Western Esotericism, Literature, Art, and Consciousness

Arthur Versluis



SUNY series in

Western Esoteric Traditions

David Appelbaum, editor

Literature.Restoring P a r a d i s e Western Esotericism. and Consciousness Arthur Versluis S t a t e U n i v e r s i t y o f N e w Yo r k P re s s . Art.

electrostatic. recording. ISBN 0-7914-6139-4 (alk. Anne M.Published by STATE UNIVERSITY OF NEW YORK PRESS. 2. magnetic tape. 1959– Restoring paradise : western esotericism. Suite 700. I. 3. Authur. paper) 1. Series. Occultism in art. mechanical. cm.—(SUNY series in Western esoteric traditions) Includes bibliographical references and index. and consciousness / Arthur Versluis. For information. Albany. photocopying. Occultism in literature. II. Title. NY 12207 Production. p. art.V47 135—dc22 2004 2004045292 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 . Laurie Searl Marketing. or otherwise without the prior permission in writing of the publisher. BF1411. Occultism—History. literature. 90 State Street. address State University of New York Press. ALBANY © 2004 Arthur Versluis Printed in the United States of America No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission. Valentine Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Versluis. No part of this book may be stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means including electronic.

In memory of poet and scholar Kathleen Raine .


and Masonic Literature ix xi 1 17 35 .Contents Preface Acknowledgments Introduction: Initiatory Transmission and the Imagination What is Esoteric? Initiatory Transmission and Western Esotericism The Esoteric Imagination 1 Origins Alchemy of the Word The Field of the Imagination The Red Thread of Gnosis Conclusions 2 Historical Currents Divine Service: Chivalry and the Troubadours Books within Books: Jewish Kabbalism The Transfiguration of Earth: Alchemical Literature The Divine Science: Theosophic. Rosicrucian. Pansophic.

viii CONTENTS 3 Modern Implications Prospero’s Wand: Modern Esoteric Literature The Western Esoteric Traditions and Consciousness Literature. Art. and Consciousness Notes Index 87 159 169 .

H. wrote for a general audience across a range of fields rather than for specialists in one or more of the many periods. all the way from the early Christian era to twentieth-century poets and artists. Milosz. I also included references to Japanese Zen Buddhism and to the great Japanese philosopher Keiji Nishitani. D. and I hope that it will open the way to a new appreciation for each of them in this larger context. O. but as the book took shape. C. At the very least. I drew on a variety of both primary and secondary sources. figures. and consciousness itself. but the work’s focus remains Western. and Cecil Collins. ix . but in keeping with my original impetus. 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. This is the first extensive discussion of these authors together.P re f a c e Restoring Paradise began as an introduction to the literary and religious history of Western esotericism and was meant for a general audience. traditions. Soon it became clear that Restoring Paradise was to be a genuinely interdisciplinary argument whose subjects range across Western religious and literary history. so did an unexpected thesis about initiation. At the suggestion of an early reader. Lewis. literature. V. In writing this book. and locales that play a role in supporting and amplifying the larger argument. Hence. art.. found where literature and religion meet in the works of such extraordinary figures as Charles Williams. I hope that Restoring Paradise will serve to introduce many readers to the richness of our common inheritance. S.


to The Journal of Consciousness Studies. Poems. and “The Walls Do Not Fall” (excerpts) by Hilda Doolittle (H.D. Pages from a Sketchbook (Ipswich: Golgonooza. (Ipswich: Golgonooza.Acknowledgments Grateful acknowledgments to Brian Keeble. and to Studies in Spirituality. Milosz.). in which earlier versions of parts of this book first appeared. each of whom helped to make it a better work. (West Stockbridge: Lindisfarne. from Trilogy. 2001). Used by permission of New Directions Publishing Corporation. Many thanks also to the various readers and editors of this book during the course of its production. xi . Mélanges offerts à Antoine Faivre (Louven: Peeters. My thanks to New Directions Publishing for permission to quote from the works of the poet H. copyright renewed 1973 by Norman Holmes Pearson. including the adapted cover illustration. and to the editors of Gnostica 3. 1994) and Meditations. © 1944 by Oxford University Press. © 1945 by Oxford University Press. 1997). “The Music of Dawn” from The Vision of the Fool and Other Works..D. to Christopher Bamford and Lindisfarne Press for the citations from The Noble Traveller: The Life and Writings of O. the estate of Cecil Collins and the Tate Gallery for citations and images. copyright renewed 1972 by Norman Holmes Pearson. from Trilogy. in particular “Tribute to the Angels” (excerpts) by Hilda Doolittle (H. de L. 1985).).D. V.


how esotericism is transmitted in the West.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. the study of mysticism. literary. figures.1 Here.” of which (in my definition) the mysticisms of an Eckhart or a Böhme. and otherwise. requires that one consider the role that language plays in generating. These are not. and perhaps even more critically. In this book. I argue that esotericism has as its central characteristic gnosis. and one of the most promising of these is what we may broadly term esoteric literature and art. and these in turn may offer us new ways to understand both our past and our present in surprising ways. or conveying spiritual experiences. and one that has ramifications in many directions. we will focus on a single theme: that of how spiritual initiation takes place in Western esoteric religious.3 Gnosis may be divided into two broad categories: cosmological. even apophatic mysticism. artistic. I extend this question beyond mysticism to include the full range of what are now termed “Western esoteric traditions. however. are now appearing. religious. or groups have been overlooked or marginalized. and metaphysical or transcendent. we must begin to go beyond historical research in order to understand not only who or what esoteric works. not least of all for the understanding of art and literature. A wide range of new approaches to and reënvisionments of Western history. meaning experiential insight into the nature of the divine as manifested in the individual and in the cosmos. Yet for this to take place. of The Cloud of Unknowing and of eighteenth-century alchemical treatises form various sets and subsets. This is a vast and almost totally unexplored field. As Steven Katz pointed out in Mysticism and Language (1992). and artistic traditions from antiquity to the present.2 In a model that I outline in two articles on method in the study of esotericism. but also. provoking. mutually 1 .

But because so little has been written on how Western esoteric traditions are transmitted.4 The bias against esotericism derived in large part from the hegemony of rationalism and materialism. The term Western esoteric traditions is broad. Undoubtedly. and although we will present a new way of understanding the phenomenon of Western esotericism in a contemporary light. philosophical. we will focus primarily on Western esoteric traditions such as alchemy. this must be our primary focus. but with occasional reference to what I see as in many respects an analogous Asian tradition—that of the Zen Buddhist koan. To consider the pivotal role that language and image play in the transmission of esoteric spiritual traditions is not. Jewish Kabbalah. there has been much selective editing of our collective human inheritance. examples of it include alchemy. it can be described also as the transcendence of subject-object or self-other divisions. Freemasonry. and about how we come to know. of course. left out of literary. but perhaps most edited of all were European currents of thought. astrology. above all this is a book about knowing. for although we will outline Western esotericism’s main currents here. and related currents of hidden knowledge in the European inheritance. that is what this book is about. Cosmological gnosis is insight into the nature of the cosmos. Rosicrucianism.2 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E exclusive but rather are complementary and overlapping. however disparate. on how initiation can take place in the absence of a direct historical lineage in the West. however. or mentioned only to be dismissed as merely outmoded relics. but necessarily so: it defines a vast range of traditions. including alchemy. Western esoteric traditions have been denigrated or dismissed for centuries. do have certain characteristics in common. magic. this has not been true until recently for the Western esoteric traditions. or convey spiritual awakening. astrology. magic. . or gnosis. provoke. religious. theosophy. perhaps the most important of which is an emphasis on attaining spiritual knowledge. Christian theosophy. Here. Metaphysical gnosis in its pure form is apophatic or via negativa mysticism like that of Meister Eckhart or Marguerite Porete. Yet these traditions. Not at all. Like the koan. In essence. or Hermeticism. even if these also include metaphysical gnosis. to therefore reductionistically argue that these traditions represent nothing but linguistic constructions. for in order to create the modern world of machinery and science. Rather. In particular. But the time for such biases is past. Christian gnosis. 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. it was necessary for many people to abandon whatever did not fit a positivist paradigm. Although it seems that ours is a time when everything from the past is bound to come to light. and what ‘knowing’ by way of literature and language actually means. and social histories. the Western gnostic treatise uses words to provide an entry into dimensions of consciousness that transcend words. mysticism.

despite their often almost bewildering variety. To navigate one’s way through these movements. proliferating wildly. but in fact be discovering fundamental keys to understanding both the European esoteric inheritance. which increasingly in the West seems to intellectuals to be moribund except as a social phenomenon. or as oppressive and as having spawned the destructiveness of modernity. it is more than useful to recognize whence they have emerged.INTRODUCTION 3 Why? For the first time in several hundred years. Given the present openness of many people to criticism of modernity. and so a welter of new religious movements and groups has emerged. In many respects. which is often seen either as outdated. about reading the stars. what their predecessors are. For as we will see. the Western esoteric traditions. the more we come to see certain underlying patterns. Thus many have begun to cast about for ways to enrich their inner or spiritual lives. a vast field. . we find a definite prejudice in post-Christian societies against Christianity in general. sects. when we look at Western societies. nature. and continuity of the Western esoteric traditions. By looking more closely at the origin. and there are many treasures to be found there. and particularly in the radical ecology movement. about reading as discovering esoteric knowledge of ourselves and of the cosmos. At the same time on the religious front. are fundamentally about reading: about reading nature. And underlying these is. therefore. Yet beyond the pleasure of discovery we will find something else: for the more we study the field of Western esotericism. an awareness that modern machinery for all its power impoverishes both outer and inner nature. a metaphor that illuminates not only all the various disciplines and traditions. and to understand their patterns and meaning. but even sheds light on the very nature of being human. and ways beyond the impasse at which we find ourselves today. Thus. we readily can see why the time is ripe for a reëvaluation of the Western esoteric traditions in light of our contemporary situation. Chief among them is the growing conviction that positivism is bankrupt. we find on the social front. of course. their inner lives have become progressively more barren. we will not only be uncovering littleknown aspects of bygone days. our time resembles the early Christian era. a single primary and overarching metaphor that we will be able to trace throughout the Western traditions in all their variety. when a panoply of religions. and cults existed side by side. many people have realized that despite all the material comforts made possible by our machinery. in my view. while at the same time we find reactionary fundamentalist Christian sectarianism that often only fuels others’ disdain for Christianity. This is without doubt the reason that there are so many new religious movements—combined with a widespread distrust and even ridicule of Christianity. and to alternative forms of spirituality.5 But there are other reasons why an examination of the Western esoteric traditions might be especially apropos today. Western esotericism is.

reading here guides one toward gnosis. 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. but with consciousness itself.4 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E This theme of reading. however. and will require much elaboration. we have developed machines that ‘read. Greek in origin. What is more. yet this view of union is one that most and perhaps all literary readers and authors will intuitively recognize. When we read a novel. reading in this context extends beyond ratiocinative knowledge limited to a split between the reading subject and the ‘object’ to be studied: instead. the ‘I’ is recognized to be not stable but fluid. when we read the works of an Emerson. 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. and thus there are no permanent divisions between ‘I’ and the cosmos. and each requires the other. and ultimately with the divine. but experience the marvel of living metaphor and rhythm for ourselves. so too there are great readers. we do not remain just a cataloguer of this or that remarkable confluence of words. purgatory. progressively realizing its fundamental identity with plants and animals. imaginatively enter into different lives. By contrast. of course.’ that is. and heaven. And when we read a great poem. reading in the Western esoteric traditions has to do not merely with accumulating data. but can be transmuted. as penetrating into the hidden mysteries of all that we see. The mystery of reading is. The ‘I’ need not remain at the mercy of its own selfishness. for it is grounded not in separation but in union. Reading here is defined in the broadest possible way. For the Western esoteric traditions approach such questions from a totally different view: for them. Likewise. also about union. If there are great writers. we feel as someone else feels. minerals and stars. is the nature of the ‘I’ and the ‘not-I’ in question. Why do we travel with Dante’s pilgrim through hell. there is also a union: we as readers are participating in the mind of the writer through the miraculous medium of the written word. why do we travel with . The word gnosis. In every experience of literature.’ Unexamined here. ‘Knowledge’ in contemporary usage is essentially ‘data. but in some sense leap the gap between ourselves and the author so as to actively participate in the writing. it is at the heart of the Western literary continuum. but not necessarily knowledge in the sense in which we use the term today. or spiritual knowledge. is much deeper than it might at first appear.’ itself a metaphor for our time. we are not merely passive observers of a great aphorist. Thus we can see that spiritual knowledge is of a different order than contemporary secular or scientific knowledge. the accumulation of facts based in an apparently insurmountable division between self and other: ‘I’ accumulate facts about what is ‘not-I. we enter into another’s world. refers to spiritual knowledge. in other words.

we will unveil various facets of what I believe are approaches to spirituality via literature that inform all of them. and where we are going. it will be useful to comment now on what is implied by this term. what is the attraction of Melville’s Ishmael? These works. It is often commonly supposed that the written word is inherently inferior to the spoken or oral tradition. drama. but I am arguing that Western literature owes a very great deal indeed to the Western esoteric traditions. that their authors did not take them seriously as alchemical or spiritual treatises. 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. a supposition with a long history that goes back at least to Plato in his Phaedrus. we find that the written word is often seen not only as a means of transmitting spiritual understanding.” Although we will begin to unravel the intricacies of these mysteries of the word later. where we are from. I am not arguing that such insights are identical to what one might experience when working in one of the Western esoteric traditions. 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. perhaps even experiencing hierophanxic moments of insight during which we suddenly see ourselves and the world around us in a new light. to intensely complex theosophic works such as those of Jacob Böhme. When I refer to literature “in the broadest sense of this word. but even as a vehicle for attaining spiritual understanding. like so many others. we travel ever more deeply into the worldview of the authors. Using the word literature in this way in no way implies that these works are ‘only’ literary—that is to say. and during the course of this book we will begin to unveil just how significant is this indebtedness. We make connections. The mysteries of the word represented in these various esoteric traditions are historical predecessors to and influences on what we now . not about accumulating more information. we will see that literature (in the broadest sense of this word) is fundamentally about consciousness. and essays. This is not to say that the written word is privileged over the oral tradition. it is to suggest that these works exist on a spectrum that also includes poetry. in short to the full range of esoteric literature. but about qualitatively different ways of understanding who we are. But when we begin looking at the Western esoteric traditions. that at their heart the Western esoteric traditions are about reading the world’s and our own secrets.” I am extending the word beyond its usual implication: the canonical (or noncanonical) series of more or less conventional authors from Homer to Dante and Chaucer to Milton. and when we read them. we understand. fiction. As we look closer at the specific currents of Western esotericism. but neither is it to say that the written word is disparaged.INTRODUCTION 5 Piers Ploughman among riddles and toward the apocalypse. Here “literature” refers also to alchemical treatises and to visionary narrations. What is more. are full of mysterious symbols and intricate encoded wordplays. Rather.

and the divine. indeed. and everything becomes a matter of techné. the way we see the world. from which we believe that we are separate. If the trajectory of modern society is toward a virtual reality for each individual. And if at the beginning of the modern era there was a choice between these two . finally. have often turned more and more to quasiscientific approaches. 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. nature is reduced to “natural resources”. moving instead toward ever deeper understanding of how one is indivisible from these. nature. who are reduced to machinelike functionaries. Thus this is in many respects a revolutionary book. By contrast. most notably Western esoteric traditions. one based not on division but on union. as if catalogic. the trajectory of the Western esoteric traditions is precisely the opposite: toward ever more profound knowledge of our unity with these realms. but also the even more primal act of knowing. it suffuses our language. 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. It is the very basis of industrialization to objectify every aspect of life.6 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E call “literature” or “literary tradition. 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. everything. In this respect. Those studying the humanities. but for connection and union. we also have an opportunity to investigate the humanities with new eyes. for in it we are seeking to unveil new and ancient ways of understanding not only the primal act of reading. Contemporary society is based on what we may call objectification. meaning that our investigations into and control of our world derives from our regarding all that surrounds us as objects to be manipulated. quantitative. or reductive explanations or investigations would somehow. Such objectification allows us to exploit and consume everything. people most of all. grounded in spirituality. For objectification has permeated all of modern society. and particularly literature. Western esotericism in all its manifold forms has at its center the search not for manipulation or control deriving from objectification. or manipulation. including people. living divorced from humanity. no longer quite so dismissive of perspectives. so pervasive is this objectification that it is extremely difficult to extricate oneself from this paradigm even if one wants to do so. that have not fit into a worldview emphasizing a self-aggrandizing self pitted against other—to emphasize instead a wholly different approach to knowledge. we may well say that Western esotericism represents the reverse or inverse of modernity. validate literature or the humanities in the face of scientism’s obvious and total victory.” and acknowledging them will require us to change the way we see literature as a whole.

alone with an author. 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. that are intellectually influential and that are only now becoming more widely studied in universities. One finds under the rubric esoterik books on topics like pendulum dowsing. 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. particularly from the Renaissance and early modern periods. and consciousness. But the question remains: how does one define esoteric in a satisfactory way? If one employs the largely cosmological characteristics proposed by Faivre. perhaps symbolized best by the figure of someone reading an esoteric work from long ago. particularly in light of their counterparts in the Asian esoteric traditions.6 Subsequently. however. 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. fundamentally a marketing category for merchandise. works. and even from purportedly extraterrestrial origins. literature. and so to maintain clarity. The reader. Indeed. and so forth. the academic study of esotericism is a developing field that may be succinctly and without derogation termed “esoteric studies. for Western esotericism entails individual awakening. as we rediscover the Western esoteric traditions. And indeed.” In an effort to define the academic study of esoteric figures or groups and to separate it from popular definitions. so too that choice still exists today. And in North America as well. and groups in Western European and North American history. . But it is not particularly fruitful to speculate about social transformation in this field. crystals. in the latter quarter of the twentieth century. But the fact remains that there are also figures.INTRODUCTION 7 ways. In Western Europe. one finds esoteric sometimes referring to an eclectic or syncretic collection of merchandise drawn from a wide range of cultures. we need to survey some of its meanings as well as to define it for our own purposes here. esoteric popularly has become almost synonymous with New Age. it may well be that out of this juncture will come a kind of cultural renaissance. alone communing with the alone through the medium of words—this is the figure that will govern our journey through Western esotericism. thus opening the field up to scholarship on contemporary as well as much earlier historical figures.



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



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-

From this viewpoint. through language and image. Dogen (1200–1253) heaped scorn on the idea of koan as irrational. we may have thought that freedom lay in ascent beyond gravity. kensho is not a state of noncognitive consciousness awaiting the monk on the other side of the limits of rationality. I believe. In the context of the Rinzai koan curriculum.” 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. then it is a breakthrough not out of. The depiction of the koan tradition as irrational has long been criticized. and recent scholarship confirms that the koan traditions in Zen Buddhism are far more sophisticated than popular depictions of them might have it.”11 This is. one should recognize that only in thought and language can enlightenment be realized. 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. If kensho is to be described as a breakthrough. then it itself cannot be separate and distinct from ordinary dualistic experience. but once we escaped the earth’s gravitational field. we discovered that we float helpless and uncontrolled without gravity. This is fundamentally a Rousseauian notion of the individual as originally pure but polluted by society and language. however. there is no Zen enlightenment beyond thought and language in a realm of pure consciousness. a profoundly important point not only insofar as Zen Buddhist koan study is concerned. eventually solves it with a spiritual realization. Freedom in fact lies in gravity. If kensho is the realization of nonduality. but also as regards Western esoteric traditions. . 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. Hori insists instead on what he terms a “realizational” model of understanding Zen koans. and then moves to another koan in a more or less standardized series.10 Hori goes on to make the following final point. kensho is the realization of nonduality within ordinary conventional experience. 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. . In a provocative article entitled “Koan and Kensho in the Rinzai Zen Curriculum. It has become more or less commonplace for specialists in . in his Shobogenzo. Hori concludes: “Just as there is no free flying above the reach of gravity. The pupil is confronted with a koan by the master.INTRODUCTION 11 soluble by the rational mind and to propel the practitioner toward kensho (insight) or satori (awakening). but into conventional consciousness . Esoteric knowledge is expressed through literature and art. At one time. Instead of blaming thought and language for defiling a primordial consciousness. not beyond it.

then we cannot really speak of literature or the arts as being the vehicle of an initiatory or transmutative process. Rather. esoteric literature and art can function rather like the koan in Zen Buddhism. as means of initiation. 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.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. I believe. Rather. for that matter. an alchemical treatise stands as an enigmatic representation of a transmutative process. and thus also to the individual. as in individual daydreams. literature and art play a very special kind of initiatory role. 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 same is true of the alchemical or gnostic treatise: the neophyte must work with and through it. 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. and that this is in fact the primary means of initiatory transmission in the West—through word and image. the weight of initiatory transmission is transposed to literary and artistic works. as I will propose here. In the absence of a well-recognized line of historical masters. 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. I am arguing that in Western esoteric traditions. has no one capable of discerning a right understanding from a wrong one. particularly those that clearly are esoteric in nature. What makes Western esotericism different above all. and the work of the practitioner is to enter into and realize for himself the truths that it contains. Like the koan. until he has penetrated to its authentic meaning. By . This is not to say that the West had or. the implication being that there is no such thing as gnosis. or are they manifestations of some other reality beyond oneself? Or. But that is not at all what I am arguing here—far from it. frustrating though this may be. I am arguing that in the West. nor to say that there are no examples of initiatory lineages at all like those of Zen Buddhism. is the pervasive lack of initiatory lineages and thus of the immediate reproof or approval of a living teacher. The koan derives its name from a judicial term. This role may be seen in some respects as analogous to that of the Zen Buddhist koan. but what is the nature of the images perceived by the imaginative faculty? Are images merely phantasms of one’s own mind.

using the term in a broad sense to mean the reader’s or audience’s openness to the esoteric work. this would be in fact metaphoric for a process of transmutation. Esoteric works draw upon this fundamental participation or sharing between the creator and the audience in order to entice. in other words. Imagination. The reader or audience does not travel outwardly but inwardly. Imaginative participation is fundamental to art. literature demands an audience who participates in creating the characters.” an entry into and residence in a visionary realm hidden from ratiocinative knowledge. an initiatory process that takes place through words and image. This is the spirit in which an esoteric work is created and read or experienced. This work is circumscribed. but also and even more because it entails a mutual intent on the part of the creator and the work’s audience. the images.12 As a result. but intended as a guide for the individual practitioner. guide. 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. Although we could describe an esoteric work as a journey or the account of a journey. Obviously. refers to the sympathetic capacity of the reader or audience to participate in a work and to be transmuted by it. one cannot read esoteric works in the same way that one reads or perceives exoteric art without doing them an injustice. A literary or artistic work is esoteric not only when it conveys certain hidden meanings to an audience. not all literature or art is esoteric or initiatory. or provoke the reader toward a gnostic shift in consciousness. What differentiates the esoteric work from others is the evident intent of the author that the work is esoteric and initiatory. For example. and hence the metaphoric journey might better be termed a “sojourn. it is for the few. if one were to attempt to read John Pordage’s treatise Sophia as symptomatic of delusions on his part. even though all calls for imaginative participation on the part of the reader or audience. For instance. Pordage’s letter is not accidentally or unconsciously esoteric—it is quite deliberately so. it is clear from its beginning that John Pordage’s “Letter on the Philosophic Stone” (ca. the action by the act of reading or viewing. toward perceiving the world in a fundamentally new way. or through what we may also call the induced vision of art. One has to enter into and dwell in the imaginative realm the creator generates (or reveals) through the work. and those who enter into it do so in order to undergo the process that it embodies. 1675) is intended for a reader who has passed a certain milestone in alchemical practice and now seeks further guidance. and doing so is an initiatory process through which the reader or audience develops cosmological or metaphysical insights.INTRODUCTION 13 its very nature. and employs parabolic language and images to that end. this very perspective would make it impossible from the outset to . it is not for a general readership. literary or otherwise. This process takes place through the imaginative faculty.

Closed readers—those who come to a work with predetermined theses that disallow their imaginative entry.” but this would be a purely exoteric answer that objectified the esoteric work of literature or art. but here a new magical earth is brought . of whether that which is imagined or revealed in an esoteric work possesses any existence of its own. and nothing less. analogous to that of the Zen student who seeks an objectified.” The gnostic. graspable solution to a koan. who see the work as mirroring a process that they seek to undergo in themselves. Yet if we answer “yes. not one’s own. a process explicitly closed to the exoteric reader. Sympathetic readers. This does not mean that one jettisons reason and becomes a ‘true believer. 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. But there is a third perspective. one is in fact entering imaginatively into the process Pordage is describing. who enter into a work imaginatively. thus sealing it off from oneself as merely an object to be manipulated by the intellect and revealing oneself as a closed reader. one must enter into them openly and on their own terms.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. which is what I am proposing here. For one does not have to conceive of imagination as a purely individual generative capacity. We can thus posit three kinds of readers of esoteric works: 1. inwardly in you and not constructed outside you.” we may well then be positing the realm of the imagination itself as something objectified that exists outside oneself. 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. 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. imagination could also be seen as a faculty of perception and transmutation. 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. Initiates. This leads us inevitably to the question with which we began. From a contemporary rationalist perspective one might answer “no. has awakened in him by divine Wisdom the creative power that brings external existence into being.’ only that one has to make the effort to understand an esoteric work as much as possible sympathetically from an imaginative entry into its realm. Pordage writes that in the Sophianic process of imaginative vision. 2. to understand them. and this too presents problems. and 3. in other words.

since in either case there would be no co-creator or perceiver. but rather a matter of perceiving (being open to) an inner creative process. one can extend this analogically to all creative efforts. but these images exist in a mesocosmic realm between the gnostic and the divine. but neither is it wholly internal as a creation of the gnostic. In other words. but also the co-experience of the reader who participates in this process by reading the treatise. The realm of the imagination. Thus imagination belongs neither to oneself nor to divine power alone. This. exteriorizing it through a work of art in which others can participate. if those images and that gnostic process are then also manifested in a work of art. they represent divine manifestation in the gnostic faculty of imagination so that the gnostic can perceive and be guided toward what they represent and.INTRODUCTION 15 into being in him out of the Ungrund. and to the audience or initiate who vicariously participates in or witnesses the work and so has awakened the possibilities that the work represents. but resides in a continuum between the two. to the divine power within that creates. and in that work projecting a mesocosmic creative realm in which we can recognize aspects of ourselves anew. is by its very nature one of co-creation.13 This new paradisal earth is in the gnostic. what the gnostic imagination perceives is what the creative power of Wisdom within it creates. inasmuch as the author or artist is allowing an imaginative process to take place within. 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. It is not so much a matter of visualization by an individual. This continuum is what makes possible not only Pordage’s gnostic experience of inner creation and a visionary paradisal earth. then. Imagination takes place in a continuum of co-creation belonging to the gnostic who perceives. taking place in a continuum in which divine power works and in which the reader or audience can participate vicariously at least. At work is a spontaneous inner generation of images for the gnostic. This process belongs neither solely to the individual gnostic nor solely to an outside power. it is generated through the creative power of Sophia and perceived through the gnostic imagination. is an initiatory process manifested through literature and art. What is more. . This intermediate or mesocosmic state is precisely what allows Pordage’s treatise to be initiatory for the reader: his work is a guide to his own gnostic experience. in sum. then that work also belongs to this continuum and guides others into the same process of imaginative awakening. The paradisal earth that Sophia creates is not external to the gnostic.


needless to say. and of this there are only two examples in the canonical Bible: some elements of the Book of John. is profoundly different. death. what we may call a 17 . still we can trace through this era the origin of the primary elements or currents in Western esotericism. 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. we must begin in antiquity. however. we will look at representative or synecdochic writings. the Book of Revelation. remains central to what may be called conventional or exoteric Christianity—that is. Here. From relatively early on. Christianity was centered around written accounts that took two primary forms. one characteristic appears prevalent above all others: the emphasis upon the written word. The other kind of writing. This. 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.1 Origins ALCHEMY OF THE WORD To understand the origins of Western esotericism in all its various guises. central to which are the gospel accounts of Christ’s life. specifically at the beginning of Christianity. One is of course what we find in the canonical versions of the Bible. beginning with the ambience for and emergence of the Christian Bible and affiliated works. Although many aspects of what actually happened during this time may always be shrouded or lost. bolstered to some extent by apocrypha. of whose life we know through the historical documentation of the gospels. and resurrection. When we look at the emergence of Christianity from the welter of religious traditions at the time. Christianity based on faith or belief in a historical Christ. and.

When we consider the emergence of historicist Christianity in light of world religious traditions. and hence revelation could take place today just as in antiquity. gnostic Christians continued to generate revelatory scriptural works because in their view. an ahistorical. in this respect being peculiar to Christianity. should it be ahistorical. which resembles Gnosticism far more than historicist Christianity: here. where the idea that language might convey multiple layers of meaning has been almost completely jettisoned in favor of objectified technical language. symbolic. and mythic. and on the other. This division between exoteric and esoteric can. Whereas the historicist Christians established a fixed canon of Biblical books that ended with the Revelation to John. to make this dichotomy so clear-cut is to distort what was and remains a spectrum. by and large eschewed literalist views of language in favor of more complicated. the most moving and extensive undoubtedly being that in Apuleius’s The Golden Ass. for on a worldwide scale ahistorical religious traditions predominate. and indeed. on the other hand. In Christianity. Some of the Church Fathers were in fact clearly esotericists and gnostics—the most prominent being Origen and Clement of Alexandria. and anti-mythic? This was the battle. . the very word mystery has the root meaning “silence. of course. not only outward fidelity to fixed written words from the past. Plato alluded to this question in Phaedrus. Such an approach to language is particularly common in modern times. Consider. multilayered approaches. that one can easily list them. the Word was not literal but spiritual. revelatory emphasis. be it scientific. Historicist Christianity has always taken a literal interpretation of the Bible. for instance. be characterized according to people’s approach to language. or historical. 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. or technological. we can see how anomalous it is. The Johannine elements in Christianity owe a great deal to the various movements collectively known as Gnosticism in antiquity. The gnostics. literal. What mattered to them was inward or esoteric understanding. as throughout world religious traditions. so rare—in fact. many modern people unwittingly inherit these tendencies still. Of course. and insisted on an objectified historical Christ in whom one must have faith in order to be saved. both esoteric and exoteric tendencies center on how to interpret written language: should it be multilayered or monotonous. the development of Buddhism. and represent a central reference point for the subsequent reemergence of esotericism time and again. Perhaps most interesting about this dichotomy is how it centers around approaches to written language. individual spiritual revelation is incalculably more important than simple belief in a historical series of events. By contrast. legal.” And written accounts of the mystery traditions are very rare.18 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E historicist emphasis. the mystery religions of the time forbade writing about the mysteries: indeed.

And we in fact find such strings of apparently nonsensical letters. and spiritual illumination.” “Logos” here refers to that which precedes and transcends manifestation. 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. We find a similar approach to language visible in Jewish esotericism in the doctrine of the Shemhamphorash. and communion. and who else was accepted as orthodox. This use of language is fundamentally different from what we ordinarily expect: whereas usual comunication is horizontal.ORIGINS 19 who insisted that there was an orthodox gnosis and that it is the “crown of faith. some Gnostic groups laid great emphasis on the inner meanings of language. and were reputed to use certain letters as intonations similar to mantras in Hinduism and Buddhism. chiefly vowels. Likewise. We may recall the first line of the Book of John: “In the beginning was the Word. for in it we find the predecessors of all the later Western esoteric traditions. in some of the Gnostic treatises of the Nag Hammadi library. For instance. that is. there were some gnostics who were not far from historicist Christianity. however much their literalist opponents think differently. In general. in turn allied with similar numericalalphabetical mysticism involving the angels. corresponding in some respects to the Platonic archetypes. true pronunciation. and in fact close scrutiny of this time suggests that Jewish and Christian esotericisms are so intermingled as to be virtually inseparable. Scholem remarks that Merkabah mysticism of the third and fourth centuries drew upon Greek language.” or “In the beginning was the Logos. but such an approach is not for everyone. often seems more like an accident of history than an inevitability. but make a great deal more sense when one considers that language in this context is not merely a matter of transferring data. Their repetition and intonation of certain letter combinations were ridiculed by literally minded Christians. Such doctrines of the hidden names of God. of communing with the power that the letters correspond to. who are worthy of it. it is reserved for those who are capable of it. a means not for one equal to convey information to another. It is particularly useful to consider Gnostic spiritual traditions in light of what we have said regarding language. and it is the esoteric side of it that interests us here. and whose primary emphasis was on morality. here it is vertical. the seeds of all things. But there remains a spectrum in antiquity nonetheless. but of communication. Who was rejected as heretical. or sacred Names of God: by vibrating the names of God in the permutations of the sacred letters and by knowing their proper. but for a person to experience an organizing principle of creation itself. just . asceticism. one is in touch with inconceivable power. are prevalent in Jewish esotericism during precisely the same time that Christian Gnosticism was flourishing. and who will not use its power for selfish purposes.” There have been many gnostics since who have also insisted that they remain orthodox.

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. Letters and numbers. But monotheism is a rubric under which all manner of possibilities exist. Such images are often found on amulets or talismans and are generally regarded as being ‘magical’ elements in Gnosticism. but if the letters were properly restored. and its aim is twofold at least: microcosmically. All of this is to suggest that there was in antiquity in Jewish and Christian esoteric circles a very widespread gnosis of language which was grounded in writing. as principles of creation itself. as does the creation of images. and so forth. and macrocosmically. But given the gnosis of the word that we have been discussing. so the letters were altered. are a means to creation’s redemption. Both word and image reveal and ‘fix’ the divine. 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.1 And indeed there is an ancient tradition that the Torah contains so much power in its letters that it could destroy the world. We may remember the four animals that symbolize the four Gospels. and even if monotheism often turns toward a fundamentalist literalism. then. basilisks. inconceivable power would be set loose.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.2 Both the gnosis of the word and the gnosis of the image are extensions of the monotheism of the book. paradoxically conveyed often through . which undoubtedly drew upon and incorporated elements of the Greek mystery traditions even as they differed from the Greeks in their emphasis upon writing down the mysteries and then writing down commentaries upon the previous writings. such images represent divine aspects. This gnosis of the word represents a ‘fixing’ of the mysteries. we can see how these images fit rather well into the tradition: they represent again a means of invoking and ‘fixing’ the underlying powers or principles of creation itself. and in this regard man may be said to complete the work of God by being co-creator or co-redemptor. and so we find numerous images from antiquity like lion-headed serpents. its purpose is to restore the individual to a paradisal or transcendent state. 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. through images. The letters. and to which we may refer as a gnosis of the word. are means in this process of individual and cosmic redemption—and so too are images. and in fact are by no means absent from the larger Christian tradition. thereby making this conflict inevitable. Both Jewish and Christian gnostic esoteric groups tended to think and express themselves mythologically. it is to restore the cosmos itself to its paradisal condition. all of which is entirely accepted within the orthodox tradition. and so forth.

and this is especially evident in Phaedrus and Timaeus.” the being. they represent a collection of treatises that bear in common a set of themes and teachings sharing many similarities with gnosticism. tells him. number. And they represent the writing down of an oral tradition.” And the revelations have much in common with Gnosticism.” the “voice of the Light. We have already alluded to Plato’s expressed distrust of writing. 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.” but not like an ordinary sleep. but it also represents Plato’s own version of the mysteries. This corresponds closely with some Gnostic and Mandean texts which emphasize reaching the “eighth sphere. particularly in the conveying of spiritual truth.” From the very beginning. “for I am with you everywhere. The most famous of the Hermetic dialogues is the Poimandres.” (X.25). These revelations at points have much in common with Christianity. “I know what you wish. The Hermetica themselves refer to Egyptian tradition. There is no one author of the Hermetica. but also in the Republic in his Myth of Er the Pamphylian.ORIGINS 21 the permutations of word. as when the narrator sees a boundless and joyous light. In at least some respects. We find a very similar approach to spiritual tradition in the body of writings known as the Corpus Hermeticum. What marks the Hermetica most clearly despite the treatises’ diversity is their intimacy: the revelations are always one to one. but share elements in common with all three. while belonging to none (though they remain closest to Platonism). Poimandres. and probably bear a relation to it similar to that between Plato and the mysteries.22b) .” when he reaches rest and joy (I. presented in the form of dialogues. is self-evident. in the first centuries of this era. which begins with the narrator falling into “a sleep. One has the complex body of multiple traditions known as the mysteries. nor for that matter are they exclusively Platonic. for the bodily senses fall away and he encounters a vast and magnificent being that proceeds to unveil to him the mysteries of existence. in symbols and myths. of the mysteries tradition. and to his indebtedness to the mystery traditions. and one has an individual author drawing upon this in creative ways. “there is communion between soul and soul. As Hermes himself says in one of the dialogues. which date to roughly the same time that Gnosticism was flourishing. But the Hermetica are not Christian or Jewish. Hermetism is about direct individual spiritual revelations. which were also about death and resurrection.” or ogdoad—going beyond the cosmos into transcendence. The relation of such a tale to the mysteries. Plato’s writing represents a setting down or fixing. letter. out of which emerges a “holy Word. who died and came back to life in order to tell people what happens after death. as when the path of one who died is traced through the spheres of the planets until the “eighth.

yet not strictly philosophical either. and there is a witness to the revelation. as there was to many of the movements of antiquity. willing to draw upon one or sometimes any of them. not quite belonging to the sphere of religion. Such a relationship goes beyond simply that of participants in a dialogue like Plato’s. However. always there is a fluid. it is clear that the Hermetic treatises occupy a peculiar place. and is generally associated with the more or less random play of images. but insisting above all on one’s own direct spiritual understanding or gnosis. 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. But such a term suggests that imagination is otherwise passive. But these currents themselves are not discrete from one another. traditions. mercurial quality to it. the more one studies the emergence of esotericism in the early centuries of this era. when we survey the Western esoteric traditions. There are five primary currents in antiquity that feed into what we may call the Western esoteric traditions: Jewish esotericism. Indeed. For from what we have said.” “Active imagination” refers to the meeting of an individual and transcendent beings on an intermediate field that belongs completely neither to the transcendent nor to the mundane world. and . which Henry Corbin called the “active imagination. and are between one who embodies knowledge and one who seeks to embody it. and it is this that represents the red thread that will guide us through the labyrinths of the centuries. The most important of these is the insistence upon gnosis. and together provided a common ambience out of which emerged a panoply of sects. 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. the mystery traditions. Platonism. Hermetism refuses to be pinned down or definitively discussed. precariously balanced on the periphery of religious traditions. and writings that reveal a great many similarities. and depicting direct spiritual illumination of the initiate. no accident that so many of the Western esoteric traditions link themselves to the Hermetica. then. what we find is something quite different. Occupying an intermediate space between religion and philosophy. Hermetism reveals the ground occupied by Western esoteric traditions throughout the past several thousand years. It is. 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. Christian esotericism. the more one recognizes the fluidity of the various traditions’ boundaries. It is true that the language is sometimes Platonic. and Hermetism. here the dialogues often take place in an interworld of revelation. Like Hermes himself. they certainly intermingled.

and in the tenth chapter. and the auditory part of the vision began. came the following: “After this I looked.” the book concludes with the admonitions of Christ himself. when he weeps. a throne was set in heaven. a door was opened in heaven. an elder tells him to weep not. and is questioned by the angels or divine powers. saw and heard these things. and one sat on the throne. apparently visionary time. Thereafter came a series of specific messages to the individual churches. The visionary sequence in the Book of Revelation is. in other words. It is true that the Book of Revelation recounts a visionary experience of John while he was exiled on the island of Patmos. and there is relatively little point here in elaborating its intricate numerical and visual symbolism. and visionary experience all emerge on a spectrum in the field of imagination. And immediately I was in the spirit. Then. John. beginning with the Revelation to John. several other elements of the Book of Revelation have remained particularly important in subsequent . a little book sweet as honey. There are. he sees the twenty-four elders. In addition to its being a direct spiritual experience. and behold. However. It begins with some introductory remarks and salutations to the seven churches. different kinds of time simultaneously here: there is the duration of the vision. Yet interestingly. a mesocosm. in this respect it does not appear to have an end: it is as though. turned. or field of the imagination. where John meets. he is told to eat. . of course.ORIGINS 23 I do not believe this to be true. there is the fact that it is a direct individual revelation: John sees and hears Christ himself. The revelation of John takes place in an interworld. John remarks that there was silence in heaven for about half an hour (8:1). John does not entirely return from it except to say “I. but take place in their own time. I believe that literature. present. Although the vision has a beginning. But in order to understand the nature of this field of imagination. and numerous striking images including the beasts with eyes before and behind them. and where the earthly past. an angel gives him a rod by which he is to measure the temple of God and those that worship therein. . Above all. after which come the most prophetic and well known parts of the revelation. and he interacts with them. in the fourth chapter. and does eat. Rather. and the first voice which I heard was as it were of a trumpet talking with me . but it is worthwhile to remark on several aspects of it in relation to Western esotericism more generally. and introduces the experience with virtually no biography whatever. At one point. mythology. once introduced to this sequence.” These remarks begin the actual visionary sequence. and future are visible. the Revelation definitely has a literary form as well. and behold. quite well known. His is not a passive vision in which events only happen before him: in the fifth chapter. only John’s remark that he heard a great voice. there is no conclusion to the visionary sequence: we are never told that John returned to ordinary consciousness. we will begin by looking at visionary experiences during the first few centuries of the present era. and only then. when he eats the book. and there is historical time spread out and glimpsed in symbols. questions. off the Greek coast.

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). Christ’s repeated assertion that “I am the Alpha and the Omega.12).24 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Western esotericism. angels. we suddenly are given in the Revelation this overwhelming and astonishing visionary sequence that brings us completely outside the sphere of mundane human life. After the various accounts of Christ’s life and death in the Gospels. John is united with its knowledge. which he does. twelves. The Revelation of John has an oneiric quality. the most symbolically resonant image of all is that of the book. found in Judaism. And it has immense power for this reason: by entering into its world of references. of course. Every aspect of life is altered. and Christ whose symbolic heart is the written word.” which are opened during the Last Judgment in order to see the lives of those being judged (20. in other words. The entire revelation is an unveiling of gnosis. all remind us of the prior traditions. there are “other books. it is like a collective dream in which we participate simply by reading. which has inspired countless commentaries or explanations. And then there is. of letters and numbers revealing the secret powers of the divine. of course. By reading the Book of Revelation that John subsequently writes after eating the little book. In the tenth chapter. and by eating the book. One. the Book of Revelation of St. possesses a special luminosity of symbolism that we may call “hieroeidetic. but sweet as honey on his lips. revealing the hidden forces beyond history and what happens to all humanity. This image is amplified by the presence of book imagery throughout the entire work. Another such element is the number and letter symbolism. The word eidetikos in Greek refers to a particular kind of knowledge associated with shape or form. Additionally.13). these elements lend themselves very much to an esoteric interpretation: the symbols and numbers represent a secret knowledge known by the few symbolically designated as the “woman in the wilderness. and one hundred forty-fours. Taken together. is the prophetic element: more than one group has identified itself with the “woman in the wilderness” in the twelfth chapter.9).” during these the end times. and are in a sense initiates. becoming symbolically charged. and more than one group has seen itself as living during the end times. Christian Gnosticism. and finds it bitter in his belly.” symbolism charged with initiatory knowledge. especially in the Book of Life wherein is written the names of those who belong to the Lamb (13. and Hermetism. we are eating his little book—we belong to a direct lineage or current. the way we see the cosmos itself changes.” as well as the repetition of geometric and numerical symbolism such as the sevens. symbolizing his union with the esoteric center of spiritual life. a gnostic encounter with elders. the very book that we are reading. John eats the little book: it becomes part of him. The Revelation. John himself—for he is told to write by a voice from heaven (14. John is given a little book to eat. and although the word eidolon early in the modern era . we will recall. But for our purposes.

and of James and of Adam. 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 . Whether one looks at the alchemical tradition and its symbolism. in all of these we find parallels to the Revelation. Rather. the Ascension of Isaiah. at the Kabbalistic tradition. and they remain separate even while meeting in this charged field of imagery. a hearer. But such knowledge remains partly in the realm of division or objectification: there is a revelatory encounter between John and all the angelic figures of the vision. hidden knowledge that comes mediated in the field of the imagination through forms. seen by a seer. in fact the word eidetic also often refers to a particularly luminous and vivid imagery found among young children and in dreams. including the two books of Enoch. the Revelation does not stand alone. and some of which are found in the Nag Hammadi library of Gnostic writings. This meeting of above and below is also symbolized in the heavenly city of Jerusalem. and is so thoroughly literary or bibliocentric in its essential symbols. but among numerous other revelations from the same era. The Revelation is unquestionably esoteric in its plethora of symbolism. and what is heard. Hieroeidetic knowledge is not in itself gnosis—that is. but also esoteric in the fact that it takes place in this visionary field. and because of its mysterious and powerful imagery. The Book of Revelation is filled with hieretic. we find that they correspond in striking ways to what we have seen delineated here in the Book of Revelation. At the same time. for it exists at the meeting point of the transcendent and the immanent. Of course. where we see the order of the transcendent manifesting itself in vivid. splendid earthly form: but again. When we look at the various currents of the Western esoteric traditions. and as such takes place in the field of imagination midway between the mundane and the transcendent: there is a seer. and images revealing the hidden nature and destiny of humanity. it is not the spiritual revelation of union or unity. hieroeidetic knowledge exists in the field of knower and known. at the mystical tradition. and the Apocalypses of Peter and of Paul. all of which belong to the apocrypha. Yet because it became canonical. profoundly symbolic numbers. Hieroeidetic knowledge is the visionary revelation of the unifying principles and powers informing the entire cosmic realm. but rather that the Book of Revelation is paradigmatic. or at the theosophic current that in turn manifests in Rosicrucianism. This is not to say that the Western esoteric traditions all find their origin in Revelation. where an encounter may take place. and what is seen. hieroeidetic knowledge is prior to and preparatory for gnosis. the Apocalypses of Baruch and Ezra. the Book of Revelation has had a far greater impact than all of these other visionary works combined.ORIGINS 25 came to mean “phantom” or “apparition” without substance. it is an image. words. and so it is charged with cosmological revelations. with its emphasis on writing and encoded language.

The analogy of electricity. has a certain value here: a symbol or image. without relevance to oneself. Esoteric literature. reading about another’s vision may inspire one to experience a vision of one’s own. the literature of the Western esoteric traditions. We return to the field of the imagination because this is where we come to know what it means to be alive. or from exoteric to esoteric. as wild as the book of Revelation. or one may enter into it—just as there is a range of approaches to such a work—so too there is a range of such works. There are numerous ways one can approach a work as extravagant in symbolism. The most external or exoteric is to regard it as an object of study. and an esoteric approach is to see it as paradigmatic and inspiring of one’s own revelation. objectifying it. and reading is uniquely suited to create inward participation because in reading our habitual boundaries between self and other can disappear. So it is with the story of Theseus. far more than may at first appear. For just as one may consider a work as charged as the book of Revelation from outside. What is it that makes a work hieroeidetically charged? Proximity to the invisible. who found himself in the Minotaur’s labyrinth. often in a simple story. THE RED THREAD OF GNOSIS A myth conveys. and who was able to escape only through the help of King Minos’s own daugh- . a constellation of letters and numbers. There is an element of danger inherent in such proximity—those who come too close to the gods or angels may go mad or blind. Some literature is not so charged or hieroeidetic. But all literature takes place in the charged field of the imagination: it is simply a matter of how charged.26 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Christianity itself. more electric. more vital than the mundane world of consumerism and the humdrum tedium of life without the invisible. or put better. In other words. possesses a psychic or symbolic charge that allures us. is a particularly intense form of this inner participation or identification and union. ranging from external to internal. And so we are drawn inexorably back to the nature of the book itself and the act of reading. of being charged. it is certainly not the only one. we are drawn toward it. and exists more for entertainment. to the transcendent. we return again and again over the centuries because we recognize in this mystery something more alive. a more intermediate or mesoteric approach is to see it as prophetic and revealing truths about our own world and lives. how hieroeidetic a work is. to make it one’s own. Esoteric bears the meaning of ‘inward. the act of reading gives birth to the act of writing. We can identify with fictional or poetic characters. fascinated by its mysterious beauty. for although the Revelation is the most well known.’ of participation. we can enter into a new world of symbols and meaning. And though we risk being burned.



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.



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

All of this suggests that there was in Christian Gnosticism. apparent boundaries between subject and object dissolve.xxxvi). Throughout early Christian gnostic writings. and the entire name had thirty letters. or who was faithful and near death (Ref. For instance. toward transcendent degrees of consciousness of ever greater communion between subject and object. in dreams. 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. for each letter was also an angel and a forming power. and its light “never sets.” “in the aeon the form of the union is different. The gnostic visionary path is not separate from the way of negation—rather. although we refer to them by the same names. in the Gospel of Philip. so that ultimately the “enormous sea” produced by a single letter is in fact infinite. to become privy to these mysteries is to penetrate beyond ordinary humanity and to become divinized oneself. or aeon. there is earthly marriage. we find plays on naming and namelessness. a developed metalanguage that both reflects and leads toward its own transcendence.30 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E sound that in turn manifests others. From these observations we can begin to see something of the hidden significances of the mysticism of the word and the book. we participate in what they represent. the first of which had four letters. we read that “whereas in this world the union is one of husband with wife. it is the realm of living ideas or energies. This is the realm sometimes glimpsed in literature.” One must “receive the light” in the “bridal chamber” before death. sacred images. always emerging out of this relationship between the expressed and the inexpressible. and in religious experiences. which is of a totally different order. words. embody. VI. not opposite or even complementary ways. This name was composed of four syllables.”3 In other words. and reveal transcendence. so to penetrate into the deepest mysteries of human language is to penetrate into the metalanguage that gives birth to the cosmos itself. we become intimate with them. and there is another kind of marriage that takes place in the invisible. and numbers emerge in. just as there was in Jewish Merkabah mysticism and in the Pythagorean-Platonic tradition. Indeed. 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. but different aspects of the same way. 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. One who pronounced the name was in fact pronouncing the powers that had brought the cosmos itself into being. As we ‘read’ these images. the path from ordinary rational consciousness divided into subject and object. between this world and the invisible realm of energies. Such a metalanguage is implicit both in the human being and in the cosmos as a whole. or one will . Here we begin to see how the via negativa and the via positiva represent.

The nameless and the named are not divided. This is as true for the canonically accepted authors such as Clement of Alexandria or Dionysius the Areopagite as it is for Valentinus or Basilides. my argument here is not about lines of influence so much as about modalities. but hidden in a perfect day and a holy light. And here we see emerging the second characteristic: the mystery of 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. for such a one the world is transparent. indeed. to actual energies that the name itself embodies. but to inherent characteristics of what is named. Thus “the world has become the aeon”—in other words. characteristic ways of understanding. is. not hidden in the darkness and the night. can see the energies ordinarily veiled from humanity by its fallen. one finds a gnosis of the divine names. elusive. what I call the red thread of gnosis that leads us out of the labyrinth. even though such writings somehow may have made their way into this or that monastic library. but rather. This is the way it is: it is revealed to him alone. . one can ‘read’ the invisible in the visible.”4 In other words. a collection of objects from which one remains separate. evokes. But the inexpressible is so only by contrast with the expressible. but its inseparable companion. but is free in life and in death. These figures or images of marriage and light are ways of expressing the inexpressible gnosis. The Gospel of Philip goes on: “And again when he leaves the world he has already received the truth in the images. This inexpressible gnosis is the “marriage” or union of subject and object. the first of these is its inexpressibility: it remains always transcendent. Here naming refers. and perhaps to a lesser extent to the Hermetic or the Neoplatonic tradition. gnostic paradigms. What are the characteristics of this red thread as we trace it through history? Naturally. for the aeon is fullness for him. The cosmos is no longer opaque. For whether the gnostics belong to the Jewish Merkabah or the Christian Gnostic. The way of negation is not the opposite of affirmation. I do not mean to suggest that there is a direct current of influence running from relatively obscure works like the Gospel of Philip or the lost writings of Basilides into medieval and modern times.ORIGINS 31 not receive it after death—and one who receives that light is perfected and cannot be detained. but also the actual energies that these images embody or represent. the invisible and the visible are no longer divided for the initiate. The world has become the aeon. divided consciousness. Rather. CONCLUSIONS Although the Western esoteric traditions unquestionably have their origins in the early centuries of the present era. when one dies. the unnameable. unnameability emerges always out of the presence of names. not to arbitrary designations.

By contrast. What is more. of which the quantitative designation is a husk. Such images may be seen in terms of degrees of union. More intimately. a third characteristic. here they no longer are taken as having entirely historical dimensions.5 A similarly gnostic view of numbers appears again in the work of Louis-Claude de Saint Martin (1743–1803). including Piers Ploughman. 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. however. albeit few more wild than those of the Book of Revelation. a theosopher in the line of Jacob Böhme. but instead express aspects of the invisible origin of the cosmos and of ourselves. letters. and images emerges the fifth characteristic. everyone. Even more intimately yet. A fourth characteristic is imagery. in his own degree. without masters. numbers and letters can open up into aspects of consciousness itself. woven together into a . nor wholly from without. separated from the subject who sees. a gnostic view of numbers and letters sees them not as merely signifying something external. But this view of numbers corresponds to seeing reading as the accumulation of data: it remains objectified. so that to work with them is to enter into the existential quality that is their real nature or kernel. which emerge out of the inexpressible into the realms of conscious perception. numbers designate quantities that one can manipulate. These number-letter transpositions yield many hidden significances. . on which conventional mathematics is founded. imagination proceeds neither wholly from ourselves. and therein we obtain the pure key. but as qualities pregnant with meaning.32 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E From the gnosis of naming emerges a range of related mysteries. as a panoply on an inner stage where we see acted out the soul’s dramas. which all proceed from the one only essence . . On the lowest level. my dear brother. Regeneration alone shows us the ground. Gnostic works reveal a wide array of images and myths. of the different properties of beings. the images remain outside one and are taken literally as referring to history. whether visible or intellectual. Such a gnosis of numbers is visible during the medieval period. the images may be seen as reflecting inner aspects of the cosmos. who wrote his friend Baron Kirchberger that “Numbers are no algebra. Out of the gnoses of numbers. where we find definite traces of Latin number and letter transposition corresponding to what in Hebrew is termed gematria. of course. Here. and are visible in major European literary works. According to rational consciousness.”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. including the gnoses of numbers and letters. but men have sometimes lowered them to it. They are only the sensible expression. which is the mystery of words and of the book. to which I have already devoted some study. the images may be seen as corresponding to something in our own inward nature.

so that one no longer exists only in a rational separate consciousness in an objectified world. taken together. words. Greek. To read such a work properly is to ingest it. and indeed even begins to approach the highest mystery. often do not hold at all. and other currents that mingled to create the works we have been considering. Roman. Egyptian. We can see that despite the bewildering variety of traditions that existed in the first centuries of this era. that of the inexpressible from which all of these gnoses derive and to which they inevitably lead. Christian. as John ingests the little book in Revelation. in one form or another. And when we look for these fundamental characteristics. By following the courses of Western esotericism. Thus we can see the outlines of the mysteries of the word and the book that in turn give rise to the Western esoteric traditions. are meant to permeate and transmute one’s consciousness so that the invisible is no longer divided from the visible. but also to convey it. whether. just as in the subsequent Western esoteric traditions. Jewish and Christian and Greek. images. but instead participates in the energies and powers that give rise to and inform the cosmos. in the complex admixtures of Jewish. The esotericist or gnostic in antiquity. remains a heterodox figure drawing upon whatever myths. these gnostic characteristics remain visible. it remains a tradition of the mysteries of the book. and traditions best express his understanding. and images.ORIGINS 33 tapestry meant not only to point toward the gnostic experience. 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. Its mysteries of names. . to become it. words. we find that divisions between heretical and orthodox. letters. numbers. from antiquity to the present.


and entailed a moral code much higher than that of the rest of society. only investigating whether there are elements corresponding to the mysticism of the word that we saw in antiquity. 35 . The chivalric ideals were conveyed through stories. so much must be left to catalogue elsewhere. The troubadour. if the poet is a woman) as the divine incarnate. 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. 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. Here I am not arguing that the chivalric or troubadour movements were gnostic. but we must do so in order to trace the Western esoteric traditions. It is true that there were important intervening figures like John Scotus Eriugena. of course. and so must inquire whether the chivalric current had esoteric dimensions like those that we glimpsed in antiquity in Gnostic and other movements. a leap to go from the first centuries of the Christian era to the Middle Ages. in giving honor to his beloved. When we consider the emergence of Western esoteric traditions in the modern era. for both are known to us through literature that reveals fundamentally similar attitudes. sees her (or him. That there were profound correspondences between the chivalric and the troubadour movements in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries of Europe is incontestable. but here we are sketching the broad outlines of historical currents drawing on individual works. and the troubadours’ tradition was conveyed through poetry or song. we cannot help but recognize there the influence of chivalry.

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. or love’s faithful. individuals sought and found as much as they could of such traditions on their own. the troubadour movement was close to esotericism proper. particularly the chivalric tradition. as referring to an actual beloved woman and to the divine. Much more likely that here. for hidden meanings not accessible to outsiders. in that it remained an individual and somewhat anarchic tradition that one joined by self-election. the soul’s liberation as one finds in Gnostic treatises. and that may have also in some quarters engendered initiatory groups. and indeed even they ran afoul of church censors alert for any signs of Gnosticism’s recurrence. for example. even surreptitious. in the background is also his relationship to the invisible. Of course. as for instance in the Grail cycles or in Parzival. we have already seen the explicitly esoteric nature of Gnosticism and other movements of the first few centuries C. the esotericism that we find in the chivalric or troubadour tradition is allusive and elusive. I think. Instead. never explicitly discussing. When a story is about a knight’s remaining true to his word. And so the chivalric and the troubadour traditions are fertile ground for esotericism. there is esotericism visible in the songs of the troubadours. There is esotericism visible on occasion in the stories written by individual authors or in particular cycles. they do not reflect what we see in those Merkabah or Gnostic or Hermetic traditions explicitly devoted to knowledge of the transcendent.E. One does find an outright gnostic esotericism in the writings and sermons of Meister Eckhart and Johannes Tauler. but one doubts very much that this reflects a widespread or organized esoteric tradition. But when we look at these movements as a whole. likewise. who conveyed their mysteries through poetic references and imagery. perhaps occasionally forming themselves into larger groups only again to dissolve under pressure from the church or from other social circumstances. as in so much of Western esotericism to follow. Can we find anything approximating this earlier explicitly gnostic esotericism in the chivalric tales or the songs of the troubadours? The answer. a troubadour’s poem also can be read on at least two levels. But was there any explicitly esoteric content in these traditions? In other words. But to this day the precise nature of this or similar societies remains largely closed to us. Both of these movements are fundamentally social in nature. One such group was the fedeli d’amore. 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. relying on implication and multivalent symbols. . is no. that is to say. it is implicitly also about his relationship to the divine. but these were not part of either the chivalric or troubadour lines. and thus there inherently are hidden dimensions to such poems or stories. Undoubtedly much of this allusiveness had to do with the strictures imposed by the Roman Catholic church. When the troubadour or the knight pledges troth to a woman.

” on the top of which an inscription announces the name and lineage of one called to the service of the Grail. most notably in the esoteric significances of writing and speaking. those who did not take sides. a hermit. both pagan and Christian. For instance. noble angels. whence had come the Grail. and to whom God sends his angel. occupying a middle ground between these. a Provençal poet named Master Kyot. we do find traces in chivalric literature of some of the same themes that we saw in antiquity. Parzival exclaims that if chivalric deeds with shield and lance can win fame for one’s earthly self and paradise for the soul. then the chivalric life is his one desire. this reminds us rather strongly of the magical powers of naming in the Book of Revelation. And beyond the mystery of naming lies the mystery of the Stone itself. Naturally. had written of the hidden secrets in the constellations. for the name disappears. [as] if their innocence drew them back again. For. we are told. and has a rich reward in heaven. and shortly the child is fetched from whatever country. there is no need to erase it. for not only is it given a JudeoChristian mythohistory. but there is another source. upon which Trevrizent tells the story of King Anfortas and his wound. Afterwards a Christian progeny bred to a pure life had the duty of keeping it. worthy. In any event. .” we are told that Flegetanis wrote. Here the Stone is certainly associated with esoteric mysteries. He or she is forever after immune from the shame of sin. He found that a man named Flegetanis. a descendent of Solomon himself and an astrologer. and in Jewish and Gnostic esotericism more generally. that is. had to descend to Earth to that Stone which is forever incorruptible. and this is the mystery of names. teacher of Eschenbach. Whether the name is of a boy or a girl. who discovered the primary version of the Grail cycle in Toledo written in “heathenish script” (presumably Arabic). in Wolfram von Eschenbach’s Parzival. Hearing this. Trevrizent tells Parzival that he does not know whether those “neutral angels” were forgiven or damned in the end. But there is an even greater mystery about the Grail. for shortly Parzival and we are told about the magical Stone called the “Lapsit exillis. Kyot had to learn the characters’ ABC beforehand “without the art of necromancy. Parzival learns about the tradition of the Gral or grail from Trevrizent. it was through books that Kyot traced his path to Parzival himself. This story is of Anfortas’s pride and his wounding and lying sick. when Lucifer and the Trinity began to war with each other. Thus the disclosing of the Grail mystery came about through the mysterious decoding of an unfamiliar language.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 37 Nonetheless. but God may have taken them back. it is associated with angels whose place corresponds closely with that of Hermes and Hermetism. the stone has since been in the care of those whom God appoints. “A troop had left it on earth and then rose high above the stars.” and we are told that his being a Christian allowed him to enter into the true nature of the Grail. which has a peculiar mythohistory that Eschenbach briefly relates here.

that of speaking when one ought to (asking the Question. for a knight comes to live with a princess on the condition that she never ask his name. of course.1 There are throughout this tale astrological references with esoteric implications. but if he were forewarned of the Question it would turn harmful. where suddenly they saw it written that a knight would come. why the king suffered—but Parzival himself had not done this and thus had already failed. in particular. entertaining. for instance) and of not speaking when one oughtn’t. and that is the exalted position of women. Yet this implicit esotericism. although intrinsic to the tale inasmuch as it concerns the mysteries of the holy Grail and of the inscriptions upon it. Parzival. the knight is told by Feirifiz. remains this-worldly in emphasis. the spotted knight. or still less into discussions of spiritual illumination. Feirifiz outlines why Parzival shall do so by reference to the “seven stars” or planets. we are told again to honor and never denigrate women. and that of all the Grail servers. And near the end of Eschenbach’s story of Parzival. then their sorrows would end. but certainly it is safe to say that it also contains esoteric references central to the tale. like chivalric literature more generally. but also with the changing of the moon. we will recall.” chiefly Saturn. He was to ask. just as is Western esotericism more generally. and lost by asking the wrong one! Parzival is. and there is in this even a complementary relationship: a kingdom can be saved by asking the right question. Rather. and at the end of the tale. For instance. the Grail tradition is both independent and syncretic. And at the book’s conclusion. There remains one more aspect of the Grail tradition that we need to discuss further. we are told to honor women. we are told explicitly that Anfortas’s suffering. and if he asked a Question. When inevitably she does so.” This conclusively links the planets to consciousness. This theme clearly holds for both men and women. then naming them one by one in Arabic. 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. of course.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. The Grail. whether it be Trevrizent or Eschenbach himself who advises. was cared for by twenty-five women who by serving it are exalted. the two nodes of which are called the “dragon’s head” and the “dragon’s tail. like so many of the Western esoteric currents. and indeed it may be that the fusion of this-worldli- . Throughout the tale. he is forced to leave—a repetition yet again of the constant theme throughout Parzival.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. Saturn to suffering. exists both within and without specific religious traditions. intensifies with the “advent of the high planets. of his good fortune and that he shall ask the Question. we are left with a curious twist on the mystery of naming.

marking why Gawain is a fine man. And we should remember that Gawain is alliterative poetry. and behind him is the figure of Morgan le Fay. courtesy. when Gawain to his shame tells the story of how he was fooled into wearing that braided belt. the five virtues. where we are told that this sign comes from Solomon himself. Thus the poem ends with the well known motto “Hony soyt qui mal pence. and piety. and even wearing a sign of it themselves—a green one. But there is an implicit esotericism that emerges in the work’s center. 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. in the image of the pentangle. of course. instead of trusting only in this “endless knot” of the pentangle. The Green Knight is a mysterious supernatural figure who puts Gawain to the test. This esoteric symbolism emerges especially in the author’s discussion of the pentangle. At the end of Gawain. and. part of a tradition that. And at this point we might remark on two aspects of this transformation. First. in Gawain as in Parzival. part of a scribal code of letters that mark critical junctures in the work. he ultimately feels shamed. with the five wounds of Christ. whose enchantments together with the Green Knight . the first is the true knot. like Grail tales more generally. and is associated not only with the five wits or five senses. is marked with a tiny colored initial.” meaning that good comes forth out of evil. the explicit story is clearly one of virtue upheld. loving kindness. the poem. When Gawain. the five joys of the Virgin Mary with her Child. reveals a fall and a redemption: the characters go through suffering into a renewed union on a higher level. is not simply the repetition of letters and numbers for the way they sound. but a way of conveying secret or esoteric meanings within a poem outwardly devoted to the telling of a story. And this green marks my second point of observation. we see Arthur and the entire court laughing and enjoying Gawain’s tale. as I have elsewhere shown. continence. 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. This famous passage. trusts instead in the knotted “braided belt” given him by Morgan le Fay. Once again. the number of maidens serving the Grail. but with the five fingers. Gawain’s symbol.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. For one certainly finds the same theme illustrated in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. For the color green has a special symbolism that recurs throughout medieval literature and is especially prominent in Gawain. like several others in the poem. and are called together the “endless knot” by the Gawain-poet. Gawain is the story of a virtuous knight on his travels. Yet in the story’s conclusion. All of these five categories add up to twenty-five.

yet it is also the symbol of new life. The Green Isle represents an intermediate realm of spiritual passage. become beautiful and haunting lyrics. We might remark here that the Gottesfreunde had a Meisterbuch with a gnostic alphabet representing the twentythree aspects of the spiritual path. the hidden divine messenger. the licit and noble relationship symbolized by Guinevere. Gawain. Or again. 1150–1173) playing on namelessness and naming. Among the most explicitly esoteric of medieval poems more generally is La Vita Nuova by Dante. and in fact the gnostic symbolism of green is quite widespread. This same duality inheres in the color green.” and then the lines written down in his little book that he entitles “The New Life. there are the lines of the young Raimbaut d’Orange (c. being found in Islam associated with Khidr. and although one can read such poems on multiple levels. pus nons val arditz. which on the one hand is associated with jealousy. valgues nos gens! [Let us talk in secret signs. as when the poet Bernart de Ventadorn (1150–1180) writes “Parlar degram ab cubertz entresans / e. and continuing into at least the twentieth century in the novel The Green Face of Gustav Meyrink. yet on the other is associated with the beauty of Venus. adulterous relationship offered by Morgan le Fay. which can seem so merciless and in which death is inevitable. growth. a group called “the Friends of God” who established a community called “L’Ile Verte. One does find esoteric themes.” or “the Green Isle.40 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E symbolize the bewitchments of the world. although a lay group.” La Vita Nuova is full of esoteric implications from its very beginning. Thus we have a dual symbolism of women—that is. Both chivalric and troubadour literary traditions are allusive enough to accomodate esoteric interpretations. like the chivalric orders. there is little hint in any of this of open or even covert discussions of gnosis. green is the color of nature. and the death that inheres in and underlies them. to be renewed. Recalling the emphasis that Eschenbach laid on the astrological timing surrounding the . yet at the same time. but they are almost never explicitly esoteric. perhaps cunning can.” The Friends of God were. But one does not find this kind of overt esotericism among the troubadours and trouvères. they set themselves apart from the rest of society by their spiritual vocation. The symbolism of green here corresponds to that of a more esoteric group around Rulman Merswin (1302–1387).” under whose spiritual guidance the circle proceeded. first must be humbled by the Green Knight and symbolically die with a snick of his neck.4 But this secret language is that of lovers. Here even the kind of esotericism we find in the chivalric tales is muted and filtered into literary forms. One finds at the center of the Friends of God mysterious communications from a “Gottesfreund vom oberland.”] Or again. / And since talking directly can’t help us. which begins by discussing the “book of memory. occasioned by his observation that he cannot find a name for his verses. not monastic or priestly. and the illicit. and renewal.

The strong imagination to which Dante refers is not just daydreaming. was imprisoned and preparing to die when he wrote his Consolation as a summary of his understanding. philosophical. And of course. Thus Dante’s greatest works. where a “new perception” shows it a Lady of light. Dante sees Beatrice again. and of beautiful images shimmering in space.” The number nine recurs in various ways throughout the poem. Boethius. where Dante is upbraided by the divine figure of Beatrice. Beatrice herself appears to Dante in a crimson dress as if she were an apparition. In De consolatione. Boethius meets while in prison the divine figure of Philosophia. and his commentary. in the ninth hour of the day. of course. La Vita Nuova. Within the work’s visionary interworld we enter into an archetypal realm of celestial numbers reverberating in time. Vita Nuova and the Divine Comedy. Dante ends this strange work. 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. 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. calls upon the “book of memory. but it is also bringing Vita Nuova to the closure of silence. that being Boethius in his Consolation of Philosophy. albeit more literary.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 41 Grail. and it turns back to that silence again at the end. This is. So too does Love appear to him in terrible aspect during the beginning of the night’s nine last hours. and to fuse the tradition’s literary. ruling over him by virtue of a strong imagination. all of this corresponds closely to what we see in Dante’s Vita Nuova. this time wearing a white dress. 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. poems. of course. and is in the tradition of the Book of Revelation.” and at the poem’s end sends a sigh upward beyond the farthest sphere. who lived during the fifth century. an intervening figure in the tradition. time. There is. but the faculty of imaginal perception. she called Beatrice by those who nonetheless fully do not know her name. with a final vision about which he will not now write. and exactly nine years later. go far beyond it to include all manner of esoteric implications. and words and ideas into the empyrean. as in the Divine Comedy. and religious inheritance into visionary narratives that in fact . and here. though certainly showing the influence of the troubadour tradition. an allusion to the coming extraordinary visionary journey of the Divine Comedy. like the great Divine Comedy. who wishes to restore him to spiritual health by awakening his celestial memory and recalling him to his proper state of mind. as does the play that we see here on naming. full of images. is a visionary poem. thrice-blessed Lady.

This is not to say that Chaucer was an esotericist in the sense of a Kabbalist or a Gnostic. a nude Venus depicted with a golden garland and a “cokkow sittynge on hir hand. above all. Chaucer. marked east and west by gates of marble. what we might call literary reflections or manifestations of esoteric traditions. we find here too signs of the themes that have occupied our chivalric and troubadour poets.” with “festes. One finds traces of this influence in a number of Chaucer’s poems. known as a primary literary figure in English history. bareyne trees olde. Chaucer was not an esotericist. but rather to recognize that esoteric elements flow in the mainstream of Western literature itself. which tells the story of how the knight Palamon and the lady Emelye were ultimately wedded. 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. Earthy. and built by masters of “geometrie or ars-metrike. instrumentz. interested in depicting his sometimes bawdy characters and tales. The western gate dedicated to Mars displayed a forest full of “knotty.” Thus this tale.” it was “depeynted in the sterres above / Who shal be slayn or elles deed for lov. the themes of divine images that recall celestial memory. the theater of art.” with a temple of Mars “wrought al of burned steel. yet he went further. is also a tale full of mythological and astrological references to the planets.” The eastern gate was dedicated to Venus. But all the same. daunces” around her. Chaucer was not that kind of poet. and occasionally elsewhere in his work.” In that “portreiture. we will concentrate on The Knight’s Tale because it illustrates some of our primary esoteric themes. Here. knarry.” “gastly for to see. caroles. however. including Troilus and Cressida as well as The Knight’s Tale. and of divine service. In the third part of The Knight’s Tale. Chaucer elaborates on the “noble theatre” of Theseus. here. 1343–1400) and Ramon Lull (1232–1316).42 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E depict unfolding gnostic revelation. The celestial images rule over the terrestrial actions within the circle of life. especially of the knight for his lady. in a new ambience produce new revelations that often seem to appear ex nihilo. Like Dante. also incorporated esoteric elements into his poetry and prose. Certainly there are no explicit and even relatively few implicit esoteric allusions. This “theatre” was circular and a mile in circumference. with an oratory. We see in Chaucer’s tale. for Chaucer also translated Boethius’s Consolation of Philosophy from Latin to English. These references form a memory theater of images that govern the lists or battles taking place within their purview. Chaucer drew on Boethius in his own work. but in fact represent continuations not of specific lineages so much as currents or approaches to transcendence. And these are evoked .” and by “kervere of ymages. But this corresponds to what we have seen of the Western esoteric traditions from their beginnings in antiquity—they represent unique fusions of previous currents that.

(a kind of chivalric code).” The Art represents. it was eclipsed and almost completely vanished until it was rediscovered in the late twentieth century. until he was thirty. one for each of the 365 days of the year. and indeed. The Book of the Lover and the Beloved. and of course his most well-known and influential works.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 43 through literature. 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. not just a set of correspondences. 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. like Chaucer. was also a syncretist who learned and taught Arabic and drew on his knowledge of esoteric Islam in his writings. but with the advent of rationalism. in the voluminous works of Ramon Lull become explicit. The Book of Chivalry corresponds to what we saw already in the Grail and other chivalric literature. literature is not only entertainment. which alludes to the ninety-nine names of God in Islam. Lull was himself something of a troubadour. bringing together the chivalric. for it includes other dimensions and reminds us of the celestial meanings behind human action. among his vast number of works are The Book of Chivalry. the careful reader might notice some resonances with esoteric Islam. a tireless proselytizer for Christianity in Islamic countries. Not surprisingly. At this juncture. was prolific. and esoteric streams into a remarkable fusion. and this is no accident. we are given the meditations of the hermit. and Ars generalis ultima. The Book of Contemplation. which tells the story of a man who rises to the position of pope.” are familiar to students of . Ars brevis. He asked how the Beloved’s presence differs from his absence. The lover answered. given its astonishing scope. In the ninety-ninth chapter. The Book of the Lover and the Beloved is much more complicated. only to leave and become a hermit contemplative. We are concluding this discussion with Lull because his work encapsulates virtually everything that we have so far considered. ‘As knowledge and remembrance differ from ignorance and oblivion’” (7). and unquestionably entails explicitly esoteric dimensions. “knowledge” and “remembrance. the Lullian Art was immensely influential during the medieval and early modern era. But what in Chaucer are only allusions. In fact. unlike him Lull was primarily concerned with elaborating his astonishing system of universals known as the “Lullian Art. consisting chiefly in recounting the moral code of the knight. These terms. chiefly through the heroic scholarly work of Frances Yates. It represents the ninety-ninth chapter of Lull’s romance Blanquerna. on the love of the soul for God couched in the terms of lovers. Lull. Evidence of this is visible in his choice of ninety-nine for this chapter on contemplation. but a complete way of knowledge that penetrates through all aspects of life. (part of his romance Blanquerna). 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. troubadour.

as the readers of Lull’s book. However. Further. which emerges from “a lust for knowledge and presumption.” In this falsified knowledge. since there is absolutely no doubt that Lull himself extensively used figures. there is a profanation of this true reading and writing. And through presumption. north and south.’ ‘And in what does this book consist?’ ‘In my Beloved. meant to reflect that of humanity to the divine. all errors are implanted in the world. not of figures. ‘What is the world?’ He answered. invoking evil spirits as good angels. and therefore the world is in my Beloved. and that is the book. as well as from the Grail tradition in particular.44 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Sufism. we find the following: “They asked the Lover. The cosmos represents the divine writing. and writings. but for purposes of clarity. out of arrogance or presumption. was a means of investigating and coming to understand the true nature of things. rather than my Beloved in the world. Such a proviso is particularly appropriate for Lull’s own work. but of those done with the wrong attitude. but are also familiar to us from our examination of the Western esoteric traditions more generally. by seeing the Sign of God in the east. Here we find a clear condemnation. This extraordinary art. Lull himself was certainly accused of an inordinate and presumptuous lust for knowledge in the pursuit and teaching of this art. images. west. Spiritual knowledge is also celestial memory or remembrance. engraved in precious jewels and worn on him in order to always remind him. ‘Yes. By means of these letters.’”5 The world is a book for those who can read: this is a constant refrain within the Western esoteric traditions from antiquity to the present. and is founded on a special kind of alphabet. and images. whose influence extended across Europe. But there is one theme above all others which we have been tracing that emerges clearly here. just as the writer is in his book. For in a delightful appendix consisting of questions posed to the Lover. some “insult the Name of God with curses and incantations. images. most of all in the exposition of his art. that is. investing them with the names of God and of good angels. we are also participating in this relationship. he condensed his art into nine letters. Lull created a kind of Christian Kabbalism. Of course. Lull used more letters.” But the Lover corrects this through the remembrance of truth.’ They asked him. Originally. and by writings. ‘It is a book for those who can read in which is revealed my Beloved. and so the relationship between humanity and the divine is that of a reader and a writer. His brief alphabet extends from B to K (excluding J) and includes a range of mean- . and writings in themselves. each of which has multiple meanings and is used to create figures and reveal the principles within all that we see. and profaning holy things with figures. 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. since my Beloved contains all. ‘Is your Beloved in the world then?’ He answered.

and can be applied not only to philosphy and theology. whether?. triangles. according to Lull in his Ars Brevis. concordance. depending upon how the letters are combined. for example. The Lullian art. In the full art.” C signifies “greatness. Hence in many respects. God.”6 Thus each letter contains within it a constellation of meanings that. B—Bonitas. above all the view of literature as a vehicle for the transmutation of consciousness. trees. can produce an almost infinite series of correlations. it becomes difficult to believe that the placement of the A here could fail to have esoteric origins and meaning.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 45 ings. and gluttony. and so forth. angel. tables. but to the physical world and indeed to virtually every aspect of life. 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. For this reason. for instance. and avarice. The Lullian art is a means of working with letters and words as a way of entering into transcendent consciousness of the inner metaphysical principles informing and transcending the human and natural realms. And although Lull’s thought has been explored relatively recently as a system of logic. found in the Ars compendiosa. At the same time. a host of Lullian-based alchemical treatises emerged in the wake of his works. When we consider the prominence of the letter A in numerous esoteric traditions ranging all the way from Buddhist tantrism to Gnosticism to Böhmean Christian theosophy. not least in its use of the combinations of letters. it includes and transcends logic. has vast implications. Of course his work is unique. and even the Ars brevis represents a daunting set of combinations. difference. B signifies. 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. I— Veritas. which are seen in both traditions as transcendent principles the combination of which can ultimately bring us to and reveal the inner nature of the divine. for in essence the Lullian art most resembles Kabbalism. it was naturally applied to astrology and to alchemy. probably the most revealing of which for our purposes is the socalled “A” figure from the Ars compendiosa inveniendi veritatem. . prudence. and numerous other arrangements. For instance. The “A” figure is so designated because it contains in its center a letter A. “goodness. to which we can here offer only the briefest of introductions. justice. the number of letters and qualities makes their range enormous. and although Lull himself explictly denied the transmutation of metals. E—Potestas. or that from the Ars brevis. what?. Lull himself combined them using circles. which is the unspoken origin of and connection between all the other letters arranged in a circle around it. 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.

Rather. troubadour. BOOKS WITHIN BOOKS: JEWISH KABBALISM Around the same time that chivalric and troubadour literature was being written. In these traditions. but out of a particular literary and religious ambience and with definite predecessors. there was an efflorescence of another kind of literature entirely. and other forms of esotericism are often closely linked and influence one another. But there is another element as well that we must recognize: all of these authors in turn manifest unique combinations of tendencies or currents that preëxist and transcend them. the chivalric. so that even if there were no direct influence of troubadour poetry on the spiritual love poems of a seventeenth. And in Kabbalah we see not only some potential connections to earlier Gnostic traditions. whose influence also extends well beyond their disappearance as living social movements. And as literature. Rosicrucianism. whose origins are still shrouded in mystery. . we must first look at another primary current whose influence can hardly be underestimated: Kabbalism. 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. How do these various currents reëmerge later in history? Chiefly through the influence of the books. that the medieval authors created in order to convey their visions. intricately woven. and the alphabetical mysticism of Lull and others later appear in Christian theosophy. the words. Thus the transposed spiritual chivalry. Jewish Kabbalah did not appear in a vacuum. for here literature possesses powerful cultural and spiritual dimensions. of course. however. Before we turn to the emergence of Western esoteric traditions at the cusp of the modern era. but this is virtually never the case. or English gnostic. but what is more. cross-fertilizing currents of Western esotericism. poetry and stories go beyond entertainment. the spiritual love poetry of the troubadours.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. Christian. still there is an affiliation because all exist within the larger. it is as it was in the first centuries of this era—Jewish. with the emergence in the twelfth century in Europe of Jewish Kabbalah (a Hebrew word meaning “tradition”). commonplace to regard each of the primary currents of Western esotericism as having emerged ex nihilo and completely separate from its predecessors. and Freemasonry.or eighteenth-century German. French. It is. profoundly important and influential instances of the mysteries of the word as means of spiritual awakening. 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.

not only in that they reflect and point toward a hidden wisdom tradition. “The affinity with the language. Castile. and thus Kabbalism.8 But for our purposes. which in turn were edited and developed by a group of Kabbalists. and cosmogony.”7 What is this “entirely different world”? Certainly the Bahir emerged in the ambience of twelfth-century French Judaism.9 Yet at the same time. Although there has been some controversy over his conclusions. the crux of the paradox inherent in the mysteries of the word. It [the Bahir] has its roots in an entirely different world.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 47 We first encounter Kabbalistic literature in the Sefer ha-Bahir. with at least some connections to the contemporaneous Cathar or Albigensian Christian heretical movement. for instance. The book Bahir. 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. But the Bahir. the Kabbalistic works of this period are deeply concerned with exactly these mysteries of word. 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. in particular the Merkabah mysticism that dates back to at least the second century C. which are also discussed in the Sefer Yezirah or Book of Creation. and Gnosticism of any sort in antiquity. the mere fact of composing Kabbalistic literature or commentaries represents a disclosure of what is secret. which in turn has been linked to the troubadours. also may have roots elsewhere. dating to the Talmudic period. Scholem’s assessment is that the Bahir. number. and elsewhere in Europe. has origins in a Jewish gnosticism of a much earlier date. and Kabbalism more generally. Scholem holds that there arrived in Provençe some time in the middle of the twelfth century a collection of older gnostic writings. terminology. discusses at length the origin and meaning of the sephirot. It derived from the long line of previous Jewish mysticism. And in fact. There can be no doubt that the Kabbalistic works emerging during and after the twelfth century are esoteric. and to recognize that Kabbalism explicitly continues our primary themes within the Western esoteric traditions.” Scholem concludes.E. Rabbi Isaac the Blind wrote a well-known letter to Nahmanides bemoaning the common contemporary tendency to write publicly about the Kabbalah. And it emerged during a period of established Jewish speculative mysticism in the Provençal region. many of which had at least passed through certain circles of the German Hasidim. and symbolism of Gnosticism suggests an Oriental origin for the most important among the ancient texts and sources of the Bahir. it is entirely enough to note the profound resemblances between these movements. disclosing them only in parabolic language. . and Nahmanides’ disciples intensified their protection of the secret Kabbalistic teachings. regardless of whether there was a direct historical link between the emergence of Kabbalism in Provençe. For instance. or ten dimensions of the cosmos.

But in any event.”13 We might note that here the “Written Law” is seen as male. the ten fingers of human hands are said to correspond to the ten sephirot and to the commandments. There are several major schools of thought on the origin of this vast and complicated work: some hold that Moses de Leon really did copy the Zohar from an earlier version by Shimon bar Yohai. and natural realms at once. but another view. including all twenty-two letters of the alphabet except tet. The Fountain of Wisdom consists in a discussion of tikkun. he wrote the entire work without any precedent. said to symbolize the abdomen. including the human body. is that Moses de Leon composed the Zohar himself by way of “conjuration of the Writing Name. We also see these alphanumeric mysteries in the Zohar. In section 124. 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. supported by some contemporary testimony. and so forth are absent from the Scroll of Law: these signs were hidden in the “interior of the Divine Throne. but here takes on the meaning of “com- . as a female is fertilized from the male.” (that is.” and are the means by which “the Written Law fertilized the Oral Law. One of the most influential Kabbalistic books of this period is the Fountain of Wisdom (Ma‘yan ha-Hokhmah). informing the cultural. the “Oral Law” as female or receiver. and that it regards the written word as being at the center of those mysteries. For example. this controversy itself reveals much about the nature of Kabbalism. But there is another work that helps shed light on what the nature of these alphanumeric mysteries might be. it is not at all out of character for the Zohar to have connections to the mysteries of the “Writing Name.10 Thus we can see how here mystical numbers and letters reflect the hidden divine principles of the cosmos.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. for example. the Zohar is replete with alphanumeric mysticism.”12 And we are treated to a fascinating explanation of why the verse-divisions. spiritual. Although the origins of the Zohar are somewhat controversial. caught up in the spirit. a word that usually means “restoration” in Hebrew. often said to be the culmination of the early Kabbalistic period. and which was central in the founding of Hasidism as well. and that in this sense he really was copying from the transcendent source of the Kabbalistic tradition.11 Of course. in one section we read of an “alphabetic hymn which contains the mystery of the twenty-two sacred celestial letters which are decorated with a crown made of the Patriarchs and the holy heavenly Chariot. there is a third possibility—that Moses de Leon composed through spiritual imagination. which sixteenth-century Kabbalist Moses Cordovero regarded as being among a handful of the most important works. Opposite them are the twenty-two little letters of the lower world. the tonal accents.” Indeed. writing the Names of God) and through this power. which comprise a total of 613 letters.

so to say.”14 In other words. For instance.” The “Back” here is the mysteries of creation. Its linguistic mysticism undoubtedly requires an oral commentary: here the written word remains opaque without vocal explication.” One can easily see. or aleph. This visionary understanding leads backward through the process of creation to its source. utterance. one comes to understand how “all wisdom and understanding. “so as not to distort the knowledge of the image of the Holy One. and 160.” from which four emerge—and between these four emerges a fifth. in the text the ’aleph is said to be “divided into five heads. one also arrives at the seventy-two Names of God. eighty. but My Face will not be seen.”16 These five alefim are calculated by doubling as ten. . and yod in turn becomes twenty. out of it emerges the Names. one comes to understand not only why the thirty or more versions of the Fountain are generally regarded as ‘corrupt. Here. 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. is allowed to ask questions. 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.”15 Central to this linguistic mysticism is the letter A. we have gone behind the alphanumeric mysticism into the visionary understanding that precedes and informs it. voice.” two vocalizations result: “â” and “a. speech. . all are found in this Name. from reading this extraordinary work. forty. in the Fountain of Wisdom.” which may or may not itself be an “a. the essence of everything. we are told.”18 This. whispering. there remains still the ’alef “pivotal amongst them.” 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. made transparent so . the tenth letter. Investigating this holiest of mysteries is prohibited even for a Moses. all comprehension and thought. an ¯ “ether. not even Moses. .” The ’alef is the mystery of the ether and the root-principle of all being. action . Here we see the mysteries of the word laid bare. in this context.”17 By investigation. the “Face” is the Primal Darkness “that is the focal point of My existence. . yet when these Names are removed. corresponding to yod. is the secret meaning of the verse from Exodus 33:23: “You will see My Back. and out of them all the “lanes” and “paths” and the countless lights of life.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 49 bination.” about which no one. tikkun is a kind of linguistic mysticism that through its praxis brings one into the “immeasurable light” “in the superabundance of the secret darkness.’ but even more why this work was traditionally explicated word by word from teacher to pupil. For prior to the Names and even prior to the Ether and root-principle of all being is the “Primal Darkness. the “unique master” that “radiates in the green flames. Through this kind of multiplication.” for when you open your mouth to say “ah. In reading the intricate discussion of this letter’s transformations. inquiry .

”19 But underlying the entire work is the gnosis of how light emerges from darkness. we have spontaneous investigations into some of the same mysteries that the Kabbalists investigated. Indeed.20 For that matter. for the Kabbalists “the world of language is therefore actually the ‘spiritual world. and so it is natural that common elements reemerge again and again historically. of which emergence ordinary human speech is but a reflection. sometimes without. Thus there is a double quality to this mystery: it applies to the emergence of consciousness both within us and in the cosmos.” or absolute transcendence out of which everything. as Scholem remarks. not from this side. but from the other. All of these exist. ’En sof literally means “infinity. Its cosmological dimensions we have glimpsed in the intricate doctrines of the ten Sephirot and in the profound complexities of its alphanumeric gnosis. broadly speaking. since this absolute transcendence resembles the Greek akatalepton as well as the later incomprehensibilis of John Scotus Erigena. then. sometimes with the influence of particular earlier esoteric authors. We are viewing a pure mysticism of the word. emerges. But none of these correspondences necessarily indicate historical influence. so too the medieval Kabbalists emphasized this same linkage. but also metaphysical. it is also entirely possible that in the works of the Gnostics and Neoplatonists. within the general currents of Western esoteric traditions. including thought. its metaphysical dimensions are to be found especially in its use of the term ’en sof. as well as in Erigena and in Eckhart. Although it is possible that medieval Kabbalism owes more than a little to the Gnosticism of antiquity. one also finds correspondences between the mysticism of ’en sof and the teachings of Meister Eckhart. Here “Voice” refers not to ordinary human speech. but to the inner experience of how existence emerges from the Primal Ether.’ Only that which lives in any particu- . Medieval Kabbalism. Just as in antiquity the Gnostics often laid emphasis on the mysteries of language and consciousness. It may be that there is some historical link with Neoplatonism here. where all that is seen in the eye of imagination is light and color and energy welling forth from the indefinable Primal Darkness. 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. and how words emerge from primordial consciousness into being. and how the Voice emerges from light through speech and breath. that of hardened or congealed materiality.50 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E that through them in the eye of imagination we can see the hidden principles and working of the cosmos itself. and this is corroborated by the very linguistic mysticism that they express. which is to say also a knowledge of how the mind is prior to the emergence of language and thought.” but in early Kabbalism also is connected to “that which thought cannot attain. It is obvious from Kabbalistic works themselves that they do not derive from scholastic but from direct knowledge.



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



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

rather than only trying to trace ‘horizontal’ historical influence. surface is nothing and depth is everything. and perhaps even of the origin and nature of consciousness. Kabbalah represents a polar opposite—for it. and so it goes right into the heart of the Middle Ages and Renaissance. after all. In the eighteenth century. One finds those who insist that the heart of Islamic Sufism is Christian. If great literature like Dante’s attracts us because of its grandeur. ramified throughout religious and literary history. and the boundaries between Judaism and Christianity far less distinct than usual. But Kabbalistic literature opens up almost endlessly.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. it also fascinates us with its riddles and mysteries. Here. not a barrier to but a vehicle for transcendence. its grandeur lies in the daring of its visionary heights. Here the written word becomes not opaque but transparent. Symbolic of Western syncresis is La Mezquita in Cordoba. we find the English theosopher Jane Leade holding the same doctrine. almost always willing to draw from another religion if it illuminates one’s own. But is there any historical influence of Kabbalism on Leade? Or did she independently rediscover the same esoteric doctrines in vision. which is. And when we look at Kabbalism. This transcendence lends itself to syncretism. that is. much less the possibility of transcendence. In the twentieth century. or vice versa. For Kabbalah. however unfamiliar to us today. with the prevalence of materialism and scientism. but it is also important because it offers us a completely different way of understanding the very nature of writing. and beauty. we shall turn to another primary current of the Western esoteric traditions: alchemy. Western esoteric traditions are perpetually changing and self-renewing. it may be better to look at ‘vertical’ or categorical similarities. that the heart of Christianity is Jewish Kabbalism. or vice versa. But before discussing these implications. an ornate mosque in whose center is a Christian cathedral. and instead creep over the surfaces of things like painstaking caterpillars. precisely what she said had happened? It would seem that in this case as generally. To such approaches. we can see why it had such profound literary and religious influences. Indeed. in its willingness to go through the letters and words into the consciousness that they represent. Nowhere is this more evident than in the history of Kabbalah. Spain. perhaps more than any other Western tradition. . many novelists and poets explicitly denounce even the idea of spirituality. each letter and number potentially bearing infinite depths. that ultimately all beings will be saved. even where it is roughly or awkwardly written. represents the confluence of literature and religion in esotericism. literature increasingly lost even the inkling of bearing within it other dimensions. intricacy. Such an approach to literature. where one finds literature and religion fused. literature represents portals into the transcendent.

One might compare these means of arcane expression to the Zen Buddhist koan tradition. And in fact Western alchemical works are highly literary. we cannot help but notice religious references. Full of exotic images and peculiar language. especially to the need for humility and for reliance on divine grace. but through meditative concentration and inspiration. . alchemy. Western alchemy remains largely uncharted by modern scholarship. the term alchemy itself emerges out of the Arabic word al-kimiya. and a current representing a particular path between religion and literature.’ yet not entirely Christian. which in turn reflects GrecoEgyptian origins whose precise outlines likely never will be thoroughly traceable. When we look at European alchemical works. Because the Western alchemists’ place vis-à-vis Christianity was seldom entirely clear. but represents nonetheless a separate path of its own. for only a few intrepid souls have ventured into this territory. with their plethora of brilliant and resonant images. However. To the first-time observer. like the alchemical expression or riddle. and so it is little wonder that many historians of science have denigrated European alchemy as merely a strange predecessor to modern chemistry. to work it through.” draws on the particular religious ambience within which it finds itself. we find that they reveal striking new applications and manifestations of Western esotericism. sort of a mistaken byway people once took before they saw the light of materialism and rationalism. and even with extended study often yield no certain interpretation.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 55 T H E T R A N S F I G U R AT I O N O F E A R T H : A L C H E M I C A L L I T E R AT U R E Undoubtedly among the most enigmatic traditions of the human inheritance. because the opposition of exotericism to esotericism in Western Europe was often so violent. Of course. Thus Western alchemy has a peculiar place. by virtue of its initial incomprehensibility. not entirely ‘pagan. forces one to wrestle with it alone. European alchemical works resemble bizarre collections of riddles wrapped in enigmas. when we look more closely at specific works in the alchemical traditions. peripheral since it is not wholly Christian. operating by metaphor and allusion and parabolic expression. hence on the one hand religious. alchemical writings seem totally impenetrable. with their astonishing repertoire of exotic terminology. yet in that its adherents claim to realize the gnosis at the heart of Christianity. and also because alchemy is the transmission of mysteries that must be directly experienced. on the other transmitted by way of literature. itself also highly literary: the koan. Hermetism itself occupies a syncretic place in the midst of numerous traditions. So too. alchemists took to arcane ways of expressing themselves. Yet both the koan and the alchemical work emerge within stylized and traditional contexts. as the “art of Hermes. to come to terms with it not just by rational explication. as we saw earlier. Indeed.

even if it does not entirely belong to these. the embodying of spirit. or animal into its paradisal original true nature. One places oneself in the line of what is. although we could here offer a historical survey of alchemy.. that is. and takes place by way of fire. George Ripley (fifteenth century). we may well say that alchemy consists in the transmutations of the earth or. and might include also such figures as Zosimos of Panopolis of the third century C. All of these authors did write on alchemy. for all its symbolic complexity and mysterious allusiveness. plant. even if its work resembles these in some respects. even if the alchemical labors to which these writers refer are certainly not literary but take place in a laboratory. author of the Rosarium philosophorum (attr. The alchemist’s work consists in the awakening of dormant qualities in the natural world. the vegetable. in the revelation of paradise.—latinized as Rhazes). it is by no means just a kind of metallurgy or chemistry. Olympiodoros. 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.E. so that their lineage from the alchemical perspective forms an Aurea catena or “golden chain” from antiquity to the present. Ramon Lull.E. partaking at once in the realms too of religion and literature. as has historical placement.E. a tradition transmitted through literature. What matters is that the works under the name Geber speak to the later alchemist. at heart. and reveal the gnostic center of the tradition. alchemical literature. Roger Bacon. or al-Rhazi (ca. Synesius. refers by its own testimony to the transmutation and redemption of the physical world: its work takes place on Earth. Indeed. For alchemy extends into many realms. Nicholas Flamel (fourteenth century). who draws upon them in order to undertake the alchemical work himself and subsequently to write his own alchemical treatise. After all. Thus it is conventional for the author of an alchemical work to list predecessors to whom he is indebted. Such a list undoubtedly would include Hermes Trismegistus. and Morienus of the seventh century C. Thus.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. 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. Thus alchemy itself consists in processes that are at once spiritual and physical. thirteenth century). And so Geber joins the line of figures in what is indisputably a literary transmission. be they in the mineral. To list such names as Arnald of Villanova. or the animal kingdom.. . and the spiritualizing of the body. as well as Islamic figures such as Jabir ibn Hayyan of the eighth century (later latinized as Geber). put another way. For how else might a medieval or Renaissance figure come to know Geber or Rhazes? Cultural context has been largely lost. either. Fire burns up impurities and allows the transmutation of a fallen metal. This process of awakening entails a kind of double working.

consisting in three alchemical treatises arranged and edited by none other than the alchemist. bracketed by mythological references. and where some might find the time to pursue the alchemical work. were. it is enough. between those who insist on a purely physical medicine consisting in the treatment of symptoms. . One finds in the literature numerous references to monks as alchemists. we find a confluence of major alchemical authors and works that will provide a useful introduction to the tradition. which Vulcan cast into the sea. His title. but without value in revealing the actual nature of the alchemical tradition itself. places these works in the context of a seventeenth-century struggle between the followers of “Dogmatic” or “Hermetic medicine. only goes to show the historical line that we are tracing. and author Michael Maier. If thou knowest the substance and the method. useful in demonstrating some kind of continuity. For he bore away the golden fruit from the Hesperian garden and blessed with them fair Germany’s fields. as Valentine scatters abroad in this one book . In order to understand the alchemical current of the Western esoteric traditions. and an abbot of Westminster named Cremer.” derives from the words of the Delphic priestess: “The feud between the Meropes and the Ionians will not cease until the Golden Tripod. it is necessary to look more closely at exemplary works. preceding Valentinus’s treatise on the “great stone” with the words “Pactolus contains not such great treasures.” In other words. the conflict between merely physical medicine and Hermetic medicine can be resolved through the study of alchemy. nor does gold-bearing Hebrus roll down such precious things in its golden sand. the treatise joins what we may call a mythological field. seek not many utensils for thy labor. He bore away the golden fleece from Colchis. Here. . But in a work titled “The Golden Tripod” (1618). physician. Maier.”29 Thus the alchemical work exists within a classical literary context. is brought into the house of the man who knows the things that are. and thou knowest all. and are to come. and gave it to us by mighty toil. . and historically it makes sense that the monasteries were places where writings from antiquity on could be stored. and a medicine that includes other dimensions and is centered in the alchemical or spagyric arts of transmutation. of course.” that is. Thomas Norton. Maier deliberately brackets his alchemical texts with literary epigrams. For “The Golden Tripod” includes treatises by the Benedictine monk Basilius Valentinus. we find such a plethora of both collections of images and written works that it is more than difficult to choose.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 57 Michael Maier (early seventeenth century). “The Golden Tripod.”28 And Maier concludes with this admonition: “Let this suffice thee. We might begin by remarking on the fact that two of the three authors Maier included were Benedictines. But we should recognize the elegant and highly literary nature of Maier’s expression. Indeed. Basilius Valentinus and Eirenaeus Philalethes (seventeenth century). composer. in his preface.

the Sun. On the title page of this little collection we see an alchemist’s laboratory.” which is of quite a different nature from Valentinus’s. as when we are told to “take a quantity of the best and finest gold. as well as an angel blowing a horn. performing all things whatsoever possible under the sun. being bereft of images .58 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Yet the treatise itself. a vanishing of all unhealthy matter. the queen a three-flowered plant. and the commentary tells us of the uses of the stone. to be invisible. all shall be judged by fire and reduced to ashes. experiences a renovation of his whole nature. “a beautiful lady in a long silver robe. Saturn wants to kill Mercury. Shortly thereafter. in the background a dead tree stump. while to the king’s right we see a leaping wolf. with Mars imprisoning Mercury under the control of Vulcan.” The first of the twelve keys shows a couple. The commentary here tells us that “whoever drinks of this golden fountain. including two archers shooting at targets. and separate it into its component parts” “prior to what it was before it became gold.33 The eighth of the twelve keys shows a man rising from the grave. The commentary here discusses putrefaction and resurrection. . literary passages also includes a series of images called the “twelve keys. and the text tells us how at the end of the world. and the other planets holding a colloquy to decide what to do. and proved of the greatest efficacy. 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. a half-naked man with a scythe. over a fire. with a furnace and various kinds of glass and tools. The twelfth key shows a man with a lion in a laboratory. the king bearing a staff. to become impalpable . The practical instructions of the treatise are interwoven with literary passages. Here you see the perfection of our Art.”34 The second of Maier’s treatises is Thomas Norton’s “Ordinal of Alchemy. learned men of the country gather to decide the meaning of this enigma. on the far left side a single candle.” With its spiritual essence. despite its elliptical means of expression. and a venerable man with white hair and a flowing purple robe tells them “cause that which is above to be below. and how one who possesses it “shall possess all in all. as a result of which ultimately the great secret of alchemy was revealed to him. is at once literary and practical. before him a burning barrel.”31 This combination of practical instructions and more figurative. a king and a queen. and that which is palpable. that which is visible.”32 The fourth of the twelve keys shows a skeleton atop a casket or box.” For these apparently practical instructions become a tale about the planets as characters in a little drama.”30 Eventually he found a mineral substance that “exhibited many colors. after which there will be formed a new heaven and a new earth. while the Moon. . and this secret the entire subsequent treatise is meant to reveal.” pleads the case of her husband. while around him are various figures. and a man sowing seeds. he cured a sick fellow monk completely. and this Mars has done. and to the queen’s left.

strong and pure. After admonitions about how we must avoid deceit and self-delusion. and the secret is not to be given out to anyone except the Abbot and Prior of the monastery. Even though Dalton had discarded the Red Powder because it had become a source of grief and anxiety. 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. let his name be blotted out from the Book of Life. he was thrown into a dungeon by one of the king’s retinue. and prepared in about four days. a man named Herbert.” and add to it five ounces of petroleum. Eventually sentenced to death and brought before the executioner. was betrayed to King Edward by an assistant named Delvis who had been sworn to silence. and then of how a certain Thomas Dalton.” Benedictine abbot of Westminster. 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. Cremer in this. two of living sulphur. we are told. Here reading can take place on multiple levels at once—there is the prosaic reading of instructions. his last testament. three of rabusenum. who possessed a larger quantity of the Red Powder than any Englishman. of course. two of orange arsenic. The briefest and most specific of the three treatises is that entitled the “Treatise of Cremer. we can understand why he should impose such conditions. and so was let go. His testament is to be copied every sixty years. so as not to lose legibility over time. This invocation of the Book of Life naturally suggests one of our primary themes in the study of Western esotericism: reading. and protected by precisely the same invocation of the Book of Life. and two of willow charcoal. Norton tells the story of how he himself was robbed of all he had. Only after such warning tales are we told in more specifics of the nature of the Art.”35 And indeed. and given Cremer’s explicit instructions. All are to be mixed in the “bath of Neptune. of .” in a well-stoppered glass jar. are the sufferings of those who aspire to a knowledge of the Art. and tortured for four years. Dalton said he was happy to die.”36 Here we return to the themes of the Book of Revelation—and despite the more or less prosaic terms of this testament.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 59 and much more inclined to tell stories. Such. and Cremer’s testament does corroborate it. and that all Norton’s instructions are useless except to the wise in light of direct experience. 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 “whoever does not observe this my mandate. In recent times. itself an esoteric text made exoteric. There is a long tradition of monasteries as sanctuaries for secret knowledge. tells us to “take three ounces of tartar of good claret. as opposed to literary and figurative allusions. But also he is invoking the very language of the Book of Revelation. Here we have a “full and accurate account of Alchemy without using any obscure technical terms. To publish widely his alchemical testament would be to divulge what should remain the secret of those presumably capable of bearing its power.

to carry it within. Paracelsus tells us. just as we might look at an image reflected in a mirror or water. its subtle essence. which in turn may awaken the corresponding quality in the human being and thereby effect healing. for they occupy different dimensions within it. allows one to see the actual landscape or “first nature” in a different way. And of course. According to Paracelsus.’ then. Spagyric medicine.60 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E course. not all evestra are benefic. but inwardly and as mysteriously connected to oneself by way of imagination. these subtle realms and beings may be encountered in the realm of the imagination. that alchemy takes place in the imagination is not to say that it is imagi- . water. The cosmos is created through the divine imagination. Imagination governs the development of things. and figurative expressions that so characterize alchemical literature.” consisting in the imaginative landscape. and the plant grows into its image as best conditions will allow. where we see literature conveying the transmutation of consciousness that manifests in the natural world as well. To say. and animal realms. beyond the book of nature is the Book of Life. Through these evestra. Clearly the imagination plays a role in the processes of alchemy. literary allusions. One learns to read the inner significance of the book of nature. not only by looking at words on a page. But here ‘imagination’ does not belong to any individual—rather. There are incalculable numbers of evestra. and so it is only natural that humanity also participates in this power. but then there is also another kind of reading that we see in the collections of images. but also through the power of the imagination. epigrams. Confronted with such a colloquy. poems. air. the individual human being may participate in the divine imagination that brings forth nature itself. Of course. allegories. consists in the awakening of subtler dimensions of a given plant. what is an aspiring alchemist to do but contemplate such a work. but is joined with them in the imagination. Here the individual mind is not separated from mineral. or earth—and which may know nothing of the human world even though they exist in the same cosmos.” Just as the sun draws forth the visible and growing forms of plants. which exist in subtle matters of their own kind—for instance. everything that exists in the physical cosmos has what he calls evestra. vegetable. to enter into it until its images and approach permeate one’s consciousness and become second nature? Such a “second nature. one may know the inner nature of anything. 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. then. fire. But in any event. so one must be cautious in entering into these other dimensions by way of imagination—one is reminded of the proverbial visitor to the faeries who never returned. one branch of alchemy. ethereal counterparts. not merely from the outside and as other. so too there is an inner world where the imagination may draw forth hidden things from ‘seed’ into flower. for the image of what a flower or plant is exists germinally in the seed. We may ‘read.

even here physical significances of alchemy are implied. confronted by the emerging materialist science of chemistry. and so forth. just as the true maguss leads us to Christ. philosophy. . a matter of . Many alchemical works are more susceptible to one interpretation than another—hence some. this Mist-Spirit-Water is Salt or Earth . and medicine together” that leads us through Wisdom to God.37 And thus “the true medicine is thus the heart of Wisdom: out of this heart (or eternal spiritual salt) emerges life. The terms used in its title—oil. but here are clearly spiritualized. This is the true Ground of Nature . wine. . it is entirely real. which mist transforms itself into a water of life in the new birth. the true medicine of the soul is the pure light of grace. the true medicine and theology. Amor proximi proceeds instead to refer in passing to the knowledge of the “heathens. one finds a new kind of alchemical literature whose primary implications are almost exclusively spiritual. and this is characteristic of the work as whole. emphasize their recipe quality. more real than what we see in the physical. geschärft mit dem Wein der Weisheit. but the new ambience is not so much Hermetic with a tinge of Christianity as it is totally Christian. . bekräftiget mit dem Salz der göttlich und natürlichen Wahrheit (Amor Proximi. 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.74). Of course. II Chronicles 13:5. these two poles became further separated. But during the late seventeenth and the eighteenth centuries. 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. There is no doubt that the work is engaged in justifying a true “theology. flowing out of the Oil of Divine Compassion.” The true medicine of the body is the pure light of nature. moves away from physical alchemy into the realm of spiritual references alone. but that in this particular worldview. as a spirit. light air. including Romans 1. geflossen aus dem Oel der göttlichen Barmherzigkeit. fire. like Cremer’s testament. while others.”38 It is revealing that the light of nature is said to lead to the “whole Machina mundi” (II. like Valentinus’s. empowered with the Salt of divine and natural Truth). It is as though here alchemy.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 61 nary. indeed. may be interpreted in both ways at once.” and to a host of Biblical references. a distinctly modern image of the cosmos and a term that is in fact repeated in the work. sharpened with the Wine of Wisdom. 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. and mist. . and salt—are not uncommon in physical alchemy. The mechanistic worldview is all surface. The prefatory remarks to the work refer to the “heavenly Wisdom” who reveals the “two lights of nature and of grace. Genesis 1:27. But rather than proceeding toward specific instructions.

for here the “illuminated brotherhood” finds written the “holy Scripture” (II. in harmony” (II. the great Universal-Stone wherein the fall and restoration of mankind is clearly to be seen with the eyes” (II. Yet those who don’t seek God’s knowledge in nature also remain blind. a true Astrologus. which concerns the transmutation of the planetary qualities in an individual. nor whence they emerge (II. these terms have an alchemical provenance.77). but they don’t really understand the spiritual nature of these elements. for instance. but here they are transposed to reveal a particular metacosmic vision. what is left soon ceases to be alchemy and may be absorbed into the dominant religion or may become chemistry. In fact. as a kind of counterpoint.83). here instead we are being introduced to the hidden nature. Fire. just as we find for instance Islamic . and a true Medicus. and one three . but here. Thus. is a perspective that is all depth. in whom the Cabala with all its sciences as a holy Fire and Blood is. Water. And what we are seeking is “a single subject in Nature. The Sophists want to seek the prima materia among the elements. and it is not surprising that during the rise of secular science we find alchemical treatises that emphasize the inward. Oil. or Water is. but the Sun light. here the terminology of alchemy is spiritualized in order to discuss the awakening and rebirth of the individual. traditional alchemy consists in both inner and outer work at once. or perhaps as its translation into Christian allegory. spiritual dimensions of the work.105). we are told. There is a process of spiritual alchemy alluded to in Amor Proximi.80). and based in the books of Teutonici philosophi Jacob Böhme (II. Yet alchemy. Oil. in whom the philosophy as a holy Salt. that is the mystery wherein all lies. Here we find no interest in historical explanations. like Hermeticism. However. for it is conceivable that physical alchemy could degenerate into nothing more than chemistry. such a degeneration is exactly what we find happening during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. the depths. and is the ground of the revelation of the eternal Godhead” (II. Salt. But we could also see this spiritual alchemy as the counterbalancing restoration of alchemy’s gnostic. easily translates into a dominant religion. in whom the Magia is a holy Light or Spirit. and which leads to the individual being a “true Theologus. Certainly we do not find in this treatise the kind of alchemical work that we saw in the previous works.83). and when either one is absent. Whoever wishes to understand practically this depth-perception must first have a fundamental knowledge of it. of existence. Of course it is possible to see the spiritualized alchemy of Amor Proximi as the abandonment of more physical alchemy. . inward dimension. and so the author leads us through a discussion of the metacosmic nature and history of humanity. and hence we find a Christian alchemy.93). . the author writes “That the earth is dark. and indeed have spiritual meanings as well within alchemical work.62 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E measurement and quantity leading to technology. And so we find the three One.

of the second. and in the end must conclude that in this theosophic worldview. detailing an alchemical process of awakening and transmutation that could be read simultaneously as physical and as spiritual alchemy. whom Gichtel claimed to be able to spot immediately. practical alchemy is seen as a subset of spiritual alchemy. and he and his spiritual circle. astrological. on mercury. Hence the fundamental organization of the Opus is alchemical.” the “fall of Lucifer” and the “eternal peace and gentle still joy of the eternal divine kingdom. 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.39 There are also the many references to alchemy that we find in Johann Georg Gichtel’s Theosophia Practica (letters from 1668–1710). on salt. But such rumors aside. and gnostic metaphysics. we find numerous direct references to alchemy in Gichtel’s own letters. the Opus Mago-Cabbalisticum et Theosophicum (1735) of Georg von Welling. 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. Pordage’s work. Christian theosophy. not merely a pastiche. and Kabbalistic themes. it may be useful to concentrate on another work. but whose spiritual implications are always foremost. of course. the Western alchemical current flows into Böhmean Christian theosophy. from spiritual to physical. a letter to a lady who had discovered the prima materia and had asked him for further guidance.”40 There can be little doubt that von Welling was drawing on a wealth of specific knowledge of alchemical. Kabbalah. Gichtel was reputed at the time to have been a practicing alchemist since his light was often on long into the night. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 63 alchemy. But to see the way alchemy was incorporated into theosophy. Indeed. as well as Theo-Philosophia Theoretico-practica by Samuel Richter (1711). is that Gichtel himself possessed the keys to the full range of alchemy. albeit scorned when the art is claimed by frauds and puffers. on sulfur. Here practical alchemy is taken for granted as a real possibility. beginning with the organization of the first section. the Engelsbrüder or Angelic Brethren. The implication. is among the clearest works on spiritual alchemy that we have encountered. This is not . subsisted without any visible means of monetary support. Opus Mago-cabbalisticum et theosophicum by Georg von Welling (1735). and whose ending is almost identical to the conclusion of Amor Proximi. which in turn is incorporated into the full breadth of theosophic discipline. which produces mysticoalchemical works such as Amor Proximi. and John Pordage’s Epistle on the Philosophic Stone (ca. for here we again see the confluence of our principal themes in Western esotericism. astrology. The Opus Mago-Cabbalisticum is unquestionably a synthesis of many currents already touched upon. including “Chymie” or alchemy. 1675). and of the third.

” “Thronen. or mercury. Typical of von Welling’s syncresis is an illustration showing at the top the Ungrund. he begins each of his large sections with specific discussions of alchemical salt. then in a Liquorem . .” Further.” and so forth. and in this regard he succeeded. diagrams.” “Cherubim. diagrams. and instructions. . one needs to “reduce it in an alcohol. Beside these is a heptangle around which are arrayed the seven planetary symbols. including D. meaning the transcendent Godhead. and calcify it by hand. in other words. At the same time. Die Bereitung des Steins [Celestial Manna: the Heavenly Manna Named. and “Manna Coeleste. next to which is the Kabbalistic term ’en sof. the basic Dionysian angelical hierarchy. Indeed. of Pisa. to properly prepare mercury. a term of Jacob Böhme’s for the abyss prior to creation. das himmlische Manna genannt. tables. sulfur. . Here. For instance. but might well also be called pansophic. with a plethora of astrological symbols. and Kabbalistic references in a theosophic framework. charts. prepare it in a series of alchemical operations in a pair of vials. Hensing’s “Discurs von dem Stein der Weisen [Discourse on the Stone of the Wise]” (1722). and analyses clearly meant to produce not only a theoretical synthesis but a useful compendium of source material. Christian scripture.”41 Von Welling’s astrological instructions are equally detailed. But it is with alchemy that von Welling’s work both begins and ends. The collection concludes with a translation into German of English alchemist George Ripley’s song of the newborn alchemical . and beneath which is a series of concentric circles labeled “Seraphim. Arrayed next to these names are their Hebrew equivalents. 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. His discussions of alchemy and astrology are very detailed and full of specific tables. .64 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E to say that all of his sources were entirely accurate—for instance. one should not think that because von Welling aimed at such breadth as a pansophic esotericism requires. von dem Universali und den Particularibus [Alchemical Questions on the Universali and the Particularibus]” (1726). he appends to his five-hundred-page Opus several alchemical treatises in their entirety. and into these he weaves discussions using planetary and alchemical symbols. he elided many details. 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 . The Preparation of the Stone]” as well as “Non plus ultra Veritatis: das ist. “Alchimische Fragen. Eine Untersuchung der Hermetischen Wissenschaft [Nothing More True: That is: An Investigation into Hermetic Science]” by Francisco Sebastiano Fulvo Melvolodemet. some of his Hebrew seems rather distorted—but he had in mind producing a vast compendium of esoteric knowledge unified within a theosophic understanding. x (the Moon) and out of P (Saturn).

we can easily see. fits into our general discussion of Western esotericism and literature. for its focus is not only in the mesocosm of the work. a natural homology between alchemy and art. particularly in the profusion of brilliant images . when we look more closely at alchemical literature itself. vegetable. In some respects.” for it consists not only in the creation of a particular form. including not only chemicals and equipment. fire. but also in the microcosm of the artist.’ in the broadest possible sense. Here it is perhaps most useful to step back and consider how alchemy.42 Both entail emulating or paralleling the creativity of life itself. and the Hermeticism with which it is allied are religious chameleons. and in which writing can form a pathway to the divine. animal.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 65 king. as well as with what these represent. but only with the guidance of the alchemical handbooks. and images. alchemy is like learning to use a language. the alchemical work transcends that of the artist. like a painting. broadly seen. It is no coincidence that the alchemical work is also called the “great Art. of course. both seek to perfect this creativity. alchemy extends this literary mysticism into the entire cosmos itself. for its claims are to a lasting awakening and transmutation of the alchemist. contemporary art and literature remain quite limited in scope by comparison to alchemy as spiritual illumination. is a relatively modern phenomenon. and that we will shortly examine further. If Kabbalah entails a literary mysticism in which letters and numbers reveal secret spiritual depths. In this sense. but even more in the perfection of humanity. One must learn both to ‘read. Such perfecting takes place in the alchemist’s laboratory. but in a transmutation both of the focus of the work and of the artist. All of this underscores how alchemy and Hermeticism pervaded the pansophic esotericism that came to dominate the early modern period. and this almost infinite adaptability undoubtedly derives from the universalism of their central perspective. for example. which consists in the transmutation and restoration of all things. but subtle and spiritual qualities as well. so that everything—mineral. capable of taking on whatever coloration fits with their surroundings.’ There is. recipes. Here. While it is true that alchemical aims may at first seem circumscribed to the revelation of the philosopher’s stone. Thus we may well say that. requiring long familiarity with special symbols. however far-reaching. we find that such aims are in fact vast indeed. or grammars. alchemy goes well beyond contemporary conceptions of art. air. Alchemy. letters. Alchemy. of course. the stars and planets—is revealed as a cosmic language and as a spiritual means of transmutation. as we have come to see it since the seventeenth century. 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. water. consisting not only in the perfection of elixirs or medicines drawn from herbs and metals. and to ‘write.

The ‘solution. and also a successor’s primary guide to achieving transcendence. Rather. between subject and object.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. one would have the solution. albeit knowledge that is not quantitative but qualitative. nature. This unity is founded in the fundamental union of humanity. and science are one. and the divine in ever more profound ways. and that presupposes and requires humility before power greater than oneself. 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 the restoration of the right . alchemy consists in coming to understand the nature of consciousness and the consciousness of nature. except that an alchemical work is not simply decoded as if. like those of science. 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. and the divine that it is alchemy’s goal to restore. For not only is the division between self and other or between subject and object gradually revealed to be false in alchemy. humanity. the mysteries are conveyed primarily through literary riddles and parabolic expressions.’ in the case of alchemy. and cannot be understood without reference to our inner human landscape of consciousness. For there is here an operative mysticism of the word—the written word and image become a medium to express transcendence. were one to decipher what x and y mean. In alchemy. no doubt of that. Here in alchemy. between the observer and that which is observed. This is by no means to suggest. It is true that more recently theorists. literature takes on a greater significance than simply alluding to an oral tradition where the real mysteries are conveyed. But virtually no one has looked at alchemy as a field where all such apparent divisions are overcome. alchemy is understood through living symbols that allow us to understand nature. Indeed. both of physics and of literary criticism. that alchemy is chiefly psychological. For in alchemy literature is a means of transmitting precise knowledge of nature. In Christian terms. But in alchemical works. in the manner of a mathematical equation. However. and the divine. Contemporary views of literature. have begun to argue the insufficiency and even the falsehood of such easy divisions. humanity. so too is the apparent (but strictly modern) division between the sciences and the humanities. Oral commentary by a master is important. I would use the word decoding. religion. largely have been based in a fundamental division between the writer and the reader. like Jung. extends into a range of realms at once. 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. this is expressed in terms of the Fall and expulsion from Eden. as in Christian mysticism and in Jewish Kabbalism. literature.

Western esotericism is not easily fixed or quantified but changes according to its historical context. divided against the world. against ourselves. when its literature and imagery attained its most brilliant formation. it has not only continued to exist to the present day. During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. A N D M A S O N I C L I T E R AT U R E Although Western esoteric traditions may be studied in isolation. written works were comparatively difficult to obtain. esoteric universalism became more and more commonplace. precisely what we find at the end of numerous alchemical treatises. This universalism is the dream that was to haunt virtually the entirety of modern Western esotericism. in the modern era. As we have seen. Rosicrucianism. but in relation to a host of other currents. Such a restoration takes us beyond the separated consciousnesses in which we now find ourselves. But alchemy did not disappear thereafter. between the sciences and the . one must keep in mind its essential fluidity: alchemy during the early modern period did not exist alone. R O S I C R U C I A N . We should also keep in mind the growing split. Literature here is a means toward awakening greater consciousness. THE DIVINE SCIENCE: T H E O S O P H I C . and Freemasonry. PA N S O P H I C . even if its fundamental outlines or concerns remain the same. In the study of Western esotericism. with the invention of the printing press and with concomitant investigation into the numerous esoteric currents of antiquity. and brings us gradually by way of a spiritual process that includes physical and transphysical work. So it is with alchemy. toward the revelation of the fundamental consciousness informing all that lives. 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. especially during the eighteenth. The major currents of modern Western esotericism developed in the context of burgeoning knowledge about the past. it is perhaps more useful to keep in mind their social and historical contexts. it became possible to conceive of a universal approach to knowledge that included the whole of the human inheritance. and twentieth centuries. Whereas in the medieval period and earlier. nineteenth. Indeed. but also fed into other major currents of Western esotericism. We have already seen how alchemy emerged during the early modern period. and against the divine. pansophy.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 67 human relationship to nature and to the divine corresponds to a restoration of paradise. esotericism necessarily became even more eclectic in scope. the essential purpose of the resonant alchemical symbolism. And it is to these that we will now turn our attention. in particular Christian theosophy.

all human knowledge was conceived of as unified—like a wheel whose spokes are the various disciplines and arts. in Western esotericism we find. and in religion. illustration and literature. But Western esotericism. chemistry. The Copernican revolution. Rather. this sense of unity dissolved. wrote literary works. we find a historical movement toward more and more specialized and fragmented knowledge. in the sciences. the “illuminated shoemaker” of Görlitz. explored theology and metaphysics. comparative and syncretic. at least in the secular world. Thus during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries we find numerous major esoteric figures who engaged in scientific investigations. with each of the disciplines ever more separated from the others. aimed for a universal approach to knowledge that. as we have already glimpsed in the case of alchemy. nor is that our aim. in the arts. Whereas in medieval Europe and England. and the historical and comparative investigations into Christian origins. to name only a few of the most luminary. and Franz von Baader. However. trace the broader lineaments of recent Western esotericism. we will instead look closely at some seminal authors in the modern esoteric traditions and by so doing. the historical movement of Western esotericism during the modern period is to unify the entire range of human knowledge. in a border area where he came in contact with a range of esoteric traditions. the discovery of more complex technology.” One thinks of figures as diverse as Robert Fludd. John Pordage. and the sciences and humanities in turn ever more separated from religion. the emergence of biology. It is true that. near Poland. Any study of modern Western esoteric traditions must consider the work of Jacob Böhme (1575–1624). and in general correspond to the description of “Renaissance man. a city on the eastern side of Germany. quite the opposite movement. But here we do not have space for a complete survey of all such figures.68 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E humanities. and including a vast commentary on Genesis called Mysterium Magnum. physical chemistry from metaphysics. particularly during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. and whose center is spiritual knowledge—with the advent of the Protestant era. But his inspiration came chiefly from within. our approach being thematic. including. continued and developed this belief in a unified approach to knowledge. and geology. medicine and astrology. rather than seeking to separate. practiced medicine and astrology. say. or Aurora. and drawing from his visionary experiences. much more indebted to the medieval era than is usually supposed. as well as De Signatura . from the eighteenth to the twentieth century. he wrote numerous works beginning with Die Morgenröte. Böhme lived during a time of social unrest. archaeology. instead seeks ever more firmly to conjoin them. including Kabbalism and Hermeticism. Indeed. For the Western esoteric traditions that emerged during this period. nonsectarian and ecumenical approaches to spirituality. the fields of alchemy. all acted to separate religious faith from scientific investigation and from literature and the arts.



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



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

we find ample confirmation of all the primary elements of Western esotericism thus far traced. for it captured the imagination of the age with its tale of Christian Rosencreutz and his mysterious journeys through exotic lands and secret knowledge.” C. was to follow Christ by renewing all arts to perfection. C. Not coincidentally. the gnostic goal of Kabbalism. translates the “book M. This journey may also be seen as a kind of visionary recital. he begins a secret fraternity with only four members including him- . The Fama begins by telling the story of C. and this is the “book M. R. Certainly we can agree with Frances Yates’s assessment that Rosicrucian may more wisely be seen historically as describing a particular kind of approach to arcane knowledge than as a specific organized order.. but at the same time it links the Rosicrucian movement from the very beginning with the most gnostic aspects of Islam and Judaism. R. are to be collected by the wise. R. And of course this brief work. underscoring immediately the movement’s eclecticism.” These “Books of Nature.44 For when we look at the actual wording of the Fama and the Confessio. according to the Fama. like its complement the Confessio. and why he is called Microcosmos. whereas there is another more mysterious book that is the source of wisdom.” into good Latin from Arabic. and among Sufis and Kabbalists.”46 When C. of Christian theosophy as well. generally speaking. Hermeticism.”45 This universal renewal and extension of knowledge is. returns eventually to Germany. and how far his knowledge extendeth into Nature. in the Orient. R. and later. even if at times such orders did exist. For from the very beginning of the Fama. like us. “or a perfect method of all arts. But in any event.. Böhme’s writing and thought both paralleled and influenced that of the Brotherhood of the Rosy Cross. as well as with its assertion of a secret order as keeper of profound and powerful knowledge and means. travels to the Fez and to the Damascus of the mind. the book is a central image and source of wisdom. both the Fama and the Confessio reveal the fundamental themes we have seen woven through the Western esoteric traditions. and who goes as well to Egypt—precisely where European esotericism has always located its sources of arcane knowledge.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). they could collect Librum Naturae. which first came to general public attention with the publication of the Fama Fraternitatis. But there are many other elements here that correspond exactly to our primary themes. “so that finally man might thereby understand his own nobility and worth. if not universalism. and later we are told that Paracelsus had also “diligently read over the book M: whereby his sharp ingenium was exalted. Indeed. we are told at the outset that were the learned wise. The Rosicrucians’ goal.” however. who travels among the Arabians and the Jews on a quest to Jerusalem. To see the journey as a visionary recital also helps elucidate its most salient feature: the book. a visionary trip to the Orient of the spirit. caused a great stir in Europe.

. we find references to far-flung places and hidden wisdom. with a large dictionary . “began the Fraternity of the Rose Cross. Yet once again. or are able to believe or utter. The Confessio begins by telling us that its authors cannot be suspected of any heresy. it is to read the universal book. every one with their several figures and sentences.”49 How could this mysterious building be invisible and untouched unless the building. and hidden to the wicked world. And there is in the tomb’s description a great deal of arcane geometry and architecture. . by four persons only. a century old. are now. than that which is the head and sum.” the Fama continues. but follow only Christ. and arts. . that you could so read in one only book. the foundations and contents of all faculties. is.”50 Thus the essence of Rosicrucianism is the universal philosophy informing all arts and sciences. and all are sworn to write down all that they learn. the Fama concludes by asserting that “our building (although one hundred thousand people had very near seen and beheld the same) shall for ever remain untouched. The description is often hard to follow. “After this manner. sciences. Interestingly. as well as a host of mysterious letters and Latin inscriptions. . of eclecticism or universalism. called I. as they are truly shown and set forth Concentratum here in our book.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 73 self. recur as well in the Confessio. they also made the first part of the book M. or hope for. . so that no one might later be deceived. and with mention of one hundred fortyfour thousand saved from the wicked world at time’s end? These themes. belongs to the mind and imagination.” There is more.”48 But the import is clear: the tomb’s architecture itself. and shall be learned and found out of them?”51 . he was placed in his tomb with a parchment book. not the body? And does not the “one hundred thousand” resonate with the Book of Revelation. undestroyed. shall find more wonderful secrets by us than heretofore they did attain unto . and of reading the mysterious book of books. the which (if we well behold our age) containeth much of Theology and medicine . like the book. forms “sentences” and a kind of book of the hidden principles of nature and of the microcosm. Certainly reading and writing are central to the Rosicrucian mysteries. of the uniting of all arts and sciences.”47 These early members of the Rose Cross order then collected of their own writings “a book of all that which man can desire. and shall be) hath been. first. itself a work with intricate geometric symbolism. all that which in all other books (which heretofore have been. . wish. and come into our brotherhood. and we find this definition of the Rosicrucian philosophy: “No other Philosophy have we. whereof all learned who make themselves known to us. the Confessio asks: “Were it not a precious thing. and pay no mind to the Pope or Muhammed. and withal by reading understand and remember. and by them was made the magical language and writing. as when we are told that every “side or wall is parted into ten figures. For when Christian Rosencreutz died. Among other questions. full of geometric symbolism.

an era that recalls the earlier hierohistorical mysticism of Joachim of Fiore and his complex theory of a coming “age of the Holy Spirit. and that one must approach it with humility or find nothing. and made. All of this. . or sixth age. for instance. reminds us rather strikingly of the Book of Revelation. without and against the will of God. metahistorical events at the end of time. of course. the Bible.” The authors of the Fama and the Confessio certainly believed in the hierohistorical significance of certain dates and astrological conjunctions connected. who as we have seen drew upon Kabbalistic sources. in which we find the sources of many subsequent works illustrated by . and grave warnings are given to those who approach its mysteries selfishly. in the Rosicrucian mysteries. and quite probably to Egypt. a new era for mankind. . . yea. and have found out.54 It is no coincidence that Böhme titled his first book Aurora. as God hath here and there incorporated them in the Holy Scriptures. with all of its emphasis on hierogeometry. 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. so hath he imprinted them most apparently into the wonderful creation of heaven and earth. stretching back at least to the Gnostics. and endue them with learning . the universal revelation of Christ to humanity. .74 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Likewise. From which characters or letters we have borrowed our magic writing. including the hierohistorical view of dates and the expectation of an impending apocalypse or unveiling. It certainly emerges in the Middle Ages in the works of Agrippa and Trithemius.”55 The implication is that here. it shall be so far from him who thinks to get the benefit and be partaker of our riches and knowledge. 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.”52 “These characters and letters. a new language for ourselves. Clearly for our purposes the most relevant aspect of these most seminal Rosicrucian documents is their embrace of linguistic mysticism. unto any man without the special pleasure of God. a very long history in the West. and above all. in the which withall is expressed and declared the nature of all things. yea. yet shall we never be manifested . . These aspects of Rosicrucianism. correspond closely to what we also find in Christian theosophy at roughly the same time. and writing in a “magic language. or worse than nothing. Throughout they emphasize reading the divine books of humanity and nature. into all beasts . is hidden the real essence of Christianity itself.” Such an idea of a magic language has. . with the date 1604. One can hardly miss the Biblical resonances of these final words of the Confessio: “Although we might enrich the whole world.”53 The implication throughout the Fama and the Confessio is that there is dawning a miranda sexta aetatis. for instance. Agrippa and Trithemius are well known for their primary and influential works on magic. and held that there was emerging a new revelation. of course. But this new revelation must be approached with humility.

By 1623. on a pansophic mysticism. John Dee (1527–1604). One finds this word appearing frequently in Hermetic publications immediately following . there was a great deal of anti-Rosicrucian sentiment. The Rosicrucian dream. Here.” which has subsequently played an extensive role in the history of magic in the West. that is. it should be publicly proclaimed in this way. and the subsequent furor manifested itself in a host of other Rosicrucian works. a work so incredibly full of dense oneiric symbolism that next to it other literary works generally seem comparatively devoid of symbols.” one of the most famous instances of which Dee is responsible for? We might also remark on the history of Rosicrucianism after the publication of the Fama. peaceful. 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. But it is worthwhile to note that the Rosicrucian furor lasted only a few short years.56 Is it only coincidence that the date given as the discovery of C.’s tomb. 1604. is the date of Dee’s death? And is it only coincidence that the Fama and Confessio make so much of a “magical language. was of a non-sectarian. 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. Here. and playfully symbolic Chemical Wedding of Christian Rosencreutz.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 75 sigils and magic squares. it is a culture founded on Kabbalah and alchemy. in his controversial “conversations with spirits” along with Edward Kelley. R. Here we must introduce the word pansophy. precisely the time of political upheaval in Germany and the advent of the Thirty Years’ War. one is calling upon the language of the stars in order to invoke the powers or intelligences with which they are connected. particularly in France. universal culture dedicated to the investigation of the language of nature. or why. we have no reason to delve into the question of whether there existed any such secret orders. as well as a developing mythology of Rosicrucianism. as Frances Yates notes. written in the microcosm and in the macrocosm. demons. who. or pansophia. and it too has been used in magical workings. and the outrageously baroque. which we see outlined in the Fama and Confessio. the Confessio. 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. By using these stellar and numerical patterns in ritual magic. The Enochian language is a mysterious tongue that requires tables or “keys” for its deciphering. disappearing around 1620. brilliant. if there was such a fraternity as claimed in the Fama and Confessio. even a kind of nascent Rosicrucian witch-hunt. One also finds such a magical language in the work of Dr. as well as in subsequent literature. discovered the “Enochian language. or intelligences. stellar and numerical patterns connected to specific angels.

in contrast to theosophy. 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. but one might well see chemistry as a dimunition of alchemy—for alchemy requires humility and selflessness. cabala.p. including. whereas purely chemical experimentation requires nothing of oneself except to be a firmly rationalist observer. Ruechlin. We might recall that. in order to form the basis for a new. 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. hence on our separation from and manipulation of them. but like Dee. or a Brief Introduction to the Ancient Wisdom. of course. 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. and gnostic. The word Pansophia here separates this new form of esotericism from Theosophia. although the Kabbalists we discussed earlier were almost exclusively interested in what we may call high mysticism. The latter are all based in an objectivization of the cosmos or of humanity as objects of study. for instance. herbalism. In many respects. but the pansophic impulse nonetheless has continued to govern Western esotericism up to the present day. The pansophic current includes all the primary streams of esotericism. there is a long tradition of Kabbalism as . cabalistic. that quixotic character still insufficiently studied. Stellatus cites Hermes Trismegistus (of course!). central to the subsequent emergence of modern forms of esotericism. and inquiry into nature more generally.. alchemical. Pansophy. and Michael Maier. The word pansophy itself largely disappears from the European vocabulary after the eighteenth century. 1618)]. an esoteric universalism that includes alchemy. magical. is universal. The most obviously included is natural magic. certainly was temporarily vanquished by rationalist materialism. or magia naturalis. often with Kabbalistic influence. and thus places himself squarely in the mainstream of the primary Western esoteric currents. healing. mechanism. not specifically Christian. derived from alchemy. The pansophic view. but one also finds the emergence of various other shades of magic. various forms of magic. in its aims and in the sources upon which it draws. Paracelsus. it emphasizes magic. as in for instance Joseph Stellatus’s Pegasus Firmamenti sive Introductio brevis in veterum sapientiam [Pegasus of the Firmament. but what the word signifies certainly does not disappear. and draws eclecticly on much earlier ‘pagan’ traditions like those attributed to Egypt and Persia. It is true that chemistry.76 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E the Rosicrucian announcements. alchemy. and technologism. Christian or not. universal culture like that imaged in Bacon’s New Atlantis or other utopias of the time. pansophy resembles the aims and works of Giordano Bruno. which is specifically Christian gnosis.

There are numerous such manuscripts with various versions of these ilustrations. Metaphysica. One also can see in such willingness to incorporate any form of knowledge whatever.M. which later emerged in almost endless detail in the Geheime Figuren [Secret Figures] of the Rosicrucians. at the other pole research into the previously forbidden also becomes more common. printed by Theodore de Bry in 1582. And in fact most grimoires have a Hebrew basis for the angelic and demonic names and characteristics that they list for invocation or evocation. nee non Magia. we tend to think of Faust. One sees this desire to map the cosmos in the emergence. including the names and seals or sigils of angels in Hebrew and Latin. and much else. diagrams. Yet the Faustian impulse to search out all knowledge and means of knowledge. It was probably preceded by and certainly followed by other versions. who refused to allow any boundaries to his search for knowledge. a series of extraordinarily complex illustrations. Here we have a massive compendium of magical knowledge.. including a French edition titled F. It is an astonishingly complex illustration. with concentric circles marking divinity at the top. is peculiarly modern and in some respects characteristically pansophic. Philosophia. of vast and intricate tables. and a series of .HISTORICAL CURRENTS 77 the basis for magical practices including sorcery. one finds a range of possibilities opening up. including sorcery. Cabballa: Not Only Magic and Philosophy. in later Rosicrucianism. and illustrations revealing the hidden nature of the universe. The Faustian legend is so resonant still because it expresses something fundamental about the emerging modern period. Cabball. planetary correspondences. D. predating the Rosicrucian furor but certainly influencing its later productions. Among the first of these. as a somewhat medieval figure. the pansophic impulse is fundamentally similar to the scientific: it consists in investigation into the mysteries of the unknown and of nature. atque Chymia [Divine Figure of Theosoph.57 and in all cases is replete with examples of the effort to map universal knowledge not only physical but also metaphysical. and if at one pole rationalist disbelief in the transcendent becomes acceptable. This compilation is of special importance for us because it reveals the far-flung syncretic origins of the pansophic impulse. the pansophic impetus behind the legend of Johannes Faust. magic squares. de La Rose-Croix. et Hyperphysica. who makes a pact with Mephistopheles in order to gain knowledge. even if it is illicit. chiefly under the title Physica. Once Protestantism and secularism began to emerge in Europe.O. The Geheime Figuren der Rosenkreuzer. Of course because of the ascent of rationalist materialism and secularism. and perhaps all belonging to the late eighteenth century.58 Characteristic of these esoteric illustrations is one entitled Figura Divina Theosoph. was the Calendarium Naturale Magicum Perpetuum Profundissimam Rerum Secretissimarum Contemplationem [Perpetual Natural Magical Calendar] of Tycho Brahe. But Chemistry]. was published at Altona in 1785–1788. almost all. In some respects.A.

here we have a different focus.O. Son.M. but a map of the hidden aspects of the world. the lower sphere represents the temporal realm. and Holy Spirit. such spiritual mapmaking has its predecessors in the medieval era. also was relied upon as Queen Elizabeth’s cartographer. and with the word Chaos.59 There is a great deal of controversy over the precise relation of such a manuscript or illustration to Böhmean theosophy. it seems entirely symbolically appropriate that Dr. entitled “Unendliche Ewigkeit und Unerforschliche Primum Mobile” [“Infinite Eternity and Unknowable Primum Mobile”]. Extremely intricate hyperphysical cartography like this seems to be chiefly a creation of the early modern period. in time and in eternity.” and has on either side gnomic sayings.78 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E triangles and concentric circles below. or to Rosicrucianism.” and “Mineral Seed. surrounded by winged angelic forms. . Below that is an intermediate principial realm marked “Water. is an effort to render a mappa mundi. The term occult sciences may raise an eyebrow. as well as Jehovah in Hebrew. For our focus is upon what such an illustration signifies. yet there is ample reason to use such a term.” and so forth. so too it was an era of hyperphysical cartography. for instance. Here chaos does not mean total confusion so much as ‘potentiality’. marked also Father. but it appears the early modern mania for physical cartography had its exact complement in the occult sciences—indeed. but even more because there is good reason to think of Western esoteric currents in general as being based in verifiable experimentation. we find a more or less typical series of images: above is the Prima Materia. Fundamentally the same characteristics mark the comprehensive esotericism represented by the D. the greatest occultist of his day. such as “Ein Prophet gilt nichst in seinem Vaterlande [A prophet is not honored in his native land. Is there a direct indebtedness to Böhmean theosophy. of its hyperphysical dimensions. John Dee. marking a host of alchemical stages and enigmatic sayings as well as planetary and zodiacal symbols.” “Heavenly Seed.” “Animal Seed. Just as the eighteenth century was an era of physical cartography. partaking in both. 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 Earth depicted as a ball exists between the elemental and intermediate realms.” “Vegetable Seed.A. not only because many of the early major scientific figures were in fact also alchemists. of course. that is. for instance. of efforts to survey the ethereal realms. And thus when we look at an illustration from D.A. in visual form. in scholastic theology. and in the effort to create a comprehensive map of the cosmos. in investigation without regard for dogmatic religious barriers.]” Below is an elemental sphere marked with the zodiacal signs. Here.M.O. manuscript and the efforts at a comprehensive cosmology found in modern science. This middle realm is marked “Figura Cabbalistica.

and specifically. For all of the Rosicrucian. and became one of the most impressive writers on religious and spiritual themes of the nineteenth century. a prolific chronicler of the unseen. or the Glory of the Rosie-cross. We have already referred to Georg von Welling’s Opus Mago-Cabbalisticum et Theosophicum (1784). representing exactly such a compendium of knowledge in largely written form (albeit including also illustrations and tables). theosophic. From the seventeenth until the twentieth centuries. and it is also clearly visible in the major works of that era. And it is in the sociopolitical realm that the Rosicrucian impulse had considerable impact. denigrated in his own day as something of a plagiarist. Another such figure. when esotericists could imagine a unified cosmology that included religion. (London: 1665). who studied minerology. (London: 1663–1664) and The Wise-mans Crown. first with the consistent emphasis of Rosicrucian works on the transformation of society and the establishment of a utopia. Heydon’s Theomagia in particular attempts to be a kind of universal compendium of the occult sciences. not a visionary. the social and political realm. truly a Renaissance man. and is certainly not limited to works labeled Rosicrucian. of course. and literature in a spiritually centered universe. But such universalism is a constant theme from the seventeenth century on. and associated with the vast . Freemasonry. who in his multivolume Göttliche und Wahre Metaphysica (Frankfurt/Leipzig: 1715/1746) (probably written during the 1670s. One sees this also. stretching right into the nineteenth century. at a truly comprehensive metaphysics and cosmology. Western esotericism often aims at universal knowledge. and pansophic movements we have discussed in turn fed into Freemasonry. was John Heydon. and later in the development of modern Freemasonry. author of such works as Theomagia. One finds the same effort at universality in theosophy. originally a scientist. unlike these other more individualistic movements. science. maintained a definite organizational hierarchy and structure. Such a universalist goal does not exclude the human. of course. those of masonry belonging to the arts of architecture and building.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 79 There was a time. began in the medieval period as one of many craft guilds. chronicled what one discovers in visiting in vision the various discarnate realms of existence. not so very long ago. each of which guarded its particular mysteries. or the Temple of Wisdom. in the numerous volumes of Emanuel Swedenborg (1688–1772). but published only in German). as for instance in the vast metaphysical cartography of John Pordage (1604–1681). the arts. but a profound intellectual who consciously sought to bridge the gap between the sciences and religion. which. in other words. 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). This is the kind of comprehensive worldview visible in such illustrations as the ones we see emerging during the eighteenth century. invented an industrial process.

It is true that there were other such guilds with their own rites and mysteries. Robert Fludd (1574–1637) was born into a Shropshire family. Martianus Capella and. and its universalist esotericism became immensely influential in Masonic circles chiefly through the auspices of Robert Fludd and Elias Ashmole. having received a knighthood for his military service. Indeed. to a speculative. of course. Sir Thomas Fludd. clearly sought to incorporate the full range of human knowledge into his theosophia perennis. if as a fraternity it had ever really existed at all. and Rosicrucianism.80 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E cathedrals of medieval Europe. semireligious occult fraternity. 1617). of course. and having left his military career to become a justice of the peace in Kent. the exact history of this transformation is sketchy at best. including his encyclopedic Utriusque Cosmi Maioris Scilicet et Minoris Metaphysica. Certainly it is the case that Rosicrucianism as a movement dried up fairly early. but as an influence Rosicrucianism remained powerful. Like Paracelsus himself. on which he explicitly drew. but it is clear that like Rosicrucianism. in 1616 and 1617. not surprisingly. Such publication was. Fludd. Masonry. Indeed. contact probably having its origins in the lengthy period of communication between Islamic. Fludd was among the first to develop a comprehensive esoteric framework for seeing the world. John’s College in Oxford.” published in Leiden. primarily because of Kabbalistic influence that allowed Freemasonry to transform itself completely from a society devoted to the arts of building. the arts. (where he probably began to learn Paracelsian medicine). the conventional way of advertising one’s desire to join the fraternity. Fludd was somewhat contentious as a young physician. and the sciences. the Kabbalah. Robert Fludd went to St. 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. Plato and the Bible. and among his primary influences were Kabbalism. and although . intended as a vast compendium of human knowledge including theosophy. 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. Of course. Freemasonry became the nexus for many prior esoteric traditions. to whom the term Renaissance man could certainly be applied. Physica Atque Technica Historia [History of the Macrocosm and Microcosm] (Oppenheim: de Bry. traveled for a time as a tutor to aristocratic families on the Continent. and during this time began work on his major treatises. and eventually returned to England to receive his doctorate in medicine. his father. 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. Jewish. flourished in the vicinity of Jewish scholarship and Kabbalism. and Christian circles in Spain and Provençe. but the Freemasons endured the longest.

Such attacks undoubtedly prompted Fludd to write in his Clavis Philosophae that the name Rosicrucian must today be replaced by simply “the Wise. he may indeed have provided a bridge between the earlier Rosicrucian movement and the nascent Masonic one. 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. was very influential in the founding of Rosicrucianism some years after Dee’s travels through Germany and Eastern Europe. And Dee and Browne in turn knew Ashmole. who was certainly acquainted with Fludd before Fludd’s death in 1637.”61 But for our purposes. in the Ashmolean library at Oxford.60 Then again. Arthur Dee. back and forth in an intricate series of associations and publications that certainly have not been exhaustively examined. By the early 1630s. one of the major English literary figures of the seventeenth century. and through his acquaintance with Elias Ashmole. Dee’s son. who was responsible in part for the renaissance of Rosicrucianism within English Freemasonry. Himself an alchemist. having been initiated into a Masonic lodge in 1646. since the Rosicrucians were traditionally sworn to silence. Marin Mersenne. Yet this relationship itself is only the tip of a far greater network of associations and friendships as well as influences. Frances Yates convincingly argues that Dr. used his wealth and influence primarily and one may even say. Mersenne was a friend of the young René Descartes. he did say that the Rosicrucian “Pansophia or universal knowledge in Nature” was very like his own view. who in turn was a friend of Sir Thomas Browne.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 81 Fludd later claimed that he received no reply. and assiduous bibliophile. for he himself noted that “Robert Fludd in his apology for the Brethren of the Rosie Cross hath gone very far herein. Ashmole. John Dee. almost exclusively for esoteric causes. and who collected much on and by John Dee—so that one might well say that the esoteric movement here went from England to the Continent. it was also conventional to say that one had received no reply. But in any event. was himself an alchemist and esoteric scholar. Dr. was a remarkable figure who stood at the center of esoteric currents in England. and especially his treatise Monas Hieroglyphica. it is clear that Fludd identified with the Rosicrucian views. . That Ashmole knew of Fludd and his Rosicrucianism is certain.” Elias Ashmole. astrologer. most significant is the fact that Ashmole was demonstrably a Mason. Ashmole collected what undoubtedly was and remains one of the world’s greatest collections of papers and books. for thus we can see direct evidence of the link between earlier Rosicrucianism and later Freemasonry. and back to England. it was clear to Fludd that identification with the Rosicrucians subjected one to much public vitriol—Fludd had been the subject of bitter attacks by a French monk. born to an aristocratic family.

had had connections with John Dee and Edward Kelley. or as Kabbalistic. of course. All three of the men had been active in Rosicrucian circles.64 These three men. editor of the extensive Theatrum Chemicum Brittanicum collection of alchemical works. and wrote himself in Theatrum Chemicum that the spiritual son was under an obligation never to reveal the mystery into which he was initiated.62 Backhouse’s father. Comenius had developed a system of education based in analogical correspondences. Samuel. Hugh Trevor-Roper remarks that Cromwell’s movement was impelled by “three philosophers . meaning that they convey the true and secret name and character of the philosophic work. except to his own spiritual son. The true name is hidden. He also was a practicing Hermetic esotericist. . . . using a symbolic metalanguage. but they are in any case gnostic. and now in England all worked at the immediate transformation of society into a peaceful. said to have its origins in the revelation of Hermes to his “spiritual son.”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 transmitted orally from master to one disciple since antiquity. and William Backhouse adopted Ashmole as a “son. non-sectarian utopia where all the divisions of knowledge could be studied together. which in turn harks back to the “namelessness” and invisibility of the true Knights of the Round Table in chivalric literature. It is significant that Ashmole.” or what Comenius termed the Collegium Lucis. and Hartlib had worked to form such colleges both in Germany . who had left Germany for England after the failure of the Palatinate. and according to Ashmole’s note in 1653. If this were the only instance of ‘magical language’ during this era of the emergence of Freemasonry as a vehicle for esotericism.” “bequeathed to me as a legacy. one could ignore it. an esoteric network of illuminated intelligentsia.82 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Ashmole.” Samuel Hartlib (1593–1670). were at the center of a movement of educational and societal reform called the “invisible college. All of this. conveyed to Ashmole “in Silables the true matter of the Philosopher’s Stone. This was a Hermetic spiritual adoption. These “silables” may be seen as alchemical hieroglyphs. was not simply an antiquarian. although certainly that impulse was strong in him. himself an alchemist and antiquarian as well as a botanist and student of architecture. and must remain so. John Dury (1596–1680). and only philosophers of the English Revolution. introduced Ashmole to Hermetic circles. whose mentor was William Backhouse of Swallowfield (1593–1662). resonates closely with the Rosicrucian ideal of silence and invisibility. but instead one finds that a linguistic mysticism was in fact at the heart of a movement that fired the English Civil War. Backhouse contributed old alchemical manuscripts to Ashmole’s collection. .” attested in a note by Ashmole dated 3 April 1651. when Backhouse thought he was dying. and John Comenius (1592–1690). after recording this revelation. of course. the real . never referred to it again.

2. there is another aspect of such a magical language: its universality. means that “A Mason is oblig’d by his Tenure to obey the Moral Law . Chymical.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 83 and in England. A magical Language whereby secrets may be delivered and preserved to such as are made acquainted with it traditionally. according to the Constitutions. Philosophicall. Early in the eighteenth century.65 Dury’s remarks here are interesting not least because they reveal his attraction to Jewish Kabbalism. like the symbolism of alchemy. so that by the mid-eighteenth century much of the Western world was dotted with Masonic groups. needless to say. . Also important here is the third point. whereby not only the Secrets of Disciplines are harmonically and compendiously delivered. and also to convey what cannot be conveyed in common language. Its pansophic universality has its parallel in the universalism of Masonry. esoteric: to limit those who understand it. which had a considerable influence in promoting Masonry’s nonsectarian tolerance. Freemasonry. there is little in the basic principles of Freemasonry to suggest a specific Masonic esotericism. and Mechanical. Some extraordinary meanes to perfeit the knowledge and unvail the mysteryes of the Propheticall scriptures.”66 But this rationalist tolerance marks exoteric Freemasonry. . . which from a Christian viewpoint could well be defined as “some extraordinary meanes to perfeit the knowledge and unvail the mysteryes” of the Scriptures.” certainly a pansophic goal. and as Edmond Mazet remarks. and had often been seen as a means of connecting Christianity with Judaism. Such a language. But most important for us is the final point. the establishing of a “magical language” for the conveying of secret knowledge. the conjoining of all the disciplines in service of the “secrets of Nature. would transcend any national or cultural linguistic boundaries. Arts and Sciences. 3. However. Meanes to perfeit the knowledge of the Orientall tongues and to gaine abilities fitt to deale with the Jewes. but also the Secrets of Nature are thought to be unfolded . 4. Masonry had a deist and rationalist quality that aided in its spread. which quickly established lodges all across Europe and in America. . visible in James Anderson’s Constitutions of the Freemasons (1723). whose calling is supposed to be neere at hand. 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. but it is on some remarks by Dury that we should now focus. For Dury listed under “Things to Be Observed” in his platform for social transformation: 1. The aim of a magical language is. .

or ignore esotericism. great. In it. announced in Ramsay’s oration. solid. a theosophic circle in London.67 There are echoes in this project of the Rosicrucian aims of a century before. This esotericism was kindled by Andrew Michael Ramsay (1686–1743). .84 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Yet if early-eighteenth-century Freemasonry. especially in England. he discussed the importance of chivalry and the Templars. England. On the other hand. for instance. and in 1737 gave an oration that had a profound effect. By this means the lights of all nations will be united in a single work. The work has already been commenced in London. he became a tutor to various aristocratic families. excepting only theology and politics. became prominent in French Masonry. thus stimulating a host of higher degrees. and master mason. it is not surprising that this project. including. after which he became secretary to Madame Guyon. In this oration. especially in France. Masonic values of rationalism. On the one hand. consisting in three degrees of apprentice. Thus we find that Freemasonry has a peculiarly dual relation to esotericism and modernity. and nonsectarianism certainly helped develop the modern era. a Scotsman who early in his life was a member of the Philadelphian Society of Jane Leade and Francis Lee. Ramsay also called for a massive project of universal illumination: All the Grand Masters in Germany. who had been initiated into Masonry years before. it quickly began to develop an esoteric emphasis. developing complicated symbolism in its rituals. . Masonry became a vehicle for esotericism. which will be a universal library of all that is beautiful. a Böhmenist who then sent him on to Archbishop Fénelon. one finds a continuous struggle since at least the eighteenth century between those such as Jean-Baptiste Willermoz (1730–1824). and indeed. and a long tradition of eclectic esotericism among its members. but here they take on a distinctly rationalist flavor. and those who insist on a much more exoteric. and by means of the union of our Brothers it may be carried to a conclusion in a few years . From here he went on to stay with Pierre Poiret. . Italy.68 Within Masonry itself. 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. After her death. one of the founders of the Rectified Scottish Rite and a powerful proponent of speculative or esoteric Masonry. nonsectarian basis. fraternal Freemasonry. suppress. and useful in all the sciences and in all the noble arts. fellow craftsman. had an exoteric. with its general tendency to reject. while publishing numerous books. the introduction of alchemical symbolism into the rites. luminous. has subsequently been credited with at least some of the inspiration for the later French philosophes and their Encyclopédie. Ramsay. And during this time. deism.

preserves its eighteenth grade as that of the Chevalier Rose-Croix. God has sealed the six directions of space. Freemasonry. even if it is subject to periodic spasms of anti-esotericism. especially with the founding of the Orden des Guelden-und Rosen-Cruetzes. the most popular form of contemporary Masonry. the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite. and so it is not surprising to discover that in 1676 we find Masonry associated with the “Modern Green Ribbon’d Caball. to wit I am.”69 These words take their derivation from the building of Solomon’s Temple.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 85 Yet despite the insistence of some on a more exoteric Masonry. yet in thirteen branches in reference to Christ and his twelve apostles. when we look closely at the emergence of Freemasonry. As we have already seen. according to the Sepher Yetsirah (1. based as it is on the craft of building. has a natural connection to Kabbalistic mysticism that also focuses on divine architecture. it continues to draw upon these and other currents to become itself among the most eclectic of esoteric traditions.”71 And there are some Hebrew words in early Masonic documents—not surprisingly. when “the secrets of Freemasonry [were] ordered aright as is now and will be to the end of the world for such as do rightly understand it—in three parts in reference to the blessed Trinity who made all things. in The Whole Institutions of Freemasons Opened (1725): “Yet for all this I want the primitive word. of human and divine architecture both. and six for the fellow craft. theosophic. such an emphasis on the powers of divine creation is characteristic of Kabbalism since the medieval period. by which. we find an exorcism ritual to be used by Masons in the construction of a building. which is as follows: one word for a divine. and alchemical currents of Western esotericism.” which Edmond Mazet sees as “a clear allusion to the six permutations of the trigrammaton YHW. In other words.8). specifically. I answer it was God in six Terminations. Indeed. six for the clergy.”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. that is. . a Masonic Rosicrucianism begun in 1757 in Germany that incorporated Templar and alchemical symbolism too. we find that it definitely does draw upon earlier esoteric currents. as maintaining a special linguistic power that lies at the heart of building. even to this day.” In other words. Rosicrucian. the tradition has long been seen as maintaining occult knowledge. a ritual that relies upon “foundation words. the tradition is linked to Masonic linguistic mysticism. and that as the Masonic current continues through the eighteenth century. but it also later drew explicitly and implicitly on the chivalric. from very early on in the development of modern Masonry.” as well as references to those who are said to have the “Mason’s word. In the Graham manuscript of 1726. the Order of the Gold and RosyCross. since one finds Hebrew frequently in Rosicrucian illustrations and works as well.

joining the humanities and the sciences under the aegis of a broadly conceived spirituality. in this case a universal esotericism that unites all forms of knowledge. When we consider the seminal modern Western esoteric currents together. All of these esoteric currents further presuppose that humans are capable of spiritual regeneration and of attaining gnosis. divine language inheres in the whole of creation—each kind of creature bears within it the divine stamp. of course. One might best say that Freemasonry contains the possibility of a universalist esotericism. Rosicrucianism. and this the esotericist unveils through visionary perception. the theme of our next section. we see a central distinction between them all and what we can characterize as the dominant modern materialist view. Above all. but actually the means for overcoming that objectification. speculative Masonry is a manifestation of the more general modern dream of universalism. nature. and the divine. including humanity). Thus the esotericist plays a central role in the drama of cosmic redemption itself. by coming to learn the divine language of creation. in Western esotericism. but as the actual medium linking humanity. not consume it. For according to Western esotericism generally. Here. we are disregarding the more or less social aspects of Freemasonry.” or signature. as well as its political dimensions that came to the fore with Adam Weishaupt and others during the eighteenth century. And this role is played out through reading and writing. of how humanity is meant to redeem the cosmos. What is more. Masonry. not just as the means of communication among people. or direct experiential knowledge of the divine. woven through all of these traditions is the theme of language. Kabbalah.86 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Like the Rosicrucianism that preceded it. magic. Here. which has been sporadically realized by individuals. including alchemy. but of individuals and circles within the larger stream of Masonic tradition. . pansophy. 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. the esotericist is actually redeeming or restoring the cosmos to its transcendent or paradisal origin. The universalist esotericist dream is not the provenance of Masonry as an organization. all of these esoteric traditions are founded upon the overcoming of this objectification through the recognition of how microcosm and macrocosm are mutually illuminating. language is not just a means for objectification and separation. we cannot help but recognize similarities among them all. Finally. its secret “silable.

Figure 1 Alchemical images from Michael M a i e r. T r i p u s A u r e u s ( F r a n k f u r t : 1 6 1 8 ) . .

Figure 2 Another alchemical image M i c h a e l M a i e r. T r i p u s A u r e u s ( 1 6 1 8 ) . from .

Figure 3 Theosophic image entitled “Serenity” from Jacob Böhme. oder: Alle Götliche Schriften Jacob Böhmens (1730 ed.). edited by Johann Georg Gichtel. . Theosophia Revelata.

Figure 4 Theosophic image entitled “Three Principles” from Jacob Böhme. edited by Johann Georg Gichtel. . Theosophia Revelata. oder: Alle Götliche Schriften Jacob Böhmens (1730 ed.).

Figure 5 Theosophic image entitled “Earthly and Heavenly Mysterium” from Jacob Böhme. edited by Johann Georg Gichtel. Theosophia Revelata. oder: Alle Götliche Schriften Jacob Böhmens (1730 ed.). .

. 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 . Note that beyond the celestial hierarchy is the Ungrund.

O p u s M a g o .Figure 7 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. Note the threedimensional nature of the illustration. (Frankfurt: 1784). as well as the prominence of the figure of the eye.

C a b b a l i s t i c u m e t T h e o sophicum (Frankfurt: 1784).Figure 8 Pansophic image from Georg von We l l i n g . . O p u s M a g o .

and the evocative.Figure 9 Cecil Collins. Note the contrast between the g e o m e t r i c a l i m a g e s i n G e o rg v o n We l l i n g ’s illustrations.” 1988. . otherworldly nature of Collins’s work. “The Music of Dawn.

” 1976. . “Paradise.Figure 10 Cecil Collins.

The Tempest. The main character. Now ‘tis true I must be here confined by you. has brought the play’s action to an end. And what strength I have’s my own.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. But release me from my bands With the help of your good hands. dwell In this bare island by your spell. or else my project fails. Prospero then offers the famous epilogue: Now my charms are all o’erthrown. art to enchant And my ending is despair Unless I be relieved by prayer Which pierces so that it assaults 87 . Which was to please. And pardoned the deceiver. Let me not Since I have my dukedom got. Now I want Spirits to enforce. and the comedic drama is brought to its resolution. Or sent to Naples. something remarkable happens at the play’s end. Gentle breath of yours my sails Must fill. the magician Prospero. Which is most faint. so that we are left viewing the magician himself.

we may read in order to gather information about a subject. but rather a linguistic manifestation of what informs and transcends these objects. and freed him. having relinquished his magical power. standing above a reclining woman. pansophy. a magical transferral has taken place: we realize that we are the magicians. winged creature in an ornate room. In this most magical of plays. To incant is to enchant. there are numbers. and Freemasonry. Here Prospero. We have already seen this linguistic mysticism in Kabbalism. to invoke the forces of creation itself. language is not a series of arbitrary signs used to designate objects. but there is no transference of magical power. But this is not the way literature always has been seen. shows a tall. is to touch the nature of being itself. reveals at a stroke the nature of magical esoteric literature. In all of these esoteric traditions. and seen it implied in chivalric and troubadour literature as well as in theosophy. via the main character. Warlick. letters. we may read in order to be diverted or entertained. Here. ours the prayers that can free Prospero just as he in turn held the spirit Ariel in enchantment. traditionally. Suddenly. Reading. This transference of magical power from the playwright and actor. or in works by twentieth-century authors that convey various forms of initiatory transmission. and words—often Hebrew. That is. today. but one can certainly trace throughout their history a thread that we might call the mysteries of the word. to the audience. is a prosaic matter. Prospero’s transfer of power from himself to his audience is reminiscent of Celtic tradition. As you from crimes would pardoned be. where the poet-singer is. as audience. Conventionally. Let your indulgence set me free. by virtue of his skill with words. whose fascination with Hermetic and alchemical themes is well known and documented conclusively by M. but the imagery is individualized and rendered surreal. but certainly not always—that in themselves are believed to powerful. for instance.1 Many of Ernst’s paintings reveal his use of alchemical imagery: his collage “The Laugh of the Cock” (1934). it is often inverted and does not . we realize that we. for most of us. Initially. behind whom is what at first glance resembles an alchemical retort with a candle in it. are the magicians.88 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Mercy itself and frees all faults. often little more than the accumulation of data. To be a vehicle for the right words. I had intended to include here a study of the art of surrealist Max Ernst. that ours is the magical breath to fill the sails. Ernst indeed draws on esoteric imagery. to sing or to say into being. in effect gives his wand to his audience. It is true that the Western esoteric traditions are very diverse. But closer examination of this and Ernst’s other works does not seem to reveal what we find in alchemical works themselves. for example. also a magician. Rosicrucianism. E.

Milosz traveled widely. S. during which time his family sold their estate. his mother Jewish. deeper study of how Western esotericism intersects with literature and consciousness in our own time. Milosz wandered the vast forests nearby as a child.2 And even when we turn to literature of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. V. And so we will concentrate first on the work of Oscar Vladislas de Lubicz Milosz (1877–1939). without question chiefly in the sphere of Hermeticism. and perhaps for someone else to do. to the magical fiction of C. It is true that esoteric themes or topics emerge in all sorts of unexpected places in modern literature. and so I will not discuss them further here. But his learning is of a particular kind. split further into sections on poetry and prose. Milosz is without question among the most learned poets of modern times. choosing a synecdochic study that will in turn illuminate aspects of literature that are today all too often overlooked. It is certainly worth doing. not only in the case of Ernst. but in that of the entire surrealist movement.. for instance. I cannot say with certainty whether or how Ernst’s works convey a particular kind of initiatory transmission. of even greater value is a vertical. horizontal survey is of value. V. and entry.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. for instance. into the world of French intelligentsia. Born to a wealthy family in Lithuania who lived on an estate called Czereïa. I will leave such a project for another time. his parents somewhat cold and aloof.3 But it is relatively difficult to find a poet whose primary concern is with these various Western esoteric traditions. third. Canticle of Knowledge: O. sometimes explicitly. I will instead focus on several major figures and trace the influences on their work. turning then to H. as with Yeats or H. secular or not. the poet H. Milosz and Spiritual Transmission through Poetry O. Milosz’s outward life can be outlined rather succinctly. (1886–1961). D. While a broad. Here. and finally to the remarkable art and writing of Cecil Collins (1909–1989). Lewis (1898–1963) and others. Naturally. more or less. with sections on each of the major currents. it would be possible to catalogue and survey how the Western esoteric traditions appear in relatively recent literary history. but there certainly is an area here worthy of further investigation. and at twelve he was sent to Paris for schooling. After a good education. sometimes more implicitly. However. D. as can in fact be said of the works of. He wrote poetry touching on the despair and hollowness of modernity. as with Emerson or Rilke. and who has incorporated the linguistic mysticism that emerges from them into his own poetry of the first order. we find that there are not too many authors who know about or are even concerned with this understanding of language. more . D.

come to fruition in literary form.” However. 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. neither Pordage nor Swedenborg was a poet. Swedenborg was. It was during the first half of this service that Milosz wrote his most Hermetic works. Financially ruined during this time by the collapse of Russia. to bring about a cultural renaissance that would join together the sundered limbs of human knowledge. by way of a renewed Hermetic spirituality. whose massive works are themselves scientific in their precise descriptions and careful elucidation of all the various “divine mansions. in fact. also a tactile visionary. Milosz also became active as a diplomat for Lithuania. But it is in Milosz that we see Swedenborg’s approach. and from this period on became a serious scholar of Hermeticism. and Western esotericism in general. and Johann Wolfgang Goethe (1749–1832). his effort to chronicle the visionary experience with a kind of new science of the spirit. theosophy. LouisClaude de Saint-Martin (1743–1803). Swedenborg of course was himself preceded in this effort by John Pordage. Kabbalah. Then. almost pedantic ways of their visionary experiences. Goethe. he remains a primary force behind the works of William Blake. which are what concern us here. but all of these under the sign of a Hermetic spirituality. and depicted as peculiarly concrete—the visionary realms of the spirit for him are palpable and his work certainly a kind of hyperphysical cartography. create a kind of lineage of such figures. who was trained as a scientist but went on to write voluminous works surveying the nature. a Don Juanesque figure. and invariably sought to conjoin not only the sciences and literature and the arts.90 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E or less like that of the early T. so his nephew Czeslaw Milosz later wrote. in 1914. and both wrote in dry. he experienced a spiritual illumination. but are in fact also intended to invoke these experiences in the reader. Eliot. in a mysterious way also embodies and is the experience. and perhaps remains. far more influential than is usually acknowledged in intellectual histories. in vision. In both Swedenborg and Goethe we see the emergence of what we might call a nascent spiritual science. Diverse as this list is in certain respects. and including such authors as Emanuel Swedenborg (1688–1772). perhaps the most seminal is Swedenborg. for that matter. Milosz’s predecessors in the Western literary tradition are indissolubly linked with religion and philosophy. hell. S. as he saw it. of heaven. William Blake (1757–1827). . beginning of course with Paracelsus and Böhme. and became. Among these figures. participating in the League of Nations and serving until his retirement in 1938. These Swedenborg saw. its members have in common that most lived during the eighteenth century and that they sought. and the dwelling places of spirits. One can. whose poems and prose are not only recountings of visionary experiences. though drawing on this tradition of scientific observation of visionary experience. Not so Milosz. and. Milosz’s poetry.

[The teaching of the sunlit hour of the divine nights. insisting instead on the inner creative life of the artist. At this juncture. Milosz himself wrote in a brief and late treatise on poetry. crown of human knowledge. de science et d’amour. 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. but indeed.”4 He discerned “a new mysticism. thieves of joy and pain. and also prehistory and archaic history. have received and already know. and from its fellow humanity and seemingly set adrift as an isolated being.”5 And he writes of the “sacred art of the Word. on 14 December 1914.” which. to join up with ancient teachings. / A ceux que la prière a conduits à la méditation sur l’origin du langage. “setting out from proven scientific foundations. Milosz experiences this inner devastation as well as the powerful creative life awakened when one enters into the living realm of the spiritual imagination. This isolation Blake rails against in his epic poems.” which “springs from the hidden depths of Universal Being. / For those whom prayer has led to meditation on the origin of language. ayant demandé. and in particular. through a new metaphysics. having asked. the passionate pursuit of the Real. to awakening it in his reader. seems called upon. But the poet. to survive not only our industrial civilization but also Space-Time itself. which Milosz experienced at eleven o’clock in the evening. it will no doubt be useful to look more closely at some of Milosz’s work. will understand nothing of these things. and like Blake.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.” from The Confession of Lemuel (1918). and especially the figures we are discussing here.” telling us that “poetry. from the cosmos. knowledge and love.]”7 . [For those who. seems bound. the immense devastation of the self as it is torn asunder from the divine. that he anticipated a new poetry. and does not in general investigate the nature of the observer’s own consciousness. as the organizer of archetypes. qui. Contemporary sciences are founded in observation of the cosmos. n’entendront rien à ces choses. The “Canticle” begins with the striking line: “L’enseignement de l’heure ensoleillée des nuits du Divin. The canticle continues: “A ceux. and especially in Milosz. astronomy. Milosz’s work is explicitly dedicated not only to entering into this realm of the spiritual imagination. summarizing in some respects his life’s work. / Les autres.” or “Canticle of Knowledge. they are all intimately aware of the great schisms taking place in modern humanity. les voleurs de douleur et de joie. on reçu et savent déjà. / Others. Cartographers of consciousness. the observer looks outward. at his “Cantique de la Connaissance.”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. turn their attention inward and become careful observers of the inner landscape.

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. mais bien les père des objects sensibles. salt. eau. ténèbres. those who are not affirmers.” This earth of the vision of archetypes. In fact. and when he dedicates the canticle to those who have asked. but utterly serious—this is a poem about the mysteries at the heart both of language and of .” Only “the spirit of things has a name”. blood. “their substance is nameless. water. but truly fathers of sensible objects.” These names precede existence in the sensible world and time’s turmoil. ni les fils. of course. corresponding to Plato’s realm of Forms or Ideas. all that was in antiquity described in metaphors “exists in a situated place. have received. not like “Patmos.” It is clear by now that Milosz is not dabbling with words here.”8 This gnostic canticle is. darkness. he is alluding to Christ’s saying that those who ask will receive. light.” writing that to understand the origin of language. / For these names are neither brothers. etc. lumière.]”9 In other words. as well as the names of metals. sun. but negators. but it is not so. addressed to the latter. “il est nécessaire de connaître les objets désignés par certains mots essentiels / Tels que pain. ainsi que par tous les noms de métaux / Car ces noms ne sont ni les frères. But characteristically. Milosz continues his explanation of this linguistic gnosis in the “Canticle of Knowledge. this “situated place.” Indeed. sel. the names of things emerge from the realm of archetypes.” We think that the sensible world is situated. and already know. “meditation on the origin of language.—all say the same things to anyone who knows how to listen. suggesting that the center of prayer is knowledge. 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. earth. but living. [it is necessary to know the objects designated by certain essential words / Such as bread. the names “were hurled from the motionless world of archetypes into the abyss of time’s turmoil. The power to name sensible objects comes from supersensible knowledge of the archetypal realm to which our spirit belongs. from Pythagoras to Plato. to the initiate.]”10 This “arcana of language” is the “key to the world of light.” “terre de la vision des archétypes [earth of the vision of archetypes]. sang. terre. through the initiates of Alexandria and Christian mystics.” 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]. and which is “situated in the consciousness of the solar egg [situés dans la conscience de l’œuf solaire]. this allusion is close to Kabbalism in that it offers a gnostic interpretation of those verses.” is not merely a sterile world of symbols. nor sons.92 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Milosz was unquestionably Christian in orientation. are merely thieves of love and knowledge. soleil.” A linguistic gnosis is at the heart of the canticle. to Claude de Saint-Martin and Swedenborg. he continues.

and “knowledge’s golden candlestick. Here.” “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. that is. the word charged by the thunder of this dangerous time [la parole enveloppée de soleil.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 93 existence. of blessing and of desolation. [truth does not make sacred language lie: . At such points. muet comme le plomb. Milosz tells us again. 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. Thus Milosz goes on to tell us matter-of-factly that he who has seen stops thinking and feeling. for as he told us before. mute as lead. / In the leap and wind of the fiery mass. and then comes the following passage: “te voici dans le rayon avant-coureur au sein du nuage figé. is the “key to the world of light. / In the appearance of the virginal spirit of gold. as well as to the “solar egg” of the soul. The man of light (“l’homme la lumière”) draws his knowledge from this supersensible sun in the “motionless” realm of substances.” These two worlds correspond to the two worlds of Böhme. / In the passage from the egg to the sphere. which only draw their value from their supersensible archetypes. [Here you are in the first ray in the womb of the fixed cloud. of the primal .” But the allusions are not necessarily to earthly gold nor to the sun visible from the earth. “is the key to the two worlds of darkness and light. calls us through its language into the truth that language manifests. these ancient metaphors refer to “substances. 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. . it is also the visible sun of the substantial world]. Adam. / Dans l’apparition de l’esprit virginal de l’or / Dans l’apparition de l’ove à la sphère . as well as the first chapter of John (In the beginning was the Word). “I have named you! [Je t’ai nommé!]”.” This distinction between truth and lie. but also of the Corpus Hermeticum. and the gold of celestial memory. . the first section of “Poemandres” in the Corpus Hermeticum is also a visionary creation-account.]”13 As we might recall. le mot chargé de foudre de ce temps dangereux.]”12 This charged and sun-enveloped word reminds us of the account in Genesis of creation. . or in Milosz’s words. he calls us to the celestial gold. a revelation.” Simply that. and only describes what he has seen. he implicates us in the poem. he means precisely what he says: “I have seen. he tells us.” There is the earthly gold.]”11 There is in the “Canticle of Knowledge” a continuous thread of allusions to gold and to the sun. when Milosz addresses us directly. And so it is here. But beyond these two worlds is the “word enveloped in sun. Milosz exultantly writes. .” to names that precede and transcend their earthly counterparts. / Dans le bond et le vent de la masse de feu. of love and of wrath. which recalls the primal naming of all things by the primal man. For “la vérité ne fait pas mentire le langage sacré: car elle est aussi le soleil visible du monde substantiel.

where he saw “the source of lights and forms. / being in place itself.” and “marrow of iniquity.” to a “place” where “myriad spiritual bodies reveal themselves to virtuous senses. Thus. hideux.]” Then one day. this immense. different. hideous.” The “omnipotence of affirmation” is counterbalanced. in theosophic tradition. of those who speak pure language. wise. “I learned that in its depths man’s body encloses a remedy for all ills. not light and serenity of recognition.]”16 See. Milosz writes. [C’est ainsi que j’appris que le corps de l’homme renferme dans ses profondeurs un . / played with me as a father with his child.” just as in so much of Western esotericism.” We might recall that the mirror.” “immense.14 I am not suggesting that Milosz is directly alluding to the Corpus Hermeticum. delirious. chaste archetypes. but “great trials of negation.” for the key to the world of light also opens the—“other region. even though I am certain that he was at least familiar with it. of light and darkness. / étant dans le lieu même. and this is the “solar egg.” Yet there is a realm beyond these two worlds of affirmation and negation. for that matter. by “omnipotent negation” in “Ce lieu séparé. innocent. différent. Thus the poet tells us not to weep for him. le seul situé. and at this moment the “sterile woman” in him died. “the Father of Ancients.”15 Here we find. Milosz’s visionary experience here is quite simply parallel to and in the tradition of what we also see in “Poemandres” and. on this naked cold planet of iron and clay.” an “eternity of horror. because whether he is “dazzled by the solar egg. cet immense cerveau délirant de Lucifer [This separated place. [I am always in the same place. and is the province of those who speak pure language.” yet also to a “place” of utter desolation. Milosz muses on his early poetry. Luciferic brain]. is the sign of Wisdom personified: Wisdom showed him the realm of Forms prior to existence. Here too we find the “leap and wind” of a fiery mass. the only one situated.” This playing “between worst darkness and best light” emerges from beyond both darkness and light. and that the knowledge of gold is also knowledge of light and blood. we find a spiritual corporeality. when “like all nature poets I was sunk in profound ignorance [Comme tous les poètes de la nature.” selfknowing. to whom Milosz was definitely indebted. and a kind of corporeality of language. Milosz tells us that he has “visited the two worlds. In the concluding lines of the canticle.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. here too we find a kind of “fixed cloud”. in the visionary writings of Böhme.” “the world of profound.” “mois je suis toujours dans le même lieu. and looked behind him.” those “lands of nocturnal din. Thus in the “Canticle of Knowledge. here too we find the emergence of light and life in the opening of the “world of light” for the visionary seer. The ascent to the “solar place” that Milosz describes here brings one to the “omnipotence of affirmation.” or “hurled into the madness of the black eternity. rather. j’étais plongé dans une profonde ignorance. Milosz tells us. he noticed that he had stopped before a mirror.

Milosz is very much akin to Böhme. let us make the sign. as well as in more modern movements like Freemasonry. especially given Milosz’s own essentially solitary life. Et puisque nous connaissons depuis sept ans. and is clearly expressing his own direct experience. is especially of interest to us here. to “tender metal partners in marriage. at its end.18 But Milosz has forged his own mode of expression.]” To this Beatrix replies: “Farewell. [Dear child. innocents! [The parents sleep there. je te touche le front. “Master.]” . and since we have now known one another seven years. In some poems he has a choir or a chorus. in his 1922 poem entitled “The Adept’s Christmas Eve. This poem. because of its fusion of literature and Hermeticism.]”17 The canticle concludes with the poet’s prayer that when he is finally cleansed of both evil and good. but refers to an inner alchemy.” Milosz has his character “The Adept” speaking with his inner spouse. between the lightworld and the darkworld.” replies Beatrix. by the grace of inner vision. reaffirms the importance not only of the ascent to the knowledge of light. tender metal partners in marriage. who wrote too of the division and conflict between love and wrath. 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. and with it the initiate asks for peace for Beatrix and for himself. “The Adept’s Christmas Eve” begins with the Adept’s ritual gesture: “sept fois pour le passé. par la grâce de la vue du milieu. tendres métaux époux. Frequently his poetry has a dramatic or semidramatic quality. he will not lose the memory of the suffering he has undergone. you speak the truth. Beatrix is surprised: “So you can see them? How? In this hermetic egg? With what eyes?” The adept replies: “Chère enfant. And then the adept makes a strange remark: “Les parents dorment là. This understanding he expressed often in a peculiarly theatrical way. [1775–1802]). and for our three days to come. le signe! [seven times for the past. and his Hymns to the Night. et pour nos trois jours à venir. And in his allusions to the visionary descent into darkness. In this acknowledgement of fundamental duality in the cosmos. in this egg resting on the nuptial flame. I touch your brow. but the descent into immense suffering and privation. Thus the canticle. the sign!]” This is the sign of the cross. but also of the inner desolation that one can also experience on earth. Beatrix. Milosz is close to Novalis (Friedrich von Hardenberg. Qu’ils sont beaux. dans cet œuf appuyé sur le feu nuptial.” is unquestionably alchemical. trois vois—le signe. How beautiful and innocent they are!]”19 This reference.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. again three times. it affirms the significance not only of the virginal gold of the soul’s solar egg. space and time!” And the adept suggests they both to kneel in adoration “devant le cher fourneau” [before this dear Furnace. and clothed with the sun.

and to its incantory language.” At the climax of this strange initiatic psychodrama. tu te délivres.” not only references to the alchemical furnace. but also countless other allusions to a kind of visionary inner alchemy.” sinks to the depths. but a player on the poet’s inner stage. “The Adept’s Christmas Eve” draws on a range of allusions.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. Beatrice. partaking rather of a heightened. partially because of her name’s meaning—thrice beatific—which in turn recalls not only the Trinity. charitée.” And he repeats how extraordinary are “your eyes. any more than are those of the adept. the poem is really an initiatic dialogue incorporating the language of alchemy. The adept’s fascination with Beatrix’s eyes—“your eyes. Thus the allusions to Dante’s poetry are subordinate to the poem’s initiatory psychodrama. And in the conclusion of the poem. 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. which became openings for him as he ascended into paradise in the Divine Comedy. your eyes!” The adept’s final line is: “Mes chaines de constellations sont rompues. I tell you. of course. The Master forgives me. sometimes almost disjointed quality like hieratic speech heard in a dream. the adept exults of “how all your [Beatrix’s] secret being breathes within me. the alchemy of inward marriage and of the spiritual birth of the alchemical child. and “Lumière de l’or. her words are not ordinary or even precisely human. white and pale blue. He opens his eyes and is reborn.]”20 Beatrix warns the adept of the legions of destroyers massed to ruin his creation. The woman in the poem. The alchemical . yellow. Beatrix.]” To which Beatrix replies: “C’est la vie délivrée. at once also alluding to the birth of Christ. the adept speaks of “seven deadly cries in the night. undoubtedly reflects Dante’s beloved. woman. you liberate yourself.]”21 It is. leaden and lachrymal. and black.” while the “oil of blind corruption. [My chains of constellations are broken. and all is finished”—yet this is also the moment of rebirth. [Light of gold. Yet Beatrix does not seem a human spouse. impossible to miss the allusions here to Dante’s Divine Comedy. but also thrice-greatest Hermes. The adept watches. dancing in a circle in the rigor of red. Here we are looking at spiritual alchemy. “I believe it is. is reborn!” Thus once again. [It is life liberated. charity. and what does he see? “Purity rises to the surface. or like the language of a ritual enactment of the Greek mysteries. Thus a new cry sounds seven times—Is it a name? asks the adept. but the adept replies. he comes back to life. your eyes!”—reminds us of Dante’s fascination with Beatrice’s eyes. including the way the Greco-Roman Mystery traditions fed into the Christian mysteries of symbolic death and rebirth. and the longstanding alchemical traditions as well. “I see only one. the mystery of the sacred name emerges as the crux of the spiritual rebirth. For not only are there references to the “tender metal partners in marriage.

” The line is the fourth verse. to read such a poem as “Canticle of Knowledge” or “The Adept’s Christmas Eve. The various phases of this rite correspond to the principal moments in the regeneration of a mineral. the large cloud vanishes. Milosz writes that his work is a “testament. The incantory. The poet of Ars Magna and the Arcana does not write for his contemporaries.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 97 work. by Milosz. exposing the upper region which is suddenly crossed. 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. one senses vast expanses around one. at a small distance from the large cupric cloud which conceals from him the upper luminous level. is also to participate in it. Milosz’s poems presuppose a visionary experiential reality behind and above them. eventuates in the birth of Christ in the alchemist or adept: all these traditions are brought together in the service of what we may call an Hermetic-alchemical initiatory psychodramatic poem. or rather. with the initiatory drama unfolding itself in an inner theater whose audience is.: initiate]. Perhaps most interesting for us is the question of the poem’s reader.”22 To whom does this legacy belong. far beyond what we might think such a line may mean. When the ascent through the nebula is finished and the epopt [Gk. And there is in this unfolding drama something profoundly impersonal. as though the poet does not exist as an ego.” a “faithful and pious narrative. by a metallic red-hot egg.” not to mention Ars Magna or The Arcana. in what it reveals. sometimes decidedly strange language of Milosz’s poetry brings the reader into a similar state to that Milosz is describing. At the same instant. oneself. . as unemotional as nature. in an elliptical leap of extreme violence and with the noise of a strong wind. not very high in the vaporous mass behind the top of his skull. in such a way that it seems to be seen through the parietal bone. He writes in exegesis that The revelation of a superior phenomenalism opens with a mystical consecration. In his exegetic notes to his own prose work Ars Magna (whose title is drawn from the similarly named work by Ramon Lull). perfectly awake. archetype of the coronation of regents by divine right in the material world. To whom is Milosz writing in such a poem. rests in a horizontal position. then? Undoubtedly.” and that “In the author’s mind. To see how far Milosz’s work is from what we often call poetry. “Yet I shall humble in the dust before you this brow which has received the crown. and what effect does he anticipate the poem will have? This is a much more far-reaching question than one might at first imagine. Whereas much of what we call modern poetry has only itself and the physical world for references. in other words.” Milosz’s commentary goes far. after all. perhaps we should examine one of his exegetic notes on a single line of his own “Poem of the Arcana. a light appears.

referring to the reader as “my son. 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. 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. Only what is behind or in the symbolic is ultimately real. and in this there is a kind of reversal. and for him such experience is more real than our mundane lives precisely because it is not constrained by duration or mensurability. only he who bows down will be bowed down to.” and adds that “Behind the symbol there is an immutable situated reality. he is among the most erudite of poets. and a scorn for our own era that bespeaks a kind of pride. because it springs from this archetypal reality. It is perhaps useful.23 There is still more.98 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Turning into a golden globe. thereafter. This account suggests that Milosz is writing rather precisely. to remark on the question of Milosz’s antecedents. He insists that in order to understand. moving up a little. There is in Milosz’s work a paradoxical insistence on humility. And authentic literature.” Milosz’s “superior phenomenalism” is his term for direct spiritual experience. its secular hedonism and materialism. at this point. it descends slowly towards the top of the skull. it assumes the appearance of a magnificent golden sun of oval shape. yet his erudition. “who will read these pages with a filial respect for their author. His is a peculiar combination of humility and pride intermingled. Milosz .” thus bringing his reader into the dialogue much as one finds in the Corpus Hermeticum and in other Hermetic dialogues or monologues since antiquity. scientifically. becomes rounder.”24 He writes sardonically of the blindness and destructiveness of modern society with its industrial gigantism. stands still. though including many great poets. Such experience is of the truly situated. one senses that his pride comes from a certainty of knowledge that is ignored and despised by the human world. and with unspeakable scorn for the epoch which saw their birth. meaning the archetypal realm. one may even say. about an actual experience of spiritual coronation. that. on which it alights like a crown. Without question. just as he ignores and despises that world. as he put it in his last poem of 1936. is revelatory and prophetic in its very nature. its brutal mass wars. In all of this he assumes a prophetic voice. and plunges its omniscient stare for a long time into the deepest thought of the new King. is focused particularly on the syncretic Hermeticism that began to flower in the eighteenth century. and insists that his true reader will recognize the worth of his writings only far in the future. Yet at the same time Milosz in his prose and poetry addresses himself to a future reader some centuries hence. we must bow down. for what seems situated and real in this world is revealed in the other to be unreal.

26 If we see here the depth of Milosz’s focus on Hermeticism in history.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. as when the poem refers to the “betrothed sister of the new canticle.” Milosz continued. Swedenborg.” first with his teacher of Hebrew. 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. These writers—and also Jewish exegesis—exerted a decisive influence upon Blaise Pascal. Claude de Saint Martin. we cannot help but notice the parallel focus on Judaism and Kabbalah. Swedenborg. The Rosicrucian Polybius the Cosmopolitan.” and . Eugène Ledrain. The allusions to Milosz’s favorite doctrines and language are here hidden in the allusions to Hebrew names and places. the Neoplatonists of the Middle Ages. “Psaume de l’Étoile du Matin [Psalm of the Morning Star]. but kept a Bible in Hebrew nearby as a constant reading companion. 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. We can see how deeply Milosz’s fascination with Judaism penetrated his work by examining his final poem. Martinez de Pasqually. the mystical eighteenth century. [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.” 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. but it reveals at the heart of all things “a single new word. he was well acquainted with Jewish Kabbalism. from Egypt up to today. looked forward to the day that the Jews would be converted to Christianity. In the “Psalm” we read of another primary theme. the disciple of the Kabbalist Raymond Martini. but in the tradition of many Christian Cabalists. sought in them peace of spirit. Plato.”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. Milosz not only had studied and read Hebrew. the School of Alexandria. passing through the Pre-Socratics. and then with his “spiritual guides: Goethe.]28 The peculiar rhythm of the lines and line breaks makes this poem unusually difficult to follow.”27 “Psalm of the Morning Star” is so suffused in Hebrew and in Old Testament language as to be inseparable from them.

King of the Unified World. libric mysticism that has haunted Western esotericism from antiquity. and Milosz explains his poem’s relationship to Freemasonry in his “Exegetic Notes. Here. Hiram. and art. The “architect” of those brotherhoods was Biblical in name only. just as in the Book of Revelation and just as in Kabbalism. and books. my son. . 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. it is not books that we are waiting for. wrote for his poetry. Eliot. says that “I am entering the twelfth year of supreme knowledge. . King of the unified world. . drawn together with a universalism that both resembles and includes Freemasonry. In his “Poem of the Arcana. the universal regent of faith. but there are still other currents of Western esotericism that emerge in the poet’s work.” which are far more extensive than anything T. Thus we find in this final poem of Milosz the linguistic and. inside the books of life and of knowledge. Milosz tells of his visionary experience. and that he shared with much of the Christian theosophic tradition. S. in short.”30 The name Hiram is found in Masonic tradition. are enormously important for understanding the complex work of Milosz and his mysticism of the word. Germany. Under the heading “Hiram.”29 Here we see the nascent Christian millennialism that pervades so much of Milosz’s work as he anticipated a future renaissance. as early as 1919. we are waiting for the continuation and fulfillment of the only Book. words. opens those books in order to reveal their inner mysteries—or rather. Milosz held. in 1938.100 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. 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. Le Forestier. and Savoy.” Milosz writes that The personage who concerns us here is not the symbolic hero of the Templars or of Scottish Freemasonry in England. and the true poet. Hermeticism and Kabbalism. if we may coin a word. and several other historians of the brotherhoods in their research on the origins of an institution which claims to descend from the Essenes and from the Priests of the Holy .” and yet writes that he will humble his brow in the dust before “you. the archetypes of the cosmos exist inside letters. the books open themselves to him. 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. for instance. If the author has considered it useful to follow Lessing.” in fact. La Clef de l’Apocalypse [The Key to the Apocalypse]. The allegory is clearly indicated by the password Nekom (Vengeance) used by the Chapter of Clermont and the Scottish lodge of the Berlin Union. Joseph de Maistre. the visionary poet. science. Architect of the effective Catholic Church of tomorrow. R.

many themes in Milosz’s outer life—chiefly his work in the League of Nations— reflect those of the Rosicrucians and early modern Masons. it is above all as testimony of veneration for some of its members.34 And Milosz goes on to ask. He writes that “Today. alias René Descartes. but so too were fifty-three of the fifty-six signers of the Declaration of Independence.”32 Here.” Here.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 101 Sepulchre. Hence Milosz continues his exegesis of his own poem with several pages on the emergence of a unified world and a new world monarchy.31 It is clear from this note alone that Milosz was intimately familiar with the history of Masonry and Rosicrucianism. aspire to holy unification. it is perhaps enough to recall the prophetic late-medieval character Postel. as we have seen. the builder sent by Hiram of Tyre to Solomon. he brings in the theme that. But Milosz’s grand dream goes beyond Masonry as well. the depository of the one divine and human truth confirmed by philosophy and science. who announced a coming millennium.” This Hiram will establish “his temporal dominion over a world unified at first in spirit by the Holy Catholic Church. particularly for Kadosch Dante Alighieri of the Fede Santa. Milosz goes on to tell us that the “future architect mentioned by name in the Arcana is the spiritual son of Hiram-Abi. Religion and science. and further that although he is drawing on Masonic lore. and in so doing was drawing upon a tradition of “the Restitution of All Things” that runs . the times of ‘perfection in the Restitution of Nature. the times foreseen by Guillaume Postel.”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.” 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. “Who remembers the enthusiasm and the hopes of 1789?” Such a question takes on added resonance when one considers the role that Freemasonry played in the French Revolution. when the organization of Europe will be based upon the principles which guided the foundation of the great American federation. as well as the emergence of a “Cathedral of Peace. his reference to Hiram in the poem is of his own devising. even though Milosz implies that his Hiram is different from the Masonic one.” And he imagines too the “approaching moment. a Virgin-Mother of Knowledge. especially the dream of a world utopia.’ announce their impending appearance. like all the continents and all the states of this world. was so profoundly characteristic of early Rosicrucianism and of Freemasonry as well: the union of science and religion in a glorious unified future world. like spirit and matter. Indeed.”33 This last remark is especially interesting given that not only were George Washington and Benjamin Franklin Masons. in the sacred poem of the Arcana. and to the Rosicrucian Polybius the Cosmopolitan. relatively not distant.

but explicitly Christian. and that he deliberately. in his letter to James Chauvet. The fundamental teaching will be that of the Arcana. the other members being his apostles. And there are numerous other such examples. he hoped to influence “all sorts of domains in the evolution of our terrible and admirable epoch. For us. sought the widest possible range. resemble nothing so much as the inception of Rosicrucianism (whose advocates sought precisely the same social transformation on a vast scale).”37 This new esoteric group had some Masonic characteristics. The Master alone will wear a red cap. And in 1929 Milosz wrote a letter to a friend in which he explained that Carlos Larronde. Here too was a group with Masonic overtones. This small group they called Les Veilleurs (The Watchers). however outrageous they may seem in their magnitude. most important is that Milosz’s work extended into every sphere of life. to which era belongs the spiritual son whom he addresses throughout his gnostic poetry and prose. de Lubicz. and of forming a group of disciples that in turn would help to transform the whole of human society. I am the enemy of exteriorization. . Several years after his illuminatory experience in 1914. Our group will have no more than twelve members.”38 Such a group.36 Milosz too saw himself as a prophet of a future era of universal peace and knowledge. with a white collar. Just as Milosz drew on the full breadth of the Masonic tradition in his poetry and prose. of political. whom he later adopted as his spiritual son and gave his family crest name. for instance.” And in his little esoteric group. but our modern attire is truly incompatible with all effort toward the Good. a group that included “the proletarian Masons whose G[rand] M[aster] is one of our friends. Milosz explicitly forecast the unification of politics.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. being the Christ-figure. and in 1919 they established an exoteric center called the Centre Apostolique. he drew together a small esoteric coterie that included René Schwaller. the “science of the divine. In his work. of course. in his work as in his private life. religious. was drawing together a new group of which Milosz was to be spiritual director. as we have seen. a kind of Christian semi-Masonic esotericism. so too he drew on Masonry in his private life. moral or social. “Dress for meeting: the robes will be of black silk. the sciences. Hiérarchie-Liberté-Fraternité. while also publishing numerous articles in several journals of the time. and the arts via religion. one of Milosz’s most devoted friends. not to say grandiosity. certainly has its historical predecessors: one thinks. Milosz wrote. These are the three colors of the great work (spiritual and physical). author of The Magus. and scientific fusion. of the London Rosicrucians of the early nineteenth century associated with Francis Barrett. among them its ritual dress. “The hour of Apostleship has sounded”—Milosz himself.”39 These dreams of universality. however.

Milosz certainly resembles the figure of Prospero in Shakespeare’s The Tempest. to reach an audience whom he specifically invoked in his writing itself. all of these efforts were ultimately pointed. all of whom also were involved in esoteric circles. the poet H. then without doubt the emblematic female poet has to be H. today. Rosicrucianism. and the Christian theosophy of Zinzendorf and the Moravians.— born Hilda Doolittle [1886–1961]—was fascinated with esoterica is well known. but toward the future. magic. and essays. the Tarot. and Kathleen Raine. and a new golden age.’s poetry. novels. but as we can see from this discussion of his work and life. we . Like Prospero in his final speech.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 103 Milosz is. not toward the present. Here. H. a number of books have explored the wide range of esoteric influences that appear in H. including such authors as William Butler Yeats. and specifically toward a future reader whom he regards as his spiritual son. S. for however assiduous Milosz was in working toward universality in his writing and in his life. D.. but also for the universality of his aims. Lewis. D. Charles Williams. through his writing. D. and the Initiatic Word If Milosz is emblematic of an initiatic male poet in the twentieth century. there is no other figure who so completely reveals the confluence of all the primary currents of Western esotericism in the modern era. There is in Milosz’s poetry and prose a peculiar hieratic quality and a special relationship to his imagined reader that will inform our final two chapters. and in such aims is a classic exemplar of modern Western esotericism. In these efforts.40 But we still await a comprehensive study that incorporates the full range of H. others whose work certainly bears the imprint of esoteric influences.’s biography and her fascination with mysticism. we have by no means finished with either of these inexhaustible figures: Prospero. astrology. a relatively obscure figure. That H. There are. the list of names of modern authors and poets influenced by esoteric currents of thought is nigh unto endless. D. and Milosz. which outlines the intertwining of H. However.’s life and interests. Although we here will take our leave of them. C. D. D. Milosz is unique not only for the vast range of his studies. D. of course. Indeed. Milosz in some respects cast aside his wand (any influence on his contemporary era) in order. numerology. various heresies of antiquity including the Ophites and other Gnostic groups. in which we begin to explore the theoretical dimensions and implications of Western esoteric literature in relation to consciousness. Indeed. little studied in academe. Among the best of these is Susan Friedman’s chapter entitled “Initiations” in her book Psyche Reborn (1981). He sought nothing less than to bring about the renewal of Christianity through its universalization. psychic insights or visions.

D. In his introduction to H. But when we begin to look at H. Notes on Thought and Vision (1919). We should begin. For it seems clear from her poetry.’s early. D. She writes: If I could visualise or describe that overmind in my own case. She created a hermetic emblem or herald for herself. H. very much resembles both of them in certain respects. save that in H. I argue that this crisis can be interpreted as initiatory.’s Notes on Thought and Vision. and what we might term esoteric correspondences or patterns in life. however. mind. belonged to what is clearly an American feminine literary lineage that includes on the one hand Emily Dickinson.” Vulnerable to periodic psychic breakdowns. for our purposes are her later ones such as her poems in Trilogy and Vale Ave as well as her novel The Gift.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. as many critics have observed. as a wrenching spiritual awakening. overmind. for H. so it will be necessary here only to allude to the parallels. like H.”41 Although the major works by H. the much earlier work Notes on Thought and Vision helps to make clear H. a cap of consciousness . that Dickinson underwent at least one extended spiritual and psychological crisis. D. Margaret Fuller. was fascinated by numerology. Notes is a very unusual work. explicitly esoteric book. the parallels we see perhaps most clearly are not so much with Fuller as with Dickinson. In Esoteric Origins. D. and soon (by 1911) came to see the emblem of the thistle and serpent as her own.. D. it argues for the characteristically Emersonian idea of an ‘overmind’ as a model of higher consciousness. was fascinated by esoteric correspondences in her life.’s gnostic perspective in relation to literature. She begins Notes with the cryptic proclamation: “Three states or manifestations of life: body.” Albert Gelpi writes that H. and on the other Margaret Fuller. D. “The Thistle and the Serpent.’s life it is repeated a number of times. by recognizing that H. Likewise. we see very much the same pattern of psychological and spiritual crisis as awakening. Woman in the Nineteenth Century. and it was included as the frontispiece for her most well-known book.” which she calls in Notes her “jellyfish experience.” The work is essentially an elaboration of this gnomic statement. I have written in detail about both Dickinson and Fuller in The Esoteric Origins of the American Renaissance (2001). D. D. D. underwent “a severe psychic breakdown. D. was a reasonably accomplished astrological interpreter. astrology. And when we turn from Dickinson to H. D.. and her extreme sensitivity had made her preternaturally susceptible to the intensities of experience that others might overlook. “her unusual susceptibility also made possible a breakthrough into heightened consciousness. I should say this: it seems to me that a cap is over my head. written in July 1919 in the Scilly Islands.

D. now. affecting a little my eyes . transparent. except through the intellect. D.” And she adds that “I believe there are some artists coming in the next generation. I first realized this state of consciousness in my head. D. a nonsectarian. as primary to the true artist. The two work separately. which is possible for all. one must. like water. jelly-fish. or awakening into the overmind. my forehead. As we read on through Notes. a musician. H. continues: first is the life of the body and sexuality. indeed. a musician.42 H. . since she experienced it along with the birth of her child. without question we can see here that already in 1919 H. contained in a defininte space. . this is the source of creativity just as it is the wellspring of spirituality. but it would be a mistake to see all of her writing only in this context.”44 This initiatic process is similar to that of the Eleusinian mysteries. as some of Plato’s dialogues suggest. D. Whatever else we may make of it. thoughts pass and are visible like fish swimming under clear water .” The minds of the lovers unite. 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. engage in a union of love and intellect.’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. yet make one picture. D. 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.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 105 over my head. is a gnostic with a small g. There are even traces here of Gnosticism.’s work has feminist implications. She holds that “a lover must choose one of the same type of mind as himself. H.” but she writes about it that this is the vision of “dream and of ordinary vision. That overmind seems a cap. almost like two lenses. and when love-vision and intellectual vision coincide. It is like a closed sea-plant. they “bring the world of vision into consciousness. centered in the love-region of the body or placed like a foetus in the body. had outlined a fundamentally gnostic worldview. I visualise it just as well. second is the life of the intellect. Into that over-mind. she insists that “There is no way of arriving at the overmind. perceive separately. D. or anemone. . H. . wonders whether it is easier for a woman than a man to attain consciousness of the overmind. She places gnosis. even if most prefer to stay entombed in their comfortable closed houses. and third is the awakening into the overmind. Without doubt. those future initiates for whom this little book is intended.” She does not valorize this vision against that of the intellect. as when she speculates on the meaning of the pearl in her gnostic sketches. fluid yet with definite body. with the gulls and the sky and the earth.”43 H. She does write about a “vision of the womb. some of whom will have the secret of using their overminds. syncretic . She writes that to be a true artist. But Gnosticism is here only as allusion.

D.” “Tribute to the Angels.” In the next section. she criticizes “a riot of unpruned imagination. / companions / of the flame. as these entities are “healers.” H. she is very much in the American tradition inaugurated by Ralph Waldo Emerson.” she extends it to discuss the emergence of surrealism with such figures as Max Ernst and Andre Breton. too.47 In M.” and of “the most profound philosophy”. surrealism and symbolism (particularly the latter in Russia) were deeply indebted to alchemy. E. She writes “dare. D. But in “The Walls Do Not Fall. / jottings of psychic numerical equations. spell. But it was during the German siege of London during the Second World War that H. even offering a diagrammatic illustration of the two. dare more. Warlick’s Max Ernst and Alchemy. Amen. pitiful reticence. devour.” Yet when the “secret doors” are “found . As a number of scholars have demonstrated. / here is the alchemist’s key. This is an important distinction because in “The Walls Do Not Fall. H. seek further. D. / oneness lost. this.”46 It is obvious from “The Walls Do Not Fall” that although H. is the Egyptian god Amen-Ra. .” who “know each other / by secret symbols. These three poems were “The Walls Do Not Fall.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. and H. unlocked. the subconscious being below ordinary consciousness. intrusion of strained / inappropriate allusion.” In “The Walls Do Not Fall.” mind “floundered. for instance. of the “alchemist’s secret. .” and of her “companions / in this mystery. D. over-confidence. was lost in sea-depth. she holds. writing that “it appears obvious / that Amen is our Christos.”45 “Amen.” and “The Flowering of the Rod. reversion of old values. she extends the unity of Dionysius and Christ that ended the earlier work. D. Her themes are explicitly esoteric throughout these poems: she writes of her experience of “The Presence. madness.” here.”48 All of this suggests that there is . helpers / of the One. / born of one mother. is a false path.” “arrogance. boasting. of the stars as “separate entities” “intimately concerned with us” who can be “invoked / with accurate charm. In Notes on Thought and Vision. the overmind being above it.” H. wrote the collection of three long poems later published as Trilogy. D. seek. Here. we clearly see how extensive and lifelong Ernst’s fascination with alchemical imagery was. distinguishes between the subconscious mind and the overmind. develops many of the themes initially sketched in Notes on Thought and Vision. prayer” for healing.” And the section ends with “illusion.’s outward circumstances were the terrors of war.” At first it would seem she is endorsing modern uses of alchemy in this “age of the new dimension. / subconscious ocean where Fish / move two-ways.’s work is a complex tapestry of just such word-play and religious concordances. All-father. criticizes the surrealist use of alchemical imagery as a means to the subconscious. the poem is at heart profoundly esoteric in its unified vision amid the shards of bomb-shattered modernity.” She writes. / it unlocks secret doors.” we “nameless initiates. In this respect.

. I feel the meaning that words hide. The words themselves may resemble boxes.’s words here are an invocation and a kind of Hermetic initiation. D. but this. too little: I know. continues. D. / rededicate our gifts / to spiritual realism”. this.” . H. The poet is called to “take what the old-church / found in Mithra’s tomb. with their overconfidence leading only to floundering in sea-depths of confused images and “incongruous monsters. D.” what the “new-church spat upon / and broke and shattered. cryptograms.51 Taken in context with the earlier invocation of Hermes-Thoth. of the soul that passes through initiation and awakes.” “candle and script and bell. this passage suggests the complexity. illuminate what came after.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 107 a wrong path. as Hermes is patron of poets and thieves. The reader is called to sacred writing by way of H. She calls us to “prepare papyrus or parchment. then writes: We have had too much consecration. D. too little affirmation.” “invoke the true-magic. little boxes.” and it begins with an invocation again of Hermes Trismegistus. The next work in H. symbols of Psyche reborn.” invoke “Hermes-thrice-great. one that leads toward the subconscious and illusion—and this is the path of the surrealists.” whose “province is thought.’s trilogy is “Tribute to the Angels. “Let us substitute / enchantment for sentiment. H. and that one must know and feel by intuition the meaning that words hide. but suddenly from them emerge living butterflies. conditioned to hatch butterflies . itself conveyed through the act of sacred writing. she is calling herself to a sacred task. D. / lead us back to the one-truth. the difficulty of conveying initiation through the written word—it includes the implication that such efforts are bound to be deemed ‘heretical’ by some. “patron of alchemists.’s invocation of Hermes. artful and curious.” Her invocation continues: “Let him (Wisdom. / in the light of what went before.” This poem exhorts the poet to “plunder” the past. they are anagrams. devoid of life. too much.” through painting or writing. who as the sacred scribe is invoked through the act of using “pen or brush. but also those who come after her. / re-vivify the eternal verity. this has been proved heretical.”49 Thus.”50 Here H. explicitly invokes the Hermetism of antiquity. . D. H. In a well-known passage. / inventive.

I testify. in the high-altar of a ruined building.” but re-awakened. how is it that we dare approach the high-altar? we crossed the charred portico. H. and so too by implication can we be. we entered a house through a wall. D. indivisible Spirit.108 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E This. reinvoked in a new form. One is the layer of the destruction in London during the bombing. the shattered glass of the past. D. but also of a meeting with an invisible spirit. and still another is that of an older true unified religion rejected by a “new-church. We should not underestimate the magnitude of what H.53 This is an account of self-transcendence (not knowing whether we were there or not-there). but whereas Rilke could not write during war. D. like a ghost. so too can the poet be. how is it you come so near. the poet must “melt down and integrate. recreated by the poet. but I believe the heart of the poem is to be found in the following section: Invisible.52 These lines reveal many layers. re-create” that which is now “scattered in the shards / men tread upon”. John. What does the poet see? The poem is far too vast to attempt a complete exegesis here. it was an ordinary tree. Another is the layer of Hermetic invocation. She includes lines from the Revelation of John: “I. is in fact transmuting the war experience into one of divine . H. in an old garden-square.” One must “reinvoke. saw. after all. then still not knowing whether (like the wall) we were there or not-there. we saw the tree flowering. is attempting in her poetry here. was writing these poems. passed through a frame—doorless— entered a shrine.’s poetic narrative reminds us of Rilke’s accounts of meeting angels in his Sonnets to Orpheus and Duino Elegies. D. H.” I take these lines as placing the poet’s vision in the context of John’s Revelation: John was a prophet and seer. an angel manifesting in the flowering tree. the conditions under which.

. with Saint Michael. In this context. the next section is very important. but gnosis manifested through a web of interconnected symbols. what I mean is— but you have seen for yourself that burnt-out wood crumbling you have seen for yourself.” she also builds toward a specific spiritual experience in which she saw “God in the other-half of the tree. symbol of Hermes. H.’s poetry in general. / casts the Old Dragon / into the abyss. / . writes that the Cross and the Tau or “T-cross” merge with the caduceus. it is happening everywhere.”55 Hermes and the Archangel are thus merged in H. / it was a sign. the divine feminine.” the name of the final poem in Trilogy. D.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 109 revelation. . D. bind together Christian and pre-Christian religious traditions.’s vision. and this suggestiveness is how initiation through the word takes place. conveyed through the poetry. D. One cannot capture this esoteric illumination. that “Hermes Trismegistus / spears. alluded to. what I mean is—it is so simple yet no trick of the pen or brush could capture that impression. the flowering of the wood.” This experience is what she calls the “flowering of the rood. D. This experience. D. H.’s “Tribute to the Angels. is a gnosis of the word. themselves conveyed to the reader through H. nothing whatever. one can only suggest it so that the reader can realize it too. / the darkness of ignorance. writes that This is no rune nor riddle. transmitted as an “open secret” (to use Carlyle’s phrase describing Emerson’s essay Nature). In it. and even more overtly. In H. music could do nothing with it. joining together the worst and the highest of which humanity is capable. Sophia appears here in this larger context as a figure of the divine feminine . Hence H. / it was the Angel which redeemed me. And this experience is gnosis. seeing Christianity as being a continuation of earlier traditions. 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. / it was the Holy Ghost—. and Trilogy in particular. just as Christianity and the mystery religions of antiquity are joined indivisibly.” This experience “was vision.54 Here she is conveying in poetic form what cannot be captured but only conveyed.’s poetry. D.

She who has been seen “the world over. D. allied to Mercury also. The artist who participates imaginatively with Christ is redeemed. “Our Lady of the Pomegranate. Hermes is the patron of the artist.” 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. Sophianic spirituality was in H. to her astonishment. / who did not forego our heritage” [35]. speculates that “she must have been pleased with us.” “the SS of the Sanctus Spiritus. D.. who is also redeemed. they are therefore a repudiation of Christianity in favor of a neopagan goddess tradition. the thief. the butterfly.’s Trilogy. preserving the evocative power of poetry that resists the power of reason alone. whether it is con- . They are not.” H. the Bible.” as well as “the new Eve who comes” bringing “the Book of Life. right into the final poem.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. for H. It would be a mistake to presume that because H.” for hers are the blank pages “of the unwritten volume of the new. D. D. Here the refrain is changed to the words of Jesus to the thieves who were crucified with Him: “to-day thou shalt be with me in Paradise. And She is “Holy Wisdom.” And She is also “Psyche. and that.” “Santa Sophia. she retains the web of interconnected meanings and symbolisms. D.”56 Sophia herself appears to H. is reluctant to label Sophia as a single reified figure. Here it might be valuable to recall that H. entitled “The Flowering of the Rood. as we will see in more detail shortly. the artist is the thief who is redeemed on the very day that Christ is crucified. just as the Word is transmitted through the Great Book. she was deeply familiar with the esoteric spirituality of the theosophic community of Count Zinzendorf in Pennsylvania. as we will see when we turn to her novel The Gift. under her “drift of veils. requiring instead imaginative participation on the part of the reader. Rather. the writer.” Here the focus is not feminine but masculine—the birth of Jesus Christ and the coming of the Wise Men bearing gifts.” “she carried a book. and the thief. in the context of the three poems together.” This book is the transmission of the spiritual experience through the book of poems. and “she carries a book but it is not / the tome of the ancient wisdom. But the “we” who did not “forego our heritage” also has a wider context. And there is one more critical detail: when Sophia appeared. was a baptized Moravian. clearly alludes to the figure of Hermes. thus “The Flowering of the Rood” is also about the redemption of art through religious experience. brought into paradise with Christ. the scribe.” she of the Bona dea. D.” This refrain. at once the Magna Mater and the Virgin of the Book of Revelation of John. D. and H.” Yet Sophia is also “the Vestal / from the days of Numa. then notes that she is referring to “the straggling company of the brush and quill. D. obviously.’s own heritage.” at once both Christian and pre-Christian. affirms the divine feminine in her Trilogy poems. / out of the cocoon. This imaginative participation is at the heart of H.

also reveals the overarching spiritual unity not only of mythology but. of mysticism. It is not surprising. which was intertwined with the history of the Moravian Church in America in its . the Trilogy culminates with “The Flowering of the Rood. fear. Hermes and Christ. In her poetry. S. H.’s poetry is far more complex than it is frequently depicted as being. Margaret Fuller’s most well-known work. was published posthumously under the direction of her brother without her original frontispiece.57 It was not until 1998 that Jane Augustine’s edited original edition of this extraordinary novel was published. D. we must turn to The Gift. as well as of Christian and pre-Christian religious symbolism. D. an esoteric emblem that she designed herself. the only available versions of The Gift were more or less bowdlerized ones from which nearly a third of the original text was missing. and that includes a unification of male and female symbolism. As I detail in The Esoteric Origins of the American Renaissance (2001). with the simultaneous symbolism of his birth and death. the editors sought to remove many of the references to the mysticism that is in fact at the center of the book. In the midst of the worst of which humanity is capable. and how at its very heart is—the gnosis of the word. in the midst of the terror and chaos and destruction of war. Only when we read the original version of the novel can we recognize just how remarkable an achievement it is. Such a massive lacuna is not surprising because it has at least some modest precedent in American letters. It is no accident that both the Trilogy and The Gift have woven into them the horror. Likewise. when New Directions published their abridged version of The Gift about a century later. I suppose. Eliot and W. H.’s own notes. H. Woman in the Nineteenth Century. To understand this mysticism more fully. Eve and Mary. D.” all are interwoven here. B. the Vestal Virgin and “Our Lady of the Pomegranate. unabridged version of her novel The Gift.” with the experience of Christ. 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. The Gift. D. that until 1998. H. D. as in the original. however. they even changed significantly the emphasis of the entire novel from Moravian spirituality to the gift of artistic creation. like Eliot in his Four Quartets. What is more. 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. Her brother sought to keep from the public eye his sister’s interest in esoteric or ‘occult’ areas of thought. and confusion of the Second World War as experienced in the bombing of London. sought to accomplish a feat similar to that sought by the other great modernist poets T.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. wove into The Gift her own extensive research into her family’s history. complete with H.

’s library demonstrates the depth of her research. containing the Occasion of his coming among the Herrnhutters or Moravians (London: J. but also that the artistic and spiritual import of the novel is bolstered by being based on actual fact. Knapton. D. in the middle of the eighteenth century. Pennsylvania. wrote that they were precisely what she found attractive about the Unitas Fratrum: “Personally. D. Rimius’s works. Her notes for The Gift are remarkably detailed. Mysticism. I consider these findings highly stimulating and exciting. shaping the way that she intended it to be read.’s research into this area when we look at her own notes for the novel as well as the books from her own library. though I must confess. Joseph Edward Hutton’s A History of the Moravian Church (London: Moravian Publication Office. & P. . H. 1753). D.112 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E earliest years.” of the “Arcana. In toto. D. offering the reader incontrovertible evidence not only that H. .” as well as of “Secrets probably known by the adepts alone. was herself a baptized Moravian. H. George Lavington’s The Moravians Compared and Detected (London: J. itself. Commonly Called Moravians (London: A. among its volumes are Andreas Frey’s A True and Authentic Account of Andrew Frey. Zinzendorf ’s most effective detractor. 1909). And her personal library gives ample proof that H. and Henry Rimius’s A Candid Narrative of the Rise and Progress of the Herrnhuetters. and he was born in Bethlehem. accused the early Moravians of “gross and scandalous . as well as original copies of Rimius’s other major works on the subject. Robinson. In other words. D. Her notes are in fact an important aspect of the novel. and weave together genealogical and historical materials. had done her research.” or Jedediah Weiss. Her grandfather’s name was Francis Wolle. H. He was a gifted musician who sang in the Moravian choir. D. 1755). it was in fact in her blood. her grandmother’s father. make clear this distinction.”58 About such accusations. came by her fascination with the Moravians naturally. deliberately incorporated much authentic historical background into the novel. “Old Father Weiss. cited by H. For Zinzendorf and his group were far more esoteric in their interests than those who were to follow them. 1753). was a watchmaker and silversmith for more than forty years in Bethlehem. in her notes. Rimius. 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. especially those now housed at Yale University. Linde. D. We can see the extent and depth of H. or Secret Counsels of their Leaders. Georg Heinrich Loskiel’s History of the Mission of the United Brethren Among the Indians in North America (London: Brethren’s Society. but one should recognize that there is a considerable difference between the Moravian Church of the twentieth century and that of the Herrnhuters of Count Zinzendorf (1700–1760) who settled in Bethlehem. with its numerous original eighteenth-century publications. D. in . Pennsylvania. 1794). H.

For suddenly we encounter the voice of the elder H. writing these reflections during the siege of London in the Second World War. an overarching spiritual narrative that redeems modernity from its chaos and fragmentation.” that “someone must inherit” access to a hidden “continent” that includes links to people long dead. explaining the novel’s initiatory power via the word and image within the novel itself in a kind of metanarrative. and Son. conventionally the church. there was no hint of this exoticism. is initiated into the matrilinear gnosis of her family’s secret Moravian traditions. whose voice in the novel is clearly childish. referring to Father. D. The Gift is an initiatory work in the classic anthropological sense: it is on one level a story of how a young girl. “There is no royal road into this kingdom. it is one of those things that you really do find in your Grimm or your Anderson . Zinzendorf espoused a doctrine of the Trinity that conjoined the Holy Spirit with the divine feminine. is a coming-of-age or initiation-into-the-mysteries-of-adulthood narrative. into The Gift. respected and highly respectable. it does exist.” H.. to initiate the reader. Its esotericism derived its power from these beliefs. in short. It is written in a characteristically modernist fragmented style that reflects on the one hand the fragmentation of modernity and on the other hand. he also held that every woman represented an image of the Bride of Christ. D. This redemption from chaos that the reader undergoes by working through the novel is parallel to the initiation of the child Hilda. “you just stumble on it.. D. Hilda. Mother. D. D. We were a small community. 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.” She goes on: . and had existed in Bohemia-Moravia for many hundreds of years before what is now called the Reformation. The novel. or Unitas Fratrum as resuscitated by Zinzendorf. and its doctrines as representing a pure. 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. and in this sense the book is clearly meant by H. She tells us that there is a “Gift waiting. . nonhierarchic tradition of true Christianity. writes.”59 There can be no doubt that Zinzendorf himself and his early circle held views that were seen as unacceptable by the German Protestant establishment at Dresden. . The Moravian Church. but also of the older poet 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. saw itself as a branch of the primordial and pure Christianity. through the reader’s assembling of clues into a larger narrative.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 113 my own day. But more important than Zinzendorf’s own esotericism is how it was incorporated by H. the reader is carried along vicariously on the discoveries not only of young Hilda.

” The first is when Mamalie. That is how it is. when they come back?61 The word is the means of preserving and of transmitting the honey of spiritual knowledge. A word opens a door. The word is like a bee-hive. 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. Williams called a primula. The other bees have gone. And in this story men play at least as significant a role as women. even though the beehive is presided over by a Queen bee (Sophia?). I mean. but Hilda (and along with her. who is somewhat forgetful near the end of her life. And Hilda speculates: I want her to go on talking because if she stops. I was afraid the Secret would be lost. Egyptian . aspects of a solely matriarchal tradition. keep Wunden Eiland for the other bees. these are the keys. . .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. cut on a wall at Karnak. Can one bee keep a bee-hive alive. These spiritual mysteries are not. later learning it means Island of Wounds). A bit of me can really “live something of a word or phrase. Then am I for a moment . Hilda’s grandmother. while it is the case that Mamalie is telling this complicated history to her granddaughter Hilda. But really “live” it. a German name for an early Moravian island sanctuary (the name meaning. I am the last bee in the bee-hive. . this is the game I play. Hilda knows that she is the last one in the family to whom Mamalie could entrust her secrets. begins to speak of “the papers” that she was afraid she had lost. as some scholars seem to think. indeed. Mamalie tells Hilda that the Moravians were at heart a continuation of “the Hidden Church that . Hilda is fascinated by Mamalie’s talk of Wunden Eiland. D. that Mamalie called himmelschlüssel or keys-of-heaven. can one person who knows that Wunden Eiland is a bee-hive. . In chapter 5 of The Gift. the word stops. men play a greater role than women. I mean. considerably more of this theme to unpack. it is what the novel does for H. 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. in some aspects of the story. Island of Wonders. it is like that little flower that Mrs. A word opens a door . “Christian had left the Secret with me. .” she told Hilda. that is why it is so quiet. Rather. . “The Secret. and even here in her narrative. we are given more explicit hints about the title of the chapter. But there is more. the reader) must unravel their mysteries through cryptic comments and fragments let drop by her grandmother. Hilda surmises. but there are no bees in it now.114 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E It is like matching beads.

though.63 In The Gift.” not just Minne-ha-ha. The Moravians and the Indians under the chief Paxnous met in order to let their guiding spirits determine the fate of white-Indian relations. Greek. where the Moravians came during the eighteenth century and immediately formed a rapport with the American Indians. the Christian initiates of the fateful meeting at Wunden Eiland.”66 How did Mamalie know so intimately what it was like. altogether. but this was untrue.” “the laughter of leaves. Johann Christoph Pyrlaeus was a musician who collected “Indian words and sayings and made a dictionary of them.” but that “wasn’t really destroyed. D. and Indian dialects and writing and marginal notes of music. of wind. the Moravians were accused of scandalous behavior. the answer given by the Spirits.” This scroll. it was the laughter of the water. as to what was to be the relationship in future between the white-men and the Indians. She and her . said Mamalie. kept in a birch-bark case. The most important scene for this gnostic drama. Mamalie continues. it poured from the sky or from the inner realm of the Spirit. laughing all the time.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. she draws upon historical fact in order to build a larger mythos.”64 The Indians and the Moravians indeed had an unusual relationship.” so he “made notes of tones and rhythms of their voices. Hebrew. Zeisberger and Christian Seidel. “like scales running up and down. but all of them. He said it would be impossible to follow the language without the music. it was the outpouring of the Mystic Chalice that Paxnous’ priest too. not least because the Moravians respected Indian spirituality. According to Mamalie. so that “It was laughing. it is not a confabulation of H. and a hundred years after this ritual meeting and descent of the Holy Spirit took place. along with a list of “medicine-men or priests of the Indian tribes. This rapport is historically verifiable.” only driven “underground” to resurface with Count Zinzendorf and his disciples. bore the names of Cammerhof. . in particular the Shawnee. this laughter that ran over us. they conducted a syncretic ritual that joined the spiritual traditions of the two peoples. Pyrlaeus. . chiefly through the narrative of elderly Mamalie. of snow swirling. is not Europe but North America. to give the answer that the warriors had debated at their councils. done in their picture-writing.’s.65 In this spiritual meeting of the medicine men and the Moravian initiates.62 Like the Templars. As Mamalie put it in her narrative to Hilda: In fact. indeed. was to decide the future of the whole country . she decoded it from the cryptic musical notations and multilingual script of the parchment kept in the birchbark case. Already tracts of land further north were depleted of their wild animals. had a name for.” Pyrlaeus passed on a scroll written “in curious characters. though. this meeting of the Moravians and Indians under the sign of the Great Spirit / Holy Spirit? She was a musician.

decoded it and she played it. in an even more attenuated form. We have been shaken out of our ordinary dimension in time and we have crossed the chasm that divides time from time-out-of-time or from what they call eternity. and Hilda tells us that “We have been face to face with the final realities. having “burnt it up. H.” about 150 Indians working in a Moravian settlement were attacked and about ninety slaughtered by ragtag American soldiers under the command of one David Williamson. So it would seem that The Gift is a tragic book. At the novel’s conclusion. D. even refers to the American David Williamson. . raining down terror from the skies. the promise of Wunden Eiland and of the descent of the Holy Spirit is not lost but realized again. 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. past and present superimposed upon one another and intermingling. In 1755. Instead of recounting the transmission of Mamalie’s understanding to young Hilda. who was responsible for the attack on “New Gnadenhütten. we return to the fragmented narrative of the Second World War.116 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E young husband.68 The final section of The Gift at first seems anticlimactic. And in a subsequent event. a means of underscoring that the immense promise of the Moravian-Indian spiritual brotherhood and sisterhood. all of these themes are brought together into a unified whole.” as “Aryan. Mamalie. those hiding in the attic burned alive. so much so that she never played music again.” Thus we can see the palimpsest form of the novel. of universal peace and the descent of the Holy Spirit. the Moravian colony of Gnadenhütten.” Mamalie and her young husband were taken away in rapture by this union with the original ritual and spiritual illumination. to young Hilda as Mamalie became delirious on her deathbed. we realize that the Moravian sanctuary island. so that even amid the terrible bombing of England. Christian Seidel. is also the wounded island of England as it is being bombed by the Germans.”67 Thus “the Gift” was transmitted from the original Moravian participants in the ritual to Mamalie and her husband. could have “lifted the dark wings of evil from the whole world. And yet in the very final passages. and then. or Wounded Island. was attacked by a band of Indians loyal to the French. where the falling arrows of the original “French Indian” attack on Gnadenhütten metamorphose into the falling bombs of the Germans attacking England. In her notes.”69 The two worlds have become one. The Gift. stands perpetually opposed to those whose aim is slaughter. called “New Gnadenhütten. said in her fragmented narrative. and both Moravians and Indians were slaughtered. composed of both local Indians and Moravians working with them. who was to die at twenty-five. domination.” but instead what we see is a tragic history. or a subsequent realization of the original Moravian-Indian spiritual illumination. Wunden Eiland. Among those killed were twenty-four women and twenty-two children.

” but she knows what they are saying even though they “are speaking Indian dialects. . her work suggests that past. for instance.’s fascination with various figures and currents of Western esotericism becomes more than a collection of interests.’s poetry and prose reflect a sense of the transparency of time and place: from Notes on Thought and Vision onward. and that it is possible to realize a timeless state she terms the “over-mind. H. D. Among major twentiethcentury authors. and the original initiates had realized it in the eighteenth. but rather is woven into her entire worldview. not least because although outwardly its modernist fragmentation suggests confusion and chaos. D. But above all. we find a wide range of Western esoteric currents manifesting themselves. and the sound of the Moravian-Indian choirs of the past—and with this the novel concludes. Hilda hears the voice of Christian Renatus. Indeed.” There is a great sound—the sound of the all-clear siren in London. Her later work in fact exemplifies exactly this idea.” both as a theme treated explicitly in her poetry and prose. Her interest in spiritualism. it becomes the foundation for an entire worldview.” and she has suddenly achieved the union again in the twentieth century just as Mamalie had realized it in the nineteenth.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 117 In England. and as the way in which her work functions for the reader. singing of the Wounds.70 She hears the “great choir of the strange voices that speak in a strange bird-like staccato rhythm. present.’s work stands with that of Yeats and of O. H. but also a larger unity that even presents a way beyond chaos and evil into transcendence. D.” she realizes that “Our earth is a wounded island as we swing round the sun. the dead and the living are not separate but part of an interwoven continuum. this fragmentation actually represents in artistic form a higher union of past and present. as well as of timelessness and time. de Lubicz Milosz as exemplary of the literary-mythological possibilities of Western esotericism. H. In her profoundly ambitious works.” in which the individual consciousness is exalted. the more certain one is that here is someone whose work cannot be understood fully without reference to Western esotericism. but as integral to her work.’s work exemplifies what I have termed “initiation through the word.’s English present. both poetic and fictional. there. H. D. and future continually intermingle. H. she hears the “deep bee-like humming of the choir of single brothers. does not exist separate from her poetic and fictional work but rather represents an important aspect of it. one of the original Moravian initiates. In this context. not merely as decorations.” an echo of Emerson’s “Oversoul.V. the more deeply one looks into her works. Likewise. D. and Western Esotericism: Some Conclusions. D. As we have seen. 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. In her poetry and fiction. her abiding fascination with Moravian esotericism is not merely an aspect of her genealogical interests. past and present.

there is Resurrection and the hope of Paradise. to be sure. although: I hardly knew my Lord. and Elizabeth identifies herself with him. The Lucifer-Lilith.’s esoteric worldview is complex and rather heterodox. but at the same time. illuminating many aspects that otherwise could not be fully understood. meeting and parting. and all the rest was mystery and a portent. and that also incorporated a sexual mysticism she found deeply congenial.71 . dynastic Egypt. yes. D. but understanding it places her work in an entirely different light. Sir Walter was himself an alchemist. Elizabeth recalls him to her. D. H. though here we follow the processus through the characters of Elizabeth and Sir Walter [Raleigh]. as history tells us. She is the niece of the Elizabethan poet and alchemist Sir Edward Dyer. Adam-Eve formula may be applied to all men and women. early seventeenth-century England. Through the codex left by the original Moravian initiates. through her grandmother’s reconstruction of it in The Gift. which makes it absolutely clear that in her later poetry she was even more deeply immersed in Western esotericism. timelessness conveyed through time by way of word and image. in his pre-Eve manifestation. parted in the dark. We cannot conclude without reference to H. and its implications. outlined in entirety. The poem begins with the following preface: This sequence introduces Adam’s first wife. and contemporary London. Lilith. Is she the Serpent who tests the androgynat primordial? Serpent (saraph) it is said. At the center of her esoteric worldview is the primacy of the word as means of initiatic transmission. Mystery and a portent. so Lilith may be Serpent or Seraph. H. through her uncle’s Art and through the alchemy of memory. through time—specifically. has the same root derivation as Seraph. the Light-bringer.’s work is fundamentally that of esoteric transmission through ahistorical continuity. D. Vale Ave.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. whom we invoke as Lucifer. late Rome. Sir Walter secretly and mysteriously becomes her lover during the last months of his life in the Tower of London. but it was only in her later work that we see it. as Adam. may be Angel or Devil. through her fiction and through her poetry.’s complex 1957 poem Vale Ave. true we had met in sudden frenzy. legendary Provence. She had begun to outline this concept already in her early Notes on Thought and Vision. After his death.

taken in toto. just as it dwells in the realm of dreams.73 Magical Fiction In a poem entitled “Dreams. magic and the ancient mysteries still dwell. 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. I would like to explore not the art of magic. it may seem as though nothing could be farther from us than a world in which magic is possible.”72 Here again the scroll becomes a “palimpsest.” the alchemical processus of transmutation that is brought about for Elizabeth “through her uncle’s Art and through the alchemy of memory. that of ‘initiatory fiction’—novels and short stories whose evident purpose is to take the reader along into new and perhaps unfamiliar kinds of consciousness.” the mysteries of the holy well. D. Of course. / infinity portrayed in simple things. the Writing. of timelessness revealed in time’s transparency.” Kathleen Raine wrote of how the mysteries were once upon the earth.74 In our day of ever more complex technology and ever more information. as in poetry. ‘magical fiction’ in fact belongs to a larger category.” echoing the laughter in the culminating initiatory moment in The Gift. The dead are living still. here again we find that “I transcribed the scroll” . . “the Mystery. Yet in the twilit realm of fiction.’s recurrent theme of initiation through the word. D. Her poetry and her prose. the “springs gone under the hill.” and again through it “I had the answer. . Here. But my .” but a new mythology that turns out to be the grand theme of Western esotericism and that is perhaps as old as the mystery of the word itself.” Her poem ends with the stanza: Inviolate in dream The mysteries still are shown.’s lifetime of work. this preface and the poem itself are filled with esoteric elements. But bring them back none may Who wakes into this day. But then “From grotto grove and shrine. is not a youthful digression but central to her work even late in her life. the mysteries of the “tree and miraculous bird.” Here again we find the same themes that recur throughout H.” I cite from Vale Ave here because it makes clear that H. but rather how magic dwells in the realm of relatively recent fiction.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 119 Obviously. and the Scroll.” the holy presences withdraw. 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.

yes. This is actually a rather rare kind of fiction. seems reasonable enough in theory. Lewis describes a magical invocation that marks the climax of the book. It does not matter by whom it is said to be practiced.” “Sir.” replies Ransom. here.” whereas the “elvish craft” might best be referred to as “enchantment. S. R. 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. the “true powers of Heaven.76 While the distinction Tolkien makes. C. Lewis. for “if they [the Oyéresu] put forth their power. while I will draw on some writings of Tolkien and Williams.” “Their naked power. as one might imagine. Magic produces. invokes the Oyéresu.” which might best be translated as “magic. J. Ransom explains what is happening to the resurrected ancient magician Merlin. R. and so forth. and perhaps becomes itself a magical act. what will come of this?” asks Merlin. fiction in which the ancient mysteries are still alive and have not withdrawn their springs. he backtracks and remarks that “Magic should be reserved for the operations of the magician. Let us take an example.” Ransom invokes these powers he calls the Oyéresu. it is not an art but a technique. His main character. an alteration in the Primary World. J. when we turn to actual works. domination of things and wills. In his extraordinary novel That Hideous Strength.” But later in the same essay. Viritrilbia. Tolkien. its desire is power in this world.”77 In the subsequent chapter 15. but in its purity it is artistic in desire and purpose. Is there really a difference in practice between enchantment and magic. to the satisfaction of their senses while they are inside.” says Ransom. saying “I have become a bridge. S. “That is why they will work only through a man. it remains distinct from the other two. or Mercury.” in a collection of essays presented to Charles Williams. Tolkien begins by describing “fairy stories” as those stories touched by “faëry. “The Descent of the Gods. Here. fay or mortal. R.” He continues: Enchantment produces a Secondary World into which both designer and spectator can enter. or pretends to produce.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. things are not nearly so clear cut. C.” “Through a man whose mind is opened to be so invaded. and Charles Williams). or Venus.75 In his essay “On Fairy Stories. John Ransom. “one who by his own will once opened it. R. But chief among such authors are without doubt the Inklings (in particular. they will unmake all Middle Earth.” the planetary spirits of Perelandra. and the descrip- . as well as Dion Fortune (Violet Firth). I will concentrate on the works of Lewis and Fortune in order to explore how their fiction becomes magical.

and there we see a “rod of coloured light. We encounter how people ordinarily encounter Mercury. Clearly Lewis is describing a magical working: the invocation of the planetary powers.” Ransom “found himself sitting within the very heart of language. lynx-eyed thoughts” “rolling to and fro like glittering drops. They could not bear that it should continue. In the beginning of the chapter.”79 After Mercury arrives Venus. .”80 It is not really possible. there are two scenes: a room where several ordinary people sit. the narrator imagines what it must be like to enter the house. such a distinction does not hold up well at all.” the narrator tells us. sharp. so well-crafted and evocative are Lewis’s words. sticky gums . full of wordplay and puns and metaphors. where the invocation has its center. The ordinary people in the kitchen experience first the coming of Mercury: they become exceptionally talkative. to do full justice to these descriptions of the planetary powers’ arrival. in which none other than the ancient . . . whose colour no man can name or picture” darting between Ransom and Merlin. then we imaginatively enter the Blue Room. bright and ruthless. Fallen upon them direct from the Third Heaven. A soft tingling and shivering as of foam and breaking bubbles. “laden like heavy barges that glide nearly gunwale under . In this chapter. 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.” Merlin and Ransom tremble. until his outraged senses forsook him. ready to die. Laden with ponderous fragrance of night-scented flowers. Into the Blue Room come summer breezes. . They were blinded. were it possible. brisk merriments. unmitigated. sweet-scented and full of desire.” “He would have known sensuously. They could not bear that it should end. scorched. where Ransom (the Pendragon) and Merlin sit. or between “sub-creation” of a “secondary world” and magical effects on the “primary world” of this earth. awakening dormant passion in the people in the kitchen. They thought it would burn their bones. deafened. outspeeding light: it was Charity . “I do not think he could have reached the door unbidden. ready to kill. They experience “needle-pointed desires. . . 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 . . To keep their beams upon this spot of the moving Earth’s hide. in the white-hot furnace of essential speech. . 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. and the Blue Room. but it is in the description of the Blue Room that Venus truly comes alive.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 121 tion of this event is one of the most extraordinary evocations of magical working in literature.”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. here. calling down the powers. In this chapter of Lewis’s novel.

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. and Mark’s shirt is hanging partway out of the window. But even this is not the end: the end comes when the character Jane returns to her husband Mark. and one with Merlin and Ransom). This passage is what I mean by magical initiatory fiction. though one could easily imagine it so. Lewis brings us into the realm of Ransom’s and Merlin’s magical rescue of England from the grip of a malevolent force. One finds exactly the same sense of initiatory passage in the novels of Charles Williams. “Obviously it was high time she went in. One feels a satisfaction at the conclusion of That Hideous Strength that very few novels are able to elicit. Here the various good characters come together to discuss what happened.122 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E magician Merlin participates. Uncertain whether to enter the lodge where he is sleeping. After the “descent of the gods” is achieved in the fifteenth chapter. and by its end. and all is brought to a conclusion in “Venus at St. still it feels as though one imaginatively has. 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. About Williams’s novels. one with ordinary people.” but also because of the delicate tension it maintains between ordinary life and magical events. Anne’s. but Lewis’s novel is clearly about the “primary world” in which we live. but this healing is also one in which the reader necessarily participates. It is important that this magical working is not the end of the book. the magical working here is meant also to have effects in the “primary world” of the reader. the reader feels as though he has passed through those dimensions too. Lewis’s work is a masterpiece not only because of how it carries us into the magical working in the “descent of the gods. to the familiar world in which a married couple need each other. “The Descent of the Gods” is about a celestial healing of a ruined world. Gareth Knight observes in The Magical World of the Inklings: those who read his fiction tend to be affected strongly in two ways. rather like Elijah or King Arthur. the novel has dimensions that most other fiction simply does not. The invocation takes place. in the following chapter we see the destruction of the malevolent Institute and its depraved characters. but also is able to take along even the skeptical reader.” the seventeenth chapter.”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. even though of course the reader has not physically participated in the invocation of the Oyéresu. and the Director (Dr. whose work I would certainly be remiss if I did not mention here. Therefore . In so doing. In other words. Lewis not only achieves dramatic success. she sees that clothes are piled inside. of course. Ransom) is taken up to Perelandra bodily. “How exactly like Mark!” Jane thinks. in a “secondary world” of fiction.

when Ransom invokes the planetary powers. to make fiction something much more powerful than it ordinarily is. Who and what is Lilith. On the other hand. I have put a great deal into it. it is possible to respond to the quality of good. Thus a close reading of his novels can have a purificatory. 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. to find out what it was about.]82 Exactly the same thing may be said here about Lewis’s foray into what was chiefly Williams’s domain. 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.] If it be true that what is created in the imagination lives in the inner world. for in the act of reading. and there is a great deal more in it than I ever put in. and decidedly corrupt ones. It was not written for its entertainment value. In effect they are initiations. and divine reality and angelic brightness shines through the other side of his work. and why did she live on after the book about her was finished. One might even say that the writing of it was a magical act. . almost cathartic effect. in general. and her observations are revealing.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. I wrote it. . Fortune rarely wrote about her fiction. I am afraid. they reveal forms of necromancy. in fact. By doing so. For that. they unveil the power of archetypes and. one is also encountering new realms of existence. not find it very entertaining. [Emphasis added. [Emphasis added. then what have I created in Lilith Le Fay? . such as Simon Leclerc in All Hallows’ Eve. we should turn to a second exemplar: the fiction of Dion Fortune. But while Williams’s fiction certainly touches upon magical themes and features magician characters both noble. both Williams and Lewis were able to widen the metaphysical dimensions of fiction. such as the poet Peter Stanhope of Descent into Hell. for instance. for both writers evoked magical workings or paranormal events in ways that very few authors have. Williams’s characters offer insights into what it is like to be dead. She writes there that Those who read this story for the sake of entertainment will. 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. but rarely if at all in exactly the form I wish to consider here: initiation into magical ritual itself. and how therefore the reader is in . but she did offer some preliminary remarks to her novel Moon Magic.

untidy. which is the dark side of the Moon.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. In some respects. She writes matter-of-factly about all manner of paranormal events. after all. and take refuge in the Secret Kingdom. like all of her . often enough in the first person from the viewpoint of a female character. but Fortune was. and imagined myself speaking to him. Psychologists call it a psychological mechanism. the narrator begins this way: I will tell what I did.84 Here we are observing a magical working of a very different kind from that evoked by Lewis through his character Ransom. as if those characters were somehow joined with Ransom’s voice. that is to say. it is the door by which the sensitive escape into insanity when life is too hard for them. which always characterizes the change of the level of consciousness. and the man in the street calls it illusion or charlatanry according to taste. putting my cards on the table. and author of numerous books on the practice of magic and related subjects. 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 this matterof-fact tone of voice has an effect similar to that of the ordinary characters in Lewis’s That Hideous Strength. not surprisingly. I made the astral projection by the usual method. and was startled to find that the character lived on in Fortune’s own imagination after The Sea Priestess was finished. all awareness of my physical surroundings faded. In the novel’s seventh chapter. That Fortune was herself a magician is not in question. for it is effectual. There is little evidence that Lewis was a practicing magus. badly lit and ill-tended room. a shabby. the founder of the British Society of the Inner Light. Fortune’s wealth of direct personal experience in the practice of magic. magicians call it magic. Then I visualized the face of the man with the greying red hair. The Door Without a Key is the Door of Dreams. the side She turns away from earth. Fortune’s novels are as much like primers on magical practices as they are fiction. for it shows how we use the Door Without a Key to escape the Lord of This World. Fortune’s novel. and artists use it as a window in a watch-tower. It does not matter to me what it is called. and I seemed to be in a strange room. 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. 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. I had the sensation of the descent of a swift lift. She gave rise to the character Lilith. appears clearly in her novels. who is Moloch. The magic worked.

” an expression characteristic of the way she clearly lays out in her fiction to reflect the way her magical practice is experienced. Not only were they alive.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 125 fiction. a collection of stories entitled The Secrets of Dr. “for to me they had suddenly become alive. like Taverner. Rhodes’s initiation into nature magic corresponds in some respects to the natural magic of Merlin in Lewis’s That Hideous Strength: it represents a kind of foundation for other sorts of magic. a bullish young man named Ted Murchison. Fortune’s account here is closer to journalism. based on the life of one Theodore Moriarty. and here too there are correspondences with what we have seen in That Hideous Strength. a young woman named Ursula . Taverner is patterned after Holmes. 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. for.” which is about an English nobleman whose family seeks to have him certified mad in order to take over his estate. Taverner certainly falls under the category of ‘occult fiction. but perhaps most interestingly. an unsavory magician named Hugo Astley—with some similarities to Aleister Crowley—and his protegé. the ordinary observer of the magus Taverner. Rhodes. was consummately the logician. Such an observation is not meant entirely as criticism. but also to point out a means by which Fortune’s novels attract and hold a reader. but I shared in their life. Holmes.” The initiation we see in “A Son of the Night” is a simple change of consciousness: it is an awakening to the inner life of nature. one will recall. for I was one with them . to “enter the Unseen. decides to heed the call of nature that he feels. I was no longer alone. she is interested in “putting her cards on the table. while the stories are written from the perspective of his companion. and something of the same flavor comes across in Taverner. in particular that of Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes. Taverner. I had passed over into the Unseen. Among the more interesting of these stories is “A Son of the Night. Thus Rhodes. and who is in fact of supernatural lineage. The Secrets of Dr. set loose a magical attack on the protagonists. In Fortune’s novel The Winged Bull. As a character. with the addition of Taverner’s great experience in magical or occult events.’ but it is in fact just as much in the genre of detective fiction. Rhodes. “in all things there was a profound difference. . (a kind of Watson to Taverner’s Holmes). at the end of the story. who represents the voice of the ordinary observer.” Rhodes remarks at the story’s conclusion. Characteristic of this strategy is one of Fortune’s earliest and best-known works. a fellow named Fouldes.” to pass “an invisible barrier” of consciousness. is concerned with practical magic and phenomena like astral projection. Taverner gets to the bottom of the case immediately. and many others. After his entry into the Unseen. Marius. But there are other sorts of magical initiations in Fortune’s fiction as well. .”85 And so the book concludes. There is little art in the way she tells of the magical working: if Lewis’s account is closer to poetry than to prose.

of course Lewis’s is far the greater both in literary skill and in significance. banked and double-banked. evil power that had been pouring in as steadily as waves beating into a bay. and her half-brother. such characters are necessary not only dramatically. broke and starred like a smashed mirror. . became furious and the force of his fury came back over the ‘telepathic wire’ to Fouldes and Astley. She had passed out of his reach on the tides of the force as if water had whirled her away. cold and merciless. and in another moment the room was empty . breaking the embarrassing silence. pure selfishness. they were getting it in the neck. they are without morality. among them men named Frost and Wither. and. ‘Well. It was best to leave Murchison to his unaided wits.126 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Brangwyn. . in order to generate the greater polarity necessary for what we might call the metaphysical battles that take place in both books. but one can certainly see some parallels between it and Lewis’s That Hideous Strength. suddenly. The strange. ‘If Fouldes and Astley were en rapport at the other end of the telepathic wire. Of the two books. and felt the waves of evil influence come rolling in. and the waves divided and swept past him like the tide round a pier.’ Brangwyn concluded. These characters represent sheer malevolence against humanity.86 At first it appeared that Murchison and Ursula were to be lost in the force of this magical attack. dropping into a chair as if exhausted. But there was nothing he could do for the other two . who have developed a means for communication with what they call “Macrobes” (in fact another name for demons).’ replied Murchison. a bear of a man. .’ said Brangwyn. . Frost and Wither are without mercy. there are also depraved black magicians. running in every direction like spilled quicksilver. a change came over the atmosphere of the room. an experienced magician. Then. The girl he could do nothing for. ‘That is very much that. In That Hideous Strength. The three protagonists were just about to go to bed when Murchison cocked his head and stared into space over Ursula’s head.’ ‘Yes. . but then Murchison. represent evil on another scale entirely from that which one usually sees depicted in modern fiction. Yet paradoxically. ‘so that’s that. like Astley in The Winged Bull.’87 The writing here feels a bit more awkward than in some of Fortune’s other novels. but also logically. Fortune continues: Then Brangwyn also caught it. He was experienced in dealing with such things. but clearly in both depravity is necessary on one side in order that there can be noble transcendence on the other.

which represent profoundly divergent ways of relating to the cosmos. In all of the fiction we are considering here. also reflect at least some initiatory knowledge in their writings. Lewis.89 While the works of these authors are more artistic than Fortune’s. thanks to which we refashion the experience of our relationships to the sacred and the universe.” Antoine Faivre discusses the nature of initiation. experience of magic. but later called the Community of the Inner Light. and Fortune. thanks to a process that lets us reappropriate the knowing we have lost . Whether or not a disciple has a master. and finally the Society of the Inner Light. a series of magical initiations that begin with something like Rhodes’s entry into the Unseen. but that also go beyond seeing into nature. they also carry the reader along on an initiatory course. Taverner. and in particular how the individual on an esoteric path follows a process of awakening. or with the help of an initatory. helped by appropriate texts. while more circumspect about their own knowledge and at least in Williams’s case. he is in fact being initiated into the existence of forces invisible to the vast majority of people. S. Williams. .90 . powers both good and evil. Faivre writes that We follow this path by committing ourselves to it. he has to access a knowing—or a form of nonknowing— transmittable by the word. There is. But Charles Williams and even C. who can be an isolated master or a member of an initiatory school. In “Approaches to Western Esoteric Currents. This provides the profound tension that drives these works and that creates the ‘space’ within which the magical workings take place. 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. The initiation serves to regenerate our consciousness.85 In the works of Fortune we are unquestionably seeing the reflection of her own extensive experience in magical initiation. to living Nature (theosophy lato sensu). either alone. whose novels without any question reflect the fact that she was herself the founder of an initiatory order. to advance in the knowledge of the connections uniting the disciple to higher entities (theosophy strictu sensu) and to cosmic forces. which hide the mysteries while revealing their keys. in this kind of fiction. . and thanks to that. initially called the Christian Mystic Lodge of the Theosophical Society. The phrase magical initiation is perhaps most suitable here for the works of Fortune. there must be in these novels—as also in books of Charles Williams such as War in Heaven—a metaphysical polarity between good and evil. When the reader enters into the magical fiction of Lewis. rising to insight into the metaphysical underpinnings of human life.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. at the end of The Secrets of Dr.

‘behind the scenes’ of the drama of ordinary human life. and a realm in which one may encounter and work with nonphysical beings and powers. Third. if we may so put it. Indeed. which manifests a deeper conflict between destructive and constructive powers in the cosmos as a whole. 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. then. initiation into living Nature tends to precede initiation into the powers of higher entities. Such a tension corresponds. a mesocosm possessing its own geography. to the age-old relationship between the initiate and the initiator. 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. initiating readers into “the space of intermediary beings.” and thus to written works like novels. even though the ultimate source of the reader’s magical initiation in fiction is the author. we have seen that often central to this magical initiation is a kind of magical battle between evil and good magicians. and from the rule-free extravagances of fantasy or sentimentality.”92 This special kind of imagination allows one to “escape both from the sterility of a purely discursive logic. 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 Fortune were up to in their fictional works. Finally.” putting us in contact with the mundus imaginalis or imaginal world that “is the space of intermediary beings. he calls ‘active imagination’ “the essential component of esotericism. perceptible to each of us as a function of our respective cultural imagery.”93 Faivre’s observations here are particularly important because they help us to understand in a different light what Lewis.” What conclusions can we draw. since in the fiction we have been discussing. active imagination is essential. Williams.91 Faivre goes on to remark that to succeed in this process of regeneration or initiatic awakening. a mesocosm possessing its own geography. moving from initiation into elemental or natural magic (represented by Lewis’s character Merlin. Second. . in literary form. as one reads a novel like Dion Fortune’s The Sea Priestess. But this passage as a whole clearly can be read as referring to initiation “transmittable by the word. or such as Isis in Fortune’s The Sea Priestess.128 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E I would suggest that the order of these final points be reversed. we have seen that magical fiction in general represents to the reader a series of stages or grades. for instance) to initiation into encounters with transcendent beings the Oyéresu in Lewis’s That Hideous Strength. thoroughly real. For magical fiction is in fact remarkably suited to. from this brief foray into the realm of magical fiction? First. In fact.

an important and genuinely original British painter. transcendent and perhaps. it is this: there is undoubtedly art in magic. Collins revealed in his work insights into the hidden. her novels have a workmanlike quality: they do depict magical rituals and do offer insights into the nature of magic. indirectly or directly. if I may be permitted a single conclusion. This was an exhibition that I was fortunate enough to attend. the sense that the artist belonged to the same tradition as A. visionary style that may best be described as glimpses into another. Collins’s paintings were exhibited in a major retrospective in 1989. in the sense of Rilke. While Fortune was certainly a practicing magician. higher aspects of nature and humanity. As we have already seen. 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. angelic realm. and his writings reveal in detail his . Still. is linked to the world in which we live and that offers us profound insights into the cosmos and into humanity. represent a visual form separate from and complementing the texts they accompany. but the most magical works of all may well be found in literary art. Something of the same relationship between word and image exists in the works of Cecil Collins (1908–1989). this is not the only means of esoteric transmission in twentieth-century works. Theosophic illustrations in particular. not merely viewing paintings but through them being shown new ways of understanding humanity and the transcendent. One felt as though one were in some sense being initiated into a way of seeing. and that like his contemporary poet. Esoteric Transmission in the Art of Cecil Collins Although this book is primarily about literary transmission. E. but also in Böhmean theosophy. where images accompany the written word and yet represent a separate set of works on their own. one could understand much more clearly the nature of Collins’s paintings. Collins is best known as an artist whose works manifest an ethereal. 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. images played an important role not only in alchemical works and later in Rosicrucianism. such as those accompanying the original German and English editions of Böhme’s complete works. and I recall the otherworldliness of the images. which is why I have chosen to study them together.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 129 The authors we have considered here knew or knew of one another.. there remain fundamental differences. held in London’s Tate Gallery. and were engaged at least to some degree in similar enterprises. It was not until 1994 that Brian Keeble brought out an edited book of Collins’s writings under the title The Vision of the Fool. Thus. but with the publication of this book. Collins was a gifted aphorist.

and I know nothing. It is this official denial of life that confronts us in everything. 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.” Ordinary life in the natural world.95 In 1965. and this from a comparatively early period in his work. on the other his works are infused with profound criticisms of the “insect-life” of modern industrial society. to come to fruition. the contemplative. to show us the hieroedietic beauty of life through art. If Collins loved solitude and nature on the one hand. Denies the artist. and my life with you. of how “The tasting of these things in our days and nights is the partaking of the sacrament of existence. and most holy are you O beautiful servants. [14 January.” or again. is imbued always with spiritual significance. of all that which desires to give. one is placed in contact with another reality through them.’ must make intellectual connections individually. The aphorism is in many respects the most poetic form of prose. A frustration of all that which is growing. the human being. of “The long eternal afternoons robed in blue. Devonshire]94 He writes beautifully also of his life in nature. for Collins. I know of your existence. and cheap vulgarity of attitude towards life on the other side. 1945.” and in it he wrote that It is part of our democratic self-deception and sentimentality that we vaguely assume we are without an elite. In “Hymn of Life. By reading Collins’s aphorisms. The coldness of the vanity of the intellect on one side. the aphorism by its nature stands on its own surrounded by the white space of the page. But deep underneath flows the secret stream. we are all exiles. But here I wander. even as they transmit that worldview to the reader. with the white compassionate temples of the clouds floating in wise happiness and detached love. when in fact it is quite clear that we are ruled today by the elite of scientific technocrats and politicians . he writes: O holy ones I long for you. Collins gave a public lecture titled “The Artist in the New Age. and the task of the artist is to remind us of this. I remember you. for he must ‘leap the gaps. I long for my kingdom.130 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E worldview. so that the reader has a greater task than in prose works. Totnes. I long for my race. of his solitary walks in the countryside. But you exist. Our time denies. A winter of the spirit is over all society.” consisting in excerpts from Collins’s journals during the Second World War. denies all who have inward fruit.

It can only be known by inner nuance.” Collins distinguishes between “how” knowledge and “why” knowledge. This is the same thing actually. 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. by description. They represent a low level of awareness and consciousness. they cannot be reached by knowledge of them. they have no philosophy of life other than the exploitation of nature and of man. The higher worlds are inaccessible to the insensitive. and thus ultimately nothing less than a transformation of our consciousness. another way of expressing what he calls “why” knowledge. the meaning.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. rapport. they offer avenues into direct inner spiritual realization. Transformation of consciousness cannot be known or be brought about by thinking. Collins calls us out of this stupor of the insectoid hive-life in industrial society through his art. by measurement or analysis. and the making of money.” but to offer what Collins calls “rapport” with the transcendent. For like answers to like and creates actualization .96 It is remarkable how timely Collins’s critique of industrial society has remained.” “How” knowledge is merely instrumental. . and sensitivity to the vibrations and rays of that livingness which is at the heart of things. whereas “‘why’ knowledge is concerned with the significance of things. whereas a great deal of ‘why’ knowledge is known only through nuance of consciousness. but only by rapport with those worlds. The value of the artist is not to decorate. awaken this inner rapport in us.] art is therefore an instrument of man’s inner nature and it enables him to manifest in the phenomena of matter the nuance and living quality of his inner life so that his environment is no longer neutral or alien: a rapport is established. how apt his descriptions still are of the moribund vacuity characterizing so much of modern life. to make pretty that “empty and mechanical desert we call modern civilization. . 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[. and central to our awakening is a change in consciousness. in Collins’s view. . In his essay “Art and Modern Man.97 Works of art. “How” knowledge refers to mere process and manipulation of apparently dead objects.

We are all apt to fall asleep. spiritu- . But there is something else that has to be opened.’ In other words. in the great canonic formality of traditional civilizations there was of necessity a ‘closed’ consciousness in order to focus upon the sacred . it is also a means by which human consciousness is awakened. We must have sacrament everywhere: as Blake says. canonic language. We live. with the transformation of consciousness our experience of matter undergoes a change. Collins concludes his lecture by reaffirming the initiatory nature of art. he writes. it becomes qualitative.] we have a deeper rapport with the earth. He writes in “The Artist in the New Age” that in the modern era. In the past. and the word ‘apocalypse’ means to unveil. and transmuted. his inner world. the answer comes back to us from within them. . Collins sees this artistic transmission as taking the place of older. canonical religions and ritual. a mere turning of the wheel of existence. widened. the elements. but through a lyrical contact with the archetypal world. the opening of man’s inner nature. of mere desires.’ if only the doors of perception would be cleansed. and that is the eye of the heart. Collins holds that “a new period of art will come not through this decaying. and what is more. it is a means of initiation and spiritual transmission.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[.] it is consecrated and is now sacramental. the unveiling of the atom. ‘Everything that lives is holy.” In his final remarks. is thus more than a portal into the transcendent. And this brings us to the big problem Within this new open consciousness we need to recover a sacramental sense. he writes that This is the time of unveiling. in Collins’s view. trees. Creative art has always been concerned to touch and open the eye of the heart.99 This awakening of the sense of the sacramental is the task of art.98 The work of art. we have communion with it[. that the canonic cultures of the past are decaying and dying. religious. But we have to learn how to concentrate on the sacramental without the use of this ‘closed’ formality. If the eye of the heart is closed then the whole of the universe is dead. Art enables us to experience what the French poet René Char calls ‘the friendship of created things. living art is initiation into the realization that all is holy and that our true relationship to nature and to one another is sacramental.” 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. rocks. in Collins’s view. . we have no canonic culture of our own. in a “time of the apocalypse.

“The Invocation” reveals a paradisal relationship between the invoking angelic human figure. that we may share each other’s creative response to life. reminding us of the innate spiritual awareness that we can awaken if we wish to do so. In many of his later paintings. while above it sweep golden spirals and a red sun. like “Angels” (1948). or to show to us how interwoven is our own consciousness with that which he is revealing through the paintings. landscape is transformed as well. by patterns on the limbs and torso. as in many of his visionary paintings. as if to reflect Collins’s own opened sense of inner vision interconnected with the exterior world. such as “The Invocation” (1944). the one with the sword. but that is uplifting and paradisal.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 133 ally.” 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. Collins’s paintings reflect an uncanny unity from the earliest to the last. In all of them the human form and/or landscape is present but stylized. Often. To gaze at this painting is to . around them a halo of golden-yellow light. her hand outstretched over the land in benediction. her head bent back and contemplative. its features smooth and surrounded by a mane of hair. it refers to the inner visionary spiritual capacity of the individual. revealed as clearly as anywhere in “The Music of Dawn” (1988). and vibrant color. hieratic quality. Here the entire image is awash in golden light.100 The phrase “eye of the heart” is found in Christian theosophy. Collins’s paintings are ecstatic. a rapport with something that we cannot quite articulate. to the right a human figure with a sweeping robe that looks as though it rises out of the earth exactly as does the hill behind it. and in this it captures (in 1944!) precisely the sacramental relationship with nature that Collins discussed in his lectures so many years later. a union of figure. Here. Here the landscape below seems to be swelling up and rising with energy like an ocean swell. 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. the figures’ eyes are opened. make it bleed. dreamlike. Such paintings are mysterious in their capacity to evoke in us a sense. in its hand a staff topped by an orb. too. to the left the orb of the sun. The figure looks out with a far-off gaze. and the eye of the heart is opened by these two artists. Many of these images have a strange. to the left the sweeping forms of two intertwined angels whose colors partake of the earth’s brown and of white. an active support. in “The Invocation. and the other with the light. not afraid to wound the heart. landscape. Human forms are elongated and have a geometric quality that’s intensified in some. and here it seems an appropriate way for Collins to conclude. their faces closed in rapt contemplation as they seem but a moment from ascending.

In another book. he saw himself addressing a future audience that would be receptive to primordial ways of seeing humanity and nature. implicit in the works of all three of our main authors and artists here—Milosz. an esoteric transmission of new ways of seeing humanity and the world is not merely decorative.. instruments for transmitting a reality higher than ourselves. we see intimations of a future paradisal existence. and poems that illuminate his paintings. Collins also wrote about the critical importance of awakening to an awareness of the archetypal. or altar. even if in writing he offers the context for viewing and understanding those images. H. in Collins’s view. by which we make contact with reality through images . D. like an electrical transformer. Collins wrote in this book. a world between us and it. one that partakes as much of humanity’s Edenic past as of its potentially paradisal future. to achieve precisely what he wrote about so eloquently. Here. and it is the archetypal that we see in the hieratic figures and landscapes of his paintings. In this respect. chair. I offer these paintings as indicative of Collins’s extraordinary ability to reveal through the image something that transcends image. .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. but also essays. Pages from a Sketchbook (1997). 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. of their work as a transmission through a confused and destructive era into a paradisal future. D. he is like very few other painters. to take the impact and transform it to our dimension. Poems. and Collins—is this sense of a future audience. Indeed. he offers through his paintings. we then have ‘sacred space. in the works of Lewis and Williams as well. his drawings. and indeed. If this participation in reality through images is brought down into our environment. that like Milosz. and his written work the clear sense that his work represents portals into other dimensions of consciousness beyond the merely quotidian. of kinds of consciousness that transcend the subject-object divisions characteristic of modernity. as in the works of Milosz and H. And it is also clear. dawn of a more spiritual humanity gazing on mysteries with serene contemplation. not least because his work includes not only images. but central. Lost paradise and .” Cecil Collins represents the archetypal figure of the twentieth-century esoteric artist. from his writing on a “new age” of the spirit. aphorisms. This buffer world is called the archetypal world.. . Meditations.101 The living work of art is a reminder and a means of exactly this transmission. In all of these works. But Collins offers these through visual images. is so powerful that we cannot look on it and live—therefore we need a buffer.’ sacred images. Divine Reality.

for instance. the hidden themes perhaps of our entire era. and the arts in written form. and the via negativa. there have emerged common characteristics on which we may be able to shed some light by summarizing them and considering them as a whole. these two ways are in fact ultimately one in that they both lead to the same transcendence.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 135 the restoration of paradise. or way of affirmation. the way of images and forms and transformations. despite the dazzling wealth of diversity in its means of expression. First. and awakening gnosis. And it is on this paradox that we must concentrate in addressing the relationships of Western esotericism to consciousness. we may say that Western esotericism is fundamentally literary in expression. particularly that of alphanumeric gnosis. Strictly speaking. science. or way of negation. but nonetheless in practice these two ways do differ. as Dionysius himself points out. sheer transcendence of all subject-object divisions. and it is undoubtedly better to consider individual traditions. Here ‘literature’ takes on new meanings. and are meant to lead their reader toward those experiences. but rather. we can characterize it as falling into two general categories that go back at least to Dionysius the Areopagite: the via positiva. and now it is time for us to consider the broader implications of Western esoteric traditions in relation to consciousness. or mere entertainment. The words and images of Western esoteric traditions are by no means diversions. This brings us to our second point: that in Western esotericism. what we find is in fact the via negativa. these are the themes of these great artists. the work of Meister Eckhart or of Johannes Tauler. for in Western esotericism it is generally regarded as a vehicle. to the conjunction of spirituality. For in our overview of Western esotericism. rather than to the ascent to absolute transcendence of all forms that we find in. And most of the Western esoteric traditions correspond to the via positiva. as a means of transmitting knowledge. somewhat too general to speak in the abstract about Western esotericism as a whole. It is. But the term literary here refers to an interdisciplinary nexus. are in fact essentially gnostic: that is. THE WESTERN ESOTERIC TRADITIONS AND CONSCIOUSNESS When we consider Western esotericism in its full range. they are charged with visionary or spiritual experiences. But this we have already done in our historical overview of Western esoteric currents. Yet when we penetrate entirely through the via positiva. although they may contain an element of play. literature (in which we include images and numbers) is generally conceived as a means of transmuting consciousness. of course. made visible in the mysterious archetypal images of Collins. Thus our third point: that .

Rather. Under this broad rubric of ‘the divine. gathers means of technical power over the cosmos. plant extracts. but never overcomes and rarely is even aware of this great gulf between self and other. one finds the ternary predominating: humanity. But in Western esoteric traditions. sometimes called by Böhme the . on the other hand. the cosmos. which often enough becomes humanity pitted against the cosmos. And Western esoteric literature. and the divine.’ and that knowledge consists in learning about the various divisions or aspects of the ‘I’ and of ‘the other. materialist worldview and what we find in Western esotericism. between the human and natural realms. All of these disciplines are expressions of the same general theory of ‘objective.’ the divine.136 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E in the Western esoteric traditions. ‘third element. be it Rosicrucian or alchemical. The alchemist works with natural substances—for example. whose fundamental nature is to join together self and other. schooled as we are in the division between subject and object. or Symbols. In modern education. alchemical work is based on a fundamental correspondence between self and other. theosophic or Kabbalistic or magical.’ Hence we find the basis of all the various disciplines: biology. the divine. psychology. chemistry. D. Western esoteric traditions. an explicit goal of such modern poets as Milosz and H. geology.’ we can discern two general levels: there is the archetypal realm of Forms. and implicit in them all is that there is an ‘I’ that is separate from and learns about the cosmos. Within this fundamentally different way of understanding nature and humanity is also a profoundly different way of understanding literature and art. Here is the essential division between a modern. history. where alchemical work consists in the transmutation of both self and other at once. in achieving what one might call as well a restoration of paradise or a golden age—as we have already seen. there is only the division between self and other. gnostic experience is the crown and purpose of human life.’ quantifiable knowledge. Ideas. hidden. Alchemical work consists in raising up or redeeming both humanity and nature. This other view is particularly acute in alchemy. For the correspondence between humanity and the cosmos can take place only by means of a third: the divine. sociology. are founded in a totally different way of seeing the individual in relation to the cosmos. works only by reference to this third element. that transcends and links both humanity and the cosmos. In a modern worldview. we are taught from childhood that ‘I’ am separate from ‘the other. or minerals—but that work is not merely manipulating chemicals or substances. Western esoteric traditions—and this is true of all of them—are founded on the existence of this mysterious. All of these aspects of Western esoteric literature may seem foreign to contemporary eyes. and there is sheer transcendence. between humanity and the cosmos. but to understand why this is so requires some further explanation. and so on.

a divine mathematics. in turn created clearly prophetic works meant to foretell a future that they also invoked. This myth—although it appears in numerous variants—is always tied to the Ur-Mensch. this latent memory of higher consciousness waiting to be awakened. Rosicrucianism. alchemy. symbolic realm of images contacted by the imagination from which in turn appears the panoply of the arts. Milosz calls this awakening power “Memoria” and insists that it is the essence of our consciousness. This archetypal realm. Underlying all of these Western esoteric traditions is also a universalism in the myth of the fall and of restoration. but nothing. cosmology. and in returning has written or illustrated a work. a biologist and geologist and a priestly hierophant. For this sphere of archetypes is the infinite hieratic. and by others the Nothing. These two aspects of the divine—but especially the lower. what transpired before history goes something like this: Primordial humanity. The author has presumably already journeyed to this realm. a mythologist. In brief. the Platonic realm of Forms or Ideas. but instead ranges freely across all of what we today call separate disciplines or fields. For the purpose of such literature is. and literary expression. meaning by that not absence. is in fact prophetic. biology.’ who partakes in a particular kind of hieroeidetic knowledge. for all three of these poets. the “Vision” of William Butler Yeats. in order to create. an artist. or Fullness. and so there is in all true art a timeless and universal quality.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 137 Ungrund. archetypal realm—are critical to understanding Western esoteric literature. theosophy. by definition a ‘seer. suffused by their deep study of Western esoteric traditions. must see into the archetypal realm that is above the limitations of time and space. which in turn is meant to guide or awaken the reader to its archetypal or symbolic reality. There is in the universalist aims of these poets a definite indebtedness to the inherent universalism of Western esoteric traditions. we find a divine art and a divine science. and in this externalization was the separation or fall from paradise into the increasing objectivization of history. Thus the artist. is the origin of both nature and humanity—and of art. and a chemist. perhaps denoted by some ancient Gnostics under the term Pleroma. and the poetic prophecies of Oscar Milosz in perhaps a different way. or any of the other major esoteric currents. often seen as androgynous. what we find in fact is not limited to the sphere of religion alone. to awaken the reader’s consciousness of this archetypal realm. first. That is: whether we look at Kabbalah. The eighteenth-century alchemist is often at once a poet and a historian. The artist. in this worldview. the absolute unity of subject and object. a theologian. The aim of the esoteric . and his fall from paradise. was tempted to look outside itself for knowledge. One cannot separate any of these roles because they are all intimately bound up with the enormous range covered by the rubric alchemist. Adam. Hence we may view the “Prophecies” of William Blake. In all of these traditions.

author of The Magus.138 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E practitioner. language too became externalized and ‘hardened’ outside us into mutually incomprehensible ‘tongues. often with Hebrew as the celestial language of choice. Underlying these alphanumeric permutations is the understanding that in fact one is working with the very language of creation. The myth of a primordial humanity entails a primordial language. which show that he had learned the unfamiliar way of writing then known to some occult students as the ‘Celestial Alphabet.’ not the means of celestial union with all that surrounds us. and indeed as Yeats pointed out. But it is certain that Barrett proposed a “magical alphabet” closely resembling the “Mason’s marks” or Masonic hieroglyphs. the entire cosmos represents a kind of celestial writing. We see this idea of a celestial or universal language appearing in various forms throughout Western esotericism. pansophic. . where it arguably sparked the entire . is nothing less than the restoration of paradise. whether a Kabbalist. and notarikon.”103 And we find this insistence on the importance of magical language in many unexpected places—for instance. and of intricate maneuvers with letters and numbers in gematria. Rosicrucian. and Masonic illustrations. which is to say. in the Russian symbolist poetry and prose near the beginning of the twentieth century. the poet Robert Southey observed that London Swedenborgians prized a “Celestial Alphabet” “in which every letter signifies a complete thing . and within every living thing is its transcendent or archetypal signature or word. magical.’”102 Likewise. and this view is found throughout other Western esoteric traditions. These in turn are related to Hebrew letters. In this perspective. but instead a further means for our separation from and objectification of the world. contains some secret of wisdom. Jewish Kabbalah of course maintains a long tradition of Hebrew exegesis. even from a single letter. Hence. almost always denoting divinity. Primordial humanity knows this celestial language. 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. a theosopher. and every flexure and curvature of every letter. one finds Hebrew letters inscribed in alchemical. in a group of London Rosicrucians associated with Francis Barrett (1765–1825). for instance. drawing a virtually infinite range of connotations from a single verse. the language of creation itself. 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. . or a pansoph. A typical manifestation of this tradition is found around the turn of the nineteenth century. theosophic. the restoration of unity between humanity and nature by way of the divine. William Blake in some of his illustrations used “Hebrew characters on some of his designs. but as humanity fell away from it in the long descent that is human history. temurah. an alchemist.

They shared a utopian dream of a new perfectly ‘transparent’ language. In her article “The Magic of Words: Symbolism. we cannot here pursue further this fascinating theme of how magical views of language pervaded Russian and even early Soviet literature. and that these are consistently linked with an alphanumeric mysticism of language. For it well may be that there is a general paradigm recurring thoughout the various currents of Western esotericism. certainly it may be the Christian .” Irina Gutkin summarizes this argument as follows: However diverse Russian modernists’ language theories and related visions of the future may have been. seeing where they emerge also into the world of letters or poetry. which they conceptualized as the time when human beings spoke a language in which the signifier and the signified existed in complete organic unity.” or the “Book of Life”. and especially of written language and of the book. following the various currents through Kabbalism. Social Realism. consequently. But only to trace influences assumes that everything in Western esotericism can be attributed to questions of ‘influence. This is not to say that there is a universal esotericism—for here we are not venturing beyond fundamentally European traditions—but rather. of which these various currents are particular manifestations filtered through the conditions of an era and religious tradition. 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. in their cosmogonic mythologies the genesis of a new world was conceived principally as a glottogenetic process: the creation of new language obtained the paramount role in the realization of a new ideal world of the future. . it is to suggest that there are governing images and currents of Western esotericism. when surveying the various esoteric currents. 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. Sacerdotal or magical language provided a model for the new language each of these movements was striving to create.104 Obviously.” or the “Book of Revelation. influenced much of modern Russian literature. The book may be the cryptic “Liber M” of the Rosicrucians. . generally speaking . and Masonry. Some of this work we have already done earlier in this discussion. Futurism. magic. It is theoretically possible to trace these ideas of a celestial alphabet throughout Western history. it may be the “Book of Nature. This is in fact precisely the argument of several contemporary scholars of Russian literature. theosophy. in that their theories implied restoration of the world’s original Edenic state.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 139 symbolist movement and.’ and this is not necessarily so.

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. it seems entirely possible that Christianity and Western esoteric traditions more generally. 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. and Christianity—have a specific reverence for the sacred book. However. and in Judaism with Kabbalah. other than occasional fragmentary lists and the perfunctory listing of such figures as Plato. and indeed even farther back. Hermes. Islam. It is true that many of the world’s religious traditions include sacred writings. Certainly there were such nascent initiatory lineages early in the Christian era among gnostic circles. regard the book itself as a primary means of transmitting the tradition. where it is traditionally said that one must be initiated by an alchemist in order to work the magistery. and it may also be the visionary Mysterium Magnum of Jacob Böhme or an alchemical manuscript. In Hinduism or Buddhism. which indeed still finds them audiences today. but there is no evidence that any of these continued even into the medieval period. for instance. where the tradition . but rather relied upon the written word. or nonexistent. there are virtually no available records on any such actual initiatory lines in Western European literature. and Geber. gurus. and what is more. This would certainly explain why figures like Meister Eckhart or Johannes Tauler did not found initiatory lineages of disciples. Even in the case of alchemy. 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. rely upon the written word not only as a focus for oral communication or transmission. Thus we are left with the enigma of Western esotericism. but it is a peculiar fact that the three major monotheist traditions— Judaism. but it is quite another for the writing itself to become so primary as the sacred writings of the three monotheistic traditions. where initiatory lineages seem largely broken. who were in turn taught by a spiritual master. but also as a primary means of spiritual transmission. it is rather difficult to find any cases of such initiatory lineages even within the broad sphere of Western esotericism. and so on back into antiquity. or masters. Given our overview.140 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Bible or the Jewish Talmud or the Islamic Koran. But perhaps there is a solution to this general absence of initiatory lineages. much less in Christianity specifically. Indeed. or in Buddhism. But in all cases the mode of transmission is in some sense a book. Such initiatory continuity is found also in Islam with Sufism. interrupted. the traditions are largely continued by means of initiatory lineages of teachers.

whether it be in Kabbalah or alchemy or theosophy. If by this word one is referring to some kind of ceremony or ritual involving a group of people. initiatory. Such evocation is.’ a means of conveying ‘information. V Milosz. to some future initiate in a far century. who never revealed themselves publicly at all. but also on writing as an actual means of spiritual illumination. And one recalls the Rosicrucians. but .’ or ‘data’. That is to say. By contrast. to write in all of these traditions means something quite different.” had no prospect of actually meeting or initiating him directly—his poetry and prose had to serve that function. may think of his poetry. but also because he quite clearly saw himself as an illuminant who by writing was also transmitting this illumination into the future. of course.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. for it above all has what we may call a ‘vertical’ aspect. it seems obvious that the poetry is intended not only to describe but also to evoke the kinds of consciousness it represents. and his method of “writing the names” until one enters ecstasy. Christian theosophic literature. and insists that the word can only mean direct contact between two living people. Somehow. whatever one . One thinks here. it assumes that writing has a sacred origin and purpose. naturally. the answer to this question depends upon what one means by initiation. but who rather offered the world only written works. have been adorned with copious illustrations. rather far indeed from most contemporary perspectives. particularly the works of Böhme. is unquestionably an exemplary figure not least because he consciously represented in his work virtually the entire range of Western esoteric traditions. often strikingly beautiful. hieratic. the writing of someone who has actually realized the tradition’s aim of spiritual illumination. Thus we can conclude that the writing itself is meant to have an initiatory function. Milosz’s future reader would have to become Milosz’s initiated successor by way of Milosz’s writing alone. Is it possible for writing alone to serve as means of initiation? Naturally. it is a means of horizontal communication between two discrete people. dreamlike language and imagery. for example the famous ones accompanying Gichtel’s well-known edition of Böhme’s works. In modern parlance. for in all cases. then it is indeed possible for the written word to serve this function. then of course writing could not be initiatory in itself. I believe. when we look at the writing of Milosz. These illustrations. the divine is seen to inhere in language generally. Such a view of the written word is. of Abraham Abulafia. Indeed. and specifically in revealed or illuminated writing. writing is essentially a ‘collection of signs. Milosz. are not simply decorations. We see exactly such a view in the figure of O. who. in addressing this far-off “son. Let us take another example. and in particular at its strange. 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. But if the word initiation is taken to refer to an awakening of higher degrees of consciousness.

grow. In this way. reaping. it can better do so if it reveals its subject in words and images both.106 To explain this phenomenon. does have an initiatic function—that is. clearly understandable form the nature of theosophy as a growth in consciousness from the constraints of darkness and wrath or separation. the illustration is a condensed image of the theosophic path.142 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E reveal in condensed visual form essential aspects of the theosophic tradition. and Rosicrucian esoteric currents (to name only the most obvious) is to emphasize and amplify the hieratic nature of these traditions. it actually reveals (hiera-) the nature of its subject. and conveys in a single organic form the outlines of theosophic illumination. Such an illustration is not merely allegorical. Such an illustration.” or Wisdom. one is in effect partaking in and absorbing what it represents. that is. In my view. theosophic. certainly by the seventh century—yet one finds striking parallels in seventeenth-century Christian theosophy without any historical link. This metaphor—of sowing. into the serenity and illumination of transcendence. What is more. Taken together. meaning that some image in it ‘equals’ some moral quality. For instance. In the midst of the dark-world we see a seed whose green stem grows upward through the spatio-temporal cosmos. Obviously. the words and images can evoke in the reader the seeds of the experiences visible through the work. pansophic. marked also “Sophia. the lightworld of paradise. it represents for the neophyte reader in simple. I use the term ahistorical continuity. ancient Gnosticism as such ceased to exist by the early medieval period. tending. Bromley’s narrated overview of the theosophic spiritual journey. the dark-world of hell. which refers to . of spiritual growth and illumination in the figure of a growing plant. it is more immediate and visceral. so there is no need here to repeat myself. I have discussed this theosophic iconography at length in my book Wisdom’s Children. and flower in the reader too. and sowing again—is not merely a literary figure. but expresses how a book can indeed serve as an initiatic medium irrespective of whether there is any historical contact between author and reader. the book becomes hieroglyphic—it is not merely an abstract discussion about some topic. It is at once a natural and a spiritual image. through the turbulence of earthly life.105 This illustration shows the theosophic three principles or three realms. This visual absorption is of a different kind from that of reading the accompanying text. A good example of an initiatory illustration is one accompanying Thomas Bromley’s book The Way to the Sabbath of Rest. the prevalence of accompanying illustrations in alchemical. If a book is to serve an initiatic function. and the intermediate realm of nature between them. represented by a cross. and becomes a seedhead in the light-world above. for instance. But we can take a single such illustration here and demonstrate how it can function in an initiatory way. in other words. Rather. and over time those seeds can take root. by gazing at such an image. the Western esoteric traditions are often discontinuous historically.

and in fact many of his works feature dire warnings to those who approach Böhme’s writings in the wrong fashion. it exists as a nascent possibility within the tradition and even if it is eliminated by force or attrition in one historical period. They will experience both the words that are in it and the source that . Such a paradigm can be reawakened. Böhme’s works require a kind of ‘steeping.’ a becoming familiar and even intimate with his language and vision until his unusual terminology and ways of expression become part of one’s inner landscape and view of the world. for one is not to misuse God’s holy Names. There can be no doubt that Böhme regarded his books as spiritually charged. as in this example from his book Christosophia (1624): “God-loving reader. it is also possible for an individual or group to rediscover or reawaken a particular archetypal paradigm latent within a tradition without any direct contact with such a lineage. . the word initiation is being used in several ways—as meaning a beginning on the spiritual path. and who have a desire to begin. it can reëmerge in another. Böhme himself frequently warned his readers not to read his works unless they were attuned to them. the daily news. and are in earnest. since we are essentially discussing the individual reader encountering a particular esoteric book. although there may be an initiatory lineage in a given Western esoteric tradition. But perhaps those countless people influenced by Böhme’s writing did or do not read it in the way that we read. Thus. leave untouched the precious Names of God . it is possible for reading and rereading a given work to effect lasting changes in that reader’s consciousness. Here. one might even say impossible. After all. Let us take an example from the works of Jacob Böhme. This is not to say that Böhme’s works necessarily in themselves inspire visionary insight. If.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. but they may well change a reader’s consciousness in profound ways and even in some respects prepare one for such inward vision. . and so the reader too becomes a kind of channel or conduit. Such a reader joins with the author. this function must be a change in consciousness. the written word itself can have an initiatory function. you truly will know its worth. if you wish to use this little book aright. 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. But I must warn you that if you are not in earnest. Naturally. as I am suggesting. Perhaps. But for the reader who is in sympathy with a particular esoteric perspective. instead. This little book belongs only to those who eagerly wish to repent. or a biology textbook. for example. and as the entry of one’s consciousness into a larger current. forging a link to others with similar esoteric aspirations. without doubt one of the most influential authors in the Western esoteric traditions. so that they do not ignite the wrath of God in your soul. who in turn is in touch with an archetypal or primary stream within a given esoteric tradition.

When one is caught in the self-other or subject-object division. In Christosophia he writes that “as soon as the soul eats of self and lives in reason’s light. that it encourages a change in consciousness that permeates one’s whole life. and second.108 Clearly this work is initiatic in at least two ways: first. Hence Böhme includes in Christosophia prayers for one’s entire daily life—a prayer for when one awakens on Monday morning. Böhme’s works require stern admonitions to those who might not approach them properly. but by internalizing and becoming what one reads. is only the external constellation that intoxicates it as soon as it grasps at it.144 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E gave rise to them. to become a channel for the divine current. So long as the divine remains objectified outside oneself. and in fact much of what we term divine is in fact nothing more than a projection. Böhme insists that the reader must overcome this self-other division. which it sees as divine. Then that thing. that it encourages one to begin the spiritual path. judgemental consciousness. this objectifying delusion.”109 The individual soul must ceaselessly sink down into the divine Nothing. and a prayer before sleep. and so on for the entire week. a prayer for one’s daily work.”110 And only if it does this will the soul awaken into its divine inheritance and true purpose.” for they will experience not only the words he has written. or they will be the “judgement of God in you.” Böhme tells us that if we are not in earnest on our way to the new birth. and become not its own possession. and whatever one perceives as divine is in fact tainted by this constant separation.” It must remain “in resigned humility just as a fountain depends on its source. and for when one rises. or has knowledge-of. 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. so that even what is apparently divine is in truth merely another facet of the “outward constellation. Here Böhme is plainly saying that his writing is charged and has initiatory power— one can move through his work toward the divine. a prayer for the evening. but. a prayer for washing and dressing. it cannot become authentically a part of one’s direct awareness. . one automatically is caught in delusion. not by merely mouthing the words.” “Be rightly warned. The word consciousness implies always a duality—one is con-scious. he tells us. the source from which they emerge. and experience the divine directly. it walks in its own delusion.” or objectified realm. so that consciousness shifts to awareness. a prayer for noon. we should leave unsaid the words in the prayers he gives us. This passage is particularly useful for us because it neatly encapsulates the shift in consciousness toward which Böhme is guiding his reader. Then it walks in error until it again gives itself completely into resignation.” If on the one hand.”107 Or again. on the other hand his writing is addressed to those who “have a desire to begin. but the “instrument of God. in his “Warning to the Reader. But the word awareness does not entail a subject-object duality.

and it is at this point that paradox and enigmatic expression become necessary. the origin not only of language. as are nature and humanity. and these in turn give birth to the qualities or archetypes inherent in the entire cosmos. and might from this point recapitulate by way of a diagram a schematic overview of how language may be understood in this context. intermediate between nature below and the divine above. Here we are. but of the cosmos itself. There is simply awareness. language is said to inhere in the entire cosmos. between the divine and the natural. or perceiver and what is perceived. love and wrath. where. a path beyond this separation and suffering must go through language. in that there remains an observer. Language is the means by which this process of mediation or reconciliation is effected: it is. as we have seen. in other words. This divine self-awareness Böhme sometimes alludes to as the divine eye turned inward. Thus language belongs also to the intermediate human realm. Love and Wrath ** The Archetypal Realm of the Imagination: Divine Language *** The Manifested or Elemental World **** Language belongs above all to the archetypal realm. the light and the dark. the yes and the no. From these archetypes then emerge the natural and human realms. for it is only humanity that can mediate between sky and earth. just as. although there are divisions between archetypes. Indeed.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 145 not even in relation to the divine. For language is in its innermost nature divine. at the far limit of what we can express in language. There emerges a spacious or open quality. But we have reached the center of the theosophic tradition. In other words. the self in one sense continues to exist. 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. or the divine eye that sees itself. or divided from the divine. we have the point of origin. in Western esotericism generally. Above. but the observer in another sense is no longer separate from the divine that is observed. Divine Unity—the No-thing * Duality: The Yes and the No. and at its most sublime when it expresses or manifests this transcendent divinity. in the archetypal realm there is . This transcendent point gives birth to duality. If humanity and the cosmos itself are fallen. of course. divine in its origin. then language must reflect this division. there is no sense of separation between self and other. conversely. or subject and object. where they are incarnated or manifested in the everchanging panoply of history.

the secular modern world emerged through the jettisoning. 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. transformative. secular. or manifest more indirectly in literature. including harsh critiques of technology’s effects on the natural world. and the participatory. and objectifying worldview and the perspectives that characterize Western esotericism? Perhaps not. From the eighteenth through the twentieth centuries. alternatives to the technoconsumerist machine became more commonplace—ecosocial criticism began to emerge. and the divine. in modern literary theory or theories of language. which is rife with the language of objectification. or separation into self and other. Nothing could be further from the various viewpoints of Western esotericism than the fallen language of mere designation. The massive machine of the modern technological. Undoubtedly. or ignoring of most of these esoteric currents. they may be glimpsed and even imperfectly expressed. Here we are beginning to discern how Western esotericism in all of its various manifestations or guises is fundamentally different from modern views in its approach to language. language as merely a collection of signs functioning as more or less arbitrary designators. Ownership belongs to the fallen realm of separation and objectification—I own this as opposed to that—and therefore belongs also to fallen language. and so forth. pansophy and theosophy were relegated to movements of merely historical interest. there are only the archetypal powers or forms that the poet or visionary may experience directly in vision. secular. These archetypal forces do not belong to the poet. consumerist state was built from a materialist. of sign and object and manipulation of one or the other. any objectifying perspective divorced from the divine origin and purpose of language automatically will be barren or sterile. Language. By contrast. and gnostic perspectives characterizing Western esotericism seem far removed from and incompatible with that machine. but never owned. suppression. for after all. is transformed from objectifying to unifying. 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. and objectified worldview. the divine is perforce unmentionable. restoring to humanity its proper relation to nature and to the divine. in these esoteric traditions. yet this expresses a very prevalent supposition underlying much contemporary literary theory. in vogue instead are theories of causality that refer to a world devoid of the divine. nature. During this . esotericism remained mostly underground— alchemy was denigrated as nothing more than a primitive precursor of chemistry. language is in its very nature bound up with the divine. it is a vehicle not of separation but of union between humanity. Is it possible to build a bridge between a modern. But by the late twentieth century. There is such a gulf between these two views as to seem almost unbridgeable.

L I T E R AT U R E . As we have seen throughout this study. then the ways of exploration are already marked out for us. even while the bulk of society industriously tried to avoid recognizing those limits. at least for some. we must begin by coming to see literature and the meaning of the word in new ways. pansophy or esoteric Rosicrucianism or Freemasonry. in particular. one found a growing awareness of the limits that the natural world imposes on consumerist expansion. which has ramifications not only for the nature of knowledge. began to have profound effect on many people in the formerly Judeo-Christian world. and of restoring a paradisal union between them. the Lullian art. troubadours and chivalry. after all that we have surveyed. and widespread acculturation of Asian religious and medicinal traditions. Given these tendencies—on the one hand criticism of technoconsumerism. profound connections between humanity. inner territory. Joining all of these disparate disciplines is a focus on the transmutation of consciousness. and for a reëvaluation of all the various disciplines in that light.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 147 time. the various currents of Western esotericism with all their diversity share a common thread: the transmutation of consciousness through hieroeidetic knowledge. which is to say. scientific or otherwise. Buddhism. A R T. But to begin to explore this new. to name only a few. To this we now turn. One also found increasing interest in alternative approaches to medicine and to spirituality. that inherent in the Western esoteric traditions is what we have called a libric or alphanumeric gnosis. including elements of the sciences. one finds a consistently recurrent theme of transmuting consciousness. If so. Here we are discussing not merely the obvious fact that such traditions are represented in written works. nature. to an exploration of the inner cosmos and of how we perceive the world. magic or theosophy. and the arts. but rather the idea that these literary works themselves are . of awakening latent. religion. with the intense focus of many of its practitioners on meditation practices. psychology. Be it Kabbalism or alchemy. A N D C O N S C I O U S N E S S It is evident. in theosophic works. imaged in alchemical manuscripts and in Kabbalistic treatises. inspiring more than a few to also rediscover overlooked Jewish and Christian mystical traditions. too. and in the countless literary works that express the discoveries of those who have gone before us. 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. It may well be that we have reached a time when the ceaseless and ever more minute exploration of the cosmos may give way. and the divine. but also for society itself. Western esotericism is inherently transdisciplinary by nature.

for in its structure will be the creative power of life itself. beyond history. Here the book is a means of spiritual transmutation. and indeed. the gold-gleaming genius makes beauty. Such an understanding of literature is very ancient indeed. the cosmos itself is a kind of book—the structure of words. in order to consider more carefully how a poet may view what we are discussing here. 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 A. this view of the poet invests in him far more authority and power than do contemporary views. In this esoteric view of literature. ascends to “that high state where. here is what we may call a spirituality of literature as much as a literature of spirituality. . visible in Greek tradition in such figures as Pythagoras and Plato. E. as we have seen. tells us that its appearance was “as much a surprise to me as if a flower had suddenly glowed before me in the hollow of the air . wrote at length about how he came to write poetry. E.148 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E vehicles of spiritual praxis. And only then will one’s written work be of enduring value for others. . In this view. The poet or prophet sees and enters into the celestial realm. as the seers tell us. A. The poet and the seer both engage in the ascent of consciousness from multiplicity toward union. Remarking on how a poem emerged unbidden one evening while he was sitting on some rocks. but of reality. where poetry might be seen by some as offering beauty or insight. This intricate geometry of meaning can be glimpsed in the forms of nature. . and music is the intricate geometry of meaning that permeates creation. and how his poetry was inseparable from his visionary experiences. The poet’s psyche. E. joys. (George William Russell. A. 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.”111 Unconscious of creation. It may be of use. images. and the divine. In his book Song and Its Fountains. rejoicings. nature. not the life of shadows. the ‘book of life’ out of which history itself emerges. Naturally. he simply began to murmur line after line. at this juncture. a friend of Yeats. found throughout Western history. The verses came to me almost as swift as thought. 1867–1935). to write presupposes already having seen. to turn to a poet. and in this ascent enter into the imaginal realm of archetypes. he tells us. Only then can one return and tell others where authentic life lies. from the Kabbalistic Sepher Yezirah or Bahir or Zohar to the works of Jacob Böhme and the Rosicrucian manifestos. fundamental to the awakening of a paradisal union between humanity. A. of charged and living images once associated with the gods. E. Indeed.’s subsequent meditation on how he created this poem is well worth investigating. but is seen even more clearly in the archetypal realm of the imagination. but rarely any longer is recognized as having its origin in the inner springs or fountains of life. full of imagination’s power and exhiliration.

” “Whatever went to making an intricate harmony of color and sound. recognized his limits. “never had the high vision of those who have gone into the deeps of being and who have returned rapture-blinded by the glory. A. and song. of nature become so ethereal that it was the perfect mirror of deity. and cried out in a divine intoxication to the Light of Lights. that his experience belonged to the psyche or soul.” Thus. he found himself “dragged down” toward waking consciousness. A. The Mount is a symbol for that peak of soul when. And still being drawn down there came a third state in which was originally deep own-being. perhaps surprisingly. and after that images. when once he became conscious while “in some profundity of being. and it changes the dry dust of logic into color and music and a rapture of prophecy. “I have. B. and not to the sublimity of the spirit. even if unaware of precisely how or why. A. it draws nigh to its own divine root.’s view actually emerges from a dimunition of spiritual vision.” he wrote. analyzes the movement of consciousness. A.”116 Still. still recognized “that greater light shines behind and through the psyche.”117 For this reason. and remarks that “almost the only oracles which have been delivered to humanity for centuries have come through the poets. “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. Yet A. gone inward into itself. for its subtlety and universality make it ungraspable: “It cannot be constrained. the poet. writes that “all true poetry was conceived on the Mount of Transfiguration. later discussed with W. But there are enchanted hours when it seems to be nigh us. but of the universal spirit he understood little. though too often they have not kept faith . and memory and imagination are shot through and through with the radiance of another nature. somehow comes in touch with this sheer transcendence. from a descent after an ascent. E. who said that he had experienced precisely the same descent into words.”113 This movement of consciousness A. as Ishtar in the Chaldean myth had crown and scepter and the royalty of her robes taken from her when descending from heaven to earth. E.”114 A far exile from that glory.” he wrote.”112 Yet “what comes back to us from that high sphere loses beauty in its descent. E. E. looks upon the poet as a prophet. There was neither sight nor sound. “—the imagination of the ending of the long tale of time. focusing on his experience emerging from a deep sleep.” Although he struggled to remain in this state. the creation of poetry in A.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 149 dance. It is the light of spirit that transcends the psyche as the psyche in its own world transcends the terrestrial ego. E.”115 He understood something of the psyche. but all was a motion in deep being. nigher to us than the most exquisite sweetness in our transitory lives. E. and the withdrawal of the universe into the Pleroma—all that was wrought in some secret laboratory within the psyche. Yeats. was later translated into words. E. and there is revelation in it and the mingling of heaven and earth.

have made their hearts a place where the secrets of many hearts could be told. the poet or seer enters into a realm where conventional notions of self begin to vanish. E. as did the sybils of old. These written works express and indeed embody some of the secret structure inherent in the cosmos. and imbued with this new visionary understanding. But at times they still receive the oracles. Throughout our investigations. without knowing it. and they wove into drama or fiction. thinking all the while that it was imagination or art of their own. A.150 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E with the invisible . E. in his The Way to the Sabbath of Rest (1650). we have seen Western esoteric traditions as including the restoration of paradise. In essence. tells the story of how he once in his office went into a reverie and saw a host of images—a redhaired watchful girl. . may. And A. in that solitude we may meet multitude. the view of literary creation that A. through love and sympathy may come to know “that the whole of life can be reflected in the individual. which could also be expressed as the ending of objectification. Thomas Bromley. wrote of how “they that are in this near Union. and our thoughts may become throngs of living souls.” And there is more. feel a mutual Indwelling in the pure Tincture and Life of each other: and so. when it becomes truly self-conscious.”121 These insights of A. 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.”118 The poets and musicians offer us “the sense of a glory transmitted from another nature. . for instance. characters they had never met in life. though they do not take place in the explicit context of Western esotericism properly speaking. we find numerous accounts of the spiritual path as exactly such a movement beyond ordinary distinctions of self and other. In Christian theosophy. because in the practice of their art they preserve the ancient tradition of inspiration and they wait for it with airy uplifted mind.”120 Thus “when we sink within ourselves. for in both cases one sees a visionary who penetrates deeper than ordinary people into the mysteries inherent in creation.” The psyche. E. expresses here is not far from what we see in the work of an exemplary and influential esoteric figure like Jacob Böhme. they come “trailing clouds of glory. goes on to remark that he often thought the great literary masters like Shakespeare or Balzac “endowed more generously with a rich humanity. still conform strikingly to the model we have begun to develop as characteristic of the Western esoteric traditions. a cobblestone street—and to his astonishment later discovered that these images belonged to the actual world of his office companion. 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. In this exaltation or transcendent creativity. when we seem most alone. or division into self and other. .”119 Through them the immortals utter their divine speech. E. and as we mingle our imagination with theirs we are exalted and have the heartache of infinite desire. the further we come out of the animal Nature. into the nature of poetic vision or imagination.

Of course. set aside a space within our consciousness where the characters or . Reading. the poet is more like a receiver. and experiences. E. and between the models that they represent. there are differences between what Bromley is describing—a kind of mutual communion among those in a spiritual group.’s case. irrespective of time or distance—and A. where. and we must. In Bromley’s case. he may encounter unfamiliar figures. as if we knew them as neighbors. and later forge them into a written work of uncommon power. or drama. although there is still an observer and what is observed. and taken on a kind of life of its own. on the other a visionary poet. and stranger than any experienced in ordinary life. in A. there also is participation in what is observed. one finds spiritual seekers who actively pursue inner vision. E. which no earthly Distance can hinder. This movement goes through an archetypal realm in which they experience figures vaster. like theater. One experiences great bliss. In this realm. Such experiences are not very far at all in turn from our own ordinary reading of. and its relationship to nature also becomes paradisal or unified. For who. at least temporarily. one is looking at people consciously engaged in a spiritual path together. a novel. Underlying both of them is a clear movement beyond objectification. And so it is possible for us to speak of the great Gatsby. In order for a book to ‘reach us’ it has to resonate within us. One becomes what one sees. say. or beyond a rigid self-other distinction. and the further instrumentally to convey the pure Streams of the heavenly Life to each other. But nonetheless. or of Captain Ahab. and the world is shot through with light. passive. We are carried along on the words of the author. events. does not participate in it along with the characters? Its characters enter into our consciousness. the book or work has been separated from its writer. there are unquestionably parallels between these two examples. in the latter case. for instance.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 151 the more universal we are. more powerful. on the one hand an exemplar of Western theosophic esotericism. but must enter into the work by an act of imaginative participation. he is discussing how the poet may unwittingly enter into an archetypal realm of the imagination. it increasingly enters a paradisal union with those on the same path. Likewise. takes place on a field midway between audience and author. fiction. In the first case. in between both author and reader.’s discussion of how the poet may unknowingly absorb or participate in other people’s lives or personalities. and nearer both to Heaven. and so requires our sympathetic participation. and to one another in the Internal. become part of us and indivisible from our inner lives. by A. as if by happenstance. which later emerge in poetry. E. the author also is not directly present. symbols. absorbed completely in a book.”122 As the soul ascends toward paradise by way of spiritual praxis. Thus we can see that the experience of reading itself corresponds in some respects to a visionary encounter like those described.

our authors tell us. in alchemical work. the history of Western esotericism is filled with such insistence on the actual nature of what is being discussed—alchemy is real. symbolizes eternal conditions. Here we are beginning to develop a schema to see how poetry. the visions of the theosophers are real. and suggest that literature and art in their highest forms are an attenuated kind of visionary encounter. Literature is playing the game with no stakes. or to have it stricken. And in fact Ralph Waldo Emerson. but in a ‘space’ within itself leaves room for self and other to meet on the stage of the imagination. For when a reader engages in a literary work. Ordinary. This schema is based on the idea of self-transcendence. and art can be understood in light of the Western esoteric traditions and their continuing themes of spiritual reading. these esoteric traditions in general aim for enduring changes in consciousness. . The difference. habitual self is gone. but eventually puts the book down. Of course. magic is real. And we see it in the assertion of the alchemists that alchemical work can bring one to the pinnacle of human possibility. presumably. or make of one a laughingstock and utter failure. essays. existing in a supraphysical dimension. Perhaps. we might reverse the terms. drama. of course. fiction. and one enters into the new birth. The barriers between self and other become at least a little permeable. who himself was certainly influenced by the Western esoteric traditions. 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.152 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E insights it expresses can exist. merely ‘imaginary’ in the dismissive sense of the word. We see this in the Book of Revelation. By contrast. writing. and in Kabbalistic practice. but emerge in our consciousness if we are open to them. one turns away from the painting. took great pains to point out that the visionary realm he had experienced was not imaginary but real. 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. precisely what is at work also in the visionary encounter. for example. whereas the esotericist is. where to have one’s name in the Book of Life. where the cosmos can be ‘read’ in new ways. But in fact Bromley’s friend John Pordage. and one has entered a new world. emphasized exactly this point about ideas—that they are not our individual property. 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. and books. 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. rather than diminishing the visionary encounter to mere fantasy. playing for keeps. And indeed. The visionary encounter is similar in that here too. the consciousness is not caught up in its humdrum of daily affairs. Kabbalistic cosmology is real.

And one joins the literary community of the ages the way one joins the community of alchemists. gnostics. and the Continuity of Occult Traditions in English Literature (1975) and Désirée Hirst’s Hidden Riches (1964) are important initial forays into this field. Secret Societies. And here too is a profound parallel with Western esotericism. but what came into existence through him. For literary immortality is in some respects a ‘second birth’—the author may have long ago died. but reveals an underlying motivation of literary creation—that through this work one will connect profoundly with the consciousness of another. for if the reader is ideally moving toward a momentary union of subject and object. Nicholas . Jane Leade. R. and the gnostic themselves live on for us their readers precisely the same way as does Shakespeare or Dante or Emerson—through written works. the literary work. what is the motivation of the author? It was J. Tolkien who suggested that a poet or author is a kind of “co-creator” reflecting. R. their works like second nature. Certainly modern Western literature owes a great. Thomas Bromley. and other forms of literature are to be found in Western esotericism and its pervasive theme of reading and writing the world. Such a trajectory is intensified in the case of esotericism. Works such as Marsha Keith Schuchard’s landmark dissertation Freemasonry. Milosz’s insistence that he wrote for a single reader not yet born is perhaps an extreme example. But fundamental questions remain. that through this work one attains a kind of immortality. the gnostic. Johannes Tauler. Through the medium of the written word or the painting. one can still find a correspondence between reading and writing. Ramon Lull. Meister Eckhart. lives on. John Pordage. or Kabbalists—by self-election. where communion and union are an underlying expectation of both author and reader. The deeper we investigate into the origins of modern literature. the Kabbalist.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 153 Yet it may be that the two versions of the game remain essentially similar. the Kabbalist. One reads and rereads one’s predecessors’ works until the authors become like old friends. If a primary aim of the alchemist. Abraham Abulafia. the alchemist. Yet at the same time. and may even connect profoundly with each other. the sympathetic reader and the author may meet. But regardless of whether one subscribes to a theistic perspective or not. Thus the essential trajectory of both author and reader or artist and audience is toward communion and union. And it may very well be that the origins of modern poetry. fiction. the divine creativity that brought the cosmos into being. perhaps the literary impulse may be seen as a secular reflection of this goal. largely hidden debt to the Western esoteric traditions and to their common theme of the mysticism of the word. is to attain paradisal immortality. but there is much more to be done. If the movement of a given reader ideally is toward self-transcendence. Jacob Böhme. so too is the author. the more we uncover links between major literary figures and various currents of Western esotericism. in the process of creating a fictional world.

to be guided by the author. and intimately familiar with the history of modern philosophy. 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. literature. to in Emerson’s words. precedes all being. These authors are important for us because their religio-philosophical perspectives. and explicitly seeking to guide the reader toward new and intensified kinds of consciousness.124 The Ungrund. 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. help explain what I am arguing about the various currents of Western esotericism. therefore. but instead will look at his philosophical contributions. being Russian and deeply influenced by Eastern Orthodoxy rather than Western European Christianity.” It may well be. and how they correspond to what we have learned about Western esotericism. where everything in the cosmos is seen as bearing its divine signature. In being. “add it to his own arsenal of power. the author is reaching out. And the reader from his side is seeking to comprehend. moreover. and consciousness.123 But Berdyaev was also a philosopher. but in every case. 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. for whom literature and art are the expression and vehicle of spiritual illumination and of the transfiguration of the world. 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).154 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Flamel—the list can be extended indefinitely. that Western esoteric and Western literary and artistic traditions are far more mutually illuminating than we could have guessed. but that also includes those who insist on far higher stakes and greater rewards. and publicly identified himself as a Christian theosopher in the line of Dionysius the Areopagite and Jacob Böhme. for as I have discussed elsewhere. there is no true freedom—true freedom is to be found only in the Ungrund. and place them in a world religious and philosophical context. And perhaps all forms of Western literature. emerge from a pervasive human need to discern or restore the hidden unity of all things by reading and writing the world anew. a means for nothing less than the restoration of paradise. to vicariously participate in the author’s understanding. They exist on a continuum that includes reading or viewing art for diversion or pleasure. One should not be too surprised at the introduction of Berdyaev’s work here. in the . Perhaps the symbolism of a novel is an attenuated form of what we find made even more explicit in these esoteric traditions. and indeed even God himself. Berdyaev was himself definitely part of Western esotericism. taken together. esoteric or not. Berdyaev tells us. Here we have neither space nor need to survey Berdyaev’s life and work.

M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 155 divine Nothingness prior to existence itself.” and “is the beginning of a different world. Nishitani Keiji. and what he writes about creativity is revealing when considered in light of the continuous renewal and creative transformations of the Western esoteric traditions. the poet (and the esotericist) all often find themselves marginalized or shunned by their contemporary society because they represent the emergence of newness. fictional. and its expression in human creativity. begins with dissatisfaction with ordinary life. In both cases—in esotericism and in poetic. Berdyaev writes that “the creative imagination which demands what is new. or essayistic creation—one is on the frontier. He insists on the importance of an eternal personality. Meontic freedom has its origin in sheer transcendence. or whether this division persists into eternity so that the soul is always in some sense separate from God.”125 This assertion of a different order of knowledge certainly describes what we see in the Western esoteric traditions. as well as the close ties between those traditions and the arts. “Creative activity. And at this point we turn to our second religious philosopher. but deeply learned in Western and especially German philosophical tradition up to Heidegger. 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. in contradistinction to the deterministic and merely ontic realm where there can be no real freedom. By drawing on the Buddhist tradition. But Berdyaev does not follow his own premises to their logical conclusions. Berdyaev is a philosopher of creativity. “it is an end of this world. at the center of which is precisely this problem of whether self-other ultimately dissolves into unity. For if meontic freedom has its origin in the divine Nichts of absolute transcendence. of direct contact with the springs of inspiration and human awakening. This true freedom Berdyaev calls meontic. and runs counter to his own recognition of the central importance of Jacob Böhme’s Ungrund in Western philosophical-religious history. As Berdyaev points out. which extends the division between subject and object beyond death. Nishitani is certainly familiar with but not limited to the problems inherent in Christian theological paradigms. To enter into union with mystery is not only the frontier of knowledge.” he writes. a different sort of knowledge. or to put it another way. particularly the arts of literature. the artist. 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. to which our categories of thought are not applicable. issues from existential eternity. Coming from a Buddhist perspective. It is knowledge. or the poet: all are concerned with beginning or entering a new world. and especially on the . and therefore of division. of creativity. at the point where ontic dissolves into meontic. the artist.” Here Berdyaev puts his finger on a fundamental link between esotericism and the creator.

. This mode of being is fundamentally self-centered: “our reason grasps itself from the posture of reason. that is. there is in Western esotericism in all its myriad forms a pervading theme of alphanumeric gnosis. so that “self and other stand simultaneously in the position of absolute master and absolute servant with regard to one another. Nishitani affirms. the sorts of problems that beset humanity have no chance of ever really being solved. one retreats into self even further. In Nishitani’s work. begins where we all are: with our ordinary. we can see how these apparently disparate views in fact correspond. but in modern life we are faced also with nihility. This is the field of shunyata. in other words. the choices of the will. . self-centered consciousness. “unless the thoughts and deeds of man one and all be located on such a field. Authentic freedom is beyond merely subjective freedom. and indeed. in which there is nothing to grasp or rely upon. it is the absolute transcendence of self-object divisions belonging to ordinary.”127 He defines shunyata as “nothing less than what reaches awareness in all of us as our own absolute self-nature .”129 Only in the field of shunyata is such mutually affirming freedom possible. “an equality in love.”126 This self-centeredness is the ordinary human condition. While this is our own act.”128 True emptiness. . . and our personality grasps itself from within the personality itself . for faced with nihility. in which the self-other dichotomy is resolved. it is not something we are free to do as we please . As rational or personal beings. Out of this transcendence alone. with an underlying breach among all things that fundamentally seems to separate them from one another. but of intimately uniting us with existence at its most essential.” Authentic freedom is. self-nature as true self-awareness—and the selfness of each and every thing in the form of its suchness come about simultaneously. what is the same thing. or rather in unison. we grasp ourselves and thereby get caught by our own reason or personality.” an “absolute openness. Nishitani is able to point toward the resolution or transcendence of the fundamental dilemmas that face us today. It is the field on which the awareness of our true selfnature—or. One goes through language—the means of human differentiation between self and other—toward the union of self and other. and has the effect not of separating. and us from them. self-identically. . or the emptiness of all things. or perhaps better still. The force of destiny is at work here. What . of course. This intensifies our narcissism.156 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Buddhist understanding of shunyata.”130 When we turn to the literature of the Western esoteric traditions with Nishitani’s Zen Buddhist-influenced perspective in mind. . it is instead absolute autonomy that is at the same time absolute service to all things. As we have seen throughout this study. is beyond definition. emerges authentic freedom. we see the emergence of a genuine world-philosophical standpoint that allows us to understand more deeply the significance of Western esoteric traditions. Yet there is another field that is not nihility. Nishitani. egoistic mode of being. or “true emptiness.

as the sense of self and other diminishes. Paradoxically. alienated consciousness toward a mutuality of awareness that takes place on the infinitely plastic field of the imagination. for all their diversity. for here literature is not merely a collection of ‘signs’ or ‘signifiers. that mysterious point out of which the geometry of language emerges. have at their center this mystery of the word.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. in the meeting and reading and writing of all the infinite forms that consciousness can take.” And from such knowledge we may pass to what entirely transcends consciousness. Such a view of the word is far indeed from seeing literature as merely a social. . take their place among the world’s philosophic and religious traditions as uniquely literary paths toward paradise. with nature. It can lead us. language is indeed divine. or even linguistic construction. including paintings. so Western esotericism suggests. encompassing all manner of hieroglyphs. And the means of conjoining self and other turns out to be precisely what at first seems the principle of separation: language itself. We read and are read. our authentic self is confirmed: in this is the mystery of literature and ultimately of the union of self and other in consciousness. But in any case. joined together with one another. The Western esoteric traditions. there can be no doubt that the Western esoteric traditions. Here the word language takes on more than the usual valence. from a ‘thrown’ or ‘fallen’ condition of divided. This meeting on the field of the imagination I have called “hieroeidetic knowledge. seen as a whole. write and are written. where to be truly master means to serve in loving compassion. and with the divine in the field of authentic freedom. anything that can be read or written. Hidden within literature truly worth reading and within all great art is a nostalgia for paradise. political.’ but embodies different orders of knowledge at once. Thus we can see that insofar as it emerges from and draws us toward its own and our own transcendence. a calling toward what we are meant to be.


4. See a Dutch scholar. 2. the official Web site of the ASE.Notes INTRODUCTION 1.aseweb. which belongs more to the Renaissance and after. whose encyclopedic book New Age Religion and Western Culture: Esotericism in the Mirror of Secular Thought (Leiden: Brill. 1994). see Antoine Faivre. See Hanegraaff. 5. ed. in this field. 3. mostly by North American scholars. See the definition of the Association for the Study of Esotericism [ASE] and more information on this growing field at www. There are a number of other scholars now working in this field as well. 1996) reveals the underlying connections between new religious movements today and their Western esoteric antecedents. 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. “Methods in the Study of Esotericism. 159 . including Wouter Hanegraaff. published a large body of work outlining and detailing numerous aspects of esotericism. 1992).edu ] for articles.” Esoterica V (2003): 175–210.esoteric. who held a chair at the Sorbonne in Western esoteric currents of thought. See also the journal Esoterica [www. and readers would do well to become familiar with it.msu. See Steven Katz. 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. Access to Western Esotericism (Albany: State University of New York Press.” Esoterica IV (2002): 1–15 and “Methods in the Study of Esotericism Part II. ibid. much of it in For an overview of Western esotericism.msu.. I also retain the distinction maintained by Antoine Faivre between Hermetism (the current associated with Hermes belonging to late antiquity) and Hermeticism. See Arthur Versluis. Faivre.esoteric. Mysticism and Language (New York: Oxford University Press.

10. 1973). Nag Hammadi Library. 4. 2. 7. “Christian Theosophy and Ancient Gnosticism. pp. See ibid. and Mysteries (New York: Harper. 97. 5. p.. 14–21. p. See Faivre. Wisdom’s Book: The Sophia Anthology (St. Dreams.. 145. Paul: Grail.. Paragon House. 1978). CHAPTER TWO 1. 307. See Frederick Goldin. Paul. 1996). See Gershom Scholem. CHAPTER ONE 1. See Versluis. Ramon Lull. 83 ff. See Charbonneau. 37 ff. See Arthur Versluis. 1975). 76–106. 2000). Peers. 1992). 6. Pordage writes that the invisible paradisal earth of Sophia is hidden from ratiocination and even scoffed at by those limited to reasoning alone.. 3. 2000). p. pp. 140. op. pp. 1986). The Koan: Texts and Context in Zen Buddhism (New York: Oxford University Press. 51–89. 1996) of Piers Ploughman. in Arthur Versluis. 12. See my discussion in Gnosis and Literature (St. Wisdom’s Book: The Sophia Anthology (St. 2. 14. for an explicit example of this inward sojourn and perception. pp.160 NOTES TO CHAPTER ONE 6. Paul: Paragon House. see also Faivre L’Ésotérisme (Presses Universitaries de France. Lyrics of the Troubadours and Trouvères (New York: Anchor. but they like everyone have access to this inward realm all the same. Translation is mine. 1965). 1974). Victor Sogen Hori. E. 11. (London: Sheldon. 13. 1991). see also Scholem. 18 ff. 219–233. 248. p. The Book of the Lover and the Beloved. see also Dionysius the Areopagite on like and unlike images. Nag Hammadi Library. 309. 9. 1863). “Koan and Kensho in the Rinzai Zen Curriculum” in Stephen Heine and Dale Wright. John Pordage. see also Wisdom’s Children: A Christian Esoteric Tradition (Albany: State University of New York Press. pp. 4. whether they know it or not. On the Kabbalah and Its Symbolism (New York: Schocken. Myths. 8. Gnosis and Literature (St. Louis-Claude de Saint-Martin. p. 10–15. 3. pp. Theosophic Correspondence (Exeter: Roberts. cit. trs.. p. 2000). p. pp. The Bestiary of Christ (New York: Parabola. 5. 151. Jean La Fontaine. pp. Ibid. Mircea Eliade. See. ed. p. pp. 180. See the fifteenth chapter of Parzival. .. 111. 1999). Sophia. Paul: Grail. All of this is to be found in the ninth chapter of Parzival. 223. p.” Studies in Spirituality 7(1997): 228–241. Kabbalah (Jerusalem: Keter. Initiation (Manchester: Manchester University Press. See Versluis. eds.

10.B. 1984). 13. 1987).. in The Zohar. (Princeton: Princeton University Press. 38..314. 101–102. Ibid.77. see also Scholem..325. p. p. Dan. 197. Ibid.. p. See Mark Verman.75. 17. 1964). op. Twersky. See J. 9.205b. 1983). See Pico della Mirandola. Ibid. 1953) I. 278.80 ff. vom Stein der Weisen (Berlin: Christian Ulrich Ringmacher. Origins. The Books of Contemplation (Albany: State University of New York Press. 1779). See Arthur Edward Waite. pp.. .. p. Tristan. The Renaissance Philosophy of Man (Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 51. op. Cassirer. see also Moshe Idel. 394. A translation of Ars Brevis is to be found in Ramon Lull. 16. 49–50. p.. et al. 35. 26.. 1979).205b–206a. 57. 12. Opera omnia. Les Kabbalistes chrétiens de la Renaissance (Paris: Dunod. cit.. See. 250. 52. 1985). I. Joseph Blau. IV . 31. Ibid. 270. 59. 36. 1961). 1992). Vasoli.. p.. 57. p. 15. trs.. See “Oration on the Dignity of Man” in E. (London: Soncino. 197. See Verman..C. eds.. ed. Zohar IV . (Hildesheim: Olms.. 29. 8. Doctor Illuminatus. 1986). ed. See Verman. The Christian Interpretation of the Cabala in the Renaissance (Port Washington: Kennikat. 1965). 18. II. 29. A.351. II. Ibid. II. 20. as well as Antoine Faivre and F. for instance.312. 298 ff. 1969). 21. The Early Kabbalah (Paulist Press. 24. I. Ibid. 32. Kabbalah: New Perspectives (New Haven: Yale University Press. C. Ibid. Ibid. 37. 246. 14.76. p. 61.. Kabbalistes chrétiens (Paris: Albin Michel. p. 28... 1988). Ibid. 34. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. M. I. See Moshe Idel. 27. 280. p. Cassirer. Scholem. Ibid. I. 25. Simon. Rabbi Moses Nahmanides: Explorations. p. See Scholem.. Ibid. op. 7. p.. I. ed. p. and Françoise Secret.. Ibid. I. 11. See A. p. p. 66. Gershom Scholem. Bonner. p. II. p. ed.. trs. pp. 19. 22. Origins. The Hermetic Museum (London: Watkins.331. Origins of the Kabbalah (Princeton: Princeton University Press. 30. I. Origins.71. Ibid. ed. 33.320–323. cit. Ibid.NOTES TO CHAPTER TWO 161 6. cit. 23. Ibid.

77. Resicrucian Enlightenment. Opus Mago-Cabbalisticum et Theosophicum (Frankfurt: Fleischerischum.. 220. The texts of the Fama and Confessio in English are most easily found as appendices to Yates. Ibid. p. Robert Fludd and the End of the Renaissance (London: Routledge. and even chart them astrologically. 40. ed. For an excellent survey of the scholarship since Yates. 41. The original (short) titles of Fama and Confessio were Allgemeine und General Reformation. H. p. Frances Yates. See Josten..M.162 NOTES TO CHAPTER TWO 39. p. Yates... 42. p. Ibid. Fama. The Rosicrucian Enlightenment (London: Routledge... 1971). op. 48. 47. p. 54.. From von Welling. 45. 371. See Versluis.M. for text. for the reader’s convenience. . p. Ibid. and others. 52. The Tessera of Antilia: Utopian Brotherhoods and Secret Societies in the Early Seventeenth Century (Leiden: Brill. Ibid. 58. I. der gantzen weiten welt . Josten. and the Continuity of the Occult in English Literature (Ph. in a group called the Round Table. 77. Ibid. Confessio. 129. C.. 59. p. Ibid. See Frances Yates. II. p. 60. Fama. Secret Societies. 1972). 255. 1784). See Versluis. 1988). and also written an extensive commentary on it. 61. D... table of contents. Ashmole. See Versluis. including two physicists. 242.P. Freemasonry. Ashmole. Fama.O. Ibid. Confessio. 51. 55. Ibid. 1999).. cit. Confessio. ed. 67. p. M. Theatre of the World. p. (Cassel: Wessel. Wisdom’s Children: A Christian Esoteric Tradition (State University of New York Press. 53. especially on Gichtel’s and other theosophers’ tendency to carefully date their revelations. 252. p. 56. (Los Angeles: Philosophical Research. 1975). University of Texas at Austin. p.. Ibid. 62. 1966). Ibid. Elias Ashmole (Oxford: Clarendon..681. a musician. 251.. 1614) and Secretioris Philosophiae Considertio brevis .. p. The Alchemy of Art. . William Huffman. see Donald Dickson. 1615). 221.. p. 238. ms. 49.102–104. p.. 50. Ibid. Confessio.A. See. p. 260. 37. “Christian Theosophy and Ancient Gnosticism” in Studies in Spirituality (Fall. See also Marsha Schuchard.A. forthcoming. a cosmologist. 253. for background. . Ibid. 22. 57. 43.: A Rare and Curious Manuscript of Rosicrucian Interest. p. 46. This commentary was shared with people from diverse walks. 246. (Cassel: Wessel. 1998).O. Fama.D. The following page references are to Yates. p. 257. a theologian. and The Rosicrucian Enlightenment. 241. Hall. See Codex Rosae Crucis D. The first English translation was published by Thomas Vaughan in 1652. . Ibid. 63. diss. p. 1997). 49. I have translated this work of Pordage. . 44. See. I.

Certainly surrealism and related movements such as symbolism provide much more complicated examples than we can deal with here. Hugh Trevor-Roper. Revolution and Freemasonry. Sloane. pp. 172–173. ed. Ibid. 1935). and Social Change (London: Macmillan. 191. Ibid. 1680–1800 (Boston: Little. cit. 170–171. pp. . 1948). 256.. 2002). 7. ed. 66. Warlick. 2. See M. 1997). 4.. p. 67. See George David Henderson. 1926). 3.. especially in Kristi Groberg’s “‘The Shade of Lucifer’s Dark Wing’: Satanism in Silver Age Russia. 70. p. and Albert Cherél. The Constitutions of the Free-masons: Containing the history. 10. 253. 654. Brown. O. 66–67. H. 257–272. “Freemasonry and Esotericism. Faivre. p. The Noble Traveller (West Stockbridge: Lindisfarne. Ibid. . It may well be that a closer investigation of symbolist and surrealist poetry and art would further reveal its affinities to Satanism. op. 170–171. See “Le manuscrit graham” in La franc-maçonnerie: documents. fondateurs (Paris: l’Herne. 6. Milton and Jacob Boehme (New York: Oxford: 1914). p. p. Ibid. See Edmond Mazet. See James Anderson. 417. Paul: Grail. changes. 65. . . 240. regulations . 39. See also Bernard Fay. believed that surrealism drew on esoteric currents in a confused way. Ibid. 2001). (London [Philadelphia]: B. CHAPTER THREE 1. Franklin. On Emerson and Hermeticism. and without doubt there are bizarre and even deliberately inverted elements in much of surrealism. V de L. p. 68. See Dickson. p. 8. 11. p. see Versluis. Un aventurier religieux au XVIIe siècle (Paris: Perrin. 414.” 99–134. Charge I. 110. see also Max Ernst. Freemasonry. 1997). A. 409. 268. D. p. as is in fact suggested in Bernice Rosenthal. Ibid.. See Marsha Keith Schuchard. 71. 247–249. See also Schuchard. 5. pp.NOTES TO CHAPTER THREE 163 64. Milosz. 9.. (New York: Crossroad. pp. Religion. Chavalier Ramsey (London: Nelson. The Occult in Soviet and Russian Culture (Ithaca: Cornell University Press. Beyond Painting and Other Writings by the Artist and His Friends (New York: Wittenborn. 1734). 1952). 1967). E. The Hermetic Book of Nature (St. 1992).. Max Ernst and Alchemy (Austin: University of Texas Press. the Reformation. Ibid. 1992).” in Modern Esoteric Spirituality. Restoring the Temple of Vision: Cabalistc Freemasonry and Stuart Culture (Leiden: Brill. M. 1985). pp. citing B. 69. p. M.. Ibid. 162–168. pp. S. pp.. and Margaret Bailey. Mazet.

. for a translation of Hymns to the Night. cit.. 1989). 21. 14.164 NOTES TO CHAPTER THREE 12. 26. Ibid. Ibid. p.. see Versluis. 25. 8–9. 1985)... Ibid. 40. For a more extensive study. 300.. p. 299. p. Ibid. Revolutionary Brotherhood: Freemasonry and the Transformation of the American Social Order (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press. pp. Ibid. 34. 48–52.. p. Notes on Thought and Vision (San Francisco: New Directions. 13.. 1981). 210–211. See Versluis. Susan Friedman. op. 206–207. 17. Ibid. 296. Milosz.” when in fact there are numerous different esoteric currents of a wide variety. . Ibid. pp. introduction by Albert Gelpi.. 277. Ibid. Ibid. in her search to translate the inner meaning of material reality” (p. 22. 158). 464. 23. cit. Ibid. D. ed. pp.’s] perspective. 33. H.. 204–205. 297–298. ranging from entirely cosmological ones such as astrology or the Tarot to more metaphysical or gnostic ones. 38. pp. 39. 19.115. pp.. Ibid. pp. Milosz.. p. 2001). pp. 224–225. 24. 30. 303. 27. is into what did she translate this inner meaning. Ibid. Ibid. Ibid. p. Psyche Reborn (Bloomington: Indiana University Press. . 16.. Theosophia: Hidden Dimensions of Christianity (Hudson: Lindisfarne. See W. 455. the harsh world of necessity that Freud described is itself the “rune” that must be deciphered. D. See Versluis. 226–227. 18. pp. Ibid. p. The question. 248. trs. pp. 1996). pp. Ibid. Ibid. pp. 29. pp. The ‘true-rune and right spell’ of esoteric tradition contained the code for H. 180–181.. I. 157–206. Milosz. 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. 36. 182–183. For the poet of the modernist era. op. 15. p... see Steven Bullock. p.. The Esoteric Origins of the American Renaissance (New York: Oxford University Press. Lib.” synonymous with “hermetic tradition. Ibid. 1994).. 35.. D. 28. Hermetica (Boston: Shambhala. 174–175. 20. 178–179.. Milosz. I. hermetic tradition offered a pattern of meaning in coded form to the initiate . 32. 299–300. pp. 31. 465. of course. Ibid. p.. Scott. pp. 469. 41.. Friedman writes that “From her [H. cit. Ibid..1 ff. For a discussion of Postel in relation to Christian theosophy. 1982). op. Pollen and Fragments: Selected Poetry and Prose of Novalis (Grand Rapids: Phanes. 37.

The Gift. p. 13. 67. Selected Poems (Hudson: Lindisfarne. 49. 17–19.. D. 2001). 35. 1997). hereafter cited as TG.” 1. 45. 65. Ibid. in her “Zinzendorf Notes. Ibid. “The Magic of Words: Symbolism. 66. and in particular his novel Angel at the Western Window [Der Engel .” 17.. Ibid. and I certainly recommend her article. Ibid. 75. H. Ibid. 70. ed. Ibid. pp. “The Walls Do Not Fall. 23.. Geschichte der Mission der Evangelischen Brüder unter den Indianern in Nordamerika (rpt: Hildesheim: Olms. 24. 271–272. pp. p. 48.... 21.. 259. Vale Ave in New Directions in Prose and Poetry (New York: 1950. 1988).. See H. 60. 39. p. 1. Ibid.. 44. Georg Heinrich Loskiel. See Jane Augustine. p. Ibid. Ibid. Ibid. Ibid. 225–246.. on alchemy and ‘the occult’ in earlytwentieth-century Russia.. pp.. These passages were transcribed by H. 223.. The Occult in Russian and Soviet Culture (Ithaca: Cornell University Press. 169.NOTES TO CHAPTER THREE 165 42.” on which see TG. D. Ibid... 53. The Gift. D.. 66.” 30–31. 1967). Ibid. 51. Ibid. for documentation. 43. Social Realism” in B. 284–285. 58.. of course. Ibid.. p. 73. Kathleen Raine. 19. 54.. 50.” pp. 20. H. Gutkin’s article strongly supports the fundamental thesis we are here exploring. Kraus. See. as well as this entire collection of articles. The Gift (Gainesville: University Press Florida. rpt. A Candid Narrative (London: 1753). Ibid. H. Ibid. other authors we could consider here. see also. D. 63. p. 57. 156–159. Ibid. Ibid. 50. p.. 20. 56. 47. “Tribute to the Angels.. 222. 21. 64. p. Irina Gutkin. p. Ibid. 102. Ibid. 71. 62. 1998). See M.. Futurism. 61. 50–51. Ibid.. 46.. See H. “Walls. chief among them Gustav Meyrink. 72. 154–155.. 52. D. 59. p. p. p. Rosenthal. 55. “Notes. 165. 1989). 33. Rimius.. 32. 168. D.. There are. 157. 9. pp. H... D. Max Ernst and Alchemy: A Magician in Search of a Myth (Austin: University of Texas Press. 74. 68. 18. 70. ed. Warlick.. E. 29. 69. 67.

p. Collins. 21. 291.. 90. 10. 87. p. 92.. p. 89. C. S. 78. E. The Winged Bull (York Beach: Weiser ed. 83. p. See Collins. 91. 320. 40. 86. 127. 100. 124–125. 1814). Dion Fortune. Lewis. 80. p. p.. 95. Access to Western Esotericism (State University of New York Press.166 NOTES TO CHAPTER THREE vom westlichen Fenster] (1927). 1994). Ibid. so I have decided not to include them here. 87. Dion Fortune. including Fortune’s. Ibid.. Gareth Knight. Vision. op. Ibid. B. Yeats. Gareth Knight. p. 323. Fortune. p. Williams was a member of Arthur Edward Waite’s magical fraternity. The Secrets of Dr. pp. Dion Fortune. Southey... 95. The Vision of the Fool and Other Writings (Ipswich: Golgonooza. Faivre. Ibid.. 3 vols. 20–21. 112. Faivre. Ibid. Poems. cit. 1994) p. 98. p. Vision. . pp. 104–104. 154. 77. 382. cit. Ibid.). cit. Taverner (Columbus: Ariel. and his intensifying “strange awareness” as a function of his magical apprenticeship with Vivien Le Fay Morgan. 96... hereafter noted as Meditations.25. 40. 102. 1994)..d. noted hereafter as Vision. Meditations. Subsequent references are to Cecil Collins. 79. 102. S. ed. Lewis. See Antoine Faivre. p. 1988) p. pp. n. That Hideous Strength (Macmillan: 1965 ed. 82. and while his experience in magical ritual has been downplayed by some literary critics. p. See on this point. (London: Quaritch. I.. p. Letters from England (London: Longman. 322. Pages from a Sketchbook (Ipswich: Golgonooza. 99. Maxwell’s account of his growing understanding of the elemental forces like wind and fire. 76. p. p. p.. 1990).. 43. 93. 84. 197. 101. 94. 101. 115. p. op. p. in The Sea Priestess (York Beach: Weiser ed.. Ibid. for a discussion of contemporary esoteric magical groups. But Meyrink’s works are complex enough to deserve a study in themselves. retained his magical regalia in his office. Ibid. Moon Magic (York Beach: Weiser.. 81.. 1997). maintaining our focus on the Inklings. The Magical World of the Inklings (Shaftesbury: Element. and Meditations. and their circles in mid-twentieth-century England. p.). Collins. 85. See for instance. p. op. 103. Essays Presented to Charles Williams (Oxford University Press: 1947). Ibid. 91. pp. The Works of William Blake. Ibid. 239. 70–71. Ibid. 88. without doubt had direct experience in magical initiation that was reflected in his fiction.. 82–83. The Magical World of the Inklings. Ibid. 88. Ellis and W. C. 97. 1893).. pp. Ibid. 1993).

D. Ibid.. p. The Beginning and the End (New York: Harper. I added the colors. 122.. 74.29–30. 62. Socialist Realism. Ibid. 124. 25 ff. p. . “Warnung an den Leser. 123. 63. 1997) p. Freedom and the Spirit.. 127. Ibid. Nicolas Berdyaev: Theologian of Prophetic Gnosticism (Th. 71 ff. 1994). 78.” in B. 103.. Ibid.. p. p. The Occult in Russian and Soviet Culture (Ithaca: Cornell University Press. 109. 40 and pp. IV . forthcoming.. Ibid. trs. Knapp. 1980). from “The Magic of Words: Symbolism.” and I.. 106. II.31. Futurism. for example. Ibid. 108 ff. 95. ed.NOTES TO CHAPTER THREE 167 104. p. Nishitani Keiji. 118. Religion and Nothingness (Berkeley: University of California Press. 112. 117.. 128. 199. pp. See also The Destiny of Man. Ibid. 105.” 108. 121.. “Vorrede. Ibid. See Charles C. 125. p. 126. See... Diss. Ibid. 40. Ibid. 1957). 107.. 225. 116. 119. Ibid. I. Ibid. 62–63. 275 ff. A. Ibid. Peter Erb. E. pp. Versluis.. 115. 93. 111.. p. Christosophia IV .1 ff. “Ancient Gnosticism and Christian Theosophy” in Studies in Spirituality (Fall 1997).. 110. 1978). 105. p. 129. Ibid. 1958). 120. The Way to Christ (New York: Paulist Press. p. 170. Theosophia: Hidden Dimensions of Christianity (Hudson: Lindisfarne.. Rosenthal. p. Nicholas Berdyaev. 113.1. p. 1991). Toronto: 1948). 94. See Versluis.. Song and Its Fountains (Burdett: Larson. pp. Irina Gutkin. pp. pp. See my overview of Christian theosophy in Magic and Mysticism. p. 130. p. p.31. See Berdyaev’s introduction to Jacob Böhme’s Six Theosophic Points (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan.. p.. Christosophia. Ibid. 285. Ibid. 194 ff. Bromley’s is the image on the cover of my book Theosophia (1994). 39. 106. p.. 114.


59 Dante. 83 Apocalypse of Baruch. 81. 94. Abbot. Franz von. 61–62. 28. 24. 25 Apuleius. Cecil. 99 Dickinson. 142. 1. 93. Elias. Al-Rhazi [Rhazes]. 143–144. 81–82 Dee. 56 Baader. 129. Sir Thomas. ix. 11 Dury. 5. 66 Corbin. 154–155 Bernart de Ventadorn. Jacob. 96 Dee. 56 Bahir. 24. Giordano. 59. 89. 46 Christ. 2. 18. James. 97. Henry. Tycho. 148 Barrett. 28. 20. William. 45 Chaucer. 51. 57 Beatrice. 105 Christianity [origins of]. 42–43 Chemical Wedding of Christian Rosencreutz. 53. 72 Consciousness. Tibetan. 55–67. 75 Chivalry. 25 Apocalypse of Ezra. initiatory nature of. 148–150 Alchemy. 141 Agrippa. 17–19 Clement of Alexandria. 80 Böhme. 63. Nicholas. 17 Blake. 140. 104 Dionysius the Areopagite. 82–83 Confessio Fraternitatis. 82 Bacon. 137 Boethius. 95. 28–29. 27–28. 5. John. 77 Bromley. Thomas. 48 Corpus Hermeticum. 4. Geoffrey. 154 Book of Life. 56 Art. 76 Buddhism. 68. William. 64. 30. 97 Cremer. 31 Cloud of Unknowing. 79 Backhouse. 47. Roger. 14. 152 Brahe. Abraham. 94. Heinrich Cornelius. 78. 53. 31. 57. 96 Berdyaev. 63 Anderson. 154 Dogen. 40 Bible. 130–133 Ascension of Isaiah. 68–71.. Moses. 1 Collins. 5. 2 Aurea Catena. 22 Cordovero. John. 141–142. 81 Bruno. 129. 138 Basilides. 93. 52. John. 18 Arnold of Villanova. 80. 75. 81–82 Descartes. 80–82 Astrology. René. 42. Arthur. 102. 25 Ashmole. 28. 82–83 169 . Francis. 139. 129–135 Comenius. 56 Amor Proximi. 31 Basilius Valentinus. 90. 150 Browne.INDEX Abulafia.E. 147 Buddhism. 78. Emily. 53 A. 40–41. 35–43. 10.

107. 109 Hermeticism. 95 Hartlib. Max. 103 Fuller. 104 Gichtel. 127–128 Fama Fraternitatis. 21. Ralph Waldo. Joseph Edward.S. 84. 69 Franklin. Albert. ix. 85 Merkabah mysticism. Antoine. 90. 76. 51 Eleusinian Mysteries. 122 Koan. 105 Eliade. Jean. 8. 79 Hieroedetic knowledge. 46–52. Herman. 140 Eirenaeus Philalethes. Michael. 111 Geheime Figuren. 11 Hutton. 10–12. Abraham von. ix. 126. 100 Marcus. 19 Kabbalah [or Cabala]. Susan. 12–15. Jane. Johann Georg. 37 Esoteric Origins of the American Renaissance. 68. 25 Hinduism. 104. 46. 56 Jerusalem. 127 Frankenberg. Edward. 138 Katz. 151 Merswin.D. 50. Gareth. 102 Ernst. 19 Faivre. John Scotus. Johannes. Mircea. 36–39 Gutkin. Brian. 103. 72 Jabir ibn Hayyan [Geber]. T. 123–126. 82–83 Heidegger. Rulman. 101 Freemasonry. 153–154 Eriugena.. 140 La Fontaine. Margaret. Johann Wolfgang. 140 Hippolytus. Edmond. 153 Homer. 109. 89. 97. 2. Christian. Samuel. Jewish. 89–103 Hermetism. 2. 5 Hori. 19. John. 9 Eliot. 100. 63. 84 Lewis. 21 Heydon. 29 Mazet. 77 Gelpi. 2. 155 Hermes [Trismegistus]. 104. 57 Eleazar of Worms. 76 Maistre. 53. 89. Robert. 7–8. 57–59. 83. 112 Lull. 139 H. 42. 56 Fludd. 1 Keeble. Andreas.. Joseph de. 78 Gnosis. 31 Melville. Nicholas. 35. Ramon.170 INDEX Eckhart. 27–28 Gnosticism. 104. 123. 25 John. 100 Hirst. 18–21. 19. 55 Koran. 137 Goethe. 1. 22. 29 Hiram. 106 Eschenbach. Benjamin. Victor Sogen. 26–31. Georg Heinrich. 82 Knight. 80–81 Fortune. 103–119 Hardenberg. 120–122. 102 Lee. 120. 4. Wolfram von. 8–9 Larronde. 111 Emerson. 112 Friedman. Carlos. 28. 7–8 Esotericism. Martin. 43–45. 99 Grail cycle. 56 Maier. 88-89. Book of. 5. Friedrich von [Novalis]. Désirée.. 22–24 Initiation. 129 Kelley. 65. 101–102 Frey. Steven. 19–21. 2. 102 Leade. 40 . 54. 77 Flamel. 44. 112 Imagination. 52–54 Kabbalah. 8–9 Isaac the Blind. 51 Islam. 56. Jewish. 105. 79–86. 89. C. Francis. 111 Esotericism [defined]. 72–73 Faust. Irina.S. 21–22 Hermetica. 75. 9. Meister. 127 Loskiel. 50. 30. Dion.

87–88. J. 63 Rici. 120. ix. 114–115 Thenaud. 115 Pythagoras. 153 Schwaller de Lubicz. 2. 30–31 Pico della Mirandola. 21 Poiret. 46. Joseph. 51. 137. 4 Shakespeare. 19. 92. 99. 5. Bernadette. 25. 116 Nature [concept of]. 56 Swedenborg. 75–78 Paracelsus. 2 Postel. 18. 36. Milton. 59. Thomas. 103. Czeslaw. 90 Milosz. 103. 69. 141 . 63. Pierre. 9. Kathleen. Jean. 64 Roberts. 139 Saint Martin. 102 Sophia [Wisdom]. 11 Russian literature. 101 Prajnaparamita Sutra. 29–30 Olympiadorus. 87–88. Gillaume. 53 Theseus. 99. 2 Nag Hammadi Library. sacred. Gershom. 136 Science and objectification. 17. 56 Moses de Leon. 116 Self. 32. 140 Templars.R. John. 74. 105. 148 Radical ecology.V ix. 85. Rainer Marie. Louis-Claude de. 99 Prospero.R. 48 Mysticism.INDEX 171 Meyrink. 152 . 152 Richter. 8 Nishitani Keiji. 57. Marsha Keith. 99 Scholem. 148 Seidel. John. 25 Native Americans (and Moravians). 112 Ripley. 154–156 Norton. O. 4 Reuchlin. 79. Blaise. 138 Stellatus. 32 Plato. 37–38 Pascal. 13. 19. Jean.. 94. 26–27 Moravians. 21. 99 Philip. 18. Henry. 60. Johannes. William. 52 Pansophy. 73. 84 Reading. 76 Sufism. George. Martinez de. 29 Pre-Socratics. 67–69. 26 Tolkien. 90 Porete. 14. 70. 56. 14–15. 89. Andrew Michael. 39–40 Solovyov. Emanuel. 2. 6 Sefer Yezirah. René. 150. 40 Raine. 108. 123 Poimandres. 40 Milosz. 92. 105. 47. 53 Theosophy. 92. 56 Origen. 115. 140 Tauler. 89–103. 52 Piers Ploughman. 153 Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. 108 Rimius. 5. 84 Pordage. Gustav. 23–26. Book of. 115. 3 Raimbaut d’Orange. Johannes. 46. 47–48. 90. 112–113 Morienus. Vladimir. 110 Southey. Sir Walter. 99 Pasqually. 102 Science [and the sciences]. Robert. 79. 50 Schuchard. 148 Platonic archetypes. 43 Synesius. 71–76 Rousseau.. 66 New Age. 8 Rosicrucianism. 90 Talmud. 118 Ramsay. 140 Tao te ching. 113. Paulus. 53 Rilke. 52–53 Revelation. 58 Numbers. 103 Pyrlaeus. Samuel. 53. Marguerite. Christian. 76 Parzival. Johann Christoph. 119 Raleigh. 68. 69. 64. Gospel of. 5 Minotaur. 109.

Adam. 10.E. 156 Zinzendorf. 148 Zen Buddhism. M. Charles. 48.B. Egidio Cardinal. 88.172 INDEX Trevor-Roper. ix. 112–113 Zohar. Arthur. 10. 2. 53 Versluis. Nicholas. 103. 122–123 Williamson. George. 111. 116 Yates. 82 Troubadours. 79 Willermoz. 106 Washington. Georg von. ix. 35–43 Ungrund. 9. Hugh. 10. 84 Williams. 111 Warlick. 89. 86 Welling. 55. 75 Yeats. 120. 67–69 Upanishads.. 140 Valentinus. 63. 137. Frances. David. 101 Weishaupt. 104. W. Jean-Baptiste. 64. 148 Zosimos.. 110. 103. 56 . 103. 31 Viterbo. 69–70 Universalism [esoteric].

aseweb. Theosophy. 2 vols. Access to Western Esotericism (Albany: State University of New York Press. Modern Esoteric Spirituality (New York: Crossroad. Readers may also wish to consult the journals ARIES and Esoterica (www. and Antoine Faivre and Wouter Hanegraaff. A useful historical overview is Jean-Paul Corsetti’s Histoire de l’ésotérisme et des sciences occultes (Paris: Larousse. I should note that the two volumes by Cecil Collins cited in Restoring Paradise have subsequently been 173 . 1994). Earlier. Important anthologies of scholarship in the field include Antoine Faivre and Jacob Needleman. Gnosis and Hermeticism: From Antiquity to Modern Times (Albany: State University of New York Press. and Imaginaire Symbolique: Mélange offerts á Antoine Faivre edited by Joscelyn Godwin et al. (Graz: Akademische. 2000).Suggestions for Further Study A standard reference for scholars and a general introduction to Western esotericism as a field of study is Antoine Faivre. Tradition (Albany: State University of New York Press. In the voluminous Ésotérisme. 1956). Gnoses. 1998). important if sometimes a bit uneven background works in the field include the books of Will-Erich Peuckert. Western Esotericism and the Science of Religion (Leuven: 1973) and Licht und Finsternis. as well as the series by Karl Frick titled Die Erleuchteten (Graz: Akademische. eds. 1992). Imagination. 1998).edu) and to visit the Web site of the Association for the Study of Esotericism [ASE] at www. notably Gabalia (Berlin: Erich Schmidt.. as well as Roelof van den Broek and Wouter Hanegraaff. along with its companion book. (Leuven: Peeters.esoteric. 1992). 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. 2001). readers will find many further avenues of research by a wide variety of contributing scholars. 1998).msu. 1975). 1967) and Pansophie (Berlin: Erich Schmidt.

Wisdom’s Book: A Sophia Anthology (St. edited by Brian Keeble. as well as The Mysteries of Love: Eros and Spirituality (St. Many of my own previous and forthcoming books also deal with themes and subjects touched on in Restoring Paradise—in particular. This is a beautifully produced book and highly recommended. enlarged edition (Ipswich: Golgonooza. Gnosis and Literature (St. 2001). 2002). 1996). and Theosophia: Hidden Dimensions of Christianity (Hudson: Lindisfarne. Wisdom’s Children: A Christian Esoteric Tradition (Albany: State University of New York Press. . 1996). 1994). and The Esoteric Origins of the American Renaissance (New York: Oxford University Press. 2000). Paul: Grail. 1999). Paul: Grail. Paul: Paragon House.174 SUGGESTIONS FOR FURTHER STUDY combined into a single volume entitled The Vision of the Fool and Other Writings.

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