Western Esotericism, Literature, Art, and Consciousness

Arthur Versluis



SUNY series in

Western Esoteric Traditions

David Appelbaum, editor

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

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

In memory of poet and scholar Kathleen Raine .


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

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

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


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


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

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

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

For the Western esoteric traditions approach such questions from a totally different view: for them. Likewise. and each requires the other.4 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E This theme of reading. is much deeper than it might at first appear. minerals and stars. in other words. If there are great writers. when we read the works of an Emerson. ‘Knowledge’ in contemporary usage is essentially ‘data. we enter into another’s world. we feel as someone else feels. we are not merely passive observers of a great aphorist. but experience the marvel of living metaphor and rhythm for ourselves. purgatory. In every experience of literature. And when we read a great poem. yet this view of union is one that most and perhaps all literary readers and authors will intuitively recognize. we do not remain just a cataloguer of this or that remarkable confluence of words. it is at the heart of the Western literary continuum. and ultimately with the divine. Greek in origin. The word gnosis. the accumulation of facts based in an apparently insurmountable division between self and other: ‘I’ accumulate facts about what is ‘not-I. By contrast. we have developed machines that ‘read. but not necessarily knowledge in the sense in which we use the term today. imaginatively enter into different lives. is the nature of the ‘I’ and the ‘not-I’ in question. also about union. refers to spiritual knowledge. 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. When we read a novel.’ that is. however. of course. Thus we can see that spiritual knowledge is of a different order than contemporary secular or scientific knowledge. and will require much elaboration. why do we travel with . so too there are great readers. But we can at least begin by considering how reading is largely regarded today as nothing more than the accumulation of information through decoding writing—indeed. Why do we travel with Dante’s pilgrim through hell. the ‘I’ is recognized to be not stable but fluid. and thus there are no permanent divisions between ‘I’ and the cosmos. or spiritual knowledge.’ itself a metaphor for our time. reading in the Western esoteric traditions has to do not merely with accumulating data. for it is grounded not in separation but in union. What is more. progressively realizing its fundamental identity with plants and animals. reading here guides one toward gnosis. but in some sense leap the gap between ourselves and the author so as to actively participate in the writing. The mystery of reading is. reading in this context extends beyond ratiocinative knowledge limited to a split between the reading subject and the ‘object’ to be studied: instead. and heaven. but with consciousness itself. as penetrating into the hidden mysteries of all that we see. Reading here is defined in the broadest possible way. there is also a union: we as readers are participating in the mind of the writer through the miraculous medium of the written word.’ Unexamined here. but can be transmuted. The ‘I’ need not remain at the mercy of its own selfishness.

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

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

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



say, symbolic correspondences or “living nature.” It seems odd to exclude from one’s definition of esotericism authors such as Meister Eckhart or, to choose a twentieth-century example, Bernadette Roberts, when their work is clearly esoteric in the classic sense of being intended for a limited, elite audience “with ears to hear.” While one may indeed find ways to fit such via negativa gnostics into a schema of cosmological characteristics, it seems to me necessary to propose an elegant and simple definition of esoteric that will be useful for studying not only eighteenth-century Masonry or Rosicrucianism, but also the kinds of syncretic esotericism that one finds in the twenty-first century. Here, I use the word esoteric in a religious context to refer to individuals or groups whose works are self-understood as bearing hidden inner religious, cosmological, or metaphysical truths for a select audience. Such a definition can include alchemical, magical, Masonic, or gnostic groups or individuals, but in any case there is a separation between esoteric (from the Greek eso-, meaning “within” or “inner”) knowledge for a select audience and exoteric knowledge for the general populace. This definition includes the social-anthropologic sense of initiation as admission into a secret society, but extends it to include the full range of cultural works like those of literature and art, which may very well convey secrets hidden from the casual observer. It also includes the range of New Age or syncretic movements that emerged in the late twentieth century and that also claim access to hidden secrets of the cosmos. At the same time, this definition excludes the loose sense of esoteric as referring to the arcana of, say, computer functions or plumbing; it refers explicitly to knowledge of religious or cosmological mysteries.

I N I T I AT O R Y T R A N S M I S S I O N AND WESTERN ESOTERICISM In order to delve into the field of Western esotericism in relation to language and consciousness, we also will need to consider the nature of ‘initiation.’ This word carries a range of meanings, so we must begin by considering it. Literally, of course, the word means “beginning,” and this significance continues throughout its other meanings as well. The ‘initiate’ is one who has entered into a tradition or group. But beyond this, the word initiation takes on a variety of implications. In anthropology, the word generally is used for adolescents who undergo a tribal ritual and thereby enter into the community of adults. This is the sense in which the word is used by, for instance, Jean La Fontaine in Initiation, where he writes that the subject of his book is “rituals of initiation in the common sense of the term; that is, rituals of admission into secret societies . . . as well as those [rituals] which mark the passage between childhood and maturity.”7 But he hastens to add that initiation cannot be defined simply as ritual



admissions to groups, secret or not, because there are other elements generally involved. Among these are acquisition of powers through secret or special knowledge, and the crossing of a ritual boundary into special status defined by that knowledge. La Fontaine offers as examples of initiation several tribal groups and Freemasonry, and offers a largely sociological analysis of them. Yet there are other elements of initiation not dealt with in La Fontaine’s anthopological perspective that we must also consider. Mircea Eliade, in “Symbolism of the Initiatory Death,” draws our attention to initiation as a religious phenomenon, arguing that initiation entails a liquidation of one’s past and historical identity, and a reëntry into “an immaculate, open existence, untainted by Time.”8 Initiation, from a religious perspective, is a rebirth, a transition to a new or renewed mode of existence, a regeneration. This regeneration may take the form of transitional suffering in actuality, or it may entail symbolic suffering or entry into darkness and symbolic death, but in either case the initiate goes through a probationary period and then is born again into timelessness or immortality. This religious dimension of initiation is less commonly dealt with in contemporary social anthropology, but it is in fact closely tied with another aspect, that of lineage. Indeed, when we look at some religious traditions, we find that there is clearly an initiatory transmission of lineage carefully maintained. Examples of this can be found in Sufism, for instance, where the shaikh or master is the pupil of an earlier shaikh, whose line can thus be traced back historically to its founder as well as to the revelation of Muhammed. A similar concept of lineage can be found in Zen Buddhism, where in order to become a master or teacher, one must undergo considerable training, eventually receiving inka, or official recognition and entry into the historical lineage that goes back not only to the founder of that Zen lineage but to Shakyamuni Buddha himself. The concept here is that the historical lineage serves to convey the original and timeless spiritual insight of its originator; so the archaic symbolism of initiatory death and rebirth to which Eliade referred is transposed into the context of spiritual training, the verification and acknowledgement of the master, and entry into the company of the masters, at least for a few. Lineage, in other words, is historical transmission that can be traced from master to disciple who becomes master, who in turn has disciples, who in turn . . . Yet when we turn to Western European esoteric traditions, we find comparatively little of this pattern of historical transmission. The notable exception is Jewish Kabbalah, where there are in fact historical lineages of Kabbalistic masters; but when we turn to Christianity, or even to what may loosely be classified under Hermeticism (including alchemical and magical currents), we find somewhat less emphasis on such historical lines of transmission. And in fact the history of European Christianity reveals an unusual kind of bifurcation: on the one hand, we find a recurring tendency toward scriptural literalism and an



emphasis on the importance of belief in doctrine that could be characterized as exoteric; while on the other hand, we find the recurrence of more esoteric tendencies, largely if by no means exclusively in heterodox movements or individuals. But the hostility of the more exoteric Christians toward those inclined to esoteric Christianity of various kinds (not to mention recurrent persecutions) has meant that the historical circumstances in Christianity mostly disallowed the kind of direct master-pupil-master-pupil historical esoteric transmission that we see in, for example, Zen Buddhism. In my book on Christian theosophy in the tradition of Jacob Böhme, Wisdom’s Children (1999), I proposed what I call “ahistorical continuity” to describe the kind of continuity one finds between, for instance, Valentinean Gnosticism in antiquity and the theosophy of Jacob Böhme in the seventeenth or eighteenth centuries without any historical lineage connecting them. Like Ioan Culianu, I propose that there are certain esoteric characteristics implicit in a religious tradition, and that although they may be latent for some centuries, someone like Böhme rediscovers or reawakens them in light of his own creative spirit. Examples of these characteristics include an emphasis on Wisdom or Sophia as the divine feminine; the hebdomad as a cosmological principle; the demiurge or spiritus mundi as an opposition to spiritual awakening, and others. Thus there are numerous clear parallels between Valentinean Gnosticism and Böhmean theosophy, but Böhme did not derive his thought from the former; he is, rather, an example of an ahistorical continuity.9 But the concept of ahistorical continuity is descriptive, not explanatory, and the question still arises of how initiatory traditions are transmitted in the West in the absence of continuous historic lineages and in an often hostile, persecutory ambience when it is not, as in the case of Böhme, a matter of a spiritual genius creating or recreating an entire gnostic tradition. Where does an isolated alchemist learn to become a master alchemist? The answer, in brief, is through encoded or symbolic literature and art. In essence, that is what this book is about; it is an in-depth examination of how initiation can take place through the written word or image. For although there are certainly some initiatory lineages in the conventional sense, these are more exceptions than commonplace, and the written word or image is in fact the primary means of initiatory transmission in the West. This is so even when there is an alchemical master-pupil relationship, for the alchemical secrets are still conveyed via enigmatic literature and image and the master aids in unveiling them. There is, of course, a clear Asian analogy for this transmission that takes place in part through the written word or through images: the koan tradition in Soto and Rinzai Zen Buddhism. The koan tradition, its history and applications, is considerably more than we can deal with here, but it is worth our while nonetheless to at least develop it as a reference point. As is well known, the koan is usually defined in the West as a clever paradox designed to be in-

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

I am arguing that in Western esoteric traditions. as means of initiation. then we cannot really speak of literature or the arts as being the vehicle of an initiatory or transmutative process. Like the koan. the implication being that there is no such thing as gnosis. for that matter. I am arguing that in the West. The koan derives its name from a judicial term. an alchemical treatise stands as an enigmatic representation of a transmutative process. What makes Western esotericism different above all. By . is there a third interpretation that lies somewhere between these two? Such questions are important because the imaginative faculty is so vital to creating and to understanding literary and artistic works. Rather. esoteric literature and art can function rather like the koan in Zen Buddhism. the weight of initiatory transmission is transposed to literary and artistic works. If we believe that the imagination is more or less exclusively individualistic. particularly those that clearly are esoteric in nature. The same is true of the alchemical or gnostic treatise: the neophyte must work with and through it. This role may be seen in some respects as analogous to that of the Zen Buddhist koan. literature and art play a very special kind of initiatory role. as I will propose here. But that is not at all what I am arguing here—far from it. as in individual daydreams. T H E E S O T E R I C I M A G I N AT I O N The word imagination of course derives from image. I believe. and in fact represents a test for the neophyte: one has to realize the nondual truth that it represents and have this confirmed by a master’s judgment. In the absence of a well-recognized line of historical masters. This is not to say that the West had or. 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. and thus also to the individual. Rather. has no one capable of discerning a right understanding from a wrong one. until he has penetrated to its authentic meaning. but what is the nature of the images perceived by the imaginative faculty? Are images merely phantasms of one’s own mind. frustrating though this may be.12 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E ‘mysticism’ to attempt to legislate mystical or gnostic knowledge out of existence by claiming that the gnostic is merely entering or deploying another form of conceptual language. and the work of the practitioner is to enter into and realize for himself the truths that it contains. is the pervasive lack of initiatory lineages and thus of the immediate reproof or approval of a living teacher. or are they manifestations of some other reality beyond oneself? Or. and that this is in fact the primary means of initiatory transmission in the West—through word and image.

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

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

This continuum is what makes possible not only Pordage’s gnostic experience of inner creation and a visionary paradisal earth. and to the audience or initiate who vicariously participates in or witnesses the work and so has awakened the possibilities that the work represents. The realm of the imagination. Thus imagination belongs neither to oneself nor to divine power alone. but resides in a continuum between the two. then that work also belongs to this continuum and guides others into the same process of imaginative awakening. but neither is it wholly internal as a creation of the gnostic. in sum. is by its very nature one of co-creation. This intermediate or mesocosmic state is precisely what allows Pordage’s treatise to be initiatory for the reader: his work is a guide to his own gnostic experience. they represent divine manifestation in the gnostic faculty of imagination so that the gnostic can perceive and be guided toward what they represent and. it is generated through the creative power of Sophia and perceived through the gnostic imagination. The paradisal earth that Sophia creates is not external to the gnostic. but rather a matter of perceiving (being open to) an inner creative process.INTRODUCTION 15 into being in him out of the Ungrund. It is not so much a matter of visualization by an individual. but also the co-experience of the reader who participates in this process by reading the treatise. if those images and that gnostic process are then also manifested in a work of art. . and in that work projecting a mesocosmic creative realm in which we can recognize aspects of ourselves anew. 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. but these images exist in a mesocosmic realm between the gnostic and the divine.13 This new paradisal earth is in the gnostic. then. taking place in a continuum in which divine power works and in which the reader or audience can participate vicariously at least. is an initiatory process manifested through literature and art. 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. one can extend this analogically to all creative efforts. At work is a spontaneous inner generation of images for the gnostic. This. exteriorizing it through a work of art in which others can participate. What is more. In other words. Imagination takes place in a continuum of co-creation belonging to the gnostic who perceives. inasmuch as the author or artist is allowing an imaginative process to take place within. to the divine power within that creates. what the gnostic imagination perceives is what the creative power of Wisdom within it creates.


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

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

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

as does the creation of images. and in this regard man may be said to complete the work of God by being co-creator or co-redemptor. Both Jewish and Christian gnostic esoteric groups tended to think and express themselves mythologically. The letters.1 And indeed there is an ancient tradition that the Torah contains so much power in its letters that it could destroy the world. and so forth. basilisks. are means in this process of individual and cosmic redemption—and so too are images. and to which we may refer as a gnosis of the word. But monotheism is a rubric under which all manner of possibilities exist. 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.2 Both the gnosis of the word and the gnosis of the image are extensions of the monotheism of the book. Both word and image reveal and ‘fix’ the divine.20 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E as Greek Christian mysticism drew upon Hebrew or Aramaic terms. it is to restore the cosmos itself to its paradisal condition. and macrocosmically. as principles of creation itself. through images. paradoxically conveyed often through . then. which undoubtedly drew upon and incorporated elements of the Greek mystery traditions even as they differed from the Greeks in their emphasis upon writing down the mysteries and then writing down commentaries upon the previous writings. and so forth. are a means to creation’s redemption. and even if monotheism often turns toward a fundamentalist literalism. Letters and numbers. and its aim is twofold at least: microcosmically. and so we find numerous images from antiquity like lion-headed serpents. all of which is entirely accepted within the orthodox tradition. This gnosis of the word represents a ‘fixing’ of the mysteries. But given the gnosis of the word that we have been discussing. 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 in fact are by no means absent from the larger Christian tradition. inconceivable power would be set loose. We may remember the four animals that symbolize the four Gospels. thereby making this conflict inevitable. so the letters were altered. 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. but if the letters were properly restored. Such images are often found on amulets or talismans and are generally regarded as being ‘magical’ elements in Gnosticism. such images represent divine aspects. 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. its purpose is to restore the individual to a paradisal or transcendent state. 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.

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

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

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

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

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

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



ter, Ariadne, and a thread that led him out. The symbolism here is profound, and certainly reflects the ancient Mithraic mystery symbolism of the bull, the labyrinth of the world, and escape-rebirth. But perhaps we may adapt this symbolism to our own purposes, for when we consider the subject of gnosis, we too find ourselves in a labyrinth, and require some thread to guide us out. This thread is the topic of gnosis itself, for by exploring it, we will be far better prepared to understand the often bewildering variety of Western esoteric traditions. The word gnosis, because it is singular, implies that there is but one kind of gnosis, or spiritual knowledge. However, when we consider the range of religious literature, even that labeled “gnostic,” we seem to find a bewildering spectrum of gnoses. We might divide this spectrum into cosmological gnosis (insight into the hidden patterns in the cosmos), eschatological gnosis (insight into what transcends history and the cosmos), and metaphysical gnosis (insight into the divine), even though all of these may be seen as aspects of a single gnosis. And concerning metaphysical gnosis, or direct insight into the nature of the divine itself, we find two primary approaches that we may call visionary and unitive gnosis, corresponding to the via positiva and the via negativa discussed by Dionysius the Areopagite. The via positiva, or visionary approach, goes through images and the field of the imagination; the via negativa, or unitive approach, is the falling away of all images. It has become more or less commonplace, following Dionysius himself, to see the via negativa as superior to the via positiva. Dionysius writes that sacred revelation often proceeds through sacred images in which like represents like, while also using forms that are dissimilar, and even entirely inadequate and ridiculous (Cel. Hier. 140c). But he goes on to remark that a second way, of going beyond images entirely in the via negativa, is “more appropriate, for as the secret and sacred tradition has instructed, God is in no way like the things that have being, and we have no knowledge at all of his incomprehensible and ineffable transcendence” (Cel. Hier. 141a). What Dionysius observes here is extremely important, in particular his insistence on a secret and sacred tradition that the Divine completely transcends the realm of being. Dionysius’s observation—that God in no way resembles the things that have being—combats a tendency that, as we have already noted, is common to the traditions of the Book: taking writing literally. Literalism corresponds to what in Judaism was called “idolatry”: it reduces the Divine to human concepts that can be manipulated. This tendency may also be called “objectification,” and is a common function of language more generally. For language by its nature can separate us from what we are discussing: we objectify the Divine just as we objectify all that surrounds us, including nature and other people. But this process of objectification inherently separates us from what we see in this way: the very word God becomes a barrier to experiencing what that word means.



In other words, gnostic knowledge is fundamentally different from ratiocinative knowledge, and the language to express gnosis must reflect this difference. Ratiocinative (from ratio, measure between things) knowledge belongs to the realm of division into subject and object: ‘I’ discuss ‘that.’ Such is the basis for modern science, and ratiocinative knowledge can be widely disseminated as information or data. By contrast, gnosis belongs to a secret or intimate tradition and cannot be widely disseminated as information because it does not belong to the realm of information and division at all, but instead to what transcends division. The scientific or ratiocinative path moves toward ever greater data about what is external; the gnostic path moves toward ever greater intimacy with what transcends both internal and external. Gnosis, then, is not at all a matter of ‘I’ discussing ‘that,’ but of going beyond the very division between ‘I’ and ‘that.’ The question, of course, is how one moves toward gnostic knowledge, and the answers to this question in the West comprise the Western esoteric traditions. The essential division offered by Dionysius the Areopagite between the via positiva and the via negativa helps us begin to discuss these answers in a schematic way, not because these two ways are at all opposed to each other, but because they illuminate each other. Indeed, they correspond rather closely to what we see in the Tibetan Buddhist Vajrayana tradition, where visualization and a plethora of imagery express their own transcendence. The Prajnaparamita Sutra, with its verses on sheer transcendence of all that is sensory, does not invalidate but expresses the ultimate meaning of the countless Buddhist images often in the very hall where it is chanted. Likewise, in the Western esoteric traditions, one finds a vast range of imagery and means, but these are generally seen within the traditions as an expression of what transcends them. The problem here, and in language itself, is that it is all too easy to regard words or images as if they were the thing itself, to ‘fix’ or ‘congeal’ the inconceivable. This is a particularly likely problem when there is no widespread emphasis on the transcendent, as there is within Buddhism, or any continuous lineage of masters or teachers who could guide seekers or initiates. The Western esoteric traditions have largely remained catch-as-catch-can, defined perhaps best by the precarious relationship between an author and a reader through the medium of the book. And the Gnostic Basilides evidently recognized this, for in one of the only fragments attributed to him, he writes of the ineffable transcendent nothing, and notes that “what is called by a name is not absolutely ineffable, but it is not, for the truly ineffable is not ineffable, but ‘above every name which is named’ [Eph. 1.21] . . . Names are inadequate . . . Instead, by understanding without speech one must receive the properties of the things named” (Hipp. Ref. VII.viii). Actual direct experience of the transcendent is far more important than simply knowing the words. Basilides held that he belonged to a secret lineage that ran from Jesus to Matthias to himself, and primary in their revelation was nothingness, or



absolute transcendence. According to his rather bitter opponent Hippolytus, Basilides wrote that before the cosmos, “nothing” existed, “not matter, nor substance, nor the insubstantial, nor an absolute, nor a composite, not conceivable, or inconceivable, not sensible, not devoid of sense, not man, angel, or a god, nothing that has a name or is cognized by intellect” (Ref. VII.ix). Basilides’s emphasis—throughout what little we still have, quoted by Hippolytus from Basilides’s treatises—was consistently on sheer transcendence beyond the medium of human language, and corresponds to the via negativa of Dionysius the Areopagite. Indeed, given the series of negations here that very much resemble those of the Prajnaparamita Sutra in Buddhism, it is not surprising that Basilides is reputed to have been influenced by Buddhism. However, Basilides is not alone in his emphasis on the inconceivability of gnosis, its sheer transcendence of all ratiocination. So too Epiphanes wrote of the Gnostics that “The earliest originating principle was inconceivable, ineffable, and unnameable” (Ref. VI.xxxiv); and Marcus, during a Gnostic Eucharist, reportedly offered a chalice to a woman during the consecration, then received it back from her and said, ‘Grant that the inconceivable and ineffable Grace which existed prior to the universe, may fill thine inner man, and make abound in thee the gnosis of this grace, as she disseminates the seed of the mustard-tree upon good soil’ ” (Ref. VI.xxxv). A similar emphasis is to be found in Dionysius the Areopagite, in his treatise on the Divine Names, for instance, when he remarks that God is beyond all names and creatures, “transcendently and supernaturally, far above creatures, above their being and above their nature” (956B). He continues that “no unity or trinity, no number or oneness, no fruitfulness, indeed nothing that is or is known can proclaim that hiddenness . . . of the transcendent Godhead which transcends every being. There is no name for it and no expression” (981a). Paradoxically, by maintaining an emphasis on the ineffability of the divine, the Gnostics also maintained a via positiva of esoteric words, letters, numbers, and images. But this linguistic mysticism existed within the context of the absolute transcendence that it in fact manifests. In other words, letters, numbers, and images emerge out of the unbegotten, and represent the hidden patterns and harmonies of the cosmos that, by ‘following back,’ inevitably in turn lead one to the ineffable. It is well known that there are Hebrew systems of transforming letters into their numerical meanings, but what is perhaps less remarked upon is that there was an esoteric Greek tradition of such transformations too, probably carried over from Pythagorean and Neoplatonic sources. Thus we find the Gnostic Marcus maintained that the number of Jesus is 888, that the number of the dove is 801, and that the body of truth is composed of letters, the head by Alpha and Omega, the neck by Beta and Psi, and so forth. Sacred numbers, letters, and images reveal the esoteric forming powers of the cosmos. Each letter, according to this tradition, is produced by a particular

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

we are told explicitly that Anfortas’s suffering. or still less into discussions of spiritual illumination. the Grail tradition is both independent and syncretic. just as is Western esotericism more generally. that of speaking when one ought to (asking the Question. the knight is told by Feirifiz. of course. And at the book’s conclusion. and there is in this even a complementary relationship: a kingdom can be saved by asking the right question. Feirifiz outlines why Parzival shall do so by reference to the “seven stars” or planets. whether it be Trevrizent or Eschenbach himself who advises. Yet this implicit esotericism. for instance) and of not speaking when one oughtn’t.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. but certainly it is safe to say that it also contains esoteric references central to the tale. why the king suffered—but Parzival himself had not done this and thus had already failed. and that is the exalted position of women. For instance. and at the end of the tale. Rather. he is forced to leave—a repetition yet again of the constant theme throughout Parzival. the spotted knight. Parzival. and if he asked a Question. like chivalric literature more generally. of his good fortune and that he shall ask the Question. we are told again to honor and never denigrate women. then naming them one by one in Arabic.1 There are throughout this tale astrological references with esoteric implications.” chiefly Saturn. we are told to honor women. This theme clearly holds for both men and women.38 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E and of how the servants of the Grail fell on their knees before the Grail. of course. exists both within and without specific religious traditions. There remains one more aspect of the Grail tradition that we need to discuss further. in particular. never becomes explicit: the tale and the esotericism of the Grail that is its center never stray into otherworldly descriptions of journeys through the cosmos. and lost by asking the wrong one! Parzival is. the two nodes of which are called the “dragon’s head” and the “dragon’s tail. then their sorrows would end. and that of all the Grail servers. Throughout the tale. where suddenly they saw it written that a knight would come. Saturn to suffering. although intrinsic to the tale inasmuch as it concerns the mysteries of the holy Grail and of the inscriptions upon it. intensifies with the “advent of the high planets. The Grail. entertaining. for a knight comes to live with a princess on the condition that she never ask his name. but also with the changing of the moon. but if he were forewarned of the Question it would turn harmful. remains this-worldly in emphasis. we are left with a curious twist on the mystery of naming.” This conclusively links the planets to consciousness. And near the end of Eschenbach’s story of Parzival. we will recall. He was to ask. and indeed it may be that the fusion of this-worldli- . like so many of the Western esoteric currents. was cared for by twenty-five women who by serving it are exalted. When inevitably she does so.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



lar thing as language is its essential life.”21 In fact, for the Kabbalists letters have a plastic quality: in forming words, they are forming also the actual divine nature of things, so that to enter into the mysteries of words is to penetrate beyond language as we ordinarily conceive it into the hidden nature of God himself. Here again we have come upon the dual nature of language: there is exoteric language, which is veiling and limited; and there is esoteric language, which is unveiling and virtually unlimited in its ramifications. Particularly in the case of Kabbalistic word and letter combination can we say that esoteric uses of language are virtually unlimited in effect, for Kabbalism has since at least the time of Rabbi Eleazar of Worms (c. 1165–1230) and Abraham ben Samuel Abulafia (c. 1240–1292) employed techniques of linguistic recombination that in turn, if practiced over a period of time, result in ecstasy and visionary illumination. In the case of R. Eleazar and Abraham Abulafia, the technique entails combining the Tetragrammaton with the letters of the alphabet in order to bring one to a transcendent state of divine knowledge or gnosis. According to Abulafia, this technique, which requires isolation, prolonged practice, and special breathing techniques, “draws down the supernal force in order to unite it with you.”22 Thus esoteric language is not only a guide toward gnosis, it is here the actual means to gnosis. Central to Kabbalism is esoteric language. Isaac of Acre, for instance, distinguished between the mere acquisition of knowledge through ordinary learning and the direct gnosis by the intellect.23 And his predecessor Isaac the Blind used the analogy of a great tree, in which inward and subtle essences of wisdom (hokhmah) exist and move through the tree like sap. We partake of this wisdom, or sap, by “sucking,” which is a fundamentally different kind of knowledge from that gained by ordinary reading; it is a participatory gnosis in which we directly experience the essence-language of creation itself, moving in and through all that is. Here again we have reading and writing that go far beyond what we ordinarily regard them as—here esotericism and literature are totally fused. Such analogies and definitions as that of the tree, or “sucking,” or for that matter of celestial reading and writing, do indeed correspond to those of the ancient Gnostics; and like the ancient Gnostics, the Kabbalists too produced a wild profusion of works expressing variants of a complex and profound cosmology, as well as a metaphysics of absolute transcendence. In Kabbalism, as in ancient Gnosticism, we find the figure of Sophia, or Wisdom, to be prominent, and indeed even find the teaching in Kabbalah of the higher and lower Shekhinah, which parallels the teachings of some Gnostic sects regarding a higher and lower Sophia. There are numerous parallels, but this does not mean that there was direct influence. In any event, this profusion of Kabbalistic works and teachings in turn was to have an immense influence on the subsequent history of Western esoteric



traditions, and unlike the relationship of Kabbalism to Gnosticism, the relationship of Kabbalism and Christian Cabala is relatively well documented.24 Here it is possible only to allude to the ways Kabbalism flowed into Christianity, especially beginning in the fifteenth century. It is generally held that the first major influx of Kabbalism into Christianity occurred with Giovanni Pico della Mirandola (1463–1494), who in his On the Dignity of Man proposes the harmony of Christianity and Kabbalah, holding that in fact Kabbalah is evidence for Christianity because in it we find discussions of the Trinity, of the Word, and much else that corresponds to the works of Dionysius the Areopagite. For our purposes it is noteworthy that Pico insisted on the initiatory nature of original Christianity championed by Origen and Dionysius the Areopagite: that Christ gave secret teachings to some of the disciples, teachings that subsequently were continued. Pico holds, in his oration, that Kabbalah corresponds to these teachings in its initiatory lineage and in its doctrines: “to make public the occult mysteries, the secrets of the supreme Godhead . . . what else were this than to give a holy thing to dogs and to cast pearls before swine?”25 Thus Kabbalah, according to Pico, furnishes a way to recover the original true nature of Christianity. This true nature includes the doctrines of the ’en sof, as well as that of the emanated Sephirot and, above all, the Names of God by which God created the cosmos.26 There is in Kabbalah, as in Plato, a divine mathematics that is not like the jottings of traders.27 And so Pico brings Jewish Kabbalah into the broad stream of Western learning that includes all the classics and has come to be known as the prisca theologia, confirming precisely those elements that we have come to see characterize the Western esoteric currents as the initiatory sciences of reading and writing. It is true that Pico only refers to Kabbalah and does not offer detailed exegeses or doctrinal expositions, but what he chooses to touch upon— “divine mathematics,” initiatory lineages, secret knowledge not divulged to the hoi polloi, the transcendent Godhead, the hidden Names of God, and reading and writing as the transmission of esoteric knowledge, when accompanied by oral transmission—all correspond exactly to the threads we have been tracing throughout Western history. Naturally, Pico was far from alone in the endeavor to bring Kabbalah into Christianity—or, put from the viewpoint of the Christian Cabalists themselves, to show how Christianity is illuminated by Kabbalism. Another important figure is Johannes Reuchlin (1455–1522), author of De verbo mirifico (1494), and of the more well-known De arte cabalistica (1517). The first book, whose title alone brings it into our purview, is arranged as a dialogue between a pagan philosopher, a Jewish mystic, and a Christian; the pagan is concerned with cosmology, the Jew with Kabbalah and the divine Names, and the Christian with absolute transcendence. Both books are intensely concerned with the nature of



language, with its divine origin, and with how it illuminates the path toward the deification of man. Reuchlin in turn drew upon Pico and influenced Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa von Nettesheim (1486–1535), whose work De occulta philosophia (1533) is among the most influential works on magical esotericism in European history. Agrippa’s book is chiefly concerned with magic, but it focuses on magic in a larger context that further develops the new tradition of Christian Cabala. Rather like Reuchlin, Agrippa begins by discussing cosmology and the nature of the world; turns then to numbers and letters and their celestial significances (with references to the Sephirot); and in the third book discusses the Names of God and the relation of the magus to God. Agrippa’s concern with the practice of magic inaugurates a subsequent long tradition of Christian magical esotericism drawing upon Jewish Kabbalah. But Kabbalah’s influence on Christendom was not limited to magical esotericism alone; indeed, it would seem that during this time Kabbalah’s influence extended from the royal courts to the Vatican. One finds in France Jean Thenaud (?–1542) writing an extensive manuscript entitled Traité de la Cabale chrétien for Francis I in about 1521; one finds in Italy Paul Rici, author of De coelesti agricultura (1541), as well as Cardinal Egidio (Gilles) da Viterbo (1465–1532), an important figure in the Vatican, whose unpublished work Scecina (1530) was finally made available in 1959. And, of course, there is Gillaume Postel (1510–1581), among whose papers we find references to and translations of many Hebrew works including the Bahir and the Zohar. Postel is well known for his devotion to a woman named Mother Johanna, whom he regarded as the Virgin incarnate. We could continue to trace the byzantine influences of Kabbalism in the history of Western esotericism here, and if so, we would have to make mention of figures like John Dee (1527–1608) and Robert Fludd (1574–1637), both major Renaissance authors whose works drew on Kabbalistic themes to create new Western esoteric syntheses, as well as examine the possible course of Kabbalah into the works of arguably the most influential esotericist of the past five centuries, Jacob Böhme (1575–1624). Böhme’s works may reveal the traces of Kabbalism, but if so, here too Kabbalah is transformed in new and specifically Christian ways. Yet there is not room here for such an extensive study, and since we will shortly look at Böhmean theosophy in much more detail, it is perhaps more useful to consider what we have learned. Without question, Kabbalah had widely penetrated Christianity in Western Europe by the seventeenth century, but oftentimes its influence was underground and not at all easily traced. What is more, just as Kabbalah itself resembles earlier Gnostic traditions in antiquity, so too within Christianity one finds more modern movements or views that may or may not be historically affiliated with Kabbalism. For instance, Thenaud in his sixteenth-century

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

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

and the spiritualizing of the body. For how else might a medieval or Renaissance figure come to know Geber or Rhazes? Cultural context has been largely lost. even if the alchemical labors to which these writers refer are certainly not literary but take place in a laboratory.. Fire burns up impurities and allows the transmutation of a fallen metal. Such a list undoubtedly would include Hermes Trismegistus. Thus. The alchemist’s work consists in the awakening of dormant qualities in the natural world. and Morienus of the seventh century C. we may well say that alchemy consists in the transmutations of the earth or. alchemical literature.E. thirteenth century). Nicholas Flamel (fourteenth century). it is by no means just a kind of metallurgy or chemistry. What matters is that the works under the name Geber speak to the later alchemist. or the animal kingdom. although we could here offer a historical survey of alchemy.—latinized as Rhazes). 825–932 C.E. and takes place by way of fire. 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. All of these authors did write on alchemy. either. in the revelation of paradise. refers by its own testimony to the transmutation and redemption of the physical world: its work takes place on Earth. the vegetable. author of the Rosarium philosophorum (attr. One places oneself in the line of what is.E. Indeed. and reveal the gnostic center of the tradition. who draws upon them in order to undertake the alchemical work himself and subsequently to write his own alchemical treatise. plant. Thus it is conventional for the author of an alchemical work to list predecessors to whom he is indebted. and might include also such figures as Zosimos of Panopolis of the third century C. Ramon Lull.. even if its work resembles these in some respects. even if it does not entirely belong to these. Olympiodoros. Thus alchemy itself consists in processes that are at once spiritual and physical. at heart.56 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E with constant reference to the accumulated prior works in relation to which any given work is seen. George Ripley (fifteenth century). . put another way. so that their lineage from the alchemical perspective forms an Aurea catena or “golden chain” from antiquity to the present. for all its symbolic complexity and mysterious allusiveness. To list such names as Arnald of Villanova. This process of awakening entails a kind of double working. And so Geber joins the line of figures in what is indisputably a literary transmission. or al-Rhazi (ca. Roger Bacon. For alchemy extends into many realms. as well as Islamic figures such as Jabir ibn Hayyan of the eighth century (later latinized as Geber). the embodying of spirit. 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. that is. Synesius. After all. be they in the mineral. or animal into its paradisal original true nature. as has historical placement. a tradition transmitted through literature. partaking at once in the realms too of religion and literature.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Rerum (The Signature of All Things), Christosophia, and numerous letters and shorter works. Even these titles reveal the connections between Böhme and the earlier traditions we have discussed: Mysterium Magnum, with its elaborate exegesis of Genesis, is certainly indebted to the Kabbalistic tradition; The Signature of All Things is an extended discussion of, among many topics, the Hermetic doctrine of signatures developed by Paracelsus; and Christosophia, often translated as The Way to Christ, entails a chivalric ethic of fidelity to the feminine figure of Wisdom, the Virgin Sophia. What is more, there unquestionably are profound parallels between Böhme’s writings and ancient Gnosticism, parallels that became even clearer in later theosophic figures like the English Philadelphians.43 Thus we can see how Böhmean theosophy reveals the syncretism so characteristic of modern esotericism more generally; here numerous traditions meet and are fused into a profound new union that was to have enormous influence on the subsequent history of Western esotericism. Böhme’s work, according to his own testimony, derived chiefly from his own personal experience, but there is evidence that he had extensive contacts with Hermetic and Kabbalistic circles of his day, including lengthy discussions with Abraham von Frankenberg, himself an author on Kabbalistic subjects. That Böhme’s writing emerged from his own visionary perceptions and inspiration is unquestionable, for he wrote with authority and certainty about a vast range of cosmological and metaphysical principles. What is more, he developed a particular language, drawing upon Hermetic, alchemical, and Kabbalistic sources, to express this inspiration, a special terminology with both Latinate and Germanic roots. But Böhme drew from prior traditions as well, and his work may be described as unique or as a brilliant synthesis, for both are true. Although Böhme’s terminology and mode of expression are often difficult, the basic elements of his thought are not. It is true that Böhme presents a complex cosmology, with his exposition of the Ungrund, or abyss, that precedes existence and that corresponds in Kabbalism to the ’en sof, and in Christian mysticism to Eckhart’s Godhead; with his exposition of the seven source-spirits; and with his unfamiliar terms like limbus, lubet, and schrack, describing hidden principles or aspects of the creative process. Yet Böhme has been popular for centuries—from Germany to Russia and America—among those drawn to direct spiritual experience, and this popularity derives from the fact that while his doctrines are almost inexhaustible, the fundamental nature of Böhme’s teaching is clear and simple. Here I will compress a great deal in the hope of sketching the outlines of Böhme’s thought. Böhme held that before the cosmos came into being, there was the Ungrund, or transcendent abyssal origin. From this emerged two realms, the dark-world of wrath and the paradisal light-world, and after a series of primal catastrophes, a “third principle,” physical nature. Human beings



can participate in all three of these principles; some people belong to the wrathworld of fury and destructiveness, some to the paradisal light-world, but mostly we find ourselves mediating among all of these. Our purpose as human beings, simply put, is to transmute the wrath-quality in ourselves into paradisal light and love. This process of transmutation, a kind of spiritual alchemy, is true religion; without it, religion is merely outward “Babel,” the appearance without the reality. Böhme’s approach to language is of particular interest to us, for, quite in line with the numerous currents of the Western esoteric traditions that preceded him, Böhme created a complex linguistic mysticism. In Aurora, Böhme’s first book, he introduced this mysticism of the word, writing that “The whole power of the Father speaks, out of all the qualities, the Word, i.e., the Son of God. The same word, or the same sound, spoken by the Father, issues out of the Salniter, or the powers of the Father, and out of the Father’s Mercurius, or sound . . . for the outspoken Word remains as a glory or majestic command before the king, but the sound, issuing through the word, executes the command of the Father which he has spoken through the word, and in this is the birth of the Holy Trinity. The same takes place in an angel or in a man” (vi.2). Böhme’s language here is resonant with alchemical and Jewish allusions, but these allusions appear in a clearly Christian context, and although they refer to the Word in the Trinity, they also refer to the word in humanity. Böhme extends this linguistic mysticism to every living thing. In his giant commentary on Genesis, Mysterium Magnum, he writes that “every creature has its own center for its outspeaking, or the sound of the formed word within itself, both eternal and temporal beings: the unreasoning ones as well as man; for the first Ens has been spoken out of the sound of God, by Wisdom, out of her center into the fire and light, and has been formed into the fiat, and entered into compaction. The Ens is out of the eternal, but the compaction is out of the temporal, and therefore in everything there is something eternal hidden in time” (xxii.2). Here Böhme elaborates on the metaphysics of what he also discusses in De Signatura Rerum, the esoteric view older than Pythagoras that everything in creation emerges out of its resonating linguistic, sonic, energetic origin as an emanation or manifestation of an archetype. What is more, there is a teleological significance to this doctrine. For if all beings preëxist their material manifestation in the archetypal realm of the word, after manifestation each manifested thing will return to its transcendent origin, that belonging to love returning to love and that belonging to wrath returning to wrath. Böhme writes: “In that quality in which each word in the human voice in the act of outspeaking forms and manifests itself, either in the love of God, as in the Holy Ens, or in the wrath of God; in the same quality will it be taken up again therein after it has been spoken out. The false word becomes infected by the devil, and sealed up for its [future] detriment, and is received within the



Mysterium of the wrath, in the quality of the dark-world. Each thing returns with its Ens to where it has originated” (xxii.6). This is not predestination, exactly, but rather the sifting of the chaff from the wheat at time’s end. We can see here how language is intimately tied up with the metaphysics of love and wrath. In the fallen world, wrathfulness is the principle of separation and objectification as well as of anger, and so the language of extreme ratiocination also belongs to the wrath. Reason has its place, but when it becomes separated from love, it becomes objectifying and destructive and a functionary of wrath, while language divorced from its transcendent origin becomes Babel or babble. Yet all of this refers to the fallen world, the sphere of discord, chaos, confusion. The means of order’s restoration is the Word, the restoration of light and love in one’s life. But such a restoration takes place through a process of awakening or illumination that is a process of transmuting wrath into love, darkness into light. This process is also that of restoring language from its fallen state (as a means of objectification) into its primordial state of union. This process is the awakening of the true Word in us. Böhme writes that “our whole religion consists in learning how to go out of dissension and vanity and to reënter the one Tree, whence we have come in Adam, and which is Christ in us” (Regener, viii.2). Thus, “he who fully enters into this state of divine rest in Christ arrives through Him at the perception of divinity. He then sees God in himself and everywhere; he speaks with God and God speaks with him, and he understands what is the Word, Essence, and Will of God. Such a one, and no other, is capable of teaching the Word of God himself: for God is one with him, and he wills nothing but what God wills through him” (Mysterium Magnum, xlii.63). The Word of God here has special and profound meaning; it refers to the essence of deity, the transcendent origin of existence. And by realizing this Word, one restores all subordinate language as well as nature itself (whose creatures each also incarnate divine signatures or words) to their primordial unitive or paradisal state. From all of this we can see that the fundamental impetus of Böhme’s work is integrative, not on a cultural so much as on an individual, primal level. Böhme calls the individual toward reintegration or union, and it is the individual nature of this call that has subsequently attracted so many people, in such diverse social situations, toward theosophy. But at the same time, we can easily see how this same integrative impulse aimed at individual transformation could as well be applied on a wider cultural scale, as for instance as the foundation of an effort to reunify the sciences and the humanities with religion. And in fact, such an effort is precisely what we find happening over the century following Böhme’s life, in the movement called Rosicrucianism. It may be, as some scholars have speculated, that Böhme was himself familiar with the same movement which, ten years before Böhme’s death, began to emerge under the name Rosicrucian, with the publication of the

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

which in turn harks back to the “namelessness” and invisibility of the true Knights of the Round Table in chivalric literature. who had left Germany for England after the failure of the Palatinate. and only philosophers of the English Revolution.62 Backhouse’s father. had had connections with John Dee and Edward Kelley. one could ignore it. meaning that they convey the true and secret name and character of the philosophic work. He also was a practicing Hermetic esotericist. when Backhouse thought he was dying. of course. . All three of the men had been active in Rosicrucian circles. but instead one finds that a linguistic mysticism was in fact at the heart of a movement that fired the English Civil War. said to have its origins in the revelation of Hermes to his “spiritual son.” or what Comenius termed the Collegium Lucis. was not simply an antiquarian. whose mentor was William Backhouse of Swallowfield (1593–1662). and William Backhouse adopted Ashmole as a “son.”63 That this spoken revelation of the philosopher’s stone comes in “silables” suggests strongly the nature of the Western esoteric linguistic mysticism we have been tracing since antiquity. but they are in any case gnostic. non-sectarian utopia where all the divisions of knowledge could be studied together. although certainly that impulse was strong in him. and must remain so. himself an alchemist and antiquarian as well as a botanist and student of architecture. Backhouse contributed old alchemical manuscripts to Ashmole’s collection. The true name is hidden. If this were the only instance of ‘magical language’ during this era of the emergence of Freemasonry as a vehicle for esotericism. and wrote himself in Theatrum Chemicum that the spiritual son was under an obligation never to reveal the mystery into which he was initiated. Hugh Trevor-Roper remarks that Cromwell’s movement was impelled by “three philosophers . and according to Ashmole’s note in 1653. of course. and now in England all worked at the immediate transformation of society into a peaceful. All of this. and John Comenius (1592–1690). except to his own spiritual son. and Hartlib had worked to form such colleges both in Germany . an esoteric network of illuminated intelligentsia. introduced Ashmole to Hermetic circles. . never referred to it again. These “silables” may be seen as alchemical hieroglyphs. after recording this revelation. or as Kabbalistic.” and transmitted orally from master to one disciple since antiquity. editor of the extensive Theatrum Chemicum Brittanicum collection of alchemical works. Comenius had developed a system of education based in analogical correspondences. Samuel. resonates closely with the Rosicrucian ideal of silence and invisibility.” Samuel Hartlib (1593–1670). It is significant that Ashmole.64 These three men. . were at the center of a movement of educational and societal reform called the “invisible college. This was a Hermetic spiritual adoption.” “bequeathed to me as a legacy.82 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Ashmole. the real . conveyed to Ashmole “in Silables the true matter of the Philosopher’s Stone.” attested in a note by Ashmole dated 3 April 1651. John Dury (1596–1680). . using a symbolic metalanguage.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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). which is here explicitly identified with the Kabbalistic ’en soph. Note that beyond the celestial hierarchy is the Ungrund.

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

.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 .

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

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

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

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

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

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

on reçu et savent déjà. astronomy. having asked. it will no doubt be useful to look more closely at some of Milosz’s work. summarizing in some respects his life’s work. but indeed. qui. This isolation Blake rails against in his epic poems. turn their attention inward and become careful observers of the inner landscape.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. they are all intimately aware of the great schisms taking place in modern humanity. from the cosmos. and from its fellow humanity and seemingly set adrift as an isolated being. thieves of joy and pain. The canticle continues: “A ceux. But the poet. which “will contribute in large measure to realizing an inner synthesis of the great discoveries in physical chemistry. that he anticipated a new poetry. have received and already know. to join up with ancient teachings. to survive not only our industrial civilization but also Space-Time itself. the passionate pursuit of the Real. Milosz experiences this inner devastation as well as the powerful creative life awakened when one enters into the living realm of the spiritual imagination. Contemporary sciences are founded in observation of the cosmos.” or “Canticle of Knowledge. knowledge and love. Milosz himself wrote in a brief and late treatise on poetry. Milosz’s work is explicitly dedicated not only to entering into this realm of the spiritual imagination. the observer looks outward.]” Thus the canticle is devoted to teaching on the nature of spiritual illumination. / For those whom prayer has led to meditation on the origin of language.” which.” from The Confession of Lemuel (1918). [For those who. on 14 December 1914. / A ceux que la prière a conduits à la méditation sur l’origin du langage. and especially in Milosz. n’entendront rien à ces choses.”6 Thus he addresses his writings not to the present age but to the future reader who will experience this new poetry and synthesis of all the disciplines. and especially the figures we are discussing here. / Others. which Milosz experienced at eleven o’clock in the evening. and like Blake. / Les autres. At this juncture. seems called upon. and does not in general investigate the nature of the observer’s own consciousness. de science et d’amour. [The teaching of the sunlit hour of the divine nights.”5 And he writes of the “sacred art of the Word.]”7 .” which “springs from the hidden depths of Universal Being. the immense devastation of the self as it is torn asunder from the divine. les voleurs de douleur et de joie. through a new metaphysics.”4 He discerned “a new mysticism. as the organizer of archetypes. insisting instead on the inner creative life of the artist.” telling us that “poetry. seems bound. The “Canticle” begins with the striking line: “L’enseignement de l’heure ensoleillée des nuits du Divin. will understand nothing of these things. Cartographers of consciousness. ayant demandé. crown of human knowledge. “setting out from proven scientific foundations. and also prehistory and archaic history. to awakening it in his reader. at his “Cantique de la Connaissance. and in particular.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Swedenborg. [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. In the “Psalm” we read of another primary theme. he was well acquainted with Jewish Kabbalism. These writers—and also Jewish exegesis—exerted a decisive influence upon Blaise Pascal. the mystical eighteenth century. sought in them peace of spirit. as when the poem refers to the “betrothed sister of the new canticle. and then with his “spiritual guides: Goethe. We can see how deeply Milosz’s fascination with Judaism penetrated his work by examining his final poem. but kept a Bible in Hebrew nearby as a constant reading companion.”25 And he remarked elsewhere that he spent the best years of his life in solitude “getting drunk on the Holy Scriptures and nourishing myself on them. alias René Descartes. but in the tradition of many Christian Cabalists.” Milosz continued.” 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. the School of Alexandria. we cannot help but notice the parallel focus on Judaism and Kabbalah. from Egypt up to today. the disciple of the Kabbalist Raymond Martini. looked forward to the day that the Jews would be converted to Christianity.”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.26 If we see here the depth of Milosz’s focus on Hermeticism in history. Plato.]28 The peculiar rhythm of the lines and line breaks makes this poem unusually difficult to follow.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. The Rosicrucian Polybius the Cosmopolitan. Eugène Ledrain. passing through the Pre-Socratics.” and . the Neoplatonists of the Middle Ages. The allusions to Milosz’s favorite doctrines and language are here hidden in the allusions to Hebrew names and places. “Psaume de l’Étoile du Matin [Psalm of the Morning Star].” first with his teacher of Hebrew. Swedenborg. but it reveals at the heart of all things “a single new word. Martinez de Pasqually. 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. Claude de Saint Martin.

Under the heading “Hiram. my son. Hiram. 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. just as in the Book of Revelation and just as in Kabbalism. . If the author has considered it useful to follow Lessing. wrote for his poetry. and Milosz explains his poem’s relationship to Freemasonry in his “Exegetic Notes. and Savoy. . S. Here. Thus we find in this final poem of Milosz the linguistic and. Milosz tells of his visionary experience. the books open themselves to him. Eliot. 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 . words. and art. and that he shared with much of the Christian theosophic tradition. King of the unified world. Milosz held.”30 The name Hiram is found in Masonic tradition. libric mysticism that has haunted Western esotericism from antiquity. Nor is it coincidental that in 1933 Milosz published his close study titled L’Apocalypse de Saint-Jean Déchiffrée [The Apocalypse of Saint John Decoded] and.” and yet writes that he will humble his brow in the dust before “you. are enormously important for understanding the complex work of Milosz and his mysticism of the word. opens those books in order to reveal their inner mysteries—or rather. as early as 1919.” Milosz writes that The personage who concerns us here is not the symbolic hero of the Templars or of Scottish Freemasonry in England. we are waiting for the continuation and fulfillment of the only Book. Germany. the universal regent of faith. Le Forestier. drawn together with a universalism that both resembles and includes Freemasonry.”29 Here we see the nascent Christian millennialism that pervades so much of Milosz’s work as he anticipated a future renaissance. The allegory is clearly indicated by the password Nekom (Vengeance) used by the Chapter of Clermont and the Scottish lodge of the Berlin Union. for instance. it is not books that we are waiting for. La Clef de l’Apocalypse [The Key to the Apocalypse].100 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E a mysticism that has “all those things” “sleeping in closed books” that open themselves under the poet’s hand. and the true poet. . in short. if we may coin a word. In his “Poem of the Arcana. and books. in 1938. the visionary poet. King of the Unified World. Joseph de Maistre. inside the books of life and of knowledge.” which are far more extensive than anything T. R. Hermeticism and Kabbalism. Architect of the effective Catholic Church of tomorrow. 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. science. says that “I am entering the twelfth year of supreme knowledge. but there are still other currents of Western esotericism that emerge in the poet’s work.” in fact. the archetypes of the cosmos exist inside letters. The “architect” of those brotherhoods was Biblical in name only.

31 It is clear from this note alone that Milosz was intimately familiar with the history of Masonry and Rosicrucianism. particularly for Kadosch Dante Alighieri of the Fede Santa.34 And Milosz goes on to ask. it is above all as testimony of veneration for some of its members. as well as the emergence of a “Cathedral of Peace. his reference to Hiram in the poem is of his own devising. he brings in the theme that. even though Milosz implies that his Hiram is different from the Masonic one. alias René Descartes. a Virgin-Mother of Knowledge.” And he imagines too the “approaching moment. and to the Rosicrucian Polybius the Cosmopolitan. many themes in Milosz’s outer life—chiefly his work in the League of Nations— reflect those of the Rosicrucians and early modern Masons.”32 Here. relatively not distant. when the organization of Europe will be based upon the principles which guided the foundation of the great American federation. in the sacred poem of the Arcana.” Here. especially the dream of a world utopia. the times foreseen by Guillaume Postel.’ announce their impending appearance. but so too were fifty-three of the fifty-six signers of the Declaration of Independence. who announced a coming millennium. the depository of the one divine and human truth confirmed by philosophy and science. like all the continents and all the states of this world. Hence Milosz continues his exegesis of his own poem with several pages on the emergence of a unified world and a new world monarchy. and in so doing was drawing upon a tradition of “the Restitution of All Things” that runs .” This Hiram will establish “his temporal dominion over a world unified at first in spirit by the Holy Catholic Church. Milosz goes on to tell us that the “future architect mentioned by name in the Arcana is the spiritual son of Hiram-Abi.”35 All of this resonates so strongly with the Western esoteric traditions we have been tracing that it would take several pages just to explicate this single sentence in Milosz’s “Exegetic Notes. He writes that “Today. like spirit and matter. and further that although he is drawing on Masonic lore. the builder sent by Hiram of Tyre to Solomon. was so profoundly characteristic of early Rosicrucianism and of Freemasonry as well: the union of science and religion in a glorious unified future world.”33 This last remark is especially interesting given that not only were George Washington and Benjamin Franklin Masons. Religion and science. But Milosz’s grand dream goes beyond Masonry as well. the times of ‘perfection in the Restitution of Nature. aspire to holy unification. Indeed. as we have seen.” He prophesies that “all laboratories of the highest thought will come to group themselves in an immense circle around the future Church of Our Lady.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 101 Sepulchre. it is perhaps enough to recall the prophetic late-medieval character Postel. “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.

in his letter to James Chauvet. Our group will have no more than twelve members. Here too was a group with Masonic overtones. and of forming a group of disciples that in turn would help to transform the whole of human society. whom he later adopted as his spiritual son and gave his family crest name. so too he drew on Masonry in his private life.”38 Such a group. Milosz explicitly forecast the unification of politics. Hiérarchie-Liberté-Fraternité. “Dress for meeting: the robes will be of black silk. however outrageous they may seem in their magnitude. author of The Magus. among them its ritual dress.”37 This new esoteric group had some Masonic characteristics.36 Milosz too saw himself as a prophet of a future era of universal peace and knowledge. he drew together a small esoteric coterie that included René Schwaller.102 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E from antiquity through such figures as John Scotus Eriugena and Jane Leade to modern authors including Vladimir Solovyov and Nicholas Berdyaev. This small group they called Les Veilleurs (The Watchers). sought the widest possible range. however. the sciences. in his work as in his private life. one of Milosz’s most devoted friends. In his work. but our modern attire is truly incompatible with all effort toward the Good.”39 These dreams of universality. being the Christ-figure. These are the three colors of the great work (spiritual and physical). and in 1919 they established an exoteric center called the Centre Apostolique. The fundamental teaching will be that of the Arcana. as we have seen. and the arts via religion. was drawing together a new group of which Milosz was to be spiritual director. “The hour of Apostleship has sounded”—Milosz himself. of the London Rosicrucians of the early nineteenth century associated with Francis Barrett. the “science of the divine. For us. not to say grandiosity. of course. but explicitly Christian. certainly has its historical predecessors: one thinks. moral or social. and scientific fusion. Just as Milosz drew on the full breadth of the Masonic tradition in his poetry and prose. a group that included “the proletarian Masons whose G[rand] M[aster] is one of our friends. Milosz wrote. with a white collar. for instance. And there are numerous other such examples. . the other members being his apostles. religious.” And in his little esoteric group. a kind of Christian semi-Masonic esotericism. And in 1929 Milosz wrote a letter to a friend in which he explained that Carlos Larronde. I am the enemy of exteriorization. and that he deliberately. of political. The Master alone will wear a red cap. while also publishing numerous articles in several journals of the time. most important is that Milosz’s work extended into every sphere of life. de Lubicz. he hoped to influence “all sorts of domains in the evolution of our terrible and admirable epoch. 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. to which era belongs the spiritual son whom he addresses throughout his gnostic poetry and prose.

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

for H. D. and soon (by 1911) came to see the emblem of the thistle and serpent as her own. was fascinated by esoteric correspondences in her life. I argue that this crisis can be interpreted as initiatory. I have written in detail about both Dickinson and Fuller in The Esoteric Origins of the American Renaissance (2001). For it seems clear from her poetry. D. save that in H.” Vulnerable to periodic psychic breakdowns. belonged to what is clearly an American feminine literary lineage that includes on the one hand Emily Dickinson. was fascinated by numerology. She created a hermetic emblem or herald for herself. She writes: If I could visualise or describe that overmind in my own case. In Esoteric Origins. But when we begin to look at H. D. and it was included as the frontispiece for her most well-known book. D.’s Notes on Thought and Vision. the much earlier work Notes on Thought and Vision helps to make clear H. as many critics have observed. written in July 1919 in the Scilly Islands. Notes on Thought and Vision (1919). so it will be necessary here only to allude to the parallels. D.’s early.” The work is essentially an elaboration of this gnomic statement. a cap of consciousness . for our purposes are her later ones such as her poems in Trilogy and Vale Ave as well as her novel The Gift. like H. Woman in the Nineteenth Century.’s life it is repeated a number of times. Margaret Fuller. and her extreme sensitivity had made her preternaturally susceptible to the intensities of experience that others might overlook. D. the parallels we see perhaps most clearly are not so much with Fuller as with Dickinson.’s gnostic perspective in relation to literature.” Albert Gelpi writes that H. underwent “a severe psychic breakdown. as a wrenching spiritual awakening.. however. D. H. overmind. very much resembles both of them in certain respects. D. astrology. we see very much the same pattern of psychological and spiritual crisis as awakening. by recognizing that H. it argues for the characteristically Emersonian idea of an ‘overmind’ as a model of higher consciousness.” which she calls in Notes her “jellyfish experience. D. and on the other Margaret Fuller. mind. In his introduction to H. explicitly esoteric book.104 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E will explore how her work explicitly and implicitly initiates the reader through literature and art. “The Thistle and the Serpent. Notes is a very unusual work. was a reasonably accomplished astrological interpreter. Likewise. “her unusual susceptibility also made possible a breakthrough into heightened consciousness.”41 Although the major works by H. that Dickinson underwent at least one extended spiritual and psychological crisis. I should say this: it seems to me that a cap is over my head. We should begin. and what we might term esoteric correspondences or patterns in life. D. She begins Notes with the cryptic proclamation: “Three states or manifestations of life: body. D. And when we turn from Dickinson to H..

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

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

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

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

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

the scribe. / out of the cocoon. The artist who participates imaginatively with Christ is redeemed. in the context of the three poems together. D. Here the refrain is changed to the words of Jesus to the thieves who were crucified with Him: “to-day thou shalt be with me in Paradise. Sophianic spirituality was in H. the writer. D. the artist is the thief who is redeemed on the very day that Christ is crucified. This imaginative participation is at the heart of H. she retains the web of interconnected meanings and symbolisms. preserving the evocative power of poetry that resists the power of reason alone.” she of the Bona dea. who is also redeemed.110 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E appearing through Mary and through the ancient goddesses.” at once both Christian and pre-Christian.” as well as “the new Eve who comes” bringing “the Book of Life. and the thief. obviously.” “she carried a book. the thief.” Here the focus is not feminine but masculine—the birth of Jesus Christ and the coming of the Wise Men bearing gifts. whether it is con- . thus “The Flowering of the Rood” is also about the redemption of art through religious experience. they are therefore a repudiation of Christianity in favor of a neopagan goddess tradition. They are not.” Yet Sophia is also “the Vestal / from the days of Numa.” H.” This refrain. as we will see in more detail shortly.” And She is also “Psyche. D. affirms the divine feminine in her Trilogy poems. was a baptized Moravian. brought into paradise with Christ.’s Trilogy.’s own heritage. D. and that.” for hers are the blank pages “of the unwritten volume of the new. is reluctant to label Sophia as a single reified figure. D.” “the SS of the Sanctus Spiritus. and H.” 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. under her “drift of veils. She who has been seen “the world over. Hermes is the patron of the artist. It would be a mistake to presume that because H. the butterfly. entitled “The Flowering of the Rood. to her astonishment. at once the Magna Mater and the Virgin of the Book of Revelation of John. she was deeply familiar with the esoteric spirituality of the theosophic community of Count Zinzendorf in Pennsylvania. But the “we” who did not “forego our heritage” also has a wider context. and “she carries a book but it is not / the tome of the ancient wisdom. for H. right into the final poem.” This book is the transmission of the spiritual experience through the book of poems. D. then notes that she is referring to “the straggling company of the brush and quill. as we will see when we turn to her novel The Gift. speculates that “she must have been pleased with us. just as the Word is transmitted through the Great Book.”56 Sophia herself appears to H. D. allied to Mercury also. D. / who did not forego our heritage” [35]. “Our Lady of the Pomegranate. Rather. And there is one more critical detail: when Sophia appeared. And She is “Holy Wisdom. requiring instead imaginative participation on the part of the reader.” “Santa Sophia. the Bible. clearly alludes to the figure of Hermes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

awakening dormant passion in the people in the kitchen. sticky gums . for “the whole house would have seemed to him to be tilting and plunging like a ship in a Bay of Biscay gale. “I do not think he could have reached the door unbidden. 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. lynx-eyed thoughts” “rolling to and fro like glittering drops. bright and ruthless. . To keep their beams upon this spot of the moving Earth’s hide. They could not bear that it should continue.”79 After Mercury arrives Venus. The ordinary people in the kitchen experience first the coming of Mercury: they become exceptionally talkative. then we imaginatively enter the Blue Room. Fallen upon them direct from the Third Heaven. until his outraged senses forsook him. in which none other than the ancient . ready to die. 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 . but it is in the description of the Blue Room that Venus truly comes alive. ready to kill.” Ransom “found himself sitting within the very heart of language. or between “sub-creation” of a “secondary world” and magical effects on the “primary world” of this earth. A soft tingling and shivering as of foam and breaking bubbles. were it possible. in the white-hot furnace of essential speech. . In the beginning of the chapter.” the narrator tells us. They were blinded. .” Merlin and Ransom tremble. and then comes the goddess: “fiery. . the narrator imagines what it must be like to enter the house.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. sweet-scented and full of desire.”80 It is not really possible. and there we see a “rod of coloured light.” “He would have known sensuously. Clearly Lewis is describing a magical working: the invocation of the planetary powers. sharp. calling down the powers. scorched. full of wordplay and puns and metaphors. Into the Blue Room come summer breezes. They experience “needle-pointed desires. where Ransom (the Pendragon) and Merlin sit. and the Blue Room. . deafened. whose colour no man can name or picture” darting between Ransom and Merlin. We encounter how people ordinarily encounter Mercury. They could not bear that it should end. “laden like heavy barges that glide nearly gunwale under . where the invocation has its center. such a distinction does not hold up well at all. . there are two scenes: a room where several ordinary people sit. . In this chapter. so well-crafted and evocative are Lewis’s words. outspeeding light: it was Charity .”78 This initial scene-setting represents a kind of portal through which we as readers imaginatively enter into what is happening in the two rooms: it represents the beginning of an initiation into this magical working. here. In this chapter of Lewis’s novel. . They thought it would burn their bones. brisk merriments. unmitigated. Laden with ponderous fragrance of night-scented flowers. to do full justice to these descriptions of the planetary powers’ arrival.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

eds. See “Oration on the Dignity of Man” in E. Origins. The Hermetic Museum (London: Watkins. I.... p. The Renaissance Philosophy of Man (Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 25. Ibid. The Christian Interpretation of the Cabala in the Renaissance (Port Washington: Kennikat.. 23. See Verman.75. 52.. Bonner. 59. cit.80 ff. 16. 61. Kabbalistes chrétiens (Paris: Albin Michel. 15. 1964). Dan. 1992). 31. C. 1779). Gershom Scholem.205b. op. Simon. 51. 1984). 1985).. Ibid. 18. 32. ed.325.77. 33.. II. Tristan. Doctor Illuminatus. 29. 14. Cassirer. See Mark Verman. 30. ed. 27. Joseph Blau. and Françoise Secret.. M. 57. I. Ibid.. II. p. 26. op. 29. 270. Ibid. p.320–323.312.76. The Books of Contemplation (Albany: State University of New York Press. Cassirer. 19. Les Kabbalistes chrétiens de la Renaissance (Paris: Dunod.C. 1965). Ibid. p. 197. see also Moshe Idel. 17.331.351. 1961). 66. See Moshe Idel. 36. 57.B. 22.. p. I. 34. (London: Soncino. ed. . 278. See Arthur Edward Waite. Origins. 37. IV . 28. 7. 280. Twersky. 1983). p. p. 20. 11... p. A. ed. 1979). The Early Kabbalah (Paulist Press.. II.NOTES TO CHAPTER TWO 161 6. Ibid. op. for instance. I... See J. 13. Ibid.. 298 ff. 9. pp. 12. 197. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p.71. Ibid. 21. I. as well as Antoine Faivre and F. Origins. in The Zohar. 1953) I. (Princeton: Princeton University Press. Scholem.. 246. 35. 10. 8. 1986).. p. See Pico della Mirandola. Ibid. 101–102. see also Scholem. I. II. 38. See Verman. Rabbi Moses Nahmanides: Explorations. See A. et al.205b–206a. Zohar IV . Ibid. Ibid. Ibid. Kabbalah: New Perspectives (New Haven: Yale University Press. p. p.314. Ibid. Origins of the Kabbalah (Princeton: Princeton University Press. See Scholem. 24. cit. p. 394.. (Hildesheim: Olms.. 1969). 1988). p. 250. 1987).. ed. A translation of Ars Brevis is to be found in Ramon Lull. Ibid. pp. Ibid. vom Stein der Weisen (Berlin: Christian Ulrich Ringmacher. I. See. p. Opera omnia. 49–50. trs. trs. Vasoli. p.. p. cit.

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

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

182–183. 33. pp. pp. p. 20. hermetic tradition offered a pattern of meaning in coded form to the initiate . 248.. of course. 21. in her search to translate the inner meaning of material reality” (p. 16. 1989). pp. Susan Friedman.. D.. 18. Milosz. see Steven Bullock. . Notes on Thought and Vision (San Francisco: New Directions. p. 30. Milosz. Ibid. 19. pp. Ibid. See W. introduction by Albert Gelpi. 204–205. Milosz. and to what end? One might hope that critics would eventually cease to assume that there is always only a single thing called “esoteric tradition... ranging from entirely cosmological ones such as astrology or the Tarot to more metaphysical or gnostic ones. 226–227. Friedman writes that “From her [H.. For a discussion of Postel in relation to Christian theosophy. Theosophia: Hidden Dimensions of Christianity (Hudson: Lindisfarne. 2001).. Pollen and Fragments: Selected Poetry and Prose of Novalis (Grand Rapids: Phanes. See Versluis. See Versluis. Ibid. Ibid.. 17. 469. pp.. is into what did she translate this inner meaning.. For the poet of the modernist era. pp.1 ff. D. p. D. Ibid. 1981). 13.. Ibid. Ibid.. 40... 15. for a translation of Hymns to the Night. 34. 48–52.. p. Ibid. pp. 26. 41. Ibid. pp. I. Ibid. 224–225.’s] perspective. Ibid. 32. see Versluis. pp. Ibid. Revolutionary Brotherhood: Freemasonry and the Transformation of the American Social Order (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press. ed. Ibid. 35. 465. 36. 1996). op. 24. 157–206. Ibid. 28. 23. p. 1994). Psyche Reborn (Bloomington: Indiana University Press. 299. Ibid. . 210–211. Hermetica (Boston: Shambhala. pp. 38.. 27. 296. Ibid. 300. op. Ibid.” synonymous with “hermetic tradition. 31.164 NOTES TO CHAPTER THREE 12. 8–9. cit. 464. 180–181. p. pp. Milosz. 1985). 39. op. p. 29.. cit. The Esoteric Origins of the American Renaissance (New York: Oxford University Press. Lib. . 14. I.” when in fact there are numerous different esoteric currents of a wide variety. Ibid. p. 299–300. Ibid. cit. 178–179. trs. The question. 25. 303. 297–298. 277. p. 158). 1982). 206–207.. p. For a more extensive study.115. H. 455... pp. The ‘true-rune and right spell’ of esoteric tradition contained the code for H. Scott. pp. 174–175. pp. 22. the harsh world of necessity that Freud described is itself the “rune” that must be deciphered. 37... Ibid.

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

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

1 ff. Ibid. p. p. 130. Futurism. See Charles C. Freedom and the Spirit. 115. 1958). 105. Bromley’s is the image on the cover of my book Theosophia (1994). 94. Ibid. ed. Ibid.31. 111. 1997) p. Theosophia: Hidden Dimensions of Christianity (Hudson: Lindisfarne. 225. The Beginning and the End (New York: Harper. 71 ff. The Occult in Russian and Soviet Culture (Ithaca: Cornell University Press. 124. Ibid. “Ancient Gnosticism and Christian Theosophy” in Studies in Spirituality (Fall 1997). See Versluis. Nicholas Berdyaev. Ibid. Socialist Realism.. Ibid. p.D. 1978). 122.. See. 123. p. 1994). 1980). Nishitani Keiji. See Berdyaev’s introduction to Jacob Böhme’s Six Theosophic Points (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan. pp. .. p. 62–63. Ibid. Ibid. 121. Christosophia. IV . 40 and pp. Versluis. Religion and Nothingness (Berkeley: University of California Press. 285. for example. 113. Ibid. p. pp. p... I. Nicolas Berdyaev: Theologian of Prophetic Gnosticism (Th. 127. p.. 74. Christosophia IV . 112. p. 105. from “The Magic of Words: Symbolism. 78. Rosenthal.” in B. p. 1957).. See my overview of Christian theosophy in Magic and Mysticism. A. I added the colors. The Way to Christ (New York: Paulist Press. Peter Erb. 107.. 109. 129. 25 ff. 110. 108 ff. 116. Knapp. 62.. trs. Ibid.. 118.... Song and Its Fountains (Burdett: Larson. Ibid. 120.” and I. 114.31. 199. 95. forthcoming. 126. Ibid.1. 170. 106. 103. p.. Irina Gutkin. 125. “Warnung an den Leser. Toronto: 1948).. pp. pp. 1991). p.NOTES TO CHAPTER THREE 167 104.. 117. p. “Vorrede. E. 128. Ibid. p. Ibid. Diss. 40. 119. 106. pp. 275 ff.. 39.29–30. p..” 108. Ibid. 63. 194 ff. See also The Destiny of Man. 93... Ibid. p. II.


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

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

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

. 148 Zosimos. 103. 106 Washington. 122–123 Williamson. Charles. David. 9. 48. 64. Arthur. Egidio Cardinal. M. 89. 55. 10. 84 Williams. 148 Zen Buddhism. 116 Yates. Jean-Baptiste. 101 Weishaupt. 82 Troubadours.172 INDEX Trevor-Roper. 10. 75 Yeats. 88. 111 Warlick. W.. Nicholas. 79 Willermoz. 112–113 Zohar. ix.B. 103. 86 Welling. 103. ix. 111. Frances. Hugh. 67–69 Upanishads. George. 56 . 156 Zinzendorf. 35–43 Ungrund. 63. 69–70 Universalism [esoteric]. 140 Valentinus. 110. 104. 137. Adam. 53 Versluis. 10.E. Georg von. 120. 31 Viterbo. 2.

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

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

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