Western Esotericism, Literature, Art, and Consciousness

Arthur Versluis



SUNY series in

Western Esoteric Traditions

David Appelbaum, editor

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 . Literature.Restoring P a r a d i s e Western Esotericism. Art.

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

In memory of poet and scholar Kathleen Raine .


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

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

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


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


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

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

what their predecessors are. we find a definite prejudice in post-Christian societies against Christianity in general. we will not only be uncovering littleknown aspects of bygone days.5 But there are other reasons why an examination of the Western esoteric traditions might be especially apropos today. nature. which increasingly in the West seems to intellectuals to be moribund except as a social phenomenon. Thus. which is often seen either as outdated. about reading the stars. and there are many treasures to be found there. a single primary and overarching metaphor that we will be able to trace throughout the Western traditions in all their variety. and to understand their patterns and meaning. while at the same time we find reactionary fundamentalist Christian sectarianism that often only fuels others’ disdain for Christianity. many people have realized that despite all the material comforts made possible by our machinery. but in fact be discovering fundamental keys to understanding both the European esoteric inheritance. about reading as discovering esoteric knowledge of ourselves and of the cosmos. it is more than useful to recognize whence they have emerged. a metaphor that illuminates not only all the various disciplines and traditions. Thus many have begun to cast about for ways to enrich their inner or spiritual lives. and cults existed side by side. a vast field. and to alternative forms of spirituality. in my view. Chief among them is the growing conviction that positivism is bankrupt.INTRODUCTION 3 Why? For the first time in several hundred years. the more we come to see certain underlying patterns. their inner lives have become progressively more barren. and particularly in the radical ecology movement. of course. we readily can see why the time is ripe for a reëvaluation of the Western esoteric traditions in light of our contemporary situation. we find on the social front. and ways beyond the impasse at which we find ourselves today. and continuity of the Western esoteric traditions. At the same time on the religious front. Yet beyond the pleasure of discovery we will find something else: for the more we study the field of Western esotericism. Western esotericism is. the Western esoteric traditions. By looking more closely at the origin. despite their often almost bewildering variety. when we look at Western societies. but even sheds light on the very nature of being human. Given the present openness of many people to criticism of modernity. To navigate one’s way through these movements. . or as oppressive and as having spawned the destructiveness of modernity. an awareness that modern machinery for all its power impoverishes both outer and inner nature. and so a welter of new religious movements and groups has emerged. our time resembles the early Christian era. proliferating wildly. therefore. sects. In many respects. 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 underlying these is. For as we will see. are fundamentally about reading: about reading nature. when a panoply of religions.

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

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

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

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



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-

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

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

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

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

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


bolstered to some extent by apocrypha. When we look at the emergence of Christianity from the welter of religious traditions at the time. of whose life we know through the historical documentation of the gospels. still we can trace through this era the origin of the primary elements or currents in Western esotericism.1 Origins ALCHEMY OF THE WORD To understand the origins of Western esotericism in all its various guises. we must begin in antiquity. and. however. Christianity was centered around written accounts that took two primary forms. Here. From relatively early on. and of this there are only two examples in the canonical Bible: some elements of the Book of John. remains central to what may be called conventional or exoteric Christianity—that is. specifically at the beginning of Christianity. One is of course what we find in the canonical versions of the Bible. The other kind of writing. the Book of Revelation. death. Christianity based on faith or belief in a historical Christ. one characteristic appears prevalent above all others: the emphasis upon the written word. what we may call a 17 . and resurrection. Although many aspects of what actually happened during this time may always be shrouded or lost. central to which are the gospel accounts of Christ’s life. beginning with the ambience for and emergence of the Christian Bible and affiliated works. Here we have the fundamental division that has lasted throughout the subsequent history of Western esotericism: on the one hand. we are not so concerned with surveying the entirety of this period—a monumental task best left to others— but with the defining themes that will emerge again and again in later times. we will look at representative or synecdochic writings. And to find these themes. This. is profoundly different. needless to say.

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

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

basilisks. thereby making this conflict inevitable. This gnosis of the word represents a ‘fixing’ of the mysteries. then. such images represent divine aspects. it is to restore the cosmos itself to its paradisal condition.1 And indeed there is an ancient tradition that the Torah contains so much power in its letters that it could destroy the world. We may remember the four animals that symbolize the four Gospels. 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. But monotheism is a rubric under which all manner of possibilities exist. which undoubtedly drew upon and incorporated elements of the Greek mystery traditions even as they differed from the Greeks in their emphasis upon writing down the mysteries and then writing down commentaries upon the previous writings. and so we find numerous images from antiquity like lion-headed serpents. and even if monotheism often turns toward a fundamentalist literalism. and its aim is twofold at least: microcosmically. Both word and image reveal and ‘fix’ the divine.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. are a means to creation’s redemption. The letters. All of this is to suggest that there was in antiquity in Jewish and Christian esoteric circles a very widespread gnosis of language which was grounded in writing. inconceivable power would be set loose. as does the creation of images. and so forth. and macrocosmically. all of which is entirely accepted within the orthodox tradition. one finds that from the very beginning of our era the very same elements conduce also to a wide spectrum of gnoses and hence to angelic polytheism and to nontheistic gnosis in which the very concept of God is transcended. and 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. but if the letters were properly restored. as principles of creation itself. 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. paradoxically conveyed often through . its purpose is to restore the individual to a paradisal or transcendent state. 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. so the letters were altered. Both Jewish and Christian gnostic esoteric groups tended to think and express themselves mythologically. and so forth. But given the gnosis of the word that we have been discussing.2 Both the gnosis of the word and the gnosis of the image are extensions of the monotheism of the book. and to which we may refer as a gnosis of the word. Such images are often found on amulets or talismans and are generally regarded as being ‘magical’ elements in Gnosticism. Letters and numbers. through images.

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

It is. Platonism. it is clear that the Hermetic treatises occupy a peculiar place. here the dialogues often take place in an interworld of revelation. mercurial quality to it. Such a relationship goes beyond simply that of participants in a dialogue like Plato’s. then. It is true that the language is sometimes Platonic. The most important of these is the insistence upon gnosis. Christian esotericism. and is generally associated with the more or less random play of images. and there is a witness to the revelation. and Hermetism. Occupying an intermediate space between religion and philosophy. There are five primary currents in antiquity that feed into what we may call the Western esoteric traditions: Jewish esotericism. not quite belonging to the sphere of religion.22 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E There is an initiator or revealer. traditions. and it is this that represents the red thread that will guide us through the labyrinths of the centuries. or direct knowledge of the divine. no accident that so many of the Western esoteric traditions link themselves to the Hermetica. But these currents themselves are not discrete from one another. and depicting direct spiritual illumination of the initiate. when we survey the Western esoteric traditions. as there was to many of the movements of antiquity. Like Hermes himself. and are between one who embodies knowledge and one who seeks to embody it. precariously balanced on the periphery of religious traditions. which Henry Corbin called the “active imagination. but insisting above all on one’s own direct spiritual understanding or gnosis. the more one studies the emergence of esotericism in the early centuries of this era. and together provided a common ambience out of which emerged a panoply of sects. and . However. the mystery traditions. willing to draw upon one or sometimes any of them. For from what we have said. 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. they certainly intermingled. always there is a fluid. the more one recognizes the fluidity of the various traditions’ boundaries.” “Active imagination” refers to the meeting of an individual and transcendent beings on an intermediate field that belongs completely neither to the transcendent nor to the mundane world. Hermetism reveals the ground occupied by Western esoteric traditions throughout the past several thousand years. yet not strictly philosophical either. Hermetism refuses to be pinned down or definitively discussed. T H E F I E L D O F T H E I M A G I N AT I O N It is commonplace today to think of the imagination as a means of escapism— the word is roughly equivalent to daydreaming or to fantasy. and writings that reveal a great many similarities. Indeed. what we find is something quite different. But such a term suggests that imagination is otherwise passive.

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

One. the most symbolically resonant image of all is that of the book.” during these the end times.” symbolism charged with initiatory knowledge. of course.9). and Christ whose symbolic heart is the written word. and Hermetism. and although the word eidolon early in the modern era . and one hundred forty-fours.” which are opened during the Last Judgment in order to see the lives of those being judged (20. which he does. there are “other books. and finds it bitter in his belly. but sweet as honey on his lips. and we are given warnings at his account’s end that no one should add to or subtract from what is written in his book (22:18). the way we see the cosmos itself changes.13). Every aspect of life is altered. The Revelation of John has an oneiric quality. Taken together. John is given a little book to eat. Christ’s repeated assertion that “I am the Alpha and the Omega. possesses a special luminosity of symbolism that we may call “hieroeidetic. especially in the Book of Life wherein is written the names of those who belong to the Lamb (13. it is like a collective dream in which we participate simply by reading. and more than one group has seen itself as living during the end times. the Book of Revelation of St. we are eating his little book—we belong to a direct lineage or current. of course. By reading the Book of Revelation that John subsequently writes after eating the little book. which has inspired countless commentaries or explanations.12). and are in a sense initiates. The entire revelation is an unveiling of gnosis. a gnostic encounter with elders. all remind us of the prior traditions. But for our purposes. twelves. John is united with its knowledge. John himself—for he is told to write by a voice from heaven (14. we will recall. symbolizing his union with the esoteric center of spiritual life. angels.” as well as the repetition of geometric and numerical symbolism such as the sevens. revealing the hidden forces beyond history and what happens to all humanity. Additionally. is the prophetic element: more than one group has identified itself with the “woman in the wilderness” in the twelfth chapter. Christian Gnosticism. the very book that we are reading. And it has immense power for this reason: by entering into its world of references. of letters and numbers revealing the secret powers of the divine.24 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Western esotericism. and by eating the book. The Revelation. After the various accounts of Christ’s life and death in the Gospels. Another such element is the number and letter symbolism. we suddenly are given in the Revelation this overwhelming and astonishing visionary sequence that brings us completely outside the sphere of mundane human life. In the tenth chapter. found in Judaism. This image is amplified by the presence of book imagery throughout the entire work. The word eidetikos in Greek refers to a particular kind of knowledge associated with shape or form. in other words. these elements lend themselves very much to an esoteric interpretation: the symbols and numbers represent a secret knowledge known by the few symbolically designated as the “woman in the wilderness. John eats the little book: it becomes part of him. And then there is. becoming symbolically charged.

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

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



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

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

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

but as qualities pregnant with meaning. and therein we obtain the pure key. What is more. and images emerges the fifth characteristic.5 A similarly gnostic view of numbers appears again in the work of Louis-Claude de Saint Martin (1743–1803). albeit few more wild than those of the Book of Revelation. which emerge out of the inexpressible into the realms of conscious perception. letters. imagination proceeds neither wholly from ourselves.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. my dear brother. but lives in an intermediate realm necessary for the birth of unitive consciousness. a theosopher in the line of Jacob Böhme. woven together into a . Regeneration alone shows us the ground. without masters. Here we have the combination of all the elements we have discussed so far. Such images may be seen in terms of degrees of union. On the lowest level. including Piers Ploughman. of the different properties of beings. as a panoply on an inner stage where we see acted out the soul’s dramas. numbers and letters can open up into aspects of consciousness itself. the images remain outside one and are taken literally as referring to history. Gnostic works reveal a wide array of images and myths. including the gnoses of numbers and letters. on which conventional mathematics is founded. These number-letter transpositions yield many hidden significances. a gnostic view of numbers and letters sees them not as merely signifying something external. but men have sometimes lowered them to it. They are only the sensible expression. and are visible in major European literary works. A fourth characteristic is imagery. Such a gnosis of numbers is visible during the medieval period. But this view of numbers corresponds to seeing reading as the accumulation of data: it remains objectified. everyone. nor wholly from without. of which the quantitative designation is a husk. however. . separated from the subject who sees. which is the mystery of words and of the book. According to rational consciousness. By contrast. which all proceed from the one only essence . a third characteristic. whether visible or intellectual. More intimately. in his own degree. Here. the images may be seen as reflecting inner aspects of the cosmos. so that to work with them is to enter into the existential quality that is their real nature or kernel. . to which I have already devoted some study. who wrote his friend Baron Kirchberger that “Numbers are no algebra. the images may be seen as corresponding to something in our own inward nature. here they no longer are taken as having entirely historical dimensions. where we find definite traces of Latin number and letter transposition corresponding to what in Hebrew is termed gematria. numbers designate quantities that one can manipulate. but instead express aspects of the invisible origin of the cosmos and of ourselves. Even more intimately yet.”6 There is in Saint-Martin’s work a peculiar kind of mystical mathematics from which it is evident that here is indeed an order of knowledge entirely different from the merely quantitative. Out of the gnoses of numbers. of course.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

probably the most revealing of which for our purposes is the socalled “A” figure from the Ars compendiosa inveniendi veritatem. Of course his work is unique. Hence in many respects. For instance. and avarice. it includes and transcends logic. it becomes difficult to believe that the placement of the A here could fail to have esoteric origins and meaning. angel. whether?. Lull himself combined them using circles. 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. which is the unspoken origin of and connection between all the other letters arranged in a circle around it. difference. 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. B—Bonitas. and even the Ars brevis represents a daunting set of combinations. has vast implications. the number of letters and qualities makes their range enormous. prudence. In the full art. what?. “goodness. 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. Lull represents the juncture of almost all the currents we have thus far discussed. it was naturally applied to astrology and to alchemy. found in the Ars compendiosa. and in the outer circle are the primary qualities asociated with each of the letters. concordance. or that from the Ars brevis. . E—Potestas. but to the physical world and indeed to virtually every aspect of life. B signifies. and numerous other arrangements. above all the view of literature as a vehicle for the transmutation of consciousness. and so forth. The Lullian art. God. At the same time. for in essence the Lullian art most resembles Kabbalism. for instance. 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. a host of Lullian-based alchemical treatises emerged in the wake of his works. trees. triangles. to which we can here offer only the briefest of introductions. And although Lull’s thought has been explored relatively recently as a system of logic. The “A” figure is so designated because it contains in its center a letter A.” C signifies “greatness. tables. not least in its use of the combinations of letters. can produce an almost infinite series of correlations. and although Lull himself explictly denied the transmutation of metals. and gluttony. depending upon how the letters are combined. for example. and can be applied not only to philosphy and theology. it also represents a synthesis of the primary currents we have been discussing. justice. I— Veritas. according to Lull in his Ars Brevis.”6 Thus each letter contains within it a constellation of meanings that. For this reason. Around the A in these figures is a geometric series of lines linking many of the letters in intricate correlations.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 45 ings.

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

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

often said to be the culmination of the early Kabbalistic period.” Indeed. supported by some contemporary testimony. The Fountain of Wisdom consists in a discussion of tikkun. Opposite them are the twenty-two little letters of the lower world. and that in this sense he really was copying from the transcendent source of the Kabbalistic tradition.” and are the means by which “the Written Law fertilized the Oral Law. 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. caught up in the spirit. informing the cultural.”12 And we are treated to a fascinating explanation of why the verse-divisions. We also see these alphanumeric mysteries in the Zohar. the ten fingers of human hands are said to correspond to the ten sephirot and to the commandments. and so forth are absent from the Scroll of Law: these signs were hidden in the “interior of the Divine Throne. a word that usually means “restoration” in Hebrew. 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. There are several major schools of thought on the origin of this vast and complicated work: some hold that Moses de Leon really did copy the Zohar from an earlier version by Shimon bar Yohai. For example. he wrote the entire work without any precedent. which comprise a total of 613 letters. One of the most influential Kabbalistic books of this period is the Fountain of Wisdom (Ma‘yan ha-Hokhmah). and that it regards the written word as being at the center of those mysteries. is that Moses de Leon composed the Zohar himself by way of “conjuration of the Writing Name. spiritual. but another view. which sixteenth-century Kabbalist Moses Cordovero regarded as being among a handful of the most important works. there is a third possibility—that Moses de Leon composed through spiritual imagination. writing the Names of God) and through this power. including the human body.11 Of course. In section 124. for example. including all twenty-two letters of the alphabet except tet. But in any event. as a female is fertilized from the male. 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. this controversy itself reveals much about the nature of Kabbalism. but here takes on the meaning of “com- . the Zohar is replete with alphanumeric mysticism. the “Oral Law” as female or receiver. Although the origins of the Zohar are somewhat controversial. But there is another work that helps shed light on what the nature of these alphanumeric mysteries might be.”13 We might note that here the “Written Law” is seen as male. and natural realms at once. the tonal accents. and which was central in the founding of Hasidism as well. said to symbolize the abdomen.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.” (that is.

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

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



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

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

and also because alchemy is the transmission of mysteries that must be directly experienced. we cannot help but notice religious references. alchemical writings seem totally impenetrable.’ yet not entirely Christian. as we saw earlier. to work it through. because the opposition of exotericism to esotericism in Western Europe was often so violent. Indeed. with their plethora of brilliant and resonant images. peripheral since it is not wholly Christian. especially to the need for humility and for reliance on divine grace. alchemists took to arcane ways of expressing themselves. forces one to wrestle with it alone. European alchemical works resemble bizarre collections of riddles wrapped in enigmas. we find that they reveal striking new applications and manifestations of Western esotericism. as the “art of Hermes. yet in that its adherents claim to realize the gnosis at the heart of Christianity. However. and so it is little wonder that many historians of science have denigrated European alchemy as merely a strange predecessor to modern chemistry. When we look at European alchemical works. but through meditative concentration and inspiration. . to come to terms with it not just by rational explication. itself also highly literary: the koan. hence on the one hand religious. like the alchemical expression or riddle. Full of exotic images and peculiar language. Thus Western alchemy has a peculiar place. not entirely ‘pagan. with their astonishing repertoire of exotic terminology. which in turn reflects GrecoEgyptian origins whose precise outlines likely never will be thoroughly traceable. 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. To the first-time observer. So too. sort of a mistaken byway people once took before they saw the light of materialism and rationalism. on the other transmitted by way of literature. the term alchemy itself emerges out of the Arabic word al-kimiya. when we look more closely at specific works in the alchemical traditions. by virtue of its initial incomprehensibility. and a current representing a particular path between religion and literature. for only a few intrepid souls have ventured into this territory. alchemy. Yet both the koan and the alchemical work emerge within stylized and traditional contexts. And in fact Western alchemical works are highly literary. Hermetism itself occupies a syncretic place in the midst of numerous traditions. One might compare these means of arcane expression to the Zen Buddhist koan tradition. Of course.” draws on the particular religious ambience within which it finds itself. operating by metaphor and allusion and parabolic expression. Because the Western alchemists’ place vis-à-vis Christianity was seldom entirely clear. but represents nonetheless a separate path of its own. Western alchemy remains largely uncharted by modern scholarship.

This process of awakening entails a kind of double working. Thus. Olympiodoros. Thus it is conventional for the author of an alchemical work to list predecessors to whom he is indebted. George Ripley (fifteenth century). 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. the embodying of spirit. even if its work resembles these in some respects. and Morienus of the seventh century C. or the animal kingdom. All of these authors did write on alchemy. plant. or al-Rhazi (ca. One places oneself in the line of what is. although we could here offer a historical survey of alchemy.E. 825–932 C. Synesius. 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.. . And so Geber joins the line of figures in what is indisputably a literary transmission. Thus alchemy itself consists in processes that are at once spiritual and physical. The alchemist’s work consists in the awakening of dormant qualities in the natural world. it is by no means just a kind of metallurgy or chemistry. Nicholas Flamel (fourteenth century). What matters is that the works under the name Geber speak to the later alchemist. Fire burns up impurities and allows the transmutation of a fallen metal. To list such names as Arnald of Villanova. we may well say that alchemy consists in the transmutations of the earth or. Ramon Lull. even if it does not entirely belong to these. Such a list undoubtedly would include Hermes Trismegistus. even if the alchemical labors to which these writers refer are certainly not literary but take place in a laboratory. put another way. at heart. so that their lineage from the alchemical perspective forms an Aurea catena or “golden chain” from antiquity to the present. either.E. For how else might a medieval or Renaissance figure come to know Geber or Rhazes? Cultural context has been largely lost.—latinized as Rhazes). in the revelation of paradise. and takes place by way of fire. Roger Bacon. author of the Rosarium philosophorum (attr. the vegetable. a tradition transmitted through literature.E. Indeed.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. or animal into its paradisal original true nature. for all its symbolic complexity and mysterious allusiveness. and the spiritualizing of the body. alchemical literature. as has historical placement. refers by its own testimony to the transmutation and redemption of the physical world: its work takes place on Earth. thirteenth century). partaking at once in the realms too of religion and literature. as well as Islamic figures such as Jabir ibn Hayyan of the eighth century (later latinized as Geber). and reveal the gnostic center of the tradition. who draws upon them in order to undertake the alchemical work himself and subsequently to write his own alchemical treatise. and might include also such figures as Zosimos of Panopolis of the third century C. After all. For alchemy extends into many realms.. that is. be they in the mineral.

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

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

” in a well-stoppered glass jar. he was thrown into a dungeon by one of the king’s retinue. so as not to lose legibility over time. All are to be mixed in the “bath of Neptune. we are told. who possessed a larger quantity of the Red Powder than any Englishman. Even though Dalton had discarded the Red Powder because it had become a source of grief and anxiety. two of orange arsenic.” and add to it five ounces of petroleum. In recent times. 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. two of living sulphur.”35 And indeed.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 59 and much more inclined to tell stories. The briefest and most specific of the three treatises is that entitled the “Treatise of Cremer. Here reading can take place on multiple levels at once—there is the prosaic reading of instructions. we can understand why he should impose such conditions. This invocation of the Book of Life naturally suggests one of our primary themes in the study of Western esotericism: reading. After admonitions about how we must avoid deceit and self-delusion. as opposed to literary and figurative allusions.”36 Here we return to the themes of the Book of Revelation—and despite the more or less prosaic terms of this testament. and given Cremer’s explicit instructions. Cremer in this. and “whoever does not observe this my mandate. His testament is to be copied every sixty years. such instructions also are protected by the fact that society as a whole cares nothing for alchemy or the worldview from which it emerges. But also he is invoking the very language of the Book of Revelation. 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. To publish widely his alchemical testament would be to divulge what should remain the secret of those presumably capable of bearing its power. tells us to “take three ounces of tartar of good claret. and so was let go. and tortured for four years. and Cremer’s testament does corroborate it. a man named Herbert. let his name be blotted out from the Book of Life. itself an esoteric text made exoteric. Such. was betrayed to King Edward by an assistant named Delvis who had been sworn to silence. and prepared in about four days. Only after such warning tales are we told in more specifics of the nature of the Art. of course.” Benedictine abbot of Westminster. Here we have a “full and accurate account of Alchemy without using any obscure technical terms. are the sufferings of those who aspire to a knowledge of the Art. and the secret is not to be given out to anyone except the Abbot and Prior of the monastery. Eventually sentenced to death and brought before the executioner. Dalton said he was happy to die. three of rabusenum. and protected by precisely the same invocation of the Book of Life. of . and two of willow charcoal. and that all Norton’s instructions are useless except to the wise in light of direct experience. strong and pure. and then of how a certain Thomas Dalton. his last testament. Norton tells the story of how he himself was robbed of all he had. There is a long tradition of monasteries as sanctuaries for secret knowledge.

its subtle essence. where we see literature conveying the transmutation of consciousness that manifests in the natural world as well. beyond the book of nature is the Book of Life. And of course. so too there is an inner world where the imagination may draw forth hidden things from ‘seed’ into flower. just as we might look at an image reflected in a mirror or water. According to Paracelsus. literary allusions. for the image of what a flower or plant is exists germinally in the seed. Confronted with such a colloquy. not merely from the outside and as other.60 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E course. to enter into it until its images and approach permeate one’s consciousness and become second nature? Such a “second nature. which perceives and participates in these other subtler dimensions of existence. but inwardly and as mysteriously connected to oneself by way of imagination. consists in the awakening of subtler dimensions of a given plant. Paracelsus tells us. But here ‘imagination’ does not belong to any individual—rather. But in any event. what is an aspiring alchemist to do but contemplate such a work. the individual human being may participate in the divine imagination that brings forth nature itself. everything that exists in the physical cosmos has what he calls evestra. or earth—and which may know nothing of the human world even though they exist in the same cosmos. One learns to read the inner significance of the book of nature. Imagination governs the development of things.’ then. The cosmos is created through the divine imagination. but also through the power of the imagination. 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. fire.” consisting in the imaginative landscape. but is joined with them in the imagination. and animal realms. that alchemy takes place in the imagination is not to say that it is imagi- . allegories. There are incalculable numbers of evestra. and figurative expressions that so characterize alchemical literature. these subtle realms and beings may be encountered in the realm of the imagination. which in turn may awaken the corresponding quality in the human being and thereby effect healing. To say. epigrams. Clearly the imagination plays a role in the processes of alchemy. then. vegetable. ethereal counterparts.” Just as the sun draws forth the visible and growing forms of plants. Here the individual mind is not separated from mineral. which Paracelsus in De virtute imaginativa called a “sun in the soul of man. to carry it within. not only by looking at words on a page. water. for they occupy different dimensions within it. not all evestra are benefic. Spagyric medicine. but then there is also another kind of reading that we see in the collections of images. poems. and so it is only natural that humanity also participates in this power. Of course. one may know the inner nature of anything. which exist in subtle matters of their own kind—for instance. and the plant grows into its image as best conditions will allow. air. We may ‘read. allows one to see the actual landscape or “first nature” in a different way. Through these evestra. one branch of alchemy.

flowing out of the Oil of Divine Compassion. emphasize their recipe quality. There is no doubt that the work is engaged in justifying a true “theology. the true medicine of the soul is the pure light of grace. and mist. Of course. fire. The terms used in its title—oil. and medicine together” that leads us through Wisdom to God. while others. moves away from physical alchemy into the realm of spiritual references alone. bekräftiget mit dem Salz der göttlich und natürlichen Wahrheit (Amor Proximi. but here are clearly spiritualized. sharpened with the Wine of Wisdom. and this is characteristic of the work as whole. one finds a new kind of alchemical literature whose primary implications are almost exclusively spiritual.” and to a host of Biblical references. like Valentinus’s. This is the true Ground of Nature . Amor proximi proceeds instead to refer in passing to the knowledge of the “heathens. But during the late seventeenth and the eighteenth centuries.74). . . 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. empowered with the Salt of divine and natural Truth). confronted by the emerging materialist science of chemistry. a distinctly modern image of the cosmos and a term that is in fact repeated in the work. and so forth. indeed.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 61 nary. The prefatory remarks to the work refer to the “heavenly Wisdom” who reveals the “two lights of nature and of grace. philosophy. Genesis 1:27. wine. more real than what we see in the physical. including Romans 1. this Mist-Spirit-Water is Salt or Earth . as a spirit. the true medicine and theology. One of the better examples of this particular emphasis in alchemical literature is to be found in a now relatively little-known anonymous work dated 1686 and titled Amor Proximi. these two poles became further separated. and salt—are not uncommon in physical alchemy. even here physical significances of alchemy are implied. At this juncture we should recognize that alchemical literature can be interpreted along a spectrum ranging from a focus on its spiritual meaning to a focus on its physical interpretation. Many alchemical works are more susceptible to one interpretation than another—hence some. The mechanistic worldview is all surface. light air. but that in this particular worldview. . . But rather than proceeding toward specific instructions. geflossen aus dem Oel der göttlichen Barmherzigkeit.”38 It is revealing that the light of nature is said to lead to the “whole Machina mundi” (II. It is as though here alchemy. it is entirely real. II Chronicles 13:5.” The true medicine of the body is the pure light of nature. a matter of . which mist transforms itself into a water of life in the new birth. may be interpreted in both ways at once.37 And thus “the true medicine is thus the heart of Wisdom: out of this heart (or eternal spiritual salt) emerges life. just as the true maguss leads us to Christ. like Cremer’s testament. but the new ambience is not so much Hermetic with a tinge of Christianity as it is totally Christian. geschärft mit dem Wein der Weisheit.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

and is certainly not limited to works labeled Rosicrucian. theosophic. which. and pansophic movements we have discussed in turn fed into Freemasonry. a prolific chronicler of the unseen. For all of the Rosicrucian. first with the consistent emphasis of Rosicrucian works on the transformation of society and the establishment of a utopia. and specifically. And one sees the same effort to bridge the realms in the works of Franz von Baader (1765–1841). denigrated in his own day as something of a plagiarist. and literature in a spiritually centered universe. From the seventeenth until the twentieth centuries. in other words. But such universalism is a constant theme from the seventeenth century on. invented an industrial process. began in the medieval period as one of many craft guilds. of course. truly a Renaissance man. This is the kind of comprehensive worldview visible in such illustrations as the ones we see emerging during the eighteenth century. (London: 1665). those of masonry belonging to the arts of architecture and building. and it is also clearly visible in the major works of that era. Western esotericism often aims at universal knowledge. was John Heydon. One finds the same effort at universality in theosophy. or the Temple of Wisdom. We have already referred to Georg von Welling’s Opus Mago-Cabbalisticum et Theosophicum (1784). Heydon’s Theomagia in particular attempts to be a kind of universal compendium of the occult sciences. but a profound intellectual who consciously sought to bridge the gap between the sciences and religion. (London: 1663–1664) and The Wise-mans Crown. representing exactly such a compendium of knowledge in largely written form (albeit including also illustrations and tables). not so very long ago.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 79 There was a time. maintained a definite organizational hierarchy and structure. as for instance in the vast metaphysical cartography of John Pordage (1604–1681). when esotericists could imagine a unified cosmology that included religion. And it is in the sociopolitical realm that the Rosicrucian impulse had considerable impact. Freemasonry. chronicled what one discovers in visiting in vision the various discarnate realms of existence. stretching right into the nineteenth century. each of which guarded its particular mysteries. science. but after his visionary entry into discarnate realms. and became one of the most impressive writers on religious and spiritual themes of the nineteenth century. but published only in German). at a truly comprehensive metaphysics and cosmology. unlike these other more individualistic movements. and later in the development of modern Freemasonry. Such a universalist goal does not exclude the human. Another such figure. the social and political realm. originally a scientist. who studied minerology. not a visionary. One sees this also. the arts. or the Glory of the Rosie-cross. who in his multivolume Göttliche und Wahre Metaphysica (Frankfurt/Leipzig: 1715/1746) (probably written during the 1670s. in the numerous volumes of Emanuel Swedenborg (1688–1772). author of such works as Theomagia. and associated with the vast . of course.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

. 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 1 Alchemical images from Michael M a i e r.

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

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

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

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

Figure 6 Pansophic image from Georg von We l l i n g . which is here explicitly identified with the Kabbalistic ’en soph. Note that beyond the celestial hierarchy is the Ungrund.C a b b a l i s t i c u m e t T h e o sophicum (Frankfurt: 1784). O p u s M a g o . .

as well as the prominence of the figure of the eye. O p u s M a g o . . (Frankfurt: 1784).C a b b a l i s t i c u m e t T h e o sophicum. Note the threedimensional nature of the illustration.Figure 7 Pansophic image from Georg von We l l i n g .

.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 .Figure 8 Pansophic image from Georg von We l l i n g .

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thus the poet tells us not to weep for him. hideous. “I learned that in its depths man’s body encloses a remedy for all ills. innocent. / played with me as a father with his child.” an “eternity of horror. this immense. “the Father of Ancients. when “like all nature poets I was sunk in profound ignorance [Comme tous les poètes de la nature.14 I am not suggesting that Milosz is directly alluding to the Corpus Hermeticum.” “mois je suis toujours dans le même lieu.” yet also to a “place” of utter desolation. and that the knowledge of gold is also knowledge of light and blood. Milosz muses on his early poetry. The ascent to the “solar place” that Milosz describes here brings one to the “omnipotence of affirmation. hideux. Milosz tells us. in the visionary writings of Böhme. Milosz’s visionary experience here is quite simply parallel to and in the tradition of what we also see in “Poemandres” and.” or “hurled into the madness of the black eternity. In the concluding lines of the canticle. Thus in the “Canticle of Knowledge. delirious. and a kind of corporeality of language.” The “omnipotence of affirmation” is counterbalanced. wise. where he saw “the source of lights and forms. here too we find the emergence of light and life in the opening of the “world of light” for the visionary seer. of light and darkness.” just as in so much of Western esotericism. here too we find a kind of “fixed cloud”. not light and serenity of recognition.]”16 See. Here too we find the “leap and wind” of a fiery mass. and at this moment the “sterile woman” in him died. j’étais plongé dans une profonde ignorance. and looked behind him.94 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E powers at work in the constant manifestation of existence. and this is the “solar egg. the only one situated. in theosophic tradition.” and “marrow of iniquity. different. of those who speak pure language. le seul situé.” selfknowing. Thus. cet immense cerveau délirant de Lucifer [This separated place. [I am always in the same place. but “great trials of negation. to whom Milosz was definitely indebted. even though I am certain that he was at least familiar with it. by “omnipotent negation” in “Ce lieu séparé. rather. on this naked cold planet of iron and clay. for that matter. / being in place itself. Milosz tells us that he has “visited the two worlds. he noticed that he had stopped before a mirror.” to a “place” where “myriad spiritual bodies reveal themselves to virtuous senses. [C’est ainsi que j’appris que le corps de l’homme renferme dans ses profondeurs un . Luciferic brain]. / étant dans le lieu même.”15 Here we find. is the sign of Wisdom personified: Wisdom showed him the realm of Forms prior to existence.” “immense.” for the key to the world of light also opens the—“other region.” Yet there is a realm beyond these two worlds of affirmation and negation.” We might recall that the mirror.” “the world of profound. because whether he is “dazzled by the solar egg. différent. chaste archetypes.” This playing “between worst darkness and best light” emerges from beyond both darkness and light. and is the province of those who speak pure language. we find a spiritual corporeality.]” Then one day.” those “lands of nocturnal din. Milosz writes.

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

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

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

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

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

Thus we find in this final poem of Milosz the linguistic and. we are waiting for the continuation and fulfillment of the only Book. in short.” 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. King of the Unified World. libric mysticism that has haunted Western esotericism from antiquity. the universal regent of faith. as early as 1919. Under the heading “Hiram. Eliot. Milosz held. The allegory is clearly indicated by the password Nekom (Vengeance) used by the Chapter of Clermont and the Scottish lodge of the Berlin Union. Hermeticism and Kabbalism. but there are still other currents of Western esotericism that emerge in the poet’s work. and books. opens those books in order to reveal their inner mysteries—or rather. and Milosz explains his poem’s relationship to Freemasonry in his “Exegetic Notes. Nor is it coincidental that in 1933 Milosz published his close study titled L’Apocalypse de Saint-Jean Déchiffrée [The Apocalypse of Saint John Decoded] and. and art. Germany. King of the unified world. In his “Poem of the Arcana. my son. Milosz tells of his visionary experience. . Architect of the effective Catholic Church of tomorrow. the books open themselves to him. for instance.” which are far more extensive than anything T. and Savoy. Hiram. just as in the Book of Revelation and just as in Kabbalism. in 1938. says that “I am entering the twelfth year of supreme knowledge. La Clef de l’Apocalypse [The Key to the Apocalypse]. science. drawn together with a universalism that both resembles and includes Freemasonry. inside the books of life and of knowledge. . words.”30 The name Hiram is found in Masonic tradition. Le Forestier. 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. are enormously important for understanding the complex work of Milosz and his mysticism of the word. and that he shared with much of the Christian theosophic tradition. the visionary poet. 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. 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 . R. The “architect” of those brotherhoods was Biblical in name only.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.” and yet writes that he will humble his brow in the dust before “you. S.” in fact.”29 Here we see the nascent Christian millennialism that pervades so much of Milosz’s work as he anticipated a future renaissance. wrote for his poetry. Joseph de Maistre. Here. If the author has considered it useful to follow Lessing. the archetypes of the cosmos exist inside letters. if we may coin a word. it is not books that we are waiting for. .

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

has the same root derivation as Seraph.’s work is fundamentally that of esoteric transmission through ahistorical continuity. timelessness conveyed through time by way of word and image. outlined in entirety. The Lucifer-Lilith. She is the niece of the Elizabethan poet and alchemist Sir Edward Dyer. the Light-bringer. H. through her fiction and through her poetry. there is Resurrection and the hope of Paradise. whom we invoke as Lucifer. meeting and parting. Mystery and a portent. D. though here we follow the processus through the characters of Elizabeth and Sir Walter [Raleigh]. true we had met in sudden frenzy. D. but understanding it places her work in an entirely different light.71 . After his death. D. H. yes. as history tells us.’s complex 1957 poem Vale Ave. through time—specifically. Through the codex left by the original Moravian initiates. late Rome. to be sure. At the center of her esoteric worldview is the primacy of the word as means of initiatic transmission. dynastic Egypt. as Adam. but at the same time. illuminating many aspects that otherwise could not be fully understood. Sir Walter was himself an alchemist. parted in the dark. Lilith. legendary Provence.’s esoteric worldview is complex and rather heterodox.118 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E she found an esoteric religious perspective that recognized the divine feminine in the form of Sophia. which makes it absolutely clear that in her later poetry she was even more deeply immersed in Western esotericism. through her grandmother’s reconstruction of it in The Gift. Adam-Eve formula may be applied to all men and women. through her uncle’s Art and through the alchemy of memory. may be Angel or Devil. although: I hardly knew my Lord. Is she the Serpent who tests the androgynat primordial? Serpent (saraph) it is said. and contemporary London. We cannot conclude without reference to H. and all the rest was mystery and a portent. but it was only in her later work that we see it. and Elizabeth identifies herself with him. Sir Walter secretly and mysteriously becomes her lover during the last months of his life in the Tower of London. so Lilith may be Serpent or Seraph. and that also incorporated a sexual mysticism she found deeply congenial. and its implications. in his pre-Eve manifestation. She had begun to outline this concept already in her early Notes on Thought and Vision. The poem begins with the following preface: This sequence introduces Adam’s first wife. Vale Ave. Elizabeth recalls him to her. early seventeenth-century England.

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

and perhaps becomes itself a magical act. R. things are not nearly so clear cut. it remains distinct from the other two. R.” “Through a man whose mind is opened to be so invaded.” “Sir. but in its purity it is artistic in desire and purpose. or Venus. and the descrip- . John Ransom. for “if they [the Oyéresu] put forth their power. In his extraordinary novel That Hideous Strength. “The Descent of the Gods. when we turn to actual works. to the satisfaction of their senses while they are inside. as well as Dion Fortune (Violet Firth). Magic produces.” whereas the “elvish craft” might best be referred to as “enchantment. Tolkien. they will unmake all Middle Earth. and so forth.” in a collection of essays presented to Charles Williams. R. C. its desire is power in this world.75 In his essay “On Fairy Stories. I will concentrate on the works of Lewis and Fortune in order to explore how their fiction becomes magical.” He continues: Enchantment produces a Secondary World into which both designer and spectator can enter. S. Ransom explains what is happening to the resurrected ancient magician Merlin. “That is why they will work only through a man. or pretends to produce.” Ransom invokes these powers he calls the Oyéresu. domination of things and wills. J. Lewis describes a magical invocation that marks the climax of the book. Is there really a difference in practice between enchantment and magic. invokes the Oyéresu.” But later in the same essay. R. But chief among such authors are without doubt the Inklings (in particular. Tolkien begins by describing “fairy stories” as those stories touched by “faëry. Here. what will come of this?” asks Merlin. the “true powers of Heaven.” which might best be translated as “magic.” “Their naked power. C. “one who by his own will once opened it. It does not matter by whom it is said to be practiced.”77 In the subsequent chapter 15.120 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E aim here is to explore fiction that carries the reader into the working of expressly magical ritual and experience. Let us take an example. Viritrilbia. fay or mortal. while I will draw on some writings of Tolkien and Williams.” the planetary spirits of Perelandra.” says Ransom.76 While the distinction Tolkien makes. or Mercury. here. His main character. This is actually a rather rare kind of fiction. Lewis. seems reasonable enough in theory. 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. as one might imagine. S. an alteration in the Primary World. saying “I have become a bridge. yes. and Charles Williams). J. it is not an art but a technique. he backtracks and remarks that “Magic should be reserved for the operations of the magician. fiction in which the ancient mysteries are still alive and have not withdrawn their springs.” replies Ransom.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

as one reads a novel like Dion Fortune’s The Sea Priestess. even though the ultimate source of the reader’s magical initiation in fiction is the author. Third. In fact.91 Faivre goes on to remark that to succeed in this process of regeneration or initiatic awakening. we have seen that often central to this magical initiation is a kind of magical battle between evil and good magicians. Williams. active imagination is essential.”92 This special kind of imagination allows one to “escape both from the sterility of a purely discursive logic. ‘behind the scenes’ of the drama of ordinary human life. to the age-old relationship between the initiate and the initiator. and Fortune were up to in their fictional works. we have seen that magical fiction in general represents to the reader a series of stages or grades. then. in literary form.” and thus to written works like novels. Second. and a realm in which one may encounter and work with nonphysical beings and powers.” What conclusions can we draw. 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. moving from initiation into elemental or natural magic (represented by Lewis’s character Merlin. perceptible to each of us as a function of our respective cultural imagery. which manifests a deeper conflict between destructive and constructive powers in the cosmos as a whole. from this brief foray into the realm of magical fiction? First. a mesocosm possessing its own geography.” putting us in contact with the mundus imaginalis or imaginal world that “is the space of intermediary beings. if we may so put it. .”93 Faivre’s observations here are particularly important because they help us to understand in a different light what Lewis. for instance) to initiation into encounters with transcendent beings the Oyéresu in Lewis’s That Hideous Strength. and from the rule-free extravagances of fantasy or sentimentality. 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.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. thoroughly real. Such a tension corresponds. initiation into living Nature tends to precede initiation into the powers of higher entities. But this passage as a whole clearly can be read as referring to initiation “transmittable by the word. a mesocosm possessing its own geography. Indeed. he calls ‘active imagination’ “the essential component of esotericism. since in the fiction we have been discussing. or such as Isis in Fortune’s The Sea Priestess. For magical fiction is in fact remarkably suited to. initiating readers into “the space of intermediary beings. we have seen that central to this initiatory passage is a tension between matter-of-fact or ‘ordinary’ characters and those experienced in magical work. Finally.

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

the human being. A frustration of all that which is growing. and I know nothing. so that the reader has a greater task than in prose works. the contemplative. is imbued always with spiritual significance. If Collins loved solitude and nature on the one hand. A winter of the spirit is over all society. I long for my race. we are all exiles. It is this official denial of life that confronts us in everything. he writes: O holy ones I long for you. of how “The tasting of these things in our days and nights is the partaking of the sacrament of existence. and my life with you.130 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E worldview.” consisting in excerpts from Collins’s journals during the Second World War. to come to fruition. one is placed in contact with another reality through them. the aphorism by its nature stands on its own surrounded by the white space of the page. I know of your existence. I remember you. for he must ‘leap the gaps. Our time denies.” Ordinary life in the natural world. and cheap vulgarity of attitude towards life on the other side. Denies the artist. and this from a comparatively early period in his work. to show us the hieroedietic beauty of life through art. By reading Collins’s aphorisms. But you exist.” or again. In “Hymn of Life. of “The long eternal afternoons robed in blue. when in fact it is quite clear that we are ruled today by the elite of scientific technocrats and politicians . even as they transmit that worldview to the reader. Totnes. The aphorism is in many respects the most poetic form of prose. But deep underneath flows the secret stream.” 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. Devonshire]94 He writes beautifully also of his life in nature. [14 January. denies all who have inward fruit. of his solitary walks in the countryside.95 In 1965. with the white compassionate temples of the clouds floating in wise happiness and detached love.’ must make intellectual connections individually. The coldness of the vanity of the intellect on one side. and the task of the artist is to remind us of this. for Collins. of all that which desires to give. and most holy are you O beautiful servants. But here I wander. I long for my kingdom. Collins gave a public lecture titled “The Artist in the New Age. In Cambridge in 1945 he wrote acidly What an age to live in! It bites into you with a formless denying of the life in us. on the other his works are infused with profound criticisms of the “insect-life” of modern industrial society. 1945.

whereas a great deal of ‘why’ knowledge is known only through nuance of consciousness.97 Works of art. by measurement or analysis. . rapport.” “How” knowledge is merely instrumental. It can only be known by inner nuance. 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[.” Collins distinguishes between “how” knowledge and “why” knowledge. . The value of the artist is not to decorate. to make pretty that “empty and mechanical desert we call modern civilization. Collins calls us out of this stupor of the insectoid hive-life in industrial society through his art. This is the same thing actually. they have no philosophy of life other than the exploitation of nature and of man. The higher worlds are inaccessible to the insensitive. how apt his descriptions still are of the moribund vacuity characterizing so much of modern life. whereas “‘why’ knowledge is concerned with the significance of things. They represent a low level of awareness and consciousness. Transformation of consciousness cannot be known or be brought about by thinking. For like answers to like and creates actualization . “How” knowledge refers to mere process and manipulation of apparently dead objects.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 131 who are quite clearly spiritually and culturally illiterate.” but to offer what Collins calls “rapport” with the transcendent. but only by rapport with those worlds. by description. they offer avenues into direct inner spiritual realization. awaken this inner rapport in us. in Collins’s view. In his essay “Art and Modern Man.96 It is remarkable how timely Collins’s critique of industrial society has remained. another way of expressing what he calls “why” knowledge. the meaning.] art is therefore an instrument of man’s inner nature and it enables him to manifest in the phenomena of matter the nuance and living quality of his inner life so that his environment is no longer neutral or alien: a rapport is established. the instrument of art helps to sensitise the interior nature and to continually re-sensitise it when it grows stale and dull in the world of mere existence—the world of repetition. and sensitivity to the vibrations and rays of that livingness which is at the heart of things. and the making of money. and thus ultimately nothing less than a transformation of our consciousness. . and central to our awakening is a change in consciousness. they cannot be reached by knowledge of them.

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

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

but central. of kinds of consciousness that transcend the subject-object divisions characteristic of modernity. Here. Meditations. D. . Poems. D. Indeed. or altar. his drawings. in the works of Lewis and Williams as well. Lost paradise and . is so powerful that we cannot look on it and live—therefore we need a buffer.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. a world between us and it.’ sacred images. If this participation in reality through images is brought down into our environment. as in the works of Milosz and H. . of their work as a transmission through a confused and destructive era into a paradisal future. Pages from a Sketchbook (1997). and his written work the clear sense that his work represents portals into other dimensions of consciousness beyond the merely quotidian. chair. and poems that illuminate his paintings. even if in writing he offers the context for viewing and understanding those images. he saw himself addressing a future audience that would be receptive to primordial ways of seeing humanity and nature. not least because his work includes not only images. to take the impact and transform it to our dimension. But Collins offers these through visual images. This buffer world is called the archetypal world.” Cecil Collins represents the archetypal figure of the twentieth-century esoteric artist. 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. one that partakes as much of humanity’s Edenic past as of its potentially paradisal future. Divine Reality. we see intimations of a future paradisal existence. instruments for transmitting a reality higher than ourselves. he offers through his paintings. by which we make contact with reality through images . dawn of a more spiritual humanity gazing on mysteries with serene contemplation. like an electrical transformer. In another book. in Collins’s view. And it is also clear. Collins also wrote about the critical importance of awakening to an awareness of the archetypal. and Collins—is this sense of a future audience. but also essays. H.. and it is the archetypal that we see in the hieratic figures and landscapes of his paintings. from his writing on a “new age” of the spirit. we then have ‘sacred space. that like Milosz. he is like very few other painters.101 The living work of art is a reminder and a means of exactly this transmission. In all of these works. Collins wrote in this book. so that God becomes a table. they are nothing less than (to cite Collins on the nature of symbols) “transmissions of the nature of reality. I offer these paintings as indicative of Collins’s extraordinary ability to reveal through the image something that transcends image. to achieve precisely what he wrote about so eloquently.. In this respect. and indeed. aphorisms.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

which is rife with the language of objectification. During this . for after all. 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. in vogue instead are theories of causality that refer to a world devoid of the divine. but never owned. These archetypal forces do not belong to the poet. By contrast. Language. secular. and so forth. The massive machine of the modern technological.146 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E still no possession or ownership. they may be glimpsed and even imperfectly expressed. and the divine. is transformed from objectifying to unifying. and objectified worldview. There is such a gulf between these two views as to seem almost unbridgeable. language is in its very nature bound up with the divine. there are only the archetypal powers or forms that the poet or visionary may experience directly in vision. Undoubtedly. the secular modern world emerged through the jettisoning. Is it possible to build a bridge between a modern. it is a vehicle not of separation but of union between humanity. yet this expresses a very prevalent supposition underlying much contemporary literary theory. For Western esotericism. any objectifying perspective divorced from the divine origin and purpose of language automatically will be barren or sterile. esotericism remained mostly underground— alchemy was denigrated as nothing more than a primitive precursor of chemistry. and the participatory. alternatives to the technoconsumerist machine became more commonplace—ecosocial criticism began to emerge. secular. or separation into self and other. of sign and object and manipulation of one or the other. in modern literary theory or theories of language. and gnostic perspectives characterizing Western esotericism seem far removed from and incompatible with that machine. Nothing could be further from the various viewpoints of Western esotericism than the fallen language of mere designation. transformative. restoring to humanity its proper relation to nature and to the divine. in these esoteric traditions. and objectifying worldview and the perspectives that characterize Western esotericism? Perhaps not. including harsh critiques of technology’s effects on the natural world. or manifest more indirectly in literature. Ownership belongs to the fallen realm of separation and objectification—I own this as opposed to that—and therefore belongs also to fallen language. nature. consumerist state was built from a materialist. language as merely a collection of signs functioning as more or less arbitrary designators. But by the late twentieth century. suppression. 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. From the eighteenth through the twentieth centuries. pansophy and theosophy were relegated to movements of merely historical interest. the divine is perforce unmentionable. or ignoring of most of these esoteric currents.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

97. See.. 5. p. 5. and Mysteries (New York: Harper. 11. Mircea Eliade. Kabbalah (Jerusalem: Keter. p. Wisdom’s Book: The Sophia Anthology (St. Wisdom’s Book: The Sophia Anthology (St. 223. 83 ff. Peers. p. 14. Gnosis and Literature (St. 8.160 NOTES TO CHAPTER ONE 6. See Versluis. Lyrics of the Troubadours and Trouvères (New York: Anchor. 151. 2. 2000). 1973). 1965).. cit. The Book of the Lover and the Beloved. 1992). 51–89. eds. 9. pp. 1999). pp. 3. Victor Sogen Hori. 14–21. See the fifteenth chapter of Parzival. Paragon House. see also Dionysius the Areopagite on like and unlike images. p. p. 111. pp. See Frederick Goldin. Paul. “Christian Theosophy and Ancient Gnosticism. 3. 307. E. Paul: Paragon House. 7. CHAPTER ONE 1. 37 ff. See Arthur Versluis. Ramon Lull. 140. p. Ibid. in Arthur Versluis. Sophia. p. 1863). 2000). 1986). Myths. Initiation (Manchester: Manchester University Press. for an explicit example of this inward sojourn and perception. but they like everyone have access to this inward realm all the same. Jean La Fontaine. 1974). trs. Paul: Grail. The Koan: Texts and Context in Zen Buddhism (New York: Oxford University Press. 4.. See Charbonneau. The Bestiary of Christ (New York: Parabola. Louis-Claude de Saint-Martin. John Pordage. pp. Dreams. see also Scholem. pp.. 13. 12. 18 ff. Translation is mine. p. See Versluis. pp. See Faivre. 4. . Nag Hammadi Library. 248. Theosophic Correspondence (Exeter: Roberts. 1996). 10. whether they know it or not. Nag Hammadi Library. All of this is to be found in the ninth chapter of Parzival. 180.. Pordage writes that the invisible paradisal earth of Sophia is hidden from ratiocination and even scoffed at by those limited to reasoning alone. 10–15. 1996) of Piers Ploughman. 1978). “Koan and Kensho in the Rinzai Zen Curriculum” in Stephen Heine and Dale Wright. 76–106. 6. 309. See my discussion in Gnosis and Literature (St. 1991). 1975). 2000). (London: Sheldon. 145. pp. See Gershom Scholem. 2. On the Kabbalah and Its Symbolism (New York: Schocken. pp.. p. See ibid. CHAPTER TWO 1. see also Faivre L’Ésotérisme (Presses Universitaries de France. op. ed.” Studies in Spirituality 7(1997): 228–241. Paul: Grail. pp. see also Wisdom’s Children: A Christian Esoteric Tradition (Albany: State University of New York Press. 219–233.

Ibid. M. Ibid.75. p. Gershom Scholem. See Mark Verman.. The Books of Contemplation (Albany: State University of New York Press.. p. 270.. 278. Origins. 1969). p. in The Zohar. for instance.. ed. ed. Kabbalistes chrétiens (Paris: Albin Michel. 12. II. See Moshe Idel. See Arthur Edward Waite. See “Oration on the Dignity of Man” in E. 27. 31. 1779).205b–206a. 13.314. The Renaissance Philosophy of Man (Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 57. op. Opera omnia. 8. See. 246. 23. Joseph Blau. cit. 29. trs. op.. 15. 1987). 280. 1992). 11. p. 22. See Scholem. 7. 29. Origins.. II. Les Kabbalistes chrétiens de la Renaissance (Paris: Dunod. See Verman. I. 1986). 25. p. Twersky. 34. Ibid.B. Rabbi Moses Nahmanides: Explorations.351. 61. p. 10. p.320–323. Ibid. 38. 1961). 394. (London: Soncino. Origins. 101–102. p. Vasoli. See J. p. Origins of the Kabbalah (Princeton: Princeton University Press. 33. Doctor Illuminatus.77. Ibid. 24. p. (Princeton: Princeton University Press. Ibid. C. 14.. Ibid. 1953) I. Ibid. 51. Kabbalah: New Perspectives (New Haven: Yale University Press. 298 ff. 1979). See Pico della Mirandola. p. 52. 1988). Ibid. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. I.205b. 20.80 ff. I. Simon. 17. Dan. as well as Antoine Faivre and F. A. 197. 66.76.. 1983). 1985). p. 30. Cassirer. The Christian Interpretation of the Cabala in the Renaissance (Port Washington: Kennikat. 250. p. Zohar IV .. 19. The Early Kabbalah (Paulist Press.. 26. 36. 28. 197. Cassirer. and Françoise Secret. The Hermetic Museum (London: Watkins. A translation of Ars Brevis is to be found in Ramon Lull.. trs. 18. II.325. ed. I. vom Stein der Weisen (Berlin: Christian Ulrich Ringmacher.. Scholem. I.. p. et al.. ed.. p. Ibid..NOTES TO CHAPTER TWO 161 6. 21. 35. 37.71. IV . Ibid. p. II.331... pp.C. ed. 1964). 9. pp. cit. . I. see also Scholem. I. Ibid. see also Moshe Idel. 1984). 57. p. Ibid. See Verman. 16.. cit. Ibid. eds. 32. (Hildesheim: Olms. 49–50. Ibid.312.. Bonner. Tristan. op.. 59. See A.. 1965).

47. See also Marsha Schuchard. p. table of contents. 50. 1975). Ashmole. p. C. 253. . 1997). The first English translation was published by Thomas Vaughan in 1652. p. for background. Ibid.. Yates. and The Rosicrucian Enlightenment.. 55. 59. Confessio. The original (short) titles of Fama and Confessio were Allgemeine und General Reformation. The following page references are to Yates. p. Frances Yates. 51. 56. See Josten. H. “Christian Theosophy and Ancient Gnosticism” in Studies in Spirituality (Fall. .. Ibid. 257. 221. Ashmole. including two physicists. Ibid. See Frances Yates. p. Resicrucian Enlightenment. Wisdom’s Children: A Christian Esoteric Tradition (State University of New York Press. diss. See Versluis. 241. 52.M. p.A. See. and the Continuity of the Occult in English Literature (Ph. 57. . Ibid. 1966). 54. Confessio. See Versluis. 77. 129. 67. . 371. 46. p. William Huffman. 246. Opus Mago-Cabbalisticum et Theosophicum (Frankfurt: Fleischerischum. Ibid. p. especially on Gichtel’s and other theosophers’ tendency to carefully date their revelations. (Los Angeles: Philosophical Research. 58. The Alchemy of Art. Freemasonry. cit. Ibid. Ibid. for the reader’s convenience. Fama. From von Welling.. This commentary was shared with people from diverse walks. der gantzen weiten welt . 53.. 255. D. and others. a theologian..M. Ibid. ed. The texts of the Fama and Confessio in English are most easily found as appendices to Yates. p. and even chart them astrologically. 43. p.. 251. 49. See. p. Ibid. (Cassel: Wessel. II. ed.A. (Cassel: Wessel.. 1615)..102–104. 37. and also written an extensive commentary on it. p. 60. 260. Ibid. 49. 44.. a cosmologist. ms.O. p. Hall. The Tessera of Antilia: Utopian Brotherhoods and Secret Societies in the Early Seventeenth Century (Leiden: Brill. 63. Theatre of the World. 22. 40. p. Josten. Fama. See Versluis. The Rosicrucian Enlightenment (London: Routledge.. p.O. 62. 61. 1972)... For an excellent survey of the scholarship since Yates. Confessio. 220. I. 238. 41. p. Ibid. p. forthcoming. University of Texas at Austin. for text. in a group called the Round Table.77.. Fama. op. Elias Ashmole (Oxford: Clarendon. 48. Ibid. 1971).P. p. Confessio. Ibid. 45..D.681.162 NOTES TO CHAPTER TWO 39. Secret Societies. see Donald Dickson.. Robert Fludd and the End of the Renaissance (London: Routledge. 1988). I. 1998). 242. . 252. M. p. a musician. I have translated this work of Pordage.: A Rare and Curious Manuscript of Rosicrucian Interest. 1999). 1784).. Fama. See Codex Rosae Crucis D. 42. 1614) and Secretioris Philosophiae Considertio brevis .

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

19.. 469. 40. D. 25.. 157–206.. 1989). See W. For a more extensive study. pp. p. of course. 455... Hermetica (Boston: Shambhala.. Ibid. Revolutionary Brotherhood: Freemasonry and the Transformation of the American Social Order (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press. 48–52. The ‘true-rune and right spell’ of esoteric tradition contained the code for H. See Versluis. 35. Ibid.. op. 32.. p. Ibid. Milosz. 13.. see Steven Bullock. Psyche Reborn (Bloomington: Indiana University Press. 158). Theosophia: Hidden Dimensions of Christianity (Hudson: Lindisfarne. 210–211. ranging from entirely cosmological ones such as astrology or the Tarot to more metaphysical or gnostic ones. Ibid. pp. Friedman writes that “From her [H. p. I. 204–205. I.. pp. p. H. 1982). trs. 299–300. Ibid. is into what did she translate this inner meaning. 226–227. pp. 300.. cit.. Ibid. . 248. 8–9. 297–298. pp.” when in fact there are numerous different esoteric currents of a wide variety. 39. 465. 296. 178–179.. The question. Milosz. 464. D. Ibid. 174–175. 33.. p. pp. 28. cit. 22. Ibid. 1996). cit. See Versluis. op. 224–225. 23.. Ibid. p. Milosz. Ibid.. 17. 15.. Ibid.1 ff. . 16. 14. 2001). 38. op. 1985). 1981). Ibid. Ibid. 41. pp..115. pp.’s] perspective.” synonymous with “hermetic tradition. D. 20.. Ibid. pp. the harsh world of necessity that Freud described is itself the “rune” that must be deciphered. 277. Notes on Thought and Vision (San Francisco: New Directions.164 NOTES TO CHAPTER THREE 12.. 24. 206–207. 180–181. 31. 21.. 29. pp. 1994). 36. 27. see Versluis. 34. pp. 182–183. . Ibid. Pollen and Fragments: Selected Poetry and Prose of Novalis (Grand Rapids: Phanes. pp. p. ed. 37. Ibid. pp. for a translation of Hymns to the Night. For a discussion of Postel in relation to Christian theosophy. in her search to translate the inner meaning of material reality” (p. p.. p. 299. introduction by Albert Gelpi. Ibid. 26. The Esoteric Origins of the American Renaissance (New York: Oxford University Press. p. hermetic tradition offered a pattern of meaning in coded form to the initiate . Lib. Susan Friedman. Ibid. pp. 303. 18. 30. For the poet of the modernist era. Ibid. 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. Ibid. Milosz. Scott.

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

The Works of William Blake. 91. pp.. Dion Fortune. Ibid. 80. Lewis. 70–71. op. p.. (London: Quaritch.). See Antoine Faivre. 89. and his intensifying “strange awareness” as a function of his magical apprenticeship with Vivien Le Fay Morgan. B. hereafter noted as Meditations. . 87. 92. 1997). Southey. 77. pp. 94. 1990). 1994). Faivre.. Pages from a Sketchbook (Ipswich: Golgonooza. 91. 291. 322. including Fortune’s. Fortune. The Vision of the Fool and Other Writings (Ipswich: Golgonooza. Ellis and W. Williams was a member of Arthur Edward Waite’s magical fraternity. p. p. Ibid. 90. Dion Fortune. Dion Fortune. 20–21. Faivre.. 96. p. 83. p. C. p. 239. Ibid. 323. p. Collins. See on this point. p.. 102. Ibid. S. 93. Ibid. 320. Maxwell’s account of his growing understanding of the elemental forces like wind and fire. Gareth Knight. S. 40. 102. p. p. Yeats. and Meditations. op. Essays Presented to Charles Williams (Oxford University Press: 1947).. and their circles in mid-twentieth-century England. Moon Magic (York Beach: Weiser. Ibid. p. 88. 1893). 87. Collins. 81. But Meyrink’s works are complex enough to deserve a study in themselves. without doubt had direct experience in magical initiation that was reflected in his fiction. Ibid. 43. 103. for a discussion of contemporary esoteric magical groups. Ibid. E. 88. Lewis. 115. 154. and while his experience in magical ritual has been downplayed by some literary critics. See Collins. That Hideous Strength (Macmillan: 1965 ed. pp. Ibid. p. 100. 101.. n. 40. 1814). I. p.. noted hereafter as Vision. 3 vols. 112. p. 98. See for instance. Poems... 101. Ibid. 1994) p. maintaining our focus on the Inklings. pp. 78.d. 1988) p. 127. so I have decided not to include them here. p. Taverner (Columbus: Ariel. 79. Access to Western Esotericism (State University of New York Press. Ibid. The Winged Bull (York Beach: Weiser ed... 1993). p. 1994).. 10. in The Sea Priestess (York Beach: Weiser ed. 97. C. The Magical World of the Inklings.25. 124–125. Ibid. 82–83.166 NOTES TO CHAPTER THREE vom westlichen Fenster] (1927).. ed. p. 76. The Secrets of Dr.. 95. cit. 382.. p. Ibid. Vision. 197. 104–104. cit. op. pp. The Magical World of the Inklings (Shaftesbury: Element. 86. Letters from England (London: Longman.. 84. retained his magical regalia in his office. 21.). Subsequent references are to Cecil Collins. Vision. cit. Gareth Knight.. 82. 99. 85. Meditations. 95. p.

. Ibid. p. 1958).NOTES TO CHAPTER THREE 167 104. p. 130. 194 ff. Peter Erb. Nicolas Berdyaev: Theologian of Prophetic Gnosticism (Th. pp. Socialist Realism.31. 120. Bromley’s is the image on the cover of my book Theosophia (1994). Ibid.. 40 and pp. 110. The Way to Christ (New York: Paulist Press. from “The Magic of Words: Symbolism.” and I. Ibid. Futurism. A. Ibid. Freedom and the Spirit.. 275 ff. 25 ff.1. trs. p. for example. Ibid. 94. Knapp. See my overview of Christian theosophy in Magic and Mysticism. pp. See.. 106. 62–63. 74.... Ibid. pp. Religion and Nothingness (Berkeley: University of California Press. The Beginning and the End (New York: Harper. See Charles C. 1980). 105. “Vorrede. Ibid. 125.1 ff. 123. 40. Theosophia: Hidden Dimensions of Christianity (Hudson: Lindisfarne. p. p. II. pp.. 116. 115.D. p. p. 119. 225. Ibid. “Warnung an den Leser. 170. 95. Ibid. Nishitani Keiji. Ibid. 71 ff. Nicholas Berdyaev.. p.. 39. The Occult in Russian and Soviet Culture (Ithaca: Cornell University Press. “Ancient Gnosticism and Christian Theosophy” in Studies in Spirituality (Fall 1997). 1991). 124. p.. Ibid. p.. 93. 199. I. 63.. Christosophia IV .31. E.. Ibid. Toronto: 1948). 1997) p. 109. See Berdyaev’s introduction to Jacob Böhme’s Six Theosophic Points (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan. Ibid. 121. 285. 126. p. IV . 1978). 107. Song and Its Fountains (Burdett: Larson. pp. Irina Gutkin. 128. p.. Ibid. 78. ed. 105. p. p.. Versluis. 103. . 1994). p.. 113. 106. See Versluis. 108 ff. 114. Christosophia. 122. 112. 1957).” 108. Ibid. Diss... 118. forthcoming. I added the colors. See also The Destiny of Man. 117.” in B.. 111.29–30. 62. Ibid. Rosenthal. 129. p. 127.


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

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

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

82 Troubadours. 148 Zosimos. 84 Williams. 75 Yeats. 148 Zen Buddhism. 106 Washington. 104. 64. 69–70 Universalism [esoteric]. 103.172 INDEX Trevor-Roper. 10. 103. 137. 53 Versluis. 110. M. 63. 10.. 89. 116 Yates. Nicholas. 31 Viterbo. 10. Georg von. 35–43 Ungrund. 67–69 Upanishads. 120.. 79 Willermoz. George. Hugh.B. 56 . 88.E. 48. Egidio Cardinal. 156 Zinzendorf. ix. Charles. 122–123 Williamson. 101 Weishaupt. 103. 111. Adam. W. David. 9. Arthur. 55. Frances. 111 Warlick. ix. 140 Valentinus. Jean-Baptiste. 112–113 Zohar. 86 Welling. 2.

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

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