Western Esotericism, Literature, Art, and Consciousness

Arthur Versluis



SUNY series in

Western Esoteric Traditions

David Appelbaum, editor

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

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

In memory of poet and scholar Kathleen Raine .


Pansophic. Rosicrucian. 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.

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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-

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

all of which is entirely accepted within the orthodox tradition. But given the gnosis of the word that we have been discussing. then. and macrocosmically. and to which we may refer as a gnosis of the word. and contain within them the seeds of the perennial struggle in all three forms of monotheism between those who take the word literally and those who advocate gnosis. Such images are often found on amulets or talismans and are generally regarded as being ‘magical’ elements in Gnosticism. as principles of creation itself. its purpose is to restore the individual to a paradisal or transcendent state. 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.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. as does the creation of images. and so forth. so the letters were altered. Both Jewish and Christian gnostic esoteric groups tended to think and express themselves mythologically. We may remember the four animals that symbolize the four Gospels. and we may recall that Dionysius the Areopagite devoted some effort to discussing how the divine may best be symbolized by unexpected and even grotesque images that keep us from mistaking a beautiful image for the thing itself. and so forth. it is to restore the cosmos itself to its paradisal condition. and so we find numerous images from antiquity like lion-headed serpents. are a means to creation’s redemption. and in fact are by no means absent from the larger Christian tradition. 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. Both word and image reveal and ‘fix’ the divine. one finds that from the very beginning of our era the very same elements conduce also to a wide spectrum of gnoses and hence to angelic polytheism and to nontheistic gnosis in which the very concept of God is transcended. 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. but if the letters were properly restored. inconceivable power would be set loose. through images. and its aim is twofold at least: microcosmically. are means in this process of individual and cosmic redemption—and so too are images. This gnosis of the word represents a ‘fixing’ of the mysteries. such images represent divine aspects.1 And indeed there is an ancient tradition that the Torah contains so much power in its letters that it could destroy the world. basilisks. thereby making this conflict inevitable.2 Both the gnosis of the word and the gnosis of the image are extensions of the monotheism of the book. The letters. Letters and numbers. and even if monotheism often turns toward a fundamentalist literalism. But monotheism is a rubric under which all manner of possibilities exist. paradoxically conveyed often through . and in this regard man may be said to complete the work of God by being co-creator or co-redemptor.

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

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.22 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E There is an initiator or revealer. which Henry Corbin called the “active imagination. Christian esotericism. Hermetism reveals the ground occupied by Western esoteric traditions throughout the past several thousand years. willing to draw upon one or sometimes any of them. and depicting direct spiritual illumination of the initiate. the mystery traditions. It is true that the language is sometimes Platonic. For from what we have said. mercurial quality to it.” “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. when we survey the Western esoteric traditions. But such a term suggests that imagination is otherwise passive. the more one recognizes the fluidity of the various traditions’ boundaries. Indeed. but insisting above all on one’s own direct spiritual understanding or gnosis. they certainly intermingled. Occupying an intermediate space between religion and philosophy. then. the more one studies the emergence of esotericism in the early centuries of this era. what we find is something quite different. and together provided a common ambience out of which emerged a panoply of sects. and . Hermetism refuses to be pinned down or definitively discussed. It is. or direct knowledge of the divine. The most important of these is the insistence upon gnosis. here the dialogues often take place in an interworld of revelation. and it is this that represents the red thread that will guide us through the labyrinths of the centuries. not quite belonging to the sphere of religion. and there is a witness to the revelation. precariously balanced on the periphery of religious traditions. yet not strictly philosophical either. But these currents themselves are not discrete from one another. no accident that so many of the Western esoteric traditions link themselves to the Hermetica. it is clear that the Hermetic treatises occupy a peculiar place. traditions. Platonism. and Hermetism. However. and writings that reveal a great many similarities. Like Hermes himself. and is generally associated with the more or less random play of images. always there is a fluid. Such a relationship goes beyond simply that of participants in a dialogue like Plato’s. as there was to many of the movements of antiquity. There are five primary currents in antiquity that feed into what we may call the Western esoteric traditions: Jewish esotericism. and are between one who embodies knowledge and one who seeks to embody it. 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.

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

which first came to general public attention with the publication of the Fama Fraternitatis. To see the journey as a visionary recital also helps elucidate its most salient feature: the book. and later. For from the very beginning of the Fama. R. even if at times such orders did exist. And of course this brief work. according to the Fama. 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. and later we are told that Paracelsus had also “diligently read over the book M: whereby his sharp ingenium was exalted.”45 This universal renewal and extension of knowledge is. both the Fama and the Confessio reveal the fundamental themes we have seen woven through the Western esoteric traditions. and this is the “book M.”46 When C. travels to the Fez and to the Damascus of the mind. The Rosicrucians’ goal. are to be collected by the wise. they could collect Librum Naturae. underscoring immediately the movement’s eclecticism. like its complement the Confessio. Böhme’s writing and thought both paralleled and influenced that of the Brotherhood of the Rosy Cross. translates the “book M. But there are many other elements here that correspond exactly to our primary themes. but at the same time it links the Rosicrucian movement from the very beginning with the most gnostic aspects of Islam and Judaism. generally speaking. R.” C. if not universalism. like us. was to follow Christ by renewing all arts to perfection. R. C. a visionary trip to the Orient of the spirit. Hermeticism. whereas there is another more mysterious book that is the source of wisdom.” into good Latin from Arabic. This journey may also be seen as a kind of visionary recital. “so that finally man might thereby understand his own nobility and worth. But in any event. in the Orient. “or a perfect method of all arts. caused a great stir in Europe. and why he is called Microcosmos.” however.” These “Books of Nature.. as well as with its assertion of a secret order as keeper of profound and powerful knowledge and means. returns eventually to Germany. of Christian theosophy as well. we are told at the outset that were the learned wise.. he begins a secret fraternity with only four members including him- . and how far his knowledge extendeth into Nature. The Fama begins by telling the story of C. we find ample confirmation of all the primary elements of Western esotericism thus far traced. and among Sufis and Kabbalists. Indeed. for it captured the imagination of the age with its tale of Christian Rosencreutz and his mysterious journeys through exotic lands and secret knowledge.72 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Fama Fraternitatis (1614) and the Confessio Fraternitatis (1615).44 For when we look at the actual wording of the Fama and the Confessio. who travels among the Arabians and the Jews on a quest to Jerusalem. the gnostic goal of Kabbalism. and who goes as well to Egypt—precisely where European esotericism has always located its sources of arcane knowledge. the book is a central image and source of wisdom. Not coincidentally. R.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Figure 6 Pansophic image from Georg von We l l i n g . O p u s M a g o . Note that beyond the celestial hierarchy is the Ungrund. which is here explicitly identified with the Kabbalistic ’en soph. .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. . Note the threedimensional nature of the illustration. (Frankfurt: 1784).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.

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

“The Music of Dawn. 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.” 1988.Figure 9 Cecil Collins. and the evocative.

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

Or sent to Naples. But release me from my bands With the help of your good hands. The Tempest. The main character. Which is most faint. Now I want Spirits to enforce. so that we are left viewing the magician himself. And pardoned the deceiver. and the comedic drama is brought to its resolution. Let me not Since I have my dukedom got. Which was to please. dwell In this bare island by your spell. Prospero then offers the famous epilogue: Now my charms are all o’erthrown. the magician Prospero. something remarkable happens at the play’s end. or else my project fails. Now ‘tis true I must be here confined by you. art to enchant And my ending is despair Unless I be relieved by prayer Which pierces so that it assaults 87 . has brought the play’s action to an end.3 Modern Implications P R O S P E R O ’ S WA N D : M O D E R N E S O T E R I C L I T E R AT U R E In the greatest of Shakespeare’s plays. Gentle breath of yours my sails Must fill. And what strength I have’s my own.

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

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

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

knowledge and love. But the poet. that he anticipated a new poetry.”5 And he writes of the “sacred art of the Word. insisting instead on the inner creative life of the artist. “setting out from proven scientific foundations.”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. through a new metaphysics. but indeed. they are all intimately aware of the great schisms taking place in modern humanity. to awakening it in his reader. seems called upon. Milosz experiences this inner devastation as well as the powerful creative life awakened when one enters into the living realm of the spiritual imagination. / Les autres.” or “Canticle of Knowledge. and like Blake. [For those who.” which “springs from the hidden depths of Universal Being. on 14 December 1914. seems bound. the passionate pursuit of the Real.]”7 . having asked. have received and already know. and also prehistory and archaic history. the observer looks outward. At this juncture. and does not in general investigate the nature of the observer’s own consciousness. de science et d’amour. The “Canticle” begins with the striking line: “L’enseignement de l’heure ensoleillée des nuits du Divin. from the cosmos. thieves of joy and pain. n’entendront rien à ces choses. to survive not only our industrial civilization but also Space-Time itself. summarizing in some respects his life’s work. and in particular. astronomy. Milosz’s work is explicitly dedicated not only to entering into this realm of the spiritual imagination. Contemporary sciences are founded in observation of the cosmos. / For those whom prayer has led to meditation on the origin of language. This isolation Blake rails against in his epic poems. les voleurs de douleur et de joie.” telling us that “poetry. which “will contribute in large measure to realizing an inner synthesis of the great discoveries in physical chemistry. crown of human knowledge. to join up with ancient teachings.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 91 Here it may be useful to remark on the kind of new science we see emerging in these writers. on reçu et savent déjà. and from its fellow humanity and seemingly set adrift as an isolated being. will understand nothing of these things. Cartographers of consciousness.]” Thus the canticle is devoted to teaching on the nature of spiritual illumination. as the organizer of archetypes. which Milosz experienced at eleven o’clock in the evening. turn their attention inward and become careful observers of the inner landscape. Milosz himself wrote in a brief and late treatise on poetry. ayant demandé.”4 He discerned “a new mysticism. / A ceux que la prière a conduits à la méditation sur l’origin du langage. qui. and especially in Milosz. / Others. and especially the figures we are discussing here.” from The Confession of Lemuel (1918). [The teaching of the sunlit hour of the divine nights. it will no doubt be useful to look more closely at some of Milosz’s work. The canticle continues: “A ceux. the immense devastation of the self as it is torn asunder from the divine.” which. at his “Cantique de la Connaissance.

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

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

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

dans cet œuf appuyé sur le feu nuptial. because of its fusion of literature and Hermeticism. I touch your brow. it affirms the significance not only of the virginal gold of the soul’s solar egg. and is clearly expressing his own direct experience. Beatrix. This poem. trois vois—le signe.” is unquestionably alchemical. and for our three days to come. and with it the initiate asks for peace for Beatrix and for himself. This understanding he expressed often in a peculiarly theatrical way. you speak the truth. How beautiful and innocent they are!]”19 This reference. Thus the canticle. but the descent into immense suffering and privation. especially given Milosz’s own essentially solitary life. And in his allusions to the visionary descent into darkness. le signe! [seven times for the past. Qu’ils sont beaux. again three times. In this acknowledgement of fundamental duality in the cosmos. he will not lose the memory of the suffering he has undergone.18 But Milosz has forged his own mode of expression. et pour nos trois jours à venir. the sign!]” This is the sign of the cross.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 95 remède à tous les maux et que la connaissance de l’or est aussi celle de la lumière et du sang. Milosz is very much akin to Böhme. “The Adept’s Christmas Eve” begins with the Adept’s ritual gesture: “sept fois pour le passé. to “tender metal partners in marriage. [1775–1802]). 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.]”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.” Milosz has his character “The Adept” speaking with his inner spouse. [Dear child. but refers to an inner alchemy. reaffirms the importance not only of the ascent to the knowledge of light. in his 1922 poem entitled “The Adept’s Christmas Eve. at its end. who wrote too of the division and conflict between love and wrath. tender metal partners in marriage. space and time!” And the adept suggests they both to kneel in adoration “devant le cher fourneau” [before this dear Furnace. And then the adept makes a strange remark: “Les parents dorment là. but also of the inner desolation that one can also experience on earth. “Master. tendres métaux époux. and since we have now known one another seven years. Frequently his poetry has a dramatic or semidramatic quality.]” . and clothed with the sun. innocents! [The parents sleep there.” replies Beatrix. is especially of interest to us here. as well as in more modern movements like Freemasonry. Beatrix is surprised: “So you can see them? How? In this hermetic egg? With what eyes?” The adept replies: “Chère enfant. Milosz is close to Novalis (Friedrich von Hardenberg. and his Hymns to the Night. Et puisque nous connaissons depuis sept ans. between the lightworld and the darkworld. In some poems he has a choir or a chorus. par la grâce de la vue du milieu. let us make the sign. in this egg resting on the nuptial flame. by the grace of inner vision. je te touche le front.

and to its incantory language. The adept watches. which became openings for him as he ascended into paradise in the Divine Comedy.” not only references to the alchemical furnace. and “Lumière de l’or. your eyes!” The adept’s final line is: “Mes chaines de constellations sont rompues.]” To which Beatrix replies: “C’est la vie délivrée. and the longstanding alchemical traditions as well. 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. the alchemy of inward marriage and of the spiritual birth of the alchemical child. sometimes almost disjointed quality like hieratic speech heard in a dream. charity. dancing in a circle in the rigor of red. and what does he see? “Purity rises to the surface. including the way the Greco-Roman Mystery traditions fed into the Christian mysteries of symbolic death and rebirth. The alchemical .]”20 Beatrix warns the adept of the legions of destroyers massed to ruin his creation. The adept’s fascination with Beatrix’s eyes—“your eyes. tu te délivres. but also countless other allusions to a kind of visionary inner alchemy. partially because of her name’s meaning—thrice beatific—which in turn recalls not only the Trinity. undoubtedly reflects Dante’s beloved. her words are not ordinary or even precisely human. but the adept replies. “The Adept’s Christmas Eve” draws on a range of allusions. And in the conclusion of the poem. “I see only one. or like the language of a ritual enactment of the Greek mysteries. the adept exults of “how all your [Beatrix’s] secret being breathes within me. The woman in the poem. and black.]”21 It is. is reborn!” Thus once again. Here we are looking at spiritual alchemy. partaking rather of a heightened. leaden and lachrymal.96 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E The language here is completely that of Hermeticism: indeed. Beatrice. but also thrice-greatest Hermes.” while the “oil of blind corruption. woman. [It is life liberated. The Master forgives me. of course.” At the climax of this strange initiatic psychodrama. Beatrix. white and pale blue. I tell you. at once also alluding to the birth of Christ. the mystery of the sacred name emerges as the crux of the spiritual rebirth. charitée. For not only are there references to the “tender metal partners in marriage. the poem is really an initiatic dialogue incorporating the language of alchemy. “I believe it is. yellow.” And he repeats how extraordinary are “your eyes. your eyes!”—reminds us of Dante’s fascination with Beatrice’s eyes. you liberate yourself. Yet Beatrix does not seem a human spouse. He opens his eyes and is reborn. and all is finished”—yet this is also the moment of rebirth. impossible to miss the allusions here to Dante’s Divine Comedy. but a player on the poet’s inner stage. Thus a new cry sounds seven times—Is it a name? asks the adept.” sinks to the depths. any more than are those of the adept. [My chains of constellations are broken. Thus the allusions to Dante’s poetry are subordinate to the poem’s initiatory psychodrama. the adept speaks of “seven deadly cries in the night. [Light of gold. he comes back to life.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

seek further.” “Tribute to the Angels. devour. This is an important distinction because in “The Walls Do Not Fall. intrusion of strained / inappropriate allusion. the subconscious being below ordinary consciousness. too. she extends the unity of Dionysius and Christ that ended the earlier work. she criticizes “a riot of unpruned imagination. as these entities are “healers. was lost in sea-depth. and H.” she extends it to discuss the emergence of surrealism with such figures as Max Ernst and Andre Breton. But it was during the German siege of London during the Second World War that H.” who “know each other / by secret symbols. . dare more. helpers / of the One.” and of her “companions / in this mystery. E.” And the section ends with “illusion. over-confidence.” In the next section. D. pitiful reticence. / companions / of the flame. But in “The Walls Do Not Fall.” mind “floundered. D. even offering a diagrammatic illustration of the two. we clearly see how extensive and lifelong Ernst’s fascination with alchemical imagery was. develops many of the themes initially sketched in Notes on Thought and Vision. All-father. / here is the alchemist’s key.”46 It is obvious from “The Walls Do Not Fall” that although H. of the “alchemist’s secret.” and “The Flowering of the Rod. wrote the collection of three long poems later published as Trilogy. Amen.’s outward circumstances were the terrors of war. D. / jottings of psychic numerical equations. is a false path. criticizes the surrealist use of alchemical imagery as a means to the subconscious. D. prayer” for healing.” At first it would seem she is endorsing modern uses of alchemy in this “age of the new dimension. seek. D.” we “nameless initiates. She writes “dare.”48 All of this suggests that there is . this. Warlick’s Max Ernst and Alchemy.” H. H. unlocked. As a number of scholars have demonstrated. writing that “it appears obvious / that Amen is our Christos.” Yet when the “secret doors” are “found . spell.” and of “the most profound philosophy”. for instance. reversion of old values. / it unlocks secret doors. These three poems were “The Walls Do Not Fall. In this respect. D. .” H.47 In M.” She writes. distinguishes between the subconscious mind and the overmind. madness. the overmind being above it. of the stars as “separate entities” “intimately concerned with us” who can be “invoked / with accurate charm. the poem is at heart profoundly esoteric in its unified vision amid the shards of bomb-shattered modernity.’s work is a complex tapestry of just such word-play and religious concordances. / oneness lost.” “arrogance. Here. / subconscious ocean where Fish / move two-ways. surrealism and symbolism (particularly the latter in Russia) were deeply indebted to alchemy. is the Egyptian god Amen-Ra. / born of one mother.”45 “Amen. In Notes on Thought and Vision.” here. she is very much in the American tradition inaugurated by Ralph Waldo Emerson. she holds.” In “The Walls Do Not Fall.106 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E gnostic whose primary emphasis is nonsectarian spiritual awakening. boasting. Her themes are explicitly esoteric throughout these poems: she writes of her experience of “The Presence.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lewis not only achieves dramatic success. though one could easily imagine it so. In so doing. “Obviously it was high time she went in. rather like Elijah or King Arthur. Here the various good characters come together to discuss what happened. This passage is what I mean by magical initiatory fiction. Ransom) is taken up to Perelandra bodily. still it feels as though one imaginatively has. The invocation takes place. Uncertain whether to enter the lodge where he is sleeping. one with ordinary people. About Williams’s novels. 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. whose work I would certainly be remiss if I did not mention here. and the Director (Dr.” the seventeenth chapter. His description of both good and evil is such that it can bring a real extension of personal knowledge and experience of each to the reader. In other words. Gareth Knight observes in The Magical World of the Inklings: those who read his fiction tend to be affected strongly in two ways. of course. Lewis brings us into the realm of Ransom’s and Merlin’s magical rescue of England from the grip of a malevolent force. and all is brought to a conclusion in “Venus at St. Therefore . and one with Merlin and Ransom). the magical working here is meant also to have effects in the “primary world” of the reader. but also is able to take along even the skeptical reader.” but also because of the delicate tension it maintains between ordinary life and magical events. and Mark’s shirt is hanging partway out of the window. Anne’s. “The Descent of the Gods” is about a celestial healing of a ruined world.122 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E magician Merlin participates. even though of course the reader has not physically participated in the invocation of the Oyéresu. “How exactly like Mark!” Jane thinks. in a “secondary world” of fiction. One finds exactly the same sense of initiatory passage in the novels of Charles Williams. the novel has dimensions that most other fiction simply does not. One feels a satisfaction at the conclusion of That Hideous Strength that very few novels are able to elicit. After the “descent of the gods” is achieved in the fifteenth chapter. Lewis’s work is a masterpiece not only because of how it carries us into the magical working in the “descent of the gods. and by its end. But even this is not the end: the end comes when the character Jane returns to her husband Mark. It is important that this magical working is not the end of the book. the reader feels as though he has passed through those dimensions too. she sees that clothes are piled inside. but this healing is also one in which the reader necessarily participates. to the familiar world in which a married couple need each other. but Lewis’s novel is clearly about the “primary world” in which we live.”81 I cite this prosaic finale precisely because it is so deliberately ordinary: it brings us back completely from the magical atmosphere of the novel’s main body to mundane life. in the following chapter we see the destruction of the malevolent Institute and its depraved characters.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


For an overview of Western esotericism. 159 . Mysticism and Language (New York: Oxford University Press.” Esoterica IV (2002): 1–15 and “Methods in the Study of Esotericism Part II. See also the journal Esoterica [www.msu. Access to Western Esotericism (Albany: State University of New York Press. which belongs more to the Renaissance and after.esoteric.esoteric. 3. There are a number of other scholars now working in this field as well.Notes INTRODUCTION 1. mostly by North American scholars. I also retain the distinction maintained by Antoine Faivre between Hermetism (the current associated with Hermes belonging to late antiquity) and Hermeticism. See www. 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. 1996) reveals the underlying connections between new religious movements today and their Western esoteric antecedents. 1994). ibid. See in this field. I retain the conventional distinctions between the capitalized terms Gnostic or Gnosticism (when referring specifically to figures or the current belonging to late antiquity) and the uncapitalized gnostic as a more general term not tied to any particular era. including Wouter Hanegraaff. ed. 2. “Methods in the Study of Esotericism. See Steven Katz. a Dutch scholar. and readers would do well to become familiar with it.msu. the official Web site of the ] for articles. See Arthur Versluis. 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.aseweb. published a large body of work outlining and detailing numerous aspects of esotericism.. 1992). whose encyclopedic book New Age Religion and Western Culture: Esotericism in the Mirror of Secular Thought (Leiden: Brill. much of it in French.” Esoterica V (2003): 175–210. Faivre. 4. see Antoine Faivre.

Paul: Grail. 8. 83 ff. See Versluis.. Paul: Grail. pp. 223. 14. 97. 1996) of Piers Ploughman. ed. Myths. CHAPTER ONE 1. trs. 2000). and Mysteries (New York: Harper. Nag Hammadi Library. 4. Paul: Paragon House. 9. 6. 51–89. Lyrics of the Troubadours and Trouvères (New York: Anchor. See ibid. See Frederick Goldin. p. . See Gershom Scholem. Mircea Eliade. p. 1991). 2. Gnosis and Literature (St. p. p. Initiation (Manchester: Manchester University Press. Translation is mine. Sophia. 1986). p. 11.. pp. see also Faivre L’Ésotérisme (Presses Universitaries de France. Kabbalah (Jerusalem: Keter. 2000).. 10–15. see also Scholem. but they like everyone have access to this inward realm all the same. pp. Dreams. see also Wisdom’s Children: A Christian Esoteric Tradition (Albany: State University of New York Press.” Studies in Spirituality 7(1997): 228–241.160 NOTES TO CHAPTER ONE 6. 76–106.. 219–233. All of this is to be found in the ninth chapter of Parzival. Wisdom’s Book: The Sophia Anthology (St. See my discussion in Gnosis and Literature (St. Victor Sogen Hori. 7. The Book of the Lover and the Beloved. John Pordage. 145. Nag Hammadi Library. Paragon House. The Koan: Texts and Context in Zen Buddhism (New York: Oxford University Press. The Bestiary of Christ (New York: Parabola. 1973). p. Ramon Lull. 2000). 1992). 1974). 5. On the Kabbalah and Its Symbolism (New York: Schocken. 307. CHAPTER TWO 1. pp. 151. 111. E. Peers. eds. 37 ff. pp. Wisdom’s Book: The Sophia Anthology (St. See Arthur Versluis. Ibid. See. in Arthur Versluis. 5. 1863). Paul. (London: Sheldon. Louis-Claude de Saint-Martin. 140. 1978). 3. 1999). Pordage writes that the invisible paradisal earth of Sophia is hidden from ratiocination and even scoffed at by those limited to reasoning alone. 18 ff. p. 3. p. 1965). pp. 248.. pp. cit. 2. op. 180. 309. 13. “Christian Theosophy and Ancient Gnosticism. 14–21. see also Dionysius the Areopagite on like and unlike images. 10. Jean La Fontaine. “Koan and Kensho in the Rinzai Zen Curriculum” in Stephen Heine and Dale Wright. See the fifteenth chapter of Parzival. 4. See Faivre. pp. whether they know it or not. p. Theosophic Correspondence (Exeter: Roberts.. for an explicit example of this inward sojourn and perception. See Versluis. 1975). pp. 12. 1996). See Charbonneau.

Cassirer. 1992). The Hermetic Museum (London: Watkins. 12... ed. The Christian Interpretation of the Cabala in the Renaissance (Port Washington: Kennikat. 51. 34. 14. Doctor Illuminatus. (London: Soncino. 1953) I. p. Zohar IV . 1985). See J.. Origins. see also Moshe Idel. II. ed. 32. Ibid. Ibid. Ibid. vom Stein der Weisen (Berlin: Christian Ulrich Ringmacher. et al. The Early Kabbalah (Paulist Press. Ibid. p.. I. 1779). Origins. 18.. and Françoise Secret. p. I.B. The Books of Contemplation (Albany: State University of New York Press. 1988). A... Dan.. Ibid. 10. 29.. Ibid. 13. Opera omnia. Ibid. 17. Joseph Blau. 197. Kabbalistes chrétiens (Paris: Albin Michel. cit. 8.. trs.77. p. p. Rabbi Moses Nahmanides: Explorations. 25.C. I. Tristan. Ibid. 59. trs. Gershom Scholem. 1986). 31. 1961). op. See.. p. 24.320–323. p. 9. p. 37.205b. 298 ff. Ibid. 1984). Les Kabbalistes chrétiens de la Renaissance (Paris: Dunod. 21. 278. See A. p. See Pico della Mirandola. (Princeton: Princeton University Press. Origins..205b–206a. 1979).325.. 19. See “Oration on the Dignity of Man” in E.. Ibid. 394.351. Ibid.312. p. 33. 15. II. Ibid. for instance.331. 16. Cassirer. The Renaissance Philosophy of Man (Chicago: University of Chicago Press. p. 66. eds. p. M. See Verman. I.314. Ibid. Twersky. 197.. 28. p. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. IV . 57. as well as Antoine Faivre and F. II. pp. ed. 61. Origins of the Kabbalah (Princeton: Princeton University Press. p.. A translation of Ars Brevis is to be found in Ramon Lull. See Moshe Idel. p. 1964). (Hildesheim: Olms. 250.76. ed. 38. Ibid. 26. 11. 29. Simon. 23. cit. See Mark Verman. . 1965). 22. 57. 36.. See Verman. 7. II. cit. op. Kabbalah: New Perspectives (New Haven: Yale University Press. op. I. 20. p. C. p..NOTES TO CHAPTER TWO 161 6. Ibid.. Vasoli. 49–50. pp. ed. 1987). 246. I. 35..80 ff. 101–102. See Arthur Edward Waite. 1983). 52. see also Scholem. in The Zohar. 270.71. 27. 30.75. See Scholem. 1969). Bonner. Scholem. 280.. I..

From von Welling. I have translated this work of Pordage.. Ibid. p. 129. 251. The following page references are to Yates.A. Ibid.. a cosmologist. p. 60. a theologian. Ibid. for background. 1972). forthcoming. 45. p.M.162 NOTES TO CHAPTER TWO 39. especially on Gichtel’s and other theosophers’ tendency to carefully date their revelations. Yates.A. ed. 49. 1784). See. 220. Hall. .O. 59. Theatre of the World. p. Confessio.77. Ibid.. 57. 47. Ibid. 246. p. Elias Ashmole (Oxford: Clarendon.. diss. See Josten.102–104. and also written an extensive commentary on it. 22. 260. Ibid. Fama. I. 221. p. 56. For an excellent survey of the scholarship since Yates. See Versluis. and even chart them astrologically. (Los Angeles: Philosophical Research. 44. The Rosicrucian Enlightenment (London: Routledge. for text. 67. 40. Fama. C. See Codex Rosae Crucis D. Ibid. .. 1999). 1998).. II. Confessio. (Cassel: Wessel.. The Alchemy of Art. Ashmole.: A Rare and Curious Manuscript of Rosicrucian Interest. in a group called the Round Table. 371. 241. 43. 37. see Donald Dickson. 52. Confessio. Secret Societies. Resicrucian Enlightenment. 49. 1615). Ibid. for the reader’s convenience. . ed. Robert Fludd and the End of the Renaissance (London: Routledge. p. p.681. Confessio... and the Continuity of the Occult in English Literature (Ph. The first English translation was published by Thomas Vaughan in 1652. table of contents. See. Josten.. Ibid. The texts of the Fama and Confessio in English are most easily found as appendices to Yates. 255.P. Ibid.. p. and The Rosicrucian Enlightenment. a musician. 41. Ibid. 58. p. Freemasonry. and others. The original (short) titles of Fama and Confessio were Allgemeine und General Reformation. I. 48. 50.D. ms. See Frances Yates. 257. 46.. Ashmole. p.. Frances Yates. “Christian Theosophy and Ancient Gnosticism” in Studies in Spirituality (Fall.. See Versluis. including two physicists. William Huffman. D. cit.. p. 1966). (Cassel: Wessel. op. Ibid. This commentary was shared with people from diverse walks. p. 252. 54. 1997).M. 253.. 53. p. 63. 238. See Versluis. The Tessera of Antilia: Utopian Brotherhoods and Secret Societies in the Early Seventeenth Century (Leiden: Brill. 42. M. p. Wisdom’s Children: A Christian Esoteric Tradition (State University of New York Press. p. 242. 1614) and Secretioris Philosophiae Considertio brevis . . der gantzen weiten welt . Fama. 1971).. p. . 62. 1975). 55. University of Texas at Austin. H. Ibid.O. Fama. Opus Mago-Cabbalisticum et Theosophicum (Frankfurt: Fleischerischum. 61. 77. 1988). p. See also Marsha Schuchard. 51. p.

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

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

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

Faivre.. hereafter noted as Meditations. 40. Dion Fortune. 94. Dion Fortune.). The Works of William Blake. 70–71. p. 127. and their circles in mid-twentieth-century England. . The Magical World of the Inklings (Shaftesbury: Element. 43.d. That Hideous Strength (Macmillan: 1965 ed. Ibid. 76.25. p... Maxwell’s account of his growing understanding of the elemental forces like wind and fire. See on this point. Subsequent references are to Cecil Collins. 112. Gareth Knight. 90. including Fortune’s. 95. 239.. Dion Fortune.. 1893). 323. 1993). 21. Gareth Knight. 83. 87. 89. pp. Essays Presented to Charles Williams (Oxford University Press: 1947). p. 1988) p. 1997). Ibid.. Collins. 88. Taverner (Columbus: Ariel. for a discussion of contemporary esoteric magical groups. pp. Letters from England (London: Longman. 78. p. pp. and his intensifying “strange awareness” as a function of his magical apprenticeship with Vivien Le Fay Morgan..). 101. 291. Ibid. Meditations.. 97. p.166 NOTES TO CHAPTER THREE vom westlichen Fenster] (1927). in The Sea Priestess (York Beach: Weiser ed. Southey. Vision.. 115. Pages from a Sketchbook (Ipswich: Golgonooza. p. Faivre. 86. p. See Antoine Faivre. The Winged Bull (York Beach: Weiser ed. Poems. 1994). p. Ibid. 103. Ibid.. 91. 1814). (London: Quaritch. p. S. S.. p. I. retained his magical regalia in his office. pp. maintaining our focus on the Inklings. Fortune.. 1990). Access to Western Esotericism (State University of New York Press. p.. 3 vols. noted hereafter as Vision. Williams was a member of Arthur Edward Waite’s magical fraternity.. without doubt had direct experience in magical initiation that was reflected in his fiction.. Ellis and W. ed. p. p. 87. op. cit. C. 82–83.. op. Ibid. The Vision of the Fool and Other Writings (Ipswich: Golgonooza. E. 40. 81. 154. 100. 382. pp. Ibid. 88. cit. p. 80. p. 95. 96. 93. Collins. 79.. 1994) p. p. p. 104–104. Vision. so I have decided not to include them here. 85. 92. Yeats. 20–21. Ibid. Lewis. 91. Ibid. op. 98.. Ibid. But Meyrink’s works are complex enough to deserve a study in themselves. 82. Ibid. 99. 1994). 101. 84. C. p. 77. Ibid. The Magical World of the Inklings. 102. 320. Ibid. cit. and Meditations. p. Moon Magic (York Beach: Weiser. See for instance. 322. B. 124–125. 197. See Collins. The Secrets of Dr. and while his experience in magical ritual has been downplayed by some literary critics. 10. 102. Lewis. n.

p. Ibid. from “The Magic of Words: Symbolism. See Versluis. 130. Irina Gutkin. 275 ff. Nishitani Keiji. 1978). ed. 116. p..D. The Way to Christ (New York: Paulist Press. Ibid. Freedom and the Spirit. 170. 94.. 40 and pp. Ibid. p. Ibid. The Beginning and the End (New York: Harper. p.. Diss.. p. p. 194 ff. 117. 1957). 121. Ibid. 128. 113... Ibid. See. Christosophia IV . The Occult in Russian and Soviet Culture (Ithaca: Cornell University Press.1 ff.. 109. p. “Vorrede. p. 120. Toronto: 1948). Rosenthal. 62–63.” in B.” 108.NOTES TO CHAPTER THREE 167 104. 39. See my overview of Christian theosophy in Magic and Mysticism.. See Berdyaev’s introduction to Jacob Böhme’s Six Theosophic Points (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan. Ibid. Ibid. p.. 127.. 114.. Knapp. 106. Ibid. Versluis.. 108 ff. 74. 93. 105. 124. 78. pp. 119. p. 122. See Charles C. 129.31. 1991).. Religion and Nothingness (Berkeley: University of California Press. Theosophia: Hidden Dimensions of Christianity (Hudson: Lindisfarne. Christosophia. 40. II. 123. Ibid. Socialist Realism. 106. “Warnung an den Leser. 225. 107. p.. for example. Peter Erb. 285.. 126. IV .. Ibid. 118. Song and Its Fountains (Burdett: Larson. pp. 115. Ibid. Ibid. forthcoming. 1980). 71 ff. A. I. pp. 199. See also The Destiny of Man. Ibid. “Ancient Gnosticism and Christian Theosophy” in Studies in Spirituality (Fall 1997). 125.” and I. Nicholas Berdyaev. 112. 103. 25 ff. trs. . E. 1997) p. p.. 95. pp.. 111. Nicolas Berdyaev: Theologian of Prophetic Gnosticism (Th. Futurism. p. p.31. Ibid.29–30.. p. I added the colors. p. 110. pp. 1958).1. 62. Bromley’s is the image on the cover of my book Theosophia (1994). 1994).. 63. 105. Ibid.


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

112 Friedman. 85 Merkabah mysticism. 53. 2. 140 Eirenaeus Philalethes. 75.S. 104.. 56. 50. 43–45. 129 Kelley. 19–21. 104. Michael. 72–73 Faust. 95 Hartlib. Friedrich von [Novalis]. 51 Eleusinian Mysteries. 8–9 Larronde. 76. 109 Hermeticism. 107. 137 Goethe. 1 Keeble. 89–103 Hermetism. 105. 35. 77 Gelpi. 10–12. Irina. 56 Jerusalem. 30.170 INDEX Eckhart. Meister. Jewish. Johann Wolfgang. 46. 100 Hirst. 21 Heydon. 90. Susan. 99 Grail cycle. Carlos. 40 . Max. 84 Lewis. 52–54 Kabbalah. 27–28 Gnosticism. 155 Hermes [Trismegistus]. 1. Ramon. 84. 138 Katz. 153 Homer. 83. Nicholas. Victor Sogen. 19 Kabbalah [or Cabala]. 2. Jane. 12–15. 56 Maier. Georg Heinrich. 79–86. 11 Hutton. 103. 106 Eschenbach. 46–52. 97. Gareth. 76 Maistre. 102 Leade. 140 Hippolytus. Joseph de. 42. 102 Lee. Jean. 7–8 Esotericism. 100. 37 Esoteric Origins of the American Renaissance. Jewish. Joseph Edward. 44. 77 Flamel. 9. Herman. Brian. Robert. 54. 8–9 Isaac the Blind. 89. 120. 29 Mazet. 28. 25 John. Andreas. Steven. 127 Loskiel. Margaret. 123. 105 Eliade. 120–122. Dion. 78 Gnosis. 22–24 Initiation.S. 25 Hinduism. 65. 36–39 Gutkin. 26–31. 101 Freemasonry. 68. 112 Lull. 19. C. 19 Faivre. 69 Franklin. 139 H. 57 Eleazar of Worms. 80–81 Fortune. Johannes. 127 Frankenberg. 126. 104 Gichtel. 103–119 Hardenberg. Johann Georg. Rulman. 140 La Fontaine.D. 19. 56 Fludd. John. 7–8. 4. Francis. 123–126. ix. 21–22 Hermetica. Antoine. 89. 122 Koan. Désirée. 151 Merswin. 72 Jabir ibn Hayyan [Geber]. 104.. ix. 100 Marcus. 8. 5 Hori. Albert. 31 Melville. Benjamin. 9 Eliot. Wolfram von.. 55 Koran. 18–21. Abraham von. 89. 29 Hiram. 88-89. Ralph Waldo. John Scotus. Mircea. Book of. 5. 153–154 Eriugena. 111 Geheime Figuren. 51 Islam. 111 Emerson. 103 Fuller. 82–83 Heidegger. 101–102 Frey. T. 2. 63. 57–59. 21. 50. Martin. 22. 102 Ernst. Christian. Samuel. 79 Hieroedetic knowledge. 2. 127–128 Fama Fraternitatis. Edmond. 111 Esotericism [defined]. 82 Knight. 112 Imagination. 109. Edward.

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

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

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

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

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