism. . and Savoy. 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. Under the heading “Hiram. Germany. King of the Unified World. . says that “I am entering the twelfth year of supreme knowledge. in short. are enormously important for understanding the complex work of Milosz and his mysticism of the word. In his “Poem of the Arcana. The allegory is clearly indicated by the password Nekom (Vengeance) used by the Chapter of Clermont and the Scottish lodge of the Berlin Union.”30 The name Hiram is found in Masonic tradition.” and yet writes that he will humble his brow in the dust before “you. but there are still other currents of Western esotericism that emerge in the poet’s work. Here. The “architect” of those brotherhoods was Biblical in name only. Architect of the effective Catholic Church of tomorrow. and art. the visionary poet. that the work of the coming poet is to be a “crowning” of the New Testament as the latter was a crowning of the Old: “It is not a book. my son. words. the books open themselves to him. inside the books of life and of knowledge. King of the unified world. opens those books in order to reveal their inner mysteries—or rather. Joseph de Maistre. R. for instance. 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.
like all the continents and all the states of this world.”33 This last remark is especially interesting given that not only were George Washington and Benjamin Franklin Masons. was so profoundly characteristic of early Rosicrucianism and of Freemasonry as well: the union of science and religion in a glorious unified future world.”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.’ announce their impending appearance. who announced a coming millennium. like spirit and matter.” This Hiram will establish “his temporal dominion over a world unified at first in spirit by the Holy Catholic Church. Milosz goes on to tell us that the “future architect mentioned by name in the Arcana is the spiritual son of Hiram-Abi.”32 Here. Indeed.” Here. particularly for Kadosch Dante Alighieri of the Fede Santa. He writes that “Today. but so too were fifty-three of the fifty-six signers of the Declaration of Independence. and to the Rosicrucian Polybius the Cosmopolitan.” 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. alias René Descartes. “Who remembers the enthusiasm and the hopes of 1789?” Such a question takes on added resonance when one considers the role that Freemasonry played in the French Revolution. as we have seen.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 101 Sepulchre. and further that although he is drawing on Masonic lore. But Milosz’s grand dream goes beyond Masonry as well. as well as the emergence of a “Cathedral of Peace. especially the dream of a world utopia. even though Milosz implies that his Hiram is different from the Masonic one. the times of ‘perfection in the Restitution of Nature. Religion and science. the builder sent by Hiram of Tyre to Solomon. a Virgin-Mother of Knowledge.” And he imagines too the “approaching moment. it is above all as testimony of veneration for some of its members. his reference to Hiram in the poem is of his own devising.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. he brings in the theme that. and in so doing was drawing upon a tradition of “the Restitution of All Things” that runs . aspire to holy unification. the depository of the one divine and human truth confirmed by philosophy and science. relatively not distant. when the organization of Europe will be based upon the principles which guided the foundation of the great American federation. in the sacred poem of the Arcana.31 It is clear from this note alone that Milosz was intimately familiar with the history of Masonry and Rosicrucianism. the times foreseen by Guillaume Postel. Hence Milosz continues his exegesis of his own poem with several pages on the emergence of a unified world and a new world monarchy. it is perhaps enough to recall the prophetic late-medieval character Postel.
of political. being the Christ-figure. Just as Milosz drew on the full breadth of the Masonic tradition in his poetry and prose. and in 1919 they established an exoteric center called the Centre Apostolique. And in 1929 Milosz wrote a letter to a friend in which he explained that Carlos Larronde. Hiérarchie-Liberté-Fraternité. The fundamental teaching will be that of the Arcana. for instance. Our group will have no more than twelve members. resemble nothing so much as the inception of Rosicrucianism (whose advocates sought precisely the same social transformation on a vast scale).”39 These dreams of universality. of course. however. “Dress for meeting: the robes will be of black silk.”38 Such a group. of the London Rosicrucians of the early nineteenth century associated with Francis Barrett. he hoped to influence “all sorts of domains in the evolution of our terrible and admirable epoch. the “science of the divine. “The hour of Apostleship has sounded”—Milosz himself. so too he drew on Masonry in his private life. certainly has its historical predecessors: one thinks. In his work. whom he later adopted as his spiritual son and gave his family crest name.”37 This new esoteric group had some Masonic characteristics. not to say grandiosity. The Master alone will wear a red cap. And there are numerous other such examples. to which era belongs the spiritual son whom he addresses throughout his gnostic poetry and prose. author of The Magus. sought the widest possible range. de Lubicz. but explicitly Christian. a group that included “the proletarian Masons whose G[rand] M[aster] is one of our friends. a kind of Christian semi-Masonic esotericism. moral or social. This small group they called Les Veilleurs (The Watchers). while also publishing numerous articles in several journals of the time. I am the enemy of exteriorization. and the arts via religion. was drawing together a new group of which Milosz was to be spiritual director.36 Milosz too saw himself as a prophet of a future era of universal peace and knowledge. . Milosz wrote. the sciences. Several years after his illuminatory experience in 1914. he drew together a small esoteric coterie that included René Schwaller. with a white collar. the other members being his apostles. Here too was a group with Masonic overtones. For us. and of forming a group of disciples that in turn would help to transform the whole of human society.” And in his little esoteric group. but our modern attire is truly incompatible with all effort toward the Good. most important is that Milosz’s work extended into every sphere of life. and scientific fusion. however outrageous they may seem in their magnitude. religious. one of Milosz’s most devoted friends.102 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E from antiquity through such figures as John Scotus Eriugena and Jane Leade to modern authors including Vladimir Solovyov and Nicholas Berdyaev. in his work as in his private life. and that he deliberately. in his letter to James Chauvet. as we have seen. These are the three colors of the great work (spiritual and physical). Milosz explicitly forecast the unification of politics. among them its ritual dress.
the poet H. D.’s poetry. of course. D. and specifically toward a future reader whom he regards as his spiritual son.40 But we still await a comprehensive study that incorporates the full range of H. little studied in academe. and Milosz. Milosz in some respects cast aside his wand (any influence on his contemporary era) in order. we have by no means finished with either of these inexhaustible figures: Prospero. not toward the present.. Like Prospero in his final speech. He sought nothing less than to bring about the renewal of Christianity through its universalization. Rosicrucianism. In these efforts. numerology. including such authors as William Butler Yeats. Charles Williams. psychic insights or visions. Milosz certainly resembles the figure of Prospero in Shakespeare’s The Tempest. D. C. and essays. today. magic. for however assiduous Milosz was in working toward universality in his writing and in his life. but toward the future. and in such aims is a classic exemplar of modern Western esotericism. we . but also for the universality of his aims. Among the best of these is Susan Friedman’s chapter entitled “Initiations” in her book Psyche Reborn (1981). all of these efforts were ultimately pointed. to reach an audience whom he specifically invoked in his writing itself. then without doubt the emblematic female poet has to be H. D. Here. there is no other figure who so completely reveals the confluence of all the primary currents of Western esotericism in the modern era. in which we begin to explore the theoretical dimensions and implications of Western esoteric literature in relation to consciousness. H. the list of names of modern authors and poets influenced by esoteric currents of thought is nigh unto endless. astrology. Milosz is unique not only for the vast range of his studies. and the Initiatic Word If Milosz is emblematic of an initiatic male poet in the twentieth century. D. all of whom also were involved in esoteric circles.’s life and interests. There are. and Kathleen Raine. a relatively obscure figure. Although we here will take our leave of them. That H. D. various heresies of antiquity including the Ophites and other Gnostic groups. the Tarot. S. Lewis. which outlines the intertwining of H. 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. Indeed.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 103 Milosz is. However. Indeed. others whose work certainly bears the imprint of esoteric influences.’s biography and her fascination with mysticism. a number of books have explored the wide range of esoteric influences that appear in H. through his writing. and the Christian theosophy of Zinzendorf and the Moravians. but as we can see from this discussion of his work and life.— born Hilda Doolittle [1886–1961]—was fascinated with esoterica is well known. and a new golden age. novels.
so it will be necessary here only to allude to the parallels. She writes: If I could visualise or describe that overmind in my own case. was fascinated by esoteric correspondences in her life. and it was included as the frontispiece for her most well-known book.’s early. But when we begin to look at H.” Albert Gelpi writes that H. She begins Notes with the cryptic proclamation: “Three states or manifestations of life: body. the much earlier work Notes on Thought and Vision helps to make clear H. overmind.’s gnostic perspective in relation to literature. D. we see very much the same pattern of psychological and spiritual crisis as awakening. D. the parallels we see perhaps most clearly are not so much with Fuller as with Dickinson. as many critics have observed. D. however. as a wrenching spiritual awakening. In his introduction to H. I have written in detail about both Dickinson and Fuller in The Esoteric Origins of the American Renaissance (2001). written in July 1919 in the Scilly Islands. I should say this: it seems to me that a cap is over my head. belonged to what is clearly an American feminine literary lineage that includes on the one hand Emily Dickinson.” Vulnerable to periodic psychic breakdowns. We should begin. very much resembles both of them in certain respects. D. Woman in the Nineteenth Century.”41 Although the major works by H. “The Thistle and the Serpent. explicitly esoteric book. Notes on Thought and Vision (1919). for H. In Esoteric Origins. D. was fascinated by numerology. D.” which she calls in Notes her “jellyfish experience. astrology. Margaret Fuller. a cap of consciousness . D. mind. and soon (by 1911) came to see the emblem of the thistle and serpent as her own.104 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E will explore how her work explicitly and implicitly initiates the reader through literature and art. and what we might term esoteric correspondences or patterns in life. underwent “a severe psychic breakdown. D. Notes is a very unusual work. save that in H. She created a hermetic emblem or herald for herself. Likewise. and her extreme sensitivity had made her preternaturally susceptible to the intensities of experience that others might overlook. For it seems clear from her poetry. and on the other Margaret Fuller. was a reasonably accomplished astrological interpreter. that Dickinson underwent at least one extended spiritual and psychological crisis. D. D. D. I argue that this crisis can be interpreted as initiatory. And when we turn from Dickinson to H..’s Notes on Thought and Vision.’s life it is repeated a number of times.. like H. for our purposes are her later ones such as her poems in Trilogy and Vale Ave as well as her novel The Gift. “her unusual susceptibility also made possible a breakthrough into heightened consciousness.” The work is essentially an elaboration of this gnomic statement. by recognizing that H. H. it argues for the characteristically Emersonian idea of an ‘overmind’ as a model of higher consciousness.
as when she speculates on the meaning of the pearl in her gnostic sketches. transparent. one must. fluid yet with definite body. The two work separately. this is the source of creativity just as it is the wellspring of spirituality.” And she adds that “I believe there are some artists coming in the next generation. wonders whether it is easier for a woman than a man to attain consciousness of the overmind. D. . some of whom will have the secret of using their overminds. H. contained in a defininte space. 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. It is like a closed sea-plant.” The minds of the lovers unite. D. engage in a union of love and intellect.42 H. continues: first is the life of the body and sexuality. 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. As we read on through Notes. and when love-vision and intellectual vision coincide. She writes that to be a true artist. I visualise it just as well. . Into that over-mind. jelly-fish. even if most prefer to stay entombed in their comfortable closed houses. H. my forehead. a musician. they “bring the world of vision into consciousness. which is possible for all. she insists that “There is no way of arriving at the overmind. But Gnosticism is here only as allusion. yet make one picture. thoughts pass and are visible like fish swimming under clear water . is a gnostic with a small g. but it would be a mistake to see all of her writing only in this context. as some of Plato’s dialogues suggest. . since she experienced it along with the birth of her child. as primary to the true artist.”44 This initiatic process is similar to that of the Eleusinian mysteries.’s work has feminist implications. except through the intellect. like water. Whatever else we may make of it. D. second is the life of the intellect.”43 H.’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. I first realized this state of consciousness in my head. H.” but she writes about it that this is the vision of “dream and of ordinary vision. a nonsectarian. syncretic . now.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 105 over my head. affecting a little my eyes . There are even traces here of Gnosticism. indeed. That overmind seems a cap. . perceive separately. and third is the awakening into the overmind. D. had outlined a fundamentally gnostic worldview. a musician. with the gulls and the sky and the earth. D. She does write about a “vision of the womb. Without doubt. without question we can see here that already in 1919 H. or awakening into the overmind. those future initiates for whom this little book is intended. or anemone.” She does not valorize this vision against that of the intellect. She holds that “a lover must choose one of the same type of mind as himself. She places gnosis. almost like two lenses. centered in the love-region of the body or placed like a foetus in the body. D.
” “Tribute to the Angels.” H. D.” here. surrealism and symbolism (particularly the latter in Russia) were deeply indebted to alchemy. In Notes on Thought and Vision. wrote the collection of three long poems later published as Trilogy.” And the section ends with “illusion. intrusion of strained / inappropriate allusion. / oneness lost. this.” she extends it to discuss the emergence of surrealism with such figures as Max Ernst and Andre Breton. of the stars as “separate entities” “intimately concerned with us” who can be “invoked / with accurate charm.”45 “Amen.”46 It is obvious from “The Walls Do Not Fall” that although H.” and “The Flowering of the Rod.” At first it would seem she is endorsing modern uses of alchemy in this “age of the new dimension. But it was during the German siege of London during the Second World War that H. she holds. In this respect. As a number of scholars have demonstrated.” She writes. This is an important distinction because in “The Walls Do Not Fall. All-father. prayer” for healing.” and of her “companions / in this mystery. boasting.” “arrogance. spell. pitiful reticence. But in “The Walls Do Not Fall. distinguishes between the subconscious mind and the overmind. Her themes are explicitly esoteric throughout these poems: she writes of her experience of “The Presence. seek. as these entities are “healers. E. is the Egyptian god Amen-Ra. writing that “it appears obvious / that Amen is our Christos. the overmind being above it. even offering a diagrammatic illustration of the two. too. for instance. criticizes the surrealist use of alchemical imagery as a means to the subconscious.” and of “the most profound philosophy”.” Yet when the “secret doors” are “found . D. devour.106 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E gnostic whose primary emphasis is nonsectarian spiritual awakening. helpers / of the One. Amen. she extends the unity of Dionysius and Christ that ended the earlier work. reversion of old values. These three poems were “The Walls Do Not Fall. / it unlocks secret doors.” mind “floundered. H. / born of one mother. She writes “dare.” In the next section. seek further. / jottings of psychic numerical equations. was lost in sea-depth. she criticizes “a riot of unpruned imagination. and H.” who “know each other / by secret symbols. she is very much in the American tradition inaugurated by Ralph Waldo Emerson. the subconscious being below ordinary consciousness.47 In M. D. D. madness.”48 All of this suggests that there is . dare more. D. D. . is a false path. Warlick’s Max Ernst and Alchemy.” In “The Walls Do Not Fall.’s outward circumstances were the terrors of war.” we “nameless initiates. . over-confidence.” H. Here. unlocked. of the “alchemist’s secret. / here is the alchemist’s key. we clearly see how extensive and lifelong Ernst’s fascination with alchemical imagery was. / subconscious ocean where Fish / move two-ways.’s work is a complex tapestry of just such word-play and religious concordances. the poem is at heart profoundly esoteric in its unified vision amid the shards of bomb-shattered modernity. develops many of the themes initially sketched in Notes on Thought and Vision. / companions / of the flame.
” and it begins with an invocation again of Hermes Trismegistus. .” . this. then writes: We have had too much consecration. D.” This poem exhorts the poet to “plunder” the past.”49 Thus. H. with their overconfidence leading only to floundering in sea-depths of confused images and “incongruous monsters. who as the sacred scribe is invoked through the act of using “pen or brush. The poet is called to “take what the old-church / found in Mithra’s tomb. The reader is called to sacred writing by way of H. H. of the soul that passes through initiation and awakes. . cryptograms. the difficulty of conveying initiation through the written word—it includes the implication that such efforts are bound to be deemed ‘heretical’ by some.’s invocation of Hermes. and that one must know and feel by intuition the meaning that words hide.51 Taken in context with the earlier invocation of Hermes-Thoth. In a well-known passage. but suddenly from them emerge living butterflies. symbols of Psyche reborn.” invoke “Hermes-thrice-great. devoid of life. / re-vivify the eternal verity. H. / in the light of what went before. D. little boxes. continues. / lead us back to the one-truth. too little: I know.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 107 a wrong path. but also those who come after her. “patron of alchemists. conditioned to hatch butterflies .” what the “new-church spat upon / and broke and shattered. / rededicate our gifts / to spiritual realism”.” whose “province is thought. illuminate what came after. D. one that leads toward the subconscious and illusion—and this is the path of the surrealists.” Her invocation continues: “Let him (Wisdom. “Let us substitute / enchantment for sentiment. as Hermes is patron of poets and thieves. but this.”50 Here H. D. itself conveyed through the act of sacred writing. explicitly invokes the Hermetism of antiquity. this has been proved heretical. The words themselves may resemble boxes. this passage suggests the complexity. She calls us to “prepare papyrus or parchment.” “candle and script and bell.’s words here are an invocation and a kind of Hermetic initiation. / inventive. I feel the meaning that words hide. she is calling herself to a sacred task. D.” through painting or writing.’s trilogy is “Tribute to the Angels. artful and curious. too much. too little affirmation.” “invoke the true-magic. they are anagrams. The next work in H. D.
we saw the tree flowering. indivisible Spirit.” One must “reinvoke. recreated by the poet. but whereas Rilke could not write during war. the shattered glass of the past. is in fact transmuting the war experience into one of divine . the conditions under which. how is it you come so near. in the high-altar of a ruined building. was writing these poems. H. I testify. in an old garden-square. Another is the layer of Hermetic invocation. it was an ordinary tree. the poet must “melt down and integrate. H.” but re-awakened. D. She includes lines from the Revelation of John: “I.” I take these lines as placing the poet’s vision in the context of John’s Revelation: John was a prophet and seer. John.52 These lines reveal many layers. like a ghost. reinvoked in a new form. an angel manifesting in the flowering tree. re-create” that which is now “scattered in the shards / men tread upon”.108 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E This. we entered a house through a wall. D. D. but I believe the heart of the poem is to be found in the following section: Invisible.’s poetic narrative reminds us of Rilke’s accounts of meeting angels in his Sonnets to Orpheus and Duino Elegies. is attempting in her poetry here. but also of a meeting with an invisible spirit. after all. and still another is that of an older true unified religion rejected by a “new-church. then still not knowing whether (like the wall) we were there or not-there. saw. We should not underestimate the magnitude of what H. What does the poet see? The poem is far too vast to attempt a complete exegesis here. passed through a frame—doorless— entered a shrine. how is it that we dare approach the high-altar? we crossed the charred portico.53 This is an account of self-transcendence (not knowing whether we were there or not-there). H. and so too by implication can we be. D. so too can the poet be. One is the layer of the destruction in London during the bombing.
In H. .54 Here she is conveying in poetic form what cannot be captured but only conveyed.’s vision. And this experience is gnosis. and even more overtly. / it was the Angel which redeemed me. writes that This is no rune nor riddle. it is happening everywhere. H. H. one can only suggest it so that the reader can realize it too. / . writes that the Cross and the Tau or “T-cross” merge with the caduceus. / it was a sign. the next section is very important. music could do nothing with it.” the name of the final poem in Trilogy. just as Christianity and the mystery religions of antiquity are joined indivisibly. seeing Christianity as being a continuation of earlier traditions. / casts the Old Dragon / into the abyss.” This experience “was vision. D. In it. the divine feminine.’s poetry in general. In this context. that “Hermes Trismegistus / spears.’s poetry. transmitted as an “open secret” (to use Carlyle’s phrase describing Emerson’s essay Nature). and this suggestiveness is how initiation through the word takes place. themselves conveyed to the reader through H. nothing whatever. conveyed through the poetry. what I mean is—it is so simple yet no trick of the pen or brush could capture that impression. Sophia appears here in this larger context as a figure of the divine feminine . . alluded to. But there is another recurrent theme in Trilogy that we also cannot ignore and that is indivisible from this mysterious and profound experience of the divine: the figure of Sophia. with Saint Michael. D. D.”55 Hermes and the Archangel are thus merged in H. One cannot capture this esoteric illumination. / it was the Holy Ghost—.” she also builds toward a specific spiritual experience in which she saw “God in the other-half of the tree. bind together Christian and pre-Christian religious traditions. but gnosis manifested through a web of interconnected symbols. the flowering of the wood. Hence H. This experience. what I mean is— but you have seen for yourself that burnt-out wood crumbling you have seen for yourself.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 109 revelation. D. D. joining together the worst and the highest of which humanity is capable. symbol of Hermes. / the darkness of ignorance. and Trilogy in particular. D.’s “Tribute to the Angels.” This experience is what she calls the “flowering of the rood. is a gnosis of the word.
preserving the evocative power of poetry that resists the power of reason alone.” H.” she of the Bona dea. the thief. she retains the web of interconnected meanings and symbolisms. The artist who participates imaginatively with Christ is redeemed.” “she carried a book. It would be a mistake to presume that because H. they are therefore a repudiation of Christianity in favor of a neopagan goddess tradition. and that. thus “The Flowering of the Rood” is also about the redemption of art through religious experience. who is also redeemed. She who has been seen “the world over. is reluctant to label Sophia as a single reified figure. Rather. affirms the divine feminine in her Trilogy poems. and “she carries a book but it is not / the tome of the ancient wisdom. D. just as the Word is transmitted through the Great Book. But the “we” who did not “forego our heritage” also has a wider context. the Bible.. 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. D. Here it might be valuable to recall that H.”56 Sophia herself appears to H. then notes that she is referring to “the straggling company of the brush and quill. This imaginative participation is at the heart of H. the scribe. Hermes is the patron of the artist.” This refrain. They are not.” “the SS of the Sanctus Spiritus. entitled “The Flowering of the Rood. D. the butterfly. requiring instead imaginative participation on the part of the reader.” of artists and poets who “did not deny their birthright” but remained faithful to the spiritual origin and vision that is the fount of living art. she was deeply familiar with the esoteric spirituality of the theosophic community of Count Zinzendorf in Pennsylvania.” Yet Sophia is also “the Vestal / from the days of Numa. D. the writer.” at once both Christian and pre-Christian. And She is “Holy Wisdom.’s own heritage. / out of the cocoon.” Here the focus is not feminine but masculine—the birth of Jesus Christ and the coming of the Wise Men bearing gifts. D.” as well as “the new Eve who comes” bringing “the Book of Life. the artist is the thief who is redeemed on the very day that Christ is crucified. allied to Mercury also. and the thief. obviously.” for hers are the blank pages “of the unwritten volume of the new. And there is one more critical detail: when Sophia appeared. in the context of the three poems together.” And She is also “Psyche. as we will see in more detail shortly.” “Santa Sophia. was a baptized Moravian. Sophianic spirituality was in H. clearly alludes to the figure of Hermes. speculates that “she must have been pleased with us. and H. as we will see when we turn to her novel The Gift. whether it is con- . at once the Magna Mater and the Virgin of the Book of Revelation of John. to her astonishment. D.’s Trilogy.110 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E appearing through Mary and through the ancient goddesses.” This book is the transmission of the spiritual experience through the book of poems. for H. brought into paradise with Christ. D. under her “drift of veils. D. / who did not forego our heritage” . “Our Lady of the Pomegranate. right into the final poem.
D. also reveals the overarching spiritual unity not only of mythology but. and how at its very heart is—the gnosis of the word. H. and confusion of the Second World War as experienced in the bombing of London. Her brother sought to keep from the public eye his sister’s interest in esoteric or ‘occult’ areas of thought. like Eliot in his Four Quartets. Hermes and Christ. Margaret Fuller’s most well-known work. fear. the Trilogy culminates with “The Flowering of the Rood.” with the experience of Christ. What is more.” all are interwoven here. It is no accident that both the Trilogy and The Gift have woven into them the horror. D. H. Likewise. Such a massive lacuna is not surprising because it has at least some modest precedent in American letters. In the midst of the worst of which humanity is capable. as well as of Christian and pre-Christian religious symbolism. H. wove into The Gift her own extensive research into her family’s history. B.’s own notes. we must turn to The Gift. they even changed significantly the emphasis of the entire novel from Moravian spirituality to the gift of artistic creation. The Gift. in the midst of the terror and chaos and destruction of war. the Vestal Virgin and “Our Lady of the Pomegranate. It is not surprising. that until 1998. the only available versions of The Gift were more or less bowdlerized ones from which nearly a third of the original text was missing. In her poetry. an esoteric emblem that she designed herself. 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. To understand this mysticism more fully. unabridged version of her novel The Gift. with the simultaneous symbolism of his birth and death. As I detail in The Esoteric Origins of the American Renaissance (2001). S. H. when New Directions published their abridged version of The Gift about a century later.’s poetry is far more complex than it is frequently depicted as being. D. Woman in the Nineteenth Century. Eve and Mary. and that includes a unification of male and female symbolism. which was intertwined with the history of the Moravian Church in America in its . D. however. as in the original.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 111 venient for the reader’s ideology or not.57 It was not until 1998 that Jane Augustine’s edited original edition of this extraordinary novel was published. was published posthumously under the direction of her brother without her original frontispiece. sought to accomplish a feat similar to that sought by the other great modernist poets T. Only when we read the original version of the novel can we recognize just how remarkable an achievement it is. complete with H. of mysticism. Eliot and W. D. I suppose. the editors sought to remove many of the references to the mysticism that is in fact at the center of the book. 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.
her grandmother’s father. 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. as well as original copies of Rimius’s other major works on the subject. and weave together genealogical and historical materials. 1753). George Lavington’s The Moravians Compared and Detected (London: J. Joseph Edward Hutton’s A History of the Moravian Church (London: Moravian Publication Office. H. shaping the way that she intended it to be read. In other words. Commonly Called Moravians (London: A. or Secret Counsels of their Leaders. and he was born in Bethlehem. had done her research. I consider these findings highly stimulating and exciting. D. though I must confess. D. D. was a watchmaker and silversmith for more than forty years in Bethlehem. especially those now housed at Yale University. 1909).” as well as of “Secrets probably known by the adepts alone. Georg Heinrich Loskiel’s History of the Mission of the United Brethren Among the Indians in North America (London: Brethren’s Society. came by her fascination with the Moravians naturally. Knapton. 1753). D. H. & P. Her notes are in fact an important aspect of the novel. accused the early Moravians of “gross and scandalous . Her notes for The Gift are remarkably detailed. He was a gifted musician who sang in the Moravian choir. itself. . Robinson. it was in fact in her blood. in . For Zinzendorf and his group were far more esoteric in their interests than those who were to follow them. Linde. We can see the extent and depth of H.112 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E earliest years.”58 About such accusations. 1794). “Old Father Weiss. Pennsylvania. wrote that they were precisely what she found attractive about the Unitas Fratrum: “Personally. with its numerous original eighteenth-century publications. but also that the artistic and spiritual import of the novel is bolstered by being based on actual fact. D. D. and Henry Rimius’s A Candid Narrative of the Rise and Progress of the Herrnhuetters. make clear this distinction. .’s research into this area when we look at her own notes for the novel as well as the books from her own library. containing the Occasion of his coming among the Herrnhutters or Moravians (London: J. Pennsylvania. in her notes.’s library demonstrates the depth of her research. Her grandfather’s name was Francis Wolle. was herself a baptized Moravian. D. among its volumes are Andreas Frey’s A True and Authentic Account of Andrew Frey. 1755). D. H. In toto. deliberately incorporated much authentic historical background into the novel. Mysticism. Zinzendorf ’s most effective detractor. 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.” or Jedediah Weiss. H.” of the “Arcana. Rimius. offering the reader incontrovertible evidence not only that H. in the middle of the eighteenth century. Rimius’s works. cited by H. And her personal library gives ample proof that H.
through the reader’s assembling of clues into a larger narrative. “There is no royal road into this kingdom. writing these reflections during the siege of London in the Second World War. the reader is carried along vicariously on the discoveries not only of young Hilda. D. and had existed in Bohemia-Moravia for many hundreds of years before what is now called the Reformation. and Son. and its doctrines as representing a pure. . is initiated into the matrilinear gnosis of her family’s secret Moravian traditions. referring to Father. The Gift is an initiatory work in the classic anthropological sense: it is on one level a story of how a young girl. into The Gift. It is written in a characteristically modernist fragmented style that reflects on the one hand the fragmentation of modernity and on the other hand. . it does exist. D. Its esotericism derived its power from these beliefs. to initiate the reader. respected and highly respectable. But more important than Zinzendorf’s own esotericism is how it was incorporated by H. The Moravian Church that he was instrumental in revivifying in the mid-eighteenth century actually was linked more to Greek Orthodoxy than to Rome. Hilda. This redemption from chaos that the reader undergoes by working through the novel is parallel to the initiation of the child Hilda. The novel. We were a small community. The Moravian Church. nonhierarchic tradition of true Christianity. whose voice in the novel is clearly childish. Zinzendorf espoused a doctrine of the Trinity that conjoined the Holy Spirit with the divine feminine. 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. and in this sense the book is clearly meant by H.” She goes on: . is a coming-of-age or initiation-into-the-mysteries-of-adulthood narrative.” that “someone must inherit” access to a hidden “continent” that includes links to people long dead. saw itself as a branch of the primordial and pure Christianity. he also held that every woman represented an image of the Bride of Christ. D. D. But the reader is initiated into these mysteries vicariously. 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. there was no hint of this exoticism. Mother.” H. or Unitas Fratrum as resuscitated by Zinzendorf. but also of the older poet H. explaining the novel’s initiatory power via the word and image within the novel itself in a kind of metanarrative. conventionally the church. “you just stumble on it. She tells us that there is a “Gift waiting... For suddenly we encounter the voice of the elder H. D. it is one of those things that you really do find in your Grimm or your Anderson . writes. an overarching spiritual narrative that redeems modernity from its chaos and fragmentation.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 113 my own day.”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.
considerably more of this theme to unpack. when they come back?61 The word is the means of preserving and of transmitting the honey of spiritual knowledge. but there are no bees in it now. 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. Hilda surmises. later learning it means Island of Wounds). it is what the novel does for H. while it is the case that Mamalie is telling this complicated history to her granddaughter Hilda. Rather. In chapter 5 of The Gift. these are the keys. who is somewhat forgetful near the end of her life. The word is like a bee-hive. .” The first is when Mamalie. The other bees have gone. But there is more. . keep Wunden Eiland for the other bees.” she told Hilda. . cut on a wall at Karnak. that Mamalie called himmelschlüssel or keys-of-heaven. Williams called a primula.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. A bit of me can really “live something of a word or phrase. Mamalie tells Hilda that the Moravians were at heart a continuation of “the Hidden Church that . And Hilda speculates: I want her to go on talking because if she stops.114 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E It is like matching beads. I am the last bee in the bee-hive. we are given more explicit hints about the title of the chapter. it is like that little flower that Mrs. this is the game I play. Island of Wonders. These spiritual mysteries are not. Can one bee keep a bee-hive alive. And in this story men play at least as significant a role as women. Hilda knows that she is the last one in the family to whom Mamalie could entrust her secrets. men play a greater role than women. Egyptian . D. That is how it is. that is why it is so quiet. but Hilda (and along with her. 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. Then am I for a moment . “Christian had left the Secret with me. . the reader) must unravel their mysteries through cryptic comments and fragments let drop by her grandmother. . in some aspects of the story. and even here in her narrative. I mean. I mean. Hilda is fascinated by Mamalie’s talk of Wunden Eiland. I was afraid the Secret would be lost. A word opens a door . Hilda’s grandmother. can one person who knows that Wunden Eiland is a bee-hive. as some scholars seem to think. begins to speak of “the papers” that she was afraid she had lost. the word stops. “The Secret. aspects of a solely matriarchal tradition. A word opens a door. a German name for an early Moravian island sanctuary (the name meaning. . indeed. even though the beehive is presided over by a Queen bee (Sophia?).
said Mamalie. they conducted a syncretic ritual that joined the spiritual traditions of the two peoples.”66 How did Mamalie know so intimately what it was like. though. bore the names of Cammerhof.’s. it was the laughter of the water. along with a list of “medicine-men or priests of the Indian tribes.63 In The Gift.62 Like the Templars. had a name for. The Moravians and the Indians under the chief Paxnous met in order to let their guiding spirits determine the fate of white-Indian relations. not least because the Moravians respected Indian spirituality.” “the laughter of leaves.” but that “wasn’t really destroyed. of wind. He said it would be impossible to follow the language without the music. . Already tracts of land further north were depleted of their wild animals. Johann Christoph Pyrlaeus was a musician who collected “Indian words and sayings and made a dictionary of them. as to what was to be the relationship in future between the white-men and the Indians. it was the outpouring of the Mystic Chalice that Paxnous’ priest too. D.” This scroll. where the Moravians came during the eighteenth century and immediately formed a rapport with the American Indians. but this was untrue. of snow swirling. she draws upon historical fact in order to build a larger mythos. she decoded it from the cryptic musical notations and multilingual script of the parchment kept in the birchbark case. chiefly through the narrative of elderly Mamalie. is not Europe but North America. it is not a confabulation of H. Mamalie continues. Greek. so that “It was laughing. kept in a birch-bark case. laughing all the time. it poured from the sky or from the inner realm of the Spirit. .M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 115 [reportedly] had been destroyed and obliterated by the Inquisition. in particular the Shawnee. but all of them. According to Mamalie.” Pyrlaeus passed on a scroll written “in curious characters. this laughter that ran over us. This rapport is historically verifiable. As Mamalie put it in her narrative to Hilda: In fact. She and her . though.” so he “made notes of tones and rhythms of their voices. the Christian initiates of the fateful meeting at Wunden Eiland. “like scales running up and down. Zeisberger and Christian Seidel. the answer given by the Spirits.” only driven “underground” to resurface with Count Zinzendorf and his disciples.65 In this spiritual meeting of the medicine men and the Moravian initiates. Pyrlaeus.”64 The Indians and the Moravians indeed had an unusual relationship. this meeting of the Moravians and Indians under the sign of the Great Spirit / Holy Spirit? She was a musician. altogether. and Indian dialects and writing and marginal notes of music.” not just Minne-ha-ha. the Moravians were accused of scandalous behavior. to give the answer that the warriors had debated at their councils. Hebrew. indeed. was to decide the future of the whole country . The most important scene for this gnostic drama. done in their picture-writing. and a hundred years after this ritual meeting and descent of the Holy Spirit took place.
And yet in the very final passages. past and present superimposed upon one another and intermingling. or Wounded Island. decoded it and she played it.” as “Aryan.”67 Thus “the Gift” was transmitted from the original Moravian participants in the ritual to Mamalie and her husband. Instead of recounting the transmission of Mamalie’s understanding to young Hilda. . raining down terror from the skies. or a subsequent realization of the original Moravian-Indian spiritual illumination.116 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E young husband. stands perpetually opposed to those whose aim is slaughter. And in a subsequent event. At the novel’s conclusion. Among those killed were twenty-four women and twenty-two children. we realize that the Moravian sanctuary island. where the falling arrows of the original “French Indian” attack on Gnadenhütten metamorphose into the falling bombs of the Germans attacking England. so that even amid the terrible bombing of England. who was responsible for the attack on “New Gnadenhütten. said in her fragmented narrative. to young Hilda as Mamalie became delirious on her deathbed. So it would seem that The Gift is a tragic book. Mamalie. Wunden Eiland. the promise of Wunden Eiland and of the descent of the Holy Spirit is not lost but realized again. of universal peace and the descent of the Holy Spirit.” Mamalie and her young husband were taken away in rapture by this union with the original ritual and spiritual illumination. even refers to the American David Williamson. so much so that she never played music again. could have “lifted the dark wings of evil from the whole world.” 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. the Moravian colony of Gnadenhütten. was attacked by a band of Indians loyal to the French. 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. who was to die at twenty-five. The Gift. we return to the fragmented narrative of the Second World War. 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. composed of both local Indians and Moravians working with them. having “burnt it up. in an even more attenuated form. a means of underscoring that the immense promise of the Moravian-Indian spiritual brotherhood and sisterhood. D. In 1755. called “New Gnadenhütten. is also the wounded island of England as it is being bombed by the Germans. and Hilda tells us that “We have been face to face with the final realities.” but instead what we see is a tragic history. those hiding in the attic burned alive.” Thus we can see the palimpsest form of the novel. all of these themes are brought together into a unified whole. In her notes. and both Moravians and Indians were slaughtered. Christian Seidel.”69 The two worlds have become one. H. and then. domination.
Among major twentiethcentury authors. As we have seen. In this context. But above all. past and present. and that it is possible to realize a timeless state she terms the “over-mind.’s work stands with that of Yeats and of O. both poetic and fictional.’s fascination with various figures and currents of Western esotericism becomes more than a collection of interests. and future continually intermingle. but also a larger unity that even presents a way beyond chaos and evil into transcendence. de Lubicz Milosz as exemplary of the literary-mythological possibilities of Western esotericism. Her interest in spiritualism. her abiding fascination with Moravian esotericism is not merely an aspect of her genealogical interests. and as the way in which her work functions for the reader. In her profoundly ambitious works. for instance. H. not merely as decorations. and out of which all great work is generated. 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. this fragmentation actually represents in artistic form a higher union of past and present. H. does not exist separate from her poetic and fictional work but rather represents an important aspect of it.” both as a theme treated explicitly in her poetry and prose. Her later work in fact exemplifies exactly this idea.’s poetry and prose reflect a sense of the transparency of time and place: from Notes on Thought and Vision onward. D. and Western Esotericism: Some Conclusions. not least because although outwardly its modernist fragmentation suggests confusion and chaos. In her poetry and fiction. but as integral to her work. as well as of timelessness and time.V. singing of the Wounds. the more deeply one looks into her works. and the sound of the Moravian-Indian choirs of the past—and with this the novel concludes.” but she knows what they are saying even though they “are speaking Indian dialects. .M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 117 In England. H.” in which the individual consciousness is exalted. we find a wide range of Western esoteric currents manifesting themselves. the dead and the living are not separate but part of an interwoven continuum. present.70 She hears the “great choir of the strange voices that speak in a strange bird-like staccato rhythm. the more certain one is that here is someone whose work cannot be understood fully without reference to Western esotericism. and the original initiates had realized it in the eighteenth.” and she has suddenly achieved the union again in the twentieth century just as Mamalie had realized it in the nineteenth. D. her work suggests that past.” she realizes that “Our earth is a wounded island as we swing round the sun.” an echo of Emerson’s “Oversoul. Indeed. H. there. Likewise. H. she hears the “deep bee-like humming of the choir of single brothers. it becomes the foundation for an entire worldview. D. D. Hilda hears the voice of Christian Renatus. but rather is woven into her entire worldview.’s English present.’s work exemplifies what I have termed “initiation through the word.” There is a great sound—the sound of the all-clear siren in London. one of the original Moravian initiates. D. D.
D. She is the niece of the Elizabethan poet and alchemist Sir Edward Dyer. Lilith. and that also incorporated a sexual mysticism she found deeply congenial.’s esoteric worldview is complex and rather heterodox. through time—specifically. and Elizabeth identifies herself with him. D. At the center of her esoteric worldview is the primacy of the word as means of initiatic transmission. and its implications. although: I hardly knew my Lord. D. Mystery and a portent. parted in the dark. Through the codex left by the original Moravian initiates. We cannot conclude without reference to H. late Rome. to be sure. timelessness conveyed through time by way of word and image. the Light-bringer.’s complex 1957 poem Vale Ave. illuminating many aspects that otherwise could not be fully understood. The poem begins with the following preface: This sequence introduces Adam’s first wife. but it was only in her later work that we see it. and contemporary London. through her grandmother’s reconstruction of it in The Gift. true we had met in sudden frenzy. dynastic Egypt. The Lucifer-Lilith. through her fiction and through her poetry. whom we invoke as Lucifer.71 . yes. early seventeenth-century England. but at the same time. which makes it absolutely clear that in her later poetry she was even more deeply immersed in Western esotericism. outlined in entirety. Is she the Serpent who tests the androgynat primordial? Serpent (saraph) it is said. may be Angel or Devil. but understanding it places her work in an entirely different light. H. Sir Walter secretly and mysteriously becomes her lover during the last months of his life in the Tower of London. She had begun to outline this concept already in her early Notes on Thought and Vision. in his pre-Eve manifestation. as Adam. H. Elizabeth recalls him to her. as history tells us. there is Resurrection and the hope of Paradise. meeting and parting. After his death. so Lilith may be Serpent or Seraph. has the same root derivation as Seraph. Sir Walter was himself an alchemist. though here we follow the processus through the characters of Elizabeth and Sir Walter [Raleigh].’s work is fundamentally that of esoteric transmission through ahistorical continuity.118 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E she found an esoteric religious perspective that recognized the divine feminine in the form of Sophia. legendary Provence. Adam-Eve formula may be applied to all men and women. and all the rest was mystery and a portent. Vale Ave. through her uncle’s Art and through the alchemy of memory.
here again we find that “I transcribed the scroll” . the Writing. Yet in the twilit realm of fiction.” the alchemical processus of transmutation that is brought about for Elizabeth “through her uncle’s Art and through the alchemy of memory. The dead are living still. Here.” I cite from Vale Ave here because it makes clear that H.74 In our day of ever more complex technology and ever more information. the mysteries of the “tree and miraculous bird. Her poetry and her prose. But then “From grotto grove and shrine. just as it dwells in the realm of dreams.” 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. but rather how magic dwells in the realm of relatively recent fiction.” Kathleen Raine wrote of how the mysteries were once upon the earth. D. taken in toto. it may seem as though nothing could be farther from us than a world in which magic is possible. of timelessness revealed in time’s transparency. as in poetry. the “springs gone under the hill. here again “the words laugh. 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 bring them back none may Who wakes into this day. magic and the ancient mysteries still dwell.” Here again we find the same themes that recur throughout H. 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.73 Magical Fiction In a poem entitled “Dreams. / infinity portrayed in simple things.” the holy presences withdraw.” and again through it “I had the answer. “the Mystery. ‘magical fiction’ in fact belongs to a larger category. D. this preface and the poem itself are filled with esoteric elements.” the mysteries of the holy well.” echoing the laughter in the culminating initiatory moment in The Gift. . I would like to explore not the art of magic.” Her poem ends with the stanza: Inviolate in dream The mysteries still are shown. is not a youthful digression but central to her work even late in her life. . 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. Of course. But my .M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 119 Obviously.’s recurrent theme of initiation through the word.’s lifetime of work.”72 Here again the scroll becomes a “palimpsest. and the Scroll.
Ransom explains what is happening to the resurrected ancient magician Merlin. saying “I have become a bridge. and perhaps becomes itself a magical act. domination of things and wills. invokes the Oyéresu. as one might imagine. he backtracks and remarks that “Magic should be reserved for the operations of the magician. Tolkien begins by describing “fairy stories” as those stories touched by “faëry. the “true powers of Heaven.75 In his essay “On Fairy Stories. In his extraordinary novel That Hideous Strength. it remains distinct from the other two. things are not nearly so clear cut. C. His main character.” in a collection of essays presented to Charles Williams. R. Here.”77 In the subsequent chapter 15. for “if they [the Oyéresu] put forth their power. Lewis describes a magical invocation that marks the climax of the book. or Mercury.” the planetary spirits of Perelandra. fay or mortal. they will unmake all Middle Earth. or Venus. S.120 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E aim here is to explore fiction that carries the reader into the working of expressly magical ritual and experience. R. Let us take an example. here. This is actually a rather rare kind of fiction. I will concentrate on the works of Lewis and Fortune in order to explore how their fiction becomes magical. Lewis. or pretends to produce.” says Ransom. when we turn to actual works. John Ransom. It does not matter by whom it is said to be practiced.” “Their naked power. its desire is power in this world.” Ransom invokes these powers he calls the Oyéresu. and so forth. and the descrip- . R. S. an alteration in the Primary World. Tolkien.” which might best be translated as “magic. and Charles Williams). But chief among such authors are without doubt the Inklings (in particular. but in its purity it is artistic in desire and purpose. 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. what will come of this?” asks Merlin. J. Viritrilbia. “That is why they will work only through a man. to the satisfaction of their senses while they are inside.” replies Ransom. C. while I will draw on some writings of Tolkien and Williams. yes. as well as Dion Fortune (Violet Firth). J. it is not an art but a technique.” But later in the same essay. Is there really a difference in practice between enchantment and magic.76 While the distinction Tolkien makes.” “Sir. “one who by his own will once opened it.” He continues: Enchantment produces a Secondary World into which both designer and spectator can enter. R. Magic produces. “The Descent of the Gods.” whereas the “elvish craft” might best be referred to as “enchantment. seems reasonable enough in theory. fiction in which the ancient mysteries are still alive and have not withdrawn their springs.” “Through a man whose mind is opened to be so invaded.
In this chapter. deafened. where the invocation has its center.” the narrator tells us. but it is in the description of the Blue Room that Venus truly comes alive. They could not bear that it should continue. the narrator imagines what it must be like to enter the house. so well-crafted and evocative are Lewis’s words. whose colour no man can name or picture” darting between Ransom and Merlin. . until his outraged senses forsook him. unmitigated. Laden with ponderous fragrance of night-scented flowers. then we imaginatively enter the Blue Room.” “He would have known sensuously. Into the Blue Room come summer breezes. to do full justice to these descriptions of the planetary powers’ arrival. Clearly Lewis is describing a magical working: the invocation of the planetary powers. . full of wordplay and puns and metaphors. in which none other than the ancient . The ordinary people in the kitchen experience first the coming of Mercury: they become exceptionally talkative. 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 . Fallen upon them direct from the Third Heaven. sticky gums . where Ransom (the Pendragon) and Merlin sit. bright and ruthless.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 121 tion of this event is one of the most extraordinary evocations of magical working in literature. In the beginning of the chapter. 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. awakening dormant passion in the people in the kitchen. in the white-hot furnace of essential speech. sharp. They were blinded. were it possible. ready to kill. . They thought it would burn their bones. and there we see a “rod of coloured light. . In this chapter of Lewis’s novel. They could not bear that it should end.”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.”79 After Mercury arrives Venus. for “the whole house would have seemed to him to be tilting and plunging like a ship in a Bay of Biscay gale. and then comes the goddess: “fiery. such a distinction does not hold up well at all. We encounter how people ordinarily encounter Mercury. A soft tingling and shivering as of foam and breaking bubbles. outspeeding light: it was Charity . . To keep their beams upon this spot of the moving Earth’s hide. ready to die.”80 It is not really possible. here. brisk merriments. . there are two scenes: a room where several ordinary people sit. “laden like heavy barges that glide nearly gunwale under . and the Blue Room. . “I do not think he could have reached the door unbidden.” Merlin and Ransom tremble. They experience “needle-pointed desires. or between “sub-creation” of a “secondary world” and magical effects on the “primary world” of this earth.” Ransom “found himself sitting within the very heart of language. . lynx-eyed thoughts” “rolling to and fro like glittering drops. scorched. sweet-scented and full of desire. calling down the powers.
and one with Merlin and Ransom). but Lewis’s novel is clearly about the “primary world” in which we live. Uncertain whether to enter the lodge where he is sleeping. Lewis not only achieves dramatic success.122 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E magician Merlin participates. Anne’s. This passage is what I mean by magical initiatory fiction. but also is able to take along even the skeptical reader. “The Descent of the Gods” is about a celestial healing of a ruined world. His description of both good and evil is such that it can bring a real extension of personal knowledge and experience of each to the reader. In other words. rather like Elijah or King Arthur.” but also because of the delicate tension it maintains between ordinary life and magical events. in a “secondary world” of fiction. even though of course the reader has not physically participated in the invocation of the Oyéresu. Here the various good characters come together to discuss what happened. one with ordinary people. After the “descent of the gods” is achieved in the fifteenth chapter. Ransom) is taken up to Perelandra bodily. Lewis brings us into the realm of Ransom’s and Merlin’s magical rescue of England from the grip of a malevolent force. the reader feels as though he has passed through those dimensions too. the magical working here is meant also to have effects in the “primary world” of the reader. In so doing.”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. and all is brought to a conclusion in “Venus at St. and Mark’s shirt is hanging partway out of the window. “How exactly like Mark!” Jane thinks. It is important that this magical working is not the end of the book. and the Director (Dr. whose work I would certainly be remiss if I did not mention here. 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 seventeenth chapter. One feels a satisfaction at the conclusion of That Hideous Strength that very few novels are able to elicit. One finds exactly the same sense of initiatory passage in the novels of Charles Williams. still it feels as though one imaginatively has. and by its end. the novel has dimensions that most other fiction simply does not. to the familiar world in which a married couple need each other. But even this is not the end: the end comes when the character Jane returns to her husband Mark. Therefore . Lewis’s work is a masterpiece not only because of how it carries us into the magical working in the “descent of the gods. in the following chapter we see the destruction of the malevolent Institute and its depraved characters. of course. though one could easily imagine it so. she sees that clothes are piled inside. The invocation takes place. Gareth Knight observes in The Magical World of the Inklings: those who read his fiction tend to be affected strongly in two ways. but this healing is also one in which the reader necessarily participates. “Obviously it was high time she went in. About Williams’s novels.
In effect they are initiations. . such as the poet Peter Stanhope of Descent into Hell. One might even say that the writing of it was a magical act. and how therefore the reader is in . one is also encountering new realms of existence. but she did offer some preliminary remarks to her novel Moon Magic. they reveal forms of necromancy. but rarely if at all in exactly the form I wish to consider here: initiation into magical ritual itself. then what have I created in Lilith Le Fay? . it is possible to respond to the quality of good. to make fiction something much more powerful than it ordinarily is. for instance. not find it very entertaining. and decidedly corrupt ones. they unveil the power of archetypes and. I wrote it. such as Simon Leclerc in All Hallows’ Eve. I am afraid. almost cathartic effect. On the other hand. for in the act of reading. It was not written for its entertainment value. for both writers evoked magical workings or paranormal events in ways that very few authors have. . when Ransom invokes the planetary powers. 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. Williams’s characters offer insights into what it is like to be dead.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 123 some may feel depressed or repulsed by the down side of his books and their evocation of the essence of evil. 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. Who and what is Lilith. both Williams and Lewis were able to widen the metaphysical dimensions of fiction. By doing so. Fortune rarely wrote about her fiction.]82 Exactly the same thing may be said here about Lewis’s foray into what was chiefly Williams’s domain. [Emphasis added. I have put a great deal into it. and there is a great deal more in it than I ever put in. in fact. [Emphasis added. Thus a close reading of his novels can have a purificatory. But while Williams’s fiction certainly touches upon magical themes and features magician characters both noble. and why did she live on after the book about her was finished. in general. 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. For that. we should turn to a second exemplar: the fiction of Dion Fortune. and divine reality and angelic brightness shines through the other side of his work.] If it be true that what is created in the imagination lives in the inner world. She writes there that Those who read this story for the sake of entertainment will. and her observations are revealing. to find out what it was about.
and the man in the street calls it illusion or charlatanry according to taste. and in this the prosaic tone of the narrator’s voice itself acts as a kind of counterweight to what the narrator is discussing. and take refuge in the Secret Kingdom. for it is effectual. putting my cards on the table. Psychologists call it a psychological mechanism. it is the door by which the sensitive escape into insanity when life is too hard for them. It does not matter to me what it is called. The magic worked. There is little evidence that Lewis was a practicing magus. and imagined myself speaking to him. 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. the founder of the British Society of the Inner Light. She gave rise to the character Lilith. badly lit and ill-tended room. Then I visualized the face of the man with the greying red hair. Fortune’s novels are as much like primers on magical practices as they are fiction. 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.124 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E some senses a participant in that magical act. I had the sensation of the descent of a swift lift. after all. as if those characters were somehow joined with Ransom’s voice. that is to say. The Door Without a Key is the Door of Dreams. all awareness of my physical surroundings faded. who is Moloch. like all of her . the narrator begins this way: I will tell what I did. a shabby. the side She turns away from earth. In the novel’s seventh chapter. Fortune’s wealth of direct personal experience in the practice of magic. untidy.84 Here we are observing a magical working of a very different kind from that evoked by Lewis through his character Ransom. and this matterof-fact tone of voice has an effect similar to that of the ordinary characters in Lewis’s That Hideous Strength. She writes matter-of-factly about all manner of paranormal events. and was startled to find that the character lived on in Fortune’s own imagination after The Sea Priestess was finished. which is the dark side of the Moon. In some respects. but Fortune was. I made the astral projection by the usual method. Fortune’s novel. often enough in the first person from the viewpoint of a female character. appears clearly in her novels. magicians call it magic. for it shows how we use the Door Without a Key to escape the Lord of This World. and I seemed to be in a strange room. not surprisingly. which always characterizes the change of the level of consciousness. That Fortune was herself a magician is not in question. and author of numerous books on the practice of magic and related subjects. and artists use it as a window in a watch-tower.
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. with the addition of Taverner’s great experience in magical or occult events.” which is about an English nobleman whose family seeks to have him certified mad in order to take over his estate. set loose a magical attack on the protagonists. a young woman named Ursula . There is little art in the way she tells of the magical working: if Lewis’s account is closer to poetry than to prose. Such an observation is not meant entirely as criticism. Characteristic of this strategy is one of Fortune’s earliest and best-known works. decides to heed the call of nature that he feels. . Taverner. but I shared in their life. But there are other sorts of magical initiations in Fortune’s fiction as well. Rhodes.” to pass “an invisible barrier” of consciousness. Holmes. for I was one with them . The Secrets of Dr. and something of the same flavor comes across in Taverner. who represents the voice of the ordinary observer. based on the life of one Theodore Moriarty. a bullish young man named Ted Murchison. one will recall. I had passed over into the Unseen. (a kind of Watson to Taverner’s Holmes). Marius. Among the more interesting of these stories is “A Son of the Night. like Taverner. but also to point out a means by which Fortune’s novels attract and hold a reader. Rhodes.” an expression characteristic of the way she clearly lays out in her fiction to reflect the way her magical practice is experienced. in particular that of Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes. was consummately the logician. Fortune’s account here is closer to journalism.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 125 fiction. As a character. but perhaps most interestingly. is concerned with practical magic and phenomena like astral projection. and here too there are correspondences with what we have seen in That Hideous Strength. Taverner is patterned after Holmes. “in all things there was a profound difference. a fellow named Fouldes. “for to me they had suddenly become alive. to “enter the Unseen. Not only were they alive. Taverner certainly falls under the category of ‘occult fiction. In Fortune’s novel The Winged Bull. 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. Taverner gets to the bottom of the case immediately. 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. for. Thus Rhodes. and many others.’ but it is in fact just as much in the genre of detective fiction. a collection of stories entitled The Secrets of Dr. After his entry into the Unseen. at the end of the story.” Rhodes remarks at the story’s conclusion. an unsavory magician named Hugo Astley—with some similarities to Aleister Crowley—and his protegé.”85 And so the book concludes. while the stories are written from the perspective of his companion. she is interested in “putting her cards on the table. . and who is in fact of supernatural lineage. I was no longer alone.
Yet paradoxically. suddenly. These characters represent sheer malevolence against humanity. ‘That is very much that. and.’87 The writing here feels a bit more awkward than in some of Fortune’s other novels. but one can certainly see some parallels between it and Lewis’s That Hideous Strength. Frost and Wither are without mercy. but then Murchison. an experienced magician. 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. and her half-brother. Fortune continues: Then Brangwyn also caught it. broke and starred like a smashed mirror. ‘Well. The girl he could do nothing for. a change came over the atmosphere of the room. running in every direction like spilled quicksilver. But there was nothing he could do for the other two . and in another moment the room was empty . The strange. ‘so that’s that.’ ‘Yes. Then. The three protagonists were just about to go to bed when Murchison cocked his head and stared into space over Ursula’s head. pure selfishness. and felt the waves of evil influence come rolling in. . . but also logically. who have developed a means for communication with what they call “Macrobes” (in fact another name for demons). and the waves divided and swept past him like the tide round a pier. in order to generate the greater polarity necessary for what we might call the metaphysical battles that take place in both books. there are also depraved black magicians. . banked and double-banked. like Astley in The Winged Bull. breaking the embarrassing silence.86 At first it appeared that Murchison and Ursula were to be lost in the force of this magical attack. but clearly in both depravity is necessary on one side in order that there can be noble transcendence on the other. represent evil on another scale entirely from that which one usually sees depicted in modern fiction. a bear of a man. of course Lewis’s is far the greater both in literary skill and in significance. they were getting it in the neck. It was best to leave Murchison to his unaided wits. She had passed out of his reach on the tides of the force as if water had whirled her away.’ replied Murchison.’ said Brangwyn. .126 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Brangwyn. such characters are necessary not only dramatically. ‘If Fouldes and Astley were en rapport at the other end of the telepathic wire. . He was experienced in dealing with such things. dropping into a chair as if exhausted. Of the two books. cold and merciless. In That Hideous Strength. they are without morality. evil power that had been pouring in as steadily as waves beating into a bay.’ Brangwyn concluded.
either alone. or with the help of an initatory. to living Nature (theosophy lato sensu). powers both good and evil. and thanks to that. Whether or not a disciple has a master. and finally the Society of the Inner Light. The phrase magical initiation is perhaps most suitable here for the works of Fortune. but later called the Community of the Inner Light.90 . . he has to access a knowing—or a form of nonknowing— transmittable by the word. they also carry the reader along on an initiatory course. But Charles Williams and even C. When the reader enters into the magical fiction of Lewis. Taverner. initially called the Christian Mystic Lodge of the Theosophical Society. There is. in this kind of fiction. 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. whose novels without any question reflect the fact that she was herself the founder of an initiatory order. Faivre writes that We follow this path by committing ourselves to it. while more circumspect about their own knowledge and at least in Williams’s case. This provides the profound tension that drives these works and that creates the ‘space’ within which the magical workings take place.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 127 This is not merely a cliché: in order for the magical drama to go forward. who can be an isolated master or a member of an initiatory school.” Antoine Faivre discusses the nature of initiation. The initiation serves to regenerate our consciousness. to advance in the knowledge of the connections uniting the disciple to higher entities (theosophy strictu sensu) and to cosmic forces. a series of magical initiations that begin with something like Rhodes’s entry into the Unseen. which represent profoundly divergent ways of relating to the cosmos. there must be in these novels—as also in books of Charles Williams such as War in Heaven—a metaphysical polarity between good and evil. In all of the fiction we are considering here. Williams. at the end of The Secrets of Dr. which hide the mysteries while revealing their keys.89 While the works of these authors are more artistic than Fortune’s. and in particular how the individual on an esoteric path follows a process of awakening. S. and Fortune. rising to insight into the metaphysical underpinnings of human life. he is in fact being initiated into the existence of forces invisible to the vast majority of people.85 In the works of Fortune we are unquestionably seeing the reflection of her own extensive experience in magical initiation. In “Approaches to Western Esoteric Currents. thanks to which we refashion the experience of our relationships to the sacred and the universe. Lewis. experience of magic. . but that also go beyond seeing into nature. also reflect at least some initiatory knowledge in their writings. helped by appropriate texts. thanks to a process that lets us reappropriate the knowing we have lost .
since in the fiction we have been discussing. perceptible to each of us as a function of our respective cultural imagery.128 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E I would suggest that the order of these final points be reversed.” putting us in contact with the mundus imaginalis or imaginal world that “is the space of intermediary beings. and Fortune were up to in their fictional works. But this passage as a whole clearly can be read as referring to initiation “transmittable by the word. Such a tension corresponds.”92 This special kind of imagination allows one to “escape both from the sterility of a purely discursive logic. moving from initiation into elemental or natural magic (represented by Lewis’s character Merlin. from this brief foray into the realm of magical fiction? First. For magical fiction is in fact remarkably suited to. Indeed. which manifests a deeper conflict between destructive and constructive powers in the cosmos as a whole. 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. and a realm in which one may encounter and work with nonphysical beings and powers. Williams. he calls ‘active imagination’ “the essential component of esotericism. Third. a mesocosm possessing its own geography. to the age-old relationship between the initiate and the initiator. 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.91 Faivre goes on to remark that to succeed in this process of regeneration or initiatic awakening. one is to some degree at least “refashion[ing] the experience of our relationships to the sacred and the universe” just as the neophyte character Wilfred Maxwell is transmuted by his magical work with the character Vivien Le Fay Morgan. we have seen that magical fiction in general represents to the reader a series of stages or grades. initiation into living Nature tends to precede initiation into the powers of higher entities. in literary form. In fact.” What conclusions can we draw. Finally. ‘behind the scenes’ of the drama of ordinary human life. Second. then. active imagination is essential. if we may so put it. as one reads a novel like Dion Fortune’s The Sea Priestess. 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. thoroughly real. . for instance) to initiation into encounters with transcendent beings the Oyéresu in Lewis’s That Hideous Strength. and from the rule-free extravagances of fantasy or sentimentality.”93 Faivre’s observations here are particularly important because they help us to understand in a different light what Lewis. initiating readers into “the space of intermediary beings. or such as Isis in Fortune’s The Sea Priestess.” and thus to written works like novels. even though the ultimate source of the reader’s magical initiation in fiction is the author.
in the sense of Rilke. is linked to the world in which we live and that offers us profound insights into the cosmos and into humanity. an important and genuinely original British painter. Collins’s paintings were exhibited in a major retrospective in 1989. one could understand much more clearly the nature of Collins’s paintings. where images accompany the written word and yet represent a separate set of works on their own. While Fortune was certainly a practicing magician. Collins revealed in his work insights into the hidden. Something of the same relationship between word and image exists in the works of Cecil Collins (1908–1989). transcendent and perhaps. This was an exhibition that I was fortunate enough to attend. E. One felt as though one were in some sense being initiated into a way of seeing. Theosophic illustrations in particular. it is this: there is undoubtedly art in magic. and his writings reveal in detail his . indirectly or directly.. not merely viewing paintings but through them being shown new ways of understanding humanity and the transcendent. Still. the sense that the artist belonged to the same tradition as A. and I recall the otherworldliness of the images. but the most magical works of all may well be found in literary art. there remain fundamental differences. Thus. and were engaged at least to some degree in similar enterprises. Collins is best known as an artist whose works manifest an ethereal. held in London’s Tate Gallery. angelic realm. But it is in the work of Lewis that we find an initiation into magical working that rises to the multivalent level of full artistic creation. Esoteric Transmission in the Art of Cecil Collins Although this book is primarily about literary transmission. 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. such as those accompanying the original German and English editions of Böhme’s complete works. higher aspects of nature and humanity. this is not the only means of esoteric transmission in twentieth-century works. and that like his contemporary poet. represent a visual form separate from and complementing the texts they accompany. her novels have a workmanlike quality: they do depict magical rituals and do offer insights into the nature of magic. As we have already seen. but with the publication of this book. but also in Böhmean theosophy. images played an important role not only in alchemical works and later in Rosicrucianism.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 129 The authors we have considered here knew or knew of one another. It is in Lewis’s That Hideous Strength that the reader can perhaps most powerfully encounter the transmuting power of artistic beauty expressing ritual magic that. which is why I have chosen to study them together. if I may be permitted a single conclusion. visionary style that may best be described as glimpses into another. Collins was a gifted aphorist.
I long for my race. on the other his works are infused with profound criticisms of the “insect-life” of modern industrial society. denies all who have inward fruit. The coldness of the vanity of the intellect on one side. the human being. I remember you. he writes: O holy ones I long for you. 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. If Collins loved solitude and nature on the one hand. A frustration of all that which is growing. and this from a comparatively early period in his work. of how “The tasting of these things in our days and nights is the partaking of the sacrament of existence.” consisting in excerpts from Collins’s journals during the Second World War. even as they transmit that worldview to the reader.95 In 1965. when in fact it is quite clear that we are ruled today by the elite of scientific technocrats and politicians . 1945.” or again. for Collins.” Ordinary life in the natural world. Totnes. of his solitary walks in the countryside. the contemplative. so that the reader has a greater task than in prose works. In “Hymn of Life. A winter of the spirit is over all society. to show us the hieroedietic beauty of life through art. and cheap vulgarity of attitude towards life on the other side. the aphorism by its nature stands on its own surrounded by the white space of the page. Collins gave a public lecture titled “The Artist in the New Age.” 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. I know of your existence. But deep underneath flows the secret stream. and I know nothing. and my life with you. and the task of the artist is to remind us of this.’ must make intellectual connections individually. Devonshire]94 He writes beautifully also of his life in nature. But you exist. is imbued always with spiritual significance. By reading Collins’s aphorisms. Our time denies. of all that which desires to give. But here I wander. we are all exiles. one is placed in contact with another reality through them. It is this official denial of life that confronts us in everything. to come to fruition. and most holy are you O beautiful servants. of “The long eternal afternoons robed in blue. I long for my kingdom. for he must ‘leap the gaps. [14 January. Denies the artist. with the white compassionate temples of the clouds floating in wise happiness and detached love.130 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E worldview. The aphorism is in many respects the most poetic form of prose.
in Collins’s view. The higher worlds are inaccessible to the insensitive. and sensitivity to the vibrations and rays of that livingness which is at the heart of things. the meaning. They represent a low level of awareness and consciousness. and central to our awakening is a change in consciousness. and the making of money. . rapport. In his essay “Art and Modern Man.97 Works of art.” “How” knowledge is merely instrumental. by measurement or analysis. by description. whereas a great deal of ‘why’ knowledge is known only through nuance of consciousness. This is the same thing actually. Collins calls us out of this stupor of the insectoid hive-life in industrial society through his art.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 131 who are quite clearly spiritually and culturally illiterate. The value of the artist is not to decorate. . 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. to make pretty that “empty and mechanical desert we call modern civilization. but only by rapport with those worlds. 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[.” but to offer what Collins calls “rapport” with the transcendent. Transformation of consciousness cannot be known or be brought about by thinking. . whereas “‘why’ knowledge is concerned with the significance of things.96 It is remarkable how timely Collins’s critique of industrial society has remained. and thus ultimately nothing less than a transformation of our consciousness. they offer avenues into direct inner spiritual realization.” Collins distinguishes between “how” knowledge and “why” knowledge. how apt his descriptions still are of the moribund vacuity characterizing so much of modern life.] art is therefore an instrument of man’s inner nature and it enables him to manifest in the phenomena of matter the nuance and living quality of his inner life so that his environment is no longer neutral or alien: a rapport is established. For like answers to like and creates actualization . another way of expressing what he calls “why” knowledge. they have no philosophy of life other than the exploitation of nature and of man. they cannot be reached by knowledge of them. awaken this inner rapport in us. It can only be known by inner nuance. “How” knowledge refers to mere process and manipulation of apparently dead objects.
We are all apt to fall asleep. Creative art has always been concerned to touch and open the eye of the heart. we have no canonic culture of our own. the unveiling of the atom. And this brings us to the big problem Within this new open consciousness we need to recover a sacramental sense. it is a means of initiation and spiritual transmission. ‘Everything that lives is holy. He writes in “The Artist in the New Age” that in the modern era. . and transmuted. But we have to learn how to concentrate on the sacramental without the use of this ‘closed’ formality. In the past. in a “time of the apocalypse.] we have a deeper rapport with the earth. in Collins’s view. We live. a mere turning of the wheel of existence. he writes. rocks. it becomes qualitative.99 This awakening of the sense of the sacramental is the task of art. living art is initiation into the realization that all is holy and that our true relationship to nature and to one another is sacramental. If the eye of the heart is closed then the whole of the universe is dead. and the word ‘apocalypse’ means to unveil. that the canonic cultures of the past are decaying and dying. it is also a means by which human consciousness is awakened. in Collins’s view. canonical religions and ritual. and that is the eye of the heart.’ if only the doors of perception would be cleansed. Collins sees this artistic transmission as taking the place of older. Art enables us to experience what the French poet René Char calls ‘the friendship of created things. the opening of man’s inner nature. in the great canonic formality of traditional civilizations there was of necessity a ‘closed’ consciousness in order to focus upon the sacred . is thus more than a portal into the transcendent. trees. his inner world.] it is consecrated and is now sacramental. . and what is more. the elements. Collins concludes his lecture by reaffirming the initiatory nature of art. religious. with the transformation of consciousness our experience of matter undergoes a change. But there is something else that has to be opened. widened. we have communion with it[. the answer comes back to us from within them. spiritu- .98 The work of art. Collins holds that “a new period of art will come not through this decaying.132 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E As our consciousness becomes transformed we become more sensitive to a wider range of nuance and vibration[.” In his final remarks.” He continues: We now have the possibility of this hidden unity of man’s inner world at last permeating the sphere of the exterior world and transforming it. We must have sacrament everywhere: as Blake says. but through a lyrical contact with the archetypal world. canonic language. he writes that This is the time of unveiling. of mere desires.’ In other words.
but that is uplifting and paradisal. Collins’s paintings reflect an uncanny unity from the earliest to the last. while above it sweep golden spirals and a red sun. 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. by patterns on the limbs and torso. The figure looks out with a far-off gaze. and in this it captures (in 1944!) precisely the sacramental relationship with nature that Collins discussed in his lectures so many years later. to the left the sweeping forms of two intertwined angels whose colors partake of the earth’s brown and of white. In many of his later paintings.” 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. that we may share each other’s creative response to life. and the other with the light. landscape. make it bleed. Here the entire image is awash in golden light. its features smooth and surrounded by a mane of hair. her hand outstretched over the land in benediction. around them a halo of golden-yellow light. in “The Invocation.100 The phrase “eye of the heart” is found in Christian theosophy. like “Angels” (1948).M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 133 ally. a rapport with something that we cannot quite articulate. to the left the orb of the sun. their faces closed in rapt contemplation as they seem but a moment from ascending. Collins’s paintings are ecstatic. such as “The Invocation” (1944). and the eye of the heart is opened by these two artists. the one with the sword. reminding us of the innate spiritual awareness that we can awaken if we wish to do so. as if to reflect Collins’s own opened sense of inner vision interconnected with the exterior world. hieratic quality. revealed as clearly as anywhere in “The Music of Dawn” (1988). In all of them the human form and/or landscape is present but stylized. 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. Many of these images have a strange. and vibrant color. Here. it refers to the inner visionary spiritual capacity of the individual. To gaze at this painting is to . Here the landscape below seems to be swelling up and rising with energy like an ocean swell. a union of figure. dreamlike. the figures’ eyes are opened. Such paintings are mysterious in their capacity to evoke in us a sense. not afraid to wound the heart. as in many of his visionary paintings. an active support. Often. Human forms are elongated and have a geometric quality that’s intensified in some. “The Invocation” reveals a paradisal relationship between the invoking angelic human figure. in its hand a staff topped by an orb. her head bent back and contemplative. too. and here it seems an appropriate way for Collins to conclude. landscape is transformed as well. or to show to us how interwoven is our own consciousness with that which he is revealing through the paintings.
chair. instruments for transmitting a reality higher than ourselves. and it is the archetypal that we see in the hieratic figures and landscapes of his paintings. dawn of a more spiritual humanity gazing on mysteries with serene contemplation. to take the impact and transform it to our dimension. D. H. is so powerful that we cannot look on it and live—therefore we need a buffer. Pages from a Sketchbook (1997). one that partakes as much of humanity’s Edenic past as of its potentially paradisal future.134 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E sense anew Collins’s expectation of a new era. an esoteric transmission of new ways of seeing humanity and the world is not merely decorative. even if in writing he offers the context for viewing and understanding those images.. but central. we then have ‘sacred space. And it is also clear. of their work as a transmission through a confused and destructive era into a paradisal future. In all of these works.. and Collins—is this sense of a future audience. he is like very few other painters. to achieve precisely what he wrote about so eloquently. as in the works of Milosz and H. Collins also wrote about the critical importance of awakening to an awareness of the archetypal.” Cecil Collins represents the archetypal figure of the twentieth-century esoteric artist. his drawings. Meditations. we see intimations of a future paradisal existence. in Collins’s view. implicit in the works of all three of our main authors and artists here—Milosz. he offers through his paintings. a world between us and it. This buffer world is called the archetypal world. Here.101 The living work of art is a reminder and a means of exactly this transmission. In another book. and poems that illuminate his paintings. . and his written work the clear sense that his work represents portals into other dimensions of consciousness beyond the merely quotidian. .’ sacred images. that like Milosz. Collins wrote in this book. But Collins offers these through visual images. in the works of Lewis and Williams as well. aphorisms. he saw himself addressing a future audience that would be receptive to primordial ways of seeing humanity and nature. Poems. If this participation in reality through images is brought down into our environment. Lost paradise and . In this respect. from his writing on a “new age” of the spirit. Indeed. of kinds of consciousness that transcend the subject-object divisions characteristic of modernity. not least because his work includes not only images. like an electrical transformer. D. Divine Reality. but also essays. or altar. and indeed. they are nothing less than (to cite Collins on the nature of symbols) “transmissions of the nature of reality. so that God becomes a table. by which we make contact with reality through images . I offer these paintings as indicative of Collins’s extraordinary ability to reveal through the image something that transcends image.
But the term literary here refers to an interdisciplinary nexus. of course. somewhat too general to speak in the abstract about Western esotericism as a whole. the work of Meister Eckhart or of Johannes Tauler. sheer transcendence of all subject-object divisions. made visible in the mysterious archetypal images of Collins. we may say that Western esotericism is fundamentally literary in expression. Strictly speaking. and now it is time for us to consider the broader implications of Western esoteric traditions in relation to consciousness. particularly that of alphanumeric gnosis. or way of affirmation. and awakening gnosis. or way of negation. and it is undoubtedly better to consider individual traditions. science. It is. these two ways are in fact ultimately one in that they both lead to the same transcendence. And it is on this paradox that we must concentrate in addressing the relationships of Western esotericism to consciousness. although they may contain an element of play. for in Western esotericism it is generally regarded as a vehicle. and the arts in written form. First. they are charged with visionary or spiritual experiences. Here ‘literature’ takes on new meanings. as Dionysius himself points out. But this we have already done in our historical overview of Western esoteric currents. the hidden themes perhaps of our entire era. This brings us to our second point: that in Western esotericism. we can characterize it as falling into two general categories that go back at least to Dionysius the Areopagite: the via positiva. or mere entertainment. Thus our third point: that . for instance. And most of the Western esoteric traditions correspond to the via positiva. For in our overview of Western esotericism. and are meant to lead their reader toward those experiences. The words and images of Western esoteric traditions are by no means diversions. literature (in which we include images and numbers) is generally conceived as a means of transmuting consciousness. rather than to the ascent to absolute transcendence of all forms that we find in. as a means of transmitting knowledge.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 135 the restoration of paradise. but nonetheless in practice these two ways do differ. THE WESTERN ESOTERIC TRADITIONS AND CONSCIOUSNESS When we consider Western esotericism in its full range. the way of images and forms and transformations. and the via negativa. but rather. what we find is in fact the via negativa. these are the themes of these great artists. Yet when we penetrate entirely through the via positiva. are in fact essentially gnostic: that is. to the conjunction of spirituality. despite the dazzling wealth of diversity in its means of expression. there have emerged common characteristics on which we may be able to shed some light by summarizing them and considering them as a whole.
history. whose fundamental nature is to join together self and other. hidden.’ quantifiable knowledge. But in Western esoteric traditions. theosophic or Kabbalistic or magical. that transcends and links both humanity and the cosmos. and implicit in them all is that there is an ‘I’ that is separate from and learns about the cosmos. where alchemical work consists in the transmutation of both self and other at once. materialist worldview and what we find in Western esotericism. sometimes called by Böhme the . Within this fundamentally different way of understanding nature and humanity is also a profoundly different way of understanding literature and art. Western esoteric traditions. ‘third element. In a modern worldview. D. which often enough becomes humanity pitted against the cosmos. on the other hand. be it Rosicrucian or alchemical. we are taught from childhood that ‘I’ am separate from ‘the other. geology. chemistry. And Western esoteric literature. plant extracts. one finds the ternary predominating: humanity. or Symbols. an explicit goal of such modern poets as Milosz and H. In modern education. the cosmos. and so on. gnostic experience is the crown and purpose of human life. Here is the essential division between a modern.’ we can discern two general levels: there is the archetypal realm of Forms. are founded in a totally different way of seeing the individual in relation to the cosmos. Western esoteric traditions—and this is true of all of them—are founded on the existence of this mysterious. but never overcomes and rarely is even aware of this great gulf between self and other. and the divine. Under this broad rubric of ‘the divine. sociology. The alchemist works with natural substances—for example. the divine. All of these aspects of Western esoteric literature may seem foreign to contemporary eyes. This other view is particularly acute in alchemy. schooled as we are in the division between subject and object. Ideas. Alchemical work consists in raising up or redeeming both humanity and nature. gathers means of technical power over the cosmos.136 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E in the Western esoteric traditions. in achieving what one might call as well a restoration of paradise or a golden age—as we have already seen. works only by reference to this third element.’ and that knowledge consists in learning about the various divisions or aspects of the ‘I’ and of ‘the other.’ the divine. For the correspondence between humanity and the cosmos can take place only by means of a third: the divine. Rather. between the human and natural realms. and there is sheer transcendence. All of these disciplines are expressions of the same general theory of ‘objective. or minerals—but that work is not merely manipulating chemicals or substances. there is only the division between self and other. alchemical work is based on a fundamental correspondence between self and other.’ Hence we find the basis of all the various disciplines: biology. between humanity and the cosmos. but to understand why this is so requires some further explanation. psychology.
in this worldview. must see into the archetypal realm that is above the limitations of time and space. often seen as androgynous. theosophy. For this sphere of archetypes is the infinite hieratic. One cannot separate any of these roles because they are all intimately bound up with the enormous range covered by the rubric alchemist. first. and in this externalization was the separation or fall from paradise into the increasing objectivization of history. is the origin of both nature and humanity—and of art. and the poetic prophecies of Oscar Milosz in perhaps a different way. Underlying all of these Western esoteric traditions is also a universalism in the myth of the fall and of restoration. That is: whether we look at Kabbalah. cosmology. by definition a ‘seer. a mythologist. a biologist and geologist and a priestly hierophant. and so there is in all true art a timeless and universal quality. In brief. or Fullness. Hence we may view the “Prophecies” of William Blake. The eighteenth-century alchemist is often at once a poet and a historian. meaning by that not absence. and his fall from paradise.’ who partakes in a particular kind of hieroeidetic knowledge. and a chemist. Milosz calls this awakening power “Memoria” and insists that it is the essence of our consciousness. what we find in fact is not limited to the sphere of religion alone. biology. and by others the Nothing. alchemy. the Platonic realm of Forms or Ideas. Adam. to awaken the reader’s consciousness of this archetypal realm. a divine mathematics. what transpired before history goes something like this: Primordial humanity. the “Vision” of William Butler Yeats. archetypal realm—are critical to understanding Western esoteric literature. but instead ranges freely across all of what we today call separate disciplines or fields. we find a divine art and a divine science. Thus the artist. symbolic realm of images contacted by the imagination from which in turn appears the panoply of the arts.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 137 Ungrund. and in returning has written or illustrated a work. This myth—although it appears in numerous variants—is always tied to the Ur-Mensch. an artist. but nothing. For the purpose of such literature is. This archetypal realm. which in turn is meant to guide or awaken the reader to its archetypal or symbolic reality. The artist. or any of the other major esoteric currents. the absolute unity of subject and object. for all three of these poets. is in fact prophetic. this latent memory of higher consciousness waiting to be awakened. in turn created clearly prophetic works meant to foretell a future that they also invoked. suffused by their deep study of Western esoteric traditions. The aim of the esoteric . Rosicrucianism. The author has presumably already journeyed to this realm. These two aspects of the divine—but especially the lower. in order to create. and literary expression. a theologian. There is in the universalist aims of these poets a definite indebtedness to the inherent universalism of Western esoteric traditions. was tempted to look outside itself for knowledge. perhaps denoted by some ancient Gnostics under the term Pleroma. In all of these traditions.
and notarikon. but as humanity fell away from it in the long descent that is human history. the restoration of unity between humanity and nature by way of the divine. and within every living thing is its transcendent or archetypal signature or word. But it is certain that Barrett proposed a “magical alphabet” closely resembling the “Mason’s marks” or Masonic hieroglyphs. an alchemist.138 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E practitioner. whether a Kabbalist. but instead a further means for our separation from and objectification of the world. . . almost always denoting divinity. Underlying these alphanumeric permutations is the understanding that in fact one is working with the very language of creation. drawing a virtually infinite range of connotations from a single verse. where it arguably sparked the entire . magical. in the Russian symbolist poetry and prose near the beginning of the twentieth century. which show that he had learned the unfamiliar way of writing then known to some occult students as the ‘Celestial Alphabet. Hence. These in turn are related to Hebrew letters. often with Hebrew as the celestial language of choice. theosophic. In this perspective. the poet Robert Southey observed that London Swedenborgians prized a “Celestial Alphabet” “in which every letter signifies a complete thing . for instance.’ not the means of celestial union with all that surrounds us. Primordial humanity knows this celestial language. and every flexure and curvature of every letter. Rosicrucian. author of The Magus. even from a single letter. Jewish Kabbalah of course maintains a long tradition of Hebrew exegesis. 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. the entire cosmos represents a kind of celestial writing. Such a myth of universal fall and restoration also implies that behind the Babel of modern human languages lies a universal language that belongs to paradisal humanity. and Masonic illustrations. which is to say. pansophic. in a group of London Rosicrucians associated with Francis Barrett (1765–1825). and indeed as Yeats pointed out. and this view is found throughout other Western esoteric traditions. and of intricate maneuvers with letters and numbers in gematria. one finds Hebrew letters inscribed in alchemical. is nothing less than the restoration of paradise. contains some secret of wisdom.’”102 Likewise. language too became externalized and ‘hardened’ outside us into mutually incomprehensible ‘tongues. William Blake in some of his illustrations used “Hebrew characters on some of his designs.”103 And we find this insistence on the importance of magical language in many unexpected places—for instance. A typical manifestation of this tradition is found around the turn of the nineteenth century. The myth of a primordial humanity entails a primordial language. or a pansoph. We see this idea of a celestial or universal language appearing in various forms throughout Western esotericism. the language of creation itself. a theosopher. temurah.
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. we cannot here pursue further this fascinating theme of how magical views of language pervaded Russian and even early Soviet literature. It is theoretically possible to trace these ideas of a celestial alphabet throughout Western history.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 139 symbolist movement and. . In her article “The Magic of Words: Symbolism. which they conceptualized as the time when human beings spoke a language in which the signifier and the signified existed in complete organic unity. it may be the “Book of Nature. 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.104 Obviously.” or the “Book of Life”.” or the “Book of Revelation. and especially of written language and of the book. when surveying the various esoteric currents.’ and this is not necessarily so. theosophy. in that their theories implied restoration of the world’s original Edenic state. . consequently. This is not to say that there is a universal esotericism—for here we are not venturing beyond fundamentally European traditions—but rather. and Masonry. certainly it may be the Christian . The book may be the cryptic “Liber M” of the Rosicrucians. following the various currents through Kabbalism. and that these are consistently linked with an alphanumeric mysticism of language. They shared a utopian dream of a new perfectly ‘transparent’ language. For it well may be that there is a general paradigm recurring thoughout the various currents of Western esotericism. influenced much of modern Russian literature. it is to suggest that there are governing images and currents of Western esotericism. Futurism. generally speaking . Sacerdotal or magical language provided a model for the new language each of these movements was striving to create. magic.” Irina Gutkin summarizes this argument as follows: However diverse Russian modernists’ language theories and related visions of the future may have been. Social Realism. But only to trace influences assumes that everything in Western esotericism can be attributed to questions of ‘influence. seeing where they emerge also into the world of letters or poetry. 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. This is in fact precisely the argument of several contemporary scholars of Russian literature. of which these various currents are particular manifestations filtered through the conditions of an era and religious tradition. Some of this work we have already done earlier in this discussion.
and indeed even farther back. and what is more. However. who were in turn taught by a spiritual master. In Hinduism or Buddhism. and it may also be the visionary Mysterium Magnum of Jacob Böhme or an alchemical manuscript. Given our overview. Even in the case of alchemy. It is true that many of the world’s religious traditions include sacred writings. for instance. it seems entirely possible that Christianity and Western esoteric traditions more generally. This would certainly explain why figures like Meister Eckhart or Johannes Tauler did not found initiatory lineages of disciples. But perhaps there is a solution to this general absence of initiatory lineages. which indeed still finds them audiences today. other than occasional fragmentary lists and the perfunctory listing of such figures as Plato. 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. gurus. it is rather difficult to find any cases of such initiatory lineages even within the broad sphere of Western esotericism. and Geber. But in all cases the mode of transmission is in some sense a book. the traditions are largely continued by means of initiatory lineages of teachers. but it is a peculiar fact that the three major monotheist traditions— Judaism. where it is traditionally said that one must be initiated by an alchemist in order to work the magistery. rely upon the written word not only as a focus for oral communication or transmission. Such initiatory continuity is found also in Islam with Sufism. where initiatory lineages seem largely broken. where the tradition . 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. It certainly fits well with Kabbalistic mysticism.140 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Bible or the Jewish Talmud or the Islamic Koran. much less in Christianity specifically. and Christianity—have a specific reverence for the sacred book. and in Judaism with Kabbalah. Certainly there were such nascent initiatory lineages early in the Christian era among gnostic circles. interrupted. and so on back into antiquity. or in Buddhism. but it is quite another for the writing itself to become so primary as the sacred writings of the three monotheistic traditions. but also as a primary means of spiritual transmission. 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. Indeed. there are virtually no available records on any such actual initiatory lines in Western European literature. Thus we are left with the enigma of Western esotericism. but there is no evidence that any of these continued even into the medieval period. Hermes. regard the book itself as a primary means of transmitting the tradition. or masters. Islam. but rather relied upon the written word. or nonexistent.
And one recalls the Rosicrucians. That is to say. whether it be in Kabbalah or alchemy or theosophy. who. Indeed. who never revealed themselves publicly at all. If by this word one is referring to some kind of ceremony or ritual involving a group of people. Milosz. Milosz’s future reader would have to become Milosz’s initiated successor by way of Milosz’s writing alone. Christian theosophic literature. One thinks here. are not simply decorations. it is a means of horizontal communication between two discrete people. naturally. it assumes that writing has a sacred origin and purpose. Is it possible for writing alone to serve as means of initiation? Naturally. I believe. rather far indeed from most contemporary perspectives. often strikingly beautiful. but also on writing as an actual means of spiritual illumination. is unquestionably an exemplary figure not least because he consciously represented in his work virtually the entire range of Western esoteric traditions.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 141 focuses a great deal not only on mystical exegesis. In modern parlance. for example the famous ones accompanying Gichtel’s well-known edition of Böhme’s works. in addressing this far-off “son. 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. and specifically in revealed or illuminated writing. but . dreamlike language and imagery. the answer to this question depends upon what one means by initiation. particularly the works of Böhme. initiatory. for it above all has what we may call a ‘vertical’ aspect. then it is indeed possible for the written word to serve this function.” had no prospect of actually meeting or initiating him directly—his poetry and prose had to serve that function. Let us take another example. to some future initiate in a far century. the writing of someone who has actually realized the tradition’s aim of spiritual illumination. writing is essentially a ‘collection of signs. 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. By contrast.’ a means of conveying ‘information. of Abraham Abulafia. Thus we can conclude that the writing itself is meant to have an initiatory function. Somehow. have been adorned with copious illustrations.’ or ‘data’. it seems obvious that the poetry is intended not only to describe but also to evoke the kinds of consciousness it represents. but who rather offered the world only written works. to write in all of these traditions means something quite different. for in all cases. when we look at the writing of Milosz. Such a view of the written word is. But if the word initiation is taken to refer to an awakening of higher degrees of consciousness. and insists that the word can only mean direct contact between two living people. then of course writing could not be initiatory in itself. We see exactly such a view in the figure of O. and his method of “writing the names” until one enters ecstasy. whatever one . hieratic. V Milosz. may think of his poetry. These illustrations. and in particular at its strange. of course. Such evocation is.
and conveys in a single organic form the outlines of theosophic illumination. so there is no need here to repeat myself. Rather. represented by a cross. the lightworld of paradise. certainly by the seventh century—yet one finds striking parallels in seventeenth-century Christian theosophy without any historical link. for instance. and becomes a seedhead in the light-world above. by gazing at such an image. I use the term ahistorical continuity. grow. of spiritual growth and illumination in the figure of a growing plant. Obviously. tending.105 This illustration shows the theosophic three principles or three realms. But we can take a single such illustration here and demonstrate how it can function in an initiatory way. If a book is to serve an initiatic function. and flower in the reader too. the Western esoteric traditions are often discontinuous historically. it represents for the neophyte reader in simple. In my view. This metaphor—of sowing. does have an initiatic function—that is. it can better do so if it reveals its subject in words and images both. it actually reveals (hiera-) the nature of its subject.106 To explain this phenomenon. theosophic. 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. the dark-world of hell. pansophic. For instance. Bromley’s narrated overview of the theosophic spiritual journey. the prevalence of accompanying illustrations in alchemical. meaning that some image in it ‘equals’ some moral quality. in other words. In this way. which refers to . Taken together. the illustration is a condensed image of the theosophic path. one is in effect partaking in and absorbing what it represents. and Rosicrucian esoteric currents (to name only the most obvious) is to emphasize and amplify the hieratic nature of these traditions. and sowing again—is not merely a literary figure. and the intermediate realm of nature between them. that is. In the midst of the dark-world we see a seed whose green stem grows upward through the spatio-temporal cosmos. This visual absorption is of a different kind from that of reading the accompanying text. ancient Gnosticism as such ceased to exist by the early medieval period. What is more.” or Wisdom. but expresses how a book can indeed serve as an initiatic medium irrespective of whether there is any historical contact between author and reader. Such an illustration. A good example of an initiatory illustration is one accompanying Thomas Bromley’s book The Way to the Sabbath of Rest. it is more immediate and visceral. clearly understandable form the nature of theosophy as a growth in consciousness from the constraints of darkness and wrath or separation. It is at once a natural and a spiritual image. the book becomes hieroglyphic—it is not merely an abstract discussion about some topic. through the turbulence of earthly life.142 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E reveal in condensed visual form essential aspects of the theosophic tradition. I have discussed this theosophic iconography at length in my book Wisdom’s Children. marked also “Sophia. and over time those seeds can take root. into the serenity and illumination of transcendence. reaping.
but they may well change a reader’s consciousness in profound ways and even in some respects prepare one for such inward vision. .’ 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 so the reader too becomes a kind of channel or conduit. If. it can reëmerge in another. But perhaps those countless people influenced by Böhme’s writing did or do not read it in the way that we read. you truly will know its worth. for example. one might even say impossible. Here. the written word itself can have an initiatory function. the daily news. and are in earnest. as I am suggesting. it is also possible for an individual or group to rediscover or reawaken a particular archetypal paradigm latent within a tradition without any direct contact with such a lineage. so that they do not ignite the wrath of God in your soul. Let us take an example from the works of Jacob Böhme. although there may be an initiatory lineage in a given Western esoteric tradition. as in this example from his book Christosophia (1624): “God-loving reader. without doubt one of the most influential authors in the Western esoteric traditions. Böhme himself frequently warned his readers not to read his works unless they were attuned to them. this function must be a change in consciousness. But I must warn you that if you are not in earnest. There can be no doubt that Böhme regarded his books as spiritually charged. Such a paradigm can be reawakened. . They will experience both the words that are in it and the source that . Böhme’s works require a kind of ‘steeping. if you wish to use this little book aright. Perhaps. instead. and in fact many of his works feature dire warnings to those who approach Böhme’s writings in the wrong fashion. forging a link to others with similar esoteric aspirations. Naturally. it exists as a nascent possibility within the tradition and even if it is eliminated by force or attrition in one historical period. This little book belongs only to those who eagerly wish to repent. or a biology textbook. leave untouched the precious Names of God . Thus. who in turn is in touch with an archetypal or primary stream within a given esoteric tradition.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 143 the continuation of a specific esoteric paradigm precisely without any direct historical lineage. the word initiation is being used in several ways—as meaning a beginning on the spiritual path. I am not using the word initiation to refer to rites. To read Böhme’s works and attempt to categorize or analyze them logically is notoriously difficult. it is possible for reading and rereading a given work to effect lasting changes in that reader’s consciousness. since we are essentially discussing the individual reader encountering a particular esoteric book. After all. and who have a desire to begin. and as the entry of one’s consciousness into a larger current. This is not to say that Böhme’s works necessarily in themselves inspire visionary insight. But for the reader who is in sympathy with a particular esoteric perspective. Such a reader joins with the author. for one is not to misuse God’s holy Names.
or they will be the “judgement of God in you. But the word awareness does not entail a subject-object duality.” Böhme tells us that if we are not in earnest on our way to the new birth. a prayer for washing and dressing. 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. one automatically is caught in delusion.”107 Or again. so that even what is apparently divine is in truth merely another facet of the “outward constellation.”109 The individual soul must ceaselessly sink down into the divine Nothing. that it encourages one to begin the spiritual path.” “Be rightly warned. it cannot become authentically a part of one’s direct awareness. and become not its own possession. not by merely mouthing the words. and so on for the entire week. on the other hand his writing is addressed to those who “have a desire to begin. Then that thing. In Christosophia he writes that “as soon as the soul eats of self and lives in reason’s light. a prayer for noon. that it encourages a change in consciousness that permeates one’s whole life. is only the external constellation that intoxicates it as soon as it grasps at it. .” or objectified realm. When one is caught in the self-other or subject-object division. in his “Warning to the Reader. and in fact much of what we term divine is in fact nothing more than a projection.” for they will experience not only the words he has written. and a prayer before sleep. and second. but the “instrument of God. we should leave unsaid the words in the prayers he gives us. the source from which they emerge. to become a channel for the divine current. So long as the divine remains objectified outside oneself. it walks in its own delusion. this objectifying delusion. which it sees as divine. Then it walks in error until it again gives itself completely into resignation. so that consciousness shifts to awareness. judgemental consciousness. Böhme’s works require stern admonitions to those who might not approach them properly.” It must remain “in resigned humility just as a fountain depends on its source. a prayer for the evening.144 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E gave rise to them. but by internalizing and becoming what one reads. or has knowledge-of.” If on the one hand. 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.108 Clearly this work is initiatic in at least two ways: first. but. he tells us. Böhme insists that the reader must overcome this self-other division. Hence Böhme includes in Christosophia prayers for one’s entire daily life—a prayer for when one awakens on Monday morning. and for when one rises. and experience the divine directly. The word consciousness implies always a duality—one is con-scious. a prayer for one’s daily work. and whatever one perceives as divine is in fact tainted by this constant separation. This passage is particularly useful for us because it neatly encapsulates the shift in consciousness toward which Böhme is guiding his reader.
as are nature and humanity. There emerges a spacious or open quality. Indeed. of course. love and wrath. the self in one sense continues to exist. a path beyond this separation and suffering must go through language. between the divine and the natural. but the observer in another sense is no longer separate from the divine that is observed. although there are divisions between archetypes. But we have reached the center of the theosophic tradition. and it is at this point that paradox and enigmatic expression become necessary. Divine Unity—the No-thing * Duality: The Yes and the No. divine in its origin. but of the cosmos itself. where. as we have seen. Here we are. in Western esotericism generally. Love and Wrath ** The Archetypal Realm of the Imagination: Divine Language *** The Manifested or Elemental World **** Language belongs above all to the archetypal realm. and these in turn give birth to the qualities or archetypes inherent in the entire cosmos. From these archetypes then emerge the natural and human realms. 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. conversely. at the far limit of what we can express in language. This divine self-awareness Böhme sometimes alludes to as the divine eye turned inward. For language is in its innermost nature divine. Language is the means by which this process of mediation or reconciliation is effected: it is. In other words. language is said to inhere in the entire cosmos. the origin not only of language. there is no sense of separation between self and other. we have the point of origin. the light and the dark. Thus language belongs also to the intermediate human realm. There is simply awareness. or subject and object. for it is only humanity that can mediate between sky and earth. or the divine eye that sees itself. where they are incarnated or manifested in the everchanging panoply of history. intermediate between nature below and the divine above. or perceiver and what is perceived. in the archetypal realm there is . Above. and at its most sublime when it expresses or manifests this transcendent divinity. This transcendent point gives birth to duality. in other words. and might from this point recapitulate by way of a diagram a schematic overview of how language may be understood in this context. the yes and the no. then language must reflect this division. If humanity and the cosmos itself are fallen.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 145 not even in relation to the divine. just as. or divided from the divine. in that there remains an observer.
These archetypal forces do not belong to the poet. of sign and object and manipulation of one or the other. or ignoring of most of these esoteric currents. and the participatory. consumerist state was built from a materialist. it is a vehicle not of separation but of union between humanity. alternatives to the technoconsumerist machine became more commonplace—ecosocial criticism began to emerge. the secular modern world emerged through the jettisoning. and the divine. and objectified worldview. and objectifying worldview and the perspectives that characterize Western esotericism? Perhaps not. is transformed from objectifying to unifying. pansophy and theosophy were relegated to movements of merely historical interest. esotericism remained mostly underground— alchemy was denigrated as nothing more than a primitive precursor of chemistry. language as merely a collection of signs functioning as more or less arbitrary designators. there are only the archetypal powers or forms that the poet or visionary may experience directly in vision. yet this expresses a very prevalent supposition underlying much contemporary literary theory. Ownership belongs to the fallen realm of separation and objectification—I own this as opposed to that—and therefore belongs also to fallen language. nature. in modern literary theory or theories of language. the divine is perforce unmentionable. By contrast. or separation into self and other. 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. Is it possible to build a bridge between a modern. transformative. During this . Undoubtedly. and so forth. secular. and gnostic perspectives characterizing Western esotericism seem far removed from and incompatible with that machine. they may be glimpsed and even imperfectly expressed. For Western esotericism.146 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E still no possession or ownership. for after all. suppression. including harsh critiques of technology’s effects on the natural world. 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. But by the late twentieth century. in vogue instead are theories of causality that refer to a world devoid of the divine. but never owned. From the eighteenth through the twentieth centuries. secular. restoring to humanity its proper relation to nature and to the divine. There is such a gulf between these two views as to seem almost unbridgeable. Language. language is in its very nature bound up with the divine. Nothing could be further from the various viewpoints of Western esotericism than the fallen language of mere designation. in these esoteric traditions. which is rife with the language of objectification. or manifest more indirectly in literature. The massive machine of the modern technological. any objectifying perspective divorced from the divine origin and purpose of language automatically will be barren or sterile.
One also found increasing interest in alternative approaches to medicine and to spirituality. to name only a few. It may well be that we have reached a time when the ceaseless and ever more minute exploration of the cosmos may give way. we must begin by coming to see literature and the meaning of the word in new ways. Western esotericism is inherently transdisciplinary by nature. at least for some. troubadours and chivalry. inspiring more than a few to also rediscover overlooked Jewish and Christian mystical traditions. Joining all of these disparate disciplines is a focus on the transmutation of consciousness. with the intense focus of many of its practitioners on meditation practices. one found a growing awareness of the limits that the natural world imposes on consumerist expansion. which is to say. Buddhism. and the arts. L I T E R AT U R E . and in the countless literary works that express the discoveries of those who have gone before us. too. even while the bulk of society industriously tried to avoid recognizing those limits. and for a reëvaluation of all the various disciplines in that light. and the divine. but also for society itself. then the ways of exploration are already marked out for us. To this we now turn. Given these tendencies—on the one hand criticism of technoconsumerism. which has ramifications not only for the nature of knowledge. profound connections between humanity. magic or theosophy. the various currents of Western esotericism with all their diversity share a common thread: the transmutation of consciousness through hieroeidetic knowledge. in theosophic works. If so. inner territory. A R T. after all that we have surveyed. including elements of the sciences. one finds a consistently recurrent theme of transmuting consciousness. Here we are discussing not merely the obvious fact that such traditions are represented in written works. imaged in alchemical manuscripts and in Kabbalistic treatises. psychology.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 147 time. that inherent in the Western esoteric traditions is what we have called a libric or alphanumeric gnosis. As we have seen throughout this study. began to have profound effect on many people in the formerly Judeo-Christian world. scientific or otherwise. and on the other the burgeoning interest in Asian meditation practices—it would not be surprising if one also found the time ripe for a rediscovery of the Western esoteric traditions. of awakening latent. nature. Be it Kabbalism or alchemy. in particular. but rather the idea that these literary works themselves are . religion. A N D C O N S C I O U S N E S S It is evident. and of restoring a paradisal union between them. and widespread acculturation of Asian religious and medicinal traditions. to an exploration of the inner cosmos and of how we perceive the world. the Lullian art. pansophy or esoteric Rosicrucianism or Freemasonry. But to begin to explore this new.
To use Plato’s metaphor. one must already have left the imprisoning cave and seen the actual sun and the true landscape to which we belong. E. he tells us. E. 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. but rarely any longer is recognized as having its origin in the inner springs or fountains of life. Naturally. A. a friend of Yeats. Only then can one return and tell others where authentic life lies. A. In this esoteric view of literature. to turn to a poet. and indeed. to write presupposes already having seen. In his book Song and Its Fountains. he simply began to murmur line after line. where poetry might be seen by some as offering beauty or insight. . wrote at length about how he came to write poetry. Such an understanding of literature is very ancient indeed. found throughout Western history. E. but of reality. but is seen even more clearly in the archetypal realm of the imagination.’s subsequent meditation on how he created this poem is well worth investigating. the gold-gleaming genius makes beauty. as the seers tell us. rejoicings. The poet’s psyche. and how his poetry was inseparable from his visionary experiences. ascends to “that high state where. beyond history. The verses came to me almost as swift as thought. from the Kabbalistic Sepher Yezirah or Bahir or Zohar to the works of Jacob Böhme and the Rosicrucian manifestos. 1867–1935). fundamental to the awakening of a paradisal union between humanity. in order to consider more carefully how a poet may view what we are discussing here. the ‘book of life’ out of which history itself emerges. not the life of shadows. images. . for in its structure will be the creative power of life itself. Remarking on how a poem emerged unbidden one evening while he was sitting on some rocks.”111 Unconscious of creation. . nature. and the divine. Here the book is a means of spiritual transmutation.148 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E vehicles of spiritual praxis. 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 . In this view. But A. the cosmos itself is a kind of book—the structure of words. here is what we may call a spirituality of literature as much as a literature of spirituality. full of imagination’s power and exhiliration. joys. The poet or prophet sees and enters into the celestial realm. The poet and the seer both engage in the ascent of consciousness from multiplicity toward union. as we have seen. E. It may be of use. and in this ascent enter into the imaginal realm of archetypes. and music is the intricate geometry of meaning that permeates creation. at this juncture. this view of the poet invests in him far more authority and power than do contemporary views. visible in Greek tradition in such figures as Pythagoras and Plato. Indeed. This intricate geometry of meaning can be glimpsed in the forms of nature. And only then will one’s written work be of enduring value for others. (George William Russell. A. of charged and living images once associated with the gods.
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.”117 For this reason. even if unaware of precisely how or why. somehow comes in touch with this sheer transcendence. the poet.”116 Still. E. and the withdrawal of the universe into the Pleroma—all that was wrought in some secret laboratory within the psyche. gone inward into itself. for its subtlety and universality make it ungraspable: “It cannot be constrained. B. and memory and imagination are shot through and through with the radiance of another nature. though too often they have not kept faith . perhaps surprisingly. E.” “Whatever went to making an intricate harmony of color and sound. analyzes the movement of consciousness. It is the light of spirit that transcends the psyche as the psyche in its own world transcends the terrestrial ego. A. nigher to us than the most exquisite sweetness in our transitory lives. and there is revelation in it and the mingling of heaven and earth. The Mount is a symbol for that peak of soul when. E. of nature become so ethereal that it was the perfect mirror of deity.”113 This movement of consciousness A. but of the universal spirit he understood little.” he wrote. E. he found himself “dragged down” toward waking consciousness. Yet A.’s view actually emerges from a dimunition of spiritual vision.” Thus.”114 A far exile from that glory. There was neither sight nor sound. but all was a motion in deep being. still recognized “that greater light shines behind and through the psyche. recognized his limits.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 149 dance. and it changes the dry dust of logic into color and music and a rapture of prophecy. the creation of poetry in A. and song.” Although he struggled to remain in this state. “—the imagination of the ending of the long tale of time. “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. that his experience belonged to the psyche or soul. later discussed with W. and after that images. Yeats. writes that “all true poetry was conceived on the Mount of Transfiguration. looks upon the poet as a prophet. focusing on his experience emerging from a deep sleep.” he wrote.”115 He understood something of the psyche. from a descent after an ascent. But there are enchanted hours when it seems to be nigh us. was later translated into words. E.”112 Yet “what comes back to us from that high sphere loses beauty in its descent. E. “never had the high vision of those who have gone into the deeps of being and who have returned rapture-blinded by the glory. who said that he had experienced precisely the same descent into words. E. and not to the sublimity of the spirit. A. and cried out in a divine intoxication to the Light of Lights. And still being drawn down there came a third state in which was originally deep own-being. it draws nigh to its own divine root. A. A. when once he became conscious while “in some profundity of being. “I have. and remarks that “almost the only oracles which have been delivered to humanity for centuries have come through the poets.
Thomas Bromley. the further we come out of the animal Nature. have made their hearts a place where the secrets of many hearts could be told. we find numerous accounts of the spiritual path as exactly such a movement beyond ordinary distinctions of self and other. still conform strikingly to the model we have begun to develop as characteristic of the Western esoteric traditions. goes on to remark that he often thought the great literary masters like Shakespeare or Balzac “endowed more generously with a rich humanity. in his The Way to the Sabbath of Rest (1650). 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.” The psyche. In Christian theosophy.” And there is more. which could also be expressed as the ending of objectification. the view of literary creation that A. and they wove into drama or fiction. may. a cobblestone street—and to his astonishment later discovered that these images belonged to the actual world of his office companion. E. and as we mingle our imagination with theirs we are exalted and have the heartache of infinite desire. because in the practice of their art they preserve the ancient tradition of inspiration and they wait for it with airy uplifted mind. E. These written works express and indeed embody some of the secret structure inherent in the cosmos. expresses here is not far from what we see in the work of an exemplary and influential esoteric figure like Jacob Böhme. for in both cases one sees a visionary who penetrates deeper than ordinary people into the mysteries inherent in creation.”118 The poets and musicians offer us “the sense of a glory transmitted from another nature.”120 Thus “when we sink within ourselves. Throughout our investigations. without knowing it. or division into self and other. when it becomes truly self-conscious. But at times they still receive the oracles. the poet or seer enters into a realm where conventional notions of self begin to vanish. In this exaltation or transcendent creativity. they come “trailing clouds of glory. though they do not take place in the explicit context of Western esotericism properly speaking. and our thoughts may become throngs of living souls. 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. E. In essence. .”119 Through them the immortals utter their divine speech. as did the sybils of old. when we seem most alone. we have seen Western esoteric traditions as including the restoration of paradise. feel a mutual Indwelling in the pure Tincture and Life of each other: and so. thinking all the while that it was imagination or art of their own. A.”121 These insights of A. wrote of how “they that are in this near Union. and imbued with this new visionary understanding. tells the story of how he once in his office went into a reverie and saw a host of images—a redhaired watchful girl.150 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E with the invisible . And A. E. characters they had never met in life. into the nature of poetic vision or imagination. in that solitude we may meet multitude. . for instance. through love and sympathy may come to know “that the whole of life can be reflected in the individual. .
M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 151 the more universal we are. he may encounter unfamiliar figures. although there is still an observer and what is observed. In this realm. Likewise. We are carried along on the words of the author. one is looking at people consciously engaged in a spiritual path together. and nearer both to Heaven. does not participate in it along with the characters? Its characters enter into our consciousness. Underlying both of them is a clear movement beyond objectification. like theater. Reading. In the first case. takes place on a field midway between audience and author. and later forge them into a written work of uncommon power. E. at least temporarily. but must enter into the work by an act of imaginative participation. absorbed completely in a book. Thus we can see that the experience of reading itself corresponds in some respects to a visionary encounter like those described. in the latter case.”122 As the soul ascends toward paradise by way of spiritual praxis. on the other a visionary poet. and so requires our sympathetic participation. and the further instrumentally to convey the pure Streams of the heavenly Life to each other. it increasingly enters a paradisal union with those on the same path. One becomes what one sees. One experiences great bliss. in A. there also is participation in what is observed. symbols. For who. and to one another in the Internal. in between both author and reader. as if we knew them as neighbors. In Bromley’s case. for instance. there are differences between what Bromley is describing—a kind of mutual communion among those in a spiritual group. and taken on a kind of life of its own. and we must. which later emerge in poetry. say. This movement goes through an archetypal realm in which they experience figures vaster. where. or beyond a rigid self-other distinction. or of Captain Ahab. which no earthly Distance can hinder. or drama. E. E. and stranger than any experienced in ordinary life. and its relationship to nature also becomes paradisal or unified.’s discussion of how the poet may unknowingly absorb or participate in other people’s lives or personalities. events. as if by happenstance. In order for a book to ‘reach us’ it has to resonate within us. passive.’s case. set aside a space within our consciousness where the characters or . he is discussing how the poet may unwittingly enter into an archetypal realm of the imagination. And so it is possible for us to speak of the great Gatsby. one finds spiritual seekers who actively pursue inner vision. and the world is shot through with light. a novel. and experiences. But nonetheless. there are unquestionably parallels between these two examples. the poet is more like a receiver. the book or work has been separated from its writer. irrespective of time or distance—and A. by A. the author also is not directly present. on the one hand an exemplar of Western theosophic esotericism. Of course. become part of us and indivisible from our inner lives. and between the models that they represent. Such experiences are not very far at all in turn from our own ordinary reading of. more powerful. fiction.
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. whereas the esotericist is. where to have one’s name in the Book of Life. and one enters into the new birth. For when a reader engages in a literary work. essays. And indeed. Literature is playing the game with no stakes. but emerge in our consciousness if we are open to them. the visions of the theosophers are real. or make of one a laughingstock and utter failure. . the history of Western esotericism is filled with such insistence on the actual nature of what is being discussed—alchemy is real. And in fact Ralph Waldo Emerson. We see this in the Book of Revelation. The barriers between self and other become at least a little permeable. but eventually puts the book down. of course. 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. these esoteric traditions in general aim for enduring changes in consciousness. merely ‘imaginary’ in the dismissive sense of the word. and suggest that literature and art in their highest forms are an attenuated kind of visionary encounter. Kabbalistic cosmology is real. for example. or to have it stricken. and one has entered a new world. in alchemical work. By contrast. presumably. magic is real. Ordinary. writing. playing for keeps. and art can be understood in light of the Western esoteric traditions and their continuing themes of spiritual reading. Perhaps. existing in a supraphysical dimension. 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. one turns away from the painting. the consciousness is not caught up in its humdrum of daily affairs.152 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E insights it expresses can exist. and in Kabbalistic practice. who himself was certainly influenced by the Western esoteric traditions. and books. This schema is based on the idea of self-transcendence. But in fact Bromley’s friend John Pordage. where the cosmos can be ‘read’ in new ways. habitual self is gone. emphasized exactly this point about ideas—that they are not our individual property. Of course. took great pains to point out that the visionary realm he had experienced was not imaginary but real. The difference. And we see it in the assertion of the alchemists that alchemical work can bring one to the pinnacle of human possibility. symbolizes eternal conditions. The visionary encounter is similar in that here too. drama. one could argue that what is ‘other’ in visionary experiences like those alluded to by Bromley is in fact merely a psychological projection of the ego. but in a ‘space’ within itself leaves room for self and other to meet on the stage of the imagination. Here we are beginning to develop a schema to see how poetry. we might reverse the terms. rather than diminishing the visionary encounter to mere fantasy. fiction. precisely what is at work also in the visionary encounter. our authors tell us.
Jane Leade. the literary work. Johannes Tauler. but reveals an underlying motivation of literary creation—that through this work one will connect profoundly with the consciousness of another. and other forms of literature are to be found in Western esotericism and its pervasive theme of reading and writing the world.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 153 Yet it may be that the two versions of the game remain essentially similar. And one joins the literary community of the ages the way one joins the community of alchemists. R. the Kabbalist. so too is the author. the gnostic. but what came into existence through him. Yet at the same time. But regardless of whether one subscribes to a theistic perspective or not. Milosz’s insistence that he wrote for a single reader not yet born is perhaps an extreme example. Jacob Böhme. Through the medium of the written word or the painting. Works such as Marsha Keith Schuchard’s landmark dissertation Freemasonry. And it may very well be that the origins of modern poetry. Thus the essential trajectory of both author and reader or artist and audience is toward communion and union. Tolkien who suggested that a poet or author is a kind of “co-creator” reflecting. largely hidden debt to the Western esoteric traditions and to their common theme of the mysticism of the word. for if the reader is ideally moving toward a momentary union of subject and object. Nicholas . Thomas Bromley. Abraham Abulafia. The deeper we investigate into the origins of modern literature. is to attain paradisal immortality. their works like second nature. John Pordage. or Kabbalists—by self-election. Meister Eckhart. Ramon Lull. but there is much more to be done. what is the motivation of the author? It was J. perhaps the literary impulse may be seen as a secular reflection of this goal. where communion and union are an underlying expectation of both author and reader. And here too is a profound parallel with Western esotericism. and may even connect profoundly with each other. the sympathetic reader and the author may meet. lives on. One reads and rereads one’s predecessors’ works until the authors become like old friends. the Kabbalist. the divine creativity that brought the cosmos into being. and the Continuity of Occult Traditions in English Literature (1975) and Désirée Hirst’s Hidden Riches (1964) are important initial forays into this field. fiction. Secret Societies. If the movement of a given reader ideally is toward self-transcendence. Certainly modern Western literature owes a great. R. the more we uncover links between major literary figures and various currents of Western esotericism. one can still find a correspondence between reading and writing. the alchemist. Such a trajectory is intensified in the case of esotericism. But fundamental questions remain. If a primary aim of the alchemist. and the gnostic themselves live on for us their readers precisely the same way as does Shakespeare or Dante or Emerson—through written works. in the process of creating a fictional world. gnostics. that through this work one attains a kind of immortality. For literary immortality is in some respects a ‘second birth’—the author may have long ago died.
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 perhaps all forms of Western literature. there is no true freedom—true freedom is to be found only in the Ungrund. but instead will look at his philosophical contributions. where everything in the cosmos is seen as bearing its divine signature. the author is reaching out. and indeed even God himself. to in Emerson’s words. and publicly identified himself as a Christian theosopher in the line of Dionysius the Areopagite and Jacob Böhme. and how they correspond to what we have learned about Western esotericism. therefore. and place them in a world religious and philosophical context. These authors are important for us because their religio-philosophical perspectives. In being.” It may well be. but that also includes those who insist on far higher stakes and greater rewards. and explicitly seeking to guide the reader toward new and intensified kinds of consciousness. to be guided by the author. 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. Berdyaev tells us. in the . moreover. but in every case.123 But Berdyaev was also a philosopher. his work formed a kind of bridge between Eastern and Western Christianities and worldviews. which belongs to history and to the constraints of time and space. 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. Berdyaev was himself definitely part of Western esotericism. And the reader from his side is seeking to comprehend. precedes all being. taken together. being Russian and deeply influenced by Eastern Orthodoxy rather than Western European Christianity. “add it to his own arsenal of power. to vicariously participate in the author’s understanding. a means for nothing less than the restoration of paradise. One should not be too surprised at the introduction of Berdyaev’s work here. Here we have neither space nor need to survey Berdyaev’s life and work.124 The Ungrund. and intimately familiar with the history of modern philosophy. 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). Perhaps the symbolism of a novel is an attenuated form of what we find made even more explicit in these esoteric traditions. esoteric or not. help explain what I am arguing about the various currents of Western esotericism. and consciousness.154 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Flamel—the list can be extended indefinitely. for whom literature and art are the expression and vehicle of spiritual illumination and of the transfiguration of the world. for as I have discussed elsewhere. that Western esoteric and Western literary and artistic traditions are far more mutually illuminating than we could have guessed. They exist on a continuum that includes reading or viewing art for diversion or pleasure.
” and “is the beginning of a different world. fictional. at the center of which is precisely this problem of whether self-other ultimately dissolves into unity. at the point where ontic dissolves into meontic. Meontic freedom has its origin in sheer transcendence. Nishitani is certainly familiar with but not limited to the problems inherent in Christian theological paradigms.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 155 divine Nothingness prior to existence itself.” he writes. particularly the arts of literature. He insists on the importance of an eternal personality. or whether this division persists into eternity so that the soul is always in some sense separate from God. Coming from a Buddhist perspective. the poet (and the esotericist) all often find themselves marginalized or shunned by their contemporary society because they represent the emergence of newness. But Berdyaev does not follow his own premises to their logical conclusions. and especially on the . but deeply learned in Western and especially German philosophical tradition up to Heidegger. a different sort of knowledge. the artist. of creativity. “Creative activity. and therefore of division. “it is an end of this world. 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. or essayistic creation—one is on the frontier.” Here Berdyaev puts his finger on a fundamental link between esotericism and the creator. in contradistinction to the deterministic and merely ontic realm where there can be no real freedom.”125 This assertion of a different order of knowledge certainly describes what we see in the Western esoteric traditions. or to put it another way. issues from existential eternity. of direct contact with the springs of inspiration and human awakening. as well as the close ties between those traditions and the arts. then how could the indefinite extension of personality. where one moves from the realm of social necessity or determinism or law into the realm of mystery and freedom. This true freedom Berdyaev calls meontic. It is knowledge. Berdyaev writes that “the creative imagination which demands what is new. To enter into union with mystery is not only the frontier of knowledge. to which our categories of thought are not applicable. By drawing on the Buddhist tradition. begins with dissatisfaction with ordinary life. Nishitani Keiji. and its expression in human creativity. For if meontic freedom has its origin in the divine Nichts of absolute transcendence. And at this point we turn to our second religious philosopher. In both cases—in esotericism and in poetic. and runs counter to his own recognition of the central importance of Jacob Böhme’s Ungrund in Western philosophical-religious history. which extends the division between subject and object beyond death. As Berdyaev points out. the artist. or the poet: all are concerned with beginning or entering a new world. Berdyaev is a philosopher of creativity. and what he writes about creativity is revealing when considered in light of the continuous renewal and creative transformations of the Western esoteric traditions.
with an underlying breach among all things that fundamentally seems to separate them from one another. or rather in unison. it is the absolute transcendence of self-object divisions belonging to ordinary. and has the effect not of separating. is beyond definition. As we have seen throughout this study. of course. This intensifies our narcissism. . . and our personality grasps itself from within the personality itself .156 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Buddhist understanding of shunyata. in which there is nothing to grasp or rely upon. .” an “absolute openness. What . but of intimately uniting us with existence at its most essential.”129 Only in the field of shunyata is such mutually affirming freedom possible. This is the field of shunyata. for faced with nihility.”127 He defines shunyata as “nothing less than what reaches awareness in all of us as our own absolute self-nature . One goes through language—the means of human differentiation between self and other—toward the union of self and other. it is instead absolute autonomy that is at the same time absolute service to all things. we see the emergence of a genuine world-philosophical standpoint that allows us to understand more deeply the significance of Western esoteric traditions. there is in Western esotericism in all its myriad forms a pervading theme of alphanumeric gnosis. Nishitani is able to point toward the resolution or transcendence of the fundamental dilemmas that face us today. emerges authentic freedom. or the emptiness of all things. or “true emptiness. Authentic freedom is beyond merely subjective freedom. in which the self-other dichotomy is resolved.”126 This self-centeredness is the ordinary human condition. . so that “self and other stand simultaneously in the position of absolute master and absolute servant with regard to one another. self-nature as true self-awareness—and the selfness of each and every thing in the form of its suchness come about simultaneously. egoistic mode of being. and indeed. self-identically. or perhaps better still. This mode of being is fundamentally self-centered: “our reason grasps itself from the posture of reason. and us from them. “unless the thoughts and deeds of man one and all be located on such a field. that is. Yet there is another field that is not nihility. the sorts of problems that beset humanity have no chance of ever really being solved. . one retreats into self even further. the choices of the will. The force of destiny is at work here.” Authentic freedom is.”130 When we turn to the literature of the Western esoteric traditions with Nishitani’s Zen Buddhist-influenced perspective in mind. As rational or personal beings. but in modern life we are faced also with nihility. in other words.”128 True emptiness. we grasp ourselves and thereby get caught by our own reason or personality. While this is our own act. Nishitani affirms. It is the field on which the awareness of our true selfnature—or. “an equality in love. self-centered consciousness. what is the same thing. . Nishitani. In Nishitani’s work. we can see how these apparently disparate views in fact correspond. Out of this transcendence alone. it is not something we are free to do as we please . begins where we all are: with our ordinary.
The Western esoteric traditions. or even linguistic construction. a calling toward what we are meant to be. seen as a whole. take their place among the world’s philosophic and religious traditions as uniquely literary paths toward paradise. political. with nature. anything that can be read or written. write and are written. as the sense of self and other diminishes. language is indeed divine. so Western esotericism suggests. This meeting on the field of the imagination I have called “hieroeidetic knowledge. Thus we can see that insofar as it emerges from and draws us toward its own and our own transcendence. there can be no doubt that the Western esoteric traditions. It can lead us. Paradoxically. Such a view of the word is far indeed from seeing literature as merely a social. where to be truly master means to serve in loving compassion.’ but embodies different orders of knowledge at once. including paintings. Here the word language takes on more than the usual valence.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 157 appears to be other—the cosmos and the divine—turns out in this process of revealing the fundamental self-other unity to be in fact indivisible from our inner nature. Hidden within literature truly worth reading and within all great art is a nostalgia for paradise. alienated consciousness toward a mutuality of awareness that takes place on the infinitely plastic field of the imagination. for all their diversity. have at their center this mystery of the word. We read and are read. and with the divine in the field of authentic freedom. And the means of conjoining self and other turns out to be precisely what at first seems the principle of separation: language itself. in the meeting and reading and writing of all the infinite forms that consciousness can take. . our authentic self is confirmed: in this is the mystery of literature and ultimately of the union of self and other in consciousness. joined together with one another. from a ‘thrown’ or ‘fallen’ condition of divided. But in any case.” And from such knowledge we may pass to what entirely transcends consciousness. for here literature is not merely a collection of ‘signs’ or ‘signifiers. encompassing all manner of hieroglyphs. that mysterious point out of which the geometry of language emerges.
edu ] for articles. Faivre. 3. ibid.msu. 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. ed. a Dutch scholar. See the definition of the Association for the Study of Esotericism [ASE] and more information on this growing field at www. See also the journal Esoterica [www.. I also retain the distinction maintained by Antoine Faivre between Hermetism (the current associated with Hermes belonging to late antiquity) and Hermeticism. the official Web site of the ASE. Mysticism and Language (New York: Oxford University Press. which belongs more to the Renaissance and after.esoteric. 4. 2. 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. 5. See www. whose encyclopedic book New Age Religion and Western Culture: Esotericism in the Mirror of Secular Thought (Leiden: Brill.org. in this field. including Wouter Hanegraaff. see Antoine Faivre.aseweb. much of it in French. Access to Western Esotericism (Albany: State University of New York Press.edu. See Arthur Versluis. 1994). who held a chair at the Sorbonne in Western esoteric currents of thought. 1996) reveals the underlying connections between new religious movements today and their Western esoteric antecedents. 159 . There are a number of other scholars now working in this field as well.Notes INTRODUCTION 1. “Methods in the Study of Esotericism. and readers would do well to become familiar with it. For an overview of Western esotericism.” Esoterica V (2003): 175–210. 1992). See Hanegraaff. published a large body of work outlining and detailing numerous aspects of esotericism.msu. mostly by North American scholars. See Steven Katz.” Esoterica IV (2002): 1–15 and “Methods in the Study of Esotericism Part II.esoteric.
10. Wisdom’s Book: The Sophia Anthology (St. Paul. See Gershom Scholem. pp. p. p. see also Dionysius the Areopagite on like and unlike images. See Arthur Versluis. On the Kabbalah and Its Symbolism (New York: Schocken. 1978). 18 ff. pp. The Koan: Texts and Context in Zen Buddhism (New York: Oxford University Press. Wisdom’s Book: The Sophia Anthology (St. but they like everyone have access to this inward realm all the same. Dreams. whether they know it or not. Ibid. See Versluis. “Christian Theosophy and Ancient Gnosticism. p. Myths. op. Translation is mine. p. and Mysteries (New York: Harper. E. 3.. Paul: Paragon House. Initiation (Manchester: Manchester University Press. See Frederick Goldin. 1863). see also Faivre L’Ésotérisme (Presses Universitaries de France. 1992). 6. 7. 97. 5. 5. Nag Hammadi Library. 309. 180. p. 1975). (London: Sheldon. 1991). Paul: Grail. See my discussion in Gnosis and Literature (St. The Book of the Lover and the Beloved. 10–15. see also Wisdom’s Children: A Christian Esoteric Tradition (Albany: State University of New York Press. 11. See ibid. 151. CHAPTER TWO 1. pp. Theosophic Correspondence (Exeter: Roberts. p.. eds. Victor Sogen Hori. 1996). in Arthur Versluis. p.160 NOTES TO CHAPTER ONE 6. trs. 37 ff. 248. pp. 51–89. 4. 14–21. 1974). pp. Paragon House. 1996) of Piers Ploughman. 1999). 2000). pp. 2.” Studies in Spirituality 7(1997): 228–241. See. 1986).. pp. 1973). Paul: Grail. 2. 9. The Bestiary of Christ (New York: Parabola. 3. All of this is to be found in the ninth chapter of Parzival. 76–106. See the fifteenth chapter of Parzival. 1965). See Versluis. 2000). . Gnosis and Literature (St. 13. ed. See Charbonneau. Nag Hammadi Library. pp. See Faivre.. p. 223. 219–233. 145. Mircea Eliade. for an explicit example of this inward sojourn and perception. 12. Lyrics of the Troubadours and Trouvères (New York: Anchor. cit. John Pordage.. 8. 111. 140.. 2000). p. Sophia. CHAPTER ONE 1. see also Scholem. 4. “Koan and Kensho in the Rinzai Zen Curriculum” in Stephen Heine and Dale Wright. Louis-Claude de Saint-Martin. Ramon Lull. 307. pp. 83 ff. Kabbalah (Jerusalem: Keter. Pordage writes that the invisible paradisal earth of Sophia is hidden from ratiocination and even scoffed at by those limited to reasoning alone. Jean La Fontaine. Peers. 14.
17.C. 52. see also Scholem. The Early Kabbalah (Paulist Press.205b–206a.. 34. 38. II. p.. 24. II. 1961). 1979). 18. IV . 1953) I. pp. See “Oration on the Dignity of Man” in E. Tristan.80 ff. p. Opera omnia. See Moshe Idel. and Françoise Secret. ed. for instance. 31. Doctor Illuminatus. 36. I.351. Gershom Scholem. Kabbalah: New Perspectives (New Haven: Yale University Press. 8. I. p.312... M. 26. 280.75. 246.. I.NOTES TO CHAPTER TWO 161 6. 19. 270. p.320–323. Ibid. The Books of Contemplation (Albany: State University of New York Press. eds. II.. cit.331. See Pico della Mirandola.77. ed.. Ibid. Ibid. 15. see also Moshe Idel. trs.. (London: Soncino. 1985). Vasoli. p. Origins of the Kabbalah (Princeton: Princeton University Press..71. Ibid. Joseph Blau. 278. ed. I. The Renaissance Philosophy of Man (Chicago: University of Chicago Press. II. Origins. 28. 33. 9. as well as Antoine Faivre and F. . Les Kabbalistes chrétiens de la Renaissance (Paris: Dunod.. Scholem. p. 59. 23. Simon. 20. p. Ibid. cit. 1987). p.. 1984). 250. 298 ff. (Princeton: Princeton University Press. See A. p. 1988). 16. p. 25. 7. 61. Ibid. 37. Ibid. A translation of Ars Brevis is to be found in Ramon Lull.. et al. Origins.76.. I. Ibid. The Hermetic Museum (London: Watkins. 11. I.. Cassirer. op. 197. Ibid. See Verman. See Arthur Edward Waite. Ibid. 197. Dan. in The Zohar... 21. ed. p.314.. C. ed. 57. 1965). p. vom Stein der Weisen (Berlin: Christian Ulrich Ringmacher. p. 394. op.325. 29. Zohar IV . Twersky.. 1964). pp. Ibid.. 1779). 13.205b.. The Christian Interpretation of the Cabala in the Renaissance (Port Washington: Kennikat.. 1983). Ibid. op. 10. (Hildesheim: Olms. 30. Rabbi Moses Nahmanides: Explorations. 101–102. 22. 32. See Verman. 1969). See. Ibid. 12. Kabbalistes chrétiens (Paris: Albin Michel. 66. 27. See Mark Verman. Cassirer. 49–50. See J. Ibid. cit. I. Origins. Ibid. See Scholem. p.B. 1986). p. 14. 57. 1992). p. Bonner.. 35. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 29. A. p. trs. 51.
(Los Angeles: Philosophical Research. p.. 246. (Cassel: Wessel. 54. and others. . ed.. der gantzen weiten welt .681.A.. The Alchemy of Art.. Ibid. Fama. Fama. Ibid. 47. I. H. Resicrucian Enlightenment... p. See Versluis. D. Elias Ashmole (Oxford: Clarendon. Confessio. The Rosicrucian Enlightenment (London: Routledge. 42.. William Huffman. The original (short) titles of Fama and Confessio were Allgemeine und General Reformation. Ibid. p. ed. 51. and The Rosicrucian Enlightenment. Theatre of the World. 1972).. 238. Wisdom’s Children: A Christian Esoteric Tradition (State University of New York Press. . Freemasonry. Ibid. Secret Societies. 1614) and Secretioris Philosophiae Considertio brevis . p. 48. 59. op.. 1784). forthcoming. cit. including two physicists. p. 257.M.. Robert Fludd and the End of the Renaissance (London: Routledge. Ibid. 61. Ibid. p.. see Donald Dickson. Ashmole. 52. a musician. p. a cosmologist. 22.A. 1966). 241..77. for background. II.O.: A Rare and Curious Manuscript of Rosicrucian Interest.P. 251.. diss. See. 242. 57. in a group called the Round Table.D.. For an excellent survey of the scholarship since Yates. The first English translation was published by Thomas Vaughan in 1652. 1997). M. Fama. Fama. ms. “Christian Theosophy and Ancient Gnosticism” in Studies in Spirituality (Fall. 40. The Tessera of Antilia: Utopian Brotherhoods and Secret Societies in the Early Seventeenth Century (Leiden: Brill. 220.. See Frances Yates. p. 252. p. 253. p. 58. Ibid. p. and the Continuity of the Occult in English Literature (Ph. for the reader’s convenience. p. This commentary was shared with people from diverse walks. Ibid. C.. The texts of the Fama and Confessio in English are most easily found as appendices to Yates. (Cassel: Wessel. especially on Gichtel’s and other theosophers’ tendency to carefully date their revelations. 1975). I. 371. 50. Confessio. Frances Yates. table of contents.162 NOTES TO CHAPTER TWO 39. Hall. p. 55. 1998).. 1988). Ibid. 1971). From von Welling. p. p. 260. .102–104. a theologian. 221. and also written an extensive commentary on it. See. I have translated this work of Pordage. 37. Josten. 41. and even chart them astrologically. . See also Marsha Schuchard. Ibid. Yates. Ashmole. 67. See Josten. Ibid. p. The following page references are to Yates. Ibid. Confessio. 77. 56. 63.M. 62. Confessio. for text. 255. 53. 60. 49. p. University of Texas at Austin. See Versluis. See Codex Rosae Crucis D. p. 45. 44. See Versluis. . 1999). 1615).O. Opus Mago-Cabbalisticum et Theosophicum (Frankfurt: Fleischerischum. Ibid. 129. 46. 49. 43. p.
H. Ibid. D. p. p.. 1926). (London [Philadelphia]: B. see Versluis. O.. 162–168. Ibid. 1952).NOTES TO CHAPTER THREE 163 64. as is in fact suggested in Bernice Rosenthal. 67. (New York: Crossroad. 69. 1997). Beyond Painting and Other Writings by the Artist and His Friends (New York: Wittenborn. see also Max Ernst. 1992). and Margaret Bailey. 240. A. See Dickson.. pp. the Reformation. Un aventurier religieux au XVIIe siècle (Paris: Perrin. pp. V de L. 1997). 2. Warlick. ed. It may well be that a closer investigation of symbolist and surrealist poetry and art would further reveal its affinities to Satanism. Chavalier Ramsey (London: Nelson. 268. p. 654.. especially in Kristi Groberg’s “‘The Shade of Lucifer’s Dark Wing’: Satanism in Silver Age Russia. and without doubt there are bizarre and even deliberately inverted elements in much of surrealism. 11. 1948). 257–272. . 414. See also Schuchard.” 99–134. changes. The Constitutions of the Free-masons: Containing the history.. believed that surrealism drew on esoteric currents in a confused way. 409. 2001). Mazet. 9. 5. Ibid. 110. 1967). Ibid. 1985). 65. See George David Henderson. M. 172–173. 3. p. regulations . 7. cit. CHAPTER THREE 1. 417. See also Bernard Fay. Milton and Jacob Boehme (New York: Oxford: 1914). S. See Marsha Keith Schuchard. pp. 71. “Freemasonry and Esotericism. M. ed. On Emerson and Hermeticism. 170–171. p. Faivre. 247–249. Ibid. E. 68. Revolution and Freemasonry. 1680–1800 (Boston: Little. Paul: Grail. Ibid. 2002). Freemasonry. 191. 66. Ibid. The Hermetic Book of Nature (St. 10. p. Certainly surrealism and related movements such as symbolism provide much more complicated examples than we can deal with here. The Noble Traveller (West Stockbridge: Lindisfarne. 6. 170–171. Franklin. citing B. Charge I. and Albert Cherél.. and Social Change (London: Macmillan.. Religion. 66–67. Max Ernst and Alchemy (Austin: University of Texas Press. Milosz. p. op. . See James Anderson. pp. 1992).. 8. pp. Ibid. p.” in Modern Esoteric Spirituality. See M. . fondateurs (Paris: l’Herne. Brown. pp. 39. See Edmond Mazet. Sloane. 1935). 256. . 1734). 253. Hugh Trevor-Roper. See “Le manuscrit graham” in La franc-maçonnerie: documents. The Occult in Soviet and Russian Culture (Ithaca: Cornell University Press. 4. 70. Restoring the Temple of Vision: Cabalistc Freemasonry and Stuart Culture (Leiden: Brill. pp. p. p.
. D. 37. 204–205. 465. 1994). 178–179. Scott. of course. p. See Versluis.. Ibid. pp. Ibid. 464.. pp.. p. pp.” when in fact there are numerous different esoteric currents of a wide variety. 33. Revolutionary Brotherhood: Freemasonry and the Transformation of the American Social Order (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press. pp. is into what did she translate this inner meaning. 158). 41.. Milosz. 19. For the poet of the modernist era. the harsh world of necessity that Freud described is itself the “rune” that must be deciphered. D. p. Ibid. . . pp. see Versluis.. cit. p. 182–183. Ibid. Ibid. 39. Ibid. 38. cit.. Ibid. See W. 14. 174–175. 300. See Versluis. Friedman writes that “From her [H. 224–225.. op. 297–298. 1985). Ibid.. p. Ibid. hermetic tradition offered a pattern of meaning in coded form to the initiate .. op. 206–207. 20.115. 303.. Ibid. 27.’s] perspective.. pp. 180–181... Theosophia: Hidden Dimensions of Christianity (Hudson: Lindisfarne. Ibid. Ibid. pp. The question.1 ff. Psyche Reborn (Bloomington: Indiana University Press. Ibid. Milosz. 18. 35. 25. Milosz. p. 17. 21. 34. 469. 48–52. 30. 248. 24. 299. 277. pp. 299–300. 40. 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. Hermetica (Boston: Shambhala.. Pollen and Fragments: Selected Poetry and Prose of Novalis (Grand Rapids: Phanes. pp. p. Ibid. 1982). The Esoteric Origins of the American Renaissance (New York: Oxford University Press. 1981). op. pp. H. Milosz. Ibid. Ibid. pp. 1996).” synonymous with “hermetic tradition.. pp. I. 29. Ibid. 16. for a translation of Hymns to the Night. 28. 23. p. Ibid. 157–206. pp. trs. 32. 15. For a more extensive study. 36. .. 226–227. 31. Ibid. 210–211.. 2001). pp. Notes on Thought and Vision (San Francisco: New Directions. in her search to translate the inner meaning of material reality” (p.. 455. Ibid. The ‘true-rune and right spell’ of esoteric tradition contained the code for H. 13. 26. 296. For a discussion of Postel in relation to Christian theosophy. 1989).164 NOTES TO CHAPTER THREE 12. Lib. cit. p. ed. 8–9. 22. Susan Friedman. D... see Steven Bullock. introduction by Albert Gelpi. ranging from entirely cosmological ones such as astrology or the Tarot to more metaphysical or gnostic ones. I.. p.
pp. chief among them Gustav Meyrink.. 70. Ibid. H.. 17–19. Geschichte der Mission der Evangelischen Brüder unter den Indianern in Nordamerika (rpt: Hildesheim: Olms.. 2001). “Walls..” 17. A Candid Narrative (London: 1753). 61.. D.. See H.. Ibid. D. Ibid. and I certainly recommend her article. p. 9. Ibid. 59. Ibid. 47. pp. 50–51. “Tribute to the Angels. 53.. D. p. for documentation. 63. 50. D. p. 64. rpt. The Gift. Ibid. 65.. There are. p. 225–246. D. and in particular his novel Angel at the Western Window [Der Engel . 222.. Ibid. p.. 56.. 73. Irina Gutkin. Georg Heinrich Loskiel.. 49. 58. 66. 168. pp. other authors we could consider here. 1997). 74.. 20.. 62. 69. Ibid. H.. Ibid. 60. “Notes. The Gift (Gainesville: University Press Florida. Ibid. Rimius. ed. Futurism.” on which see TG. Social Realism” in B. 43. Ibid. Kathleen Raine. 154–155. 52. Vale Ave in New Directions in Prose and Poetry (New York: 1950.. p. in her “Zinzendorf Notes. Ibid. “The Magic of Words: Symbolism.. See H. 44. 46. as well as this entire collection of articles. “The Walls Do Not Fall. 66. Ibid. Gutkin’s article strongly supports the fundamental thesis we are here exploring.” 30–31. on alchemy and ‘the occult’ in earlytwentieth-century Russia. 157. 1967). These passages were transcribed by H. 13. Selected Poems (Hudson: Lindisfarne.. 67. 71. 68. Kraus. 21. 23. 35. See Jane Augustine. 39. 20. The Gift.NOTES TO CHAPTER THREE 165 42. 72. p. 33.” 1. 75. Ibid. Ibid. See M. p. 67. 57. Warlick. D. 45. 223.. D. E. Ibid. hereafter cited as TG. 32. Ibid. pp. 102. p... The Occult in Russian and Soviet Culture (Ithaca: Cornell University Press.. See. Ibid. see also. 1989).. H. 284–285.. 1988)... 259. 169. 50. H. 156–159. Ibid.” pp. Ibid. 48. Ibid. 55. 18. 19. 271–272. 24. Rosenthal. 1998). of course. 1.. Max Ernst and Alchemy: A Magician in Search of a Myth (Austin: University of Texas Press. ed.. p. 165. p. 29. 51. 70. 54. Ibid. 21.. p.
Lewis.166 NOTES TO CHAPTER THREE vom westlichen Fenster] (1927). 82–83. 197. Moon Magic (York Beach: Weiser. Meditations. Vision. 40. Maxwell’s account of his growing understanding of the elemental forces like wind and fire. p. The Works of William Blake. 320.. noted hereafter as Vision. Fortune. Ibid. 87. Subsequent references are to Cecil Collins. Ellis and W... pp. 99. 291. 79. 101. Taverner (Columbus: Ariel. 91. Ibid. pp. Dion Fortune. including Fortune’s. hereafter noted as Meditations. p. 87. S. p. (London: Quaritch. p. for a discussion of contemporary esoteric magical groups. Ibid. 92. p. See Collins. The Vision of the Fool and Other Writings (Ipswich: Golgonooza. 1993). op. Lewis. 124–125. p.). C. and his intensifying “strange awareness” as a function of his magical apprenticeship with Vivien Le Fay Morgan.). B. 382. 81. 239. p. Ibid. C. Yeats. p. E. 100. p. 89. and while his experience in magical ritual has been downplayed by some literary critics. Ibid.. 115. Williams was a member of Arthur Edward Waite’s magical fraternity. pp. 1997). n. 21... 91. pp. Ibid. op.. 78. 323. See on this point. pp. p. cit. p. 77. and Meditations. p. 10. p. 1994). Faivre. retained his magical regalia in his office. Ibid. Gareth Knight. The Magical World of the Inklings (Shaftesbury: Element. 88. p. Ibid. and their circles in mid-twentieth-century England. 322. 88. 154. 1994) p.. Essays Presented to Charles Williams (Oxford University Press: 1947). 94. Poems. I. Pages from a Sketchbook (Ipswich: Golgonooza. p. p... The Winged Bull (York Beach: Weiser ed.. 96. 90. Dion Fortune.d. 97. 83. But Meyrink’s works are complex enough to deserve a study in themselves. p.. Ibid.. 102. 104–104... Faivre. 20–21. 93. Ibid. Ibid. 127. 1814). 70–71. 1990). 1893). without doubt had direct experience in magical initiation that was reflected in his fiction. 86.. 3 vols. ed. maintaining our focus on the Inklings. Collins. That Hideous Strength (Macmillan: 1965 ed. op. 102. The Magical World of the Inklings. Vision. 98. Ibid. 1994). 95. Letters from England (London: Longman. so I have decided not to include them here. Gareth Knight. p. cit. Southey.. 84. Dion Fortune. 43.. in The Sea Priestess (York Beach: Weiser ed.25. 103. 85. See for instance. 80. The Secrets of Dr. 101. Ibid. 112. 82. Access to Western Esotericism (State University of New York Press. Collins. cit. 95. 1988) p. . p. See Antoine Faivre. 40. S. 76.
122. p. II. 74.. 126. 103. p. 123. 130. p. 121.. “Warnung an den Leser. 117. Ibid. p. Ibid. 93. Versluis. I added the colors. Nishitani Keiji. 112. 115.. E... forthcoming.. 129. “Ancient Gnosticism and Christian Theosophy” in Studies in Spirituality (Fall 1997). Ibid. p. p. from “The Magic of Words: Symbolism. Ibid. p. A. pp. “Vorrede. p. Ibid. Irina Gutkin. Song and Its Fountains (Burdett: Larson. 1978). Freedom and the Spirit.. 1980). The Occult in Russian and Soviet Culture (Ithaca: Cornell University Press. 106. 63. 127. See. 78...NOTES TO CHAPTER THREE 167 104. 128. See Charles C. 105.. 118. for example. Diss. 125. Knapp. See also The Destiny of Man. Ibid. Ibid... 113. See Berdyaev’s introduction to Jacob Böhme’s Six Theosophic Points (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan. 1958). Religion and Nothingness (Berkeley: University of California Press. p. . 40 and pp. p. 225. 25 ff. Ibid. 275 ff. Socialist Realism.” and I. 39. The Beginning and the End (New York: Harper. 108 ff. Theosophia: Hidden Dimensions of Christianity (Hudson: Lindisfarne. 62–63. p. Ibid. Ibid. Peter Erb. 1991).1 ff. Ibid. Nicolas Berdyaev: Theologian of Prophetic Gnosticism (Th.31.1. pp. 119. 1997) p.. Christosophia IV .. 94... Ibid. trs. 111. 170..D. Bromley’s is the image on the cover of my book Theosophia (1994). 107. 1994). Ibid. ed. Rosenthal. pp. 40. The Way to Christ (New York: Paulist Press. p.. pp. pp. 95.. p.29–30. p. Ibid.” in B.” 108. IV . 120. Futurism. Ibid. 105. 116. Christosophia. 62. 71 ff. p. 106. 124. 199.31. 114. Nicholas Berdyaev. 110. 1957). See my overview of Christian theosophy in Magic and Mysticism. p. See Versluis. 109. Toronto: 1948).. 194 ff. I. 285. Ibid.
Nicholas. Giordano. 17 Blake. 68–71. 28–29. 154–155 Bernart de Ventadorn. 141–142. 57. 5. 66 Corbin. 80. 61–62. Al-Rhazi [Rhazes]. 154 Dogen. 90. 14. Arthur. 31. 154 Book of Life. 94. 104 Dionysius the Areopagite. 11 Dury. Roger. 45 Chaucer. 28.E. Geoffrey. 5. 30. 20. 78. Franz von. 31 Cloud of Unknowing. 147 Buddhism. 46 Christ. Tibetan. 75. 40 Bible. 140. 152 Brahe. 142. 27–28. Jacob. 47. 18 Arnold of Villanova. 148–150 Alchemy. 53 A. John. Abraham. 141 Agrippa. 72 Consciousness. Henry. John. 129. 1. 68. 2. 80–82 Astrology. 96 Dee. 99 Dickinson. 81 Bruno. Elias. 48 Corpus Hermeticum. Tycho. John. 79 Backhouse. 130–133 Ascension of Isaiah. 143–144. 63. 55–67. 24. 25 Ashmole. 56 Bahir. 28. initiatory nature of. William. 82–83 169 . 138 Basilides. 31 Basilius Valentinus. 75 Chivalry. 137 Boethius. 82–83 Confessio Fraternitatis. 1 Collins. 51. 96 Berdyaev. 40–41. 57 Beatrice. 56 Amor Proximi. 76 Buddhism. 105 Christianity [origins of]. 80 Böhme. 94. Moses. ix. 83 Apocalypse of Baruch. 25 Apocalypse of Ezra. René. 77 Bromley. 28. 95. 82 Bacon.INDEX Abulafia. 17–19 Clement of Alexandria. 53. 18. 25 Apuleius. 81–82 Dee. Thomas. 59. 81–82 Descartes. 56 Baader. 139. 129–135 Comenius. Cecil. 10. Francis. 35–43. 4. Sir Thomas. William. 148 Barrett. Abbot. 93. 97 Cremer. 89. 42–43 Chemical Wedding of Christian Rosencreutz. 78. Emily. 59 Dante. 129. 52. 93. 150 Browne. 63 Anderson. 64. Heinrich Cornelius. James. 56 Art. 24. 2 Aurea Catena. 53. 81. 22 Cordovero. 42. 5. 102.. 97.
102 Ernst. 123. 77 Flamel. 153–154 Eriugena. Mircea. 19 Kabbalah [or Cabala]. 109. 55 Koran. 2. 82–83 Heidegger. 140 La Fontaine. Brian. 102 Leade.S. 2. 50. 112 Lull. 18–21. 101–102 Frey. 22. 89. Friedrich von [Novalis]. 25 John. 5. ix. 37 Esoteric Origins of the American Renaissance. 76 Maistre. 19 Faivre. Victor Sogen. Georg Heinrich. Ramon. 100 Hirst. 139 H. 84. 51 Islam. 120–122. 44.. Christian. Carlos. 90.D. 1. 57–59. 102 Lee. 104. 109 Hermeticism. 51 Eleusinian Mysteries. 72–73 Faust. 30. Dion. 78 Gnosis. 103. Jane. 46. 28. 111 Geheime Figuren. Edward. Martin. 19–21. 127–128 Fama Fraternitatis. 43–45. 7–8 Esotericism. Max. 105. Johann Wolfgang. Johann Georg. 97. 11 Hutton. ix. 8–9 Larronde. 1 Keeble.170 INDEX Eckhart. 99 Grail cycle. 21 Heydon. 26–31. Abraham von. 7–8. 127 Loskiel. Robert. Susan. Meister. John Scotus. 10–12. Irina. Jewish.. Jewish. 104. Herman. 9. T. 153 Homer. 103 Fuller. 63. 8–9 Isaac the Blind. Andreas. 40 . 27–28 Gnosticism. 111 Emerson. 56. 140 Eirenaeus Philalethes. 2. 103–119 Hardenberg. 52–54 Kabbalah. 29 Mazet. 151 Merswin. Wolfram von. 19. 84 Lewis. Antoine. Samuel. 2. 53. Steven. 112 Friedman. Ralph Waldo. 75. Nicholas. 104 Gichtel. 68. 127 Frankenberg. Gareth. Joseph Edward. 111 Esotericism [defined]. Jean. Benjamin. 107. 57 Eleazar of Worms. 101 Freemasonry. 76. 137 Goethe. 21–22 Hermetica. 120. 79–86. Edmond. 36–39 Gutkin. 122 Koan. Michael. Francis.. 89. 123–126. 155 Hermes [Trismegistus]. 9 Eliot. 83. 140 Hippolytus. 100 Marcus. 46–52. 4. 29 Hiram. 54. 126. 95 Hartlib. Désirée. 89–103 Hermetism. 5 Hori. 69 Franklin. Joseph de. 80–81 Fortune. 89. Margaret. 129 Kelley. 112 Imagination. 56 Fludd. 42. 85 Merkabah mysticism. 50. 82 Knight. John. 100. 8. Johannes. 72 Jabir ibn Hayyan [Geber]. 79 Hieroedetic knowledge. 31 Melville.S. 56 Jerusalem. 12–15. 106 Eschenbach. 88-89. C. 21. 65. 138 Katz. 22–24 Initiation. 25 Hinduism. 35. 104. 77 Gelpi. Albert. Book of. 105 Eliade. Rulman. 19. 56 Maier.
Marsha Keith. 46. Joseph. 60. 56 Swedenborg. 53 Theosophy. 26–27 Moravians. 47. 108 Rimius. 8 Nishitani Keiji. 140 Templars. 68. Gospel of. 57. 115 Pythagoras. William. 6 Sefer Yezirah. 92. 94. Christian. 92. 76 Parzival. Book of. 5. 25 Native Americans (and Moravians). 153 Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Louis-Claude de. 99 Scholem. 59. 18. Johannes. 40 Raine. Johann Christoph. 53. 102 Science [and the sciences]. 148 Platonic archetypes. Marguerite. 26 Tolkien. Martinez de. John. 21 Poiret. 103. O. 87–88. Henry. 90. 84 Reading. 58 Numbers. Paulus. 74. 101 Prajnaparamita Sutra. 120. Samuel. 67–69. J.INDEX 171 Meyrink. 118 Ramsay. 75–78 Paracelsus. 139 Saint Martin. Pierre. 39–40 Solovyov.R. 109. 9. Emanuel. 123 Poimandres. Kathleen. 152 . 152 Richter. 70. Thomas. 79. 63 Rici. 150. 105. 3 Raimbaut d’Orange. 50 Schuchard. 114–115 Thenaud. 141 . 5. Bernadette. 23–26. 5 Minotaur. 112–113 Morienus. 148 Radical ecology. 89. 2 Postel. 2 Nag Hammadi Library. 138 Stellatus. 116 Nature [concept of]. Milton. 154–156 Norton. 56. 137. Andrew Michael. 105. Gillaume. Jean. 40 Milosz. 4 Reuchlin. 110 Southey. 48 Mysticism. Czeslaw. Blaise. 99 Pasqually. 99. 66 New Age. 37–38 Pascal. John. Vladimir. 51. 4 Shakespeare. 21. 99. 17. Rainer Marie. 29 Pre-Socratics. 140 Tauler. 76 Sufism. 79. 52 Pansophy. 89–103. 148 Seidel. 103 Pyrlaeus. 90 Porete.V ix. 115. 53 Theseus. 18. 112 Ripley. 14–15. Johannes. 119 Raleigh. 43 Synesius. 14. 116 Self. 56 Moses de Leon.. 19. 11 Russian literature. 103. 25. 29–30 Olympiadorus. 108. 8 Rosicrucianism. 92. Jean. 99 Prospero. 52 Piers Ploughman. 46. 153 Schwaller de Lubicz. 32 Plato. 2. 47–48. 64. Robert. Gershom. 84 Pordage. sacred. 140 Tao te ching. 69. 64 Roberts. 2. 56 Origen. 99 Philip. 85. 36. Sir Walter. 102 Sophia [Wisdom]. 52–53 Revelation. 71–76 Rousseau.R. 63. 90 Milosz. 90 Talmud. 115. 136 Science and objectification. ix. Gustav. 13.. 87–88. 32. 113. 53 Rilke. George. 30–31 Pico della Mirandola. René. 73. 19. 69.
55. 10. George. 148 Zen Buddhism. 106 Washington. Egidio Cardinal. 53 Versluis. M. 69–70 Universalism [esoteric]. 89. ix. 56 . Adam. Nicholas. 103. 110. 140 Valentinus. 111 Warlick. 82 Troubadours. 64. Jean-Baptiste. Arthur. 2. 103. ix. 79 Willermoz. 9. 10. 111. 10.B. 86 Welling. 84 Williams. 75 Yeats. Frances.. 48. 31 Viterbo. 104. 148 Zosimos. Georg von. 122–123 Williamson. 88. 112–113 Zohar. 137.E. 101 Weishaupt. 120. 63. 35–43 Ungrund. 103.172 INDEX Trevor-Roper.. 116 Yates. 156 Zinzendorf. Hugh. Charles. David. 67–69 Upanishads. W.
1994). 1967) and Pansophie (Berlin: Erich Schmidt.org. readers will find many further avenues of research by a wide variety of contributing scholars. Readers may also wish to consult the journals ARIES and Esoterica (www.edu) and to visit the Web site of the Association for the Study of Esotericism [ASE] at www.msu. important if sometimes a bit uneven background works in the field include the books of Will-Erich Peuckert. and Imaginaire Symbolique: Mélange offerts á Antoine Faivre edited by Joscelyn Godwin et al. 1992). In the voluminous Ésotérisme. Western Esotericism and the Science of Religion (Leuven: Peeters. Access to Western Esotericism (Albany: State University of New York Press. I should note that the two volumes by Cecil Collins cited in Restoring Paradise have subsequently been 173 . Tradition (Albany: State University of New York Press. 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 Antoine Faivre and Wouter Hanegraaff. Gnosis and Hermeticism: From Antiquity to Modern Times (Albany: State University of New York Press. Important anthologies of scholarship in the field include Antoine Faivre and Jacob Needleman. Gnoses. Earlier. as well as Roelof van den Broek and Wouter Hanegraaff. 1975). 1998). 1992). 1998). 2000). as well as the series by Karl Frick titled Die Erleuchteten (Graz: Akademische.Suggestions for Further Study A standard reference for scholars and a general introduction to Western esotericism as a field of study is Antoine Faivre. A useful historical overview is Jean-Paul Corsetti’s Histoire de l’ésotérisme et des sciences occultes (Paris: Larousse. notably Gabalia (Berlin: Erich Schmidt. 2 vols. (Graz: Akademische. Modern Esoteric Spirituality (New York: Crossroad. Theosophy. 1973) and Licht und Finsternis. along with its companion book.. (Leuven: Peeters. eds.aseweb. 1956).esoteric. 2001). Imagination. 1998).
2000). 1996).174 SUGGESTIONS FOR FURTHER STUDY combined into a single volume entitled The Vision of the Fool and Other Writings. 1994). Paul: Grail. edited by Brian Keeble. Many of my own previous and forthcoming books also deal with themes and subjects touched on in Restoring Paradise—in particular. Gnosis and Literature (St. Wisdom’s Children: A Christian Esoteric Tradition (Albany: State University of New York Press. 1999). and The Esoteric Origins of the American Renaissance (New York: Oxford University Press. Paul: Paragon House. Paul: Grail. Wisdom’s Book: A Sophia Anthology (St. . as well as The Mysteries of Love: Eros and Spirituality (St. enlarged edition (Ipswich: Golgonooza. This is a beautifully produced book and highly recommended. 2002). and Theosophia: Hidden Dimensions of Christianity (Hudson: Lindisfarne. 2001). 1996).