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Western Esotericism, Literature, Art, and Consciousness
SUNY series in
Western Esoteric Traditions
David Appelbaum, editor
Art. Literature. and Consciousness Arthur Versluis S t a t e U n i v e r s i t y o f N e w Yo r k P re s s .Restoring P a r a d i s e Western Esotericism.
Laurie Searl Marketing. 90 State Street. II. cm. 3. mechanical. Anne M.—(SUNY series in Western esoteric traditions) Includes bibliographical references and index. recording. or otherwise without the prior permission in writing of the publisher. 1959– Restoring paradise : western esotericism. Occultism in literature. p. magnetic tape. Occultism—History.Published by STATE UNIVERSITY OF NEW YORK PRESS. Suite 700. 2. For information. 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. literature. I. Occultism in art. BF1411. Authur. ISBN 0-7914-6139-4 (alk. Series. Valentine Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Versluis. paper) 1. Title. art. electrostatic. No part of this book may be stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means including electronic. photocopying. address State University of New York Press.V47 135—dc22 2004 2004045292 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 . Albany. NY 12207 Production.
In memory of poet and scholar Kathleen Raine .
Pansophic. and Masonic Literature ix xi 1 17 35 . Rosicrucian.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 in keeping with my original impetus. all the way from the early Christian era to twentieth-century poets and artists. and locales that play a role in supporting and amplifying the larger argument. so did an unexpected thesis about initiation. figures. Lewis. found where literature and religion meet in the works of such extraordinary figures as Charles Williams. traditions. S. C. but as the book took shape. I also included references to Japanese Zen Buddhism and to the great Japanese philosopher Keiji Nishitani. 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. ix . At the very least. art. I drew on a variety of both primary and secondary sources. and Cecil Collins. literature. Milosz. wrote for a general audience across a range of fields rather than for specialists in one or more of the many periods. D. O. Soon it became clear that Restoring Paradise was to be a genuinely interdisciplinary argument whose subjects range across Western religious and literary history. and I hope that it will open the way to a new appreciation for each of them in this larger context. This is the first extensive discussion of these authors together. At the suggestion of an early reader. In writing this book. I hope that Restoring Paradise will serve to introduce many readers to the richness of our common inheritance.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. Hence. V. and consciousness itself. but the work’s focus remains Western. H.
and to the editors of Gnostica 3. de L. © 1945 by Oxford University Press.). to The Journal of Consciousness Studies. in which earlier versions of parts of this book first appeared.D. in particular “Tribute to the Angels” (excerpts) by Hilda Doolittle (H. Poems. “The Music of Dawn” from The Vision of the Fool and Other Works. V. (Ipswich: Golgonooza. including the adapted cover illustration. (West Stockbridge: Lindisfarne. Used by permission of New Directions Publishing Corporation.Acknowledgments Grateful acknowledgments to Brian Keeble. and “The Walls Do Not Fall” (excerpts) by Hilda Doolittle (H.). the estate of Cecil Collins and the Tate Gallery for citations and images.D. My thanks to New Directions Publishing for permission to quote from the works of the poet H. Pages from a Sketchbook (Ipswich: Golgonooza. Many thanks also to the various readers and editors of this book during the course of its production. 1985). 2001). copyright renewed 1973 by Norman Holmes Pearson. © 1944 by Oxford University Press. from Trilogy. each of whom helped to make it a better work.. and to Studies in Spirituality. Milosz. 1997). to Christopher Bamford and Lindisfarne Press for the citations from The Noble Traveller: The Life and Writings of O. Mélanges offerts à Antoine Faivre (Louven: Peeters. xi .D. 1994) and Meditations. copyright renewed 1972 by Norman Holmes Pearson. from Trilogy.
requires that one consider the role that language plays in generating. religious. figures. literary. however. of The Cloud of Unknowing and of eighteenth-century alchemical treatises form various sets and subsets.3 Gnosis may be divided into two broad categories: cosmological. and one that has ramifications in many directions. mutually 1 .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. provoking. I argue that esotericism has as its central characteristic gnosis.1 Here. meaning experiential insight into the nature of the divine as manifested in the individual and in the cosmos. and artistic traditions from antiquity to the present. how esotericism is transmitted in the West. are now appearing. and one of the most promising of these is what we may broadly term esoteric literature and art. These are not. I extend this question beyond mysticism to include the full range of what are now termed “Western esoteric traditions. or groups have been overlooked or marginalized. or conveying spiritual experiences. and these in turn may offer us new ways to understand both our past and our present in surprising ways. we will focus on a single theme: that of how spiritual initiation takes place in Western esoteric religious.2 In a model that I outline in two articles on method in the study of esotericism. and metaphysical or transcendent. This is a vast and almost totally unexplored field. Yet for this to take place. we must begin to go beyond historical research in order to understand not only who or what esoteric works. the study of mysticism. but also.” of which (in my definition) the mysticisms of an Eckhart or a Böhme. artistic. A wide range of new approaches to and reënvisionments of Western history. not least of all for the understanding of art and literature. and otherwise. even apophatic mysticism. As Steven Katz pointed out in Mysticism and Language (1992). and perhaps even more critically. In this book.
In particular. mysticism. Yet these traditions. perhaps the most important of which is an emphasis on attaining spiritual knowledge. it was necessary for many people to abandon whatever did not fit a positivist paradigm. including alchemy. that is what this book is about. religious. Undoubtedly. But the time for such biases is past. this has not been true until recently for the Western esoteric traditions. or Hermeticism. Not at all.2 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E exclusive but rather are complementary and overlapping. Cosmological gnosis is insight into the nature of the cosmos. 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. In essence. examples of it include alchemy. above all this is a book about knowing. and about how we come to know. this must be our primary focus. but necessarily so: it defines a vast range of traditions. however disparate. however. Rather. astrology. it can be described also as the transcendence of subject-object or self-other divisions. and social histories. Although it seems that ours is a time when everything from the past is bound to come to light. to therefore reductionistically argue that these traditions represent nothing but linguistic constructions. and related currents of hidden knowledge in the European inheritance. magic. left out of literary. But because so little has been written on how Western esoteric traditions are transmitted. there has been much selective editing of our collective human inheritance. but perhaps most edited of all were European currents of thought. for in order to create the modern world of machinery and science. Jewish Kabbalah. Like the koan. Christian theosophy. but with occasional reference to what I see as in many respects an analogous Asian tradition—that of the Zen Buddhist koan. provoke. . philosophical. Freemasonry. magic. Western esoteric traditions have been denigrated or dismissed for centuries. or convey spiritual awakening. we will focus primarily on Western esoteric traditions such as alchemy. for although we will outline Western esotericism’s main currents here. of course. the Western gnostic treatise uses words to provide an entry into dimensions of consciousness that transcend words. on how initiation can take place in the absence of a direct historical lineage in the West.4 The bias against esotericism derived in large part from the hegemony of rationalism and materialism. Here. theosophy. and although we will present a new way of understanding the phenomenon of Western esotericism in a contemporary light. or gnosis. do have certain characteristics in common. The term Western esoteric traditions is broad. Rosicrucianism. To consider the pivotal role that language and image play in the transmission of esoteric spiritual traditions is not. and what ‘knowing’ by way of literature and language actually means. Christian gnosis. Metaphysical gnosis in its pure form is apophatic or via negativa mysticism like that of Meister Eckhart or Marguerite Porete. or mentioned only to be dismissed as merely outmoded relics. even if these also include metaphysical gnosis. astrology.
about reading as discovering esoteric knowledge of ourselves and of the cosmos. while at the same time we find reactionary fundamentalist Christian sectarianism that often only fuels others’ disdain for Christianity. but even sheds light on the very nature of being human. the more we come to see certain underlying patterns. and to understand their patterns and meaning. a vast field. what their predecessors are. Western esotericism is. and cults existed side by side. and so a welter of new religious movements and groups has emerged. and to alternative forms of spirituality. the Western esoteric traditions. Yet beyond the pleasure of discovery we will find something else: for the more we study the field of Western esotericism. a single primary and overarching metaphor that we will be able to trace throughout the Western traditions in all their variety. of course. our time resembles the early Christian era.INTRODUCTION 3 Why? For the first time in several hundred years. And underlying these is. in my view. Given the present openness of many people to criticism of modernity. and there are many treasures to be found there. their inner lives have become progressively more barren. and particularly in the radical ecology movement. we find on the social front. proliferating wildly. which increasingly in the West seems to intellectuals to be moribund except as a social phenomenon. This is without doubt the reason that there are so many new religious movements—combined with a widespread distrust and even ridicule of Christianity. therefore. To navigate one’s way through these movements. about reading the stars. By looking more closely at the origin. despite their often almost bewildering variety. which is often seen either as outdated. we readily can see why the time is ripe for a reëvaluation of the Western esoteric traditions in light of our contemporary situation. Chief among them is the growing conviction that positivism is bankrupt. an awareness that modern machinery for all its power impoverishes both outer and inner nature. we find a definite prejudice in post-Christian societies against Christianity in general. or as oppressive and as having spawned the destructiveness of modernity. when a panoply of religions. we will not only be uncovering littleknown aspects of bygone days.5 But there are other reasons why an examination of the Western esoteric traditions might be especially apropos today. For as we will see. sects. . nature. but in fact be discovering fundamental keys to understanding both the European esoteric inheritance. many people have realized that despite all the material comforts made possible by our machinery. Thus many have begun to cast about for ways to enrich their inner or spiritual lives. Thus. and ways beyond the impasse at which we find ourselves today. In many respects. At the same time on the religious front. it is more than useful to recognize whence they have emerged. and continuity of the Western esoteric traditions. a metaphor that illuminates not only all the various disciplines and traditions. are fundamentally about reading: about reading nature. when we look at Western societies.
we feel as someone else feels. 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. the accumulation of facts based in an apparently insurmountable division between self and other: ‘I’ accumulate facts about what is ‘not-I. Greek in origin. Reading here is defined in the broadest possible way. minerals and stars. The mystery of reading is. yet this view of union is one that most and perhaps all literary readers and authors will intuitively recognize. and ultimately with the divine.’ that is. but can be transmuted.4 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E This theme of reading. When we read a novel. but not necessarily knowledge in the sense in which we use the term today. imaginatively enter into different lives. purgatory. in other words. of course. 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. reading in this context extends beyond ratiocinative knowledge limited to a split between the reading subject and the ‘object’ to be studied: instead. there is also a union: we as readers are participating in the mind of the writer through the miraculous medium of the written word. it is at the heart of the Western literary continuum. so too there are great readers. and heaven. refers to spiritual knowledge.’ itself a metaphor for our time. reading in the Western esoteric traditions has to do not merely with accumulating data. and each requires the other. when we read the works of an Emerson. progressively realizing its fundamental identity with plants and animals. but with consciousness itself. and will require much elaboration. for it is grounded not in separation but in union. Why do we travel with Dante’s pilgrim through hell. The ‘I’ need not remain at the mercy of its own selfishness. also about union.’ Unexamined here. If there are great writers. is much deeper than it might at first appear. we do not remain just a cataloguer of this or that remarkable confluence of words. but experience the marvel of living metaphor and rhythm for ourselves. as penetrating into the hidden mysteries of all that we see. we enter into another’s world. Thus we can see that spiritual knowledge is of a different order than contemporary secular or scientific knowledge. but in some sense leap the gap between ourselves and the author so as to actively participate in the writing. or spiritual knowledge. What is more. And when we read a great poem. why do we travel with . In every experience of literature. reading here guides one toward gnosis. is the nature of the ‘I’ and the ‘not-I’ in question. The word gnosis. ‘Knowledge’ in contemporary usage is essentially ‘data. Likewise. For the Western esoteric traditions approach such questions from a totally different view: for them. and thus there are no permanent divisions between ‘I’ and the cosmos. the ‘I’ is recognized to be not stable but fluid. however. By contrast. we are not merely passive observers of a great aphorist. we have developed machines that ‘read.
that at their heart the Western esoteric traditions are about reading the world’s and our own secrets. but about qualitatively different ways of understanding who we are. and during the course of this book we will begin to unveil just how significant is this indebtedness. and where we are going. As we look closer at the specific currents of Western esotericism. it is to suggest that these works exist on a spectrum that also includes poetry. and essays. we will see that literature (in the broadest sense of this word) is fundamentally about consciousness. that their authors did not take them seriously as alchemical or spiritual treatises. but even as a vehicle for attaining spiritual understanding. we find that the written word is often seen not only as a means of transmitting spiritual understanding. but neither is it to say that the written word is disparaged. and when we read them. but I am arguing that Western literature owes a very great deal indeed to the Western esoteric traditions. When I refer to literature “in the broadest sense of this word. drama. perhaps even experiencing hierophanxic moments of insight during which we suddenly see ourselves and the world around us in a new light. It is often commonly supposed that the written word is inherently inferior to the spoken or oral tradition. Rather. The mysteries of the word represented in these various esoteric traditions are historical predecessors to and influences on what we now .INTRODUCTION 5 Piers Ploughman among riddles and toward the apocalypse. We make connections. we will unveil various facets of what I believe are approaches to spirituality via literature that inform all of them. we understand. What is more. a supposition with a long history that goes back at least to Plato in his Phaedrus. This experience of union between author and reader I have alluded to is a literary and secularized form of what we find in Western esotericism. and 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. not about accumulating more information. Using the word literature in this way in no way implies that these works are ‘only’ literary—that is to say. fiction. to intensely complex theosophic works such as those of Jacob Böhme. Here “literature” refers also to alchemical treatises and to visionary narrations. I am not arguing that such insights are identical to what one might experience when working in one of the Western esoteric traditions. are full of mysterious symbols and intricate encoded wordplays. But when we begin looking at the Western esoteric traditions.” Although we will begin to unravel the intricacies of these mysteries of the word later. like so many others.” 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. in short to the full range of esoteric literature. it will be useful to comment now on what is implied by this term. what is the attraction of Melville’s Ishmael? These works. This is not to say that the written word is privileged over the oral tradition. we travel ever more deeply into the worldview of the authors.
finally. or manipulation. validate literature or the humanities in the face of scientism’s obvious and total victory. have often turned more and more to quasiscientific approaches. the trajectory of the Western esoteric traditions is precisely the opposite: toward ever more profound knowledge of our unity with these realms. For objectification has permeated all of modern society. but for connection and union. 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. meaning that our investigations into and control of our world derives from our regarding all that surrounds us as objects to be manipulated. quantitative. the way we see the world. Such objectification allows us to exploit and consume everything. people most of all. everything. living divorced from humanity. Those studying the humanities. that have not fit into a worldview emphasizing a self-aggrandizing self pitted against other—to emphasize instead a wholly different approach to knowledge.” and acknowledging them will require us to change the way we see literature as a whole. one based not on division but on union. most notably Western esoteric traditions. Thus this is in many respects a revolutionary book. 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. we may well say that Western esotericism represents the reverse or inverse of modernity. grounded in spirituality. as if catalogic. including people. Western esotericism in all its manifold forms has at its center the search not for manipulation or control deriving from objectification. nature is reduced to “natural resources”. we also have an opportunity to investigate the humanities with new eyes. And if at the beginning of the modern era there was a choice between these two . who are reduced to machinelike functionaries. moving instead toward ever deeper understanding of how one is indivisible from these.6 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E call “literature” or “literary tradition. it suffuses our language. and the divine. Contemporary society is based on what we may call objectification. and particularly literature. nature. 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. indeed. but also the even more primal act of knowing. In this respect. 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. or reductive explanations or investigations would somehow. If the trajectory of modern society is toward a virtual reality for each individual. no longer quite so dismissive of perspectives. so pervasive is this objectification that it is extremely difficult to extricate oneself from this paradigm even if one wants to do so. By contrast. It is the very basis of industrialization to objectify every aspect of life. and everything becomes a matter of techné.
crystals. thus opening the field up to scholarship on contemporary as well as much earlier historical figures. so too that choice still exists today. it may well be that out of this juncture will come a kind of cultural renaissance. and so forth. But the fact remains that there are also figures. however. In Western Europe. fundamentally a marketing category for merchandise. literature. But the question remains: how does one define esoteric in a satisfactory way? If one employs the largely cosmological characteristics proposed by Faivre. and even from purportedly extraterrestrial origins. in the latter quarter of the twentieth century. The reader.” In an effort to define the academic study of esoteric figures or groups and to separate it from popular definitions. works. and so to maintain clarity. particularly from the Renaissance and early modern periods.6 Subsequently. 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. . 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. particularly in light of their counterparts in the Asian esoteric traditions. for Western esotericism entails individual awakening. perhaps symbolized best by the figure of someone reading an esoteric work from long ago. One finds under the rubric esoterik books on topics like pendulum dowsing. Indeed. the academic study of esotericism is a developing field that may be succinctly and without derogation termed “esoteric studies. as we rediscover the Western esoteric traditions. 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. that are intellectually influential and that are only now becoming more widely studied in universities. But it is not particularly fruitful to speculate about social transformation in this field. esoteric popularly has become almost synonymous with New Age. one finds esoteric sometimes referring to an eclectic or syncretic collection of merchandise drawn from a wide range of cultures. And in North America as well. and groups in Western European and North American history. and consciousness. 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.INTRODUCTION 7 ways. 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 indeed. we need to survey some of its meanings as well as to define it for our own purposes here.
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say, symbolic correspondences or “living nature.” It seems odd to exclude from one’s definition of esotericism authors such as Meister Eckhart or, to choose a twentieth-century example, Bernadette Roberts, when their work is clearly esoteric in the classic sense of being intended for a limited, elite audience “with ears to hear.” While one may indeed find ways to fit such via negativa gnostics into a schema of cosmological characteristics, it seems to me necessary to propose an elegant and simple definition of esoteric that will be useful for studying not only eighteenth-century Masonry or Rosicrucianism, but also the kinds of syncretic esotericism that one finds in the twenty-first century. Here, I use the word esoteric in a religious context to refer to individuals or groups whose works are self-understood as bearing hidden inner religious, cosmological, or metaphysical truths for a select audience. Such a definition can include alchemical, magical, Masonic, or gnostic groups or individuals, but in any case there is a separation between esoteric (from the Greek eso-, meaning “within” or “inner”) knowledge for a select audience and exoteric knowledge for the general populace. This definition includes the social-anthropologic sense of initiation as admission into a secret society, but extends it to include the full range of cultural works like those of literature and art, which may very well convey secrets hidden from the casual observer. It also includes the range of New Age or syncretic movements that emerged in the late twentieth century and that also claim access to hidden secrets of the cosmos. At the same time, this definition excludes the loose sense of esoteric as referring to the arcana of, say, computer functions or plumbing; it refers explicitly to knowledge of religious or cosmological mysteries.
I N I T I AT O R Y T R A N S M I S S I O N AND WESTERN ESOTERICISM In order to delve into the field of Western esotericism in relation to language and consciousness, we also will need to consider the nature of ‘initiation.’ This word carries a range of meanings, so we must begin by considering it. Literally, of course, the word means “beginning,” and this significance continues throughout its other meanings as well. The ‘initiate’ is one who has entered into a tradition or group. But beyond this, the word initiation takes on a variety of implications. In anthropology, the word generally is used for adolescents who undergo a tribal ritual and thereby enter into the community of adults. This is the sense in which the word is used by, for instance, Jean La Fontaine in Initiation, where he writes that the subject of his book is “rituals of initiation in the common sense of the term; that is, rituals of admission into secret societies . . . as well as those [rituals] which mark the passage between childhood and maturity.”7 But he hastens to add that initiation cannot be defined simply as ritual
admissions to groups, secret or not, because there are other elements generally involved. Among these are acquisition of powers through secret or special knowledge, and the crossing of a ritual boundary into special status defined by that knowledge. La Fontaine offers as examples of initiation several tribal groups and Freemasonry, and offers a largely sociological analysis of them. Yet there are other elements of initiation not dealt with in La Fontaine’s anthopological perspective that we must also consider. Mircea Eliade, in “Symbolism of the Initiatory Death,” draws our attention to initiation as a religious phenomenon, arguing that initiation entails a liquidation of one’s past and historical identity, and a reëntry into “an immaculate, open existence, untainted by Time.”8 Initiation, from a religious perspective, is a rebirth, a transition to a new or renewed mode of existence, a regeneration. This regeneration may take the form of transitional suffering in actuality, or it may entail symbolic suffering or entry into darkness and symbolic death, but in either case the initiate goes through a probationary period and then is born again into timelessness or immortality. This religious dimension of initiation is less commonly dealt with in contemporary social anthropology, but it is in fact closely tied with another aspect, that of lineage. Indeed, when we look at some religious traditions, we find that there is clearly an initiatory transmission of lineage carefully maintained. Examples of this can be found in Sufism, for instance, where the shaikh or master is the pupil of an earlier shaikh, whose line can thus be traced back historically to its founder as well as to the revelation of Muhammed. A similar concept of lineage can be found in Zen Buddhism, where in order to become a master or teacher, one must undergo considerable training, eventually receiving inka, or official recognition and entry into the historical lineage that goes back not only to the founder of that Zen lineage but to Shakyamuni Buddha himself. The concept here is that the historical lineage serves to convey the original and timeless spiritual insight of its originator; so the archaic symbolism of initiatory death and rebirth to which Eliade referred is transposed into the context of spiritual training, the verification and acknowledgement of the master, and entry into the company of the masters, at least for a few. Lineage, in other words, is historical transmission that can be traced from master to disciple who becomes master, who in turn has disciples, who in turn . . . Yet when we turn to Western European esoteric traditions, we find comparatively little of this pattern of historical transmission. The notable exception is Jewish Kabbalah, where there are in fact historical lineages of Kabbalistic masters; but when we turn to Christianity, or even to what may loosely be classified under Hermeticism (including alchemical and magical currents), we find somewhat less emphasis on such historical lines of transmission. And in fact the history of European Christianity reveals an unusual kind of bifurcation: on the one hand, we find a recurring tendency toward scriptural literalism and an
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emphasis on the importance of belief in doctrine that could be characterized as exoteric; while on the other hand, we find the recurrence of more esoteric tendencies, largely if by no means exclusively in heterodox movements or individuals. But the hostility of the more exoteric Christians toward those inclined to esoteric Christianity of various kinds (not to mention recurrent persecutions) has meant that the historical circumstances in Christianity mostly disallowed the kind of direct master-pupil-master-pupil historical esoteric transmission that we see in, for example, Zen Buddhism. In my book on Christian theosophy in the tradition of Jacob Böhme, Wisdom’s Children (1999), I proposed what I call “ahistorical continuity” to describe the kind of continuity one finds between, for instance, Valentinean Gnosticism in antiquity and the theosophy of Jacob Böhme in the seventeenth or eighteenth centuries without any historical lineage connecting them. Like Ioan Culianu, I propose that there are certain esoteric characteristics implicit in a religious tradition, and that although they may be latent for some centuries, someone like Böhme rediscovers or reawakens them in light of his own creative spirit. Examples of these characteristics include an emphasis on Wisdom or Sophia as the divine feminine; the hebdomad as a cosmological principle; the demiurge or spiritus mundi as an opposition to spiritual awakening, and others. Thus there are numerous clear parallels between Valentinean Gnosticism and Böhmean theosophy, but Böhme did not derive his thought from the former; he is, rather, an example of an ahistorical continuity.9 But the concept of ahistorical continuity is descriptive, not explanatory, and the question still arises of how initiatory traditions are transmitted in the West in the absence of continuous historic lineages and in an often hostile, persecutory ambience when it is not, as in the case of Böhme, a matter of a spiritual genius creating or recreating an entire gnostic tradition. Where does an isolated alchemist learn to become a master alchemist? The answer, in brief, is through encoded or symbolic literature and art. In essence, that is what this book is about; it is an in-depth examination of how initiation can take place through the written word or image. For although there are certainly some initiatory lineages in the conventional sense, these are more exceptions than commonplace, and the written word or image is in fact the primary means of initiatory transmission in the West. This is so even when there is an alchemical master-pupil relationship, for the alchemical secrets are still conveyed via enigmatic literature and image and the master aids in unveiling them. There is, of course, a clear Asian analogy for this transmission that takes place in part through the written word or through images: the koan tradition in Soto and Rinzai Zen Buddhism. The koan tradition, its history and applications, is considerably more than we can deal with here, but it is worth our while nonetheless to at least develop it as a reference point. As is well known, the koan is usually defined in the West as a clever paradox designed to be in-
kensho is not a state of noncognitive consciousness awaiting the monk on the other side of the limits of rationality. Hori insists instead on what he terms a “realizational” model of understanding Zen koans.10 Hori goes on to make the following final point. but once we escaped the earth’s gravitational field. If kensho is the realization of nonduality. one should recognize that only in thought and language can enlightenment be realized. Freedom in fact lies in gravity. This is fundamentally a Rousseauian notion of the individual as originally pure but polluted by society and language. I believe. however. in his Shobogenzo. The depiction of the koan tradition as irrational has long been criticized.INTRODUCTION 11 soluble by the rational mind and to propel the practitioner toward kensho (insight) or satori (awakening). Hori concludes: “Just as there is no free flying above the reach of gravity. Dogen (1200–1253) heaped scorn on the idea of koan as irrational. and then moves to another koan in a more or less standardized series. 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. Esoteric knowledge is expressed through literature and art. there is no Zen enlightenment beyond thought and language in a realm of pure consciousness. At one time. a profoundly important point not only insofar as Zen Buddhist koan study is concerned. not beyond it. through language and image.”11 This is. we may have thought that freedom lay in ascent beyond gravity. we discovered that we float helpless and uncontrolled without gravity. In a provocative article entitled “Koan and Kensho in the Rinzai Zen Curriculum. but also as regards Western esoteric traditions.” 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. The pupil is confronted with a koan by the master. but into conventional consciousness . then it itself cannot be separate and distinct from ordinary dualistic experience. then it is a breakthrough not out of. It has become more or less commonplace for specialists in . . eventually solves it with a spiritual realization. Instead of blaming thought and language for defiling a primordial consciousness. If kensho is to be described as a breakthrough. joined to a view of Zen Buddhism as a way of escaping the pollution of society and language back to an original pureness beyond language. In the context of the Rinzai koan curriculum. From this viewpoint. kensho is the realization of nonduality within ordinary conventional experience. . 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. and recent scholarship confirms that the koan traditions in Zen Buddhism are far more sophisticated than popular depictions of them might have it.
I believe. I am arguing that in Western esoteric traditions. Like the koan. as I will propose here.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. nor to say that there are no examples of initiatory lineages at all like those of Zen Buddhism. 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. literature and art play a very special kind of initiatory role. and thus also to the individual. until he has penetrated to its authentic meaning. 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. is the pervasive lack of initiatory lineages and thus of the immediate reproof or approval of a living teacher. particularly those that clearly are esoteric in nature. What makes Western esotericism different above all. 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. If we believe that the imagination is more or less exclusively individualistic. the implication being that there is no such thing as gnosis. the weight of initiatory transmission is transposed to literary and artistic works. esoteric literature and art can function rather like the koan in Zen Buddhism. or are they manifestations of some other reality beyond oneself? Or. By . frustrating though this may be. This role may be seen in some respects as analogous to that of the Zen Buddhist koan. The koan derives its name from a judicial term. has no one capable of discerning a right understanding from a wrong one. an alchemical treatise stands as an enigmatic representation of a transmutative process. and that this is in fact the primary means of initiatory transmission in the West—through word and image. 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. Rather. The same is true of the alchemical or gnostic treatise: the neophyte must work with and through it. as means of initiation. for that matter. This is not to say that the West had or. then we cannot really speak of literature or the arts as being the vehicle of an initiatory or transmutative process. In the absence of a well-recognized line of historical masters. as in individual daydreams. but what is the nature of the images perceived by the imaginative faculty? Are images merely phantasms of one’s own mind. Rather. But that is not at all what I am arguing here—far from it. and the work of the practitioner is to enter into and realize for himself the truths that it contains. I am arguing that in the West.
The reader or audience does not travel outwardly but inwardly. the action by the act of reading or viewing. if one were to attempt to read John Pordage’s treatise Sophia as symptomatic of delusions on his part. Imagination. or through what we may also call the induced vision of art. an initiatory process that takes place through words and image. Although we could describe an esoteric work as a journey or the account of a journey. refers to the sympathetic capacity of the reader or audience to participate in a work and to be transmuted by it. it is not for a general readership. and doing so is an initiatory process through which the reader or audience develops cosmological or metaphysical insights. literature demands an audience who participates in creating the characters.12 As a result. and hence the metaphoric journey might better be termed a “sojourn. This is the spirit in which an esoteric work is created and read or experienced. literary or otherwise. For example. even though all calls for imaginative participation on the part of the reader or audience. 1675) is intended for a reader who has passed a certain milestone in alchemical practice and now seeks further guidance. but intended as a guide for the individual practitioner. using the term in a broad sense to mean the reader’s or audience’s openness to the esoteric work. it is for the few.” an entry into and residence in a visionary realm hidden from ratiocinative knowledge. in other words. and employs parabolic language and images to that end. For instance. toward perceiving the world in a fundamentally new way. but also and even more because it entails a mutual intent on the part of the creator and the work’s audience. Esoteric works draw upon this fundamental participation or sharing between the creator and the audience in order to entice.INTRODUCTION 13 its very nature. one cannot read esoteric works in the same way that one reads or perceives exoteric art without doing them an injustice. This work is circumscribed. One has to enter into and dwell in the imaginative realm the creator generates (or reveals) through the work. and those who enter into it do so in order to undergo the process that it embodies. A literary or artistic work is esoteric not only when it conveys certain hidden meanings to an audience. this would be in fact metaphoric for a process of transmutation. the images. Pordage’s letter is not accidentally or unconsciously esoteric—it is quite deliberately so. Obviously. Imaginative participation is fundamental to art. or provoke the reader toward a gnostic shift in consciousness. not all literature or art is esoteric or initiatory. 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. This process takes place through the imaginative faculty. 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. guide. this very perspective would make it impossible from the outset to .
graspable solution to a koan. This leads us inevitably to the question with which we began. which is what I am proposing here. has awakened in him by divine Wisdom the creative power that brings external existence into being. Initiates. and this too presents problems. Sympathetic readers. imagination could also be seen as a faculty of perception and transmutation. a process explicitly closed to the exoteric reader. This does not mean that one jettisons reason and becomes a ‘true believer. 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. in other words. 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. to understand them. I am arguing here that readers must belong to at least the second of these two categories in order to genuinely begin to study and understand esoteric works. but here a new magical earth is brought . and 3. We can thus posit three kinds of readers of esoteric works: 1. When one reads an esoteric work like John Pordage’s treatise on Sophia.” we may well then be positing the realm of the imagination itself as something objectified that exists outside oneself. analogous to that of the Zen student who seeks an objectified. Closed readers—those who come to a work with predetermined theses that disallow their imaginative entry.’ 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. 2. But there is a third perspective. who see the work as mirroring a process that they seek to undergo in themselves. Yet if we answer “yes. thus sealing it off from oneself as merely an object to be manipulated by the intellect and revealing oneself as a closed reader. not one’s own.” but this would be a purely exoteric answer that objectified the esoteric work of literature or art. of whether that which is imagined or revealed in an esoteric work possesses any existence of its own.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. one is in fact entering imaginatively into the process Pordage is describing. and nothing less. Sophia (divine Wisdom) herself tells him (the gnostic) that “I am come to make in you yourself this new invisible creation. For one does not have to conceive of imagination as a purely individual generative capacity. who enter into a work imaginatively. From a contemporary rationalist perspective one might answer “no. Pordage writes that in the Sophianic process of imaginative vision. inwardly in you and not constructed outside you. one must enter into them openly and on their own terms.” The gnostic.
It is not so much a matter of visualization by an individual. This continuum is what makes possible not only Pordage’s gnostic experience of inner creation and a visionary paradisal earth. This. inasmuch as the author or artist is allowing an imaginative process to take place within. but these images exist in a mesocosmic realm between the gnostic and the divine. then that work also belongs to this continuum and guides others into the same process of imaginative awakening. to the divine power within that creates.INTRODUCTION 15 into being in him out of the Ungrund. one can extend this analogically to all creative efforts. 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. since in either case there would be no co-creator or perceiver. it is generated through the creative power of Sophia and perceived through the gnostic imagination. . 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.13 This new paradisal earth is in the gnostic. is an initiatory process manifested through literature and art. but resides in a continuum between the two. then. The realm of the imagination. is by its very nature one of co-creation. but rather a matter of perceiving (being open to) an inner creative process. if those images and that gnostic process are then also manifested in a work of art. Thus imagination belongs neither to oneself nor to divine power alone. and in that work projecting a mesocosmic creative realm in which we can recognize aspects of ourselves anew. exteriorizing it through a work of art in which others can participate. What is more. taking place in a continuum in which divine power works and in which the reader or audience can participate vicariously at least. they represent divine manifestation in the gnostic faculty of imagination so that the gnostic can perceive and be guided toward what they represent and. but also the co-experience of the reader who participates in this process by reading the treatise. In other words. Imagination takes place in a continuum of co-creation belonging to the gnostic who perceives. 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. but neither is it wholly internal as a creation of the gnostic. what the gnostic imagination perceives is what the creative power of Wisdom within it creates. and to the audience or initiate who vicariously participates in or witnesses the work and so has awakened the possibilities that the work represents. At work is a spontaneous inner generation of images for the gnostic.
When we look at the emergence of Christianity from the welter of religious traditions at the time. and of this there are only two examples in the canonical Bible: some elements of the Book of John. remains central to what may be called conventional or exoteric Christianity—that is. what we may call a 17 . however. beginning with the ambience for and emergence of the Christian Bible and affiliated works.1 Origins ALCHEMY OF THE WORD To understand the origins of Western esotericism in all its various guises. Although many aspects of what actually happened during this time may always be shrouded or lost. needless to say. 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. and. Christianity based on faith or belief in a historical Christ. death. And to find these themes. and resurrection. one characteristic appears prevalent above all others: the emphasis upon the written word. we will look at representative or synecdochic writings. The other kind of writing. is profoundly different. 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. From relatively early on. 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. specifically at the beginning of Christianity. still we can trace through this era the origin of the primary elements or currents in Western esotericism. This. Christianity was centered around written accounts that took two primary forms. bolstered to some extent by apocrypha. the Book of Revelation. Here. of whose life we know through the historical documentation of the gospels.
In Christianity. gnostic Christians continued to generate revelatory scriptural works because in their view. revelatory emphasis. Historicist Christianity has always taken a literal interpretation of the Bible. be characterized according to people’s approach to language. individual spiritual revelation is incalculably more important than simple belief in a historical series of events. When we consider the emergence of historicist Christianity in light of world religious traditions. and insisted on an objectified historical Christ in whom one must have faith in order to be saved. many modern people unwittingly inherit these tendencies still. both esoteric and exoteric tendencies center on how to interpret written language: should it be multilayered or monotonous. the Word was not literal but spiritual. should it be ahistorical. we can see how anomalous it is. on the other hand. the development of Buddhism. symbolic. Of course. or technological. by and large eschewed literalist views of language in favor of more complicated. of course. Perhaps most interesting about this dichotomy is how it centers around approaches to written language. and indeed. the most moving and extensive undoubtedly being that in Apuleius’s The Golden Ass. and hence revelation could take place today just as in antiquity. which resembles Gnosticism far more than historicist Christianity: here. an ahistorical. and represent a central reference point for the subsequent reemergence of esotericism time and again. where the idea that language might convey multiple layers of meaning has been almost completely jettisoned in favor of objectified technical language.” And written accounts of the mystery traditions are very rare. Consider. expressing a view characteristic of the mysteries more generally when he had Socrates say that writing is problematic at best because the written word cannot explain itself and is easily subject to misinterpretation. Some of the Church Fathers were in fact clearly esotericists and gnostics—the most prominent being Origen and Clement of Alexandria. so rare—in fact. What mattered to them was inward or esoteric understanding. the very word mystery has the root meaning “silence. or historical. Whereas the historicist Christians established a fixed canon of Biblical books that ended with the Revelation to John. to make this dichotomy so clear-cut is to distort what was and remains a spectrum. The Johannine elements in Christianity owe a great deal to the various movements collectively known as Gnosticism in antiquity. not only outward fidelity to fixed written words from the past. multilayered approaches. in this respect being peculiar to Christianity. be it scientific. . This division between exoteric and esoteric can. Such an approach to language is particularly common in modern times. and on the other. that one can easily list them. as throughout world religious traditions. Plato alluded to this question in Phaedrus. for instance. for on a worldwide scale ahistorical religious traditions predominate. the mystery religions of the time forbade writing about the mysteries: indeed. legal. and anti-mythic? This was the battle. and mythic. literal. The gnostics.18 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E historicist emphasis. By contrast.
and who will not use its power for selfish purposes. Who was rejected as heretical. Their repetition and intonation of certain letter combinations were ridiculed by literally minded Christians. corresponding in some respects to the Platonic archetypes. or sacred Names of God: by vibrating the names of God in the permutations of the sacred letters and by knowing their proper. however much their literalist opponents think differently. often seems more like an accident of history than an inevitability. in some of the Gnostic treatises of the Nag Hammadi library. asceticism.” or “In the beginning was the Logos. for in it we find the predecessors of all the later Western esoteric traditions. but such an approach is not for everyone. and who else was accepted as orthodox.” There have been many gnostics since who have also insisted that they remain orthodox. 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 in fact close scrutiny of this time suggests that Jewish and Christian esotericisms are so intermingled as to be virtually inseparable.ORIGINS 19 who insisted that there was an orthodox gnosis and that it is the “crown of faith. It is particularly useful to consider Gnostic spiritual traditions in light of what we have said regarding language. that is. We find a similar approach to language visible in Jewish esotericism in the doctrine of the Shemhamphorash. but of communication. Scholem remarks that Merkabah mysticism of the third and fourth centuries drew upon Greek language. one is in touch with inconceivable power. some Gnostic groups laid great emphasis on the inner meanings of language. Likewise. and were reputed to use certain letters as intonations similar to mantras in Hinduism and Buddhism. chiefly vowels. but make a great deal more sense when one considers that language in this context is not merely a matter of transferring data. the seeds of all things. For instance. in turn allied with similar numericalalphabetical mysticism involving the angels. and spiritual illumination.” “Logos” here refers to that which precedes and transcends manifestation. just . and whose primary emphasis was on morality. there were some gnostics who were not far from historicist Christianity. Such doctrines of the hidden names of God. it is reserved for those who are capable of it. We may recall the first line of the Book of John: “In the beginning was the Word. This use of language is fundamentally different from what we ordinarily expect: whereas usual comunication is horizontal. are prevalent in Jewish esotericism during precisely the same time that Christian Gnosticism was flourishing. here it is vertical. of communing with the power that the letters correspond to. who are worthy of it. true pronunciation. a means not for one equal to convey information to another. and it is the esoteric side of it that interests us here. But there remains a spectrum in antiquity nonetheless. And we in fact find such strings of apparently nonsensical letters. but for a person to experience an organizing principle of creation itself. In general. and communion.
and its aim is twofold at least: microcosmically. 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. its purpose is to restore the individual to a paradisal or transcendent state. thereby making this conflict inevitable. are means in this process of individual and cosmic redemption—and so too are images. The letters. then. and so forth. 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. Letters and numbers. But monotheism is a rubric under which all manner of possibilities exist. We may remember the four animals that symbolize the four Gospels. as principles of creation itself. and to which we may refer as a gnosis of the word. and even if monotheism often turns toward a fundamentalist literalism. Both word and image reveal and ‘fix’ the divine. 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. 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. basilisks. all of which is entirely accepted within the orthodox tradition.2 Both the gnosis of the word and the gnosis of the image are extensions of the monotheism of the book. and so we find numerous images from antiquity like lion-headed serpents. and in this regard man may be said to complete the work of God by being co-creator or co-redemptor. 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.20 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E as Greek Christian mysticism drew upon Hebrew or Aramaic terms. are a means to creation’s redemption. paradoxically conveyed often through . and so forth. so the letters were altered. such images represent divine aspects. Such images are often found on amulets or talismans and are generally regarded as being ‘magical’ elements in Gnosticism. it is to restore the cosmos itself to its paradisal condition. as does the creation of images. 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. But given the gnosis of the word that we have been discussing. Both Jewish and Christian gnostic esoteric groups tended to think and express themselves mythologically. and macrocosmically. and in fact are by no means absent from the larger Christian tradition. This gnosis of the word represents a ‘fixing’ of the mysteries.1 And indeed there is an ancient tradition that the Torah contains so much power in its letters that it could destroy the world.
as when the path of one who died is traced through the spheres of the planets until the “eighth.25). “for I am with you everywhere. but it also represents Plato’s own version of the mysteries. which date to roughly the same time that Gnosticism was flourishing. One has the complex body of multiple traditions known as the mysteries. and image—the very means by which concepts are fixed to begin with! There are two more primary currents that fed into the Western esoteric traditions: Platonism and Hermetism. And they represent the writing down of an oral tradition. in symbols and myths. Hermetism is about direct individual spiritual revelations.” From the very beginning.” And the revelations have much in common with Gnosticism. “I know what you wish. for the bodily senses fall away and he encounters a vast and magnificent being that proceeds to unveil to him the mysteries of existence. of the mysteries tradition. But the Hermetica are not Christian or Jewish. Plato’s writing represents a setting down or fixing.22b) .” when he reaches rest and joy (I. while belonging to none (though they remain closest to Platonism).” or ogdoad—going beyond the cosmos into transcendence. which begins with the narrator falling into “a sleep. which were also about death and resurrection. We have already alluded to Plato’s expressed distrust of writing. nor for that matter are they exclusively Platonic. in the first centuries of this era. There is no one author of the Hermetica. number. The relation of such a tale to the mysteries.” but not like an ordinary sleep. Poimandres. presented in the form of dialogues. but also in the Republic in his Myth of Er the Pamphylian. out of which emerges a “holy Word.” the being. who died and came back to life in order to tell people what happens after death. What marks the Hermetica most clearly despite the treatises’ diversity is their intimacy: the revelations are always one to one. This corresponds closely with some Gnostic and Mandean texts which emphasize reaching the “eighth sphere. is self-evident. In at least some respects. and to his indebtedness to the mystery traditions. as when the narrator sees a boundless and joyous light. tells him. The Hermetica themselves refer to Egyptian tradition. and this is especially evident in Phaedrus and Timaeus. These revelations at points have much in common with Christianity. We find a very similar approach to spiritual tradition in the body of writings known as the Corpus Hermeticum. particularly in the conveying of spiritual truth. letter.” the “voice of the Light. and probably bear a relation to it similar to that between Plato and the mysteries.ORIGINS 21 the permutations of word. As Hermes himself says in one of the dialogues.” (X. “there is communion between soul and soul. and one has an individual author drawing upon this in creative ways. but share elements in common with all three. they represent a collection of treatises that bear in common a set of themes and teachings sharing many similarities with gnosticism. The most famous of the Hermetic dialogues is the Poimandres.
” “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. Occupying an intermediate space between religion and philosophy. the more one studies the emergence of esotericism in the early centuries of this era. mercurial quality to it. and are between one who embodies knowledge and one who seeks to embody it. not quite belonging to the sphere of religion. always there is a fluid. and . and Hermetism. willing to draw upon one or sometimes any of them. It is true that the language is sometimes Platonic. Christian esotericism. However. and together provided a common ambience out of which emerged a panoply of sects. But such a term suggests that imagination is otherwise passive. Like Hermes himself. then. For from what we have said.22 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E There is an initiator or revealer. traditions. or direct knowledge of the divine. no accident that so many of the Western esoteric traditions link themselves to the Hermetica. Hermetism reveals the ground occupied by Western esoteric traditions throughout the past several thousand years. it is clear that the Hermetic treatises occupy a peculiar place. here the dialogues often take place in an interworld of revelation. Indeed. and is generally associated with the more or less random play of images. the mystery traditions. 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. as there was to many of the movements of antiquity. which Henry Corbin called the “active imagination. they certainly intermingled. yet not strictly philosophical either. and depicting direct spiritual illumination of the initiate. but insisting above all on one’s own direct spiritual understanding or gnosis. and writings that reveal a great many similarities. and there is a witness to the revelation. the more one recognizes the fluidity of the various traditions’ boundaries. and it is this that represents the red thread that will guide us through the labyrinths of the centuries. what we find is something quite different. Such a relationship goes beyond simply that of participants in a dialogue like Plato’s. when we survey the Western esoteric traditions. Hermetism refuses to be pinned down or definitively discussed. 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. Platonism. precariously balanced on the periphery of religious traditions. The most important of these is the insistence upon gnosis. But these currents themselves are not discrete from one another. It is. There are five primary currents in antiquity that feed into what we may call the Western esoteric traditions: Jewish esotericism.
different kinds of time simultaneously here: there is the duration of the vision. of course. after which come the most prophetic and well known parts of the revelation. beginning with the Revelation to John. and introduces the experience with virtually no biography whatever. Although the vision has a beginning. I believe that literature. a throne was set in heaven. and there is historical time spread out and glimpsed in symbols. a door was opened in heaven. but take place in their own time. and the first voice which I heard was as it were of a trumpet talking with me . His is not a passive vision in which events only happen before him: in the fifth chapter. and there is relatively little point here in elaborating its intricate numerical and visual symbolism. a mesocosm. However. in the fourth chapter. an elder tells him to weep not. and where the earthly past. John does not entirely return from it except to say “I. In addition to its being a direct spiritual experience.ORIGINS 23 I do not believe this to be true. when he eats the book. and he interacts with them. when he weeps. It begins with some introductory remarks and salutations to the seven churches. and numerous striking images including the beasts with eyes before and behind them. only John’s remark that he heard a great voice. a little book sweet as honey. There are. once introduced to this sequence. The visionary sequence in the Book of Revelation is. quite well known. in this respect it does not appear to have an end: it is as though. and behold. and visionary experience all emerge on a spectrum in the field of imagination. where John meets. in other words. But in order to understand the nature of this field of imagination. It is true that the Book of Revelation recounts a visionary experience of John while he was exiled on the island of Patmos. questions. and behold. an angel gives him a rod by which he is to measure the temple of God and those that worship therein. apparently visionary time. John. Yet interestingly.” These remarks begin the actual visionary sequence.” the book concludes with the admonitions of Christ himself. we will begin by looking at visionary experiences during the first few centuries of the present era. several other elements of the Book of Revelation have remained particularly important in subsequent . . and one sat on the throne. John remarks that there was silence in heaven for about half an hour (8:1). Rather. turned. And immediately I was in the spirit. came the following: “After this I looked. present. the Revelation definitely has a literary form as well. he sees the twenty-four elders. he is told to eat. off the Greek coast. mythology. At one point. and only then. Thereafter came a series of specific messages to the individual churches. saw and heard these things. and the auditory part of the vision began. there is the fact that it is a direct individual revelation: John sees and hears Christ himself. and future are visible. but it is worthwhile to remark on several aspects of it in relation to Western esotericism more generally. or field of the imagination. The revelation of John takes place in an interworld. and does eat. and is questioned by the angels or divine powers. and in the tenth chapter. Then. . there is no conclusion to the visionary sequence: we are never told that John returned to ordinary consciousness. Above all.
The Revelation. which he does. especially in the Book of Life wherein is written the names of those who belong to the Lamb (13. But for our purposes.” during these the end times. the most symbolically resonant image of all is that of the book. and more than one group has seen itself as living during the end times.” symbolism charged with initiatory knowledge. of course. the way we see the cosmos itself changes. and Christ whose symbolic heart is the written word.12).13). John eats the little book: it becomes part of him. Christian Gnosticism. The entire revelation is an unveiling of gnosis. In the tenth chapter. revealing the hidden forces beyond history and what happens to all humanity. but sweet as honey on his lips. This image is amplified by the presence of book imagery throughout the entire work. John is united with its knowledge. Additionally. possesses a special luminosity of symbolism that we may call “hieroeidetic. One.” as well as the repetition of geometric and numerical symbolism such as the sevens. the very book that we are reading. John himself—for he is told to write by a voice from heaven (14. And it has immense power for this reason: by entering into its world of references. symbolizing his union with the esoteric center of spiritual life. Christ’s repeated assertion that “I am the Alpha and the Omega. is the prophetic element: more than one group has identified itself with the “woman in the wilderness” in the twelfth chapter. And then there is. and Hermetism. which has inspired countless commentaries or explanations. and one hundred forty-fours. we suddenly are given in the Revelation this overwhelming and astonishing visionary sequence that brings us completely outside the sphere of mundane human life.” which are opened during the Last Judgment in order to see the lives of those being judged (20. After the various accounts of Christ’s life and death in the Gospels. of course. becoming symbolically charged. Another such element is the number and letter symbolism. it is like a collective dream in which we participate simply by reading. and although the word eidolon early in the modern era .9). the Book of Revelation of St.24 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Western esotericism. By reading the Book of Revelation that John subsequently writes after eating the little book. angels. in other words. The Revelation of John has an oneiric quality. and are in a sense initiates. and by eating the book. there are “other books. The word eidetikos in Greek refers to a particular kind of knowledge associated with shape or form. 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). we will recall. 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. found in Judaism. Taken together. John is given a little book to eat. twelves. all remind us of the prior traditions. of letters and numbers revealing the secret powers of the divine. a gnostic encounter with elders. Every aspect of life is altered. and finds it bitter in his belly. we are eating his little book—we belong to a direct lineage or current.
and what is seen. 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. Whether one looks at the alchemical tradition and its symbolism. The Revelation is unquestionably esoteric in its plethora of symbolism. profoundly symbolic numbers. and some of which are found in the Nag Hammadi library of Gnostic writings. and because of its mysterious and powerful imagery. and of James and of Adam. the fact that there were so many apocalyptic revelations during the beginning of the Christian era underscores the recognition that such revelations are inherent in . and the Apocalypses of Peter and of Paul. in all of these we find parallels to the Revelation. hieroeidetic knowledge is prior to and preparatory for gnosis. the Book of Revelation has had a far greater impact than all of these other visionary works combined. we find that they correspond in striking ways to what we have seen delineated here in the Book of Revelation. and as such takes place in the field of imagination midway between the mundane and the transcendent: there is a seer. The Book of Revelation is filled with hieretic. When we look at the various currents of the Western esoteric traditions. but among numerous other revelations from the same era. and is so thoroughly literary or bibliocentric in its essential symbols. including the two books of Enoch. At the same time. Yet because it became canonical. but rather that the Book of Revelation is paradigmatic. at the mystical tradition. the Revelation does not stand alone.ORIGINS 25 came to mean “phantom” or “apparition” without substance. Hieroeidetic knowledge is the visionary revelation of the unifying principles and powers informing the entire cosmic realm. words. where we see the order of the transcendent manifesting itself in vivid. all of which belong to the apocrypha. Rather. the Apocalypses of Baruch and Ezra. it is an image. splendid earthly form: but again. This meeting of above and below is also symbolized in the heavenly city of Jerusalem. and what is heard. but also esoteric in the fact that it takes place in this visionary field. This is not to say that the Western esoteric traditions all find their origin in Revelation. in fact the word eidetic also often refers to a particularly luminous and vivid imagery found among young children and in dreams. with its emphasis on writing and encoded language. hieroeidetic knowledge exists in the field of knower and known. and they remain separate even while meeting in this charged field of imagery. and images revealing the hidden nature and destiny of humanity. a hearer. the Ascension of Isaiah. Hieroeidetic knowledge is not in itself gnosis—that is. for it exists at the meeting point of the transcendent and the immanent. at the Kabbalistic tradition. or at the theosophic current that in turn manifests in Rosicrucianism. hidden knowledge that comes mediated in the field of the imagination through forms. and so it is charged with cosmological revelations. it is not the spiritual revelation of union or unity. Of course. seen by a seer. where an encounter may take place.
far more than may at first appear. THE RED THREAD OF GNOSIS A myth conveys. how hieroeidetic a work is. we return again and again over the centuries because we recognize in this mystery something more alive. of being charged. Some literature is not so charged or hieroeidetic. In other words.’ of participation. and reading is uniquely suited to create inward participation because in reading our habitual boundaries between self and other can disappear. possesses a psychic or symbolic charge that allures us. more electric. is a particularly intense form of this inner participation or identification and union. without relevance to oneself. And so we are drawn inexorably back to the nature of the book itself and the act of reading. objectifying it. 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. to make it one’s own. we are drawn toward it. What is it that makes a work hieroeidetically charged? Proximity to the invisible. For just as one may consider a work as charged as the book of Revelation from outside. and who was able to escape only through the help of King Minos’s own daugh- . Esoteric literature. And though we risk being burned. to the transcendent. We can identify with fictional or poetic characters. So it is with the story of Theseus. reading about another’s vision may inspire one to experience a vision of one’s own. The analogy of electricity. We return to the field of the imagination because this is where we come to know what it means to be alive. and exists more for entertainment. who found himself in the Minotaur’s labyrinth. often in a simple story. as wild as the book of Revelation. But all literature takes place in the charged field of the imagination: it is simply a matter of how charged. or from exoteric to esoteric. more vital than the mundane world of consumerism and the humdrum tedium of life without the invisible. the literature of the Western esoteric traditions. a constellation of letters and numbers. a more intermediate or mesoteric approach is to see it as prophetic and revealing truths about our own world and lives. fascinated by its mysterious beauty. Esoteric bears the meaning of ‘inward. The most external or exoteric is to regard it as an object of study. the act of reading gives birth to the act of writing. we can enter into a new world of symbols and meaning. it is certainly not the only one. for although the Revelation is the most well known. has a certain value here: a symbol or image. and an esoteric approach is to see it as paradigmatic and inspiring of one’s own revelation. or put better. ranging from external to internal. or one may enter into it—just as there is a range of approaches to such a work—so too there is a range of such works. There are numerous ways one can approach a work as extravagant in symbolism.26 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Christianity itself.
ter, Ariadne, and a thread that led him out. The symbolism here is profound, and certainly reflects the ancient Mithraic mystery symbolism of the bull, the labyrinth of the world, and escape-rebirth. But perhaps we may adapt this symbolism to our own purposes, for when we consider the subject of gnosis, we too find ourselves in a labyrinth, and require some thread to guide us out. This thread is the topic of gnosis itself, for by exploring it, we will be far better prepared to understand the often bewildering variety of Western esoteric traditions. The word gnosis, because it is singular, implies that there is but one kind of gnosis, or spiritual knowledge. However, when we consider the range of religious literature, even that labeled “gnostic,” we seem to find a bewildering spectrum of gnoses. We might divide this spectrum into cosmological gnosis (insight into the hidden patterns in the cosmos), eschatological gnosis (insight into what transcends history and the cosmos), and metaphysical gnosis (insight into the divine), even though all of these may be seen as aspects of a single gnosis. And concerning metaphysical gnosis, or direct insight into the nature of the divine itself, we find two primary approaches that we may call visionary and unitive gnosis, corresponding to the via positiva and the via negativa discussed by Dionysius the Areopagite. The via positiva, or visionary approach, goes through images and the field of the imagination; the via negativa, or unitive approach, is the falling away of all images. It has become more or less commonplace, following Dionysius himself, to see the via negativa as superior to the via positiva. Dionysius writes that sacred revelation often proceeds through sacred images in which like represents like, while also using forms that are dissimilar, and even entirely inadequate and ridiculous (Cel. Hier. 140c). But he goes on to remark that a second way, of going beyond images entirely in the via negativa, is “more appropriate, for as the secret and sacred tradition has instructed, God is in no way like the things that have being, and we have no knowledge at all of his incomprehensible and ineffable transcendence” (Cel. Hier. 141a). What Dionysius observes here is extremely important, in particular his insistence on a secret and sacred tradition that the Divine completely transcends the realm of being. Dionysius’s observation—that God in no way resembles the things that have being—combats a tendency that, as we have already noted, is common to the traditions of the Book: taking writing literally. Literalism corresponds to what in Judaism was called “idolatry”: it reduces the Divine to human concepts that can be manipulated. This tendency may also be called “objectification,” and is a common function of language more generally. For language by its nature can separate us from what we are discussing: we objectify the Divine just as we objectify all that surrounds us, including nature and other people. But this process of objectification inherently separates us from what we see in this way: the very word God becomes a barrier to experiencing what that word means.
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In other words, gnostic knowledge is fundamentally different from ratiocinative knowledge, and the language to express gnosis must reflect this difference. Ratiocinative (from ratio, measure between things) knowledge belongs to the realm of division into subject and object: ‘I’ discuss ‘that.’ Such is the basis for modern science, and ratiocinative knowledge can be widely disseminated as information or data. By contrast, gnosis belongs to a secret or intimate tradition and cannot be widely disseminated as information because it does not belong to the realm of information and division at all, but instead to what transcends division. The scientific or ratiocinative path moves toward ever greater data about what is external; the gnostic path moves toward ever greater intimacy with what transcends both internal and external. Gnosis, then, is not at all a matter of ‘I’ discussing ‘that,’ but of going beyond the very division between ‘I’ and ‘that.’ The question, of course, is how one moves toward gnostic knowledge, and the answers to this question in the West comprise the Western esoteric traditions. The essential division offered by Dionysius the Areopagite between the via positiva and the via negativa helps us begin to discuss these answers in a schematic way, not because these two ways are at all opposed to each other, but because they illuminate each other. Indeed, they correspond rather closely to what we see in the Tibetan Buddhist Vajrayana tradition, where visualization and a plethora of imagery express their own transcendence. The Prajnaparamita Sutra, with its verses on sheer transcendence of all that is sensory, does not invalidate but expresses the ultimate meaning of the countless Buddhist images often in the very hall where it is chanted. Likewise, in the Western esoteric traditions, one finds a vast range of imagery and means, but these are generally seen within the traditions as an expression of what transcends them. The problem here, and in language itself, is that it is all too easy to regard words or images as if they were the thing itself, to ‘fix’ or ‘congeal’ the inconceivable. This is a particularly likely problem when there is no widespread emphasis on the transcendent, as there is within Buddhism, or any continuous lineage of masters or teachers who could guide seekers or initiates. The Western esoteric traditions have largely remained catch-as-catch-can, defined perhaps best by the precarious relationship between an author and a reader through the medium of the book. And the Gnostic Basilides evidently recognized this, for in one of the only fragments attributed to him, he writes of the ineffable transcendent nothing, and notes that “what is called by a name is not absolutely ineffable, but it is not, for the truly ineffable is not ineffable, but ‘above every name which is named’ [Eph. 1.21] . . . Names are inadequate . . . Instead, by understanding without speech one must receive the properties of the things named” (Hipp. Ref. VII.viii). Actual direct experience of the transcendent is far more important than simply knowing the words. Basilides held that he belonged to a secret lineage that ran from Jesus to Matthias to himself, and primary in their revelation was nothingness, or
absolute transcendence. According to his rather bitter opponent Hippolytus, Basilides wrote that before the cosmos, “nothing” existed, “not matter, nor substance, nor the insubstantial, nor an absolute, nor a composite, not conceivable, or inconceivable, not sensible, not devoid of sense, not man, angel, or a god, nothing that has a name or is cognized by intellect” (Ref. VII.ix). Basilides’s emphasis—throughout what little we still have, quoted by Hippolytus from Basilides’s treatises—was consistently on sheer transcendence beyond the medium of human language, and corresponds to the via negativa of Dionysius the Areopagite. Indeed, given the series of negations here that very much resemble those of the Prajnaparamita Sutra in Buddhism, it is not surprising that Basilides is reputed to have been influenced by Buddhism. However, Basilides is not alone in his emphasis on the inconceivability of gnosis, its sheer transcendence of all ratiocination. So too Epiphanes wrote of the Gnostics that “The earliest originating principle was inconceivable, ineffable, and unnameable” (Ref. VI.xxxiv); and Marcus, during a Gnostic Eucharist, reportedly offered a chalice to a woman during the consecration, then received it back from her and said, ‘Grant that the inconceivable and ineffable Grace which existed prior to the universe, may fill thine inner man, and make abound in thee the gnosis of this grace, as she disseminates the seed of the mustard-tree upon good soil’ ” (Ref. VI.xxxv). A similar emphasis is to be found in Dionysius the Areopagite, in his treatise on the Divine Names, for instance, when he remarks that God is beyond all names and creatures, “transcendently and supernaturally, far above creatures, above their being and above their nature” (956B). He continues that “no unity or trinity, no number or oneness, no fruitfulness, indeed nothing that is or is known can proclaim that hiddenness . . . of the transcendent Godhead which transcends every being. There is no name for it and no expression” (981a). Paradoxically, by maintaining an emphasis on the ineffability of the divine, the Gnostics also maintained a via positiva of esoteric words, letters, numbers, and images. But this linguistic mysticism existed within the context of the absolute transcendence that it in fact manifests. In other words, letters, numbers, and images emerge out of the unbegotten, and represent the hidden patterns and harmonies of the cosmos that, by ‘following back,’ inevitably in turn lead one to the ineffable. It is well known that there are Hebrew systems of transforming letters into their numerical meanings, but what is perhaps less remarked upon is that there was an esoteric Greek tradition of such transformations too, probably carried over from Pythagorean and Neoplatonic sources. Thus we find the Gnostic Marcus maintained that the number of Jesus is 888, that the number of the dove is 801, and that the body of truth is composed of letters, the head by Alpha and Omega, the neck by Beta and Psi, and so forth. Sacred numbers, letters, and images reveal the esoteric forming powers of the cosmos. Each letter, according to this tradition, is produced by a particular
From these observations we can begin to see something of the hidden significances of the mysticism of the word and the book. we participate in what they represent. always emerging out of this relationship between the expressed and the inexpressible.30 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E sound that in turn manifests others.” One must “receive the light” in the “bridal chamber” before death. embody. although we refer to them by the same names. and numbers emerge in. For instance. sacred images. toward transcendent degrees of consciousness of ever greater communion between subject and object. Here we begin to see how the via negativa and the via positiva represent. which is of a totally different order. This name was composed of four syllables. and there is another kind of marriage that takes place in the invisible. just as there was in Jewish Merkabah mysticism and in the Pythagorean-Platonic tradition. in the Gospel of Philip. the path from ordinary rational consciousness divided into subject and object. so to penetrate into the deepest mysteries of human language is to penetrate into the metalanguage that gives birth to the cosmos itself. Indeed. to become privy to these mysteries is to penetrate beyond ordinary humanity and to become divinized oneself. As we ‘read’ these images. Throughout early Christian gnostic writings. not opposite or even complementary ways. the first of which had four letters. or aeon. words. we read that “whereas in this world the union is one of husband with wife. we find plays on naming and namelessness. This is the realm sometimes glimpsed in literature. and the entire name had thirty letters. so that ultimately the “enormous sea” produced by a single letter is in fact infinite. we become intimate with them. The gnostic visionary path is not separate from the way of negation—rather. One who pronounced the name was in fact pronouncing the powers that had brought the cosmos itself into being. and in religious experiences.”3 In other words. there is earthly marriage. between this world and the invisible realm of energies. All of this suggests that there was in Christian Gnosticism. VI. in dreams. or who was faithful and near death (Ref. For to read the metalanguage of the cosmos is truly to read the Book of Life—a figure for the hidden energies or powers that inform life both in the cosmos and in ourselves. for each letter was also an angel and a forming power. and reveal transcendence. This linguistic mysticism was represented in Gnostic practice by a secret initiation that consisted in the whispering of holy words of power into the ear of one who had been tested. and its light “never sets. it is the realm of living ideas or energies. a developed metalanguage that both reflects and leads toward its own transcendence. 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. but different aspects of the same way.xxxvi). or one will . 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. apparent boundaries between subject and object dissolve.
divided consciousness. my argument here is not about lines of influence so much as about modalities. the invisible and the visible are no longer divided for the initiate. one can ‘read’ the invisible in the visible. and perhaps to a lesser extent to the Hermetic or the Neoplatonic tradition. The cosmos is no longer opaque. but hidden in a perfect day and a holy light. The world has become the aeon. The Gospel of Philip goes on: “And again when he leaves the world he has already received the truth in the images. but its inseparable companion. gnostic paradigms.”4 In other words. What are the characteristics of this red thread as we trace it through history? Naturally. indeed. but rather. one finds a gnosis of the divine names. unnameability emerges always out of the presence of names. Thus “the world has become the aeon”—in other words. but is free in life and in death. for such a one the world is transparent. but also the actual energies that these images embody or represent. 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 way of negation is not the opposite of affirmation. For whether the gnostics belong to the Jewish Merkabah or the Christian Gnostic. But the inexpressible is so only by contrast with the expressible. the unnameable.ORIGINS 31 not receive it after death—and one who receives that light is perfected and cannot be detained. Here naming refers. even though such writings somehow may have made their way into this or that monastic library. evokes. can see the energies ordinarily veiled from humanity by its fallen. for the aeon is fullness for him. CONCLUSIONS Although the Western esoteric traditions unquestionably have their origins in the early centuries of the present era. what I call the red thread of gnosis that leads us out of the labyrinth. This is the way it is: it is revealed to him alone. 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. And here we see emerging the second characteristic: the mystery of names. not hidden in the darkness and the night. the first of these is its inexpressibility: it remains always transcendent. 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. to actual energies that the name itself embodies. characteristic ways of understanding. but to inherent characteristics of what is named. not to arbitrary designations. The nameless and the named are not divided. Rather. This inexpressible gnosis is the “marriage” or union of subject and object. when one dies. These figures or images of marriage and light are ways of expressing the inexpressible gnosis. elusive. . a collection of objects from which one remains separate. is.
of course. Such a gnosis of numbers is visible during the medieval period. as a panoply on an inner stage where we see acted out the soul’s dramas. Even more intimately yet. and are visible in major European literary works. albeit few more wild than those of the Book of Revelation. numbers designate quantities that one can manipulate. which all proceed from the one only essence . in his own degree. Such images may be seen in terms of degrees of union. of which the quantitative designation is a husk. but lives in an intermediate realm necessary for the birth of unitive consciousness. A fourth characteristic is imagery. and images emerges the fifth characteristic. Out of the gnoses of numbers. who wrote his friend Baron Kirchberger that “Numbers are no algebra. letters. however. which emerge out of the inexpressible into the realms of conscious perception. but men have sometimes lowered them to it. a gnostic view of numbers and letters sees them not as merely signifying something external. everyone. . my dear brother. . which is the mystery of words and of the book. nor wholly from without.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. Gnostic works reveal a wide array of images and myths. imagination proceeds neither wholly from ourselves. More intimately. including Piers Ploughman. but as qualities pregnant with meaning. But this view of numbers corresponds to seeing reading as the accumulation of data: it remains objectified. separated from the subject who sees. By contrast. so that to work with them is to enter into the existential quality that is their real nature or kernel. Here we have the combination of all the elements we have discussed so far. a third characteristic. of the different properties of beings. and therein we obtain the pure key. including the gnoses of numbers and letters. Here. a theosopher in the line of Jacob Böhme. on which conventional mathematics is founded. the images may be seen as corresponding to something in our own inward nature. woven together into a . without masters. whether visible or intellectual. According to rational consciousness. These number-letter transpositions yield many hidden significances.”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. to which I have already devoted some study.5 A similarly gnostic view of numbers appears again in the work of Louis-Claude de Saint Martin (1743–1803). where we find definite traces of Latin number and letter transposition corresponding to what in Hebrew is termed gematria. numbers and letters can open up into aspects of consciousness itself. but instead express aspects of the invisible origin of the cosmos and of ourselves. the images may be seen as reflecting inner aspects of the cosmos. Regeneration alone shows us the ground. On the lowest level. What is more. the images remain outside one and are taken literally as referring to history. They are only the sensible expression. here they no longer are taken as having entirely historical dimensions.
remains a heterodox figure drawing upon whatever myths. are meant to permeate and transmute one’s consciousness so that the invisible is no longer divided from the visible. Its mysteries of names. and traditions best express his understanding. in the complex admixtures of Jewish. To read such a work properly is to ingest it. Jewish and Christian and Greek. . words. as John ingests the little book in Revelation. but also to convey it. in one form or another. numbers. letters. to become it. The esotericist or gnostic in antiquity. words. often do not hold at all. just as in the subsequent Western esoteric traditions. from antiquity to the present. Thus we can see the outlines of the mysteries of the word and the book that in turn give rise to the Western esoteric traditions. Egyptian. We can see that despite the bewildering variety of traditions that existed in the first centuries of this era. Christian. By following the courses of Western esotericism. and other currents that mingled to create the works we have been considering. these gnostic characteristics remain visible. And when we look for these fundamental characteristics. taken together. images. 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. and images. Greek. Roman. we find that divisions between heretical and orthodox. that of the inexpressible from which all of these gnoses derive and to which they inevitably lead. it remains a tradition of the mysteries of the book.ORIGINS 33 tapestry meant not only to point toward the gnostic experience. so that one no longer exists only in a rational separate consciousness in an objectified world. whether. and indeed even begins to approach the highest mystery. but instead participates in the energies and powers that give rise to and inform the cosmos.
so much must be left to catalogue elsewhere. sees her (or him. When we consider the emergence of Western esoteric traditions in the modern era. in giving honor to his beloved.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. we cannot help but recognize there the influence of chivalry. The chivalric ideals were conveyed through stories. but here we are sketching the broad outlines of historical currents drawing on individual works. only investigating whether there are elements corresponding to the mysticism of the word that we saw in antiquity. The knight in swearing fealty to his lord is engaged in a social relationship that can also have spiritual implications: to act properly as a knight is also to fulfill one’s higher responsibility as a warrior for the divine. That there were profound correspondences between the chivalric and the troubadour movements in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries of Europe is incontestable. if the poet is a woman) as the divine incarnate. for both are known to us through literature that reveals fundamentally similar attitudes. It is true that there were important intervening figures like John Scotus Eriugena. but we must do so in order to trace the Western esoteric traditions. and the troubadours’ tradition was conveyed through poetry or song. 35 . of course. Here I am not arguing that the chivalric or troubadour movements were gnostic. and so must inquire whether the chivalric current had esoteric dimensions like those that we glimpsed in antiquity in Gnostic and other movements. The troubadour. a leap to go from the first centuries of the Christian era to the Middle Ages. Both the chivalric and the troubadour traditions were centered on service or duty. and entailed a moral code much higher than that of the rest of society.
even surreptitious. One such group was the fedeli d’amore. the soul’s liberation as one finds in Gnostic treatises. it is implicitly also about his relationship to the divine. But when we look at these movements as a whole. And so the chivalric and the troubadour traditions are fertile ground for esotericism. perhaps occasionally forming themselves into larger groups only again to dissolve under pressure from the church or from other social circumstances. individuals sought and found as much as they could of such traditions on their own. or love’s faithful. for example. I think. that is to say. Instead. as referring to an actual beloved woman and to the divine. . in that it remained an individual and somewhat anarchic tradition that one joined by self-election. but these were not part of either the chivalric or troubadour lines. particularly the chivalric tradition. When the troubadour or the knight pledges troth to a woman. they do not reflect what we see in those Merkabah or Gnostic or Hermetic traditions explicitly devoted to knowledge of the transcendent. But was there any explicitly esoteric content in these traditions? In other words. in the background is also his relationship to the invisible. we can see in the poetry of the time that there was a mysterious amorous language that referred both to carnal and divine love at once. relying on implication and multivalent symbols. One does find an outright gnostic esotericism in the writings and sermons of Meister Eckhart and Johannes Tauler. There is esotericism visible on occasion in the stories written by individual authors or in particular cycles. never explicitly discussing. the troubadour movement was close to esotericism proper. Can we find anything approximating this earlier explicitly gnostic esotericism in the chivalric tales or the songs of the troubadours? The answer.E. Much more likely that here. there is esotericism visible in the songs of the troubadours. When a story is about a knight’s remaining true to his word. but one doubts very much that this reflects a widespread or organized esoteric tradition. Both of these movements are fundamentally social in nature. for hidden meanings not accessible to outsiders. likewise. the esotericism that we find in the chivalric or troubadour tradition is allusive and elusive. and indeed even they ran afoul of church censors alert for any signs of Gnosticism’s recurrence. and that may have also in some quarters engendered initiatory groups. we have already seen the explicitly esoteric nature of Gnosticism and other movements of the first few centuries C. Of course. a troubadour’s poem also can be read on at least two levels. Undoubtedly much of this allusiveness had to do with the strictures imposed by the Roman Catholic church. But to this day the precise nature of this or similar societies remains largely closed to us. and thus there inherently are hidden dimensions to such poems or stories.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. who conveyed their mysteries through poetic references and imagery. as for instance in the Grail cycles or in Parzival. as in so much of Western esotericism to follow. is no.
noble angels.” and we are told that his being a Christian allowed him to enter into the true nature of the Grail. teacher of Eschenbach. . and this is the mystery of names.” we are told that Flegetanis wrote. which has a peculiar mythohistory that Eschenbach briefly relates here. both pagan and Christian. Naturally. Afterwards a Christian progeny bred to a pure life had the duty of keeping it. Parzival exclaims that if chivalric deeds with shield and lance can win fame for one’s earthly self and paradise for the soul. occupying a middle ground between these. for the name disappears. but there is another source. we are told. He found that a man named Flegetanis. and in Jewish and Gnostic esotericism more generally.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 37 Nonetheless. in Wolfram von Eschenbach’s Parzival. this reminds us rather strongly of the magical powers of naming in the Book of Revelation. For. and to whom God sends his angel. worthy. there is no need to erase it. And beyond the mystery of naming lies the mystery of the Stone itself. In any event. when Lucifer and the Trinity began to war with each other. Trevrizent tells Parzival that he does not know whether those “neutral angels” were forgiven or damned in the end. But there is an even greater mystery about the Grail. Kyot had to learn the characters’ ABC beforehand “without the art of necromancy. for not only is it given a JudeoChristian mythohistory. “A troop had left it on earth and then rose high above the stars. Hearing this. He or she is forever after immune from the shame of sin. that is. Whether the name is of a boy or a girl. and has a rich reward in heaven. upon which Trevrizent tells the story of King Anfortas and his wound. [as] if their innocence drew them back again. Here the Stone is certainly associated with esoteric mysteries. it is associated with angels whose place corresponds closely with that of Hermes and Hermetism.” on the top of which an inscription announces the name and lineage of one called to the service of the Grail. had written of the hidden secrets in the constellations. those who did not take sides. and shortly the child is fetched from whatever country. Parzival learns about the tradition of the Gral or grail from Trevrizent. For instance. a descendent of Solomon himself and an astrologer. we do find traces in chivalric literature of some of the same themes that we saw in antiquity. for shortly Parzival and we are told about the magical Stone called the “Lapsit exillis. who discovered the primary version of the Grail cycle in Toledo written in “heathenish script” (presumably Arabic). the stone has since been in the care of those whom God appoints. then the chivalric life is his one desire. Thus the disclosing of the Grail mystery came about through the mysterious decoding of an unfamiliar language. whence had come the Grail. but God may have taken them back. it was through books that Kyot traced his path to Parzival himself. a hermit. a Provençal poet named Master Kyot. most notably in the esoteric significances of writing and speaking. This story is of Anfortas’s pride and his wounding and lying sick. had to descend to Earth to that Stone which is forever incorruptible.
remains this-worldly in emphasis. There remains one more aspect of the Grail tradition that we need to discuss further. we are told again to honor and never denigrate women. we are told to honor women. For instance. or still less into discussions of spiritual illumination. of his good fortune and that he shall ask the Question. and there is in this even a complementary relationship: a kingdom can be saved by asking the right question. Parzival. the knight is told by Feirifiz. and indeed it may be that the fusion of this-worldli- . This theme clearly holds for both men and women. in particular. he is forced to leave—a repetition yet again of the constant theme throughout Parzival. and if he asked a Question. we are left with a curious twist on the mystery of naming. the two nodes of which are called the “dragon’s head” and the “dragon’s tail. 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. He was to ask. Saturn to suffering. then naming them one by one in Arabic. exists both within and without specific religious traditions. the Grail tradition is both independent and syncretic. where suddenly they saw it written that a knight would come. And at the book’s conclusion. was cared for by twenty-five women who by serving it are exalted. intensifies with the “advent of the high planets. whether it be Trevrizent or Eschenbach himself who advises. although intrinsic to the tale inasmuch as it concerns the mysteries of the holy Grail and of the inscriptions upon it. for a knight comes to live with a princess on the condition that she never ask his name. we will recall. and lost by asking the wrong one! Parzival is. of course. Yet this implicit esotericism. we are told explicitly that Anfortas’s suffering. like so many of the Western esoteric currents. that of speaking when one ought to (asking the Question. the spotted knight. Feirifiz outlines why Parzival shall do so by reference to the “seven stars” or planets. but also with the changing of the moon.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.” chiefly Saturn. and that of all the Grail servers.” This conclusively links the planets to consciousness. entertaining. and at the end of the tale. but certainly it is safe to say that it also contains esoteric references central to the tale. When inevitably she does so. like chivalric literature more generally. just as is Western esotericism more generally. for instance) and of not speaking when one oughtn’t. and that is the exalted position of women. The Grail.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 their sorrows would end. but if he were forewarned of the Question it would turn harmful. And near the end of Eschenbach’s story of Parzival.1 There are throughout this tale astrological references with esoteric implications. why the king suffered—but Parzival himself had not done this and thus had already failed. Rather. Throughout the tale. of course.
is not simply the repetition of letters and numbers for the way they sound. Gawain is the story of a virtuous knight on his travels.3 Thus the passage on the pentangle is nested within a larger context of number and letter symbolism carried on by way of the poem’s repetition of key letters and numbers. but with the five fingers. and is associated not only with the five wits or five senses. This esoteric symbolism emerges especially in the author’s discussion of the pentangle. part of a scribal code of letters that mark critical junctures in the work. we see Arthur and the entire court laughing and enjoying Gawain’s tale. as I have elsewhere shown. trusts instead in the knotted “braided belt” given him by Morgan le Fay. whose enchantments together with the Green Knight . and the second that of bewitchment and bewilderment. and behind him is the figure of Morgan le Fay. like several others in the poem. in the image of the pentangle. when Gawain to his shame tells the story of how he was fooled into wearing that braided belt. And at this point we might remark on two aspects of this transformation. the five virtues. reveals a fall and a redemption: the characters go through suffering into a renewed union on a higher level. And we should remember that Gawain is alliterative poetry. and are called together the “endless knot” by the Gawain-poet. All of these five categories add up to twenty-five. the five joys of the Virgin Mary with her Child. part of a tradition that.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 39 ness and otherworldliness in the service of one’s chivalric duties and of the Grail is the key to chivalric literature more generally. When Gawain. For the color green has a special symbolism that recurs throughout medieval literature and is especially prominent in Gawain. courtesy. and. in Gawain as in Parzival. the number of maidens serving the Grail. marking why Gawain is a fine man. Gawain’s symbol. the first is the true knot. the poem. And this green marks my second point of observation. Once again. and piety. 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. Thus the poem ends with the well known motto “Hony soyt qui mal pence. with the five wounds of Christ. of course. continence. is marked with a tiny colored initial. the explicit story is clearly one of virtue upheld. First.” meaning that good comes forth out of evil. he ultimately feels shamed. like Grail tales more generally. Yet in the story’s conclusion. but a way of conveying secret or esoteric meanings within a poem outwardly devoted to the telling of a story. This famous passage. instead of trusting only in this “endless knot” of the pentangle. loving kindness. these being liberality. The Green Knight is a mysterious supernatural figure who puts Gawain to the test. At the end of Gawain. where we are told that this sign comes from Solomon himself. and even wearing a sign of it themselves—a green one. But there is an implicit esotericism that emerges in the work’s center. For one certainly finds the same theme illustrated in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.
they set themselves apart from the rest of society by their spiritual vocation. One does find esoteric themes. The Green Isle represents an intermediate realm of spiritual passage. We might remark here that the Gottesfreunde had a Meisterbuch with a gnostic alphabet representing the twentythree aspects of the spiritual path. as when the poet Bernart de Ventadorn (1150–1180) writes “Parlar degram ab cubertz entresans / e. first must be humbled by the Green Knight and symbolically die with a snick of his neck. yet at the same time. the hidden divine messenger. become beautiful and haunting lyrics.” and then the lines written down in his little book that he entitles “The New Life. Both chivalric and troubadour literary traditions are allusive enough to accomodate esoteric interpretations. which can seem so merciless and in which death is inevitable. which on the one hand is associated with jealousy. adulterous relationship offered by Morgan le Fay. and the death that inheres in and underlies them. perhaps cunning can.”] Or again.” or “the Green Isle. Thus we have a dual symbolism of women—that is. and in fact the gnostic symbolism of green is quite widespread. Gawain. / And since talking directly can’t help us. and the illicit. and continuing into at least the twentieth century in the novel The Green Face of Gustav Meyrink. occasioned by his observation that he cannot find a name for his verses.40 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E symbolize the bewitchments of the world. But one does not find this kind of overt esotericism among the troubadours and trouvères. Or again. but they are almost never explicitly esoteric. Recalling the emphasis that Eschenbach laid on the astrological timing surrounding the . to be renewed. there are the lines of the young Raimbaut d’Orange (c.” The Friends of God were. valgues nos gens! [Let us talk in secret signs. 1150–1173) playing on namelessness and naming. although a lay group. green is the color of nature. which begins by discussing the “book of memory.” La Vita Nuova is full of esoteric implications from its very beginning. growth. a group called “the Friends of God” who established a community called “L’Ile Verte. the licit and noble relationship symbolized by Guinevere. yet on the other is associated with the beauty of Venus. Among the most explicitly esoteric of medieval poems more generally is La Vita Nuova by Dante. and although one can read such poems on multiple levels. not monastic or priestly.” under whose spiritual guidance the circle proceeded. One finds at the center of the Friends of God mysterious communications from a “Gottesfreund vom oberland. being found in Islam associated with Khidr. Here even the kind of esotericism we find in the chivalric tales is muted and filtered into literary forms. like the chivalric orders. there is little hint in any of this of open or even covert discussions of gnosis.4 But this secret language is that of lovers. The symbolism of green here corresponds to that of a more esoteric group around Rulman Merswin (1302–1387). This same duality inheres in the color green. yet it is also the symbol of new life. and renewal. pus nons val arditz.
and exactly nine years later. calls upon the “book of memory. that being Boethius in his Consolation of Philosophy. poems. time. of course. Boethius goes on a journey of celestial memory that takes him to his true origin beyond the sphere of the stars. So too does Love appear to him in terrible aspect during the beginning of the night’s nine last hours. where Dante is upbraided by the divine figure of Beatrice. La Vita Nuova. and of beautiful images shimmering in space. But there is more that ties this work to the esoteric lines we are tracing through history. And of course. and religious inheritance into visionary narratives that in fact . like the great Divine Comedy. Thus Dante’s greatest works. full of images. all of this corresponds closely to what we see in Dante’s Vita Nuova. This is. with a final vision about which he will not now write. There is. and to fuse the tradition’s literary. Vita Nuova and the Divine Comedy.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 41 Grail. ruling over him by virtue of a strong imagination. albeit more literary. Dante sees Beatrice again. but it is also bringing Vita Nuova to the closure of silence. but the faculty of imaginal perception. 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. this time wearing a white dress.” The number nine recurs in various ways throughout the poem. and is in the tradition of the Book of Revelation. Dante ends this strange work. and it turns back to that silence again at the end. thrice-blessed Lady. Boethius meets while in prison the divine figure of Philosophia. we end by passing beyond space.” and at the poem’s end sends a sigh upward beyond the farthest sphere. Within the work’s visionary interworld we enter into an archetypal realm of celestial numbers reverberating in time. in the ninth hour of the day. though certainly showing the influence of the troubadour tradition. as does the play that we see here on naming. as in the Divine Comedy. Boethius. who lived during the fifth century. was imprisoned and preparing to die when he wrote his Consolation as a summary of his understanding. she called Beatrice by those who nonetheless fully do not know her name. is a visionary poem. In De consolatione. 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. an intervening figure in the tradition. The strong imagination to which Dante refers is not just daydreaming. and his commentary. go far beyond it to include all manner of esoteric implications. Beatrice herself appears to Dante in a crimson dress as if she were an apparition. philosophical. where a “new perception” shows it a Lady of light. and words and ideas into the empyrean. and here. an allusion to the coming extraordinary visionary journey of the Divine Comedy. of course. who wishes to restore him to spiritual health by awakening his celestial memory and recalling him to his proper state of mind.
what we might call literary reflections or manifestations of esoteric traditions. instrumentz. The celestial images rule over the terrestrial actions within the circle of life. daunces” around her. Chaucer drew on Boethius in his own work.” with “festes.” it was “depeynted in the sterres above / Who shal be slayn or elles deed for lov. 1343–1400) and Ramon Lull (1232–1316). But all the same. the themes of divine images that recall celestial memory. known as a primary literary figure in English history. above all. Like Dante. Chaucer. bareyne trees olde.” with a temple of Mars “wrought al of burned steel. however. with an oratory.” In that “portreiture. Here. knarry. a nude Venus depicted with a golden garland and a “cokkow sittynge on hir hand. yet he went further. We see in Chaucer’s tale. interested in depicting his sometimes bawdy characters and tales. but in fact represent continuations not of specific lineages so much as currents or approaches to transcendence. for Chaucer also translated Boethius’s Consolation of Philosophy from Latin to English. we will concentrate on The Knight’s Tale because it illustrates some of our primary esoteric themes. Chaucer was not that kind of poet. Certainly there are no explicit and even relatively few implicit esoteric allusions. we find here too signs of the themes that have occupied our chivalric and troubadour poets. here.” Thus this tale. and of divine service. The western gate dedicated to Mars displayed a forest full of “knotty.42 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E depict unfolding gnostic revelation. Chaucer elaborates on the “noble theatre” of Theseus. This is not to say that Chaucer was an esotericist in the sense of a Kabbalist or a Gnostic. and built by masters of “geometrie or ars-metrike. Chaucer was not an esotericist. and occasionally elsewhere in his work. 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. In the third part of The Knight’s Tale. These references form a memory theater of images that govern the lists or battles taking place within their purview. This “theatre” was circular and a mile in circumference. marked east and west by gates of marble. which tells the story of how the knight Palamon and the lady Emelye were ultimately wedded. also incorporated esoteric elements into his poetry and prose.” and by “kervere of ymages. Earthy. but rather to recognize that esoteric elements flow in the mainstream of Western literature itself. And these are evoked . One finds traces of this influence in a number of Chaucer’s poems. the theater of art.” “gastly for to see. in a new ambience produce new revelations that often seem to appear ex nihilo. is also a tale full of mythological and astrological references to the planets. especially of the knight for his lady. including Troilus and Cressida as well as The Knight’s Tale. 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. caroles.” The eastern gate was dedicated to Venus.
Characteristic of his meditations is this: “The Beloved tested his lover in order to see if his love for him was perfect. In the ninety-ninth chapter. and indeed. not just a set of correspondences. the careful reader might notice some resonances with esoteric Islam. (part of his romance Blanquerna). in the voluminous works of Ramon Lull become explicit. like Chaucer. (a kind of chivalric code). we are given the meditations of the hermit. consisting chiefly in recounting the moral code of the knight. For although Lull. At this juncture. only to leave and become a hermit contemplative. among his vast number of works are The Book of Chivalry. In fact. which tells the story of a man who rises to the position of pope. and this is no accident. ‘As knowledge and remembrance differ from ignorance and oblivion’” (7). “knowledge” and “remembrance.” are familiar to students of . He asked how the Beloved’s presence differs from his absence.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 43 through literature. and Ars generalis ultima. until he was thirty. We are concluding this discussion with Lull because his work encapsulates virtually everything that we have so far considered. troubadour. The Book of Chivalry corresponds to what we saw already in the Grail and other chivalric literature. was also a syncretist who learned and taught Arabic and drew on his knowledge of esoteric Islam in his writings. for it includes other dimensions and reminds us of the celestial meanings behind human action. The Book of the Lover and the Beloved. But what in Chaucer are only allusions. on the love of the soul for God couched in the terms of lovers. These terms. one for each of the 365 days of the year. on the first page of the Book of the Lover and the Beloved—these terms representing a favorite motif of Sufi poetry throughout the centuries—we find a direct reference to Sufism itself. Lull. and esoteric streams into a remarkable fusion. Lull was himself something of a troubadour. it was eclipsed and almost completely vanished until it was rediscovered in the late twentieth century. the Lullian Art was immensely influential during the medieval and early modern era. and of course his most well-known and influential works. The Book of Contemplation. 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. chiefly through the heroic scholarly work of Frances Yates. Evidence of this is visible in his choice of ninety-nine for this chapter on contemplation. and unquestionably entails explicitly esoteric dimensions. It represents the ninety-ninth chapter of Lull’s romance Blanquerna. given its astonishing scope. but a complete way of knowledge that penetrates through all aspects of life. bringing together the chivalric. The Book of the Lover and the Beloved is much more complicated.” The Art represents. but with the advent of rationalism. was prolific. The lover answered. a tireless proselytizer for Christianity in Islamic countries. Ars brevis. Not surprisingly. unlike him Lull was primarily concerned with elaborating his astonishing system of universals known as the “Lullian Art. which alludes to the ninety-nine names of God in Islam. literature is not only entertainment.
invoking evil spirits as good angels. whose influence extended across Europe. we find the following: “They asked the Lover. investing them with the names of God and of good angels. that is. by seeing the Sign of God in the east.44 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Sufism. he condensed his art into nine letters. ‘What is the world?’ He answered. Lull himself was certainly accused of an inordinate and presumptuous lust for knowledge in the pursuit and teaching of this art. each of which has multiple meanings and is used to create figures and reveal the principles within all that we see. Such a proviso is particularly appropriate for Lull’s own work. and by writings. For in a delightful appendix consisting of questions posed to the Lover. west. most of all in the exposition of his art. not of figures. And through presumption. ‘It is a book for those who can read in which is revealed my Beloved. His brief alphabet extends from B to K (excluding J) and includes a range of mean- . but of those done with the wrong attitude. and writings in themselves. engraved in precious jewels and worn on him in order to always remind him. ‘Is your Beloved in the world then?’ He answered. but are also familiar to us from our examination of the Western esoteric traditions more generally.” In this falsified knowledge. just as the writer is in his book. and writings. and profaning holy things with figures.’ They asked him. as the readers of Lull’s book. Lull created a kind of Christian Kabbalism. But there is one theme above all others which we have been tracing that emerges clearly here. we are also participating in this relationship. rather than my Beloved in the world.” But the Lover corrects this through the remembrance of truth. which emerges from “a lust for knowledge and presumption. which he claimed to be a universal system of knowledge that allows one to see into the universal nature of all things and of the Divine. and that is the book. meant to reflect that of humanity to the divine. Here we find a clear condemnation. all errors are implanted in the world. and so the relationship between humanity and the divine is that of a reader and a writer. and images. since my Beloved contains all. images. Spiritual knowledge is also celestial memory or remembrance. Of course. This extraordinary art. some “insult the Name of God with curses and incantations. out of arrogance or presumption. Originally. but for purposes of clarity. as well as from the Grail tradition in particular. Further.’ ‘And in what does this book consist?’ ‘In my Beloved. However. was a means of investigating and coming to understand the true nature of things. and therefore the world is in my Beloved. By means of these letters. images. Lull used more letters. north and south.’”5 The world is a book for those who can read: this is a constant refrain within the Western esoteric traditions from antiquity to the present. and is founded on a special kind of alphabet. ‘Yes. there is a profanation of this true reading and writing. since there is absolutely no doubt that Lull himself extensively used figures. The cosmos represents the divine writing.
B—Bonitas. not least in its use of the combinations of letters. Of course his work is unique. justice. whether?. and gluttony. it was naturally applied to astrology and to alchemy. and numerous other arrangements. and although Lull himself explictly denied the transmutation of metals. triangles. angel. and avarice. The Lullian art is a means of working with letters and words as a way of entering into transcendent consciousness of the inner metaphysical principles informing and transcending the human and natural realms. above all the view of literature as a vehicle for the transmutation of consciousness. to which we can here offer only the briefest of introductions. can produce an almost infinite series of correlations.” C signifies “greatness. it includes and transcends logic. depending upon how the letters are combined. The “A” figure is so designated because it contains in its center a letter A. for in essence the Lullian art most resembles Kabbalism. which is the unspoken origin of and connection between all the other letters arranged in a circle around it. The Lullian art. for instance. 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. the number of letters and qualities makes their range enormous. At the same time.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 45 ings. difference. And although Lull’s thought has been explored relatively recently as a system of logic. When we consider the prominence of the letter A in numerous esoteric traditions ranging all the way from Buddhist tantrism to Gnosticism to Böhmean Christian theosophy. In the full art. “goodness. and can be applied not only to philosphy and theology. E—Potestas. Hence in many respects.”6 Thus each letter contains within it a constellation of meanings that. trees. but to the physical world and indeed to virtually every aspect of life. For this reason. Around the A in these figures is a geometric series of lines linking many of the letters in intricate correlations. concordance. and even the Ars brevis represents a daunting set of combinations. and in the outer circle are the primary qualities asociated with each of the letters. or that from the Ars brevis. what?. for example. God. tables. found in the Ars compendiosa. I— Veritas. a host of Lullian-based alchemical treatises emerged in the wake of his works. Lull represents the juncture of almost all the currents we have thus far discussed. B signifies. it becomes difficult to believe that the placement of the A here could fail to have esoteric origins and meaning. and so forth. according to Lull in his Ars Brevis. prudence. For instance. probably the most revealing of which for our purposes is the socalled “A” figure from the Ars compendiosa inveniendi veritatem. has vast implications. it also represents a synthesis of the primary currents we have been discussing. . Lull himself combined them using circles. 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.
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. BOOKS WITHIN BOOKS: JEWISH KABBALISM Around the same time that chivalric and troubadour literature was being written. we must first look at another primary current whose influence can hardly be underestimated: Kabbalism.or eighteenth-century German. commonplace to regard each of the primary currents of Western esotericism as having emerged ex nihilo and completely separate from its predecessors. In these traditions. it is as it was in the first centuries of this era—Jewish. there was an efflorescence of another kind of literature entirely. so that even if there were no direct influence of troubadour poetry on the spiritual love poems of a seventeenth. profoundly important and influential instances of the mysteries of the word as means of spiritual awakening. that the medieval authors created in order to convey their visions. however. the spiritual love poetry of the troubadours. or English gnostic. of course. 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. whose origins are still shrouded in mystery. Christian. Rosicrucianism. . with the emergence in the twelfth century in Europe of Jewish Kabbalah (a Hebrew word meaning “tradition”). and the alphabetical mysticism of Lull and others later appear in Christian theosophy. the words. but what is more. Jewish Kabbalah did not appear in a vacuum. And in Kabbalah we see not only some potential connections to earlier Gnostic traditions. It is. poetry and stories go beyond entertainment. but this is virtually never the case. whose influence also extends well beyond their disappearance as living social movements. still there is an affiliation because all exist within the larger. Thus the transposed spiritual chivalry. troubadour. 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. Chivalry influenced future esotericism by providing a code of conduct that as it became individualized or fed into smaller initiatory groups took on esoteric force even as it lost power as a system of social organization. and Freemasonry. How do these various currents reëmerge later in history? Chiefly through the influence of the books. and other forms of esotericism are often closely linked and influence one another. for here literature possesses powerful cultural and spiritual dimensions. Before we turn to the emergence of Western esoteric traditions at the cusp of the modern era. but out of a particular literary and religious ambience and with definite predecessors. cross-fertilizing currents of Western esotericism. intricately woven. French. the chivalric. Rather. And as literature.
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 affinity with the language.” Scholem concludes. and cosmogony. . The book Bahir. which are also discussed in the Sefer Yezirah or Book of Creation. with at least some connections to the contemporaneous Cathar or Albigensian Christian heretical movement. and thus Kabbalism. dating to the Talmudic period. It derived from the long line of previous Jewish mysticism. it is entirely enough to note the profound resemblances between these movements. which in turn were edited and developed by a group of Kabbalists. And in fact. Castile. discusses at length the origin and meaning of the sephirot. which in turn has been linked to the troubadours. and to recognize that Kabbalism explicitly continues our primary themes within the Western esoteric traditions. For instance. Scholem’s assessment is that the Bahir. But the Bahir. the Kabbalistic works of this period are deeply concerned with exactly these mysteries of word. the crux of the paradox inherent in the mysteries of the word. and Kabbalism more generally. and elsewhere in Europe. many of which had at least passed through certain circles of the German Hasidim. not only in that they reflect and point toward a hidden wisdom tradition. also may have roots elsewhere. and symbolism of Gnosticism suggests an Oriental origin for the most important among the ancient texts and sources of the Bahir. disclosing them only in parabolic language. the mere fact of composing Kabbalistic literature or commentaries represents a disclosure of what is secret. has origins in a Jewish gnosticism of a much earlier date. and Gnosticism of any sort in antiquity.E. or ten dimensions of the cosmos. It [the Bahir] has its roots in an entirely different world.”7 What is this “entirely different world”? Certainly the Bahir emerged in the ambience of twelfth-century French Judaism. There can be no doubt that the Kabbalistic works emerging during and after the twelfth century are esoteric.8 But for our purposes.9 Yet at the same time. And it emerged during a period of established Jewish speculative mysticism in the Provençal region. for instance. 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. Rabbi Isaac the Blind wrote a well-known letter to Nahmanides bemoaning the common contemporary tendency to write publicly about the Kabbalah. terminology. in particular the Merkabah mysticism that dates back to at least the second century C. number. and Nahmanides’ disciples intensified their protection of the secret Kabbalistic teachings. Although there has been some controversy over his conclusions. regardless of whether there was a direct historical link between the emergence of Kabbalism in Provençe. Scholem holds that there arrived in Provençe some time in the middle of the twelfth century a collection of older gnostic writings.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 47 We first encounter Kabbalistic literature in the Sefer ha-Bahir.
is that Moses de Leon composed the Zohar himself by way of “conjuration of the Writing Name. and that in this sense he really was copying from the transcendent source of the Kabbalistic tradition. writing the Names of God) and through this power. Opposite them are the twenty-two little letters of the lower world. In section 124. but here takes on the meaning of “com- .10 Thus we can see how here mystical numbers and letters reflect the hidden divine principles of the cosmos. the “Oral Law” as female or receiver.”12 And we are treated to a fascinating explanation of why the verse-divisions. a word that usually means “restoration” in Hebrew. and that it regards the written word as being at the center of those mysteries.” (that is. caught up in the spirit. as a female is fertilized from the male. the ten fingers of human hands are said to correspond to the ten sephirot and to the commandments.” and are the means by which “the Written Law fertilized the Oral Law. spiritual. For example. Although the origins of the Zohar are somewhat controversial. and which was central in the founding of Hasidism as well. the Zohar is replete with alphanumeric mysticism. the tonal accents. 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. said to symbolize the abdomen. and natural realms at once.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.11 Of course. We also see these alphanumeric mysteries in the Zohar. including all twenty-two letters of the alphabet except tet. but another view. which comprise a total of 613 letters. The Fountain of Wisdom consists in a discussion of tikkun. there is a third possibility—that Moses de Leon composed through spiritual imagination. But there is another work that helps shed light on what the nature of these alphanumeric mysteries might be. which sixteenth-century Kabbalist Moses Cordovero regarded as being among a handful of the most important works.”13 We might note that here the “Written Law” is seen as male. for example. It is absolutely clear from this and many other sections of the Zohar that Kabbalistic gnosis is intimately bound up with the mysteries of the word. supported by some contemporary testimony. including the human body. One of the most influential Kabbalistic books of this period is the Fountain of Wisdom (Ma‘yan ha-Hokhmah). he wrote the entire work without any precedent. informing the cultural. this controversy itself reveals much about the nature of Kabbalism. it is not at all out of character for the Zohar to have connections to the mysteries of the “Writing Name. and so forth are absent from the Scroll of Law: these signs were hidden in the “interior of the Divine Throne. 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. often said to be the culmination of the early Kabbalistic period. But in any event.
so to say. and 160. but My Face will not be seen. 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. there remains still the ’alef “pivotal amongst them. Here. not even Moses.” The ’alef is the mystery of the ether and the root-principle of all being. in the Fountain of Wisdom. is the secret meaning of the verse from Exodus 33:23: “You will see My Back.”14 In other words. 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. utterance. we are told. one also arrives at the seventy-two Names of God.”18 This. whispering.” about which no one. For prior to the Names and even prior to the Ether and root-principle of all being is the “Primal Darkness. 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. inquiry . and yod in turn becomes twenty. in this context. This visionary understanding leads backward through the process of creation to its source. out of it emerges the Names.” from which four emerge—and between these four emerges a fifth. In reading the intricate discussion of this letter’s transformations. . or aleph. is allowed to ask questions. yet when these Names are removed. the essence of everything. action . and out of them all the “lanes” and “paths” and the countless lights of life.” two vocalizations result: “â” and “a.” One can easily see. For instance. . speech. we have gone behind the alphanumeric mysticism into the visionary understanding that precedes and informs it.”17 By investigation. . the “unique master” that “radiates in the green flames. from reading this extraordinary work.”15 Central to this linguistic mysticism is the letter A. the “Face” is the Primal Darkness “that is the focal point of My existence. one comes to understand how “all wisdom and understanding. made transparent so . Investigating this holiest of mysteries is prohibited even for a Moses. Its linguistic mysticism undoubtedly requires an oral commentary: here the written word remains opaque without vocal explication. tikkun is a kind of linguistic mysticism that through its praxis brings one into the “immeasurable light” “in the superabundance of the secret darkness.” for when you open your mouth to say “ah. forty. . Through this kind of multiplication. one comes to understand not only why the thirty or more versions of the Fountain are generally regarded as ‘corrupt. “so as not to distort the knowledge of the image of the Holy One.” which may or may not itself be an “a. voice.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 49 bination. corresponding to yod. eighty. in the text the ’aleph is said to be “divided into five heads. Here we see the mysteries of the word laid bare. all comprehension and thought.” The “Back” here is the mysteries of creation. all are found in this Name.”16 These five alefim are calculated by doubling as ten.’ but even more why this work was traditionally explicated word by word from teacher to pupil. the tenth letter.
Although it is possible that medieval Kabbalism owes more than a little to the Gnosticism of antiquity. Medieval Kabbalism. not from this side. 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. ’En sof literally means “infinity. we have spontaneous investigations into some of the same mysteries that the Kabbalists investigated. but also metaphysical. Its cosmological dimensions we have glimpsed in the intricate doctrines of the ten Sephirot and in the profound complexities of its alphanumeric gnosis. as Scholem remarks. but to the inner experience of how existence emerges from the Primal Ether. for the Kabbalists “the world of language is therefore actually the ‘spiritual world. which is to say also a knowledge of how the mind is prior to the emergence of language and thought. that of hardened or congealed materiality. and this is corroborated by the very linguistic mysticism that they express. including thought. where all that is seen in the eye of imagination is light and color and energy welling forth from the indefinable Primal Darkness. is not only cosmological. since this absolute transcendence resembles the Greek akatalepton as well as the later incomprehensibilis of John Scotus Erigena. it is also entirely possible that in the works of the Gnostics and Neoplatonists. one also finds correspondences between the mysticism of ’en sof and the teachings of Meister Eckhart. Just as in antiquity the Gnostics often laid emphasis on the mysteries of language and consciousness. sometimes without.”19 But underlying the entire work is the gnosis of how light emerges from darkness. Indeed.20 For that matter. within the general currents of Western esoteric traditions.” but in early Kabbalism also is connected to “that which thought cannot attain. All of these exist. of which emergence ordinary human speech is but a reflection. We are viewing a pure mysticism of the word. and how the Voice emerges from light through speech and breath. its metaphysical dimensions are to be found especially in its use of the term ’en sof. emerges. and how words emerge from primordial consciousness into being. But none of these correspondences necessarily indicate historical influence. It may be that there is some historical link with Neoplatonism here. as well as in Erigena and in Eckhart. then. broadly speaking. Here “Voice” refers not to ordinary human speech. so too the medieval Kabbalists emphasized this same linkage. but from the other. Thus there is a double quality to this mystery: it applies to the emergence of consciousness both within us and in the cosmos. and so it is natural that common elements reemerge again and again historically.’ Only that which lives in any particu- . sometimes with the influence of particular earlier esoteric authors. It is obvious from Kabbalistic works themselves that they do not derive from scholastic but from direct knowledge.” or absolute transcendence out of which everything.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.
lar thing as language is its essential life.”21 In fact, for the Kabbalists letters have a plastic quality: in forming words, they are forming also the actual divine nature of things, so that to enter into the mysteries of words is to penetrate beyond language as we ordinarily conceive it into the hidden nature of God himself. Here again we have come upon the dual nature of language: there is exoteric language, which is veiling and limited; and there is esoteric language, which is unveiling and virtually unlimited in its ramifications. Particularly in the case of Kabbalistic word and letter combination can we say that esoteric uses of language are virtually unlimited in effect, for Kabbalism has since at least the time of Rabbi Eleazar of Worms (c. 1165–1230) and Abraham ben Samuel Abulafia (c. 1240–1292) employed techniques of linguistic recombination that in turn, if practiced over a period of time, result in ecstasy and visionary illumination. In the case of R. Eleazar and Abraham Abulafia, the technique entails combining the Tetragrammaton with the letters of the alphabet in order to bring one to a transcendent state of divine knowledge or gnosis. According to Abulafia, this technique, which requires isolation, prolonged practice, and special breathing techniques, “draws down the supernal force in order to unite it with you.”22 Thus esoteric language is not only a guide toward gnosis, it is here the actual means to gnosis. Central to Kabbalism is esoteric language. Isaac of Acre, for instance, distinguished between the mere acquisition of knowledge through ordinary learning and the direct gnosis by the intellect.23 And his predecessor Isaac the Blind used the analogy of a great tree, in which inward and subtle essences of wisdom (hokhmah) exist and move through the tree like sap. We partake of this wisdom, or sap, by “sucking,” which is a fundamentally different kind of knowledge from that gained by ordinary reading; it is a participatory gnosis in which we directly experience the essence-language of creation itself, moving in and through all that is. Here again we have reading and writing that go far beyond what we ordinarily regard them as—here esotericism and literature are totally fused. Such analogies and definitions as that of the tree, or “sucking,” or for that matter of celestial reading and writing, do indeed correspond to those of the ancient Gnostics; and like the ancient Gnostics, the Kabbalists too produced a wild profusion of works expressing variants of a complex and profound cosmology, as well as a metaphysics of absolute transcendence. In Kabbalism, as in ancient Gnosticism, we find the figure of Sophia, or Wisdom, to be prominent, and indeed even find the teaching in Kabbalah of the higher and lower Shekhinah, which parallels the teachings of some Gnostic sects regarding a higher and lower Sophia. There are numerous parallels, but this does not mean that there was direct influence. In any event, this profusion of Kabbalistic works and teachings in turn was to have an immense influence on the subsequent history of Western esoteric
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traditions, and unlike the relationship of Kabbalism to Gnosticism, the relationship of Kabbalism and Christian Cabala is relatively well documented.24 Here it is possible only to allude to the ways Kabbalism flowed into Christianity, especially beginning in the fifteenth century. It is generally held that the first major influx of Kabbalism into Christianity occurred with Giovanni Pico della Mirandola (1463–1494), who in his On the Dignity of Man proposes the harmony of Christianity and Kabbalah, holding that in fact Kabbalah is evidence for Christianity because in it we find discussions of the Trinity, of the Word, and much else that corresponds to the works of Dionysius the Areopagite. For our purposes it is noteworthy that Pico insisted on the initiatory nature of original Christianity championed by Origen and Dionysius the Areopagite: that Christ gave secret teachings to some of the disciples, teachings that subsequently were continued. Pico holds, in his oration, that Kabbalah corresponds to these teachings in its initiatory lineage and in its doctrines: “to make public the occult mysteries, the secrets of the supreme Godhead . . . what else were this than to give a holy thing to dogs and to cast pearls before swine?”25 Thus Kabbalah, according to Pico, furnishes a way to recover the original true nature of Christianity. This true nature includes the doctrines of the ’en sof, as well as that of the emanated Sephirot and, above all, the Names of God by which God created the cosmos.26 There is in Kabbalah, as in Plato, a divine mathematics that is not like the jottings of traders.27 And so Pico brings Jewish Kabbalah into the broad stream of Western learning that includes all the classics and has come to be known as the prisca theologia, confirming precisely those elements that we have come to see characterize the Western esoteric currents as the initiatory sciences of reading and writing. It is true that Pico only refers to Kabbalah and does not offer detailed exegeses or doctrinal expositions, but what he chooses to touch upon— “divine mathematics,” initiatory lineages, secret knowledge not divulged to the hoi polloi, the transcendent Godhead, the hidden Names of God, and reading and writing as the transmission of esoteric knowledge, when accompanied by oral transmission—all correspond exactly to the threads we have been tracing throughout Western history. Naturally, Pico was far from alone in the endeavor to bring Kabbalah into Christianity—or, put from the viewpoint of the Christian Cabalists themselves, to show how Christianity is illuminated by Kabbalism. Another important figure is Johannes Reuchlin (1455–1522), author of De verbo mirifico (1494), and of the more well-known De arte cabalistica (1517). The first book, whose title alone brings it into our purview, is arranged as a dialogue between a pagan philosopher, a Jewish mystic, and a Christian; the pagan is concerned with cosmology, the Jew with Kabbalah and the divine Names, and the Christian with absolute transcendence. Both books are intensely concerned with the nature of
language, with its divine origin, and with how it illuminates the path toward the deification of man. Reuchlin in turn drew upon Pico and influenced Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa von Nettesheim (1486–1535), whose work De occulta philosophia (1533) is among the most influential works on magical esotericism in European history. Agrippa’s book is chiefly concerned with magic, but it focuses on magic in a larger context that further develops the new tradition of Christian Cabala. Rather like Reuchlin, Agrippa begins by discussing cosmology and the nature of the world; turns then to numbers and letters and their celestial significances (with references to the Sephirot); and in the third book discusses the Names of God and the relation of the magus to God. Agrippa’s concern with the practice of magic inaugurates a subsequent long tradition of Christian magical esotericism drawing upon Jewish Kabbalah. But Kabbalah’s influence on Christendom was not limited to magical esotericism alone; indeed, it would seem that during this time Kabbalah’s influence extended from the royal courts to the Vatican. One finds in France Jean Thenaud (?–1542) writing an extensive manuscript entitled Traité de la Cabale chrétien for Francis I in about 1521; one finds in Italy Paul Rici, author of De coelesti agricultura (1541), as well as Cardinal Egidio (Gilles) da Viterbo (1465–1532), an important figure in the Vatican, whose unpublished work Scecina (1530) was finally made available in 1959. And, of course, there is Gillaume Postel (1510–1581), among whose papers we find references to and translations of many Hebrew works including the Bahir and the Zohar. Postel is well known for his devotion to a woman named Mother Johanna, whom he regarded as the Virgin incarnate. We could continue to trace the byzantine influences of Kabbalism in the history of Western esotericism here, and if so, we would have to make mention of figures like John Dee (1527–1608) and Robert Fludd (1574–1637), both major Renaissance authors whose works drew on Kabbalistic themes to create new Western esoteric syntheses, as well as examine the possible course of Kabbalah into the works of arguably the most influential esotericist of the past five centuries, Jacob Böhme (1575–1624). Böhme’s works may reveal the traces of Kabbalism, but if so, here too Kabbalah is transformed in new and specifically Christian ways. Yet there is not room here for such an extensive study, and since we will shortly look at Böhmean theosophy in much more detail, it is perhaps more useful to consider what we have learned. Without question, Kabbalah had widely penetrated Christianity in Western Europe by the seventeenth century, but oftentimes its influence was underground and not at all easily traced. What is more, just as Kabbalah itself resembles earlier Gnostic traditions in antiquity, so too within Christianity one finds more modern movements or views that may or may not be historically affiliated with Kabbalism. For instance, Thenaud in his sixteenth-century
But Kabbalistic literature opens up almost endlessly. it also fascinates us with its riddles and mysteries. but it is also important because it offers us a completely different way of understanding the very nature of writing. even where it is roughly or awkwardly written. or vice versa. and beauty. perhaps more than any other Western tradition. its grandeur lies in the daring of its visionary heights. Here the written word becomes not opaque but transparent. But is there any historical influence of Kabbalism on Leade? Or did she independently rediscover the same esoteric doctrines in vision. after all. For Kabbalah. Western esoteric traditions are perpetually changing and self-renewing. To such approaches. intricacy. however unfamiliar to us today. Spain. which is. each letter and number potentially bearing infinite depths. Symbolic of Western syncresis is La Mezquita in Cordoba. literature increasingly lost even the inkling of bearing within it other dimensions. This transcendence lends itself to syncretism. In the eighteenth century. that is. One finds those who insist that the heart of Islamic Sufism is Christian. If great literature like Dante’s attracts us because of its grandeur. And when we look at Kabbalism. we shall turn to another primary current of the Western esoteric traditions: alchemy. and so it goes right into the heart of the Middle Ages and Renaissance. an ornate mosque in whose center is a Christian cathedral. Such an approach to literature. surface is nothing and depth is everything. Kabbalah represents a polar opposite—for it. rather than only trying to trace ‘horizontal’ historical influence. not a barrier to but a vehicle for transcendence. Nowhere is this more evident than in the history of Kabbalah. that ultimately all beings will be saved. But before discussing these implications. literature represents portals into the transcendent. represents the confluence of literature and religion in esotericism. In the twentieth century. and instead creep over the surfaces of things like painstaking caterpillars. it may be better to look at ‘vertical’ or categorical similarities. or vice versa. and perhaps even of the origin and nature of consciousness. Indeed.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. with the prevalence of materialism and scientism. and the boundaries between Judaism and Christianity far less distinct than usual. precisely what she said had happened? It would seem that in this case as generally. . Here. we find the English theosopher Jane Leade holding the same doctrine. that the heart of Christianity is Jewish Kabbalism. many novelists and poets explicitly denounce even the idea of spirituality. where one finds literature and religion fused. almost always willing to draw from another religion if it illuminates one’s own. much less the possibility of transcendence. we can see why it had such profound literary and religious influences. in its willingness to go through the letters and words into the consciousness that they represent. ramified throughout religious and literary history.
alchemy. like the alchemical expression or riddle. One might compare these means of arcane expression to the Zen Buddhist koan tradition. and so it is little wonder that many historians of science have denigrated European alchemy as merely a strange predecessor to modern chemistry. which in turn reflects GrecoEgyptian origins whose precise outlines likely never will be thoroughly traceable.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. hence on the one hand religious. as the “art of Hermes. forces one to wrestle with it alone. on the other transmitted by way of literature. not entirely ‘pagan. Western alchemy remains largely uncharted by modern scholarship. peripheral since it is not wholly Christian. but represents nonetheless a separate path of its own. Thus Western alchemy has a peculiar place. when we look more closely at specific works in the alchemical traditions. Because the Western alchemists’ place vis-à-vis Christianity was seldom entirely clear. To the first-time observer. When we look at European alchemical works. . and even with extended study often yield no certain interpretation. operating by metaphor and allusion and parabolic expression. Yet both the koan and the alchemical work emerge within stylized and traditional contexts. we find that they reveal striking new applications and manifestations of Western esotericism. Full of exotic images and peculiar language. by virtue of its initial incomprehensibility. Hermetism itself occupies a syncretic place in the midst of numerous traditions. and a current representing a particular path between religion and literature. because the opposition of exotericism to esotericism in Western Europe was often so violent.’ yet not entirely Christian. with their astonishing repertoire of exotic terminology. but through meditative concentration and inspiration. and also because alchemy is the transmission of mysteries that must be directly experienced. to work it through. European alchemical works resemble bizarre collections of riddles wrapped in enigmas. yet in that its adherents claim to realize the gnosis at the heart of Christianity. with their plethora of brilliant and resonant images. sort of a mistaken byway people once took before they saw the light of materialism and rationalism.” draws on the particular religious ambience within which it finds itself. the term alchemy itself emerges out of the Arabic word al-kimiya. However. And in fact Western alchemical works are highly literary. Of course. alchemists took to arcane ways of expressing themselves. as we saw earlier. alchemical writings seem totally impenetrable. Indeed. for only a few intrepid souls have ventured into this territory. especially to the need for humility and for reliance on divine grace. to come to terms with it not just by rational explication. itself also highly literary: the koan. we cannot help but notice religious references. So too.
and Morienus of the seventh century C.E. refers by its own testimony to the transmutation and redemption of the physical world: its work takes place on Earth.. Roger Bacon. After all. or al-Rhazi (ca. as well as Islamic figures such as Jabir ibn Hayyan of the eighth century (later latinized as Geber). and the spiritualizing of the body. although we could here offer a historical survey of alchemy. plant. Ramon Lull. 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.E. a tradition transmitted through literature. in the revelation of paradise.. 825–932 C. The alchemist’s work consists in the awakening of dormant qualities in the natural world. the embodying of spirit. be they in the mineral. Indeed. and reveal the gnostic center of the tradition. All of these authors did write on alchemy. Fire burns up impurities and allows the transmutation of a fallen metal. alchemical literature. even if the alchemical labors to which these writers refer are certainly not literary but take place in a laboratory. George Ripley (fifteenth century). and might include also such figures as Zosimos of Panopolis of the third century C. that is. partaking at once in the realms too of religion and literature. it is by no means just a kind of metallurgy or chemistry. This process of awakening entails a kind of double working.E. . Such a list undoubtedly would include Hermes Trismegistus. Nicholas Flamel (fourteenth century). it is certain that such a historical recitation would do little to unveil our primary theme: how religion and literature coincide at the juncture of consciousness in the Western esoteric traditions. so that their lineage from the alchemical perspective forms an Aurea catena or “golden chain” from antiquity to the present. at heart. who draws upon them in order to undertake the alchemical work himself and subsequently to write his own alchemical treatise. What matters is that the works under the name Geber speak to the later alchemist. we may well say that alchemy consists in the transmutations of the earth or. For how else might a medieval or Renaissance figure come to know Geber or Rhazes? Cultural context has been largely lost. the vegetable.—latinized as Rhazes). For alchemy extends into many realms. as has historical placement. Olympiodoros. put another way. And so Geber joins the line of figures in what is indisputably a literary transmission. or animal into its paradisal original true nature. One places oneself in the line of what is. either. for all its symbolic complexity and mysterious allusiveness.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. even if it does not entirely belong to these. or the animal kingdom. and takes place by way of fire. even if its work resembles these in some respects. Thus alchemy itself consists in processes that are at once spiritual and physical. Thus it is conventional for the author of an alchemical work to list predecessors to whom he is indebted. author of the Rosarium philosophorum (attr. thirteenth century). Synesius. To list such names as Arnald of Villanova. Thus.
we find such a plethora of both collections of images and written works that it is more than difficult to choose. the conflict between merely physical medicine and Hermetic medicine can be resolved through the study of alchemy. in his preface. Maier deliberately brackets his alchemical texts with literary epigrams. of course. and are to come. which Vulcan cast into the sea. physician. were. . but without value in revealing the actual nature of the alchemical tradition itself. the treatise joins what we may call a mythological field. and thou knowest all. For he bore away the golden fruit from the Hesperian garden and blessed with them fair Germany’s fields. and an abbot of Westminster named Cremer. useful in demonstrating some kind of continuity. preceding Valentinus’s treatise on the “great stone” with the words “Pactolus contains not such great treasures. it is enough. . Basilius Valentinus and Eirenaeus Philalethes (seventeenth century). Thomas Norton. nor does gold-bearing Hebrus roll down such precious things in its golden sand. consisting in three alchemical treatises arranged and edited by none other than the alchemist.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 57 Michael Maier (early seventeenth century). composer.”29 Thus the alchemical work exists within a classical literary context.” that is. For “The Golden Tripod” includes treatises by the Benedictine monk Basilius Valentinus. between those who insist on a purely physical medicine consisting in the treatment of symptoms. and where some might find the time to pursue the alchemical work. as Valentine scatters abroad in this one book . Indeed. . we find a confluence of major alchemical authors and works that will provide a useful introduction to the tradition. Maier. places these works in the context of a seventeenth-century struggle between the followers of “Dogmatic” or “Hermetic medicine. In order to understand the alchemical current of the Western esoteric traditions.” In other words.” derives from the words of the Delphic priestess: “The feud between the Meropes and the Ionians will not cease until the Golden Tripod. But in a work titled “The Golden Tripod” (1618). it is necessary to look more closely at exemplary works. “The Golden Tripod. But we should recognize the elegant and highly literary nature of Maier’s expression. If thou knowest the substance and the method. and author Michael Maier. His title. and historically it makes sense that the monasteries were places where writings from antiquity on could be stored. bracketed by mythological references.”28 And Maier concludes with this admonition: “Let this suffice thee. seek not many utensils for thy labor. only goes to show the historical line that we are tracing. We might begin by remarking on the fact that two of the three authors Maier included were Benedictines. and a medicine that includes other dimensions and is centered in the alchemical or spagyric arts of transmutation. Here. and gave it to us by mighty toil. is brought into the house of the man who knows the things that are. One finds in the literature numerous references to monks as alchemists. He bore away the golden fleece from Colchis.
”34 The second of Maier’s treatises is Thomas Norton’s “Ordinal of Alchemy.33 The eighth of the twelve keys shows a man rising from the grave. literary passages also includes a series of images called the “twelve keys.”32 The fourth of the twelve keys shows a skeleton atop a casket or box. The commentary here discusses putrefaction and resurrection. as well as an angel blowing a horn. he cured a sick fellow monk completely. and the text tells us how at the end of the world. is at once literary and practical. all shall be judged by fire and reduced to ashes. and how one who possesses it “shall possess all in all. performing all things whatsoever possible under the sun. despite its elliptical means of expression. and this Mars has done. the king bearing a staff. and the commentary tells us of the uses of the stone. and the other planets holding a colloquy to decide what to do. a half-naked man with a scythe. before him a burning barrel. while the Moon. experiences a renovation of his whole nature. over a fire.”31 This combination of practical instructions and more figurative.” The first of the twelve keys shows a couple. the queen a three-flowered plant. learned men of the country gather to decide the meaning of this enigma. Saturn wants to kill Mercury. the Sun. The practical instructions of the treatise are interwoven with literary passages. that which is visible. after which there will be formed a new heaven and a new earth. while around him are various figures. being bereft of images . “a beautiful lady in a long silver robe. a vanishing of all unhealthy matter. Here you see the perfection of our Art. and this secret the entire subsequent treatise is meant to reveal. . The twelfth key shows a man with a lion in a laboratory. and a venerable man with white hair and a flowing purple robe tells them “cause that which is above to be below.” With its spiritual essence. On the title page of this little collection we see an alchemist’s laboratory. The commentary here tells us that “whoever drinks of this golden fountain. to be invisible. and a man sowing seeds. in the background a dead tree stump.” For these apparently practical instructions become a tale about the planets as characters in a little drama.” which is of quite a different nature from Valentinus’s. Shortly thereafter. on the far left side a single candle. as when we are told to “take a quantity of the best and finest gold. while to the king’s right we see a leaping wolf. . as a result of which ultimately the great secret of alchemy was revealed to him. to become impalpable . a king and a queen. and proved of the greatest efficacy. with a furnace and various kinds of glass and tools. with Mars imprisoning Mercury under the control of Vulcan.58 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Yet the treatise itself. and that which is palpable. and separate it into its component parts” “prior to what it was before it became gold.” pleads the case of her husband.”30 Eventually he found a mineral substance that “exhibited many colors. including two archers shooting at targets. and to the queen’s left. 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.
as opposed to literary and figurative allusions. In recent times. Norton tells the story of how he himself was robbed of all he had. we can understand why he should impose such conditions. such instructions also are protected by the fact that society as a whole cares nothing for alchemy or the worldview from which it emerges. Here reading can take place on multiple levels at once—there is the prosaic reading of instructions. and the secret is not to be given out to anyone except the Abbot and Prior of the monastery. and protected by precisely the same invocation of the Book of Life. Thus we can see that Cremer’s instructions are in fact quite specific and truly are largely devoid of the literary passages found in the previous two tracts. There is a long tradition of monasteries as sanctuaries for secret knowledge. and Cremer’s testament does corroborate it. are the sufferings of those who aspire to a knowledge of the Art. To publish widely his alchemical testament would be to divulge what should remain the secret of those presumably capable of bearing its power. and that all Norton’s instructions are useless except to the wise in light of direct experience. we are told. three of rabusenum. 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 then of how a certain Thomas Dalton. two of living sulphur. of .” Benedictine abbot of Westminster.”36 Here we return to the themes of the Book of Revelation—and despite the more or less prosaic terms of this testament. Cremer in this. and given Cremer’s explicit instructions. itself an esoteric text made exoteric. so as not to lose legibility over time. he was thrown into a dungeon by one of the king’s retinue. and so was let go. Here we have a “full and accurate account of Alchemy without using any obscure technical terms. But also he is invoking the very language of the Book of Revelation.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 59 and much more inclined to tell stories. strong and pure. two of orange arsenic. Dalton said he was happy to die. and prepared in about four days. After admonitions about how we must avoid deceit and self-delusion. who possessed a larger quantity of the Red Powder than any Englishman. his last testament.” and add to it five ounces of petroleum. Eventually sentenced to death and brought before the executioner.”35 And indeed. Only after such warning tales are we told in more specifics of the nature of the Art. was betrayed to King Edward by an assistant named Delvis who had been sworn to silence. This invocation of the Book of Life naturally suggests one of our primary themes in the study of Western esotericism: reading. a man named Herbert. Even though Dalton had discarded the Red Powder because it had become a source of grief and anxiety. tells us to “take three ounces of tartar of good claret. let his name be blotted out from the Book of Life. The briefest and most specific of the three treatises is that entitled the “Treatise of Cremer. His testament is to be copied every sixty years. All are to be mixed in the “bath of Neptune. and “whoever does not observe this my mandate. Such.” in a well-stoppered glass jar. of course. and tortured for four years. and two of willow charcoal.
The cosmos is created through the divine imagination. the individual human being may participate in the divine imagination that brings forth nature itself. And of course. Of course.” Just as the sun draws forth the visible and growing forms of plants. epigrams. which in turn may awaken the corresponding quality in the human being and thereby effect healing. beyond the book of nature is the Book of Life. these subtle realms and beings may be encountered in the realm of the imagination. Spagyric medicine. just as we might look at an image reflected in a mirror or water. but also through the power of the imagination. Here the individual mind is not separated from mineral. to carry it within.’ then. One learns to read the inner significance of the book of nature. Clearly the imagination plays a role in the processes of alchemy. everything that exists in the physical cosmos has what he calls evestra. consists in the awakening of subtler dimensions of a given plant. but inwardly and as mysteriously connected to oneself by way of imagination. and figurative expressions that so characterize alchemical literature. for the image of what a flower or plant is exists germinally in the seed. poems. There are incalculable numbers of evestra. for they occupy different dimensions within it. one may know the inner nature of anything. allows one to see the actual landscape or “first nature” in a different way. But in any event. According to Paracelsus. fire. literary allusions. and the plant grows into its image as best conditions will allow. then. to enter into it until its images and approach permeate one’s consciousness and become second nature? Such a “second nature. so too there is an inner world where the imagination may draw forth hidden things from ‘seed’ into flower. water. 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. Through these evestra. what is an aspiring alchemist to do but contemplate such a work.” consisting in the imaginative landscape. air. Paracelsus tells us. that alchemy takes place in the imagination is not to say that it is imagi- . vegetable. ethereal counterparts. not merely from the outside and as other. Confronted with such a colloquy. one branch of alchemy. and so it is only natural that humanity also participates in this power. not only by looking at words on a page. We may ‘read. Imagination governs the development of things.60 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E course. but then there is also another kind of reading that we see in the collections of images. which perceives and participates in these other subtler dimensions of existence. which Paracelsus in De virtute imaginativa called a “sun in the soul of man. but is joined with them in the imagination. or earth—and which may know nothing of the human world even though they exist in the same cosmos. To say. not all evestra are benefic. which exist in subtle matters of their own kind—for instance. allegories. where we see literature conveying the transmutation of consciousness that manifests in the natural world as well. and animal realms. its subtle essence. But here ‘imagination’ does not belong to any individual—rather.
just as the true maguss leads us to Christ. It is as though here alchemy. geschärft mit dem Wein der Weisheit. while others. But rather than proceeding toward specific instructions. The terms used in its title—oil.37 And thus “the true medicine is thus the heart of Wisdom: out of this heart (or eternal spiritual salt) emerges life. 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. sharpened with the Wine of Wisdom. one finds a new kind of alchemical literature whose primary implications are almost exclusively spiritual.” and to a host of Biblical references.74).” The true medicine of the body is the pure light of nature. as a spirit. emphasize their recipe quality. Of course. Genesis 1:27. and so forth. Many alchemical works are more susceptible to one interpretation than another—hence some. more real than what we see in the physical. and salt—are not uncommon in physical alchemy. . it is entirely real. but that in this particular worldview. like Cremer’s testament. but here are clearly spiritualized. geflossen aus dem Oel der göttlichen Barmherzigkeit.”38 It is revealing that the light of nature is said to lead to the “whole Machina mundi” (II. bekräftiget mit dem Salz der göttlich und natürlichen Wahrheit (Amor Proximi. and mist. the true medicine and theology. indeed. these two poles became further separated. and medicine together” that leads us through Wisdom to God. moves away from physical alchemy into the realm of spiritual references alone. . There is no doubt that the work is engaged in justifying a true “theology. which mist transforms itself into a water of life in the new birth. like Valentinus’s. flowing out of the Oil of Divine Compassion. 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. II Chronicles 13:5. may be interpreted in both ways at once.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 61 nary. including Romans 1. a distinctly modern image of the cosmos and a term that is in fact repeated in the work. even here physical significances of alchemy are implied. and this is characteristic of the work as whole. . This is the true Ground of Nature . the true medicine of the soul is the pure light of grace. Amor proximi proceeds instead to refer in passing to the knowledge of the “heathens. wine. light air. but the new ambience is not so much Hermetic with a tinge of Christianity as it is totally Christian. 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. philosophy. The prefatory remarks to the work refer to the “heavenly Wisdom” who reveals the “two lights of nature and of grace. empowered with the Salt of divine and natural Truth). a matter of . The mechanistic worldview is all surface. But during the late seventeenth and the eighteenth centuries. this Mist-Spirit-Water is Salt or Earth . fire. . confronted by the emerging materialist science of chemistry.
The Sophists want to seek the prima materia among the elements. is a perspective that is all depth. Of course it is possible to see the spiritualized alchemy of Amor Proximi as the abandonment of more physical alchemy. and hence we find a Christian alchemy. and which leads to the individual being a “true Theologus. just as we find for instance Islamic . here instead we are being introduced to the hidden nature. and so the author leads us through a discussion of the metacosmic nature and history of humanity. such a degeneration is exactly what we find happening during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. which concerns the transmutation of the planetary qualities in an individual. of existence.83). nor whence they emerge (II. and it is not surprising that during the rise of secular science we find alchemical treatises that emphasize the inward. we are told.62 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E measurement and quantity leading to technology. Water. or Water is. Here we find no interest in historical explanations. for instance. in harmony” (II. these terms have an alchemical provenance. but here they are transposed to reveal a particular metacosmic vision. and one three . In fact. the author writes “That the earth is dark. . in whom the Magia is a holy Light or Spirit. that is the mystery wherein all lies. but here. Oil. Certainly we do not find in this treatise the kind of alchemical work that we saw in the previous works. Oil. and a true Medicus. and is the ground of the revelation of the eternal Godhead” (II. spiritual dimensions of the work. traditional alchemy consists in both inner and outer work at once. what is left soon ceases to be alchemy and may be absorbed into the dominant religion or may become chemistry. Yet those who don’t seek God’s knowledge in nature also remain blind. in whom the philosophy as a holy Salt. a true Astrologus. and indeed have spiritual meanings as well within alchemical work.105). But we could also see this spiritual alchemy as the counterbalancing restoration of alchemy’s gnostic. as a kind of counterpoint. Fire. Yet alchemy. There is a process of spiritual alchemy alluded to in Amor Proximi. However. Salt. And so we find the three One. for it is conceivable that physical alchemy could degenerate into nothing more than chemistry.80). or perhaps as its translation into Christian allegory.77). inward dimension. Thus. . easily translates into a dominant religion. but the Sun light. Whoever wishes to understand practically this depth-perception must first have a fundamental knowledge of it. for here the “illuminated brotherhood” finds written the “holy Scripture” (II.83). the great Universal-Stone wherein the fall and restoration of mankind is clearly to be seen with the eyes” (II. the depths. and when either one is absent. here the terminology of alchemy is spiritualized in order to discuss the awakening and rebirth of the individual. And what we are seeking is “a single subject in Nature. like Hermeticism. and based in the books of Teutonici philosophi Jacob Böhme (II. in whom the Cabala with all its sciences as a holy Fire and Blood is. but they don’t really understand the spiritual nature of these elements.93).
Christian theosophy. but whose spiritual implications are always foremost. is among the clearest works on spiritual alchemy that we have encountered. This is not . which in turn is incorporated into the full breadth of theosophic discipline. which produces mysticoalchemical works such as Amor Proximi. of the second. albeit scorned when the art is claimed by frauds and puffers. subsisted without any visible means of monetary support. Kabbalah. whom Gichtel claimed to be able to spot immediately. astrological. on mercury. But such rumors aside.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 63 alchemy. is that Gichtel himself possessed the keys to the full range of alchemy. the Western alchemical current flows into Böhmean Christian theosophy. 1675). the Opus Mago-Cabbalisticum et Theosophicum (1735) of Georg von Welling. not merely a pastiche. and in the end must conclude that in this theosophic worldview.” the “fall of Lucifer” and the “eternal peace and gentle still joy of the eternal divine kingdom. and he and his spiritual circle. of course. Gichtel was reputed at the time to have been a practicing alchemist since his light was often on long into the night. 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. Here practical alchemy is taken for granted as a real possibility. and gnostic metaphysics. from spiritual to physical. on sulfur. The implication. detailing an alchemical process of awakening and transmutation that could be read simultaneously as physical and as spiritual alchemy. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. for here we again see the confluence of our principal themes in Western esotericism. beginning with the organization of the first section. on salt. and of the third. practical alchemy is seen as a subset of spiritual alchemy. Pordage’s work. astrology. Indeed. a letter to a lady who had discovered the prima materia and had asked him for further guidance.39 There are also the many references to alchemy that we find in Johann Georg Gichtel’s Theosophia Practica (letters from 1668–1710). 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. it may be useful to concentrate on another work. including “Chymie” or alchemy. we find numerous direct references to alchemy in Gichtel’s own letters.”40 There can be little doubt that von Welling was drawing on a wealth of specific knowledge of alchemical. and John Pordage’s Epistle on the Philosophic Stone (ca. Hence the fundamental organization of the Opus is alchemical. and Kabbalistic themes. as well as Theo-Philosophia Theoretico-practica by Samuel Richter (1711). But to see the way alchemy was incorporated into theosophy. Opus Mago-cabbalisticum et theosophicum by Georg von Welling (1735). and whose ending is almost identical to the conclusion of Amor Proximi. The Opus Mago-Cabbalisticum is unquestionably a synthesis of many currents already touched upon. the Engelsbrüder or Angelic Brethren.
Christian scripture. x (the Moon) and out of P (Saturn). and instructions. For instance. one needs to “reduce it in an alcohol. von dem Universali und den Particularibus [Alchemical Questions on the Universali and the Particularibus]” (1726). sulfur. in other words. Arrayed next to these names are their Hebrew equivalents. the basic Dionysian angelical hierarchy. “Alchimische Fragen. and into these he weaves discussions using planetary and alchemical symbols. to properly prepare mercury. The collection concludes with a translation into German of English alchemist George Ripley’s song of the newborn alchemical . His discussions of alchemy and astrology are very detailed and full of specific tables. . one should not think that because von Welling aimed at such breadth as a pansophic esotericism requires. Eine Untersuchung der Hermetischen Wissenschaft [Nothing More True: That is: An Investigation into Hermetic Science]” by Francisco Sebastiano Fulvo Melvolodemet.” “Cherubim. he appends to his five-hundred-page Opus several alchemical treatises in their entirety. Beside these is a heptangle around which are arrayed the seven planetary symbols. or mercury. tables. .” and so forth. of Pisa. Hensing’s “Discurs von dem Stein der Weisen [Discourse on the Stone of the Wise]” (1722). he elided many details. and analyses clearly meant to produce not only a theoretical synthesis but a useful compendium of source material. some of his Hebrew seems rather distorted—but he had in mind producing a vast compendium of esoteric knowledge unified within a theosophic understanding. and calcify it by hand. and beneath which is a series of concentric circles labeled “Seraphim. a term of Jacob Böhme’s for the abyss prior to creation. 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. Here.” “Thronen.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. charts. . But it is with alchemy that von Welling’s work both begins and ends.” Further. Die Bereitung des Steins [Celestial Manna: the Heavenly Manna Named. then in a Liquorem . with a plethora of astrological symbols. next to which is the Kabbalistic term ’en sof. At the same time. diagrams. meaning the transcendent Godhead. diagrams. he begins each of his large sections with specific discussions of alchemical salt. Typical of von Welling’s syncresis is an illustration showing at the top the Ungrund. Indeed.”41 Von Welling’s astrological instructions are equally detailed. Thus he writes regarding the nature and use of earthly mercury that the “I (Mercury) out of L (the Sun) is of a wholly different nature than that out of . The Preparation of the Stone]” as well as “Non plus ultra Veritatis: das ist. including D. and in this regard he succeeded. . and Kabbalistic references in a theosophic framework. and “Manna Coeleste. but might well also be called pansophic. prepare it in a series of alchemical operations in a pair of vials. das himmlische Manna genannt.
which consists in the transmutation and restoration of all things. water. a natural homology between alchemy and art. alchemy goes well beyond contemporary conceptions of art. for its focus is not only in the mesocosm of the work.’ There is. requiring long familiarity with special symbols. animal. broadly seen. is a relatively modern phenomenon. fits into our general discussion of Western esotericism and literature. letters. or grammars. In this sense. If Kabbalah entails a literary mysticism in which letters and numbers reveal secret spiritual depths. alchemy is like learning to use a language. Here. when we look more closely at alchemical literature itself. as well as with what these represent. It is no coincidence that the alchemical work is also called the “great Art. In some respects. Thus we may well say that. the alchemical work transcends that of the artist.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 65 king. like a painting.42 Both entail emulating or paralleling the creativity of life itself. of course. alchemy extends this literary mysticism into the entire cosmos itself. but even more in the perfection of humanity. vegetable. recipes. Such perfecting takes place in the alchemist’s laboratory. including not only chemicals and equipment. fire. so that everything—mineral. we can easily see. All of this underscores how alchemy and Hermeticism pervaded the pansophic esotericism that came to dominate the early modern period. for its claims are to a lasting awakening and transmutation of the alchemist. Here it is perhaps most useful to step back and consider how alchemy. but subtle and spiritual qualities as well. for example. To effect the alchemical work requires that the artist enter into more transcendent states of consciousness—the work is in this respect a mirror of changes within the alchemist. One must learn both to ‘read. air. but in a transmutation both of the focus of the work and of the artist. we find that such aims are in fact vast indeed. the stars and planets—is revealed as a cosmic language and as a spiritual means of transmutation. contemporary art and literature remain quite limited in scope by comparison to alchemy as spiritual illumination. and the Hermeticism with which it is allied are religious chameleons. particularly in the profusion of brilliant images . and this almost infinite adaptability undoubtedly derives from the universalism of their central perspective. both seek to perfect this creativity. of course. and that we will shortly examine further. and images. and to ‘write. While it is true that alchemical aims may at first seem circumscribed to the revelation of the philosopher’s stone. as we have come to see it since the seventeenth century. Alchemy.’ in the broadest possible sense. consisting not only in the perfection of elixirs or medicines drawn from herbs and metals. Alchemy. but only with the guidance of the alchemical handbooks. however far-reaching. capable of taking on whatever coloration fits with their surroundings. but also in the microcosm of the artist.” for it consists not only in the creation of a particular form. and in which writing can form a pathway to the divine.
Here in alchemy. literature takes on a greater significance than simply alluding to an oral tradition where the real mysteries are conveyed. and the divine in ever more profound ways. For in alchemy literature is a means of transmitting precise knowledge of nature. humanity. nature. like Jung. But virtually no one has looked at alchemy as a field where all such apparent divisions are overcome. and the restoration of the right . one would have the solution. largely have been based in a fundamental division between the writer and the reader. Contemporary views of literature. It is true that more recently theorists. But in alchemical works. The ‘solution. between subject and object. alchemy consists in coming to understand the nature of consciousness and the consciousness of nature. the mysteries are conveyed primarily through literary riddles and parabolic expressions.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. as in Christian mysticism and in Jewish Kabbalism. literature.’ in the case of alchemy. this is expressed in terms of the Fall and expulsion from Eden. and also a successor’s primary guide to achieving transcendence. so too is the apparent (but strictly modern) division between the sciences and the humanities. For there is here an operative mysticism of the word—the written word and image become a medium to express transcendence. In Christian terms. In alchemy. between the observer and that which is observed. humanity. albeit knowledge that is not quantitative but qualitative. alchemy is understood through living symbols that allow us to understand nature. Rather. both of physics and of literary criticism. were one to decipher what x and y mean. religion. and the divine that it is alchemy’s goal to restore. and science are one. extends into a range of realms at once. that alchemy is chiefly psychological. I would use the word decoding. This unity is founded in the fundamental union of humanity. no doubt of that. except that an alchemical work is not simply decoded as if. like those of science. have begun to argue the insufficiency and even the falsehood of such easy divisions. and cannot be understood without reference to our inner human landscape of consciousness. Indeed. and that presupposes and requires humility before power greater than oneself. Oral commentary by a master is important. in the manner of a mathematical equation. However. 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. 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. and the divine. This is by no means to suggest. For not only is the division between self and other or between subject and object gradually revealed to be false in alchemy. 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.
nineteenth. THE DIVINE SCIENCE: T H E O S O P H I C . toward the revelation of the fundamental consciousness informing all that lives. one must keep in mind its essential fluidity: alchemy during the early modern period did not exist alone. This universalism is the dream that was to haunt virtually the entirety of modern Western esotericism. it became possible to conceive of a universal approach to knowledge that included the whole of the human inheritance. written works were comparatively difficult to obtain. The major currents of modern Western esotericism developed in the context of burgeoning knowledge about the past. and brings us gradually by way of a spiritual process that includes physical and transphysical work. During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. R O S I C R U C I A N . and Freemasonry. And it is to these that we will now turn our attention. precisely what we find at the end of numerous alchemical treatises. Such a restoration takes us beyond the separated consciousnesses in which we now find ourselves. pansophy. 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. We have already seen how alchemy emerged during the early modern period. but also fed into other major currents of Western esotericism. against ourselves. divided against the world. and twentieth centuries. in the modern era. So it is with alchemy. We should also keep in mind the growing split. with the invention of the printing press and with concomitant investigation into the numerous esoteric currents of antiquity. PA N S O P H I C . Western esotericism is not easily fixed or quantified but changes according to its historical context. 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. esotericism necessarily became even more eclectic in scope. especially during the eighteenth. between the sciences and the . it is perhaps more useful to keep in mind their social and historical contexts. when its literature and imagery attained its most brilliant formation. Rosicrucianism.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 67 human relationship to nature and to the divine corresponds to a restoration of paradise. But alchemy did not disappear thereafter. and against the divine. As we have seen. Indeed. esoteric universalism became more and more commonplace. in particular Christian theosophy. but in relation to a host of other currents. In the study of Western esotericism. Literature here is a means toward awakening greater consciousness. the essential purpose of the resonant alchemical symbolism. even if its fundamental outlines or concerns remain the same. it has not only continued to exist to the present day. Whereas in the medieval period and earlier.
near Poland. nor is that our aim. in Western esotericism we find. particularly during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. all human knowledge was conceived of as unified—like a wheel whose spokes are the various disciplines and arts. and Franz von Baader.68 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E humanities. medicine and astrology. say. the fields of alchemy. to name only a few of the most luminary. at least in the secular world. Thus during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries we find numerous major esoteric figures who engaged in scientific investigations. or Aurora. we find a historical movement toward more and more specialized and fragmented knowledge.” One thinks of figures as diverse as Robert Fludd. But here we do not have space for a complete survey of all such figures. quite the opposite movement. this sense of unity dissolved. all acted to separate religious faith from scientific investigation and from literature and the arts. and including a vast commentary on Genesis called Mysterium Magnum. rather than seeking to separate. comparative and syncretic. and whose center is spiritual knowledge—with the advent of the Protestant era. we will instead look closely at some seminal authors in the modern esoteric traditions and by so doing. chemistry. as we have already glimpsed in the case of alchemy. much more indebted to the medieval era than is usually supposed. Indeed. and geology. and in religion. physical chemistry from metaphysics. from the eighteenth to the twentieth century. the emergence of biology. illustration and literature. in a border area where he came in contact with a range of esoteric traditions. the historical movement of Western esotericism during the modern period is to unify the entire range of human knowledge. aimed for a universal approach to knowledge that. The Copernican revolution. he wrote numerous works beginning with Die Morgenröte. and drawing from his visionary experiences. Böhme lived during a time of social unrest. our approach being thematic. the “illuminated shoemaker” of Görlitz. practiced medicine and astrology. archaeology. continued and developed this belief in a unified approach to knowledge. However. But Western esotericism. It is true that. Whereas in medieval Europe and England. including Kabbalism and Hermeticism. But his inspiration came chiefly from within. and the sciences and humanities in turn ever more separated from religion. in the arts. Rather. and the historical and comparative investigations into Christian origins. instead seeks ever more firmly to conjoin them. explored theology and metaphysics. a city on the eastern side of Germany. trace the broader lineaments of recent Western esotericism. nonsectarian and ecumenical approaches to spirituality. with each of the disciplines ever more separated from the others. the discovery of more complex technology. wrote literary works. For the Western esoteric traditions that emerged during this period. Any study of modern Western esoteric traditions must consider the work of Jacob Böhme (1575–1624). in the sciences. John Pordage. as well as De Signatura . including. and in general correspond to the description of “Renaissance man.
Rerum (The Signature of All Things), Christosophia, and numerous letters and shorter works. Even these titles reveal the connections between Böhme and the earlier traditions we have discussed: Mysterium Magnum, with its elaborate exegesis of Genesis, is certainly indebted to the Kabbalistic tradition; The Signature of All Things is an extended discussion of, among many topics, the Hermetic doctrine of signatures developed by Paracelsus; and Christosophia, often translated as The Way to Christ, entails a chivalric ethic of fidelity to the feminine figure of Wisdom, the Virgin Sophia. What is more, there unquestionably are profound parallels between Böhme’s writings and ancient Gnosticism, parallels that became even clearer in later theosophic figures like the English Philadelphians.43 Thus we can see how Böhmean theosophy reveals the syncretism so characteristic of modern esotericism more generally; here numerous traditions meet and are fused into a profound new union that was to have enormous influence on the subsequent history of Western esotericism. Böhme’s work, according to his own testimony, derived chiefly from his own personal experience, but there is evidence that he had extensive contacts with Hermetic and Kabbalistic circles of his day, including lengthy discussions with Abraham von Frankenberg, himself an author on Kabbalistic subjects. That Böhme’s writing emerged from his own visionary perceptions and inspiration is unquestionable, for he wrote with authority and certainty about a vast range of cosmological and metaphysical principles. What is more, he developed a particular language, drawing upon Hermetic, alchemical, and Kabbalistic sources, to express this inspiration, a special terminology with both Latinate and Germanic roots. But Böhme drew from prior traditions as well, and his work may be described as unique or as a brilliant synthesis, for both are true. Although Böhme’s terminology and mode of expression are often difficult, the basic elements of his thought are not. It is true that Böhme presents a complex cosmology, with his exposition of the Ungrund, or abyss, that precedes existence and that corresponds in Kabbalism to the ’en sof, and in Christian mysticism to Eckhart’s Godhead; with his exposition of the seven source-spirits; and with his unfamiliar terms like limbus, lubet, and schrack, describing hidden principles or aspects of the creative process. Yet Böhme has been popular for centuries—from Germany to Russia and America—among those drawn to direct spiritual experience, and this popularity derives from the fact that while his doctrines are almost inexhaustible, the fundamental nature of Böhme’s teaching is clear and simple. Here I will compress a great deal in the hope of sketching the outlines of Böhme’s thought. Böhme held that before the cosmos came into being, there was the Ungrund, or transcendent abyssal origin. From this emerged two realms, the dark-world of wrath and the paradisal light-world, and after a series of primal catastrophes, a “third principle,” physical nature. Human beings
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can participate in all three of these principles; some people belong to the wrathworld of fury and destructiveness, some to the paradisal light-world, but mostly we find ourselves mediating among all of these. Our purpose as human beings, simply put, is to transmute the wrath-quality in ourselves into paradisal light and love. This process of transmutation, a kind of spiritual alchemy, is true religion; without it, religion is merely outward “Babel,” the appearance without the reality. Böhme’s approach to language is of particular interest to us, for, quite in line with the numerous currents of the Western esoteric traditions that preceded him, Böhme created a complex linguistic mysticism. In Aurora, Böhme’s first book, he introduced this mysticism of the word, writing that “The whole power of the Father speaks, out of all the qualities, the Word, i.e., the Son of God. The same word, or the same sound, spoken by the Father, issues out of the Salniter, or the powers of the Father, and out of the Father’s Mercurius, or sound . . . for the outspoken Word remains as a glory or majestic command before the king, but the sound, issuing through the word, executes the command of the Father which he has spoken through the word, and in this is the birth of the Holy Trinity. The same takes place in an angel or in a man” (vi.2). Böhme’s language here is resonant with alchemical and Jewish allusions, but these allusions appear in a clearly Christian context, and although they refer to the Word in the Trinity, they also refer to the word in humanity. Böhme extends this linguistic mysticism to every living thing. In his giant commentary on Genesis, Mysterium Magnum, he writes that “every creature has its own center for its outspeaking, or the sound of the formed word within itself, both eternal and temporal beings: the unreasoning ones as well as man; for the first Ens has been spoken out of the sound of God, by Wisdom, out of her center into the fire and light, and has been formed into the fiat, and entered into compaction. The Ens is out of the eternal, but the compaction is out of the temporal, and therefore in everything there is something eternal hidden in time” (xxii.2). Here Böhme elaborates on the metaphysics of what he also discusses in De Signatura Rerum, the esoteric view older than Pythagoras that everything in creation emerges out of its resonating linguistic, sonic, energetic origin as an emanation or manifestation of an archetype. What is more, there is a teleological significance to this doctrine. For if all beings preëxist their material manifestation in the archetypal realm of the word, after manifestation each manifested thing will return to its transcendent origin, that belonging to love returning to love and that belonging to wrath returning to wrath. Böhme writes: “In that quality in which each word in the human voice in the act of outspeaking forms and manifests itself, either in the love of God, as in the Holy Ens, or in the wrath of God; in the same quality will it be taken up again therein after it has been spoken out. The false word becomes infected by the devil, and sealed up for its [future] detriment, and is received within the
Mysterium of the wrath, in the quality of the dark-world. Each thing returns with its Ens to where it has originated” (xxii.6). This is not predestination, exactly, but rather the sifting of the chaff from the wheat at time’s end. We can see here how language is intimately tied up with the metaphysics of love and wrath. In the fallen world, wrathfulness is the principle of separation and objectification as well as of anger, and so the language of extreme ratiocination also belongs to the wrath. Reason has its place, but when it becomes separated from love, it becomes objectifying and destructive and a functionary of wrath, while language divorced from its transcendent origin becomes Babel or babble. Yet all of this refers to the fallen world, the sphere of discord, chaos, confusion. The means of order’s restoration is the Word, the restoration of light and love in one’s life. But such a restoration takes place through a process of awakening or illumination that is a process of transmuting wrath into love, darkness into light. This process is also that of restoring language from its fallen state (as a means of objectification) into its primordial state of union. This process is the awakening of the true Word in us. Böhme writes that “our whole religion consists in learning how to go out of dissension and vanity and to reënter the one Tree, whence we have come in Adam, and which is Christ in us” (Regener, viii.2). Thus, “he who fully enters into this state of divine rest in Christ arrives through Him at the perception of divinity. He then sees God in himself and everywhere; he speaks with God and God speaks with him, and he understands what is the Word, Essence, and Will of God. Such a one, and no other, is capable of teaching the Word of God himself: for God is one with him, and he wills nothing but what God wills through him” (Mysterium Magnum, xlii.63). The Word of God here has special and profound meaning; it refers to the essence of deity, the transcendent origin of existence. And by realizing this Word, one restores all subordinate language as well as nature itself (whose creatures each also incarnate divine signatures or words) to their primordial unitive or paradisal state. From all of this we can see that the fundamental impetus of Böhme’s work is integrative, not on a cultural so much as on an individual, primal level. Böhme calls the individual toward reintegration or union, and it is the individual nature of this call that has subsequently attracted so many people, in such diverse social situations, toward theosophy. But at the same time, we can easily see how this same integrative impulse aimed at individual transformation could as well be applied on a wider cultural scale, as for instance as the foundation of an effort to reunify the sciences and the humanities with religion. And in fact, such an effort is precisely what we find happening over the century following Böhme’s life, in the movement called Rosicrucianism. It may be, as some scholars have speculated, that Böhme was himself familiar with the same movement which, ten years before Böhme’s death, began to emerge under the name Rosicrucian, with the publication of the
both the Fama and the Confessio reveal the fundamental themes we have seen woven through the Western esoteric traditions. returns eventually to Germany. caused a great stir in Europe. The Rosicrucians’ goal. Not coincidentally. Böhme’s writing and thought both paralleled and influenced that of the Brotherhood of the Rosy Cross. he begins a secret fraternity with only four members including him- . for it captured the imagination of the age with its tale of Christian Rosencreutz and his mysterious journeys through exotic lands and secret knowledge. we find ample confirmation of all the primary elements of Western esotericism thus far traced. whereas there is another more mysterious book that is the source of wisdom. “or a perfect method of all arts. For from the very beginning of the Fama. and this is the “book M. Indeed.” C.. The Fama begins by telling the story of C. and how far his knowledge extendeth into Nature. in the Orient.” These “Books of Nature. they could collect Librum Naturae. This journey may also be seen as a kind of visionary recital. and later. and who goes as well to Egypt—precisely where European esotericism has always located its sources of arcane knowledge. R. are to be collected by the wise. To see the journey as a visionary recital also helps elucidate its most salient feature: the book.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). R. as well as with its assertion of a secret order as keeper of profound and powerful knowledge and means. But in any event. and among Sufis and Kabbalists. Hermeticism. travels to the Fez and to the Damascus of the mind. And of course this brief work.”45 This universal renewal and extension of knowledge is. But there are many other elements here that correspond exactly to our primary themes. and why he is called Microcosmos.” however.. a visionary trip to the Orient of the spirit. translates the “book M. was to follow Christ by renewing all arts to perfection. underscoring immediately the movement’s eclecticism. who travels among the Arabians and the Jews on a quest to Jerusalem. the gnostic goal of Kabbalism. Certainly we can agree with Frances Yates’s assessment that Rosicrucian may more wisely be seen historically as describing a particular kind of approach to arcane knowledge than as a specific organized order. but at the same time it links the Rosicrucian movement from the very beginning with the most gnostic aspects of Islam and Judaism. according to the Fama. “so that finally man might thereby understand his own nobility and worth. R. of Christian theosophy as well. and later we are told that Paracelsus had also “diligently read over the book M: whereby his sharp ingenium was exalted. R. which first came to general public attention with the publication of the Fama Fraternitatis.44 For when we look at the actual wording of the Fama and the Confessio.”46 When C. like us. like its complement the Confessio. generally speaking. we are told at the outset that were the learned wise.” into good Latin from Arabic. C. even if at times such orders did exist. the book is a central image and source of wisdom. if not universalism.
every one with their several figures and sentences. . and with mention of one hundred fortyfour thousand saved from the wicked world at time’s end? These themes. of eclecticism or universalism. that you could so read in one only book. as when we are told that every “side or wall is parted into ten figures. are now. as well as a host of mysterious letters and Latin inscriptions.”50 Thus the essence of Rosicrucianism is the universal philosophy informing all arts and sciences. . The Confessio begins by telling us that its authors cannot be suspected of any heresy.”48 But the import is clear: the tomb’s architecture itself. it is to read the universal book. and shall be learned and found out of them?”51 . or hope for. called I. . or are able to believe or utter. . and come into our brotherhood. of the uniting of all arts and sciences. is. undestroyed.”47 These early members of the Rose Cross order then collected of their own writings “a book of all that which man can desire. The description is often hard to follow. and we find this definition of the Rosicrucian philosophy: “No other Philosophy have we. like the book. and shall be) hath been. . and hidden to the wicked world. so that no one might later be deceived. and of reading the mysterious book of books. . than that which is the head and sum. and by them was made the magical language and writing. they also made the first part of the book M. all that which in all other books (which heretofore have been.” There is more. And there is in the tomb’s description a great deal of arcane geometry and architecture. full of geometric symbolism. the which (if we well behold our age) containeth much of Theology and medicine . first. “After this manner. wish. “began the Fraternity of the Rose Cross. with a large dictionary . Certainly reading and writing are central to the Rosicrucian mysteries. but follow only Christ. and pay no mind to the Pope or Muhammed. the Confessio asks: “Were it not a precious thing. the foundations and contents of all faculties.”49 How could this mysterious building be invisible and untouched unless the building. by four persons only. not the body? And does not the “one hundred thousand” resonate with the Book of Revelation. Yet once again.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 73 self. itself a work with intricate geometric symbolism. and all are sworn to write down all that they learn. sciences. and withal by reading understand and remember. 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. whereof all learned who make themselves known to us. recur as well in the Confessio. For when Christian Rosencreutz died. Among other questions. shall find more wonderful secrets by us than heretofore they did attain unto . we find references to far-flung places and hidden wisdom. as they are truly shown and set forth Concentratum here in our book. forms “sentences” and a kind of book of the hidden principles of nature and of the microcosm. he was placed in his tomb with a parchment book. a century old.” the Fama continues. belongs to the mind and imagination. and arts. Interestingly.
”53 The implication throughout the Fama and the Confessio is that there is dawning a miranda sexta aetatis. without and against the will of God. . .” Such an idea of a magic language has. into all beasts . and grave warnings are given to those who approach its mysteries selfishly. and that one must approach it with humility or find nothing. But this new revelation must be approached with humility. with all of its emphasis on hierogeometry.”52 “These characters and letters. yet shall we never be manifested . or worse than nothing. Throughout they emphasize reading the divine books of humanity and nature. reminds us rather strikingly of the Book of Revelation. who as we have seen drew upon Kabbalistic sources. . stretching back at least to the Gnostics. of course. for instance. . yea. and endue them with learning . for instance. the universal revelation of Christ to humanity. . is hidden the real essence of Christianity itself.54 It is no coincidence that Böhme titled his first book Aurora. with the date 1604. and writing in a “magic language. the Bible. a very long history in the West. an era that recalls the earlier hierohistorical mysticism of Joachim of Fiore and his complex theory of a coming “age of the Holy Spirit. a new language for ourselves. 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. yea. metahistorical events at the end of time. or sixth age. . including the hierohistorical view of dates and the expectation of an impending apocalypse or unveiling. and above all. that he shall sooner lose his life in seeking and searching for us than to find us and attain the wished happiness of the Fraternity of the Rosy Cross. a new era for mankind.” The authors of the Fama and the Confessio certainly believed in the hierohistorical significance of certain dates and astrological conjunctions connected. From which characters or letters we have borrowed our magic writing. it shall be so far from him who thinks to get the benefit and be partaker of our riches and knowledge. so hath he imprinted them most apparently into the wonderful creation of heaven and earth. in the Rosicrucian mysteries. These aspects of Rosicrucianism. as God hath here and there incorporated them in the Holy Scriptures. Agrippa and Trithemius are well known for their primary and influential works on magic. One can hardly miss the Biblical resonances of these final words of the Confessio: “Although we might enrich the whole world. and have found out. in which we find the sources of many subsequent works illustrated by . and quite probably to Egypt.74 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Likewise. correspond closely to what we also find in Christian theosophy at roughly the same time. and made. Clearly for our purposes the most relevant aspect of these most seminal Rosicrucian documents is their embrace of linguistic mysticism. in the which withall is expressed and declared the nature of all things. All of this. of course. It certainly emerges in the Middle Ages in the works of Agrippa and Trithemius. and held that there was emerging a new revelation. unto any man without the special pleasure of God.”55 The implication is that here.
’s tomb. as well as in subsequent literature. or pansophia.” 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. on a pansophic mysticism. Here we must introduce the word pansophy. a work so incredibly full of dense oneiric symbolism that next to it other literary works generally seem comparatively devoid of symbols. 1604. precisely the time of political upheaval in Germany and the advent of the Thirty Years’ War. even a kind of nascent Rosicrucian witch-hunt. One finds this word appearing frequently in Hermetic publications immediately following . Here. stellar and numerical patterns connected to specific angels. disappearing around 1620. was of a non-sectarian. and it too has been used in magical workings. peaceful. discovered the “Enochian language. or intelligences. one is calling upon the language of the stars in order to invoke the powers or intelligences with which they are connected. and the outrageously baroque. and playfully symbolic Chemical Wedding of Christian Rosencreutz. demons. But it is worthwhile to note that the Rosicrucian furor lasted only a few short years. the Confessio. The Rosicrucian dream. in his controversial “conversations with spirits” along with Edward Kelley.” which has subsequently played an extensive role in the history of magic in the West. or why. One also finds such a magical language in the work of Dr. it should be publicly proclaimed in this way. that is. universal culture dedicated to the investigation of the language of nature. 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. R. 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. which we see outlined in the Fama and Confessio. we have no reason to delve into the question of whether there existed any such secret orders.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 75 sigils and magic squares. The Enochian language is a mysterious tongue that requires tables or “keys” for its deciphering. there was a great deal of anti-Rosicrucian sentiment. if there was such a fraternity as claimed in the Fama and Confessio. who. John Dee (1527–1604). By using these stellar and numerical patterns in ritual magic. and the subsequent furor manifested itself in a host of other Rosicrucian works. as Frances Yates notes. brilliant. By 1623. written in the microcosm and in the macrocosm. particularly in France. it is a culture founded on Kabbalah and alchemy.56 Is it only coincidence that the date given as the discovery of C. is the date of Dee’s death? And is it only coincidence that the Fama and Confessio make so much of a “magical language. as well as a developing mythology of Rosicrucianism. And all of this was tied in with the emerging rationalist and materialist paradigm of the so-called Enlightenment—which was precisely opposed to the Rosicrucian Enlightenment. Here.
for instance. herbalism. 1618)]. is universal. The word pansophy itself largely disappears from the European vocabulary after the eighteenth century. and inquiry into nature more generally. not specifically Christian. and thus places himself squarely in the mainstream of the primary Western esoteric currents. often with Kabbalistic influence. universal culture like that imaged in Bacon’s New Atlantis or other utopias of the time. but one might well see chemistry as a dimunition of alchemy—for alchemy requires humility and selflessness. it emphasizes magic. Once Taught in the Magia of the Egyptians and Persians and Now Rightly Called the Pansophia of the Venerable Society of the Rosy Cross (n.p. alchemy. central to the subsequent emergence of modern forms of esotericism. which is specifically Christian gnosis. or magia naturalis. The word Pansophia here separates this new form of esotericism from Theosophia. in contrast to theosophy. and Michael Maier. In many respects. but the pansophic impulse nonetheless has continued to govern Western esotericism up to the present day. Pansophy. healing. derived from alchemy. an esoteric universalism that includes alchemy.. and gnostic. in order to form the basis for a new. various forms of magic. mechanism. there is a long tradition of Kabbalism as . but like Dee. 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.76 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E the Rosicrucian announcements. of course. It is true that chemistry. but one also finds the emergence of various other shades of magic. Paracelsus. cabala. The pansophic current includes all the primary streams of esotericism. whereas purely chemical experimentation requires nothing of oneself except to be a firmly rationalist observer. in its aims and in the sources upon which it draws. Ruechlin. and technologism. although the Kabbalists we discussed earlier were almost exclusively interested in what we may call high mysticism. as in for instance Joseph Stellatus’s Pegasus Firmamenti sive Introductio brevis in veterum sapientiam [Pegasus of the Firmament. The latter are all based in an objectivization of the cosmos or of humanity as objects of study. magical. certainly was temporarily vanquished by rationalist materialism. Christian or not. cabalistic. Stellatus cites Hermes Trismegistus (of course!). pansophy resembles the aims and works of Giordano Bruno. hence on our separation from and manipulation of them. alchemical. but what the word signifies certainly does not disappear. or a Brief Introduction to the Ancient Wisdom. The pansophic view. including. and draws eclecticly on much earlier ‘pagan’ traditions like those attributed to Egypt and Persia. We might recall that. The most obviously included is natural magic. that quixotic character still insufficiently studied. 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.
One also can see in such willingness to incorporate any form of knowledge whatever. Yet the Faustian impulse to search out all knowledge and means of knowledge. Metaphysica.57 and in all cases is replete with examples of the effort to map universal knowledge not only physical but also metaphysical. and perhaps all belonging to the late eighteenth century. D. Here we have a massive compendium of magical knowledge. and much else. planetary correspondences.O. There are numerous such manuscripts with various versions of these ilustrations. one finds a range of possibilities opening up. Of course because of the ascent of rationalist materialism and secularism. Philosophia. who refused to allow any boundaries to his search for knowledge. It was probably preceded by and certainly followed by other versions. It is an astonishingly complex illustration. including the names and seals or sigils of angels in Hebrew and Latin. as a somewhat medieval figure. including a French edition titled F. atque Chymia [Divine Figure of Theosoph. This compilation is of special importance for us because it reveals the far-flung syncretic origins of the pansophic impulse. de La Rose-Croix. was published at Altona in 1785–1788.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 77 the basis for magical practices including sorcery. is peculiarly modern and in some respects characteristically pansophic. even if it is illicit. The Faustian legend is so resonant still because it expresses something fundamental about the emerging modern period.A.M. including sorcery. we tend to think of Faust. of vast and intricate tables. and if at one pole rationalist disbelief in the transcendent becomes acceptable. which later emerged in almost endless detail in the Geheime Figuren [Secret Figures] of the Rosicrucians. Among the first of these. et Hyperphysica. In some respects. diagrams. But Chemistry]. a series of extraordinarily complex illustrations. One sees this desire to map the cosmos in the emergence. Once Protestantism and secularism began to emerge in Europe. the pansophic impetus behind the legend of Johannes Faust. The Geheime Figuren der Rosenkreuzer. almost all. Cabball. the pansophic impulse is fundamentally similar to the scientific: it consists in investigation into the mysteries of the unknown and of nature. predating the Rosicrucian furor but certainly influencing its later productions. chiefly under the title Physica. at the other pole research into the previously forbidden also becomes more common. and a series of . nee non Magia. in later Rosicrucianism. magic squares. who makes a pact with Mephistopheles in order to gain knowledge. with concentric circles marking divinity at the top. printed by Theodore de Bry in 1582.58 Characteristic of these esoteric illustrations is one entitled Figura Divina Theosoph.. And in fact most grimoires have a Hebrew basis for the angelic and demonic names and characteristics that they list for invocation or evocation. and illustrations revealing the hidden nature of the universe. Cabballa: Not Only Magic and Philosophy. was the Calendarium Naturale Magicum Perpetuum Profundissimam Rerum Secretissimarum Contemplationem [Perpetual Natural Magical Calendar] of Tycho Brahe.
in investigation without regard for dogmatic religious barriers. such spiritual mapmaking has its predecessors in the medieval era. for instance.O. Fundamentally the same characteristics mark the comprehensive esotericism represented by the D. 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. For our focus is upon what such an illustration signifies. in scholastic theology. such as “Ein Prophet gilt nichst in seinem Vaterlande [A prophet is not honored in his native land.” and has on either side gnomic sayings. . also was relied upon as Queen Elizabeth’s cartographer. Here.78 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E triangles and concentric circles below. and Holy Spirit. it seems entirely symbolically appropriate that Dr. but a map of the hidden aspects of the world.” and so forth. yet there is ample reason to use such a term.M. partaking in both. or to Rosicrucianism. the lower sphere represents the temporal realm. so too it was an era of hyperphysical cartography. the greatest occultist of his day.” “Vegetable Seed. as well as Jehovah in Hebrew. for instance. Is there a direct indebtedness to Böhmean theosophy. 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. Below that is an intermediate principial realm marked “Water. Son.O. and with the word Chaos.A. of its hyperphysical dimensions. Here chaos does not mean total confusion so much as ‘potentiality’. of course. marked also Father. that is.]” Below is an elemental sphere marked with the zodiacal signs. entitled “Unendliche Ewigkeit und Unerforschliche Primum Mobile” [“Infinite Eternity and Unknowable Primum Mobile”]. This middle realm is marked “Figura Cabbalistica. but it appears the early modern mania for physical cartography had its exact complement in the occult sciences—indeed. marking a host of alchemical stages and enigmatic sayings as well as planetary and zodiacal symbols. in time and in eternity.59 There is a great deal of controversy over the precise relation of such a manuscript or illustration to Böhmean theosophy. Just as the eighteenth century was an era of physical cartography.” and “Mineral Seed. manuscript and the efforts at a comprehensive cosmology found in modern science. is an effort to render a mappa mundi. Extremely intricate hyperphysical cartography like this seems to be chiefly a creation of the early modern period. in visual form. And thus when we look at an illustration from D. we find a more or less typical series of images: above is the Prima Materia. of efforts to survey the ethereal realms. and in the effort to create a comprehensive map of the cosmos. surrounded by winged angelic forms.A. not only because many of the early major scientific figures were in fact also alchemists.” “Heavenly Seed. The term occult sciences may raise an eyebrow.” “Animal Seed. John Dee. and Earth depicted as a ball exists between the elemental and intermediate realms.M.
began in the medieval period as one of many craft guilds. or the Temple of Wisdom. stretching right into the nineteenth century. in other words. and is certainly not limited to works labeled Rosicrucian. first with the consistent emphasis of Rosicrucian works on the transformation of society and the establishment of a utopia. Such a universalist goal does not exclude the human. This is the kind of comprehensive worldview visible in such illustrations as the ones we see emerging during the eighteenth century. and literature in a spiritually centered universe. We have already referred to Georg von Welling’s Opus Mago-Cabbalisticum et Theosophicum (1784). who in his multivolume Göttliche und Wahre Metaphysica (Frankfurt/Leipzig: 1715/1746) (probably written during the 1670s. denigrated in his own day as something of a plagiarist. truly a Renaissance man. author of such works as Theomagia. who studied minerology. the arts. and it is also clearly visible in the major works of that era. Heydon’s Theomagia in particular attempts to be a kind of universal compendium of the occult sciences. representing exactly such a compendium of knowledge in largely written form (albeit including also illustrations and tables). originally a scientist. And one sees the same effort to bridge the realms in the works of Franz von Baader (1765–1841). not so very long ago. at a truly comprehensive metaphysics and cosmology. of course. One sees this also. unlike these other more individualistic movements. And it is in the sociopolitical realm that the Rosicrucian impulse had considerable impact. Western esotericism often aims at universal knowledge. theosophic. when esotericists could imagine a unified cosmology that included religion. but a profound intellectual who consciously sought to bridge the gap between the sciences and religion. and became one of the most impressive writers on religious and spiritual themes of the nineteenth century. was John Heydon. and associated with the vast . and later in the development of modern Freemasonry. and pansophic movements we have discussed in turn fed into Freemasonry. of course. invented an industrial process. But such universalism is a constant theme from the seventeenth century on. (London: 1665). (London: 1663–1664) and The Wise-mans Crown. but after his visionary entry into discarnate realms. not a visionary. but published only in German).HISTORICAL CURRENTS 79 There was a time. a prolific chronicler of the unseen. which. in the numerous volumes of Emanuel Swedenborg (1688–1772). science. From the seventeenth until the twentieth centuries. those of masonry belonging to the arts of architecture and building. Freemasonry. as for instance in the vast metaphysical cartography of John Pordage (1604–1681). For all of the Rosicrucian. each of which guarded its particular mysteries. One finds the same effort at universality in theosophy. and specifically. maintained a definite organizational hierarchy and structure. or the Glory of the Rosie-cross. chronicled what one discovers in visiting in vision the various discarnate realms of existence. the social and political realm. Another such figure.
having received a knighthood for his military service. if as a fraternity it had ever really existed at all. Indeed. Such publication was. of course. his father. Masonry. the arts. flourished in the vicinity of Jewish scholarship and Kabbalism. clearly sought to incorporate the full range of human knowledge into his theosophia perennis. Physica Atque Technica Historia [History of the Macrocosm and Microcosm] (Oppenheim: de Bry. semireligious occult fraternity. traveled for a time as a tutor to aristocratic families on the Continent. 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. It is true that there were other such guilds with their own rites and mysteries. Fludd was somewhat contentious as a young physician. the Kabbalah. but as an influence Rosicrucianism remained powerful. and eventually returned to England to receive his doctorate in medicine. Sir Thomas Fludd. and although . Like Paracelsus himself. primarily because of Kabbalistic influence that allowed Freemasonry to transform itself completely from a society devoted to the arts of building. and its universalist esotericism became immensely influential in Masonic circles chiefly through the auspices of Robert Fludd and Elias Ashmole. but it is clear that like Rosicrucianism. Martianus Capella and. Indeed. 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. to a speculative. of course. Robert Fludd went to St. John’s College in Oxford. Fludd. 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.” published in Leiden. Plato and the Bible. Robert Fludd (1574–1637) was born into a Shropshire family. not surprisingly. on which he explicitly drew. but the Freemasons endured the longest. 1617). intended as a vast compendium of human knowledge including theosophy. Certainly it is the case that Rosicrucianism as a movement dried up fairly early. contact probably having its origins in the lengthy period of communication between Islamic. and during this time began work on his major treatises. Jewish. to whom the term Renaissance man could certainly be applied. the conventional way of advertising one’s desire to join the fraternity. including his encyclopedic Utriusque Cosmi Maioris Scilicet et Minoris Metaphysica.80 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E cathedrals of medieval Europe. Of course. (where he probably began to learn Paracelsian medicine). Fludd was among the first to develop a comprehensive esoteric framework for seeing the world. and the sciences. and Christian circles in Spain and Provençe. Freemasonry became the nexus for many prior esoteric traditions. and among his primary influences were Kabbalism. in 1616 and 1617. and having left his military career to become a justice of the peace in Kent. and Rosicrucianism.
since the Rosicrucians were traditionally sworn to silence.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 81 Fludd later claimed that he received no reply. who was responsible in part for the renaissance of Rosicrucianism within English Freemasonry. Dr. Yet this relationship itself is only the tip of a far greater network of associations and friendships as well as influences. And Dee and Browne in turn knew Ashmole. was a remarkable figure who stood at the center of esoteric currents in England. having been initiated into a Masonic lodge in 1646. Dee’s son. he may indeed have provided a bridge between the earlier Rosicrucian movement and the nascent Masonic one. John Dee. it is clear that Fludd identified with the Rosicrucian views. But in any event. who was certainly acquainted with Fludd before Fludd’s death in 1637. who in turn was a friend of Sir Thomas Browne. Marin Mersenne. Ashmole. and through his acquaintance with Elias Ashmole. back and forth in an intricate series of associations and publications that certainly have not been exhaustively examined.60 Then again.”61 But for our purposes. 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. most significant is the fact that Ashmole was demonstrably a Mason. used his wealth and influence primarily and one may even say. was very influential in the founding of Rosicrucianism some years after Dee’s travels through Germany and Eastern Europe. born to an aristocratic family. astrologer. was himself an alchemist and esoteric scholar. Mersenne was a friend of the young René Descartes. and especially his treatise Monas Hieroglyphica. for he himself noted that “Robert Fludd in his apology for the Brethren of the Rosie Cross hath gone very far herein. he did say that the Rosicrucian “Pansophia or universal knowledge in Nature” was very like his own view. one of the major English literary figures of the seventeenth century. and assiduous bibliophile. for thus we can see direct evidence of the link between earlier Rosicrucianism and later Freemasonry.” Elias Ashmole. Ashmole collected what undoubtedly was and remains one of the world’s greatest collections of papers and books. it was also conventional to say that one had received no reply. Himself an alchemist. By the early 1630s. Such attacks undoubtedly prompted Fludd to write in his Clavis Philosophae that the name Rosicrucian must today be replaced by simply “the Wise. in the Ashmolean library at Oxford. almost exclusively for esoteric causes. and who collected much on and by John Dee—so that one might well say that the esoteric movement here went from England to the Continent. That Ashmole knew of Fludd and his Rosicrucianism is certain. Arthur Dee. Frances Yates convincingly argues that Dr. and back to England. . 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.
except to his own spiritual son. the real . .” and transmitted orally from master to one disciple since antiquity. was not simply an antiquarian. . It is significant that Ashmole. and must remain so. All of this. who had left Germany for England after the failure of the Palatinate.82 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Ashmole. introduced Ashmole to Hermetic circles.”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. He also was a practicing Hermetic esotericist. If this were the only instance of ‘magical language’ during this era of the emergence of Freemasonry as a vehicle for esotericism.” attested in a note by Ashmole dated 3 April 1651. Samuel. but instead one finds that a linguistic mysticism was in fact at the heart of a movement that fired the English Civil War. 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. after recording this revelation. and William Backhouse adopted Ashmole as a “son. John Dury (1596–1680). when Backhouse thought he was dying. and John Comenius (1592–1690).” Samuel Hartlib (1593–1670). never referred to it again. had had connections with John Dee and Edward Kelley. non-sectarian utopia where all the divisions of knowledge could be studied together. but they are in any case gnostic. resonates closely with the Rosicrucian ideal of silence and invisibility. and now in England all worked at the immediate transformation of society into a peaceful.62 Backhouse’s father. or as Kabbalistic. and only philosophers of the English Revolution.64 These three men. This was a Hermetic spiritual adoption. using a symbolic metalanguage. although certainly that impulse was strong in him. These “silables” may be seen as alchemical hieroglyphs. The true name is hidden. and Hartlib had worked to form such colleges both in Germany . conveyed to Ashmole “in Silables the true matter of the Philosopher’s Stone. All three of the men had been active in Rosicrucian circles. whose mentor was William Backhouse of Swallowfield (1593–1662). an esoteric network of illuminated intelligentsia.” “bequeathed to me as a legacy.” or what Comenius termed the Collegium Lucis. Hugh Trevor-Roper remarks that Cromwell’s movement was impelled by “three philosophers . of course. one could ignore it. . editor of the extensive Theatrum Chemicum Brittanicum collection of alchemical works. which in turn harks back to the “namelessness” and invisibility of the true Knights of the Round Table in chivalric literature. said to have its origins in the revelation of Hermes to his “spiritual son. and according to Ashmole’s note in 1653. . meaning that they convey the true and secret name and character of the philosophic work. Backhouse contributed old alchemical manuscripts to Ashmole’s collection. were at the center of a movement of educational and societal reform called the “invisible college. himself an alchemist and antiquarian as well as a botanist and student of architecture. Comenius had developed a system of education based in analogical correspondences.
Chymical. but also the Secrets of Nature are thought to be unfolded . . whereby Masonry becomes the Center of Union and the Means of conciliating true Friendship among Persons that must have else remain’d at a perpetual Distance. there is little in the basic principles of Freemasonry to suggest a specific Masonic esotericism. like the symbolism of alchemy. Its pansophic universality has its parallel in the universalism of Masonry. Early in the eighteenth century. A magical Language whereby secrets may be delivered and preserved to such as are made acquainted with it traditionally.”66 But this rationalist tolerance marks exoteric Freemasonry. according to the Constitutions. esoteric: to limit those who understand it. means that “A Mason is oblig’d by his Tenure to obey the Moral Law . whereby not only the Secrets of Disciplines are harmonically and compendiously delivered. so that by the mid-eighteenth century much of the Western world was dotted with Masonic groups. The aim of a magical language is. there is another aspect of such a magical language: its universality. Freemasonry. whose calling is supposed to be neere at hand. which had a considerable influence in promoting Masonry’s nonsectarian tolerance. Such a language.” certainly a pansophic goal. and also to convey what cannot be conveyed in common language. However. 3. Also important here is the third point. the establishing of a “magical language” for the conveying of secret knowledge. would transcend any national or cultural linguistic boundaries. which from a Christian viewpoint could well be defined as “some extraordinary meanes to perfeit the knowledge and unvail the mysteryes” of the Scriptures. Masonry had a deist and rationalist quality that aided in its spread.65 Dury’s remarks here are interesting not least because they reveal his attraction to Jewish Kabbalism. . For Dury listed under “Things to Be Observed” in his platform for social transformation: 1. and had often been seen as a means of connecting Christianity with Judaism.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 83 and in England. and Mechanical. . Arts and Sciences. and as Edmond Mazet remarks. the conjoining of all the disciplines in service of the “secrets of Nature. But most important for us is the final point. needless to say. . 4. Meanes to perfeit the knowledge of the Orientall tongues and to gaine abilities fitt to deale with the Jewes. Philosophicall. which quickly established lodges all across Europe and in America. visible in James Anderson’s Constitutions of the Freemasons (1723). Some extraordinary meanes to perfeit the knowledge and unvail the mysteryes of the Propheticall scriptures. . 2. but it is on some remarks by Dury that we should now focus.
In this oration.84 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Yet if early-eighteenth-century Freemasonry. Ramsay. England. solid. On the one hand. and indeed. On the other hand. the introduction of alchemical symbolism into the rites. By this means the lights of all nations will be united in a single work. Masonic values of rationalism. a theosophic circle in London. he became a tutor to various aristocratic families. and useful in all the sciences and in all the noble arts. announced in Ramsay’s oration. suppress. but here they take on a distinctly rationalist flavor. had an exoteric.67 There are echoes in this project of the Rosicrucian aims of a century before. and those who insist on a much more exoteric. 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 . nonsectarian basis. excepting only theology and politics. including. he discussed the importance of chivalry and the Templars. This esotericism was kindled by Andrew Michael Ramsay (1686–1743). thus stimulating a host of higher degrees. a Böhmenist who then sent him on to Archbishop Fénelon.68 Within Masonry itself. and in 1737 gave an oration that had a profound effect. fraternal Freemasonry. and master mason. and nonsectarianism certainly helped develop the modern era. And during this time. developing complicated symbolism in its rituals. consisting in three degrees of apprentice. which will be a universal library of all that is beautiful. has subsequently been credited with at least some of the inspiration for the later French philosophes and their Encyclopédie. luminous. deism. with its general tendency to reject. after which he became secretary to Madame Guyon. one finds a continuous struggle since at least the eighteenth century between those such as Jean-Baptiste Willermoz (1730–1824). it quickly began to develop an esoteric emphasis. became prominent in French Masonry. After her death. 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. a Scotsman who early in his life was a member of the Philadelphian Society of Jane Leade and Francis Lee. . fellow craftsman. From here he went on to stay with Pierre Poiret. The work has already been commenced in London. . great. who had been initiated into Masonry years before. while publishing numerous books. Masonry became a vehicle for esotericism. one of the founders of the Rectified Scottish Rite and a powerful proponent of speculative or esoteric Masonry. for instance. especially in England. Italy. it is not surprising that this project. or ignore esotericism. In it. . Ramsay also called for a massive project of universal illumination: All the Grand Masters in Germany. Thus we find that Freemasonry has a peculiarly dual relation to esotericism and modernity. especially in France.
even if it is subject to periodic spasms of anti-esotericism. we find an exorcism ritual to be used by Masons in the construction of a building. it continues to draw upon these and other currents to become itself among the most eclectic of esoteric traditions. the Order of the Gold and RosyCross. As we have already seen.” as well as references to those who are said to have the “Mason’s word. especially with the founding of the Orden des Guelden-und Rosen-Cruetzes. theosophic. In the Graham manuscript of 1726.”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. the tradition has long been seen as maintaining occult knowledge. since one finds Hebrew frequently in Rosicrucian illustrations and works as well. yet in thirteen branches in reference to Christ and his twelve apostles. we find that it definitely does draw upon earlier esoteric currents. and six for the fellow craft. has a natural connection to Kabbalistic mysticism that also focuses on divine architecture. preserves its eighteenth grade as that of the Chevalier Rose-Croix. but it also later drew explicitly and implicitly on the chivalric.”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. Rosicrucian. Freemasonry. God has sealed the six directions of space. the tradition is linked to Masonic linguistic mysticism. specifically. a Masonic Rosicrucianism begun in 1757 in Germany that incorporated Templar and alchemical symbolism too. Indeed.8). and alchemical currents of Western esotericism. the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite. to wit I am. in The Whole Institutions of Freemasons Opened (1725): “Yet for all this I want the primitive word. when we look closely at the emergence of Freemasonry. that is.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 85 Yet despite the insistence of some on a more exoteric Masonry. the most popular form of contemporary Masonry. and that as the Masonic current continues through the eighteenth century. six for the clergy. 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.” which Edmond Mazet sees as “a clear allusion to the six permutations of the trigrammaton YHW.” In other words. from very early on in the development of modern Masonry. based as it is on the craft of building. of human and divine architecture both. as maintaining a special linguistic power that lies at the heart of building. I answer it was God in six Terminations. according to the Sepher Yetsirah (1. such an emphasis on the powers of divine creation is characteristic of Kabbalism since the medieval period. even to this day. and so it is not surprising to discover that in 1676 we find Masonry associated with the “Modern Green Ribbon’d Caball. a ritual that relies upon “foundation words. In other words. by which. which is as follows: one word for a divine. .
language is not just a means for objectification and separation. but as the actual medium linking humanity. The universalist esotericist dream is not the provenance of Masonry as an organization. as well as its political dimensions that came to the fore with Adam Weishaupt and others during the eighteenth century. not consume it. joining the humanities and the sciences under the aegis of a broadly conceived spirituality. Finally. For whereas modern society is founded on the objectifying separation of everything from the individual (allowing the exploitation of the entire cosmos. but actually the means for overcoming that objectification. including humanity). Rosicrucianism. including alchemy. One might best say that Freemasonry contains the possibility of a universalist esotericism. . Masonry. nature. And this role is played out through reading and writing. Here. What is more.” or signature. When we consider the seminal modern Western esoteric currents together. we see a central distinction between them all and what we can characterize as the dominant modern materialist view. magic. All of these esoteric currents further presuppose that humans are capable of spiritual regeneration and of attaining gnosis. the theme of our next section. Kabbalah. Here. or direct experiential knowledge of the divine. pansophy. we cannot help but recognize similarities among them all. woven through all of these traditions is the theme of language. by coming to learn the divine language of creation. in this case a universal esotericism that unites all forms of knowledge. but of individuals and circles within the larger stream of Masonic tradition. and Christian theosophy. Above all. we are disregarding the more or less social aspects of Freemasonry. in Western esotericism. For according to Western esotericism generally. which has been sporadically realized by individuals. the esotericist is actually redeeming or restoring the cosmos to its transcendent or paradisal origin.86 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Like the Rosicrucianism that preceded it. divine language inheres in the whole of creation—each kind of creature bears within it the divine stamp. its secret “silable. of course. all of these esoteric traditions are founded upon the overcoming of this objectification through the recognition of how microcosm and macrocosm are mutually illuminating. Thus the esotericist plays a central role in the drama of cosmic redemption itself. of how humanity is meant to redeem the cosmos. and the divine. not just as the means of communication among people. speculative Masonry is a manifestation of the more general modern dream of universalism. and this the esotericist unveils through visionary perception.
.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.
oder: Alle Götliche Schriften Jacob Böhmens (1730 ed.Figure 3 Theosophic image entitled “Serenity” from Jacob Böhme. edited by Johann Georg Gichtel. . Theosophia Revelata.).
). .Figure 4 Theosophic image entitled “Three Principles” from Jacob Böhme. Theosophia Revelata. edited by Johann Georg Gichtel. oder: Alle Götliche Schriften Jacob Böhmens (1730 ed.
Figure 5 Theosophic image entitled “Earthly and Heavenly Mysterium” from Jacob Böhme. oder: Alle Götliche Schriften Jacob Böhmens (1730 ed.). Theosophia Revelata. edited by Johann Georg Gichtel. .
Note that beyond the celestial hierarchy is the Ungrund. . which is here explicitly identified with the Kabbalistic ’en soph. O p u s M a g o .Figure 6 Pansophic image from Georg von We l l i n g .C a b b a l i s t i c u m e t T h e o sophicum (Frankfurt: 1784).
C a b b a l i s t i c u m e t T h e o sophicum. (Frankfurt: 1784). as well as the prominence of the figure of the eye.Figure 7 Pansophic image from Georg von We l l i n g . O p u s M a g o . Note the threedimensional nature of the illustration. .
.C a b b a l i s t i c u m e t T h e o sophicum (Frankfurt: 1784).Figure 8 Pansophic image from Georg von We l l i n g . O p u s M a g o .
” 1988. and the evocative. Note the contrast between the g e o m e t r i c a l i m a g e s i n G e o rg v o n We l l i n g ’s illustrations. otherworldly nature of Collins’s work. .Figure 9 Cecil Collins. “The Music of Dawn.
.Figure 10 Cecil Collins.” 1976. “Paradise.
Which was to please. Prospero then offers the famous epilogue: Now my charms are all o’erthrown. The main character. so that we are left viewing the magician himself. 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. the magician Prospero. and the comedic drama is brought to its resolution. Gentle breath of yours my sails Must fill.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. dwell In this bare island by your spell. But release me from my bands With the help of your good hands. And pardoned the deceiver. Let me not Since I have my dukedom got. or else my project fails. Which is most faint. The Tempest. Now ‘tis true I must be here confined by you. Or sent to Naples. Now I want Spirits to enforce. something remarkable happens at the play’s end. And what strength I have’s my own.
But closer examination of this and Ernst’s other works does not seem to reveal what we find in alchemical works themselves. We have already seen this linguistic mysticism in Kabbalism. To incant is to enchant. Here. pansophy. it is often inverted and does not . often little more than the accumulation of data. traditionally. In all of these esoteric traditions. standing above a reclining woman. Warlick. ours the prayers that can free Prospero just as he in turn held the spirit Ariel in enchantment. is to touch the nature of being itself. To be a vehicle for the right words. a magical transferral has taken place: we realize that we are the magicians. letters. reveals at a stroke the nature of magical esoteric literature. This transference of magical power from the playwright and actor. language is not a series of arbitrary signs used to designate objects. as audience.1 Many of Ernst’s paintings reveal his use of alchemical imagery: his collage “The Laugh of the Cock” (1934). we may read in order to be diverted or entertained. today. to sing or to say into being. in effect gives his wand to his audience. behind whom is what at first glance resembles an alchemical retort with a candle in it. but certainly not always—that in themselves are believed to powerful. by virtue of his skill with words. It is true that the Western esoteric traditions are very diverse. for example. and freed him. Initially. and words—often Hebrew. Rosicrucianism. but the imagery is individualized and rendered surreal. As you from crimes would pardoned be. shows a tall. winged creature in an ornate room. Here Prospero. and Freemasonry. having relinquished his magical power. that ours is the magical breath to fill the sails. but one can certainly trace throughout their history a thread that we might call the mysteries of the word. where the poet-singer is. Conventionally. via the main character. I had intended to include here a study of the art of surrealist Max Ernst. but there is no transference of magical power. are the magicians. But this is not the way literature always has been seen. Reading. also a magician. to the audience. Suddenly. whose fascination with Hermetic and alchemical themes is well known and documented conclusively by M. is a prosaic matter. there are numbers. to invoke the forces of creation itself. for most of us. but rather a linguistic manifestation of what informs and transcends these objects. or in works by twentieth-century authors that convey various forms of initiatory transmission. we realize that we. Prospero’s transfer of power from himself to his audience is reminiscent of Celtic tradition. That is. and seen it implied in chivalric and troubadour literature as well as in theosophy.88 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Mercy itself and frees all faults. we may read in order to gather information about a subject. In this most magical of plays. Ernst indeed draws on esoteric imagery. Let your indulgence set me free. E. for instance.
the poet H. we find that there are not too many authors who know about or are even concerned with this understanding of language. but there certainly is an area here worthy of further investigation. for instance. D. Milosz is without question among the most learned poets of modern times. He wrote poetry touching on the despair and hollowness of modernity. his mother Jewish. But his learning is of a particular kind. and finally to the remarkable art and writing of Cecil Collins (1909–1989). horizontal survey is of value. Milosz wandered the vast forests nearby as a child. While a broad. choosing a synecdochic study that will in turn illuminate aspects of literature that are today all too often overlooked. Naturally. and at twelve he was sent to Paris for schooling. it would be possible to catalogue and survey how the Western esoteric traditions appear in relatively recent literary history. of even greater value is a vertical. more . with sections on each of the major currents. However. to the magical fiction of C. his parents somewhat cold and aloof. V. and who has incorporated the linguistic mysticism that emerges from them into his own poetry of the first order. third. It is certainly worth doing. Here. as with Emerson or Rilke. not only in the case of Ernst. After a good education. and perhaps for someone else to do. sometimes more implicitly. into the world of French intelligentsia. D. without question chiefly in the sphere of Hermeticism. split further into sections on poetry and prose. Canticle of Knowledge: O. Milosz’s outward life can be outlined rather succinctly. Milosz and Spiritual Transmission through Poetry O. and so I will not discuss them further here. and entry. as with Yeats or H. sometimes explicitly. as can in fact be said of the works of. V. during which time his family sold their estate. It is true that esoteric themes or topics emerge in all sorts of unexpected places in modern literature. Lewis (1898–1963) and others. turning then to H. D. secular or not. I will leave such a project for another time. deeper study of how Western esotericism intersects with literature and consciousness in our own time.3 But it is relatively difficult to find a poet whose primary concern is with these various Western esoteric traditions. but in that of the entire surrealist movement. for instance. And so we will concentrate first on the work of Oscar Vladislas de Lubicz Milosz (1877–1939).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. Milosz traveled widely. Born to a wealthy family in Lithuania who lived on an estate called Czereïa. I will instead focus on several major figures and trace the influences on their work. S..2 And even when we turn to literature of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. (1886–1961). more or less. I cannot say with certainty whether or how Ernst’s works convey a particular kind of initiatory transmission.
and. Then. in vision.” However. Among these figures. and perhaps remains. and both wrote in dry. who was trained as a scientist but went on to write voluminous works surveying the nature. Milosz’s predecessors in the Western literary tradition are indissolubly linked with religion and philosophy. beginning of course with Paracelsus and Böhme. and depicted as peculiarly concrete—the visionary realms of the spirit for him are palpable and his work certainly a kind of hyperphysical cartography. for that matter. and Western esotericism in general. and invariably sought to conjoin not only the sciences and literature and the arts. almost pedantic ways of their visionary experiences. Milosz’s poetry. perhaps the most seminal is Swedenborg. and including such authors as Emanuel Swedenborg (1688–1772). but are in fact also intended to invoke these experiences in the reader. in 1914. Swedenborg of course was himself preceded in this effort by John Pordage. . he experienced a spiritual illumination.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. neither Pordage nor Swedenborg was a poet. These Swedenborg saw. but all of these under the sign of a Hermetic spirituality. and from this period on became a serious scholar of Hermeticism. S. participating in the League of Nations and serving until his retirement in 1938. a Don Juanesque figure. theosophy. whose poems and prose are not only recountings of visionary experiences. In both Swedenborg and Goethe we see the emergence of what we might call a nascent spiritual science. whose massive works are themselves scientific in their precise descriptions and careful elucidation of all the various “divine mansions. Eliot. It was during the first half of this service that Milosz wrote his most Hermetic works. of heaven. Not so Milosz. Milosz also became active as a diplomat for Lithuania. come to fruition in literary form. by way of a renewed Hermetic spirituality. create a kind of lineage of such figures. though drawing on this tradition of scientific observation of visionary experience. and the dwelling places of spirits. and Johann Wolfgang Goethe (1749–1832). 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. LouisClaude de Saint-Martin (1743–1803). Kabbalah. One can. its members have in common that most lived during the eighteenth century and that they sought. in fact. to bring about a cultural renaissance that would join together the sundered limbs of human knowledge. Diverse as this list is in certain respects. so his nephew Czeslaw Milosz later wrote. far more influential than is usually acknowledged in intellectual histories. Swedenborg was. Goethe. But it is in Milosz that we see Swedenborg’s approach. in a mysterious way also embodies and is the experience. and became. Financially ruined during this time by the collapse of Russia. William Blake (1757–1827). hell. his effort to chronicle the visionary experience with a kind of new science of the spirit. he remains a primary force behind the works of William Blake. which are what concern us here. also a tactile visionary. as he saw it.
But the poet. This isolation Blake rails against in his epic poems. / Les autres. crown of human knowledge.]” Thus the canticle is devoted to teaching on the nature of spiritual illumination. to awakening it in his reader.]”7 . thieves of joy and pain. to join up with ancient teachings. Cartographers of consciousness. summarizing in some respects his life’s work. the observer looks outward. and from its fellow humanity and seemingly set adrift as an isolated being. have received and already know.” or “Canticle of Knowledge. and also prehistory and archaic history. on 14 December 1914.” from The Confession of Lemuel (1918). Contemporary sciences are founded in observation of the cosmos. ayant demandé. insisting instead on the inner creative life of the artist. de science et d’amour. which Milosz experienced at eleven o’clock in the evening. Milosz experiences this inner devastation as well as the powerful creative life awakened when one enters into the living realm of the spiritual imagination. “setting out from proven scientific foundations. and in particular. the passionate pursuit of the Real. astronomy. / For those whom prayer has led to meditation on the origin of language. through a new metaphysics. qui. [The teaching of the sunlit hour of the divine nights. the immense devastation of the self as it is torn asunder from the divine. having asked. turn their attention inward and become careful observers of the inner landscape. and like Blake. The “Canticle” begins with the striking line: “L’enseignement de l’heure ensoleillée des nuits du Divin.” telling us that “poetry. les voleurs de douleur et de joie. that he anticipated a new poetry. and especially the figures we are discussing here. At this juncture. and does not in general investigate the nature of the observer’s own consciousness. from the cosmos. it will no doubt be useful to look more closely at some of Milosz’s work. knowledge and love. they are all intimately aware of the great schisms taking place in modern humanity. [For those who.” which “springs from the hidden depths of Universal Being. but indeed.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. as the organizer of archetypes. / A ceux que la prière a conduits à la méditation sur l’origin du langage. Milosz’s work is explicitly dedicated not only to entering into this realm of the spiritual imagination. Milosz himself wrote in a brief and late treatise on poetry. seems called upon. which “will contribute in large measure to realizing an inner synthesis of the great discoveries in physical chemistry. seems bound. on reçu et savent déjà.” which. and especially in Milosz.”4 He discerned “a new mysticism. / Others.”5 And he writes of the “sacred art of the Word. n’entendront rien à ces choses. to survive not only our industrial civilization but also Space-Time itself. will understand nothing of these things. The canticle continues: “A ceux. at his “Cantique de la Connaissance.”6 Thus he addresses his writings not to the present age but to the future reader who will experience this new poetry and synthesis of all the disciplines.
lumière. the names of things emerge from the realm of archetypes.” 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]. etc.” This earth of the vision of archetypes. to the initiate. but living. from Pythagoras to Plato.”8 This gnostic canticle is. but it is not so. but negators. light.” These names precede existence in the sensible world and time’s turmoil. 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. In fact. those who are not affirmers.—all say the same things to anyone who knows how to listen. [it is necessary to know the objects designated by certain essential words / Such as bread.” writing that to understand the origin of language. but utterly serious—this is a poem about the mysteries at the heart both of language and of . of course. he continues. all that was in antiquity described in metaphors “exists in a situated place. to Claude de Saint-Martin and Swedenborg. darkness. addressed to the latter.” “terre de la vision des archétypes [earth of the vision of archetypes]. not like “Patmos. / For these names are neither brothers. sel.” Only “the spirit of things has a name”. but truly fathers of sensible objects. the names “were hurled from the motionless world of archetypes into the abyss of time’s turmoil. he is alluding to Christ’s saying that those who ask will receive.]”10 This “arcana of language” is the “key to the world of light.]”9 In other words. and which is “situated in the consciousness of the solar egg [situés dans la conscience de l’œuf solaire]. are merely thieves of love and knowledge. this allusion is close to Kabbalism in that it offers a gnostic interpretation of those verses. mais bien les père des objects sensibles. blood. Milosz once wrote in a letter that “there are only two kinds of men: the negators who profess irreconcilable systems and the modest affirmers who. have received. nor sons. ni les fils. But characteristically. this “situated place. as well as the names of metals. The power to name sensible objects comes from supersensible knowledge of the archetypal realm to which our spirit belongs.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. and when he dedicates the canticle to those who have asked. sun.” A linguistic gnosis is at the heart of the canticle. and already know. ténèbres. Milosz continues his explanation of this linguistic gnosis in the “Canticle of Knowledge. sang.” Indeed. water. salt.” It is clear by now that Milosz is not dabbling with words here.” is not merely a sterile world of symbols. suggesting that the center of prayer is knowledge. soleil. through the initiates of Alexandria and Christian mystics. “meditation on the origin of language. earth.” We think that the sensible world is situated. eau. terre. corresponding to Plato’s realm of Forms or Ideas. “il est nécessaire de connaître les objets désignés par certains mots essentiels / Tels que pain. “their substance is nameless.
“I have named you! [Je t’ai nommé!]”. / In the passage from the egg to the sphere. Here. The man of light (“l’homme la lumière”) draws his knowledge from this supersensible sun in the “motionless” realm of substances.” These two worlds correspond to the two worlds of Böhme.” There is the earthly gold. 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. .” to names that precede and transcend their earthly counterparts. / Dans le bond et le vent de la masse de feu.” Simply that. of blessing and of desolation. But beyond these two worlds is the “word enveloped in sun. is the “key to the world of light. / In the appearance of the virginal spirit of gold. the first section of “Poemandres” in the Corpus Hermeticum is also a visionary creation-account. for as he told us before. these ancient metaphors refer to “substances. “is the key to the two worlds of darkness and light. as well as to the “solar egg” of the soul. and then comes the following passage: “te voici dans le rayon avant-coureur au sein du nuage figé. of the primal . it is also the visible sun of the substantial world]. but also of the Corpus Hermeticum. he calls us to the celestial gold. 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. which recalls the primal naming of all things by the primal man. / In the leap and wind of the fiery mass. .” But the allusions are not necessarily to earthly gold nor to the sun visible from the earth. as well as the first chapter of John (In the beginning was the Word). the word charged by the thunder of this dangerous time [la parole enveloppée de soleil. and “knowledge’s golden candlestick. that is. .” This distinction between truth and lie. le mot chargé de foudre de ce temps dangereux. of love and of wrath. And so it is here. Milosz tells us again. / Dans l’apparition de l’esprit virginal de l’or / Dans l’apparition de l’ove à la sphère . when Milosz addresses us directly. he means precisely what he says: “I have seen. he tells us. and the gold of celestial memory. For “la vérité ne fait pas mentire le langage sacré: car elle est aussi le soleil visible du monde substantiel. .]”11 There is in the “Canticle of Knowledge” a continuous thread of allusions to gold and to the sun. [Here you are in the first ray in the womb of the fixed cloud. muet comme le plomb. which only draw their value from their supersensible archetypes. a revelation. At such points.” “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. and only describes what he has seen.]”13 As we might recall. Adam. mute as lead. Thus Milosz goes on to tell us matter-of-factly that he who has seen stops thinking and feeling. Milosz exultantly writes. [truth does not make sacred language lie: . or in Milosz’s words. he implicates us in the poem.]”12 This charged and sun-enveloped word reminds us of the account in Genesis of creation.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 93 existence. calls us through its language into the truth that language manifests.
here too we find the emergence of light and life in the opening of the “world of light” for the visionary seer. / being in place itself.” “mois je suis toujours dans le même lieu. of light and darkness. because whether he is “dazzled by the solar egg. / étant dans le lieu même. innocent. Milosz muses on his early poetry. and a kind of corporeality of language.” just as in so much of Western esotericism. delirious. “I learned that in its depths man’s body encloses a remedy for all ills. rather. and that the knowledge of gold is also knowledge of light and blood. Thus in the “Canticle of Knowledge. is the sign of Wisdom personified: Wisdom showed him the realm of Forms prior to existence. the only one situated. Milosz tells us that he has “visited the two worlds. in theosophic tradition. but “great trials of negation. on this naked cold planet of iron and clay.” those “lands of nocturnal din. Milosz tells us. “the Father of Ancients. here too we find a kind of “fixed cloud”.” or “hurled into the madness of the black eternity. chaste archetypes. he noticed that he had stopped before a mirror. The ascent to the “solar place” that Milosz describes here brings one to the “omnipotence of affirmation.14 I am not suggesting that Milosz is directly alluding to the Corpus Hermeticum. in the visionary writings of Böhme. where he saw “the source of lights and forms. Milosz writes. to whom Milosz was definitely indebted. / played with me as a father with his child. Here too we find the “leap and wind” of a fiery mass. Thus the poet tells us not to weep for him.” to a “place” where “myriad spiritual bodies reveal themselves to virtuous senses. and at this moment the “sterile woman” in him died.” for the key to the world of light also opens the—“other region. by “omnipotent negation” in “Ce lieu séparé.]”16 See. [I am always in the same place. wise. not light and serenity of recognition.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. even though I am certain that he was at least familiar with it.”15 Here we find. In the concluding lines of the canticle. [C’est ainsi que j’appris que le corps de l’homme renferme dans ses profondeurs un .” and “marrow of iniquity. when “like all nature poets I was sunk in profound ignorance [Comme tous les poètes de la nature. different.” yet also to a “place” of utter desolation. and this is the “solar egg. and is the province of those who speak pure language.” “the world of profound.” We might recall that the mirror.” This playing “between worst darkness and best light” emerges from beyond both darkness and light.” Yet there is a realm beyond these two worlds of affirmation and negation. Milosz’s visionary experience here is quite simply parallel to and in the tradition of what we also see in “Poemandres” and.” an “eternity of horror. Luciferic brain]. hideux. for that matter. we find a spiritual corporeality. j’étais plongé dans une profonde ignorance. hideous. le seul situé. Thus. of those who speak pure language.” “immense. and looked behind him.]” Then one day. cet immense cerveau délirant de Lucifer [This separated place. différent. this immense.” The “omnipotence of affirmation” is counterbalanced.” selfknowing.
as well as in more modern movements like Freemasonry. And in his allusions to the visionary descent into darkness. in this egg resting on the nuptial flame. to “tender metal partners in marriage. This poem. the sign!]” This is the sign of the cross. Milosz is close to Novalis (Friedrich von Hardenberg.” replies Beatrix.]”17 The canticle concludes with the poet’s prayer that when he is finally cleansed of both evil and good. dans cet œuf appuyé sur le feu nuptial. How beautiful and innocent they are!]”19 This reference.]” To this Beatrix replies: “Farewell. between the lightworld and the darkworld. he will not lose the memory of the suffering he has undergone. tendres métaux époux. you speak the truth. who wrote too of the division and conflict between love and wrath. let us make the sign. especially given Milosz’s own essentially solitary life. in his 1922 poem entitled “The Adept’s Christmas Eve.” is unquestionably alchemical. Frequently his poetry has a dramatic or semidramatic quality. 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. but also of the inner desolation that one can also experience on earth. Et puisque nous connaissons depuis sept ans. Beatrix. trois vois—le signe. but refers to an inner alchemy. je te touche le front. 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. le signe! [seven times for the past. and is clearly expressing his own direct experience. it affirms the significance not only of the virginal gold of the soul’s solar egg. This understanding he expressed often in a peculiarly theatrical way. reaffirms the importance not only of the ascent to the knowledge of light. and since we have now known one another seven years. and for our three days to come. is especially of interest to us here. Milosz is very much akin to Böhme. Thus the canticle.” Milosz has his character “The Adept” speaking with his inner spouse. and with it the initiate asks for peace for Beatrix and for himself. par la grâce de la vue du milieu. In some poems he has a choir or a chorus.]” . innocents! [The parents sleep there. et pour nos trois jours à venir. tender metal partners in marriage. again three times. because of its fusion of literature and Hermeticism. [Dear child. and clothed with the sun. and his Hymns to the Night.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. at its end. by the grace of inner vision. Beatrix is surprised: “So you can see them? How? In this hermetic egg? With what eyes?” The adept replies: “Chère enfant. In this acknowledgement of fundamental duality in the cosmos. Qu’ils sont beaux.18 But Milosz has forged his own mode of expression. [1775–1802]). “The Adept’s Christmas Eve” begins with the Adept’s ritual gesture: “sept fois pour le passé. “Master. but the descent into immense suffering and privation. I touch your brow.
the adept exults of “how all your [Beatrix’s] secret being breathes within me. white and pale blue. And in the conclusion of the poem. and to its incantory language. 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. at once also alluding to the birth of Christ. or like the language of a ritual enactment of the Greek mysteries. He opens his eyes and is reborn. Yet Beatrix does not seem a human spouse.]”21 It is. and what does he see? “Purity rises to the surface. I tell you. Thus a new cry sounds seven times—Is it a name? asks the adept. and “Lumière de l’or. but also thrice-greatest Hermes. The adept’s fascination with Beatrix’s eyes—“your eyes. woman. but a player on the poet’s inner stage. any more than are those of the adept. is reborn!” Thus once again. and all is finished”—yet this is also the moment of rebirth. leaden and lachrymal. Beatrice. Thus the allusions to Dante’s poetry are subordinate to the poem’s initiatory psychodrama. For not only are there references to the “tender metal partners in marriage. dancing in a circle in the rigor of red.” while the “oil of blind corruption. he comes back to life. [It is life liberated. and black. impossible to miss the allusions here to Dante’s Divine Comedy. undoubtedly reflects Dante’s beloved.” not only references to the alchemical furnace.” At the climax of this strange initiatic psychodrama. you liberate yourself. the poem is really an initiatic dialogue incorporating the language of alchemy.” sinks to the depths. but the adept replies. [Light of gold. the mystery of the sacred name emerges as the crux of the spiritual rebirth. charity. The adept watches. charitée. The alchemical . tu te délivres. sometimes almost disjointed quality like hieratic speech heard in a dream. “I believe it is. her words are not ordinary or even precisely human. The woman in the poem. “I see only one. the alchemy of inward marriage and of the spiritual birth of the alchemical child.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. Beatrix.]”20 Beatrix warns the adept of the legions of destroyers massed to ruin his creation. your eyes!”—reminds us of Dante’s fascination with Beatrice’s eyes. which became openings for him as he ascended into paradise in the Divine Comedy.]” To which Beatrix replies: “C’est la vie délivrée. including the way the Greco-Roman Mystery traditions fed into the Christian mysteries of symbolic death and rebirth. the adept speaks of “seven deadly cries in the night. The Master forgives me. [My chains of constellations are broken. yellow. and the longstanding alchemical traditions as well. Here we are looking at spiritual alchemy. partaking rather of a heightened. of course. your eyes!” The adept’s final line is: “Mes chaines de constellations sont rompues. “The Adept’s Christmas Eve” draws on a range of allusions. partially because of her name’s meaning—thrice beatific—which in turn recalls not only the Trinity. but also countless other allusions to a kind of visionary inner alchemy.” And he repeats how extraordinary are “your eyes.
one senses vast expanses around one. in an elliptical leap of extreme violence and with the noise of a strong wind. To whom is Milosz writing in such a poem. far beyond what we might think such a line may mean.”22 To whom does this legacy belong. as though the poet does not exist as an ego. exposing the upper region which is suddenly crossed. by Milosz. a light appears. in such a way that it seems to be seen through the parietal bone. In his exegetic notes to his own prose work Ars Magna (whose title is drawn from the similarly named work by Ramon Lull). Milosz’s poems presuppose a visionary experiential reality behind and above them. by a metallic red-hot egg.” and that “In the author’s mind. When the ascent through the nebula is finished and the epopt [Gk. perfectly awake. The poet of Ars Magna and the Arcana does not write for his contemporaries.” The line is the fourth verse.” Milosz’s commentary goes far. in what it reveals.” not to mention Ars Magna or The Arcana. then? Undoubtedly. as unemotional as nature. sometimes decidedly strange language of Milosz’s poetry brings the reader into a similar state to that Milosz is describing. . Perhaps most interesting for us is the question of the poem’s reader. Milosz writes that his work is a “testament. in other words. archetype of the coronation of regents by divine right in the material world. Whereas much of what we call modern poetry has only itself and the physical world for references. To see how far Milosz’s work is from what we often call poetry. The incantory. or rather. after all. oneself. at a small distance from the large cupric cloud which conceals from him the upper luminous level. And there is in this unfolding drama something profoundly impersonal. to read such a poem as “Canticle of Knowledge” or “The Adept’s Christmas Eve. perhaps we should examine one of his exegetic notes on a single line of his own “Poem of the Arcana. is also to participate in it. At the same instant. The various phases of this rite correspond to the principal moments in the regeneration of a mineral. the meaning attributed to this word is that of a legacy to a posterity as distant as possible from this fourth age whose death agony we are witnessing.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 97 work. and what effect does he anticipate the poem will have? This is a much more far-reaching question than one might at first imagine. the large cloud vanishes. “Yet I shall humble in the dust before you this brow which has received the crown. not very high in the vaporous mass behind the top of his skull. with the initiatory drama unfolding itself in an inner theater whose audience is.” a “faithful and pious narrative. He writes in exegesis that The revelation of a superior phenomenalism opens with a mystical consecration.: initiate]. rests in a horizontal position. 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.
98 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Turning into a golden globe. its brutal mass wars. His is a peculiar combination of humility and pride intermingled. yet his erudition. moving up a little. Only what is behind or in the symbolic is ultimately real. and with unspeakable scorn for the epoch which saw their birth. There is in Milosz’s work a paradoxical insistence on humility. And authentic literature. it assumes the appearance of a magnificent golden sun of oval shape. This account suggests that Milosz is writing rather precisely. and a scorn for our own era that bespeaks a kind of pride. It is perhaps useful. Milosz . though including many great poets. is revelatory and prophetic in its very nature. Without question. because it springs from this archetypal reality. for what seems situated and real in this world is revealed in the other to be unreal. In all of this he assumes a prophetic voice. he is among the most erudite of poets.” thus bringing his reader into the dialogue much as one finds in the Corpus Hermeticum and in other Hermetic dialogues or monologues since antiquity. meaning the archetypal realm. about an actual experience of spiritual coronation. it descends slowly towards the top of the skull. and for him such experience is more real than our mundane lives precisely because it is not constrained by duration or mensurability.”24 He writes sardonically of the blindness and destructiveness of modern society with its industrial gigantism. and insists that his true reader will recognize the worth of his writings only far in the future. scientifically. at this point. one senses that his pride comes from a certainty of knowledge that is ignored and despised by the human world. that. Such experience is of the truly situated. its secular hedonism and materialism. just as he ignores and despises that world. He insists that in order to understand. but this lengthy excerpt is sufficient to show that even a single rather mundane line in Milosz’s poetry has behind it far more experiential referents than we might ever have expected. to remark on the question of Milosz’s antecedents. one may even say. and in this there is a kind of reversal.” Milosz’s “superior phenomenalism” is his term for direct spiritual experience. 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. becomes rounder. “who will read these pages with a filial respect for their author. and plunges its omniscient stare for a long time into the deepest thought of the new King. stands still. Yet at the same time Milosz in his prose and poetry addresses himself to a future reader some centuries hence.” and adds that “Behind the symbol there is an immutable situated reality. on which it alights like a crown. referring to the reader as “my son. only he who bows down will be bowed down to. we must bow down. thereafter. as he put it in his last poem of 1936. is focused particularly on the syncretic Hermeticism that began to flower in the eighteenth century.23 There is still more.
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. but kept a Bible in Hebrew nearby as a constant reading companion. the mystical eighteenth century. sought in them peace of spirit. These writers—and also Jewish exegesis—exerted a decisive influence upon Blaise Pascal. Swedenborg. passing through the Pre-Socratics. as when the poem refers to the “betrothed sister of the new canticle. but in the tradition of many Christian Cabalists.”25 And he remarked elsewhere that he spent the best years of his life in solitude “getting drunk on the Holy Scriptures and nourishing myself on them. The Rosicrucian Polybius the Cosmopolitan. The allusions to Milosz’s favorite doctrines and language are here hidden in the allusions to Hebrew names and places. looked forward to the day that the Jews would be converted to Christianity. Swedenborg.” first with his teacher of Hebrew. Eugène Ledrain. Plato. In the “Psalm” we read of another primary theme.” and . the School of Alexandria. [a single new word the same / heart as in the time of the fathers beats in wood / stone and water of all that returns there is / nothing new all those things were sleeping / in closed books the books have opened themselves / beneath my hand. but it reveals at the heart of all things “a single new word. Martinez de Pasqually. alias René Descartes. “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. Claude de Saint Martin.” 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.” Milosz continued.”27 “Psalm of the Morning Star” is so suffused in Hebrew and in Old Testament language as to be inseparable from them.” 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. and then with his “spiritual guides: Goethe.26 If we see here the depth of Milosz’s focus on Hermeticism in history. Milosz not only had studied and read Hebrew. 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.]28 The peculiar rhythm of the lines and line breaks makes this poem unusually difficult to follow. we cannot help but notice the parallel focus on Judaism and Kabbalah. he was well acquainted with Jewish Kabbalism. the disciple of the Kabbalist Raymond Martini. from Egypt up to today. the Neoplatonists of the Middle Ages.
and Milosz explains his poem’s relationship to Freemasonry in his “Exegetic Notes. In his “Poem of the Arcana. words. Milosz held. just as in the Book of Revelation and just as in Kabbalism. and that he shared with much of the Christian theosophic tradition. 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 . if we may coin a word. .” in fact. Hiram.” which are far more extensive than anything T. and art. Milosz tells of his visionary experience. . R. Here. Under the heading “Hiram. Joseph de Maistre. King of the unified world. and Savoy. in short. Le Forestier. libric mysticism that has haunted Western esotericism from antiquity. are enormously important for understanding the complex work of Milosz and his mysticism of the word. says that “I am entering the twelfth year of supreme knowledge. 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. the books open themselves to him. that the work of the coming poet is to be a “crowning” of the New Testament as the latter was a crowning of the Old: “It is not a book.” and yet writes that he will humble his brow in the dust before “you. science. but there are still other currents of Western esotericism that emerge in the poet’s work. The allegory is clearly indicated by the password Nekom (Vengeance) used by the Chapter of Clermont and the Scottish lodge of the Berlin Union. the visionary poet.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. as early as 1919. If the author has considered it useful to follow Lessing. for instance. King of the Unified World. Hermeticism and Kabbalism. and books. S. The “architect” of those brotherhoods was Biblical in name only. inside the books of life and of knowledge. it is not books that we are waiting for. opens those books in order to reveal their inner mysteries—or rather. in 1938. the universal regent of faith. wrote for his poetry. Architect of the effective Catholic Church of tomorrow. Thus we find in this final poem of Milosz the linguistic and. Nor is it coincidental that in 1933 Milosz published his close study titled L’Apocalypse de Saint-Jean Déchiffrée [The Apocalypse of Saint John Decoded] and. we are waiting for the continuation and fulfillment of the only Book.” Milosz writes that The personage who concerns us here is not the symbolic hero of the Templars or of Scottish Freemasonry in England. and the true poet. Eliot. my son. drawn together with a universalism that both resembles and includes Freemasonry. La Clef de l’Apocalypse [The Key to the Apocalypse].”29 Here we see the nascent Christian millennialism that pervades so much of Milosz’s work as he anticipated a future renaissance. . the archetypes of the cosmos exist inside letters. Germany.”30 The name Hiram is found in Masonic tradition.
it is perhaps enough to recall the prophetic late-medieval character Postel.”35 All of this resonates so strongly with the Western esoteric traditions we have been tracing that it would take several pages just to explicate this single sentence in Milosz’s “Exegetic Notes. even though Milosz implies that his Hiram is different from the Masonic one. as we have seen.34 And Milosz goes on to ask.” And he imagines too the “approaching moment. like spirit and matter. in the sacred poem of the Arcana. and to the Rosicrucian Polybius the Cosmopolitan. Hence Milosz continues his exegesis of his own poem with several pages on the emergence of a unified world and a new world monarchy. the times foreseen by Guillaume Postel.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 101 Sepulchre. But Milosz’s grand dream goes beyond Masonry as well. who announced a coming millennium. especially the dream of a world utopia. a Virgin-Mother of Knowledge. particularly for Kadosch Dante Alighieri of the Fede Santa. and further that although he is drawing on Masonic lore. when the organization of Europe will be based upon the principles which guided the foundation of the great American federation. “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.” 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.”32 Here. the depository of the one divine and human truth confirmed by philosophy and science. Indeed. the builder sent by Hiram of Tyre to Solomon.31 It is clear from this note alone that Milosz was intimately familiar with the history of Masonry and Rosicrucianism. Milosz goes on to tell us that the “future architect mentioned by name in the Arcana is the spiritual son of Hiram-Abi. it is above all as testimony of veneration for some of its members. his reference to Hiram in the poem is of his own devising. He writes that “Today. relatively not distant.” Here. like all the continents and all the states of this world. Religion and science.’ announce their impending appearance. many themes in Milosz’s outer life—chiefly his work in the League of Nations— reflect those of the Rosicrucians and early modern Masons. was so profoundly characteristic of early Rosicrucianism and of Freemasonry as well: the union of science and religion in a glorious unified future world. as well as the emergence of a “Cathedral of Peace. and in so doing was drawing upon a tradition of “the Restitution of All Things” that runs . but so too were fifty-three of the fifty-six signers of the Declaration of Independence. alias René Descartes.”33 This last remark is especially interesting given that not only were George Washington and Benjamin Franklin Masons. aspire to holy unification. he brings in the theme that.” This Hiram will establish “his temporal dominion over a world unified at first in spirit by the Holy Catholic Church. the times of ‘perfection in the Restitution of Nature.
certainly has its historical predecessors: one thinks. “The hour of Apostleship has sounded”—Milosz himself. The fundamental teaching will be that of the Arcana. . In his work. Hiérarchie-Liberté-Fraternité. These are the three colors of the great work (spiritual and physical). Here too was a group with Masonic overtones.”38 Such a group. and the arts via religion. was drawing together a new group of which Milosz was to be spiritual director. being the Christ-figure. Our group will have no more than twelve members. The Master alone will wear a red cap. “Dress for meeting: the robes will be of black silk. Milosz wrote. of the London Rosicrucians of the early nineteenth century associated with Francis Barrett. for instance. not to say grandiosity. and of forming a group of disciples that in turn would help to transform the whole of human society. a group that included “the proletarian Masons whose G[rand] M[aster] is one of our friends. among them its ritual dress. a kind of Christian semi-Masonic esotericism. so too he drew on Masonry in his private life. Milosz explicitly forecast the unification of politics. to which era belongs the spiritual son whom he addresses throughout his gnostic poetry and prose. however. and scientific fusion. the “science of the divine. as we have seen. religious. whom he later adopted as his spiritual son and gave his family crest name. of course.36 Milosz too saw himself as a prophet of a future era of universal peace and knowledge. but explicitly Christian. of political. moral or social. with a white collar. and in 1919 they established an exoteric center called the Centre Apostolique.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. he hoped to influence “all sorts of domains in the evolution of our terrible and admirable epoch. And there are numerous other such examples. This small group they called Les Veilleurs (The Watchers). de Lubicz. For us. he drew together a small esoteric coterie that included René Schwaller. and that he deliberately. Just as Milosz drew on the full breadth of the Masonic tradition in his poetry and prose. And in 1929 Milosz wrote a letter to a friend in which he explained that Carlos Larronde. however outrageous they may seem in their magnitude.” And in his little esoteric group. one of Milosz’s most devoted friends. but our modern attire is truly incompatible with all effort toward the Good.”37 This new esoteric group had some Masonic characteristics. in his work as in his private life. author of The Magus. while also publishing numerous articles in several journals of the time. most important is that Milosz’s work extended into every sphere of life.”39 These dreams of universality. I am the enemy of exteriorization. the other members being his apostles. in his letter to James Chauvet. the sciences. sought the widest possible range. resemble nothing so much as the inception of Rosicrucianism (whose advocates sought precisely the same social transformation on a vast scale). Several years after his illuminatory experience in 1914.
then without doubt the emblematic female poet has to be H. There is in Milosz’s poetry and prose a peculiar hieratic quality and a special relationship to his imagined reader that will inform our final two chapters. for however assiduous Milosz was in working toward universality in his writing and in his life. S. all of whom also were involved in esoteric circles. That H. today. D. D. Indeed.’s life and interests. and Kathleen Raine. all of these efforts were ultimately pointed. through his writing. to reach an audience whom he specifically invoked in his writing itself. There are. there is no other figure who so completely reveals the confluence of all the primary currents of Western esotericism in the modern era.40 But we still await a comprehensive study that incorporates the full range of H. the poet H. D. D. others whose work certainly bears the imprint of esoteric influences. which outlines the intertwining of H. novels.— born Hilda Doolittle [1886–1961]—was fascinated with esoterica is well known. little studied in academe. and specifically toward a future reader whom he regards as his spiritual son. the Tarot. magic.’s poetry. but toward the future. Milosz certainly resembles the figure of Prospero in Shakespeare’s The Tempest. Rosicrucianism. Although we here will take our leave of them. Here. D. but also for the universality of his aims. and the Christian theosophy of Zinzendorf and the Moravians. we . a number of books have explored the wide range of esoteric influences that appear in H. Like Prospero in his final speech.’s biography and her fascination with mysticism.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 103 Milosz is. However. various heresies of antiquity including the Ophites and other Gnostic groups. He sought nothing less than to bring about the renewal of Christianity through its universalization. and essays. Milosz in some respects cast aside his wand (any influence on his contemporary era) in order. and the Initiatic Word If Milosz is emblematic of an initiatic male poet in the twentieth century. D. Charles Williams. H. Indeed. and Milosz. the list of names of modern authors and poets influenced by esoteric currents of thought is nigh unto endless. in which we begin to explore the theoretical dimensions and implications of Western esoteric literature in relation to consciousness. Lewis. Milosz is unique not only for the vast range of his studies. and in such aims is a classic exemplar of modern Western esotericism. of course. astrology. psychic insights or visions. a relatively obscure figure. including such authors as William Butler Yeats.. and a new golden age. not toward the present. C. numerology. we have by no means finished with either of these inexhaustible figures: Prospero. but as we can see from this discussion of his work and life. Among the best of these is Susan Friedman’s chapter entitled “Initiations” in her book Psyche Reborn (1981). D. In these efforts.
as many critics have observed. D. was fascinated by esoteric correspondences in her life.’s Notes on Thought and Vision. “The Thistle and the Serpent. underwent “a severe psychic breakdown. astrology. for our purposes are her later ones such as her poems in Trilogy and Vale Ave as well as her novel The Gift. and what we might term esoteric correspondences or patterns in life.’s early. And when we turn from Dickinson to H. In his introduction to H. I have written in detail about both Dickinson and Fuller in The Esoteric Origins of the American Renaissance (2001). Notes on Thought and Vision (1919). Likewise. as a wrenching spiritual awakening.” The work is essentially an elaboration of this gnomic statement. H. written in July 1919 in the Scilly Islands. In Esoteric Origins. belonged to what is clearly an American feminine literary lineage that includes on the one hand Emily Dickinson. D. She begins Notes with the cryptic proclamation: “Three states or manifestations of life: body.” Albert Gelpi writes that H. D. save that in H. D. and soon (by 1911) came to see the emblem of the thistle and serpent as her own. “her unusual susceptibility also made possible a breakthrough into heightened consciousness.. mind.’s life it is repeated a number of times. explicitly esoteric book. however. like H. the much earlier work Notes on Thought and Vision helps to make clear H. overmind.” Vulnerable to periodic psychic breakdowns. Woman in the Nineteenth Century. by recognizing that H.’s gnostic perspective in relation to literature. D. very much resembles both of them in certain respects. D. She created a hermetic emblem or herald for herself. and her extreme sensitivity had made her preternaturally susceptible to the intensities of experience that others might overlook. it argues for the characteristically Emersonian idea of an ‘overmind’ as a model of higher consciousness. D.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. Notes is a very unusual work.” which she calls in Notes her “jellyfish experience. D. and it was included as the frontispiece for her most well-known book. a cap of consciousness . But when we begin to look at H. I should say this: it seems to me that a cap is over my head. D.. that Dickinson underwent at least one extended spiritual and psychological crisis. and on the other Margaret Fuller. so it will be necessary here only to allude to the parallels. D. She writes: If I could visualise or describe that overmind in my own case. For it seems clear from her poetry. the parallels we see perhaps most clearly are not so much with Fuller as with Dickinson. We should begin.”41 Although the major works by H. for H. was a reasonably accomplished astrological interpreter. I argue that this crisis can be interpreted as initiatory. D. was fascinated by numerology. we see very much the same pattern of psychological and spiritual crisis as awakening. Margaret Fuller.
H. and when love-vision and intellectual vision coincide. D. wonders whether it is easier for a woman than a man to attain consciousness of the overmind. yet make one picture. contained in a defininte space. except through the intellect.” The minds of the lovers unite. like water. 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. a musician. She does write about a “vision of the womb. That overmind seems a cap.” And she adds that “I believe there are some artists coming in the next generation. second is the life of the intellect. I visualise it just as well. syncretic . as when she speculates on the meaning of the pearl in her gnostic sketches.” She does not valorize this vision against that of the intellect. As we read on through Notes. It is like a closed sea-plant. . I first realized this state of consciousness in my head. H. a nonsectarian. jelly-fish. and third is the awakening into the overmind. The two work separately. H. my forehead. she insists that “There is no way of arriving at the overmind. . continues: first is the life of the body and sexuality. Whatever else we may make of it. engage in a union of love and intellect.”44 This initiatic process is similar to that of the Eleusinian mysteries. fluid yet with definite body. D. one must. almost like two lenses. is a gnostic with a small g. since she experienced it along with the birth of her child. as primary to the true artist. with the gulls and the sky and the earth. they “bring the world of vision into consciousness. but it would be a mistake to see all of her writing only in this context. or anemone. But Gnosticism is here only as allusion. some of whom will have the secret of using their overminds. now. without question we can see here that already in 1919 H. 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. D. even if most prefer to stay entombed in their comfortable closed houses. thoughts pass and are visible like fish swimming under clear water . as some of Plato’s dialogues suggest. . Into that over-mind. affecting a little my eyes . She writes that to be a true artist. centered in the love-region of the body or placed like a foetus in the body.’s work has feminist implications. transparent. those future initiates for whom this little book is intended. this is the source of creativity just as it is the wellspring of spirituality. D. perceive separately. D. or awakening into the overmind. which is possible for all.”43 H. indeed. D.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 105 over my head. Without doubt.42 H. She holds that “a lover must choose one of the same type of mind as himself. There are even traces here of Gnosticism.’s expectation of a few in the coming generation with the secret of the overmind reminds us of Milosz’s expectation of a coming initiate for whom his work is intended.” but she writes about it that this is the vision of “dream and of ordinary vision. a musician. had outlined a fundamentally gnostic worldview. She places gnosis. .
boasting. In this respect. she criticizes “a riot of unpruned imagination.” we “nameless initiates.” “arrogance.” and of “the most profound philosophy”.” here. D. we clearly see how extensive and lifelong Ernst’s fascination with alchemical imagery was.” She writes.”48 All of this suggests that there is . reversion of old values. But in “The Walls Do Not Fall. / oneness lost. Warlick’s Max Ernst and Alchemy. E. She writes “dare. D. / it unlocks secret doors. she extends the unity of Dionysius and Christ that ended the earlier work. too.” Yet when the “secret doors” are “found .”46 It is obvious from “The Walls Do Not Fall” that although H.” “Tribute to the Angels. was lost in sea-depth. unlocked.” H. In Notes on Thought and Vision. / here is the alchemist’s key. prayer” for healing. as these entities are “healers.”45 “Amen. seek. spell. / companions / of the flame. Amen.” At first it would seem she is endorsing modern uses of alchemy in this “age of the new dimension.47 In M.’s outward circumstances were the terrors of war.” And the section ends with “illusion. helpers / of the One.” In “The Walls Do Not Fall. the poem is at heart profoundly esoteric in its unified vision amid the shards of bomb-shattered modernity. / jottings of psychic numerical equations. dare more. she is very much in the American tradition inaugurated by Ralph Waldo Emerson. this. over-confidence. wrote the collection of three long poems later published as Trilogy. for instance. D.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. Here. seek further.” who “know each other / by secret symbols. of the stars as “separate entities” “intimately concerned with us” who can be “invoked / with accurate charm. . madness. Her themes are explicitly esoteric throughout these poems: she writes of her experience of “The Presence. This is an important distinction because in “The Walls Do Not Fall. the subconscious being below ordinary consciousness.’s work is a complex tapestry of just such word-play and religious concordances. D. / subconscious ocean where Fish / move two-ways. and H. of the “alchemist’s secret. These three poems were “The Walls Do Not Fall. even offering a diagrammatic illustration of the two. All-father.” In the next section. is the Egyptian god Amen-Ra. As a number of scholars have demonstrated. is a false path. she holds. . D. intrusion of strained / inappropriate allusion. / born of one mother.” and “The Flowering of the Rod. criticizes the surrealist use of alchemical imagery as a means to the subconscious.” H. surrealism and symbolism (particularly the latter in Russia) were deeply indebted to alchemy. devour.” and of her “companions / in this mystery. But it was during the German siege of London during the Second World War that H. D. distinguishes between the subconscious mind and the overmind. H. the overmind being above it.” she extends it to discuss the emergence of surrealism with such figures as Max Ernst and Andre Breton.” mind “floundered. writing that “it appears obvious / that Amen is our Christos. pitiful reticence. develops many of the themes initially sketched in Notes on Thought and Vision.
too much. She calls us to “prepare papyrus or parchment. itself conveyed through the act of sacred writing. I feel the meaning that words hide. but this. as Hermes is patron of poets and thieves.” “invoke the true-magic. D. D. devoid of life.” “candle and script and bell. illuminate what came after. / in the light of what went before. one that leads toward the subconscious and illusion—and this is the path of the surrealists. D. conditioned to hatch butterflies . this passage suggests the complexity. The words themselves may resemble boxes. with their overconfidence leading only to floundering in sea-depths of confused images and “incongruous monsters. D. who as the sacred scribe is invoked through the act of using “pen or brush. “Let us substitute / enchantment for sentiment. then writes: We have had too much consecration. this has been proved heretical.” what the “new-church spat upon / and broke and shattered. “patron of alchemists.”49 Thus. artful and curious. In a well-known passage.’s trilogy is “Tribute to the Angels. 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 suddenly from them emerge living butterflies.” This poem exhorts the poet to “plunder” the past.” . The next work in H. they are anagrams. .” through painting or writing.’s invocation of Hermes. too little affirmation. of the soul that passes through initiation and awakes. The reader is called to sacred writing by way of H. explicitly invokes the Hermetism of antiquity. / inventive.” whose “province is thought. little boxes. / lead us back to the one-truth. / rededicate our gifts / to spiritual realism”. H. cryptograms.” invoke “Hermes-thrice-great.” and it begins with an invocation again of Hermes Trismegistus.’s words here are an invocation and a kind of Hermetic initiation. she is calling herself to a sacred task. and that one must know and feel by intuition the meaning that words hide. symbols of Psyche reborn. / re-vivify the eternal verity. The poet is called to “take what the old-church / found in Mithra’s tomb. .”50 Here H. but also those who come after her.51 Taken in context with the earlier invocation of Hermes-Thoth. H.” Her invocation continues: “Let him (Wisdom. too little: I know. this. H.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 107 a wrong path. D. continues. D.
was writing these poems. the shattered glass of the past. D. it was an ordinary tree.” but re-awakened. then still not knowing whether (like the wall) we were there or not-there. Another is the layer of Hermetic invocation. One is the layer of the destruction in London during the bombing. but whereas Rilke could not write during war. how is it you come so near. like a ghost. but also of a meeting with an invisible spirit. so too can the poet be. saw. We should not underestimate the magnitude of what H. She includes lines from the Revelation of John: “I.52 These lines reveal many layers. in the high-altar of a ruined building. indivisible Spirit. an angel manifesting in the flowering tree. reinvoked in a new form.53 This is an account of self-transcendence (not knowing whether we were there or not-there). we entered a house through a wall. D. and so too by implication can we be. we saw the tree flowering.” One must “reinvoke. D. H. the poet must “melt down and integrate.’s poetic narrative reminds us of Rilke’s accounts of meeting angels in his Sonnets to Orpheus and Duino Elegies. how is it that we dare approach the high-altar? we crossed the charred portico. D. after all. I testify. passed through a frame—doorless— entered a shrine. the conditions under which. but I believe the heart of the poem is to be found in the following section: Invisible. in an old garden-square. recreated by the poet. re-create” that which is now “scattered in the shards / men tread upon”. What does the poet see? The poem is far too vast to attempt a complete exegesis here. is in fact transmuting the war experience into one of divine . H. and still another is that of an older true unified religion rejected by a “new-church.108 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E This. is attempting in her poetry here. John. H.” I take these lines as placing the poet’s vision in the context of John’s Revelation: John was a prophet and seer.
H. In H. joining together the worst and the highest of which humanity is capable. nothing whatever.’s “Tribute to the Angels. the divine feminine. / it was the Holy Ghost—. is a gnosis of the word. alluded to. with Saint Michael.”55 Hermes and the Archangel are thus merged in H.” she also builds toward a specific spiritual experience in which she saw “God in the other-half of the tree. what I mean is— but you have seen for yourself that burnt-out wood crumbling you have seen for yourself. Hence H. but gnosis manifested through a web of interconnected symbols.54 Here she is conveying in poetic form what cannot be captured but only conveyed.” This experience is what she calls the “flowering of the rood. In it. D. the flowering of the wood. D. just as Christianity and the mystery religions of antiquity are joined indivisibly. conveyed through the poetry.’s poetry in general. / . that “Hermes Trismegistus / spears. D. D. / casts the Old Dragon / into the abyss. Sophia appears here in this larger context as a figure of the divine feminine . / the darkness of ignorance. themselves conveyed to the reader through H. and even more overtly. And this experience is gnosis. One cannot capture this esoteric illumination. it is happening everywhere. In this context. / it was the Angel which redeemed me.” the name of the final poem in Trilogy. D.” This experience “was vision. / it was a sign. H.’s poetry. one can only suggest it so that the reader can realize it too. writes that This is no rune nor riddle. This experience.’s vision. 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. and Trilogy in particular. . . what I mean is—it is so simple yet no trick of the pen or brush could capture that impression. music could do nothing with it. and this suggestiveness is how initiation through the word takes place. transmitted as an “open secret” (to use Carlyle’s phrase describing Emerson’s essay Nature). D. symbol of Hermes. seeing Christianity as being a continuation of earlier traditions.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 109 revelation. writes that the Cross and the Tau or “T-cross” merge with the caduceus. the next section is very important. bind together Christian and pre-Christian religious traditions.
speculates that “she must have been pleased with us.” This refrain.” Here the focus is not feminine but masculine—the birth of Jesus Christ and the coming of the Wise Men bearing gifts.” H. D. the scribe. the thief. D. the writer. affirms the divine feminine in her Trilogy poems. They are not. D. the Bible.” Yet Sophia is also “the Vestal / from the days of Numa.” as well as “the new Eve who comes” bringing “the Book of Life. under her “drift of veils. to her astonishment. she retains the web of interconnected meanings and symbolisms.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. obviously. The artist who participates imaginatively with Christ is redeemed. brought into paradise with Christ. whether it is con- . right into the final poem.” This book is the transmission of the spiritual experience through the book of poems. It would be a mistake to presume that because H. This imaginative participation is at the heart of H.” for hers are the blank pages “of the unwritten volume of the new. / out of the cocoon. D. as we will see in more detail shortly. D. and H. preserving the evocative power of poetry that resists the power of reason alone. just as the Word is transmitted through the Great Book. and the thief.’s Trilogy.” she of the Bona dea. as we will see when we turn to her novel The Gift. thus “The Flowering of the Rood” is also about the redemption of art through religious experience. the artist is the thief who is redeemed on the very day that Christ is crucified. clearly alludes to the figure of Hermes. she was deeply familiar with the esoteric spirituality of the theosophic community of Count Zinzendorf in Pennsylvania. And there is one more critical detail: when Sophia appeared. And She is “Holy Wisdom. who is also redeemed. “Our Lady of the Pomegranate. She who has been seen “the world over.’s own heritage. Sophianic spirituality was in H. / who did not forego our heritage” . 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. Rather.” at once both Christian and pre-Christian. is reluctant to label Sophia as a single reified figure. in the context of the three poems together. at once the Magna Mater and the Virgin of the Book of Revelation of John. D.” “she carried a book. they are therefore a repudiation of Christianity in favor of a neopagan goddess tradition.” “the SS of the Sanctus Spiritus. the butterfly. and “she carries a book but it is not / the tome of the ancient wisdom. was a baptized Moravian. D. and that.”56 Sophia herself appears to H. for H. Hermes is the patron of the artist.. entitled “The Flowering of the Rood. D. But the “we” who did not “forego our heritage” also has a wider context. requiring instead imaginative participation on the part of the reader. then notes that she is referring to “the straggling company of the brush and quill. allied to Mercury also.” “Santa Sophia.” 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 it might be valuable to recall that H.” And She is also “Psyche.
S. as in the original. was published posthumously under the direction of her brother without her original frontispiece. H. of mysticism. the editors sought to remove many of the references to the mysticism that is in fact at the center of the book. unabridged version of her novel The Gift. D. the Vestal Virgin and “Our Lady of the Pomegranate. we must turn to The Gift. an esoteric emblem that she designed herself. in the midst of the terror and chaos and destruction of war. Only when we read the original version of the novel can we recognize just how remarkable an achievement it is. the Trilogy culminates with “The Flowering of the Rood. which was intertwined with the history of the Moravian Church in America in its . 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. D.” all are interwoven here. B. the only available versions of The Gift were more or less bowdlerized ones from which nearly a third of the original text was missing. Eliot and W. wove into The Gift her own extensive research into her family’s history. Likewise. like Eliot in his Four Quartets. As I detail in The Esoteric Origins of the American Renaissance (2001). It is not surprising. with the simultaneous symbolism of his birth and death. What is more. D. and that includes a unification of male and female symbolism. Woman in the Nineteenth Century. Such a massive lacuna is not surprising because it has at least some modest precedent in American letters. The Gift. and how at its very heart is—the gnosis of the word. and the Trilogy exemplifies this complexity: it is a profoundly evocative collection of poems at whose center is a complex of religious experiences that cannot be understood completely except by recognizing their multivalence. sought to accomplish a feat similar to that sought by the other great modernist poets T. fear. In her poetry. H. I suppose.’s own notes. Her brother sought to keep from the public eye his sister’s interest in esoteric or ‘occult’ areas of thought. H. complete with H. Hermes and Christ. D. Margaret Fuller’s most well-known work. however. when New Directions published their abridged version of The Gift about a century later.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. Eve and Mary. as well as of Christian and pre-Christian religious symbolism. they even changed significantly the emphasis of the entire novel from Moravian spirituality to the gift of artistic creation.” with the experience of Christ.’s poetry is far more complex than it is frequently depicted as being. To understand this mysticism more fully. D. that until 1998. and confusion of the Second World War as experienced in the bombing of London. 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. H. It is no accident that both the Trilogy and The Gift have woven into them the horror. also reveals the overarching spiritual unity not only of mythology but.
her grandmother’s father. In other words. had done her research. accused the early Moravians of “gross and scandalous . D. in the middle of the eighteenth century. especially those now housed at Yale University. H. D. D. containing the Occasion of his coming among the Herrnhutters or Moravians (London: J. Her notes for The Gift are remarkably detailed.112 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E earliest years. George Lavington’s The Moravians Compared and Detected (London: J. For Zinzendorf and his group were far more esoteric in their interests than those who were to follow them. We can see the extent and depth of H. Joseph Edward Hutton’s A History of the Moravian Church (London: Moravian Publication Office. among its volumes are Andreas Frey’s A True and Authentic Account of Andrew Frey. And her personal library gives ample proof that H. it was in fact in her blood. with its numerous original eighteenth-century publications. came by her fascination with the Moravians naturally. and weave together genealogical and historical materials. . 1753).” as well as of “Secrets probably known by the adepts alone.” or Jedediah Weiss. & P. or Secret Counsels of their Leaders. Rimius’s works. . Pennsylvania. D.” of the “Arcana.”58 About such accusations.’s library demonstrates the depth of her research. 1794). make clear this distinction. Knapton.’s research into this area when we look at her own notes for the novel as well as the books from her own library. H. 1753). in . D. Robinson. Georg Heinrich Loskiel’s History of the Mission of the United Brethren Among the Indians in North America (London: Brethren’s Society. H. D. Zinzendorf ’s most effective detractor. Linde. offering the reader incontrovertible evidence not only that H. itself. was herself a baptized Moravian. in her notes. 1755). was a watchmaker and silversmith for more than forty years in Bethlehem. Her notes are in fact an important aspect of the novel. D. “Old Father Weiss. and he was born in Bethlehem. but also that the artistic and spiritual import of the novel is bolstered by being based on actual fact. But her interest in the Moravians took on a new intensity when she realized more about the esotericism of the original Moravians and of the charismatic Count Zinzendorf. shaping the way that she intended it to be read. as well as original copies of Rimius’s other major works on the subject. Rimius. In toto. I consider these findings highly stimulating and exciting. 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. H. though I must confess. 1909). and Henry Rimius’s A Candid Narrative of the Rise and Progress of the Herrnhuetters. Pennsylvania. cited by H. deliberately incorporated much authentic historical background into the novel. wrote that they were precisely what she found attractive about the Unitas Fratrum: “Personally. Commonly Called Moravians (London: A. D. Her grandfather’s name was Francis Wolle. Mysticism. He was a gifted musician who sang in the Moravian choir.
in short. D. D. to initiate the reader. . Mother. an overarching spiritual narrative that redeems modernity from its chaos and fragmentation. nonhierarchic tradition of true Christianity. Its esotericism derived its power from these beliefs. “There is no royal road into this kingdom. 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.”59 There can be no doubt that Zinzendorf himself and his early circle held views that were seen as unacceptable by the German Protestant establishment at Dresden. The Gift is an initiatory work in the classic anthropological sense: it is on one level a story of how a young girl. saw itself as a branch of the primordial and pure Christianity.. whose voice in the novel is clearly childish. We were a small community. The Moravian Church. D.” that “someone must inherit” access to a hidden “continent” that includes links to people long dead. D. or Unitas Fratrum as resuscitated by Zinzendorf. through the reader’s assembling of clues into a larger narrative. “you just stumble on it. But the reader is initiated into these mysteries vicariously. referring to Father. and its doctrines as representing a pure. D. he also held that every woman represented an image of the Bride of Christ. The novel. is initiated into the matrilinear gnosis of her family’s secret Moravian traditions. Zinzendorf espoused a doctrine of the Trinity that conjoined the Holy Spirit with the divine feminine. conventionally the church. the reader is carried along vicariously on the discoveries not only of young Hilda. and had existed in Bohemia-Moravia for many hundreds of years before what is now called the Reformation. respected and highly respectable. it is one of those things that you really do find in your Grimm or your Anderson . This redemption from chaos that the reader undergoes by working through the novel is parallel to the initiation of the child Hilda. But more important than Zinzendorf’s own esotericism is how it was incorporated by H. . who through the course of the novel comes to realize the true nature of her gnostic Moravian forebears and their unique relationships with American Indian spiritual elders.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 113 my own day.. writing these reflections during the siege of London in the Second World War. but also of the older poet H. Hilda. it does exist. and Son.” She goes on: . writes. For suddenly we encounter the voice of the elder H. The Moravian Church that he was instrumental in revivifying in the mid-eighteenth century actually was linked more to Greek Orthodoxy than to Rome. and in this sense the book is clearly meant by H. explaining the novel’s initiatory power via the word and image within the novel itself in a kind of metanarrative. there was no hint of this exoticism. She tells us that there is a “Gift waiting. into The Gift.” H. is a coming-of-age or initiation-into-the-mysteries-of-adulthood narrative. It is written in a characteristically modernist fragmented style that reflects on the one hand the fragmentation of modernity and on the other hand.
These spiritual mysteries are not. The other bees have gone. but there are no bees in it now. aspects of a solely matriarchal tradition. . considerably more of this theme to unpack.” she told Hilda. the reader) must unravel their mysteries through cryptic comments and fragments let drop by her grandmother. that is why it is so quiet. The word is like a bee-hive. keep Wunden Eiland for the other bees. in some aspects of the story. a German name for an early Moravian island sanctuary (the name meaning. begins to speak of “the papers” that she was afraid she had lost. A word opens a door . But there is more. Hilda knows that she is the last one in the family to whom Mamalie could entrust her secrets. Then am I for a moment . cut on a wall at Karnak. 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. we are given more explicit hints about the title of the chapter. Williams called a primula. And in this story men play at least as significant a role as women. that Mamalie called himmelschlüssel or keys-of-heaven. the word stops. Rather. D. can one person who knows that Wunden Eiland is a bee-hive. this is the game I play. I am the last bee in the bee-hive. and even here in her narrative. Egyptian .114 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E It is like matching beads. Mamalie tells Hilda that the Moravians were at heart a continuation of “the Hidden Church that . while it is the case that Mamalie is telling this complicated history to her granddaughter Hilda. A bit of me can really “live something of a word or phrase. In chapter 5 of The Gift. these are the keys. . Can one bee keep a bee-hive alive. .” The first is when Mamalie. Hilda surmises. That is how it is. it is like that little flower that Mrs. A word opens a door. Hilda is fascinated by Mamalie’s talk of Wunden Eiland. later learning it means Island of Wounds). I mean. “Christian had left the Secret with me. even though the beehive is presided over by a Queen bee (Sophia?). I was afraid the Secret would be lost. “The Secret. as some scholars seem to think. . I mean. it is what the novel does for H. . . But really “live” it. men play a greater role than women. when they come back?61 The word is the means of preserving and of transmitting the honey of spiritual knowledge. Island of Wonders.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. And Hilda speculates: I want her to go on talking because if she stops. but Hilda (and along with her. Hilda is wondering if the word alone can serve as a means of initiation so that the spiritual mysteries of her heritage can be continued. Hilda’s grandmother. who is somewhat forgetful near the end of her life. indeed.
was to decide the future of the whole country . the Christian initiates of the fateful meeting at Wunden Eiland.” Pyrlaeus passed on a scroll written “in curious characters. though.” so he “made notes of tones and rhythms of their voices. .” This scroll.” only driven “underground” to resurface with Count Zinzendorf and his disciples. but this was untrue.63 In The Gift. had a name for. it is not a confabulation of H. so that “It was laughing.’s. in particular the Shawnee. of snow swirling. it was the outpouring of the Mystic Chalice that Paxnous’ priest too. Zeisberger and Christian Seidel. this laughter that ran over us. Pyrlaeus. The most important scene for this gnostic drama.” not just Minne-ha-ha. not least because the Moravians respected Indian spirituality. This rapport is historically verifiable. is not Europe but North America. D. they conducted a syncretic ritual that joined the spiritual traditions of the two peoples. though.” “the laughter of leaves. laughing all the time. indeed. As Mamalie put it in her narrative to Hilda: In fact. “like scales running up and down. said Mamalie. the answer given by the Spirits. She and her . The Moravians and the Indians under the chief Paxnous met in order to let their guiding spirits determine the fate of white-Indian relations.”66 How did Mamalie know so intimately what it was like. chiefly through the narrative of elderly Mamalie. of wind. Hebrew.62 Like the Templars. this meeting of the Moravians and Indians under the sign of the Great Spirit / Holy Spirit? She was a musician. Already tracts of land further north were depleted of their wild animals. done in their picture-writing. Mamalie continues.” but that “wasn’t really destroyed. altogether.65 In this spiritual meeting of the medicine men and the Moravian initiates.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. bore the names of Cammerhof. along with a list of “medicine-men or priests of the Indian tribes. According to Mamalie. but all of them.”64 The Indians and the Moravians indeed had an unusual relationship. Greek. it was the laughter of the water. she decoded it from the cryptic musical notations and multilingual script of the parchment kept in the birchbark case. where the Moravians came during the eighteenth century and immediately formed a rapport with the American Indians. as to what was to be the relationship in future between the white-men and the Indians. . and Indian dialects and writing and marginal notes of music. He said it would be impossible to follow the language without the music. and a hundred years after this ritual meeting and descent of the Holy Spirit took place. kept in a birch-bark case. the Moravians were accused of scandalous behavior. it poured from the sky or from the inner realm of the Spirit. Johann Christoph Pyrlaeus was a musician who collected “Indian words and sayings and made a dictionary of them. to give the answer that the warriors had debated at their councils. she draws upon historical fact in order to build a larger mythos.
having “burnt it up. stands perpetually opposed to those whose aim is slaughter. is also the wounded island of England as it is being bombed by the Germans.116 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E young husband. And in a subsequent event. And yet in the very final passages. those hiding in the attic burned alive. in an even more attenuated form. or Wounded Island. 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.”69 The two worlds have become one. Among those killed were twenty-four women and twenty-two children. called “New Gnadenhütten. so much so that she never played music again. Christian Seidel. we realize that the Moravian sanctuary island. a means of underscoring that the immense promise of the Moravian-Indian spiritual brotherhood and sisterhood. the promise of Wunden Eiland and of the descent of the Holy Spirit is not lost but realized again. In 1755. and then. The Gift. where the falling arrows of the original “French Indian” attack on Gnadenhütten metamorphose into the falling bombs of the Germans attacking England. past and present superimposed upon one another and intermingling. so that even amid the terrible bombing of England.” 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.”67 Thus “the Gift” was transmitted from the original Moravian participants in the ritual to Mamalie and her husband. decoded it and she played it. said in her fragmented narrative. Instead of recounting the transmission of Mamalie’s understanding to young Hilda. D. Wunden Eiland. domination.” Thus we can see the palimpsest form of the novel. . was attacked by a band of Indians loyal to the French. we return to the fragmented narrative of the Second World War. We have been shaken out of our ordinary dimension in time and we have crossed the chasm that divides time from time-out-of-time or from what they call eternity. and both Moravians and Indians were slaughtered.” but instead what we see is a tragic history. So it would seem that The Gift is a tragic book. and Hilda tells us that “We have been face to face with the final realities. composed of both local Indians and Moravians working with them. At the novel’s conclusion. all of these themes are brought together into a unified whole. H. to young Hilda as Mamalie became delirious on her deathbed. even refers to the American David Williamson. Mamalie. of universal peace and the descent of the Holy Spirit.” as “Aryan. could have “lifted the dark wings of evil from the whole world. who was responsible for the attack on “New Gnadenhütten. the Moravian colony of Gnadenhütten. In her notes. who was to die at twenty-five.68 The final section of The Gift at first seems anticlimactic.” Mamalie and her young husband were taken away in rapture by this union with the original ritual and spiritual illumination. raining down terror from the skies. or a subsequent realization of the original Moravian-Indian spiritual illumination.
D. H. Her later work in fact exemplifies exactly this idea.” she realizes that “Our earth is a wounded island as we swing round the sun. it becomes the foundation for an entire worldview. D. and as the way in which her work functions for the reader. As we have seen.’s fascination with various figures and currents of Western esotericism becomes more than a collection of interests. In this context. But above all. Out of the chaos and random destruction of the bombing of England in her Trilogy and The Gift emerge not only a palimpsest of Moravian past and H. and the original initiates had realized it in the eighteenth. singing of the Wounds. D.’s work exemplifies what I have termed “initiation through the word. and Western Esotericism: Some Conclusions. D. de Lubicz Milosz as exemplary of the literary-mythological possibilities of Western esotericism.” There is a great sound—the sound of the all-clear siren in London. both poetic and fictional. In her poetry and fiction. Indeed. her abiding fascination with Moravian esotericism is not merely an aspect of her genealogical interests. not merely as decorations. her work suggests that past.’s work stands with that of Yeats and of O. Among major twentiethcentury authors.” but she knows what they are saying even though they “are speaking Indian dialects. present.” and she has suddenly achieved the union again in the twentieth century just as Mamalie had realized it in the nineteenth. and that it is possible to realize a timeless state she terms the “over-mind. not least because although outwardly its modernist fragmentation suggests confusion and chaos. Her interest in spiritualism. we find a wide range of Western esoteric currents manifesting themselves. In her profoundly ambitious works. H.70 She hears the “great choir of the strange voices that speak in a strange bird-like staccato rhythm. . the more certain one is that here is someone whose work cannot be understood fully without reference to Western esotericism.V. but as integral to her work.” in which the individual consciousness is exalted. D. as well as of timelessness and time. H. Likewise. H. there. the more deeply one looks into her works. and future continually intermingle. and out of which all great work is generated. the dead and the living are not separate but part of an interwoven continuum. but also a larger unity that even presents a way beyond chaos and evil into transcendence.” both as a theme treated explicitly in her poetry and prose.” an echo of Emerson’s “Oversoul. and the sound of the Moravian-Indian choirs of the past—and with this the novel concludes.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 117 In England. one of the original Moravian initiates. does not exist separate from her poetic and fictional work but rather represents an important aspect of it. past and present. she hears the “deep bee-like humming of the choir of single brothers. for instance.’s English present. but rather is woven into her entire worldview. H. this fragmentation actually represents in artistic form a higher union of past and present.’s poetry and prose reflect a sense of the transparency of time and place: from Notes on Thought and Vision onward. D. Hilda hears the voice of Christian Renatus.
Through the codex left by the original Moravian initiates. late Rome. so Lilith may be Serpent or Seraph. which makes it absolutely clear that in her later poetry she was even more deeply immersed in Western esotericism. has the same root derivation as Seraph. yes. Sir Walter secretly and mysteriously becomes her lover during the last months of his life in the Tower of London. through time—specifically. Elizabeth recalls him to her. The poem begins with the following preface: This sequence introduces Adam’s first wife. Vale Ave. to be sure. Mystery and a portent. though here we follow the processus through the characters of Elizabeth and Sir Walter [Raleigh].’s esoteric worldview is complex and rather heterodox. D. although: I hardly knew my Lord. may be Angel or Devil. and its implications. At the center of her esoteric worldview is the primacy of the word as means of initiatic transmission. Is she the Serpent who tests the androgynat primordial? Serpent (saraph) it is said. D.’s work is fundamentally that of esoteric transmission through ahistorical continuity. and Elizabeth identifies herself with him. the Light-bringer. true we had met in sudden frenzy. illuminating many aspects that otherwise could not be fully understood. as Adam. in his pre-Eve manifestation. Sir Walter was himself an alchemist. through her uncle’s Art and through the alchemy of memory. and that also incorporated a sexual mysticism she found deeply congenial. legendary Provence. whom we invoke as Lucifer. through her grandmother’s reconstruction of it in The Gift. outlined in entirety. as history tells us. timelessness conveyed through time by way of word and image.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.’s complex 1957 poem Vale Ave. D. through her fiction and through her poetry. She had begun to outline this concept already in her early Notes on Thought and Vision. parted in the dark. H. early seventeenth-century England. and all the rest was mystery and a portent. there is Resurrection and the hope of Paradise. but it was only in her later work that we see it. but understanding it places her work in an entirely different light. and contemporary London. dynastic Egypt. She is the niece of the Elizabethan poet and alchemist Sir Edward Dyer. Lilith. but at the same time. meeting and parting. The Lucifer-Lilith. H. Adam-Eve formula may be applied to all men and women. After his death. We cannot conclude without reference to H.71 .
” Kathleen Raine wrote of how the mysteries were once upon the earth. the Writing. “the Mystery. Yet in the twilit realm of fiction. But then “From grotto grove and shrine.” Her poem ends with the stanza: Inviolate in dream The mysteries still are shown. I would like to explore not the art of magic. and the Scroll. is not a youthful digression but central to her work even late in her life.” and again through it “I had the answer. taken in toto. here again “the words laugh.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 119 Obviously. 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. Of course.’s recurrent theme of initiation through the word.” I cite from Vale Ave here because it makes clear that H.” but a new mythology that turns out to be the grand theme of Western esotericism and that is perhaps as old as the mystery of the word itself. Her poetry and her prose. But my .” the mysteries of the holy well.73 Magical Fiction In a poem entitled “Dreams.” the holy presences withdraw. of timelessness revealed in time’s transparency. the “springs gone under the hill. but rather how magic dwells in the realm of relatively recent fiction. / infinity portrayed in simple things. it may seem as though nothing could be farther from us than a world in which magic is possible. here again we find that “I transcribed the scroll” .” the alchemical processus of transmutation that is brought about for Elizabeth “through her uncle’s Art and through the alchemy of memory. .”72 Here again the scroll becomes a “palimpsest. the mysteries of the “tree and miraculous bird. D. ‘magical fiction’ in fact belongs to a larger category. just as it dwells in the realm of dreams. 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. this preface and the poem itself are filled with esoteric elements.” Here again we find the same themes that recur throughout H. D.” echoing the laughter in the culminating initiatory moment in The Gift. . magic and the ancient mysteries still dwell. But bring them back none may Who wakes into this day.’s lifetime of work. Here.74 In our day of ever more complex technology and ever more information. The dead are living still. 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. as in poetry.
S. I will concentrate on the works of Lewis and Fortune in order to explore how their fiction becomes magical. saying “I have become a bridge. S.” the planetary spirits of Perelandra. Lewis. R. R. fiction in which the ancient mysteries are still alive and have not withdrawn their springs. here. Tolkien begins by describing “fairy stories” as those stories touched by “faëry. but in its purity it is artistic in desire and purpose. His main character.” says Ransom. it is not an art but a technique.” “Their naked power. an alteration in the Primary World. and perhaps becomes itself a magical act. and so forth.” He continues: Enchantment produces a Secondary World into which both designer and spectator can enter. Lewis describes a magical invocation that marks the climax of the book. to the satisfaction of their senses while they are inside. It does not matter by whom it is said to be practiced.” replies Ransom. This is actually a rather rare kind of fiction. Ransom explains what is happening to the resurrected ancient magician Merlin. the “true powers of Heaven. John Ransom. C. “That is why they will work only through a man. they will unmake all Middle Earth. or Mercury. C. what will come of this?” asks Merlin.” “Sir. as one might imagine. Viritrilbia. things are not nearly so clear cut.” whereas the “elvish craft” might best be referred to as “enchantment. it remains distinct from the other two. fay or mortal. its desire is power in this world.” which might best be translated as “magic. when we turn to actual works. invokes the Oyéresu. Magic produces. and Charles Williams). “one who by his own will once opened it.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. or Venus. Tolkien. Here. between the production of an artistic “Secondary World” and a work whose purpose is also “alteration in the Primary World”? It would seem that in reality these two can coëxist in a single work. “The Descent of the Gods. J.”77 In the subsequent chapter 15. seems reasonable enough in theory.” Ransom invokes these powers he calls the Oyéresu. as well as Dion Fortune (Violet Firth). In his extraordinary novel That Hideous Strength. R. yes. domination of things and wills. and the descrip- .75 In his essay “On Fairy Stories.” “Through a man whose mind is opened to be so invaded. while I will draw on some writings of Tolkien and Williams.” in a collection of essays presented to Charles Williams. or pretends to produce. he backtracks and remarks that “Magic should be reserved for the operations of the magician.76 While the distinction Tolkien makes. Let us take an example. Is there really a difference in practice between enchantment and magic. R.” But later in the same essay. for “if they [the Oyéresu] put forth their power. But chief among such authors are without doubt the Inklings (in particular. J.
deafened. “I do not think he could have reached the door unbidden. A soft tingling and shivering as of foam and breaking bubbles. To keep their beams upon this spot of the moving Earth’s hide.” “He would have known sensuously. . here. scorched. sticky gums . bright and ruthless. sharp. Laden with ponderous fragrance of night-scented flowers. in which none other than the ancient . for “the whole house would have seemed to him to be tilting and plunging like a ship in a Bay of Biscay gale.”78 This initial scene-setting represents a kind of portal through which we as readers imaginatively enter into what is happening in the two rooms: it represents the beginning of an initiation into this magical working. ready to die. calling down the powers. the narrator imagines what it must be like to enter the house. then we imaginatively enter the Blue Room. awakening dormant passion in the people in the kitchen. so well-crafted and evocative are Lewis’s words. Fallen upon them direct from the Third Heaven. whose colour no man can name or picture” darting between Ransom and Merlin. sweet-scented and full of desire. ready to kill.”79 After Mercury arrives Venus. In this chapter of Lewis’s novel. In the beginning of the chapter. They thought it would burn their bones. lynx-eyed thoughts” “rolling to and fro like glittering drops. Into the Blue Room come summer breezes. Clearly Lewis is describing a magical working: the invocation of the planetary powers.” Merlin and Ransom tremble. that the visitants in that room were in it not because they were at rest but because they glanced and wheeled through the packed reality of Heaven . The ordinary people in the kitchen experience first the coming of Mercury: they become exceptionally talkative. unmitigated. full of wordplay and puns and metaphors. there are two scenes: a room where several ordinary people sit. in the white-hot furnace of essential speech. . such a distinction does not hold up well at all. brisk merriments. . or between “sub-creation” of a “secondary world” and magical effects on the “primary world” of this earth.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. and the Blue Room. They could not bear that it should end. . where the invocation has its center. until his outraged senses forsook him. “laden like heavy barges that glide nearly gunwale under . were it possible. to do full justice to these descriptions of the planetary powers’ arrival. . and there we see a “rod of coloured light. But I would like to step back for a moment from the chapter’s narration and consider again Tolkien’s proposed differentiation between enchantment and magic. and then comes the goddess: “fiery. but it is in the description of the Blue Room that Venus truly comes alive. They were blinded. outspeeding light: it was Charity .” the narrator tells us.” Ransom “found himself sitting within the very heart of language.”80 It is not really possible. . In this chapter. They experience “needle-pointed desires. They could not bear that it should continue. where Ransom (the Pendragon) and Merlin sit. We encounter how people ordinarily encounter Mercury. . .
Lewis brings us into the realm of Ransom’s and Merlin’s magical rescue of England from the grip of a malevolent force. the magical working here is meant also to have effects in the “primary world” of the reader. About Williams’s novels. the reader feels as though he has passed through those dimensions too.” the seventeenth chapter. “How exactly like Mark!” Jane thinks. and by its end. one with ordinary people. and the Director (Dr.” but also because of the delicate tension it maintains between ordinary life and magical events. in a “secondary world” of fiction. Therefore . to the familiar world in which a married couple need each other. rather like Elijah or King Arthur. Lewis’s work is a masterpiece not only because of how it carries us into the magical working in the “descent of the gods. It is important that this magical working is not the end of the book. she sees that clothes are piled inside. and one with Merlin and Ransom). still it feels as though one imaginatively has.”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. Gareth Knight observes in The Magical World of the Inklings: those who read his fiction tend to be affected strongly in two ways. and Mark’s shirt is hanging partway out of the window. the novel has dimensions that most other fiction simply does not. But even this is not the end: the end comes when the character Jane returns to her husband Mark.122 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E magician Merlin participates. Uncertain whether to enter the lodge where he is sleeping. “The Descent of the Gods” is about a celestial healing of a ruined world. “Obviously it was high time she went in. but Lewis’s novel is clearly about the “primary world” in which we live. even though of course the reader has not physically participated in the invocation of the Oyéresu. and all is brought to a conclusion in “Venus at St. In other words. but this healing is also one in which the reader necessarily participates. One finds exactly the same sense of initiatory passage in the novels of Charles Williams. Here the various good characters come together to discuss what happened. but also is able to take along even the skeptical reader. In so doing. After the “descent of the gods” is achieved in the fifteenth chapter. Ransom) is taken up to Perelandra bodily. in the following chapter we see the destruction of the malevolent Institute and its depraved characters. whose work I would certainly be remiss if I did not mention here. This passage is what I mean by magical initiatory fiction. Anne’s. One feels a satisfaction at the conclusion of That Hideous Strength that very few novels are able to elicit. The invocation takes place. of course. 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. though one could easily imagine it so. 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. Lewis not only achieves dramatic success.
one is also encountering new realms of existence. . and there is a great deal more in it than I ever put in. In effect they are initiations. we should turn to a second exemplar: the fiction of Dion Fortune. Who and what is Lilith. . I am afraid. for both writers evoked magical workings or paranormal events in ways that very few authors have. in general. Williams’s characters offer insights into what it is like to be dead. allow us to enter into worlds generated by questions like: what if the Holy Grail were discovered to be physically real? Or: what if the Platonic archetypes began to “break through” into this world? In brief: Williams’s fiction is often initiatory. One might even say that the writing of it was a magical act. both Williams and Lewis were able to widen the metaphysical dimensions of fiction. But while Williams’s fiction certainly touches upon magical themes and features magician characters both noble. [Emphasis added. 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. [Emphasis added. Thus a close reading of his novels can have a purificatory. Fortune rarely wrote about her fiction. On the other hand. For that. to find out what it was about. By doing so. and how therefore the reader is in . to make fiction something much more powerful than it ordinarily is. it is possible to respond to the quality of good. and divine reality and angelic brightness shines through the other side of his work. and decidedly corrupt ones.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.] If it be true that what is created in the imagination lives in the inner world. such as the poet Peter Stanhope of Descent into Hell. not find it very entertaining.]82 Exactly the same thing may be said here about Lewis’s foray into what was chiefly Williams’s domain. 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. I have put a great deal into it. almost cathartic effect. for instance. and why did she live on after the book about her was finished. She writes there that Those who read this story for the sake of entertainment will. for in the act of reading. when Ransom invokes the planetary powers. in fact. they unveil the power of archetypes and. such as Simon Leclerc in All Hallows’ Eve. but she did offer some preliminary remarks to her novel Moon Magic. they reveal forms of necromancy. It was not written for its entertainment value. I wrote it. but rarely if at all in exactly the form I wish to consider here: initiation into magical ritual itself. and her observations are revealing. then what have I created in Lilith Le Fay? .
and imagined myself speaking to him. and was startled to find that the character lived on in Fortune’s own imagination after The Sea Priestess was finished. that is to say. magicians call it magic. for it is effectual. and artists use it as a window in a watch-tower. There is little evidence that Lewis was a practicing magus. 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. which always characterizes the change of the level of consciousness. a shabby. I had the sensation of the descent of a swift lift. and author of numerous books on the practice of magic and related subjects. Then I visualized the face of the man with the greying red hair. In the novel’s seventh chapter. untidy. She writes matter-of-factly about all manner of paranormal events. Psychologists call it a psychological mechanism.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. not surprisingly. badly lit and ill-tended room. The Door Without a Key is the Door of Dreams. and take refuge in the Secret Kingdom. Fortune’s wealth of direct personal experience in the practice of magic. the narrator begins this way: I will tell what I did. Fortune’s novels are as much like primers on magical practices as they are fiction. for it shows how we use the Door Without a Key to escape the Lord of This World. like all of her . I made the astral projection by the usual method. In some respects. after all.84 Here we are observing a magical working of a very different kind from that evoked by Lewis through his character Ransom. That Fortune was herself a magician is not in question. and in this the prosaic tone of the narrator’s voice itself acts as a kind of counterweight to what the narrator is discussing. Fortune’s novel. all awareness of my physical surroundings faded. who is Moloch. it is the door by which the sensitive escape into insanity when life is too hard for them. and the man in the street calls it illusion or charlatanry according to taste. often enough in the first person from the viewpoint of a female character. The magic worked. It does not matter to me what it is called. putting my cards on the table. which is the dark side of the Moon. as if those characters were somehow joined with Ransom’s voice. the founder of the British Society of the Inner Light. and I seemed to be in a strange room. She gave rise to the character Lilith. but Fortune was. 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. the side She turns away from earth. appears clearly in her novels. and this matterof-fact tone of voice has an effect similar to that of the ordinary characters in Lewis’s That Hideous Strength.
The Secrets of Dr. a fellow named Fouldes. decides to heed the call of nature that he feels. was consummately the logician.” which is about an English nobleman whose family seeks to have him certified mad in order to take over his estate.’ but it is in fact just as much in the genre of detective fiction.” an expression characteristic of the way she clearly lays out in her fiction to reflect the way her magical practice is experienced. an unsavory magician named Hugo Astley—with some similarities to Aleister Crowley—and his protegé. a young woman named Ursula .” to pass “an invisible barrier” of consciousness. to “enter the Unseen. and many others. Rhodes. Characteristic of this strategy is one of Fortune’s earliest and best-known works. but I shared in their life. . After his entry into the Unseen. is concerned with practical magic and phenomena like astral projection. Rhodes.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 125 fiction. based on the life of one Theodore Moriarty. Taverner gets to the bottom of the case immediately. the ordinary observer of the magus Taverner.”85 And so the book concludes. 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. Rhodes’s initiation into nature magic corresponds in some respects to the natural magic of Merlin in Lewis’s That Hideous Strength: it represents a kind of foundation for other sorts of magic. Taverner certainly falls under the category of ‘occult fiction. and here too there are correspondences with what we have seen in That Hideous Strength. but perhaps most interestingly. while the stories are written from the perspective of his companion. I was no longer alone. like Taverner. set loose a magical attack on the protagonists. Thus Rhodes. . As a character. Marius. a collection of stories entitled The Secrets of Dr. Such an observation is not meant entirely as criticism. There is little art in the way she tells of the magical working: if Lewis’s account is closer to poetry than to prose. at the end of the story. Not only were they alive. but also to point out a means by which Fortune’s novels attract and hold a reader. Holmes. Taverner. a bullish young man named Ted Murchison.” 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. and something of the same flavor comes across in Taverner. for. one will recall. and who is in fact of supernatural lineage. In Fortune’s novel The Winged Bull. she is interested in “putting her cards on the table. for I was one with them . Among the more interesting of these stories is “A Son of the Night. with the addition of Taverner’s great experience in magical or occult events. in particular that of Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes.” Rhodes remarks at the story’s conclusion. Fortune’s account here is closer to journalism. “in all things there was a profound difference. I had passed over into the Unseen. who represents the voice of the ordinary observer. (a kind of Watson to Taverner’s Holmes). Taverner is patterned after Holmes. “for to me they had suddenly become alive. But there are other sorts of magical initiations in Fortune’s fiction as well.
But there was nothing he could do for the other two . and her half-brother. ‘Well. The girl he could do nothing for. Of the two books. . running in every direction like spilled quicksilver. evil power that had been pouring in as steadily as waves beating into a bay.’87 The writing here feels a bit more awkward than in some of Fortune’s other novels.’ replied Murchison. broke and starred like a smashed mirror. She had passed out of his reach on the tides of the force as if water had whirled her away. . The three protagonists were just about to go to bed when Murchison cocked his head and stared into space over Ursula’s head. Fortune continues: Then Brangwyn also caught it. of course Lewis’s is far the greater both in literary skill and in significance. suddenly. an experienced magician. but one can certainly see some parallels between it and Lewis’s That Hideous Strength. He was experienced in dealing with such things.86 At first it appeared that Murchison and Ursula were to be lost in the force of this magical attack. banked and double-banked. ‘If Fouldes and Astley were en rapport at the other end of the telepathic wire. in order to generate the greater polarity necessary for what we might call the metaphysical battles that take place in both books. Yet paradoxically. but clearly in both depravity is necessary on one side in order that there can be noble transcendence on the other. and the waves divided and swept past him like the tide round a pier. The strange. there are also depraved black magicians.’ ‘Yes. but also logically. It was best to leave Murchison to his unaided wits.126 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Brangwyn. Frost and Wither are without mercy. among them men named Frost and Wither. pure selfishness. they are without morality. ‘That is very much that. These characters represent sheer malevolence against humanity. became furious and the force of his fury came back over the ‘telepathic wire’ to Fouldes and Astley. . such characters are necessary not only dramatically. In That Hideous Strength. breaking the embarrassing silence. and. cold and merciless.’ Brangwyn concluded.’ said Brangwyn. but then Murchison. a bear of a man. represent evil on another scale entirely from that which one usually sees depicted in modern fiction. they were getting it in the neck. a change came over the atmosphere of the room. and in another moment the room was empty . like Astley in The Winged Bull. . and felt the waves of evil influence come rolling in. . Then. ‘so that’s that. dropping into a chair as if exhausted. who have developed a means for communication with what they call “Macrobes” (in fact another name for demons).
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. 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.90 . and finally the Society of the Inner Light. at the end of The Secrets of Dr. to advance in the knowledge of the connections uniting the disciple to higher entities (theosophy strictu sensu) and to cosmic forces. whose novels without any question reflect the fact that she was herself the founder of an initiatory order. This provides the profound tension that drives these works and that creates the ‘space’ within which the magical workings take place. and thanks to that. he has to access a knowing—or a form of nonknowing— transmittable by the word. initially called the Christian Mystic Lodge of the Theosophical Society. either alone. but later called the Community of the Inner Light. thanks to which we refashion the experience of our relationships to the sacred and the universe. which represent profoundly divergent ways of relating to the cosmos. When the reader enters into the magical fiction of Lewis. which hide the mysteries while revealing their keys. But Charles Williams and even C. and in particular how the individual on an esoteric path follows a process of awakening. who can be an isolated master or a member of an initiatory school. Taverner. they also carry the reader along on an initiatory course. or with the help of an initatory. Williams.” Antoine Faivre discusses the nature of initiation. In all of the fiction we are considering here. There is. Whether or not a disciple has a master. rising to insight into the metaphysical underpinnings of human life. but that also go beyond seeing into nature. and Fortune. The phrase magical initiation is perhaps most suitable here for the works of Fortune. while more circumspect about their own knowledge and at least in Williams’s case. also reflect at least some initiatory knowledge in their writings. .85 In the works of Fortune we are unquestionably seeing the reflection of her own extensive experience in magical initiation. Faivre writes that We follow this path by committing ourselves to it. helped by appropriate texts.89 While the works of these authors are more artistic than Fortune’s. S. he is in fact being initiated into the existence of forces invisible to the vast majority of people. a series of magical initiations that begin with something like Rhodes’s entry into the Unseen. to living Nature (theosophy lato sensu).M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 127 This is not merely a cliché: in order for the magical drama to go forward. The initiation serves to regenerate our consciousness. powers both good and evil. thanks to a process that lets us reappropriate the knowing we have lost . . experience of magic. in this kind of fiction. Lewis. In “Approaches to Western Esoteric Currents.
perceptible to each of us as a function of our respective cultural imagery.”92 This special kind of imagination allows one to “escape both from the sterility of a purely discursive logic.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. But this passage as a whole clearly can be read as referring to initiation “transmittable by the word. . and from the rule-free extravagances of fantasy or sentimentality. to the age-old relationship between the initiate and the initiator. since in the fiction we have been discussing. Such a tension corresponds. Indeed. a mesocosm possessing its own geography. and a realm in which one may encounter and work with nonphysical beings and powers.” What conclusions can we draw. Williams. for instance) to initiation into encounters with transcendent beings the Oyéresu in Lewis’s That Hideous Strength. in literary form. Third. or such as Isis in Fortune’s The Sea Priestess. from this brief foray into the realm of magical fiction? First. initiating readers into “the space of intermediary beings.”93 Faivre’s observations here are particularly important because they help us to understand in a different light what Lewis. a mesocosm possessing its own geography. 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. we have seen that magical fiction in general represents to the reader a series of stages or grades. and Fortune were up to in their fictional works. initiation into living Nature tends to precede initiation into the powers of higher entities. he calls ‘active imagination’ “the essential component of esotericism. 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. For magical fiction is in fact remarkably suited to. ‘behind the scenes’ of the drama of ordinary human life. moving from initiation into elemental or natural magic (represented by Lewis’s character Merlin. active imagination is essential. as one reads a novel like Dion Fortune’s The Sea Priestess. Finally. 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. which manifests a deeper conflict between destructive and constructive powers in the cosmos as a whole. if we may so put it. Second. then. even though the ultimate source of the reader’s magical initiation in fiction is the author.” putting us in contact with the mundus imaginalis or imaginal world that “is the space of intermediary beings. In fact.91 Faivre goes on to remark that to succeed in this process of regeneration or initiatic awakening. thoroughly real. we have seen that often central to this magical initiation is a kind of magical battle between evil and good magicians.” and thus to written works like novels.
Esoteric Transmission in the Art of Cecil Collins Although this book is primarily about literary transmission. Something of the same relationship between word and image exists in the works of Cecil Collins (1908–1989). but the most magical works of all may well be found in literary art. images played an important role not only in alchemical works and later in Rosicrucianism.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 129 The authors we have considered here knew or knew of one another. It was not until 1994 that Brian Keeble brought out an edited book of Collins’s writings under the title The Vision of the Fool. an important and genuinely original British painter. represent a visual form separate from and complementing the texts they accompany. and were engaged at least to some degree in similar enterprises. As we have already seen. Collins is best known as an artist whose works manifest an ethereal. held in London’s Tate Gallery. One felt as though one were in some sense being initiated into a way of seeing. and I recall the otherworldliness of the images. but with the publication of this book. Collins’s paintings were exhibited in a major retrospective in 1989. but also in Böhmean theosophy. such as those accompanying the original German and English editions of Böhme’s complete works. angelic realm. and his writings reveal in detail his . This was an exhibition that I was fortunate enough to attend. Theosophic illustrations in particular. there remain fundamental differences. the sense that the artist belonged to the same tradition as A. in the sense of Rilke. It is in Lewis’s That Hideous Strength that the reader can perhaps most powerfully encounter the transmuting power of artistic beauty expressing ritual magic that. which is why I have chosen to study them together. her novels have a workmanlike quality: they do depict magical rituals and do offer insights into the nature of magic. E. Collins revealed in his work insights into the hidden. it is this: there is undoubtedly art in magic. one could understand much more clearly the nature of Collins’s paintings. indirectly or directly. 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. this is not the only means of esoteric transmission in twentieth-century works. if I may be permitted a single conclusion. visionary style that may best be described as glimpses into another. Collins was a gifted aphorist. Thus. and that like his contemporary poet. higher aspects of nature and humanity.. is linked to the world in which we live and that offers us profound insights into the cosmos and into humanity. transcendent and perhaps. where images accompany the written word and yet represent a separate set of works on their own. not merely viewing paintings but through them being shown new ways of understanding humanity and the transcendent. While Fortune was certainly a practicing magician.
A winter of the spirit is over all society. But deep underneath flows the secret stream. and my life with you. of his solitary walks in the countryside. It is this official denial of life that confronts us in everything. denies all who have inward fruit. But here I wander. to come to fruition. of all that which desires to give.130 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E worldview. By reading Collins’s aphorisms. Denies the artist. on the other his works are infused with profound criticisms of the “insect-life” of modern industrial society. one is placed in contact with another reality through them. he writes: O holy ones I long for you. we are all exiles. the contemplative. I remember you. and most holy are you O beautiful servants. of how “The tasting of these things in our days and nights is the partaking of the sacrament of existence.’ must make intellectual connections individually.” consisting in excerpts from Collins’s journals during the Second World War.” Ordinary life in the natural world. I know of your existence. I long for my race. Collins gave a public lecture titled “The Artist in the New Age.” or again. when in fact it is quite clear that we are ruled today by the elite of scientific technocrats and politicians . and I know nothing. [14 January. for he must ‘leap the gaps. and the task of the artist is to remind us of this. Devonshire]94 He writes beautifully also of his life in nature. the human being. The aphorism is in many respects the most poetic form of prose. to show us the hieroedietic beauty of life through art. In “Hymn of Life.” and in it he wrote that It is part of our democratic self-deception and sentimentality that we vaguely assume we are without an elite. In 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. Totnes. for Collins. If Collins loved solitude and nature on the one hand. The coldness of the vanity of the intellect on one side. so that the reader has a greater task than in prose works. the aphorism by its nature stands on its own surrounded by the white space of the page. is imbued always with spiritual significance.95 In 1965. A frustration of all that which is growing. 1945. and cheap vulgarity of attitude towards life on the other side. I long for my kingdom. with the white compassionate temples of the clouds floating in wise happiness and detached love. even as they transmit that worldview to the reader. and this from a comparatively early period in his work. But you exist. Our time denies. of “The long eternal afternoons robed in blue.
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[. This is the same thing actually. by description. . . “How” knowledge refers to mere process and manipulation of apparently dead objects. the meaning. They represent a low level of awareness and consciousness. Collins calls us out of this stupor of the insectoid hive-life in industrial society through his art.” but to offer what Collins calls “rapport” with the transcendent. to make pretty that “empty and mechanical desert we call modern civilization.97 Works of art. they offer avenues into direct inner spiritual realization. and thus ultimately nothing less than a transformation of our consciousness. 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. The higher worlds are inaccessible to the insensitive. In his essay “Art and Modern Man. whereas a great deal of ‘why’ knowledge is known only through nuance of consciousness.96 It is remarkable how timely Collins’s critique of industrial society has remained.” Collins distinguishes between “how” knowledge and “why” knowledge.] 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. by measurement or analysis. and the making of money. and central to our awakening is a change in consciousness. but only by rapport with those worlds. awaken this inner rapport in us. Transformation of consciousness cannot be known or be brought about by thinking. another way of expressing what he calls “why” knowledge. The value of the artist is not to decorate.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” knowledge is merely instrumental. It can only be known by inner nuance. . whereas “‘why’ knowledge is concerned with the significance of things. For like answers to like and creates actualization . and sensitivity to the vibrations and rays of that livingness which is at the heart of things. they cannot be reached by knowledge of them. how apt his descriptions still are of the moribund vacuity characterizing so much of modern life. rapport. in Collins’s view. they have no philosophy of life other than the exploitation of nature and of man.
We are all apt to fall asleep. that the canonic cultures of the past are decaying and dying. If the eye of the heart is closed then the whole of the universe is dead. and what is more.’ if only the doors of perception would be cleansed.] it is consecrated and is now sacramental. he writes that This is the time of unveiling. trees. We must have sacrament everywhere: as Blake says. and that is the eye of the heart. widened. religious. we have communion with it[. and transmuted. Creative art has always been concerned to touch and open the eye of the heart. it is also a means by which human consciousness is awakened. canonical religions and ritual. Art enables us to experience what the French poet René Char calls ‘the friendship of created things. of mere desires. Collins sees this artistic transmission as taking the place of older. we have no canonic culture of our own. his inner world.98 The work of art. in Collins’s view. Collins concludes his lecture by reaffirming the initiatory nature of art. in Collins’s view. the unveiling of the atom. in the great canonic formality of traditional civilizations there was of necessity a ‘closed’ consciousness in order to focus upon the sacred . the elements. a mere turning of the wheel of existence. he writes.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[. with the transformation of consciousness our experience of matter undergoes a change. in a “time of the apocalypse.] we have a deeper rapport with the earth.” 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. is thus more than a portal into the transcendent. it is a means of initiation and spiritual transmission.99 This awakening of the sense of the sacramental is the task of art. the opening of man’s inner nature. . ‘Everything that lives is holy. but through a lyrical contact with the archetypal world.’ In other words.” In his final remarks. spiritu- . But there is something else that has to be opened. In the past. We live. living art is initiation into the realization that all is holy and that our true relationship to nature and to one another is sacramental. But we have to learn how to concentrate on the sacramental without the use of this ‘closed’ formality. the answer comes back to us from within them. And this brings us to the big problem Within this new open consciousness we need to recover a sacramental sense. canonic language. rocks. . and the word ‘apocalypse’ means to unveil. it becomes qualitative. Collins holds that “a new period of art will come not through this decaying. He writes in “The Artist in the New Age” that in the modern era.
Human forms are elongated and have a geometric quality that’s intensified in some. its features smooth and surrounded by a mane of hair. Many of these images have a strange. Often. dreamlike. reminding us of the innate spiritual awareness that we can awaken if we wish to do so. around them a halo of golden-yellow light. What we are asked to do in the new age is to understand what the function of art is and to give our support and collaboration to the artist. the one with the sword. Collins’s paintings are ecstatic. Collins’s paintings reflect an uncanny unity from the earliest to the last. an active support. and vibrant color. and the other with the light. her hand outstretched over the land in benediction. revealed as clearly as anywhere in “The Music of Dawn” (1988). make it bleed. To gaze at this painting is to . while above it sweep golden spirals and a red sun. by patterns on the limbs and torso. landscape is transformed as well. not afraid to wound the heart. too. Here the entire image is awash in golden light. to the left the orb of the sun. like “Angels” (1948). and the eye of the heart is opened by these two artists. The figure looks out with a far-off gaze. in “The Invocation.100 The phrase “eye of the heart” is found in Christian theosophy. their faces closed in rapt contemplation as they seem but a moment from ascending. and in this it captures (in 1944!) precisely the sacramental relationship with nature that Collins discussed in his lectures so many years later. In all of them the human form and/or landscape is present but stylized. “The Invocation” reveals a paradisal relationship between the invoking angelic human figure. her head bent back and contemplative.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 133 ally. Such paintings are mysterious in their capacity to evoke in us a sense. a union of figure. to the left the sweeping forms of two intertwined angels whose colors partake of the earth’s brown and of white. and here it seems an appropriate way for Collins to conclude. a rapport with something that we cannot quite articulate. the figures’ eyes are opened. it refers to the inner visionary spiritual capacity of the individual. landscape. 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. such as “The Invocation” (1944). or to show to us how interwoven is our own consciousness with that which he is revealing through the paintings. Here. in its hand a staff topped by an orb. as in many of his visionary paintings. that we may share each other’s creative response to life. as if to reflect Collins’s own opened sense of inner vision interconnected with the exterior world. Here the landscape below seems to be swelling up and rising with energy like an ocean swell. but that is uplifting and paradisal.” 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. In many of his later paintings. hieratic quality.
and indeed. as in the works of Milosz and H. Pages from a Sketchbook (1997). Poems. aphorisms. In another book. a world between us and it. in Collins’s view. chair. from his writing on a “new age” of the spirit. we see intimations of a future paradisal existence.” Cecil Collins represents the archetypal figure of the twentieth-century esoteric artist. and Collins—is this sense of a future audience. an esoteric transmission of new ways of seeing humanity and the world is not merely decorative. D. or altar. and it is the archetypal that we see in the hieratic figures and landscapes of his paintings.’ sacred images. But Collins offers these through visual images. like an electrical transformer. And it is also clear.101 The living work of art is a reminder and a means of exactly this transmission. one that partakes as much of humanity’s Edenic past as of its potentially paradisal future. D. Lost paradise and . If this participation in reality through images is brought down into our environment. of kinds of consciousness that transcend the subject-object divisions characteristic of modernity. but also essays. is so powerful that we cannot look on it and live—therefore we need a buffer.. and his written work the clear sense that his work represents portals into other dimensions of consciousness beyond the merely quotidian. by which we make contact with reality through images . I offer these paintings as indicative of Collins’s extraordinary ability to reveal through the image something that transcends image. Here. Meditations. not least because his work includes not only images. to take the impact and transform it to our dimension. we then have ‘sacred space. implicit in the works of all three of our main authors and artists here—Milosz. . Indeed. in the works of Lewis and Williams as well. dawn of a more spiritual humanity gazing on mysteries with serene contemplation. he saw himself addressing a future audience that would be receptive to primordial ways of seeing humanity and nature. In this respect. H. that like Milosz. Collins wrote in this book. even if in writing he offers the context for viewing and understanding those images. This buffer world is called the archetypal world. he offers through his paintings. of their work as a transmission through a confused and destructive era into a paradisal future. his drawings. and poems that illuminate his paintings. Collins also wrote about the critical importance of awakening to an awareness of the archetypal. to achieve precisely what he wrote about so eloquently.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. . so that God becomes a table. In all of these works. but central. they are nothing less than (to cite Collins on the nature of symbols) “transmissions of the nature of reality.. instruments for transmitting a reality higher than ourselves. Divine Reality. he is like very few other painters.
the way of images and forms and transformations. and are meant to lead their reader toward those experiences. although they may contain an element of play. of course. or mere entertainment. or way of affirmation. This brings us to our second point: that in Western esotericism. science. made visible in the mysterious archetypal images of Collins. are in fact essentially gnostic: that is. we can characterize it as falling into two general categories that go back at least to Dionysius the Areopagite: the via positiva. It is. despite the dazzling wealth of diversity in its means of expression. the hidden themes perhaps of our entire era. For in our overview of Western esotericism. as Dionysius himself points out. and the arts in written form. but nonetheless in practice these two ways do differ. The words and images of Western esoteric traditions are by no means diversions. there have emerged common characteristics on which we may be able to shed some light by summarizing them and considering them as a whole. Here ‘literature’ takes on new meanings. for in Western esotericism it is generally regarded as a vehicle. and the via negativa. But the term literary here refers to an interdisciplinary nexus. And most of the Western esoteric traditions correspond to the via positiva. they are charged with visionary or spiritual experiences. sheer transcendence of all subject-object divisions. rather than to the ascent to absolute transcendence of all forms that we find in. the work of Meister Eckhart or of Johannes Tauler. and now it is time for us to consider the broader implications of Western esoteric traditions in relation to consciousness. literature (in which we include images and numbers) is generally conceived as a means of transmuting consciousness. what we find is in fact the via negativa. But this we have already done in our historical overview of Western esoteric currents.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 135 the restoration of paradise. First. or way of negation. THE WESTERN ESOTERIC TRADITIONS AND CONSCIOUSNESS When we consider Western esotericism in its full range. particularly that of alphanumeric gnosis. these two ways are in fact ultimately one in that they both lead to the same transcendence. And it is on this paradox that we must concentrate in addressing the relationships of Western esotericism to consciousness. Thus our third point: that . and awakening gnosis. to the conjunction of spirituality. as a means of transmitting knowledge. for instance. somewhat too general to speak in the abstract about Western esotericism as a whole. and it is undoubtedly better to consider individual traditions. these are the themes of these great artists. but rather. we may say that Western esotericism is fundamentally literary in expression. Strictly speaking. Yet when we penetrate entirely through the via positiva.
history. schooled as we are in the division between subject and object. but to understand why this is so requires some further explanation. All of these aspects of Western esoteric literature may seem foreign to contemporary eyes. works only by reference to this third element. between humanity and the cosmos. Western esoteric traditions. Under this broad rubric of ‘the divine. that transcends and links both humanity and the cosmos. the divine. gnostic experience is the crown and purpose of human life.’ and that knowledge consists in learning about the various divisions or aspects of the ‘I’ and of ‘the other. and the divine. an explicit goal of such modern poets as Milosz and H. Within this fundamentally different way of understanding nature and humanity is also a profoundly different way of understanding literature and art. are founded in a totally different way of seeing the individual in relation to the cosmos. chemistry. or minerals—but that work is not merely manipulating chemicals or substances. which often enough becomes humanity pitted against the cosmos. Ideas. Rather. sociology. be it Rosicrucian or alchemical. psychology. between the human and natural realms. Here is the essential division between a modern. And Western esoteric literature. alchemical work is based on a fundamental correspondence between self and other. But in Western esoteric traditions. Western esoteric traditions—and this is true of all of them—are founded on the existence of this mysterious. The alchemist works with natural substances—for example. the cosmos. gathers means of technical power over the cosmos. For the correspondence between humanity and the cosmos can take place only by means of a third: the divine. materialist worldview and what we find in Western esotericism. in achieving what one might call as well a restoration of paradise or a golden age—as we have already seen. Alchemical work consists in raising up or redeeming both humanity and nature. on the other hand. or Symbols. whose fundamental nature is to join together self and other. and so on.’ quantifiable knowledge. but never overcomes and rarely is even aware of this great gulf between self and other. All of these disciplines are expressions of the same general theory of ‘objective. In a modern worldview. D. there is only the division between self and other. ‘third element.’ we can discern two general levels: there is the archetypal realm of Forms. geology. and implicit in them all is that there is an ‘I’ that is separate from and learns about the cosmos. where alchemical work consists in the transmutation of both self and other at once. This other view is particularly acute in alchemy. hidden. In modern education. plant extracts.136 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E in the Western esoteric traditions.’ Hence we find the basis of all the various disciplines: biology. sometimes called by Böhme the .’ the divine. we are taught from childhood that ‘I’ am separate from ‘the other. one finds the ternary predominating: humanity. theosophic or Kabbalistic or magical. and there is sheer transcendence.
This archetypal realm. This myth—although it appears in numerous variants—is always tied to the Ur-Mensch. or any of the other major esoteric currents. The eighteenth-century alchemist is often at once a poet and a historian. cosmology. which in turn is meant to guide or awaken the reader to its archetypal or symbolic reality. often seen as androgynous. first. symbolic realm of images contacted by the imagination from which in turn appears the panoply of the arts. The artist. and a chemist. was tempted to look outside itself for knowledge. a theologian. the “Vision” of William Butler Yeats. what we find in fact is not limited to the sphere of religion alone. Adam. The aim of the esoteric . in turn created clearly prophetic works meant to foretell a future that they also invoked. theosophy. Thus the artist. That is: whether we look at Kabbalah. For the purpose of such literature is. Rosicrucianism.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 137 Ungrund. and the poetic prophecies of Oscar Milosz in perhaps a different way. in this worldview. In brief. meaning by that not absence. In all of these traditions. a divine mathematics. an artist. but instead ranges freely across all of what we today call separate disciplines or fields. and in this externalization was the separation or fall from paradise into the increasing objectivization of history. and in returning has written or illustrated a work. is in fact prophetic. to awaken the reader’s consciousness of this archetypal realm. and literary expression. The author has presumably already journeyed to this realm. for all three of these poets. Underlying all of these Western esoteric traditions is also a universalism in the myth of the fall and of restoration. the absolute unity of subject and object. is the origin of both nature and humanity—and of art. suffused by their deep study of Western esoteric traditions. the Platonic realm of Forms or Ideas. in order to create. There is in the universalist aims of these poets a definite indebtedness to the inherent universalism of Western esoteric traditions. a biologist and geologist and a priestly hierophant. but nothing. biology. this latent memory of higher consciousness waiting to be awakened.’ who partakes in a particular kind of hieroeidetic knowledge. and by others the Nothing. or Fullness. a mythologist. Hence we may view the “Prophecies” of William Blake. by definition a ‘seer. must see into the archetypal realm that is above the limitations of time and space. what transpired before history goes something like this: Primordial humanity. and his fall from paradise. and so there is in all true art a timeless and universal quality. One cannot separate any of these roles because they are all intimately bound up with the enormous range covered by the rubric alchemist. These two aspects of the divine—but especially the lower. perhaps denoted by some ancient Gnostics under the term Pleroma. Milosz calls this awakening power “Memoria” and insists that it is the essence of our consciousness. alchemy. For this sphere of archetypes is the infinite hieratic. archetypal realm—are critical to understanding Western esoteric literature. we find a divine art and a divine science.
and every flexure and curvature of every letter. an alchemist. and Masonic illustrations. In this perspective. author of The Magus. in a group of London Rosicrucians associated with Francis Barrett (1765–1825). the entire cosmos represents a kind of celestial writing.138 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E practitioner. . language too became externalized and ‘hardened’ outside us into mutually incomprehensible ‘tongues. a theosopher. in the Russian symbolist poetry and prose near the beginning of the twentieth century. 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. whether a Kabbalist. The myth of a primordial humanity entails a primordial language. for instance. These in turn are related to Hebrew letters. theosophic. but as humanity fell away from it in the long descent that is human history. magical. A typical manifestation of this tradition is found around the turn of the nineteenth century. almost always denoting divinity. Rosicrucian. We see this idea of a celestial or universal language appearing in various forms throughout Western esotericism. pansophic. which show that he had learned the unfamiliar way of writing then known to some occult students as the ‘Celestial Alphabet. Jewish Kabbalah of course maintains a long tradition of Hebrew exegesis. but instead a further means for our separation from and objectification of the world. contains some secret of wisdom. or a pansoph. drawing a virtually infinite range of connotations from a single verse. William Blake in some of his illustrations used “Hebrew characters on some of his designs.’ not the means of celestial union with all that surrounds us. which is to say. and notarikon. even from a single letter. often with Hebrew as the celestial language of choice. the poet Robert Southey observed that London Swedenborgians prized a “Celestial Alphabet” “in which every letter signifies a complete thing . and indeed as Yeats pointed out. where it arguably sparked the entire . . Underlying these alphanumeric permutations is the understanding that in fact one is working with the very language of creation. one finds Hebrew letters inscribed in alchemical. Hence. and within every living thing is its transcendent or archetypal signature or word.’”102 Likewise. is nothing less than the restoration of paradise. 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 restoration of unity between humanity and nature by way of the divine. the language of creation itself.”103 And we find this insistence on the importance of magical language in many unexpected places—for instance. But it is certain that Barrett proposed a “magical alphabet” closely resembling the “Mason’s marks” or Masonic hieroglyphs. and this view is found throughout other Western esoteric traditions. Primordial humanity knows this celestial language. temurah. and of intricate maneuvers with letters and numbers in gematria.
Futurism. of which these various currents are particular manifestations filtered through the conditions of an era and religious tradition.” Irina Gutkin summarizes this argument as follows: However diverse Russian modernists’ language theories and related visions of the future may have been. seeing where they emerge also into the world of letters or poetry.104 Obviously. and especially of written language and of the book. 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. Sacerdotal or magical language provided a model for the new language each of these movements was striving to create. it may be the “Book of Nature. we cannot here pursue further this fascinating theme of how magical views of language pervaded Russian and even early Soviet literature. . In her article “The Magic of Words: Symbolism. This is not to say that there is a universal esotericism—for here we are not venturing beyond fundamentally European traditions—but rather. generally speaking . when surveying the various esoteric currents. .M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 139 symbolist movement and. influenced much of modern Russian literature. It is theoretically possible to trace these ideas of a celestial alphabet throughout Western history. and that these are consistently linked with an alphanumeric mysticism of language. Social Realism. For it well may be that there is a general paradigm recurring thoughout the various currents of Western esotericism. certainly it may be the Christian . But only to trace influences assumes that everything in Western esotericism can be attributed to questions of ‘influence. following the various currents through Kabbalism. This is in fact precisely the argument of several contemporary scholars of Russian literature. magic. in that their theories implied restoration of the world’s original Edenic state. a synthetic magical language of unprecedented epistemological power whose ultimate function was to serve as a means of conjuring new life in the future world. which they conceptualized as the time when human beings spoke a language in which the signifier and the signified existed in complete organic unity. theosophy. consequently. 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. They shared a utopian dream of a new perfectly ‘transparent’ language. and Masonry. Some of this work we have already done earlier in this discussion.” or the “Book of Revelation.” or the “Book of Life”.’ and this is not necessarily so. The book may be the cryptic “Liber M” of the Rosicrucians.
other than occasional fragmentary lists and the perfunctory listing of such figures as Plato. and Geber. but also as a primary means of spiritual transmission. but rather relied upon the written word. It certainly fits well with Kabbalistic mysticism. regard the book itself as a primary means of transmitting the tradition. where it is traditionally said that one must be initiated by an alchemist in order to work the magistery. and what is more. But perhaps there is a solution to this general absence of initiatory lineages. interrupted. Hermes. Certainly there were such nascent initiatory lineages early in the Christian era among gnostic circles. much less in Christianity specifically. Thus we are left with the enigma of Western esotericism. and so on back into antiquity. Islam. However. which indeed still finds them audiences today. and Christianity—have a specific reverence for the sacred book. for instance. or nonexistent. it is rather difficult to find any cases of such initiatory lineages even within the broad sphere of Western esotericism. Even in the case of alchemy. the traditions are largely continued by means of initiatory lineages of teachers. where initiatory lineages seem largely broken. rely upon the written word not only as a focus for oral communication or transmission. where the tradition . and indeed even farther back. there are virtually no available records on any such actual initiatory lines in Western European literature. or in Buddhism. 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. In Hinduism or Buddhism. but there is no evidence that any of these continued even into the medieval period. This would certainly explain why figures like Meister Eckhart or Johannes Tauler did not found initiatory lineages of disciples. gurus. it seems entirely possible that Christianity and Western esoteric traditions more generally. and it may also be the visionary Mysterium Magnum of Jacob Böhme or an alchemical manuscript. but it is quite another for the writing itself to become so primary as the sacred writings of the three monotheistic traditions. but it is a peculiar fact that the three major monotheist traditions— Judaism. Given our overview. But in all cases the mode of transmission is in some sense a book. or masters. even in this case it is not a matter of an initiatory master-disciple tradition in quite the same way as we see in Sufism. It is true that many of the world’s religious traditions include sacred writings. 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. who were in turn taught by a spiritual master.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. and in Judaism with Kabbalah. Indeed. Such initiatory continuity is found also in Islam with Sufism.
Indeed. In modern parlance.’ a means of conveying ‘information. I believe. who. of course.’ or ‘data’. but who rather offered the world only written works. and specifically in revealed or illuminated writing. Milosz’s future reader would have to become Milosz’s initiated successor by way of Milosz’s writing alone. writing is essentially a ‘collection of signs. and insists that the word can only mean direct contact between two living people. it assumes that writing has a sacred origin and purpose. That is to say. rather far indeed from most contemporary perspectives. naturally. But if the word initiation is taken to refer to an awakening of higher degrees of consciousness. the answer to this question depends upon what one means by initiation. in addressing this far-off “son. whatever one . but also because he quite clearly saw himself as an illuminant who by writing was also transmitting this illumination into the future. and in particular at its strange. then of course writing could not be initiatory in itself. when we look at the writing of Milosz. By contrast. We see exactly such a view in the figure of O. who never revealed themselves publicly at all. to some future initiate in a far century. If by this word one is referring to some kind of ceremony or ritual involving a group of people. but also on writing as an actual means of spiritual illumination. but .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. the writing of someone who has actually realized the tradition’s aim of spiritual illumination. Such a view of the written word is. Somehow. and his method of “writing the names” until one enters ecstasy. it seems obvious that the poetry is intended not only to describe but also to evoke the kinds of consciousness it represents. may think of his poetry. for it above all has what we may call a ‘vertical’ aspect. then it is indeed possible for the written word to serve this function. whether it be in Kabbalah or alchemy or theosophy. dreamlike language and imagery. One thinks here. hieratic. Thus we can conclude that the writing itself is meant to have an initiatory function. Is it possible for writing alone to serve as means of initiation? Naturally. Milosz. And one recalls the Rosicrucians. it is a means of horizontal communication between two discrete people.” had no prospect of actually meeting or initiating him directly—his poetry and prose had to serve that function. for example the famous ones accompanying Gichtel’s well-known edition of Böhme’s works. have been adorned with copious illustrations. are not simply decorations. Such evocation is. of Abraham Abulafia. initiatory. often strikingly beautiful. 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. Christian theosophic literature. the divine is seen to inhere in language generally. Let us take another example. particularly the works of Böhme. to write in all of these traditions means something quite different. for in all cases. These illustrations. is unquestionably an exemplary figure not least because he consciously represented in his work virtually the entire range of Western esoteric traditions. V Milosz.
Bromley’s narrated overview of the theosophic spiritual journey. theosophic. so there is no need here to repeat myself. one is in effect partaking in and absorbing what it represents. Such an illustration is not merely allegorical. the illustration is a condensed image of the theosophic path. For instance.106 To explain this phenomenon. into the serenity and illumination of transcendence. which refers to . and over time those seeds can take root. but expresses how a book can indeed serve as an initiatic medium irrespective of whether there is any historical contact between author and reader. 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 the intermediate realm of nature between them. clearly understandable form the nature of theosophy as a growth in consciousness from the constraints of darkness and wrath or separation. the lightworld of paradise. In my view. and conveys in a single organic form the outlines of theosophic illumination. and flower in the reader too. of spiritual growth and illumination in the figure of a growing plant. It is at once a natural and a spiritual image. and sowing again—is not merely a literary figure. the dark-world of hell. But we can take a single such illustration here and demonstrate how it can function in an initiatory way. it can better do so if it reveals its subject in words and images both. and becomes a seedhead in the light-world above. represented by a cross. Such an illustration. it actually reveals (hiera-) the nature of its subject. the Western esoteric traditions are often discontinuous historically. If a book is to serve an initiatic function. the words and images can evoke in the reader the seeds of the experiences visible through the work. the book becomes hieroglyphic—it is not merely an abstract discussion about some topic. Obviously. A good example of an initiatory illustration is one accompanying Thomas Bromley’s book The Way to the Sabbath of Rest. and Rosicrucian esoteric currents (to name only the most obvious) is to emphasize and amplify the hieratic nature of these traditions. in other words. In this way. pansophic.” or Wisdom. What is more. Rather. through the turbulence of earthly life. This visual absorption is of a different kind from that of reading the accompanying text. This metaphor—of sowing. does have an initiatic function—that is. reaping. marked also “Sophia. certainly by the seventh century—yet one finds striking parallels in seventeenth-century Christian theosophy without any historical link. In the midst of the dark-world we see a seed whose green stem grows upward through the spatio-temporal cosmos. tending. I use the term ahistorical continuity. it is more immediate and visceral. meaning that some image in it ‘equals’ some moral quality. I have discussed this theosophic iconography at length in my book Wisdom’s Children. Taken together. grow. the prevalence of accompanying illustrations in alchemical. it represents for the neophyte reader in simple.105 This illustration shows the theosophic three principles or three realms. by gazing at such an image. ancient Gnosticism as such ceased to exist by the early medieval period. for instance.
since we are essentially discussing the individual reader encountering a particular esoteric book. and are in earnest. . Such a reader joins with the author. Let us take an example from the works of Jacob Böhme. the word initiation is being used in several ways—as meaning a beginning on the spiritual path. one might even say impossible. forging a link to others with similar esoteric aspirations. it is also possible for an individual or group to rediscover or reawaken a particular archetypal paradigm latent within a tradition without any direct contact with such a lineage. the daily news. . this function must be a change in consciousness. Naturally. you truly will know its worth. If. it can reëmerge in another. who in turn is in touch with an archetypal or primary stream within a given esoteric tradition. To read Böhme’s works and attempt to categorize or analyze them logically is notoriously difficult. After all. instead. and in fact many of his works feature dire warnings to those who approach Böhme’s writings in the wrong fashion. without doubt one of the most influential authors in the Western esoteric traditions. Perhaps. as I am suggesting. Thus. Böhme’s works require a kind of ‘steeping. But I must warn you that if you are not in earnest. if you wish to use this little book aright. the written word itself can have an initiatory function. leave untouched the precious Names of God . so that they do not ignite the wrath of God in your soul. for one is not to misuse God’s holy Names. Such a paradigm can be reawakened.’ a becoming familiar and even intimate with his language and vision until his unusual terminology and ways of expression become part of one’s inner landscape and view of the world. and so the reader too becomes a kind of channel or conduit. and as the entry of one’s consciousness into a larger current. although there may be an initiatory lineage in a given Western esoteric tradition. but they may well change a reader’s consciousness in profound ways and even in some respects prepare one for such inward vision.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. This is not to say that Böhme’s works necessarily in themselves inspire visionary insight. But for the reader who is in sympathy with a particular esoteric perspective. They will experience both the words that are in it and the source that . for example. This little book belongs only to those who eagerly wish to repent. I am not using the word initiation to refer to rites. or a biology textbook. There can be no doubt that Böhme regarded his books as spiritually charged. as in this example from his book Christosophia (1624): “God-loving reader. it exists as a nascent possibility within the tradition and even if it is eliminated by force or attrition in one historical period. Böhme himself frequently warned his readers not to read his works unless they were attuned to them. it is possible for reading and rereading a given work to effect lasting changes in that reader’s consciousness. Here. and who have a desire to begin. But perhaps those countless people influenced by Böhme’s writing did or do not read it in the way that we read.
144 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E gave rise to them. so that even what is apparently divine is in truth merely another facet of the “outward constellation. it cannot become authentically a part of one’s direct awareness. This passage is particularly useful for us because it neatly encapsulates the shift in consciousness toward which Böhme is guiding his reader.” for they will experience not only the words he has written. and become not its own possession. 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. Then it walks in error until it again gives itself completely into resignation. one automatically is caught in delusion. on the other hand his writing is addressed to those who “have a desire to begin.” Böhme tells us that if we are not in earnest on our way to the new birth.”109 The individual soul must ceaselessly sink down into the divine Nothing. and second.” “Be rightly warned. and for when one rises. Here Böhme is plainly saying that his writing is charged and has initiatory power— one can move through his work toward the divine. When one is caught in the self-other or subject-object division.”107 Or again. a prayer for washing and dressing. But the word awareness does not entail a subject-object duality. that it encourages a change in consciousness that permeates one’s whole life. . and whatever one perceives as divine is in fact tainted by this constant separation. the source from which they emerge. Böhme insists that the reader must overcome this self-other division. The word consciousness implies always a duality—one is con-scious. and a prayer before sleep.” If on the one hand. judgemental consciousness. not by merely mouthing the words. to become a channel for the divine current. this objectifying delusion. and in fact much of what we term divine is in fact nothing more than a projection. Böhme’s works require stern admonitions to those who might not approach them properly. a prayer for one’s daily work. so that consciousness shifts to awareness. that it encourages one to begin the spiritual path. but by internalizing and becoming what one reads.” or objectified realm. it walks in its own delusion.” It must remain “in resigned humility just as a fountain depends on its source. In Christosophia he writes that “as soon as the soul eats of self and lives in reason’s light. Hence Böhme includes in Christosophia prayers for one’s entire daily life—a prayer for when one awakens on Monday morning. and experience the divine directly. Then that thing. we should leave unsaid the words in the prayers he gives us. is only the external constellation that intoxicates it as soon as it grasps at it.108 Clearly this work is initiatic in at least two ways: first. which it sees as divine. a prayer for noon. So long as the divine remains objectified outside oneself. a prayer for the evening. or has knowledge-of. or they will be the “judgement of God in you. but. but the “instrument of God. he tells us. and so on for the entire week. in his “Warning to the Reader.”110 And only if it does this will the soul awaken into its divine inheritance and true purpose.
or the divine eye that sees itself. In other words. and might from this point recapitulate by way of a diagram a schematic overview of how language may be understood in this context. For language is in its innermost nature divine. conversely. divine in its origin. or subject and object. for it is only humanity that can mediate between sky and earth. and it is at this point that paradox and enigmatic expression become necessary. a path beyond this separation and suffering must go through language. 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. we have the point of origin. intermediate between nature below and the divine above. although there are divisions between archetypes. the light and the dark. as we have seen. then language must reflect this division. and at its most sublime when it expresses or manifests this transcendent divinity. in other words. Above. in the archetypal realm there is . language is said to inhere in the entire cosmos. Indeed. Here we are. Love and Wrath ** The Archetypal Realm of the Imagination: Divine Language *** The Manifested or Elemental World **** Language belongs above all to the archetypal realm. the yes and the no. but the observer in another sense is no longer separate from the divine that is observed. of course. This divine self-awareness Böhme sometimes alludes to as the divine eye turned inward. in Western esotericism generally. in that there remains an observer. the origin not only of language. or divided from the divine. there is no sense of separation between self and other. From these archetypes then emerge the natural and human realms.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. at the far limit of what we can express in language. between the divine and the natural. This transcendent point gives birth to duality. love and wrath. If humanity and the cosmos itself are fallen. Thus language belongs also to the intermediate human realm. as are nature and humanity. but of the cosmos itself. just as. or perceiver and what is perceived. and these in turn give birth to the qualities or archetypes inherent in the entire cosmos. But we have reached the center of the theosophic tradition. where they are incarnated or manifested in the everchanging panoply of history. There emerges a spacious or open quality. There is simply awareness. Divine Unity—the No-thing * Duality: The Yes and the No. Language is the means by which this process of mediation or reconciliation is effected: it is. the self in one sense continues to exist. where.
Language. 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. secular. restoring to humanity its proper relation to nature and to the divine. Nothing could be further from the various viewpoints of Western esotericism than the fallen language of mere designation. esotericism remained mostly underground— alchemy was denigrated as nothing more than a primitive precursor of chemistry. or ignoring of most of these esoteric currents. There is such a gulf between these two views as to seem almost unbridgeable. of sign and object and manipulation of one or the other. By contrast. From the eighteenth through the twentieth centuries. the secular modern world emerged through the jettisoning. These archetypal forces do not belong to the poet. there are only the archetypal powers or forms that the poet or visionary may experience directly in vision. For Western esotericism. nature. in vogue instead are theories of causality that refer to a world devoid of the divine. But by the late twentieth century. During this . Is it possible to build a bridge between a modern. in modern literary theory or theories of language. language is in its very nature bound up with the divine. which is rife with the language of objectification. it is a vehicle not of separation but of union between humanity. language as merely a collection of signs functioning as more or less arbitrary designators. they may be glimpsed and even imperfectly expressed. consumerist state was built from a materialist. is transformed from objectifying to unifying. and so forth. 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. or manifest more indirectly in literature. and objectifying worldview and the perspectives that characterize Western esotericism? Perhaps not. in these esoteric traditions. and gnostic perspectives characterizing Western esotericism seem far removed from and incompatible with that machine. secular. for after all. suppression. Undoubtedly.146 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E still no possession or ownership. or separation into self and other. including harsh critiques of technology’s effects on the natural world. pansophy and theosophy were relegated to movements of merely historical interest. but never owned. and objectified worldview. transformative. yet this expresses a very prevalent supposition underlying much contemporary literary theory. the divine is perforce unmentionable. any objectifying perspective divorced from the divine origin and purpose of language automatically will be barren or sterile. alternatives to the technoconsumerist machine became more commonplace—ecosocial criticism began to emerge. Ownership belongs to the fallen realm of separation and objectification—I own this as opposed to that—and therefore belongs also to fallen language. and the divine. and the participatory. The massive machine of the modern technological.
and the divine. but rather the idea that these literary works themselves are . pansophy or esoteric Rosicrucianism or Freemasonry. that inherent in the Western esoteric traditions is what we have called a libric or alphanumeric gnosis. If so. A N D C O N S C I O U S N E S S It is evident. and in the countless literary works that express the discoveries of those who have gone before us. of awakening latent. inner territory. in particular. with the intense focus of many of its practitioners on meditation practices. Be it Kabbalism or alchemy. then the ways of exploration are already marked out for us. religion. to name only a few. we must begin by coming to see literature and the meaning of the word in new ways. troubadours and chivalry. nature. Western esotericism is inherently transdisciplinary by nature. at least for some. in theosophic works. It may well be that we have reached a time when the ceaseless and ever more minute exploration of the cosmos may give way. magic or theosophy. scientific or otherwise. and for a reëvaluation of all the various disciplines in that light. including elements of the sciences. but also for society itself. As we have seen throughout this study. psychology. and widespread acculturation of Asian religious and medicinal traditions. which is to say.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 147 time. even while the bulk of society industriously tried to avoid recognizing those limits. one found a growing awareness of the limits that the natural world imposes on consumerist expansion. to an exploration of the inner cosmos and of how we perceive the world. profound connections between humanity. one finds a consistently recurrent theme of transmuting consciousness. L I T E R AT U R E . Given these tendencies—on the one hand criticism of technoconsumerism. To this we now turn. Here we are discussing not merely the obvious fact that such traditions are represented in written works. imaged in alchemical manuscripts and in Kabbalistic treatises. A R T. But to begin to explore this new. after all that we have surveyed. and the arts. began to have profound effect on many people in the formerly Judeo-Christian world. inspiring more than a few to also rediscover overlooked Jewish and Christian mystical traditions. the Lullian art. Buddhism. One also found increasing interest in alternative approaches to medicine and to spirituality. 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. too. which has ramifications not only for the nature of knowledge. the various currents of Western esotericism with all their diversity share a common thread: the transmutation of consciousness through hieroeidetic knowledge. and of restoring a paradisal union between them. Joining all of these disparate disciplines is a focus on the transmutation of consciousness.
fundamental to the awakening of a paradisal union between humanity. 1867–1935). but rarely any longer is recognized as having its origin in the inner springs or fountains of life. tells us that its appearance was “as much a surprise to me as if a flower had suddenly glowed before me in the hollow of the air . . found throughout Western history. for in its structure will be the creative power of life itself. E. but of reality. and in this ascent enter into the imaginal realm of archetypes. In this esoteric view of literature.”111 Unconscious of creation. Only then can one return and tell others where authentic life lies. . The poet or prophet sees and enters into the celestial realm. Indeed. wrote at length about how he came to write poetry. where poetry might be seen by some as offering beauty or insight. A. as the seers tell us. E. E. It may be of use. but is seen even more clearly in the archetypal realm of the imagination. and the divine. beyond history. The poet and the seer both engage in the ascent of consciousness from multiplicity toward union. a friend of Yeats. The poet’s psyche. to write presupposes already having seen. as we have seen. at this juncture. Naturally. Such an understanding of literature is very ancient indeed. and indeed. Remarking on how a poem emerged unbidden one evening while he was sitting on some rocks. . to turn to a poet. This intricate geometry of meaning can be glimpsed in the forms of nature. and music is the intricate geometry of meaning that permeates creation. The verses came to me almost as swift as thought. joys. the cosmos itself is a kind of book—the structure of words. In this view. To use Plato’s metaphor. rejoicings. A. the gold-gleaming genius makes beauty. ascends to “that high state where. in order to consider more carefully how a poet may view what we are discussing here. he simply began to murmur line after line. visible in Greek tradition in such figures as Pythagoras and Plato. 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.148 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E vehicles of spiritual praxis. he tells us. here is what we may call a spirituality of literature as much as a literature of spirituality. the ‘book of life’ out of which history itself emerges. Here the book is a means of spiritual transmutation. In his book Song and Its Fountains. A. And only then will one’s written work be of enduring value for others. one must already have left the imprisoning cave and seen the actual sun and the true landscape to which we belong. not the life of shadows. this view of the poet invests in him far more authority and power than do contemporary views. But A. (George William Russell. and how his poetry was inseparable from his visionary experiences. nature. full of imagination’s power and exhiliration. E.’s subsequent meditation on how he created this poem is well worth investigating. of charged and living images once associated with the gods. from the Kabbalistic Sepher Yezirah or Bahir or Zohar to the works of Jacob Böhme and the Rosicrucian manifestos. images.
E.” he wrote.”113 This movement of consciousness A. recognized his limits. and after that images.” Although he struggled to remain in this state.”115 He understood something of the psyche. looks upon the poet as a prophet. even if unaware of precisely how or why. when once he became conscious while “in some profundity of being. There was neither sight nor sound. E. analyzes the movement of consciousness. “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 still being drawn down there came a third state in which was originally deep own-being. and memory and imagination are shot through and through with the radiance of another nature. and the withdrawal of the universe into the Pleroma—all that was wrought in some secret laboratory within the psyche. and song. A. E.”116 Still. though too often they have not kept faith . gone inward into itself. and it changes the dry dust of logic into color and music and a rapture of prophecy. Yet A. was later translated into words. E. A. later discussed with W. who said that he had experienced precisely the same descent into words. focusing on his experience emerging from a deep sleep. the creation of poetry in A. It is the light of spirit that transcends the psyche as the psyche in its own world transcends the terrestrial ego. and remarks that “almost the only oracles which have been delivered to humanity for centuries have come through the poets.”114 A far exile from that glory. and cried out in a divine intoxication to the Light of Lights. E. The Mount is a symbol for that peak of soul when. Yeats. E. and not to the sublimity of the spirit. the poet. but all was a motion in deep being. “—the imagination of the ending of the long tale of time. but of the universal spirit he understood little. A. “never had the high vision of those who have gone into the deeps of being and who have returned rapture-blinded by the glory. “I have. But there are enchanted hours when it seems to be nigh us.” Thus. nigher to us than the most exquisite sweetness in our transitory lives. it draws nigh to its own divine root.” “Whatever went to making an intricate harmony of color and sound. perhaps surprisingly. E.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 149 dance. that his experience belonged to the psyche or soul. B. of nature become so ethereal that it was the perfect mirror of deity. he found himself “dragged down” toward waking consciousness. for its subtlety and universality make it ungraspable: “It cannot be constrained. somehow comes in touch with this sheer transcendence. A.”112 Yet “what comes back to us from that high sphere loses beauty in its descent. still recognized “that greater light shines behind and through the psyche. and there is revelation in it and the mingling of heaven and earth. as Ishtar in the Chaldean myth had crown and scepter and the royalty of her robes taken from her when descending from heaven to earth.”117 For this reason.” he wrote.’s view actually emerges from a dimunition of spiritual vision. writes that “all true poetry was conceived on the Mount of Transfiguration. from a descent after an ascent.
E. and as we mingle our imagination with theirs we are exalted and have the heartache of infinite desire. But at times they still receive the oracles.”121 These insights of A. the further we come out of the animal Nature. in his The Way to the Sabbath of Rest (1650). thinking all the while that it was imagination or art of their own. A. In essence. In this exaltation or transcendent creativity. in that solitude we may meet multitude. or division into self and other. In Christian theosophy. characters they had never met in life. through love and sympathy may come to know “that the whole of life can be reflected in the individual. wrote of how “they that are in this near Union. goes on to remark that he often thought the great literary masters like Shakespeare or Balzac “endowed more generously with a rich humanity. And A. we find numerous accounts of the spiritual path as exactly such a movement beyond ordinary distinctions of self and other. feel a mutual Indwelling in the pure Tincture and Life of each other: and so. and our thoughts may become throngs of living souls. still conform strikingly to the model we have begun to develop as characteristic of the Western esoteric traditions. tells the story of how he once in his office went into a reverie and saw a host of images—a redhaired watchful girl. and imbued with this new visionary understanding. the poet or seer enters into a realm where conventional notions of self begin to vanish. expresses here is not far from what we see in the work of an exemplary and influential esoteric figure like Jacob Böhme. Thomas Bromley.150 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E with the invisible . which could also be expressed as the ending of objectification. for instance.”119 Through them the immortals utter their divine speech. into the nature of poetic vision or imagination. have made their hearts a place where the secrets of many hearts could be told. may. a cobblestone street—and to his astonishment later discovered that these images belonged to the actual world of his office companion. E.” And there is more. we have seen Western esoteric traditions as including the restoration of paradise.”118 The poets and musicians offer us “the sense of a glory transmitted from another nature. E. the view of literary creation that A. they come “trailing clouds of glory. 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. because in the practice of their art they preserve the ancient tradition of inspiration and they wait for it with airy uplifted mind. Throughout our investigations.” The psyche. and they wove into drama or fiction. without knowing it. for in both cases one sees a visionary who penetrates deeper than ordinary people into the mysteries inherent in creation. These written works express and indeed embody some of the secret structure inherent in the cosmos. when it becomes truly self-conscious. when we seem most alone. . 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. . E. as did the sybils of old. though they do not take place in the explicit context of Western esotericism properly speaking. .”120 Thus “when we sink within ourselves.
and the further instrumentally to convey the pure Streams of the heavenly Life to each other. on the one hand an exemplar of Western theosophic esotericism. and we must. takes place on a field midway between audience and author. One experiences great bliss. For who. which no earthly Distance can hinder. In Bromley’s case. in A. Likewise. which later emerge in poetry. But nonetheless. and so requires our sympathetic participation. there are unquestionably parallels between these two examples. and the world is shot through with light.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 151 the more universal we are. it increasingly enters a paradisal union with those on the same path. E. and later forge them into a written work of uncommon power. This movement goes through an archetypal realm in which they experience figures vaster. in between both author and reader. there also is participation in what is observed. or beyond a rigid self-other distinction. absorbed completely in a book.’s discussion of how the poet may unknowingly absorb or participate in other people’s lives or personalities. symbols. E. passive. And so it is possible for us to speak of the great Gatsby. Reading. in the latter case. or drama. or of Captain Ahab. where. he may encounter unfamiliar figures. irrespective of time or distance—and A. Underlying both of them is a clear movement beyond objectification. In the first case. there are differences between what Bromley is describing—a kind of mutual communion among those in a spiritual group. become part of us and indivisible from our inner lives. he is discussing how the poet may unwittingly enter into an archetypal realm of the imagination.”122 As the soul ascends toward paradise by way of spiritual praxis. fiction. and experiences. E. and to one another in the Internal. on the other a visionary poet. does not participate in it along with the characters? Its characters enter into our consciousness. Thus we can see that the experience of reading itself corresponds in some respects to a visionary encounter like those described. for instance. set aside a space within our consciousness where the characters or . and between the models that they represent. although there is still an observer and what is observed. at least temporarily. and stranger than any experienced in ordinary life. like theater. say. and taken on a kind of life of its own. but must enter into the work by an act of imaginative participation. In order for a book to ‘reach us’ it has to resonate within us. We are carried along on the words of the author. events. as if we knew them as neighbors. the poet is more like a receiver. and its relationship to nature also becomes paradisal or unified. In this realm. Such experiences are not very far at all in turn from our own ordinary reading of. the book or work has been separated from its writer. Of course. by A. One becomes what one sees. and nearer both to Heaven. more powerful. as if by happenstance. the author also is not directly present.’s case. a novel. one finds spiritual seekers who actively pursue inner vision. one is looking at people consciously engaged in a spiritual path together.
these esoteric traditions in general aim for enduring changes in consciousness. presumably. the visions of the theosophers are real. By contrast. We see this in the Book of Revelation.152 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E insights it expresses can exist. for example. merely ‘imaginary’ in the dismissive sense of the word. drama. Perhaps. and in Kabbalistic practice. The barriers between self and other become at least a little permeable. and suggest that literature and art in their highest forms are an attenuated kind of visionary encounter. our authors tell us. Of course. precisely what is at work also in the visionary encounter. symbolizes eternal conditions. fiction. habitual self is gone. and books. writing. who himself was certainly influenced by the Western esoteric traditions. whereas the esotericist is. and one enters into the new birth. in alchemical work. And indeed. Literature is playing the game with no stakes. magic is real. And in fact Ralph Waldo Emerson. For when a reader engages in a literary work. rather than diminishing the visionary encounter to mere fantasy. we might reverse the terms. one turns away from the painting. took great pains to point out that the visionary realm he had experienced was not imaginary but real. 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. And we see it in the assertion of the alchemists that alchemical work can bring one to the pinnacle of human possibility. Ordinary. of course. Kabbalistic cosmology is real. 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. where the cosmos can be ‘read’ in new ways. 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. emphasized exactly this point about ideas—that they are not our individual property. and art can be understood in light of the Western esoteric traditions and their continuing themes of spiritual reading. The visionary encounter is similar in that here too. or make of one a laughingstock and utter failure. playing for keeps. existing in a supraphysical dimension. between studying a work of literature or of art on the one hand and these forms of esotericism on the other is that the effects of reading a work of literature are limited: one is imaginatively engaged. . and one has entered a new world. or to have it stricken. essays. where to have one’s name in the Book of Life. but emerge in our consciousness if we are open to them. the history of Western esotericism is filled with such insistence on the actual nature of what is being discussed—alchemy is real. the consciousness is not caught up in its humdrum of daily affairs. But in fact Bromley’s friend John Pordage. The difference. This schema is based on the idea of self-transcendence. Here we are beginning to develop a schema to see how poetry. but in a ‘space’ within itself leaves room for self and other to meet on the stage of the imagination. but eventually puts the book down.
the sympathetic reader and the author may meet. what is the motivation of the author? It was J. R. where communion and union are an underlying expectation of both author and reader. But fundamental questions remain. one can still find a correspondence between reading and writing. the literary work. Milosz’s insistence that he wrote for a single reader not yet born is perhaps an extreme example. Tolkien who suggested that a poet or author is a kind of “co-creator” reflecting. If the movement of a given reader ideally is toward self-transcendence. their works like second nature. but there is much more to be done. the gnostic. Thomas Bromley. Jacob Böhme. and the Continuity of Occult Traditions in English Literature (1975) and Désirée Hirst’s Hidden Riches (1964) are important initial forays into this field. Such a trajectory is intensified in the case of esotericism. but what came into existence through him. If a primary aim of the alchemist. in the process of creating a fictional world. R. Meister Eckhart. and other forms of literature are to be found in Western esotericism and its pervasive theme of reading and writing the world. Jane Leade. Works such as Marsha Keith Schuchard’s landmark dissertation Freemasonry. gnostics. One reads and rereads one’s predecessors’ works until the authors become like old friends. that through this work one attains a kind of immortality. largely hidden debt to the Western esoteric traditions and to their common theme of the mysticism of the word. lives on. Nicholas . The deeper we investigate into the origins of modern literature. Thus the essential trajectory of both author and reader or artist and audience is toward communion and union. But regardless of whether one subscribes to a theistic perspective or not. for if the reader is ideally moving toward a momentary union of subject and object. John Pordage. fiction. Abraham Abulafia. Yet at the same time. so too is the author. and may even connect profoundly with each other. Johannes Tauler. Secret Societies. the divine creativity that brought the cosmos into being.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 153 Yet it may be that the two versions of the game remain essentially similar. the Kabbalist. Certainly modern Western literature owes a great. And one joins the literary community of the ages the way one joins the community of alchemists. And it may very well be that the origins of modern poetry. For literary immortality is in some respects a ‘second birth’—the author may have long ago died. the alchemist. Through the medium of the written word or the painting. the Kabbalist. and the gnostic themselves live on for us their readers precisely the same way as does Shakespeare or Dante or Emerson—through written works. perhaps the literary impulse may be seen as a secular reflection of this goal. And here too is a profound parallel with Western esotericism. the more we uncover links between major literary figures and various currents of Western esotericism. Ramon Lull. or Kabbalists—by self-election. but reveals an underlying motivation of literary creation—that through this work one will connect profoundly with the consciousness of another. is to attain paradisal immortality.
being Russian and deeply influenced by Eastern Orthodoxy rather than Western European Christianity. to in Emerson’s words. These authors are important for us because their religio-philosophical perspectives.123 But Berdyaev was also a philosopher. his work formed a kind of bridge between Eastern and Western Christianities and worldviews. but in every case. and how they correspond to what we have learned about Western esotericism. where everything in the cosmos is seen as bearing its divine signature.124 The Ungrund.” It may well be. 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. 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). that Western esoteric and Western literary and artistic traditions are far more mutually illuminating than we could have guessed. for whom literature and art are the expression and vehicle of spiritual illumination and of the transfiguration of the world.154 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Flamel—the list can be extended indefinitely. help explain what I am arguing about the various currents of Western esotericism. therefore. 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. which belongs to history and to the constraints of time and space. And perhaps all forms of Western literature. to be guided by the author. and explicitly seeking to guide the reader toward new and intensified kinds of consciousness. in the . a means for nothing less than the restoration of paradise. They exist on a continuum that includes reading or viewing art for diversion or pleasure. and indeed even God himself. to vicariously participate in the author’s understanding. literature. the author is reaching out. Berdyaev tells us. In being. there is no true freedom—true freedom is to be found only in the Ungrund. emerge from a pervasive human need to discern or restore the hidden unity of all things by reading and writing the world anew. “add it to his own arsenal of power. moreover. Here we have neither space nor need to survey Berdyaev’s life and work. but instead will look at his philosophical contributions. One should not be too surprised at the introduction of Berdyaev’s work here. taken together. Perhaps the symbolism of a novel is an attenuated form of what we find made even more explicit in these esoteric traditions. and place them in a world religious and philosophical context. precedes all being. and consciousness. esoteric or not. And the reader from his side is seeking to comprehend. and publicly identified himself as a Christian theosopher in the line of Dionysius the Areopagite and Jacob Böhme. Berdyaev was himself definitely part of Western esotericism. and intimately familiar with the history of modern philosophy. for as I have discussed elsewhere. but that also includes those who insist on far higher stakes and greater rewards.
“it is an end of this world. By drawing on the Buddhist tradition. but deeply learned in Western and especially German philosophical tradition up to Heidegger.” Here Berdyaev puts his finger on a fundamental link between esotericism and the creator. But Berdyaev does not follow his own premises to their logical conclusions. issues from existential eternity. as well as the close ties between those traditions and the arts. and its expression in human creativity. and especially on the . It is knowledge. at the point where ontic dissolves into meontic. Nishitani Keiji. of direct contact with the springs of inspiration and human awakening. begins with dissatisfaction with ordinary life. And at this point we turn to our second religious philosopher. to which our categories of thought are not applicable. or to put it another way.” he writes. then how could the indefinite extension of personality. As Berdyaev points out. This true freedom Berdyaev calls meontic. particularly the arts of literature.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 155 divine Nothingness prior to existence itself. or the poet: all are concerned with beginning or entering a new world. For if meontic freedom has its origin in the divine Nichts of absolute transcendence. the artist. fictional. Nishitani is certainly familiar with but not limited to the problems inherent in Christian theological paradigms. at the center of which is precisely this problem of whether self-other ultimately dissolves into unity.”125 This assertion of a different order of knowledge certainly describes what we see in the Western esoteric traditions. In both cases—in esotericism and in poetic. of creativity. and what he writes about creativity is revealing when considered in light of the continuous renewal and creative transformations of the Western esoteric traditions. the poet (and the esotericist) all often find themselves marginalized or shunned by their contemporary society because they represent the emergence of newness. or whether this division persists into eternity so that the soul is always in some sense separate from God. or essayistic creation—one is on the frontier. Berdyaev writes that “the creative imagination which demands what is new. “Creative activity. 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. where one moves from the realm of social necessity or determinism or law into the realm of mystery and freedom. Berdyaev is a philosopher of creativity. the artist. Meontic freedom has its origin in sheer transcendence. which extends the division between subject and object beyond death. in contradistinction to the deterministic and merely ontic realm where there can be no real freedom. and runs counter to his own recognition of the central importance of Jacob Böhme’s Ungrund in Western philosophical-religious history. and therefore of division. To enter into union with mystery is not only the frontier of knowledge. Coming from a Buddhist perspective. He insists on the importance of an eternal personality. a different sort of knowledge.” and “is the beginning of a different world.
“unless the thoughts and deeds of man one and all be located on such a field.”126 This self-centeredness is the ordinary human condition. begins where we all are: with our ordinary. Nishitani.”130 When we turn to the literature of the Western esoteric traditions with Nishitani’s Zen Buddhist-influenced perspective in mind. self-centered consciousness. . This is the field of shunyata.”129 Only in the field of shunyata is such mutually affirming freedom possible. the choices of the will. . it is instead absolute autonomy that is at the same time absolute service to all things. emerges authentic freedom. One goes through language—the means of human differentiation between self and other—toward the union of self and other.156 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Buddhist understanding of shunyata. that is. or perhaps better still. of course. or “true emptiness. is beyond definition. in which there is nothing to grasp or rely upon.” an “absolute openness. but of intimately uniting us with existence at its most essential. . .” Authentic freedom is. While this is our own act. it is not something we are free to do as we please . It is the field on which the awareness of our true selfnature—or. This intensifies our narcissism. self-nature as true self-awareness—and the selfness of each and every thing in the form of its suchness come about simultaneously. the sorts of problems that beset humanity have no chance of ever really being solved. and our personality grasps itself from within the personality itself . egoistic mode of being. for faced with nihility. we grasp ourselves and thereby get caught by our own reason or personality. one retreats into self even further. or rather in unison. in other words. and us from them. with an underlying breach among all things that fundamentally seems to separate them from one another. Nishitani is able to point toward the resolution or transcendence of the fundamental dilemmas that face us today. As we have seen throughout this study. As rational or personal beings. in which the self-other dichotomy is resolved. we can see how these apparently disparate views in fact correspond. there is in Western esotericism in all its myriad forms a pervading theme of alphanumeric gnosis. What . and indeed. .”127 He defines shunyata as “nothing less than what reaches awareness in all of us as our own absolute self-nature . “an equality in love. In Nishitani’s work. Out of this transcendence alone. self-identically. and has the effect not of separating. Yet there is another field that is not nihility. The force of destiny is at work here. it is the absolute transcendence of self-object divisions belonging to ordinary. This mode of being is fundamentally self-centered: “our reason grasps itself from the posture of reason. but in modern life we are faced also with nihility. so that “self and other stand simultaneously in the position of absolute master and absolute servant with regard to one another. . or the emptiness of all things. Authentic freedom is beyond merely subjective freedom. we see the emergence of a genuine world-philosophical standpoint that allows us to understand more deeply the significance of Western esoteric traditions.”128 True emptiness. Nishitani affirms. what is the same thing.
Hidden within literature truly worth reading and within all great art is a nostalgia for paradise. We read and are read.” And from such knowledge we may pass to what entirely transcends consciousness. But in any case. that mysterious point out of which the geometry of language emerges. It can lead us. with nature.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.’ but embodies different orders of knowledge at once. where to be truly master means to serve in loving compassion. Here the word language takes on more than the usual valence. 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. And the means of conjoining self and other turns out to be precisely what at first seems the principle of separation: language itself. there can be no doubt that the Western esoteric traditions. Paradoxically. language is indeed divine. take their place among the world’s philosophic and religious traditions as uniquely literary paths toward paradise. from a ‘thrown’ or ‘fallen’ condition of divided. for here literature is not merely a collection of ‘signs’ or ‘signifiers. a calling toward what we are meant to be. joined together with one another. or even linguistic construction. political. Thus we can see that insofar as it emerges from and draws us toward its own and our own transcendence. including paintings. and with the divine in the field of authentic freedom. Such a view of the word is far indeed from seeing literature as merely a social. so Western esotericism suggests. This meeting on the field of the imagination I have called “hieroeidetic knowledge. as the sense of self and other diminishes. . The Western esoteric traditions. alienated consciousness toward a mutuality of awareness that takes place on the infinitely plastic field of the imagination. write and are written. have at their center this mystery of the word. in the meeting and reading and writing of all the infinite forms that consciousness can take. anything that can be read or written. for all their diversity. encompassing all manner of hieroglyphs.
Access to Western Esotericism (Albany: State University of New York Press. including Wouter Hanegraaff. For an overview of Western esotericism.” Esoterica V (2003): 175–210.org. 4. 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. See also the journal Esoterica [www. whose encyclopedic book New Age Religion and Western Culture: Esotericism in the Mirror of Secular Thought (Leiden: Brill. 5.aseweb. and readers would do well to become familiar with it. a Dutch scholar. See the definition of the Association for the Study of Esotericism [ASE] and more information on this growing field at www.msu.” Esoterica IV (2002): 1–15 and “Methods in the Study of Esotericism Part II.edu ] for articles. much of it in French. the official Web site of the ASE. 3. 1996) reveals the underlying connections between new religious movements today and their Western esoteric antecedents. 1992).. ed.msu. in this field.esoteric.Notes INTRODUCTION 1. See Arthur Versluis. Faivre. See Hanegraaff. There are a number of other scholars now working in this field as well.esoteric. who held a chair at the Sorbonne in Western esoteric currents of thought. 2. See www. 1994). which belongs more to the Renaissance and after. “Methods in the Study of Esotericism.edu. 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. Mysticism and Language (New York: Oxford University Press. mostly by North American scholars. published a large body of work outlining and detailing numerous aspects of esotericism. I also retain the distinction maintained by Antoine Faivre between Hermetism (the current associated with Hermes belonging to late antiquity) and Hermeticism. see Antoine Faivre. See Steven Katz. 159 . ibid.
p. 1996) of Piers Ploughman. See ibid. 1991). 145. p. John Pordage. Mircea Eliade. 1975). see also Dionysius the Areopagite on like and unlike images. 223. Dreams. Translation is mine. See my discussion in Gnosis and Literature (St. 4. 1978). 18 ff. 1992).. See Arthur Versluis. 1999). Lyrics of the Troubadours and Trouvères (New York: Anchor. “Christian Theosophy and Ancient Gnosticism. 5. See Versluis. Nag Hammadi Library. pp. See the fifteenth chapter of Parzival. See Faivre. 14–21. 180. p. Victor Sogen Hori. The Book of the Lover and the Beloved. Paul. p. See. pp. 2000). and Mysteries (New York: Harper. E. 51–89. pp. On the Kabbalah and Its Symbolism (New York: Schocken. p.” Studies in Spirituality 7(1997): 228–241. p. 1973). 2. 151. ed. 13. 14. pp. Wisdom’s Book: The Sophia Anthology (St. The Bestiary of Christ (New York: Parabola. Jean La Fontaine. Paul: Grail. cit. 5. 1863). 140. whether they know it or not. 1965). p. See Charbonneau. 1974). pp. see also Faivre L’Ésotérisme (Presses Universitaries de France. 248. Gnosis and Literature (St.160 NOTES TO CHAPTER ONE 6. 219–233. p.. 12. 111. but they like everyone have access to this inward realm all the same. Peers. 1986). 97. 2000). CHAPTER TWO 1. Paul: Paragon House. Sophia. 76–106. See Versluis. See Gershom Scholem. Ramon Lull. pp. Theosophic Correspondence (Exeter: Roberts.. “Koan and Kensho in the Rinzai Zen Curriculum” in Stephen Heine and Dale Wright. 7. . op. Paul: Grail. The Koan: Texts and Context in Zen Buddhism (New York: Oxford University Press. pp. 307. 3. 9. see also Wisdom’s Children: A Christian Esoteric Tradition (Albany: State University of New York Press. 8. Myths. eds. 37 ff. p. Pordage writes that the invisible paradisal earth of Sophia is hidden from ratiocination and even scoffed at by those limited to reasoning alone.. 2000).. 11. Wisdom’s Book: The Sophia Anthology (St. 3. CHAPTER ONE 1. pp. 1996). Louis-Claude de Saint-Martin. in Arthur Versluis. 6. (London: Sheldon. Initiation (Manchester: Manchester University Press. for an explicit example of this inward sojourn and perception. Kabbalah (Jerusalem: Keter. Ibid. 83 ff. 2.. trs. 4. All of this is to be found in the ninth chapter of Parzival. pp. Nag Hammadi Library. see also Scholem. 309. Paragon House. See Frederick Goldin. 10. 10–15.
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 11. I. 9. Origins of the Kabbalah (Princeton: Princeton University Press. p. trs. p. Ibid. Ibid. p. 15.. 1965). 19.. A translation of Ars Brevis is to be found in Ramon Lull. 1953) I. . p. op. The Early Kabbalah (Paulist Press. Scholem.. 27.. Les Kabbalistes chrétiens de la Renaissance (Paris: Dunod. Cassirer.C.. 1988). p.. 57. 17. 1984). ed. 1992). II. 52. p. Cassirer. 26. I. 49–50.. 197. trs. 33. 29. A. See “Oration on the Dignity of Man” in E. p. Ibid. 51.80 ff. M. ed. C. vom Stein der Weisen (Berlin: Christian Ulrich Ringmacher. 18. 21. See Moshe Idel. 1969). as well as Antoine Faivre and F. 197. for instance. Ibid. 23. 101–102.. p... et al. 1985). 8. 25. 20. Zohar IV . Origins.312. pp. 24. IV . See Mark Verman. I. 57.. Ibid. See Verman. 34. 61.205b–206a.325. 16. p. (London: Soncino. 31. 1979). Bonner. See.B. p.205b.. 12. 298 ff. 278. The Books of Contemplation (Albany: State University of New York Press. Twersky. 10. Ibid. 37.. eds. 32. 38. see also Scholem. Origins. 28. Ibid. 1964). 1987). (Princeton: Princeton University Press. The Renaissance Philosophy of Man (Chicago: University of Chicago Press.. I.. I. ed. II. 1779). See Pico della Mirandola.351. The Hermetic Museum (London: Watkins. Opera omnia.320–323. Tristan. see also Moshe Idel.331. 66. ed. See J.. and Françoise Secret.75. ed. 29. op. 1986). Gershom Scholem. 35. 1961). Ibid. See A. p. 394. Ibid.NOTES TO CHAPTER TWO 161 6. p. Rabbi Moses Nahmanides: Explorations. Ibid. 250. p.314. (Hildesheim: Olms.. 36. Simon.76. See Scholem. Ibid. cit. The Christian Interpretation of the Cabala in the Renaissance (Port Washington: Kennikat. 246. 1983).. II. Origins. Joseph Blau. Ibid.71. cit. See Verman. I. 22. 30. See Arthur Edward Waite. I. II. in The Zohar. p. p. Ibid. Ibid. 270.. Kabbalah: New Perspectives (New Haven: Yale University Press. Kabbalistes chrétiens (Paris: Albin Michel.. Ibid.77. cit. Doctor Illuminatus. p. Dan. 7.. Vasoli. 59.. pp. 14. 13. p. op. 280.
46. . 238. 251.102–104. From von Welling. Resicrucian Enlightenment. Fama. . (Los Angeles: Philosophical Research. p. p. See Versluis.162 NOTES TO CHAPTER TWO 39. see Donald Dickson. 40. . Confessio. 51. 1988). Secret Societies. table of contents. William Huffman. 252. 49. 48. Ashmole. The first English translation was published by Thomas Vaughan in 1652. 246. 260. Ashmole. University of Texas at Austin. 22.O. p. Theatre of the World. p. Confessio.D. Elias Ashmole (Oxford: Clarendon. Ibid. 59. 60.. I. See Versluis. p. p. Fama. 45. 57. 242. 49. Ibid. forthcoming. 1614) and Secretioris Philosophiae Considertio brevis .: A Rare and Curious Manuscript of Rosicrucian Interest. p.. 54. Ibid. II. See Frances Yates. Fama. a musician.. including two physicists. Ibid. 1997). 241. p. 56. and the Continuity of the Occult in English Literature (Ph. ms. Freemasonry. 77. (Cassel: Wessel. p.O.. The Tessera of Antilia: Utopian Brotherhoods and Secret Societies in the Early Seventeenth Century (Leiden: Brill. 1615). p.A. 1999). The Alchemy of Art. 43.. (Cassel: Wessel. 42. C. p. Ibid.. diss. ed. Confessio. Opus Mago-Cabbalisticum et Theosophicum (Frankfurt: Fleischerischum.. ed. Ibid. 47. especially on Gichtel’s and other theosophers’ tendency to carefully date their revelations. and even chart them astrologically.A. Fama. 67. The texts of the Fama and Confessio in English are most easily found as appendices to Yates. 62. Ibid. 55. in a group called the Round Table. p. The Rosicrucian Enlightenment (London: Routledge.. der gantzen weiten welt .. This commentary was shared with people from diverse walks. p. 37. op. Hall. 53. cit. Ibid. and others. . Ibid. Josten. 1971).M. Yates. 41. p.. 1998). 1972). 129. for text. 221. 1784). p. 61. for background. for the reader’s convenience.. a theologian. See. 58.. 63. I. 1975). H.. a cosmologist. 50. See Versluis. Ibid. 44. 257. p. and also written an extensive commentary on it. p.681. Wisdom’s Children: A Christian Esoteric Tradition (State University of New York Press. See Josten. D. The original (short) titles of Fama and Confessio were Allgemeine und General Reformation. I have translated this work of Pordage. . Robert Fludd and the End of the Renaissance (London: Routledge. p.. Ibid. and The Rosicrucian Enlightenment. Confessio. Ibid. 1966). 52. See also Marsha Schuchard. Ibid.P. Frances Yates... 220. 253. See Codex Rosae Crucis D. 255.77. 371. For an excellent survey of the scholarship since Yates.M. The following page references are to Yates. M. “Christian Theosophy and Ancient Gnosticism” in Studies in Spirituality (Fall. See. p..
1992). 66–67. A. Ibid. See Edmond Mazet.. 172–173. CHAPTER THREE 1. 240.” 99–134. See Marsha Keith Schuchard. 69. “Freemasonry and Esotericism. 39. Sloane. Ibid. 1997). 1926). pp. op. Max Ernst and Alchemy (Austin: University of Texas Press.. especially in Kristi Groberg’s “‘The Shade of Lucifer’s Dark Wing’: Satanism in Silver Age Russia.. Faivre. 71. and Margaret Bailey.. pp. 1680–1800 (Boston: Little. 414. p. 68. 253. 257–272. 5. 10.. p. .” in Modern Esoteric Spirituality. 1734). 70. 1948). Charge I. Paul: Grail. and Albert Cherél. 3. 1985). 256. E. O. Milton and Jacob Boehme (New York: Oxford: 1914). M. 170–171. . S. Chavalier Ramsey (London: Nelson. 110. On Emerson and Hermeticism. p. 65. Ibid. and Social Change (London: Macmillan. citing B. Ibid. (London [Philadelphia]: B. The Noble Traveller (West Stockbridge: Lindisfarne. cit. 247–249. 170–171. regulations . ed. 6. Ibid. fondateurs (Paris: l’Herne. p. 268. pp. pp. Hugh Trevor-Roper. 9. The Constitutions of the Free-masons: Containing the history. The Hermetic Book of Nature (St.. . See George David Henderson. Ibid. changes. 7. See “Le manuscrit graham” in La franc-maçonnerie: documents. 2002). and without doubt there are bizarre and even deliberately inverted elements in much of surrealism. See also Schuchard. 1952). 2001). D. Revolution and Freemasonry. p. Ibid. Religion. Warlick. see also Max Ernst. Brown. 66.. 67. M. 8. 1992). 654. 1935). believed that surrealism drew on esoteric currents in a confused way. 417. pp. Mazet. Ibid. ed. 1997). It may well be that a closer investigation of symbolist and surrealist poetry and art would further reveal its affinities to Satanism. 4. p. See M. 11. pp.NOTES TO CHAPTER THREE 163 64. Franklin. p. (New York: Crossroad. see Versluis. H. Beyond Painting and Other Writings by the Artist and His Friends (New York: Wittenborn. as is in fact suggested in Bernice Rosenthal. See James Anderson. See also Bernard Fay. the Reformation. . 409. V de L. Restoring the Temple of Vision: Cabalistc Freemasonry and Stuart Culture (Leiden: Brill. The Occult in Soviet and Russian Culture (Ithaca: Cornell University Press. 162–168. Milosz. pp. 2. p. Un aventurier religieux au XVIIe siècle (Paris: Perrin. p. 191.. Certainly surrealism and related movements such as symbolism provide much more complicated examples than we can deal with here. 1967). See Dickson. Freemasonry. p.
1994). p. Pollen and Fragments: Selected Poetry and Prose of Novalis (Grand Rapids: Phanes. Ibid. Ibid. 296. 38. p. I. 174–175. Susan Friedman. 25. pp. p. 210–211. 16. 2001). Theosophia: Hidden Dimensions of Christianity (Hudson: Lindisfarne. 33. Ibid. 23. pp.. p. 299–300. 180–181. 48–52. For a discussion of Postel in relation to Christian theosophy.. H.. 158). 299. op. 157–206. 300. ed. p. . 182–183. p. D.. 277. p. Ibid. 24. Friedman writes that “From her [H. pp. 34. for a translation of Hymns to the Night. trs.. op. 465. 15. 455. pp. pp.” synonymous with “hermetic tradition.. Notes on Thought and Vision (San Francisco: New Directions.. Ibid. 30. the harsh world of necessity that Freud described is itself the “rune” that must be deciphered. D. 1982). .’s] perspective.. Ibid.. 19. pp. 226–227. 464. 206–207. in her search to translate the inner meaning of material reality” (p. Psyche Reborn (Bloomington: Indiana University Press..1 ff. 20. Ibid.” when in fact there are numerous different esoteric currents of a wide variety. p. of course. Milosz... pp. Ibid.164 NOTES TO CHAPTER THREE 12. 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. 40. The Esoteric Origins of the American Renaissance (New York: Oxford University Press. Hermetica (Boston: Shambhala. pp. 41. For a more extensive study. 1985). Ibid. pp. see Versluis. op. hermetic tradition offered a pattern of meaning in coded form to the initiate . Milosz. See W. Ibid. 13. 8–9... 248. Ibid. See Versluis. see Steven Bullock.. cit. The question. 36. pp. Milosz. . 31. 303. ranging from entirely cosmological ones such as astrology or the Tarot to more metaphysical or gnostic ones. pp. 32. Ibid. 27. 29. 18. Ibid. Ibid. 39... Ibid. is into what did she translate this inner meaning. 22. 35. 204–205. 14. pp. cit. For the poet of the modernist era. 1996).. 469. See Versluis. 178–179. 28. 26. cit. p. The ‘true-rune and right spell’ of esoteric tradition contained the code for H. I. pp.. 224–225. Ibid.. p.. 1981). 297–298.. 21.115. Lib. Ibid. Milosz. Revolutionary Brotherhood: Freemasonry and the Transformation of the American Social Order (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press. D. Ibid. Ibid. introduction by Albert Gelpi. pp. 37. 1989). Scott. 17.
Ibid. pp. Ibid. Warlick..” on which see TG. Ibid. 57.. H.. See Jane Augustine. “The Magic of Words: Symbolism. There are. 165. 63. Ibid. 58. pp. and I certainly recommend her article. 1989).. 20... The Occult in Russian and Soviet Culture (Ithaca: Cornell University Press. 48. 46. p. 21. Ibid. 45. p. 62. 9. for documentation. Futurism. The Gift. H.. 50. 21. 50.” 30–31... 32. 29. Ibid. 53. See H. 284–285. 18. rpt. Kraus. Irina Gutkin. Gutkin’s article strongly supports the fundamental thesis we are here exploring. p. See H. Ibid... 70. Ibid.. “Notes. Ibid.NOTES TO CHAPTER THREE 165 42. These passages were transcribed by H. pp. ed. 222. Ibid. Ibid.. Ibid. p.. 71. 61. Ibid. D. p.” 1. 156–159. 44. 1997). 157. 19. p. Kathleen Raine.. 23. 1988). Ibid.. D.. pp. “Walls.. 60. in her “Zinzendorf Notes.. “Tribute to the Angels. p.. Ibid. E. 56. p. 223. 47.. 74.. 51. chief among them Gustav Meyrink. 35. 169. 66. other authors we could consider here. 154–155. 17–19. 168. p. 72. 65. Ibid. 49. 13. 75. 55. H. Selected Poems (Hudson: Lindisfarne.” pp. see also. p. ed. D. H. 67. 68. 66. Ibid. 225–246. of course. D. D. 24. 1. Social Realism” in B. 1967). The Gift. “The Walls Do Not Fall. 67. 102. D.. and in particular his novel Angel at the Western Window [Der Engel . Ibid. The Gift (Gainesville: University Press Florida... Vale Ave in New Directions in Prose and Poetry (New York: 1950. as well as this entire collection of articles. Georg Heinrich Loskiel.” 17. Max Ernst and Alchemy: A Magician in Search of a Myth (Austin: University of Texas Press. See. 33. 69. Ibid. Rosenthal. 43. 1998). p. Ibid.. 20. Ibid. A Candid Narrative (London: 1753). 70. hereafter cited as TG. D. 73.. 2001).. Ibid. 52. 59. 271–272. Rimius. Geschichte der Mission der Evangelischen Brüder unter den Indianern in Nordamerika (rpt: Hildesheim: Olms. 64.. 259. See M.. p. 54. 39. on alchemy and ‘the occult’ in earlytwentieth-century Russia. 50–51.
40. Gareth Knight. 1994). Dion Fortune. pp.. 92. and his intensifying “strange awareness” as a function of his magical apprenticeship with Vivien Le Fay Morgan. Letters from England (London: Longman. See for instance. 3 vols. noted hereafter as Vision. Ibid.d. 323. in The Sea Priestess (York Beach: Weiser ed. 10. p. 83. 77. Subsequent references are to Cecil Collins. Collins.25. 43.. pp.. The Winged Bull (York Beach: Weiser ed. 82–83. 91.. Dion Fortune. 95. p. 1994) p. 87. Lewis. Faivre. 85. Ibid. 197. The Magical World of the Inklings. S. Ibid. That Hideous Strength (Macmillan: 1965 ed. without doubt had direct experience in magical initiation that was reflected in his fiction. pp. pp. 40. 95. 124–125.166 NOTES TO CHAPTER THREE vom westlichen Fenster] (1927). I. 76. Ibid. Vision. p. 79. pp. 93. Meditations. 86. 88. 70–71. Gareth Knight. p. The Vision of the Fool and Other Writings (Ipswich: Golgonooza. Ibid. B. The Magical World of the Inklings (Shaftesbury: Element. 87.. Faivre. Access to Western Esotericism (State University of New York Press. 320. Lewis. retained his magical regalia in his office. Collins. p. 99. including Fortune’s. and Meditations. 291. 90. 89. 100. Taverner (Columbus: Ariel. p. p. Yeats. Williams was a member of Arthur Edward Waite’s magical fraternity. Moon Magic (York Beach: Weiser..).. 102. 1988) p. (London: Quaritch. and their circles in mid-twentieth-century England. 94. 322. Fortune. 1994). Vision.. 88. Ibid. 1893).. Ibid. 115. The Secrets of Dr. 78. cit.. See on this point. See Antoine Faivre. 127. 154. ed. p. Dion Fortune. Ibid. 81. 102. p. p. Ibid. and while his experience in magical ritual has been downplayed by some literary critics. Ibid. 101. 239. 97. C. p.). 103. op.. p. E. 101. Poems. cit. p. 84. 382. 1814). Ibid. n. 1993). The Works of William Blake.. op. Ellis and W. Essays Presented to Charles Williams (Oxford University Press: 1947). 80... p. But Meyrink’s works are complex enough to deserve a study in themselves.. 1990). Southey. 82. 96. 91. so I have decided not to include them here. 20–21. cit. p. p. p. maintaining our focus on the Inklings. 104–104. 98. 21. Ibid. for a discussion of contemporary esoteric magical groups. hereafter noted as Meditations. 112. . Ibid. S.. Maxwell’s account of his growing understanding of the elemental forces like wind and fire. p. p.. op. Pages from a Sketchbook (Ipswich: Golgonooza. See Collins.. 1997). C.
62. See also The Destiny of Man. 123. 105. Bromley’s is the image on the cover of my book Theosophia (1994).. p. 122. 112. See my overview of Christian theosophy in Magic and Mysticism.. E. II. Nishitani Keiji.D. Christosophia. p. pp. 125. Ibid. pp. 108 ff. p. The Occult in Russian and Soviet Culture (Ithaca: Cornell University Press. 225. Theosophia: Hidden Dimensions of Christianity (Hudson: Lindisfarne. 199. p.. See Charles C. Religion and Nothingness (Berkeley: University of California Press. .31. 1978). from “The Magic of Words: Symbolism. Knapp. 124. “Warnung an den Leser. Ibid.. 40 and pp.1 ff. p... Ibid. Ibid. Versluis. Ibid. Ibid.. 117. A. trs. p.. 93. 118. 1958).. 275 ff. 106. Ibid. 115. 111. 120. Nicolas Berdyaev: Theologian of Prophetic Gnosticism (Th. p. 71 ff. Socialist Realism. 106. 121. Ibid. 40. 119. 170.. Futurism.. p. Ibid. Ibid. Ibid.. 74. p. 110.. p. 94.. 63.. Ibid. 127. 114. 1997) p. Irina Gutkin. Ibid. IV .. 103. forthcoming.NOTES TO CHAPTER THREE 167 104. p. 285. pp. See Versluis. “Ancient Gnosticism and Christian Theosophy” in Studies in Spirituality (Fall 1997). 105. p. Ibid. 113. p.” and I. “Vorrede. 194 ff. 126. 1994). Toronto: 1948). 1980). See. 128. 95. Diss. See Berdyaev’s introduction to Jacob Böhme’s Six Theosophic Points (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan. 116.. Peter Erb.. 1957). Rosenthal. 62–63. pp. 78. 130. p.” 108. 107. 25 ff. p. for example. 129. I added the colors. pp. Christosophia IV . Song and Its Fountains (Burdett: Larson. 39. ed. Ibid.29–30. Nicholas Berdyaev..31. Freedom and the Spirit.” in B.. I. 109. 1991). The Way to Christ (New York: Paulist Press. Ibid. The Beginning and the End (New York: Harper. p.1.
Heinrich Cornelius. Nicholas. 20. 78. 24. 129. Thomas. 31 Basilius Valentinus. William. 31 Cloud of Unknowing. 79 Backhouse. 61–62. 53 A. 14. 148 Barrett. 81. Tibetan. 81–82 Descartes. 105 Christianity [origins of]. 2. Abbot. John. 96 Berdyaev. 55–67. 150 Browne. 129–135 Comenius. 25 Ashmole. 31. Emily. 56 Art. Al-Rhazi [Rhazes]. 5. 152 Brahe. 17 Blake. Elias. 46 Christ. Arthur. 80. 140. Geoffrey. 45 Chaucer. 4. 78. 2 Aurea Catena. 64.E. 10. 48 Corpus Hermeticum. Francis.. 18 Arnold of Villanova. 82–83 Confessio Fraternitatis. John. 90. 68–71. 30. 11 Dury. 80 Böhme. Sir Thomas. 56 Amor Proximi. 81–82 Dee. 104 Dionysius the Areopagite. Cecil. 138 Basilides. 82 Bacon. 89. 59 Dante. 57 Beatrice. 75 Chivalry. 42–43 Chemical Wedding of Christian Rosencreutz. 154–155 Bernart de Ventadorn. 66 Corbin. 25 Apuleius. Abraham. 148–150 Alchemy. 56 Baader. 77 Bromley. initiatory nature of. 1 Collins. 81 Bruno. 97. 72 Consciousness. 141–142. ix. 57. 35–43. 47. 18. 82–83 169 . 154 Dogen. 99 Dickinson. 28–29. Moses. 24. Giordano. 63. 75.INDEX Abulafia. 76 Buddhism. Jacob. 102. 42. 95. 80–82 Astrology. 25 Apocalypse of Ezra. John. 56 Bahir. 51. 93. 137 Boethius. 154 Book of Life. 147 Buddhism. 28. René. 93. 53. 1. 141 Agrippa. 59. 27–28. 142. 28. 40–41. 94. 28. 83 Apocalypse of Baruch. 5. 53. 130–133 Ascension of Isaiah. 63 Anderson. William. 96 Dee. 17–19 Clement of Alexandria. Tycho. 129. Henry. Franz von. Roger. 94. 143–144. 22 Cordovero. 40 Bible. 97 Cremer. 5. 139. James. 68. 52.
89. 102 Lee. 153 Homer. Abraham von. Désirée. 109. 25 John. 42. 100. 57 Eleazar of Worms.D. 18–21. 101 Freemasonry. Margaret. 29 Hiram.. 19 Kabbalah [or Cabala]. Edward. Susan. Steven. 127–128 Fama Fraternitatis. 56. Joseph de. Gareth. 52–54 Kabbalah. Jewish. 2. 100 Hirst. Robert. 53. 9. 5. 82–83 Heidegger. 63. Jane. Johannes. Rulman. Albert. 129 Kelley.170 INDEX Eckhart. 21. 103 Fuller. 82 Knight. 79–86. 140 Eirenaeus Philalethes. Victor Sogen. 112 Lull. 56 Fludd. Irina. 19. 85 Merkabah mysticism. 104. Edmond. 155 Hermes [Trismegistus]. Benjamin. 107. 1 Keeble. 46. 56 Maier. 9 Eliot. Brian. 106 Eschenbach. 7–8 Esotericism. 79 Hieroedetic knowledge. 103. 4. John Scotus. 22–24 Initiation. 22. 56 Jerusalem. Jewish. 51 Eleusinian Mysteries. 25 Hinduism. 109 Hermeticism. 151 Merswin. Wolfram von. 139 H. 153–154 Eriugena. 21–22 Hermetica. 88-89. 44. 84. 31 Melville. C. 72–73 Faust.. 77 Flamel. 90. 28. 112 Imagination. 8–9 Isaac the Blind. 103–119 Hardenberg. 2. Samuel. Mircea. 80–81 Fortune.. 112 Friedman. 77 Gelpi. Andreas. 7–8. Max. 83. 8. 104 Gichtel. Jean. 101–102 Frey. Johann Georg. Book of. ix. 27–28 Gnosticism. Herman. 8–9 Larronde. 50. 111 Geheime Figuren. 65. 2. 100 Marcus. 68. Francis. Meister. 140 La Fontaine. Michael. 57–59. 10–12. 55 Koran.S. 89. 72 Jabir ibn Hayyan [Geber]. 43–45. 76 Maistre. 97. 111 Emerson. T. 5 Hori. 111 Esotericism [defined]. 127 Loskiel. 123. 69 Franklin. 140 Hippolytus. 123–126. 89–103 Hermetism. 19–21. 19 Faivre. 105 Eliade. John. 84 Lewis. 37 Esoteric Origins of the American Renaissance. Georg Heinrich. Dion. 127 Frankenberg. 75. 126. 95 Hartlib. 105. Christian. 46–52. 137 Goethe. 138 Katz. 120. ix. 1. 51 Islam. 36–39 Gutkin. 89. 19. 54. 35. 102 Ernst. 12–15. Nicholas. 102 Leade. 21 Heydon. 40 . Ralph Waldo. 11 Hutton. Martin. 120–122. 30. Carlos. Johann Wolfgang. Ramon. 104.S. 78 Gnosis. Antoine. 99 Grail cycle. Joseph Edward. 76. 2. 104. 50. 29 Mazet. Friedrich von [Novalis]. 122 Koan. 26–31.
47. 40 Raine. 2 Postel. 90 Porete. 32.R. 51. Bernadette. 92. 57. 120. 90 Milosz. 5. 40 Milosz. 99. 114–115 Thenaud. 64. 25 Native Americans (and Moravians). 48 Mysticism. Paulus. 64 Roberts. 53 Theseus. 2. Kathleen. ix. 140 Templars. 19. Henry. 73. Czeslaw. 18. 154–156 Norton. 36. Gustav. 2. 87–88. 59. 71–76 Rousseau. 108. 60. 70. 148 Seidel. 19. 21 Poiret. 47–48. 140 Tao te ching. 92. O. 56. Gospel of. 21. René. 105. John. 4 Shakespeare. 79. 30–31 Pico della Mirandola. 2 Nag Hammadi Library. 9. Jean. 138 Stellatus. 115. 123 Poimandres. 25. 137. 5 Minotaur. 99 Prospero. 153 Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. 113. Gillaume. 18. 3 Raimbaut d’Orange. 90. 76 Parzival. 76 Sufism. Emanuel. Blaise. 56 Origen.V ix. Martinez de. Andrew Michael. 67–69. 150. 99. 115. Sir Walter. Rainer Marie. 112–113 Morienus. 87–88. 69. 43 Synesius. J. 63 Rici. 109. 84 Pordage. 46. 8 Rosicrucianism. 141 . 8 Nishitani Keiji. 56 Swedenborg. 29–30 Olympiadorus.. 102 Sophia [Wisdom]. 46. 119 Raleigh. 99 Scholem.R. 116 Nature [concept of]. 13. 136 Science and objectification. Samuel. 56 Moses de Leon. George. 99 Philip. 139 Saint Martin. 74. 103. 99 Pasqually. William. 94. John. Book of. 140 Tauler. 17. 26 Tolkien. 116 Self.. 52–53 Revelation. 23–26. Jean. 11 Russian literature.INDEX 171 Meyrink. Pierre. 53 Rilke. 108 Rimius. 115 Pythagoras. 89. 153 Schwaller de Lubicz. 29 Pre-Socratics. 90 Talmud. 105. Joseph. 53. 66 New Age. Johannes. 14–15. Christian. 84 Reading. 52 Piers Ploughman. 75–78 Paracelsus. 58 Numbers. 14. 5. Milton. Johannes. 103 Pyrlaeus. Johann Christoph. Marguerite. 92. 4 Reuchlin. 102 Science [and the sciences]. 101 Prajnaparamita Sutra. 118 Ramsay. 39–40 Solovyov. Gershom. 85. 68. Louis-Claude de. 103. 152 . Marsha Keith. 37–38 Pascal. 152 Richter. 63. sacred. Vladimir. 148 Platonic archetypes. 148 Radical ecology. 50 Schuchard. Robert. 53 Theosophy. 32 Plato. 6 Sefer Yezirah. 79. 26–27 Moravians. 110 Southey. Thomas. 89–103. 112 Ripley. 69. 52 Pansophy.
35–43 Ungrund. 79 Willermoz. 101 Weishaupt. 111 Warlick.. Hugh. 86 Welling.. 106 Washington.E. 56 . M. ix. Arthur. 103. Egidio Cardinal. 53 Versluis. 122–123 Williamson. 69–70 Universalism [esoteric]. 116 Yates. Frances. 9. 31 Viterbo. 103. 89. 148 Zosimos. 2. 75 Yeats. ix.B. Charles. 64. Georg von. 137.172 INDEX Trevor-Roper. Nicholas. 10. 10. Adam. 88. 84 Williams. 156 Zinzendorf. 103. 111. 48. 63. Jean-Baptiste. 82 Troubadours. George. W. 67–69 Upanishads. 112–113 Zohar. 110. 148 Zen Buddhism. 10. 140 Valentinus. 120. 104. 55. David.
and Imaginaire Symbolique: Mélange offerts á Antoine Faivre edited by Joscelyn Godwin et al. Readers may also wish to consult the journals ARIES and Esoterica (www. Access to Western Esotericism (Albany: State University of New York Press. I should note that the two volumes by Cecil Collins cited in Restoring Paradise have subsequently been 173 . and Antoine Faivre and Wouter Hanegraaff. 1994).org. 2000). along with its companion book. Tradition (Albany: State University of New York Press.msu. Modern Esoteric Spirituality (New York: Crossroad. Gnoses. 1973) and Licht und Finsternis. (Leuven: Peeters.esoteric. as well as the series by Karl Frick titled Die Erleuchteten (Graz: Akademische. as well as Roelof van den Broek and Wouter Hanegraaff.Suggestions for Further Study A standard reference for scholars and a general introduction to Western esotericism as a field of study is Antoine Faivre. Theosophy. Important anthologies of scholarship in the field include Antoine Faivre and Jacob Needleman. In the voluminous Ésotérisme. 2001). (Graz: Akademische.aseweb. 1998). eds.. Western Esotericism and the Science of Religion (Leuven: Peeters. 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. A useful historical overview is Jean-Paul Corsetti’s Histoire de l’ésotérisme et des sciences occultes (Paris: Larousse. Imagination.edu) and to visit the Web site of the Association for the Study of Esotericism [ASE] at www. 1998). Gnosis and Hermeticism: From Antiquity to Modern Times (Albany: State University of New York Press. 1992). Earlier. 1967) and Pansophie (Berlin: Erich Schmidt. 1992). 1998). readers will find many further avenues of research by a wide variety of contributing scholars. notably Gabalia (Berlin: Erich Schmidt. 1975). 2 vols. important if sometimes a bit uneven background works in the field include the books of Will-Erich Peuckert. 1956).
Wisdom’s Book: A Sophia Anthology (St. edited by Brian Keeble. Paul: Grail. 1996). Many of my own previous and forthcoming books also deal with themes and subjects touched on in Restoring Paradise—in particular.174 SUGGESTIONS FOR FURTHER STUDY combined into a single volume entitled The Vision of the Fool and Other Writings. and Theosophia: Hidden Dimensions of Christianity (Hudson: Lindisfarne. and The Esoteric Origins of the American Renaissance (New York: Oxford University Press. Gnosis and Literature (St. enlarged edition (Ipswich: Golgonooza. 2002). 1994). This is a beautifully produced book and highly recommended. . 1996). 2001). as well as The Mysteries of Love: Eros and Spirituality (St. 2000). Paul: Paragon House. Wisdom’s Children: A Christian Esoteric Tradition (Albany: State University of New York Press. Paul: Grail. 1999).