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Western Esotericism, Literature, Art, and Consciousness
SUNY series in
Western Esoteric Traditions
David Appelbaum, editor
Restoring P a r a d i s e Western Esotericism. Art. and Consciousness Arthur Versluis S t a t e U n i v e r s i t y o f N e w Yo r k P re s s . Literature.
Occultism in art. art. literature. BF1411. mechanical. 1959– Restoring paradise : western esotericism. I. Series.Published by STATE UNIVERSITY OF NEW YORK PRESS.—(SUNY series in Western esoteric traditions) Includes bibliographical references and index. ALBANY © 2004 Arthur Versluis Printed in the United States of America No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission. Valentine Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Versluis. 3. Anne M. 90 State Street. Suite 700. Laurie Searl Marketing. Albany. NY 12207 Production. and consciousness / Arthur Versluis.V47 135—dc22 2004 2004045292 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 . No part of this book may be stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means including electronic. Occultism—History. photocopying. recording. Occultism in literature. address State University of New York Press. magnetic tape. Title. II. For information. Authur. cm. electrostatic. or otherwise without the prior permission in writing of the publisher. p. 2. paper) 1. ISBN 0-7914-6139-4 (alk.
In memory of poet and scholar Kathleen Raine .
Rosicrucian. and Masonic Literature ix xi 1 17 35 . Pansophic.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.
and Consciousness Notes Index 87 159 169 .viii CONTENTS 3 Modern Implications Prospero’s Wand: Modern Esoteric Literature The Western Esoteric Traditions and Consciousness Literature. Art.
traditions. and I hope that it will open the way to a new appreciation for each of them in this larger context. In writing this book.. and Cecil Collins. all the way from the early Christian era to twentieth-century poets and artists. 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. C. D. and consciousness itself. At the very least. O. I drew on a variety of both primary and secondary sources. S. ix . Soon it became clear that Restoring Paradise was to be a genuinely interdisciplinary argument whose subjects range across Western religious and literary history. found where literature and religion meet in the works of such extraordinary figures as Charles Williams. figures. V. Hence. I also included references to Japanese Zen Buddhism and to the great Japanese philosopher Keiji Nishitani.P re f a c e Restoring Paradise began as an introduction to the literary and religious history of Western esotericism and was meant for a general audience. At the suggestion of an early reader. H. This is the first extensive discussion of these authors together. Lewis. I hope that Restoring Paradise will serve to introduce many readers to the richness of our common inheritance. so did an unexpected thesis about initiation. but in keeping with my original impetus. but as the book took shape. but the work’s focus remains Western. art. literature. and locales that play a role in supporting and amplifying the larger argument. wrote for a general audience across a range of fields rather than for specialists in one or more of the many periods. Milosz.
Mélanges offerts à Antoine Faivre (Louven: Peeters. and to the editors of Gnostica 3. from Trilogy. each of whom helped to make it a better work. Milosz. (Ipswich: Golgonooza. copyright renewed 1973 by Norman Holmes Pearson.D. and to Studies in Spirituality. Poems. 1997). in particular “Tribute to the Angels” (excerpts) by Hilda Doolittle (H. Pages from a Sketchbook (Ipswich: Golgonooza. “The Music of Dawn” from The Vision of the Fool and Other Works.. to The Journal of Consciousness Studies. © 1944 by Oxford University Press. 1985). 1994) and Meditations. from Trilogy. including the adapted cover illustration. (West Stockbridge: Lindisfarne. copyright renewed 1972 by Norman Holmes Pearson. Used by permission of New Directions Publishing Corporation.). My thanks to New Directions Publishing for permission to quote from the works of the poet H. xi . © 1945 by Oxford University Press. to Christopher Bamford and Lindisfarne Press for the citations from The Noble Traveller: The Life and Writings of O. V. in which earlier versions of parts of this book first appeared.). the estate of Cecil Collins and the Tate Gallery for citations and images. 2001).Acknowledgments Grateful acknowledgments to Brian Keeble.D. Many thanks also to the various readers and editors of this book during the course of its production. and “The Walls Do Not Fall” (excerpts) by Hilda Doolittle (H. de L.D.
and these in turn may offer us new ways to understand both our past and our present in surprising ways.2 In a model that I outline in two articles on method in the study of esotericism. provoking. religious. Yet for this to take place. and artistic traditions from antiquity to the present. but also. 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.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.3 Gnosis may be divided into two broad categories: cosmological. of The Cloud of Unknowing and of eighteenth-century alchemical treatises form various sets and subsets. meaning experiential insight into the nature of the divine as manifested in the individual and in the cosmos.” of which (in my definition) the mysticisms of an Eckhart or a Böhme. literary. I extend this question beyond mysticism to include the full range of what are now termed “Western esoteric traditions. however. and one of the most promising of these is what we may broadly term esoteric literature and art. and perhaps even more critically. are now appearing. figures. or conveying spiritual experiences. or groups have been overlooked or marginalized. even apophatic mysticism. we must begin to go beyond historical research in order to understand not only who or what esoteric works. how esotericism is transmitted in the West. artistic. and otherwise. I argue that esotericism has as its central characteristic gnosis. As Steven Katz pointed out in Mysticism and Language (1992).1 Here. and one that has ramifications in many directions. not least of all for the understanding of art and literature. A wide range of new approaches to and reënvisionments of Western history. These are not. and metaphysical or transcendent. the study of mysticism. In this book. mutually 1 . This is a vast and almost totally unexplored field.
Western esoteric traditions have been denigrated or dismissed for centuries. and related currents of hidden knowledge in the European inheritance. Rather. But because so little has been written on how Western esoteric traditions are transmitted. for in order to create the modern world of machinery and science. philosophical. Christian theosophy. Yet these traditions. but with occasional reference to what I see as in many respects an analogous Asian tradition—that of the Zen Buddhist koan. magic.4 The bias against esotericism derived in large part from the hegemony of rationalism and materialism. Like the koan. Undoubtedly. or mentioned only to be dismissed as merely outmoded relics. In essence. on how initiation can take place in the absence of a direct historical lineage in the West. however disparate. even if these also include metaphysical gnosis. and social histories. the Western gnostic treatise uses words to provide an entry into dimensions of consciousness that transcend words. Freemasonry. mysticism. In particular. left out of literary. The term Western esoteric traditions is broad. Christian gnosis. Cosmological gnosis is insight into the nature of the cosmos. astrology. it can be described also as the transcendence of subject-object or self-other divisions. for although we will outline Western esotericism’s main currents here. or convey spiritual awakening. including alchemy. and about how we come to know. however. but necessarily so: it defines a vast range of traditions. Although it seems that ours is a time when everything from the past is bound to come to light. there has been much selective editing of our collective human inheritance. magic. that is what this book is about. but perhaps most edited of all were European currents of thought. and although we will present a new way of understanding the phenomenon of Western esotericism in a contemporary light. Rosicrucianism. it was necessary for many people to abandon whatever did not fit a positivist paradigm. above all this is a book about knowing. of course. Jewish Kabbalah. astrology. to therefore reductionistically argue that these traditions represent nothing but linguistic constructions. and what ‘knowing’ by way of literature and language actually means. examples of it include alchemy.2 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E exclusive but rather are complementary and overlapping. religious. Here. or gnosis. To consider the pivotal role that language and image play in the transmission of esoteric spiritual traditions is not. perhaps the most important of which is an emphasis on attaining spiritual knowledge. But the time for such biases is past. Metaphysical gnosis in its pure form is apophatic or via negativa mysticism like that of Meister Eckhart or Marguerite Porete. theosophy. this has not been true until recently for the Western esoteric traditions. . or Hermeticism. we will focus primarily on Western esoteric traditions such as alchemy. provoke. 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. Not at all. do have certain characteristics in common. this must be our primary focus.
and there are many treasures to be found there. and continuity of the Western esoteric traditions. are fundamentally about reading: about reading nature. . Thus many have begun to cast about for ways to enrich their inner or spiritual lives. Chief among them is the growing conviction that positivism is bankrupt. To navigate one’s way through these movements. of course. we will not only be uncovering littleknown aspects of bygone days. and so a welter of new religious movements and groups has emerged. and to understand their patterns and meaning. their inner lives have become progressively more barren. it is more than useful to recognize whence they have emerged. In many respects. or as oppressive and as having spawned the destructiveness of modernity. nature. our time resembles the early Christian era. despite their often almost bewildering variety. And underlying these is. in my view. we readily can see why the time is ripe for a reëvaluation of the Western esoteric traditions in light of our contemporary situation. while at the same time we find reactionary fundamentalist Christian sectarianism that often only fuels others’ disdain for Christianity. Yet beyond the pleasure of discovery we will find something else: for the more we study the field of Western esotericism. about reading the stars. an awareness that modern machinery for all its power impoverishes both outer and inner nature. and cults existed side by side.INTRODUCTION 3 Why? For the first time in several hundred years. which is often seen either as outdated. what their predecessors are. but even sheds light on the very nature of being human. This is without doubt the reason that there are so many new religious movements—combined with a widespread distrust and even ridicule of Christianity.5 But there are other reasons why an examination of the Western esoteric traditions might be especially apropos today. Given the present openness of many people to criticism of modernity. we find a definite prejudice in post-Christian societies against Christianity in general. By looking more closely at the origin. which increasingly in the West seems to intellectuals to be moribund except as a social phenomenon. At the same time on the religious front. the more we come to see certain underlying patterns. we find on the social front. For as we will see. therefore. when we look at Western societies. Thus. and to alternative forms of spirituality. Western esotericism is. and ways beyond the impasse at which we find ourselves today. the Western esoteric traditions. a vast field. but in fact be discovering fundamental keys to understanding both the European esoteric inheritance. and particularly in the radical ecology movement. sects. when a panoply of religions. a single primary and overarching metaphor that we will be able to trace throughout the Western traditions in all their variety. a metaphor that illuminates not only all the various disciplines and traditions. proliferating wildly. many people have realized that despite all the material comforts made possible by our machinery. about reading as discovering esoteric knowledge of ourselves and of the cosmos.
imaginatively enter into different lives. Greek in origin. For the Western esoteric traditions approach such questions from a totally different view: for them. but not necessarily knowledge in the sense in which we use the term today. we are not merely passive observers of a great aphorist. In every experience of literature. yet this view of union is one that most and perhaps all literary readers and authors will intuitively recognize. and heaven. but with consciousness itself. or spiritual knowledge. however. is the nature of the ‘I’ and the ‘not-I’ in question. 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. of course. The word gnosis. in other words.’ itself a metaphor for our time. but in some sense leap the gap between ourselves and the author so as to actively participate in the writing. ‘Knowledge’ in contemporary usage is essentially ‘data. but experience the marvel of living metaphor and rhythm for ourselves. Reading here is defined in the broadest possible way. purgatory. the accumulation of facts based in an apparently insurmountable division between self and other: ‘I’ accumulate facts about what is ‘not-I. reading in this context extends beyond ratiocinative knowledge limited to a split between the reading subject and the ‘object’ to be studied: instead. and will require much elaboration. as penetrating into the hidden mysteries of all that we see. and thus there are no permanent divisions between ‘I’ and the cosmos. and each requires the other. refers to spiritual knowledge. The mystery of reading is. If there are great writers. we feel as someone else feels. 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. The ‘I’ need not remain at the mercy of its own selfishness. is much deeper than it might at first appear. for it is grounded not in separation but in union.4 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E This theme of reading. so too there are great readers. Likewise.’ that is. when we read the works of an Emerson. And when we read a great poem. it is at the heart of the Western literary continuum. By contrast. we enter into another’s world. why do we travel with . reading here guides one toward gnosis. the ‘I’ is recognized to be not stable but fluid. Why do we travel with Dante’s pilgrim through hell. but can be transmuted. What is more. progressively realizing its fundamental identity with plants and animals. we do not remain just a cataloguer of this or that remarkable confluence of words. Thus we can see that spiritual knowledge is of a different order than contemporary secular or scientific knowledge. reading in the Western esoteric traditions has to do not merely with accumulating data. minerals and stars. and ultimately with the divine. When we read a novel. we have developed machines that ‘read. 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. also about union.
what is the attraction of Melville’s Ishmael? These works. we understand. drama. and when we read them. we find that the written word is often seen not only as a means of transmitting spiritual understanding. 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. I am not arguing that such insights are identical to what one might experience when working in one of the Western esoteric traditions. a supposition with a long history that goes back at least to Plato in his Phaedrus. where we are from. We make connections.” Although we will begin to unravel the intricacies of these mysteries of the word later. and during the course of this book we will begin to unveil just how significant is this indebtedness. This is not to say that the written word is privileged over the oral tradition. we will see that literature (in the broadest sense of this word) is fundamentally about consciousness.INTRODUCTION 5 Piers Ploughman among riddles and toward the apocalypse. it will be useful to comment now on what is implied by this term. It is often commonly supposed that the written word is inherently inferior to the spoken or oral tradition. but neither is it to say that the written word is disparaged. not about accumulating more information. What is more. When I refer to literature “in the broadest sense of this word. that at their heart the Western esoteric traditions are about reading the world’s and our own secrets. The mysteries of the word represented in these various esoteric traditions are historical predecessors to and influences on what we now . Using the word literature in this way in no way implies that these works are ‘only’ literary—that is to say.” 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. 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. Rather. we travel ever more deeply into the worldview of the authors. perhaps even experiencing hierophanxic moments of insight during which we suddenly see ourselves and the world around us in a new light. we will unveil various facets of what I believe are approaches to spirituality via literature that inform all of them. it is to suggest that these works exist on a spectrum that also includes poetry. Here “literature” refers also to alchemical treatises and to visionary narrations. but I am arguing that Western literature owes a very great deal indeed to the Western esoteric traditions. in short to the full range of esoteric literature. like so many others. are full of mysterious symbols and intricate encoded wordplays. fiction. and essays. and where we are going. As we look closer at the specific currents of Western esotericism. but even as a vehicle for attaining spiritual understanding. But when we begin looking at the Western esoteric traditions. to intensely complex theosophic works such as those of Jacob Böhme. that their authors did not take them seriously as alchemical or spiritual treatises. but about qualitatively different ways of understanding who we are.
have often turned more and more to quasiscientific approaches. 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. people most of all. It is the very basis of industrialization to objectify every aspect of life. grounded in spirituality. for in it we are seeking to unveil new and ancient ways of understanding not only the primal act of reading. Thus this is in many respects a revolutionary book.6 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E call “literature” or “literary tradition. meaning that our investigations into and control of our world derives from our regarding all that surrounds us as objects to be manipulated. but also the even more primal act of knowing. and particularly literature. quantitative. If the trajectory of modern society is toward a virtual reality for each individual. everything. By contrast. we may well say that Western esotericism represents the reverse or inverse of modernity. moving instead toward ever deeper understanding of how one is indivisible from these. as if catalogic. finally. the trajectory of the Western esoteric traditions is precisely the opposite: toward ever more profound knowledge of our unity with these realms. but for connection and union. including people. validate literature or the humanities in the face of scientism’s obvious and total victory. living divorced from humanity. And if at the beginning of the modern era there was a choice between these two . no longer quite so dismissive of perspectives. Western esotericism in all its manifold forms has at its center the search not for manipulation or control deriving from objectification. Such objectification allows us to exploit and consume everything. that have not fit into a worldview emphasizing a self-aggrandizing self pitted against other—to emphasize instead a wholly different approach to knowledge. and everything becomes a matter of techné. the way we see the world. it suffuses our language. who are reduced to machinelike functionaries. indeed. Certainly Western esoteric traditions were prevalent at the beginning of the modern era: contemporaneous with the emergence of modern rationalist science were completely different kinds of sciences. nature is reduced to “natural resources”. or reductive explanations or investigations would somehow. For objectification has permeated all of modern society. one based not on division but on union. 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. most notably Western esoteric traditions. Contemporary society is based on what we may call objectification. we also have an opportunity to investigate the humanities with new eyes.” and acknowledging them will require us to change the way we see literature as a whole. or manipulation. and the divine. Those studying the humanities. In this respect. so pervasive is this objectification that it is extremely difficult to extricate oneself from this paradigm even if one wants to do so. from which we believe that we are separate. nature.
crystals. thus opening the field up to scholarship on contemporary as well as much earlier historical figures. . particularly from the Renaissance and early modern periods. But the fact remains that there are also figures. 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. however. as we rediscover the Western esoteric traditions. and so to maintain clarity. alone communing with the alone through the medium of words—this is the figure that will govern our journey through Western esotericism. in the latter quarter of the twentieth century. alone with an author. we need to survey some of its meanings as well as to define it for our own purposes here. particularly in light of their counterparts in the Asian esoteric traditions.” In an effort to define the academic study of esoteric figures or groups and to separate it from popular definitions. literature. the academic study of esotericism is a developing field that may be succinctly and without derogation termed “esoteric studies. for Western esotericism entails individual awakening. it may well be that out of this juncture will come a kind of cultural renaissance. perhaps symbolized best by the figure of someone reading an esoteric work from long ago. works. esoteric popularly has become almost synonymous with New Age. and groups in Western European and North American history. and even from purportedly extraterrestrial origins. and so forth. But it is not particularly fruitful to speculate about social transformation in this field. that are intellectually influential and that are only now becoming more widely studied in universities. and consciousness. And in North America as well. Indeed. One finds under the rubric esoterik books on topics like pendulum dowsing. The reader. But the question remains: how does one define esoteric in a satisfactory way? If one employs the largely cosmological characteristics proposed by Faivre. And indeed.6 Subsequently. fundamentally a marketing category for merchandise. 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. 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. so too that choice still exists today. W H AT I S E S O T E R I C ? The word esoteric is used today in a variety of ways. In Western Europe. one finds esoteric sometimes referring to an eclectic or syncretic collection of merchandise drawn from a wide range of cultures.INTRODUCTION 7 ways.
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say, symbolic correspondences or “living nature.” It seems odd to exclude from one’s definition of esotericism authors such as Meister Eckhart or, to choose a twentieth-century example, Bernadette Roberts, when their work is clearly esoteric in the classic sense of being intended for a limited, elite audience “with ears to hear.” While one may indeed find ways to fit such via negativa gnostics into a schema of cosmological characteristics, it seems to me necessary to propose an elegant and simple definition of esoteric that will be useful for studying not only eighteenth-century Masonry or Rosicrucianism, but also the kinds of syncretic esotericism that one finds in the twenty-first century. Here, I use the word esoteric in a religious context to refer to individuals or groups whose works are self-understood as bearing hidden inner religious, cosmological, or metaphysical truths for a select audience. Such a definition can include alchemical, magical, Masonic, or gnostic groups or individuals, but in any case there is a separation between esoteric (from the Greek eso-, meaning “within” or “inner”) knowledge for a select audience and exoteric knowledge for the general populace. This definition includes the social-anthropologic sense of initiation as admission into a secret society, but extends it to include the full range of cultural works like those of literature and art, which may very well convey secrets hidden from the casual observer. It also includes the range of New Age or syncretic movements that emerged in the late twentieth century and that also claim access to hidden secrets of the cosmos. At the same time, this definition excludes the loose sense of esoteric as referring to the arcana of, say, computer functions or plumbing; it refers explicitly to knowledge of religious or cosmological mysteries.
I N I T I AT O R Y T R A N S M I S S I O N AND WESTERN ESOTERICISM In order to delve into the field of Western esotericism in relation to language and consciousness, we also will need to consider the nature of ‘initiation.’ This word carries a range of meanings, so we must begin by considering it. Literally, of course, the word means “beginning,” and this significance continues throughout its other meanings as well. The ‘initiate’ is one who has entered into a tradition or group. But beyond this, the word initiation takes on a variety of implications. In anthropology, the word generally is used for adolescents who undergo a tribal ritual and thereby enter into the community of adults. This is the sense in which the word is used by, for instance, Jean La Fontaine in Initiation, where he writes that the subject of his book is “rituals of initiation in the common sense of the term; that is, rituals of admission into secret societies . . . as well as those [rituals] which mark the passage between childhood and maturity.”7 But he hastens to add that initiation cannot be defined simply as ritual
admissions to groups, secret or not, because there are other elements generally involved. Among these are acquisition of powers through secret or special knowledge, and the crossing of a ritual boundary into special status defined by that knowledge. La Fontaine offers as examples of initiation several tribal groups and Freemasonry, and offers a largely sociological analysis of them. Yet there are other elements of initiation not dealt with in La Fontaine’s anthopological perspective that we must also consider. Mircea Eliade, in “Symbolism of the Initiatory Death,” draws our attention to initiation as a religious phenomenon, arguing that initiation entails a liquidation of one’s past and historical identity, and a reëntry into “an immaculate, open existence, untainted by Time.”8 Initiation, from a religious perspective, is a rebirth, a transition to a new or renewed mode of existence, a regeneration. This regeneration may take the form of transitional suffering in actuality, or it may entail symbolic suffering or entry into darkness and symbolic death, but in either case the initiate goes through a probationary period and then is born again into timelessness or immortality. This religious dimension of initiation is less commonly dealt with in contemporary social anthropology, but it is in fact closely tied with another aspect, that of lineage. Indeed, when we look at some religious traditions, we find that there is clearly an initiatory transmission of lineage carefully maintained. Examples of this can be found in Sufism, for instance, where the shaikh or master is the pupil of an earlier shaikh, whose line can thus be traced back historically to its founder as well as to the revelation of Muhammed. A similar concept of lineage can be found in Zen Buddhism, where in order to become a master or teacher, one must undergo considerable training, eventually receiving inka, or official recognition and entry into the historical lineage that goes back not only to the founder of that Zen lineage but to Shakyamuni Buddha himself. The concept here is that the historical lineage serves to convey the original and timeless spiritual insight of its originator; so the archaic symbolism of initiatory death and rebirth to which Eliade referred is transposed into the context of spiritual training, the verification and acknowledgement of the master, and entry into the company of the masters, at least for a few. Lineage, in other words, is historical transmission that can be traced from master to disciple who becomes master, who in turn has disciples, who in turn . . . Yet when we turn to Western European esoteric traditions, we find comparatively little of this pattern of historical transmission. The notable exception is Jewish Kabbalah, where there are in fact historical lineages of Kabbalistic masters; but when we turn to Christianity, or even to what may loosely be classified under Hermeticism (including alchemical and magical currents), we find somewhat less emphasis on such historical lines of transmission. And in fact the history of European Christianity reveals an unusual kind of bifurcation: on the one hand, we find a recurring tendency toward scriptural literalism and an
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emphasis on the importance of belief in doctrine that could be characterized as exoteric; while on the other hand, we find the recurrence of more esoteric tendencies, largely if by no means exclusively in heterodox movements or individuals. But the hostility of the more exoteric Christians toward those inclined to esoteric Christianity of various kinds (not to mention recurrent persecutions) has meant that the historical circumstances in Christianity mostly disallowed the kind of direct master-pupil-master-pupil historical esoteric transmission that we see in, for example, Zen Buddhism. In my book on Christian theosophy in the tradition of Jacob Böhme, Wisdom’s Children (1999), I proposed what I call “ahistorical continuity” to describe the kind of continuity one finds between, for instance, Valentinean Gnosticism in antiquity and the theosophy of Jacob Böhme in the seventeenth or eighteenth centuries without any historical lineage connecting them. Like Ioan Culianu, I propose that there are certain esoteric characteristics implicit in a religious tradition, and that although they may be latent for some centuries, someone like Böhme rediscovers or reawakens them in light of his own creative spirit. Examples of these characteristics include an emphasis on Wisdom or Sophia as the divine feminine; the hebdomad as a cosmological principle; the demiurge or spiritus mundi as an opposition to spiritual awakening, and others. Thus there are numerous clear parallels between Valentinean Gnosticism and Böhmean theosophy, but Böhme did not derive his thought from the former; he is, rather, an example of an ahistorical continuity.9 But the concept of ahistorical continuity is descriptive, not explanatory, and the question still arises of how initiatory traditions are transmitted in the West in the absence of continuous historic lineages and in an often hostile, persecutory ambience when it is not, as in the case of Böhme, a matter of a spiritual genius creating or recreating an entire gnostic tradition. Where does an isolated alchemist learn to become a master alchemist? The answer, in brief, is through encoded or symbolic literature and art. In essence, that is what this book is about; it is an in-depth examination of how initiation can take place through the written word or image. For although there are certainly some initiatory lineages in the conventional sense, these are more exceptions than commonplace, and the written word or image is in fact the primary means of initiatory transmission in the West. This is so even when there is an alchemical master-pupil relationship, for the alchemical secrets are still conveyed via enigmatic literature and image and the master aids in unveiling them. There is, of course, a clear Asian analogy for this transmission that takes place in part through the written word or through images: the koan tradition in Soto and Rinzai Zen Buddhism. The koan tradition, its history and applications, is considerably more than we can deal with here, but it is worth our while nonetheless to at least develop it as a reference point. As is well known, the koan is usually defined in the West as a clever paradox designed to be in-
Dogen (1200–1253) heaped scorn on the idea of koan as irrational. From this viewpoint. and then moves to another koan in a more or less standardized series. and recent scholarship confirms that the koan traditions in Zen Buddhism are far more sophisticated than popular depictions of them might have it. The pupil is confronted with a koan by the master. If kensho is to be described as a breakthrough. In the context of the Rinzai koan curriculum. we discovered that we float helpless and uncontrolled without gravity. however. then it is a breakthrough not out of. eventually solves it with a spiritual realization. there is no Zen enlightenment beyond thought and language in a realm of pure consciousness. a profoundly important point not only insofar as Zen Buddhist koan study is concerned. Esoteric knowledge is expressed through literature and art. through language and image.10 Hori goes on to make the following final point. If kensho is the realization of nonduality. . . 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. Freedom in fact lies in gravity. Instead of blaming thought and language for defiling a primordial consciousness. but into conventional consciousness . It has become more or less commonplace for specialists in .” 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. kensho is the realization of nonduality within ordinary conventional experience. Hori concludes: “Just as there is no free flying above the reach of gravity. 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. but once we escaped the earth’s gravitational field. The depiction of the koan tradition as irrational has long been criticized. we may have thought that freedom lay in ascent beyond gravity. one should recognize that only in thought and language can enlightenment be realized.”11 This is. kensho is not a state of noncognitive consciousness awaiting the monk on the other side of the limits of rationality. Hori insists instead on what he terms a “realizational” model of understanding Zen koans.INTRODUCTION 11 soluble by the rational mind and to propel the practitioner toward kensho (insight) or satori (awakening). joined to a view of Zen Buddhism as a way of escaping the pollution of society and language back to an original pureness beyond language. in his Shobogenzo. then it itself cannot be separate and distinct from ordinary dualistic experience. not beyond it. This is fundamentally a Rousseauian notion of the individual as originally pure but polluted by society and language. I believe. In a provocative article entitled “Koan and Kensho in the Rinzai Zen Curriculum. At one time.
as I will propose here. What makes Western esotericism different above all. If we believe that the imagination is more or less exclusively individualistic. Like the koan. The same is true of the alchemical or gnostic treatise: the neophyte must work with and through it. and that this is in fact the primary means of initiatory transmission in the West—through word and image. and the work of the practitioner is to enter into and realize for himself the truths that it contains. as in individual daydreams. nor to say that there are no examples of initiatory lineages at all like those of Zen Buddhism. literature and art play a very special kind of initiatory role. the implication being that there is no such thing as gnosis. or are they manifestations of some other reality beyond oneself? Or. By . and thus also to the individual. but what is the nature of the images perceived by the imaginative faculty? Are images merely phantasms of one’s own mind. until he has penetrated to its authentic meaning. is there a third interpretation that lies somewhere between these two? Such questions are important because the imaginative faculty is so vital to creating and to understanding literary and artistic works. the weight of initiatory transmission is transposed to literary and artistic works. 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. has no one capable of discerning a right understanding from a wrong one. The koan derives its name from a judicial term.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. particularly those that clearly are esoteric in nature. I am arguing that in the West. is the pervasive lack of initiatory lineages and thus of the immediate reproof or approval of a living teacher. an alchemical treatise stands as an enigmatic representation of a transmutative process. as means of initiation. esoteric literature and art can function rather like the koan in Zen Buddhism. 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. frustrating though this may be. I believe. In the absence of a well-recognized line of historical masters. I am arguing that in Western esoteric traditions. This role may be seen in some respects as analogous to that of the Zen Buddhist koan. Rather. for that matter. then we cannot really speak of literature or the arts as being the vehicle of an initiatory or transmutative process. 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. Rather. But that is not at all what I am arguing here—far from it. This is not to say that the West had or.
an initiatory process that takes place through words and image. 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. or provoke the reader toward a gnostic shift in consciousness. refers to the sympathetic capacity of the reader or audience to participate in a work and to be transmuted by it.” an entry into and residence in a visionary realm hidden from ratiocinative knowledge. and doing so is an initiatory process through which the reader or audience develops cosmological or metaphysical insights. For example. this would be in fact metaphoric for a process of transmutation. and those who enter into it do so in order to undergo the process that it embodies. and hence the metaphoric journey might better be termed a “sojourn. Obviously. One has to enter into and dwell in the imaginative realm the creator generates (or reveals) through the work. For instance. the action by the act of reading or viewing. even though all calls for imaginative participation on the part of the reader or audience. The reader or audience does not travel outwardly but inwardly. if one were to attempt to read John Pordage’s treatise Sophia as symptomatic of delusions on his part. A literary or artistic work is esoteric not only when it conveys certain hidden meanings to an audience. guide.INTRODUCTION 13 its very nature. 1675) is intended for a reader who has passed a certain milestone in alchemical practice and now seeks further guidance. This work is circumscribed.12 As a result. literary or otherwise. literature demands an audience who participates in creating the characters. not all literature or art is esoteric or initiatory. and employs parabolic language and images to that end. Pordage’s letter is not accidentally or unconsciously esoteric—it is quite deliberately so. but intended as a guide for the individual practitioner. but also and even more because it entails a mutual intent on the part of the creator and the work’s audience. in other words. 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. it is for the few. toward perceiving the world in a fundamentally new way. This process takes place through the imaginative faculty. this very perspective would make it impossible from the outset to . This is the spirit in which an esoteric work is created and read or experienced. it is not for a general readership. or through what we may also call the induced vision of art. Imagination. Imaginative participation is fundamental to art. the images. What differentiates the esoteric work from others is the evident intent of the author that the work is esoteric and initiatory. it is clear from its beginning that John Pordage’s “Letter on the Philosophic Stone” (ca. Although we could describe an esoteric work as a journey or the account of a journey. Esoteric works draw upon this fundamental participation or sharing between the creator and the audience in order to entice.
We can thus posit three kinds of readers of esoteric works: 1. Yet if we answer “yes. When one reads an esoteric work like John Pordage’s treatise on Sophia. which is what I am proposing here. 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. graspable solution to a koan. thus sealing it off from oneself as merely an object to be manipulated by the intellect and revealing oneself as a closed reader. of whether that which is imagined or revealed in an esoteric work possesses any existence of its own. But there is a third perspective. This leads us inevitably to the question with which we began. This does not mean that one jettisons reason and becomes a ‘true believer. and this too presents problems. Pordage writes that in the Sophianic process of imaginative vision.” but this would be a purely exoteric answer that objectified the esoteric work of literature or art. to understand them. one is in fact entering imaginatively into the process Pordage is describing. not one’s own. inwardly in you and not constructed outside you. who enter into a work imaginatively.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.” we may well then be positing the realm of the imagination itself as something objectified that exists outside oneself. analogous to that of the Zen student who seeks an objectified. and 3.” The gnostic. in other words. 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. For one does not have to conceive of imagination as a purely individual generative capacity. From a contemporary rationalist perspective one might answer “no. who see the work as mirroring a process that they seek to undergo in themselves. one must enter into them openly and on their own terms. Initiates.’ 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. but here a new magical earth is brought . 2. Sympathetic readers. Closed readers—those who come to a work with predetermined theses that disallow their imaginative entry. imagination could also be seen as a faculty of perception and transmutation. has awakened in him by divine Wisdom the creative power that brings external existence into being. and nothing less. a process explicitly closed to the exoteric reader. 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.
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. is by its very nature one of co-creation. taking place in a continuum in which divine power works and in which the reader or audience can participate vicariously at least. and to the audience or initiate who vicariously participates in or witnesses the work and so has awakened the possibilities that the work represents. but neither is it wholly internal as a creation of the gnostic. they represent divine manifestation in the gnostic faculty of imagination so that the gnostic can perceive and be guided toward what they represent and. Imagination takes place in a continuum of co-creation belonging to the gnostic who perceives. is an initiatory process manifested through literature and art. inasmuch as the author or artist is allowing an imaginative process to take place within. This intermediate or mesocosmic state is precisely what allows Pordage’s treatise to be initiatory for the reader: his work is a guide to his own gnostic experience. but these images exist in a mesocosmic realm between the gnostic and the divine. then that work also belongs to this continuum and guides others into the same process of imaginative awakening. but rather a matter of perceiving (being open to) an inner creative process. it is generated through the creative power of Sophia and perceived through the gnostic imagination. but also the co-experience of the reader who participates in this process by reading the treatise. It is not so much a matter of visualization by an individual. The realm of the imagination. to the divine power within that creates. The paradisal earth that Sophia creates is not external to the gnostic. In other words. This continuum is what makes possible not only Pordage’s gnostic experience of inner creation and a visionary paradisal earth. what the gnostic imagination perceives is what the creative power of Wisdom within it creates. 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. What is more. This.INTRODUCTION 15 into being in him out of the Ungrund. but resides in a continuum between the two. if those images and that gnostic process are then also manifested in a work of art. one can extend this analogically to all creative efforts. . exteriorizing it through a work of art in which others can participate.13 This new paradisal earth is in the gnostic. and in that work projecting a mesocosmic creative realm in which we can recognize aspects of ourselves anew. At work is a spontaneous inner generation of images for the gnostic. in sum. Thus imagination belongs neither to oneself nor to divine power alone. then.
This. The other kind of writing. Here we have the fundamental division that has lasted throughout the subsequent history of Western esotericism: on the one hand. we will look at representative or synecdochic writings. Here. and.1 Origins ALCHEMY OF THE WORD To understand the origins of Western esotericism in all its various guises. 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. the Book of Revelation. 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. is profoundly different. bolstered to some extent by apocrypha. Christianity was centered around written accounts that took two primary forms. and of this there are only two examples in the canonical Bible: some elements of the Book of John. what we may call a 17 . however. needless to say. Christianity based on faith or belief in a historical Christ. When we look at the emergence of Christianity from the welter of religious traditions at the time. And to find these themes. central to which are the gospel accounts of Christ’s life. still we can trace through this era the origin of the primary elements or currents in Western esotericism. one characteristic appears prevalent above all others: the emphasis upon the written word. From relatively early on. death. specifically at the beginning of Christianity. beginning with the ambience for and emergence of the Christian Bible and affiliated works. remains central to what may be called conventional or exoteric Christianity—that is. and resurrection. of whose life we know through the historical documentation of the gospels. we must begin in antiquity.
we can see how anomalous it is. and anti-mythic? This was the battle.” And written accounts of the mystery traditions are very rare. and represent a central reference point for the subsequent reemergence of esotericism time and again. The Johannine elements in Christianity owe a great deal to the various movements collectively known as Gnosticism in antiquity. in this respect being peculiar to Christianity. or technological. of course. gnostic Christians continued to generate revelatory scriptural works because in their view. by and large eschewed literalist views of language in favor of more complicated. for on a worldwide scale ahistorical religious traditions predominate. and indeed. . and on the other. multilayered approaches. By contrast. which resembles Gnosticism far more than historicist Christianity: here. legal. the development of Buddhism. that one can easily list them. Consider. and hence revelation could take place today just as in antiquity. The gnostics. the Word was not literal but spiritual. not only outward fidelity to fixed written words from the past. should it be ahistorical. be characterized according to people’s approach to language. the very word mystery has the root meaning “silence. where the idea that language might convey multiple layers of meaning has been almost completely jettisoned in favor of objectified technical language. and insisted on an objectified historical Christ in whom one must have faith in order to be saved. to make this dichotomy so clear-cut is to distort what was and remains a spectrum. Historicist Christianity has always taken a literal interpretation of the Bible. literal. 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. individual spiritual revelation is incalculably more important than simple belief in a historical series of events. Perhaps most interesting about this dichotomy is how it centers around approaches to written language. symbolic. as throughout world religious traditions. Such an approach to language is particularly common in modern times. an ahistorical. for instance. Whereas the historicist Christians established a fixed canon of Biblical books that ended with the Revelation to John.18 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E historicist emphasis. Plato alluded to this question in Phaedrus. both esoteric and exoteric tendencies center on how to interpret written language: should it be multilayered or monotonous. Some of the Church Fathers were in fact clearly esotericists and gnostics—the most prominent being Origen and Clement of Alexandria. Of course. so rare—in fact. revelatory emphasis. many modern people unwittingly inherit these tendencies still. the most moving and extensive undoubtedly being that in Apuleius’s The Golden Ass. the mystery religions of the time forbade writing about the mysteries: indeed. or historical. What mattered to them was inward or esoteric understanding. be it scientific. and mythic. on the other hand. When we consider the emergence of historicist Christianity in light of world religious traditions. In Christianity. This division between exoteric and esoteric can.
corresponding in some respects to the Platonic archetypes. are prevalent in Jewish esotericism during precisely the same time that Christian Gnosticism was flourishing. Likewise. In general.ORIGINS 19 who insisted that there was an orthodox gnosis and that it is the “crown of faith. and communion. Scholem remarks that Merkabah mysticism of the third and fourth centuries drew upon Greek language. often seems more like an accident of history than an inevitability. It is particularly useful to consider Gnostic spiritual traditions in light of what we have said regarding language. For instance. 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. in turn allied with similar numericalalphabetical mysticism involving the angels. one is in touch with inconceivable power. and whose primary emphasis was on morality. but for a person to experience an organizing principle of creation itself. but of communication. just . of communing with the power that the letters correspond to. Such doctrines of the hidden names of God. some Gnostic groups laid great emphasis on the inner meanings of language. for in it we find the predecessors of all the later Western esoteric traditions. but such an approach is not for everyone. the seeds of all things. however much their literalist opponents think differently. chiefly vowels. that is. or sacred Names of God: by vibrating the names of God in the permutations of the sacred letters and by knowing their proper. and it is the esoteric side of it that interests us here. but make a great deal more sense when one considers that language in this context is not merely a matter of transferring data. here it is vertical. it is reserved for those who are capable of it. This use of language is fundamentally different from what we ordinarily expect: whereas usual comunication is horizontal. But there remains a spectrum in antiquity nonetheless. and were reputed to use certain letters as intonations similar to mantras in Hinduism and Buddhism. We find a similar approach to language visible in Jewish esotericism in the doctrine of the Shemhamphorash. We may recall the first line of the Book of John: “In the beginning was the Word. Who was rejected as heretical. and who will not use its power for selfish purposes. there were some gnostics who were not far from historicist Christianity. who are worthy of it. a means not for one equal to convey information to another. in some of the Gnostic treatises of the Nag Hammadi library. and spiritual illumination. and in fact close scrutiny of this time suggests that Jewish and Christian esotericisms are so intermingled as to be virtually inseparable. true pronunciation.” “Logos” here refers to that which precedes and transcends manifestation. and who else was accepted as orthodox.” There have been many gnostics since who have also insisted that they remain orthodox.” or “In the beginning was the Logos. asceticism. Their repetition and intonation of certain letter combinations were ridiculed by literally minded Christians. And we in fact find such strings of apparently nonsensical letters.
and in fact are by no means absent from the larger Christian tradition. Both word and image reveal and ‘fix’ the divine. thereby making this conflict inevitable. such images represent divine aspects. 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. then. it is to restore the cosmos itself to its paradisal condition. and its aim is twofold at least: microcosmically. But given the gnosis of the word that we have been discussing. The letters. are a means to creation’s redemption. and macrocosmically. so the letters were altered. all of which is entirely accepted within the orthodox tradition. and we may recall that Dionysius the Areopagite devoted some effort to discussing how the divine may best be symbolized by unexpected and even grotesque images that keep us from mistaking a beautiful image for the thing itself. and so forth. Such images are often found on amulets or talismans and are generally regarded as being ‘magical’ elements in Gnosticism. and in this regard man may be said to complete the work of God by being co-creator or co-redemptor. 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. through images. 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. This gnosis of the word represents a ‘fixing’ of the mysteries. and so forth. basilisks. We may remember the four animals that symbolize the four Gospels. But monotheism is a rubric under which all manner of possibilities exist. as does the creation of images. are means in this process of individual and cosmic redemption—and so too are images.2 Both the gnosis of the word and the gnosis of the image are extensions of the monotheism of the book. paradoxically conveyed often through . Both Jewish and Christian gnostic esoteric groups tended to think and express themselves mythologically. as principles of creation itself. but if the letters were properly restored. we can see how these images fit rather well into the tradition: they represent again a means of invoking and ‘fixing’ the underlying powers or principles of creation itself. and to which we may refer as a gnosis of the word. inconceivable power would be set loose. and so we find numerous images from antiquity like lion-headed serpents.1 And indeed there is an ancient tradition that the Torah contains so much power in its letters that it could destroy the world. Letters and numbers. 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 even if monotheism often turns toward a fundamentalist literalism.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.
but share elements in common with all three. But the Hermetica are not Christian or Jewish. These revelations at points have much in common with Christianity. We find a very similar approach to spiritual tradition in the body of writings known as the Corpus Hermeticum.” or ogdoad—going beyond the cosmos into transcendence. tells him.” (X. particularly in the conveying of spiritual truth. The Hermetica themselves refer to Egyptian tradition. while belonging to none (though they remain closest to Platonism). out of which emerges a “holy Word. The most famous of the Hermetic dialogues is the Poimandres.” And the revelations have much in common with Gnosticism. presented in the form of dialogues. There is no one author of the Hermetica. which begins with the narrator falling into “a sleep. number. As Hermes himself says in one of the dialogues.” From the very beginning. And they represent the writing down of an oral tradition. who died and came back to life in order to tell people what happens after death.” the “voice of the Light. but it also represents Plato’s own version of the mysteries. letter. We have already alluded to Plato’s expressed distrust of writing. as when the path of one who died is traced through the spheres of the planets until the “eighth. they represent a collection of treatises that bear in common a set of themes and teachings sharing many similarities with gnosticism. One has the complex body of multiple traditions known as the mysteries. Plato’s writing represents a setting down or fixing.25). in symbols and myths. The relation of such a tale to the mysteries. in the first centuries of this era. and probably bear a relation to it similar to that between Plato and the mysteries.” when he reaches rest and joy (I. 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. “for I am with you everywhere. What marks the Hermetica most clearly despite the treatises’ diversity is their intimacy: the revelations are always one to one. and this is especially evident in Phaedrus and Timaeus. and to his indebtedness to the mystery traditions. which were also about death and resurrection. In at least some respects. This corresponds closely with some Gnostic and Mandean texts which emphasize reaching the “eighth sphere.” the being. Hermetism is about direct individual spiritual revelations. “there is communion between soul and soul.ORIGINS 21 the permutations of word.” but not like an ordinary sleep. nor for that matter are they exclusively Platonic. is self-evident. and one has an individual author drawing upon this in creative ways. as when the narrator sees a boundless and joyous light. “I know what you wish. which date to roughly the same time that Gnosticism was flourishing. for the bodily senses fall away and he encounters a vast and magnificent being that proceeds to unveil to him the mysteries of existence. of the mysteries tradition. Poimandres. but also in the Republic in his Myth of Er the Pamphylian.22b) .
and is generally associated with the more or less random play of images. willing to draw upon one or sometimes any of them. But these currents themselves are not discrete from one another. and together provided a common ambience out of which emerged a panoply of sects. Like Hermes himself. Hermetism reveals the ground occupied by Western esoteric traditions throughout the past several thousand years. no accident that so many of the Western esoteric traditions link themselves to the Hermetica. the mystery traditions. but insisting above all on one’s own direct spiritual understanding or gnosis. There are five primary currents in antiquity that feed into what we may call the Western esoteric traditions: Jewish esotericism. not quite belonging to the sphere of religion. and Hermetism. It is. traditions. and there is a witness to the revelation. which Henry Corbin called the “active imagination. as there was to many of the movements of antiquity. yet not strictly philosophical either. they certainly intermingled. or direct knowledge of the divine. and writings that reveal a great many similarities. Such a relationship goes beyond simply that of participants in a dialogue like Plato’s. However. T H E F I E L D O F T H E I M A G I N AT I O N It is commonplace today to think of the imagination as a means of escapism— the word is roughly equivalent to daydreaming or to fantasy. and depicting direct spiritual illumination of the initiate. Occupying an intermediate space between religion and philosophy. and it is this that represents the red thread that will guide us through the labyrinths of the centuries. But such a term suggests that imagination is otherwise passive. The most important of these is the insistence upon gnosis. mercurial quality to it. what we find is something quite different. when we survey the Western esoteric traditions. Christian esotericism. precariously balanced on the periphery of religious traditions. the more one recognizes the fluidity of the various traditions’ boundaries. here the dialogues often take place in an interworld of revelation. then. always there is a fluid. It is true that the language is sometimes Platonic. and . but this revelatory quality differs markedly from what we see in Plato and bears far more in common with what we find in some Gnostic treatises of revelation. Platonism. the more one studies the emergence of esotericism in the early centuries of this era. it is clear that the Hermetic treatises occupy a peculiar place.22 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E There is an initiator or revealer. Hermetism refuses to be pinned down or definitively discussed.” “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. For from what we have said. Indeed. and are between one who embodies knowledge and one who seeks to embody it.
John. after which come the most prophetic and well known parts of the revelation. he sees the twenty-four elders.ORIGINS 23 I do not believe this to be true. there is no conclusion to the visionary sequence: we are never told that John returned to ordinary consciousness. a mesocosm. an elder tells him to weep not. but it is worthwhile to remark on several aspects of it in relation to Western esotericism more generally. At one point. Then. and the auditory part of the vision began. came the following: “After this I looked. an angel gives him a rod by which he is to measure the temple of God and those that worship therein. His is not a passive vision in which events only happen before him: in the fifth chapter. saw and heard these things. and there is relatively little point here in elaborating its intricate numerical and visual symbolism. It is true that the Book of Revelation recounts a visionary experience of John while he was exiled on the island of Patmos. in the fourth chapter. Yet interestingly. and in the tenth chapter. when he weeps. the Revelation definitely has a literary form as well. and where the earthly past. and numerous striking images including the beasts with eyes before and behind them. mythology. Above all. when he eats the book. and future are visible. and the first voice which I heard was as it were of a trumpet talking with me . . Although the vision has a beginning. turned. but take place in their own time. there is the fact that it is a direct individual revelation: John sees and hears Christ himself. or field of the imagination. a throne was set in heaven. present. But in order to understand the nature of this field of imagination. we will begin by looking at visionary experiences during the first few centuries of the present era. It begins with some introductory remarks and salutations to the seven churches. once introduced to this sequence. and he interacts with them. in other words. Rather. of course. and does eat. and only then.” These remarks begin the actual visionary sequence. questions. a door was opened in heaven. in this respect it does not appear to have an end: it is as though. and is questioned by the angels or divine powers. a little book sweet as honey. and behold. he is told to eat. apparently visionary time. where John meets. off the Greek coast. different kinds of time simultaneously here: there is the duration of the vision. and one sat on the throne. quite well known. John remarks that there was silence in heaven for about half an hour (8:1). beginning with the Revelation to John. and there is historical time spread out and glimpsed in symbols. several other elements of the Book of Revelation have remained particularly important in subsequent . and behold. However. and introduces the experience with virtually no biography whatever. Thereafter came a series of specific messages to the individual churches. only John’s remark that he heard a great voice. I believe that literature. The visionary sequence in the Book of Revelation is. The revelation of John takes place in an interworld. There are. and visionary experience all emerge on a spectrum in the field of imagination. In addition to its being a direct spiritual experience.” the book concludes with the admonitions of Christ himself. . And immediately I was in the spirit. John does not entirely return from it except to say “I.
and by eating the book. and although the word eidolon early in the modern era . Taken together. Additionally. John himself—for he is told to write by a voice from heaven (14. and one hundred forty-fours. angels. of letters and numbers revealing the secret powers of the divine. in other words. becoming symbolically charged. 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).13). the way we see the cosmos itself changes. which has inspired countless commentaries or explanations. is the prophetic element: more than one group has identified itself with the “woman in the wilderness” in the twelfth chapter. The word eidetikos in Greek refers to a particular kind of knowledge associated with shape or form. it is like a collective dream in which we participate simply by reading. a gnostic encounter with elders. of course. possesses a special luminosity of symbolism that we may call “hieroeidetic. the very book that we are reading. we suddenly are given in the Revelation this overwhelming and astonishing visionary sequence that brings us completely outside the sphere of mundane human life. This image is amplified by the presence of book imagery throughout the entire work. and finds it bitter in his belly. and are in a sense initiates. we are eating his little book—we belong to a direct lineage or current. And then there is. and Hermetism. found in Judaism. In the tenth chapter. all remind us of the prior traditions. we will recall. the most symbolically resonant image of all is that of the book.9). By reading the Book of Revelation that John subsequently writes after eating the little book. especially in the Book of Life wherein is written the names of those who belong to the Lamb (13.24 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Western esotericism. the Book of Revelation of St. but sweet as honey on his lips.12). Another such element is the number and letter symbolism. revealing the hidden forces beyond history and what happens to all humanity. symbolizing his union with the esoteric center of spiritual life. One. John eats the little book: it becomes part of him.” which are opened during the Last Judgment in order to see the lives of those being judged (20. Christ’s repeated assertion that “I am the Alpha and the Omega. twelves. The entire revelation is an unveiling of gnosis. Christian Gnosticism. Every aspect of life is altered.” symbolism charged with initiatory knowledge. of course.” as well as the repetition of geometric and numerical symbolism such as the sevens. John is united with its knowledge. The Revelation of John has an oneiric quality. And it has immense power for this reason: by entering into its world of references. and more than one group has seen itself as living during the end times. 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. there are “other books.” during these the end times. The Revelation. After the various accounts of Christ’s life and death in the Gospels. John is given a little book to eat. But for our purposes. which he does.
and because of its mysterious and powerful imagery. and so it is charged with cosmological revelations. and what is seen. Hieroeidetic knowledge is the visionary revelation of the unifying principles and powers informing the entire cosmic realm. where we see the order of the transcendent manifesting itself in vivid. Of course. seen by a seer. 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. This is not to say that the Western esoteric traditions all find their origin in Revelation. words. Whether one looks at the alchemical tradition and its symbolism. profoundly symbolic numbers. At the same time. hieroeidetic knowledge is prior to and preparatory for gnosis. but rather that the Book of Revelation is paradigmatic. This meeting of above and below is also symbolized in the heavenly city of Jerusalem. and is so thoroughly literary or bibliocentric in its essential symbols. Hieroeidetic knowledge is not in itself gnosis—that is. and images revealing the hidden nature and destiny of humanity. including the two books of Enoch. Rather. or at the theosophic current that in turn manifests in Rosicrucianism. where an encounter may take place. but also esoteric in the fact that it takes place in this visionary field. hieroeidetic knowledge exists in the field of knower and known. at the Kabbalistic tradition. it is not the spiritual revelation of union or unity. The Book of Revelation is filled with hieretic. the Apocalypses of Baruch and Ezra. and of James and of Adam. and what is heard. Yet because it became canonical.ORIGINS 25 came to mean “phantom” or “apparition” without substance. it is an image. for it exists at the meeting point of the transcendent and the immanent. we find that they correspond in striking ways to what we have seen delineated here in the Book of Revelation. the Revelation does not stand alone. the fact that there were so many apocalyptic revelations during the beginning of the Christian era underscores the recognition that such revelations are inherent in . and some of which are found in the Nag Hammadi library of Gnostic writings. splendid earthly form: but again. a hearer. at the mystical tradition. The Revelation is unquestionably esoteric in its plethora of symbolism. When we look at the various currents of the Western esoteric traditions. the Book of Revelation has had a far greater impact than all of these other visionary works combined. and as such takes place in the field of imagination midway between the mundane and the transcendent: there is a seer. hidden knowledge that comes mediated in the field of the imagination through forms. the Ascension of Isaiah. in all of these we find parallels to the Revelation. with its emphasis on writing and encoded language. and they remain separate even while meeting in this charged field of imagery. all of which belong to the apocrypha. in fact the word eidetic also often refers to a particularly luminous and vivid imagery found among young children and in dreams. but among numerous other revelations from the same era. and the Apocalypses of Peter and of Paul.
it is certainly not the only one. we can enter into a new world of symbols and meaning. The most external or exoteric is to regard it as an object of study. possesses a psychic or symbolic charge that allures us. more electric. So it is with the story of Theseus. without relevance to oneself. objectifying it. or put better. What is it that makes a work hieroeidetically charged? Proximity to the invisible. of being charged. as wild as the book of Revelation. We return to the field of the imagination because this is where we come to know what it means to be alive. to make it one’s own. There is an element of danger inherent in such proximity—those who come too close to the gods or angels may go mad or blind. often in a simple story. The analogy of electricity. For just as one may consider a work as charged as the book of Revelation from outside. or from exoteric to esoteric. And though we risk being burned. who found himself in the Minotaur’s labyrinth. how hieroeidetic a work is. to the transcendent.’ of participation. Some literature is not so charged or hieroeidetic. and exists more for entertainment. ranging from external to internal. we are drawn toward it. reading about another’s vision may inspire one to experience a vision of one’s own. And so we are drawn inexorably back to the nature of the book itself and the act of reading. There are numerous ways one can approach a work as extravagant in symbolism. fascinated by its mysterious beauty. far more than may at first appear. Esoteric literature. and who was able to escape only through the help of King Minos’s own daugh- . THE RED THREAD OF GNOSIS A myth conveys. and an esoteric approach is to see it as paradigmatic and inspiring of one’s own revelation. for although the Revelation is the most well known. is a particularly intense form of this inner participation or identification and union. has a certain value here: a symbol or image. a constellation of letters and numbers. But all literature takes place in the charged field of the imagination: it is simply a matter of how charged. 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. and reading is uniquely suited to create inward participation because in reading our habitual boundaries between self and other can disappear. In other words. the literature of the Western esoteric traditions. more vital than the mundane world of consumerism and the humdrum tedium of life without the invisible. 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. a more intermediate or mesoteric approach is to see it as prophetic and revealing truths about our own world and lives. we return again and again over the centuries because we recognize in this mystery something more alive. We can identify with fictional or poetic characters. Esoteric bears the meaning of ‘inward.
ter, Ariadne, and a thread that led him out. The symbolism here is profound, and certainly reflects the ancient Mithraic mystery symbolism of the bull, the labyrinth of the world, and escape-rebirth. But perhaps we may adapt this symbolism to our own purposes, for when we consider the subject of gnosis, we too find ourselves in a labyrinth, and require some thread to guide us out. This thread is the topic of gnosis itself, for by exploring it, we will be far better prepared to understand the often bewildering variety of Western esoteric traditions. The word gnosis, because it is singular, implies that there is but one kind of gnosis, or spiritual knowledge. However, when we consider the range of religious literature, even that labeled “gnostic,” we seem to find a bewildering spectrum of gnoses. We might divide this spectrum into cosmological gnosis (insight into the hidden patterns in the cosmos), eschatological gnosis (insight into what transcends history and the cosmos), and metaphysical gnosis (insight into the divine), even though all of these may be seen as aspects of a single gnosis. And concerning metaphysical gnosis, or direct insight into the nature of the divine itself, we find two primary approaches that we may call visionary and unitive gnosis, corresponding to the via positiva and the via negativa discussed by Dionysius the Areopagite. The via positiva, or visionary approach, goes through images and the field of the imagination; the via negativa, or unitive approach, is the falling away of all images. It has become more or less commonplace, following Dionysius himself, to see the via negativa as superior to the via positiva. Dionysius writes that sacred revelation often proceeds through sacred images in which like represents like, while also using forms that are dissimilar, and even entirely inadequate and ridiculous (Cel. Hier. 140c). But he goes on to remark that a second way, of going beyond images entirely in the via negativa, is “more appropriate, for as the secret and sacred tradition has instructed, God is in no way like the things that have being, and we have no knowledge at all of his incomprehensible and ineffable transcendence” (Cel. Hier. 141a). What Dionysius observes here is extremely important, in particular his insistence on a secret and sacred tradition that the Divine completely transcends the realm of being. Dionysius’s observation—that God in no way resembles the things that have being—combats a tendency that, as we have already noted, is common to the traditions of the Book: taking writing literally. Literalism corresponds to what in Judaism was called “idolatry”: it reduces the Divine to human concepts that can be manipulated. This tendency may also be called “objectification,” and is a common function of language more generally. For language by its nature can separate us from what we are discussing: we objectify the Divine just as we objectify all that surrounds us, including nature and other people. But this process of objectification inherently separates us from what we see in this way: the very word God becomes a barrier to experiencing what that word means.
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In other words, gnostic knowledge is fundamentally different from ratiocinative knowledge, and the language to express gnosis must reflect this difference. Ratiocinative (from ratio, measure between things) knowledge belongs to the realm of division into subject and object: ‘I’ discuss ‘that.’ Such is the basis for modern science, and ratiocinative knowledge can be widely disseminated as information or data. By contrast, gnosis belongs to a secret or intimate tradition and cannot be widely disseminated as information because it does not belong to the realm of information and division at all, but instead to what transcends division. The scientific or ratiocinative path moves toward ever greater data about what is external; the gnostic path moves toward ever greater intimacy with what transcends both internal and external. Gnosis, then, is not at all a matter of ‘I’ discussing ‘that,’ but of going beyond the very division between ‘I’ and ‘that.’ The question, of course, is how one moves toward gnostic knowledge, and the answers to this question in the West comprise the Western esoteric traditions. The essential division offered by Dionysius the Areopagite between the via positiva and the via negativa helps us begin to discuss these answers in a schematic way, not because these two ways are at all opposed to each other, but because they illuminate each other. Indeed, they correspond rather closely to what we see in the Tibetan Buddhist Vajrayana tradition, where visualization and a plethora of imagery express their own transcendence. The Prajnaparamita Sutra, with its verses on sheer transcendence of all that is sensory, does not invalidate but expresses the ultimate meaning of the countless Buddhist images often in the very hall where it is chanted. Likewise, in the Western esoteric traditions, one finds a vast range of imagery and means, but these are generally seen within the traditions as an expression of what transcends them. The problem here, and in language itself, is that it is all too easy to regard words or images as if they were the thing itself, to ‘fix’ or ‘congeal’ the inconceivable. This is a particularly likely problem when there is no widespread emphasis on the transcendent, as there is within Buddhism, or any continuous lineage of masters or teachers who could guide seekers or initiates. The Western esoteric traditions have largely remained catch-as-catch-can, defined perhaps best by the precarious relationship between an author and a reader through the medium of the book. And the Gnostic Basilides evidently recognized this, for in one of the only fragments attributed to him, he writes of the ineffable transcendent nothing, and notes that “what is called by a name is not absolutely ineffable, but it is not, for the truly ineffable is not ineffable, but ‘above every name which is named’ [Eph. 1.21] . . . Names are inadequate . . . Instead, by understanding without speech one must receive the properties of the things named” (Hipp. Ref. VII.viii). Actual direct experience of the transcendent is far more important than simply knowing the words. Basilides held that he belonged to a secret lineage that ran from Jesus to Matthias to himself, and primary in their revelation was nothingness, or
absolute transcendence. According to his rather bitter opponent Hippolytus, Basilides wrote that before the cosmos, “nothing” existed, “not matter, nor substance, nor the insubstantial, nor an absolute, nor a composite, not conceivable, or inconceivable, not sensible, not devoid of sense, not man, angel, or a god, nothing that has a name or is cognized by intellect” (Ref. VII.ix). Basilides’s emphasis—throughout what little we still have, quoted by Hippolytus from Basilides’s treatises—was consistently on sheer transcendence beyond the medium of human language, and corresponds to the via negativa of Dionysius the Areopagite. Indeed, given the series of negations here that very much resemble those of the Prajnaparamita Sutra in Buddhism, it is not surprising that Basilides is reputed to have been influenced by Buddhism. However, Basilides is not alone in his emphasis on the inconceivability of gnosis, its sheer transcendence of all ratiocination. So too Epiphanes wrote of the Gnostics that “The earliest originating principle was inconceivable, ineffable, and unnameable” (Ref. VI.xxxiv); and Marcus, during a Gnostic Eucharist, reportedly offered a chalice to a woman during the consecration, then received it back from her and said, ‘Grant that the inconceivable and ineffable Grace which existed prior to the universe, may fill thine inner man, and make abound in thee the gnosis of this grace, as she disseminates the seed of the mustard-tree upon good soil’ ” (Ref. VI.xxxv). A similar emphasis is to be found in Dionysius the Areopagite, in his treatise on the Divine Names, for instance, when he remarks that God is beyond all names and creatures, “transcendently and supernaturally, far above creatures, above their being and above their nature” (956B). He continues that “no unity or trinity, no number or oneness, no fruitfulness, indeed nothing that is or is known can proclaim that hiddenness . . . of the transcendent Godhead which transcends every being. There is no name for it and no expression” (981a). Paradoxically, by maintaining an emphasis on the ineffability of the divine, the Gnostics also maintained a via positiva of esoteric words, letters, numbers, and images. But this linguistic mysticism existed within the context of the absolute transcendence that it in fact manifests. In other words, letters, numbers, and images emerge out of the unbegotten, and represent the hidden patterns and harmonies of the cosmos that, by ‘following back,’ inevitably in turn lead one to the ineffable. It is well known that there are Hebrew systems of transforming letters into their numerical meanings, but what is perhaps less remarked upon is that there was an esoteric Greek tradition of such transformations too, probably carried over from Pythagorean and Neoplatonic sources. Thus we find the Gnostic Marcus maintained that the number of Jesus is 888, that the number of the dove is 801, and that the body of truth is composed of letters, the head by Alpha and Omega, the neck by Beta and Psi, and so forth. Sacred numbers, letters, and images reveal the esoteric forming powers of the cosmos. Each letter, according to this tradition, is produced by a particular
apparent boundaries between subject and object dissolve. and the entire name had thirty letters. a developed metalanguage that both reflects and leads toward its own transcendence. or who was faithful and near death (Ref. it is the realm of living ideas or energies. although we refer to them by the same names. in dreams. embody. and numbers emerge in. the path from ordinary rational consciousness divided into subject and object. so to penetrate into the deepest mysteries of human language is to penetrate into the metalanguage that gives birth to the cosmos itself. and reveal transcendence. so that ultimately the “enormous sea” produced by a single letter is in fact infinite.” One must “receive the light” in the “bridal chamber” before death. toward transcendent degrees of consciousness of ever greater communion between subject and object.30 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E sound that in turn manifests others. for each letter was also an angel and a forming power. and there is another kind of marriage that takes place in the invisible. One who pronounced the name was in fact pronouncing the powers that had brought the cosmos itself into being. and its light “never sets. sacred images. 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. The gnostic visionary path is not separate from the way of negation—rather. As we ‘read’ these images. All of this suggests that there was in Christian Gnosticism. 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.”3 In other words. or one will . or aeon. Here we begin to see how the via negativa and the via positiva represent. For instance. between this world and the invisible realm of energies. not opposite or even complementary ways.” “in the aeon the form of the union is different. Indeed. we become intimate with them. From these observations we can begin to see something of the hidden significances of the mysticism of the word and the book. For to read the metalanguage of the cosmos is truly to read the Book of Life—a figure for the hidden energies or powers that inform life both in the cosmos and in ourselves. Throughout early Christian gnostic writings. to become privy to these mysteries is to penetrate beyond ordinary humanity and to become divinized oneself. we participate in what they represent. we read that “whereas in this world the union is one of husband with wife. the first of which had four letters. Such a metalanguage is implicit both in the human being and in the cosmos as a whole. but different aspects of the same way. This name was composed of four syllables. which is of a totally different order. VI. in the Gospel of Philip. words. we find plays on naming and namelessness. there is earthly marriage.xxxvi). just as there was in Jewish Merkabah mysticism and in the Pythagorean-Platonic tradition. This is the realm sometimes glimpsed in literature. always emerging out of this relationship between the expressed and the inexpressible. and in religious experiences.
a collection of objects from which one remains separate. what I call the red thread of gnosis that leads us out of the labyrinth. but rather. CONCLUSIONS Although the Western esoteric traditions unquestionably have their origins in the early centuries of the present era. the unnameable. The cosmos is no longer opaque. And here we see emerging the second characteristic: the mystery of names.ORIGINS 31 not receive it after death—and one who receives that light is perfected and cannot be detained. but its inseparable companion. to actual energies that the name itself embodies. 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. This inexpressible gnosis is the “marriage” or union of subject and object. for such a one the world is transparent. for the aeon is fullness for him. but is free in life and in death. unnameability emerges always out of the presence of names. indeed. when one dies. . not hidden in the darkness and the night. The Gospel of Philip goes on: “And again when he leaves the world he has already received the truth in the images. but hidden in a perfect day and a holy light. 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. Here naming refers.”4 In other words. the first of these is its inexpressibility: it remains always transcendent. What are the characteristics of this red thread as we trace it through history? Naturally. This is the way it is: it is revealed to him alone. The world has become the aeon. my argument here is not about lines of influence so much as about modalities. divided consciousness. is. but also the actual energies that these images embody or represent. characteristic ways of understanding. 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. even though such writings somehow may have made their way into this or that monastic library. the invisible and the visible are no longer divided for the initiate. not to arbitrary designations. one can ‘read’ the invisible in the visible. can see the energies ordinarily veiled from humanity by its fallen. The way of negation is not the opposite of affirmation. gnostic paradigms. But the inexpressible is so only by contrast with the expressible. For whether the gnostics belong to the Jewish Merkabah or the Christian Gnostic. Thus “the world has become the aeon”—in other words. evokes. and perhaps to a lesser extent to the Hermetic or the Neoplatonic tradition. elusive. Rather. but to inherent characteristics of what is named. These figures or images of marriage and light are ways of expressing the inexpressible gnosis. The nameless and the named are not divided. one finds a gnosis of the divine names.
5 A similarly gnostic view of numbers appears again in the work of Louis-Claude de Saint Martin (1743–1803). But this view of numbers corresponds to seeing reading as the accumulation of data: it remains objectified. but as qualities pregnant with meaning. a gnostic view of numbers and letters sees them not as merely signifying something external. whether visible or intellectual. everyone. my dear brother. Here. More intimately. Out of the gnoses of numbers. Even more intimately yet.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. but instead express aspects of the invisible origin of the cosmos and of ourselves. however. of which the quantitative designation is a husk. to which I have already devoted some study. which emerge out of the inexpressible into the realms of conscious perception. the images may be seen as corresponding to something in our own inward nature. Such images may be seen in terms of degrees of union. which is the mystery of words and of the book. of the different properties of beings. Here we have the combination of all the elements we have discussed so far. of course. woven together into a . What is more. including Piers Ploughman. and are visible in major European literary works. the images may be seen as reflecting inner aspects of the cosmos. Gnostic works reveal a wide array of images and myths. separated from the subject who sees. numbers and letters can open up into aspects of consciousness itself. but lives in an intermediate realm necessary for the birth of unitive consciousness. and images emerges the fifth characteristic. on which conventional mathematics is founded. but men have sometimes lowered them to it. without masters. Regeneration alone shows us the ground. who wrote his friend Baron Kirchberger that “Numbers are no algebra. Such a gnosis of numbers is visible during the medieval period. which all proceed from the one only essence . the images remain outside one and are taken literally as referring to history. in his own degree. . and therein we obtain the pure key.”6 There is in Saint-Martin’s work a peculiar kind of mystical mathematics from which it is evident that here is indeed an order of knowledge entirely different from the merely quantitative. including the gnoses of numbers and letters. nor wholly from without. . letters. a theosopher in the line of Jacob Böhme. These number-letter transpositions yield many hidden significances. so that to work with them is to enter into the existential quality that is their real nature or kernel. A fourth characteristic is imagery. According to rational consciousness. By contrast. albeit few more wild than those of the Book of Revelation. On the lowest level. numbers designate quantities that one can manipulate. They are only the sensible expression. where we find definite traces of Latin number and letter transposition corresponding to what in Hebrew is termed gematria. as a panoply on an inner stage where we see acted out the soul’s dramas. a third characteristic. imagination proceeds neither wholly from ourselves. here they no longer are taken as having entirely historical dimensions.
By following the courses of Western esotericism. letters. Its mysteries of names. and other currents that mingled to create the works we have been considering. Jewish and Christian and Greek. 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. To read such a work properly is to ingest it. we find that divisions between heretical and orthodox. . Greek. Egyptian. in the complex admixtures of Jewish. so that one no longer exists only in a rational separate consciousness in an objectified world. in one form or another. words. to become it. that of the inexpressible from which all of these gnoses derive and to which they inevitably lead. We can see that despite the bewildering variety of traditions that existed in the first centuries of this era. these gnostic characteristics remain visible. from antiquity to the present. are meant to permeate and transmute one’s consciousness so that the invisible is no longer divided from the visible. whether. but also to convey it. and indeed even begins to approach the highest mystery. often do not hold at all. it remains a tradition of the mysteries of the book. but instead participates in the energies and powers that give rise to and inform the cosmos. The esotericist or gnostic in antiquity. Christian. numbers. Roman. images. remains a heterodox figure drawing upon whatever myths. Thus we can see the outlines of the mysteries of the word and the book that in turn give rise to the Western esoteric traditions. and traditions best express his understanding. words. just as in the subsequent Western esoteric traditions. as John ingests the little book in Revelation. taken together. and images. And when we look for these fundamental characteristics.ORIGINS 33 tapestry meant not only to point toward the gnostic experience.
so much must be left to catalogue elsewhere. 35 . When we consider the emergence of Western esoteric traditions in the modern era. but here we are sketching the broad outlines of historical currents drawing on individual works. for both are known to us through literature that reveals fundamentally similar attitudes. and so must inquire whether the chivalric current had esoteric dimensions like those that we glimpsed in antiquity in Gnostic and other movements. but we must do so in order to trace the Western esoteric traditions. a leap to go from the first centuries of the Christian era to the Middle Ages. and the troubadours’ tradition was conveyed through poetry or song. Here I am not arguing that the chivalric or troubadour movements were gnostic. and entailed a moral code much higher than that of the rest of society.2 H i s t o r i c a l C u r re n t s DIVINE SERVICE: C H I VA L R Y A N D T H E T R O U B A D O U R S It is. The chivalric ideals were conveyed through stories. of course. if the poet is a woman) as the divine incarnate. The troubadour. It is true that there were important intervening figures like John Scotus Eriugena. The knight in swearing fealty to his lord is engaged in a social relationship that can also have spiritual implications: to act properly as a knight is also to fulfill one’s higher responsibility as a warrior for the divine. in giving honor to his beloved. That there were profound correspondences between the chivalric and the troubadour movements in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries of Europe is incontestable. we cannot help but recognize there the influence of chivalry. Both the chivalric and the troubadour traditions were centered on service or duty. sees her (or him. only investigating whether there are elements corresponding to the mysticism of the word that we saw in antiquity.
as for instance in the Grail cycles or in Parzival. Both of these movements are fundamentally social in nature. When a story is about a knight’s remaining true to his word. One such group was the fedeli d’amore. or love’s faithful. perhaps occasionally forming themselves into larger groups only again to dissolve under pressure from the church or from other social circumstances. But when we look at these movements as a whole. When the troubadour or the knight pledges troth to a woman. Undoubtedly much of this allusiveness had to do with the strictures imposed by the Roman Catholic church.E. and that may have also in some quarters engendered initiatory groups. they do not reflect what we see in those Merkabah or Gnostic or Hermetic traditions explicitly devoted to knowledge of the transcendent. a troubadour’s poem also can be read on at least two levels. the soul’s liberation as one finds in Gnostic treatises. But was there any explicitly esoteric content in these traditions? In other words. but these were not part of either the chivalric or troubadour lines. is no. relying on implication and multivalent symbols. Much more likely that here. the troubadour movement was close to esotericism proper. individuals sought and found as much as they could of such traditions on their own. the esotericism that we find in the chivalric or troubadour tradition is allusive and elusive. and indeed even they ran afoul of church censors alert for any signs of Gnosticism’s recurrence. even surreptitious. who conveyed their mysteries through poetic references and imagery. likewise. for example. in that it remained an individual and somewhat anarchic tradition that one joined by self-election. One does find an outright gnostic esotericism in the writings and sermons of Meister Eckhart and Johannes Tauler. There is esotericism visible on occasion in the stories written by individual authors or in particular cycles. Of course. Can we find anything approximating this earlier explicitly gnostic esotericism in the chivalric tales or the songs of the troubadours? The answer. for hidden meanings not accessible to outsiders.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. never explicitly discussing. I think. that is to say. but one doubts very much that this reflects a widespread or organized esoteric tradition. particularly the chivalric tradition. 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. as referring to an actual beloved woman and to the divine. we have already seen the explicitly esoteric nature of Gnosticism and other movements of the first few centuries C. . But to this day the precise nature of this or similar societies remains largely closed to us. there is esotericism visible in the songs of the troubadours. Instead. and thus there inherently are hidden dimensions to such poems or stories. in the background is also his relationship to the invisible. it is implicitly also about his relationship to the divine. And so the chivalric and the troubadour traditions are fertile ground for esotericism.
This story is of Anfortas’s pride and his wounding and lying sick. Afterwards a Christian progeny bred to a pure life had the duty of keeping it. we do find traces in chivalric literature of some of the same themes that we saw in antiquity. and in Jewish and Gnostic esotericism more generally. Here the Stone is certainly associated with esoteric mysteries. for not only is it given a JudeoChristian mythohistory. but God may have taken them back. “A troop had left it on earth and then rose high above the stars. which has a peculiar mythohistory that Eschenbach briefly relates here. and this is the mystery of names. in Wolfram von Eschenbach’s Parzival. and to whom God sends his angel. teacher of Eschenbach. Thus the disclosing of the Grail mystery came about through the mysterious decoding of an unfamiliar language. when Lucifer and the Trinity began to war with each other. the stone has since been in the care of those whom God appoints. Whether the name is of a boy or a girl. and has a rich reward in heaven. this reminds us rather strongly of the magical powers of naming in the Book of Revelation. a descendent of Solomon himself and an astrologer. Hearing this. for the name disappears. it was through books that Kyot traced his path to Parzival himself. that is. Parzival learns about the tradition of the Gral or grail from Trevrizent. those who did not take sides. whence had come the Grail. then the chivalric life is his one desire. Parzival exclaims that if chivalric deeds with shield and lance can win fame for one’s earthly self and paradise for the soul. Kyot had to learn the characters’ ABC beforehand “without the art of necromancy. there is no need to erase it. In any event. it is associated with angels whose place corresponds closely with that of Hermes and Hermetism. occupying a middle ground between these. He found that a man named Flegetanis. but there is another source.” and we are told that his being a Christian allowed him to enter into the true nature of the Grail. for shortly Parzival and we are told about the magical Stone called the “Lapsit exillis. And beyond the mystery of naming lies the mystery of the Stone itself. noble angels.” on the top of which an inscription announces the name and lineage of one called to the service of the Grail. worthy. had to descend to Earth to that Stone which is forever incorruptible. a Provençal poet named Master Kyot. But there is an even greater mystery about the Grail. a hermit. Naturally. we are told. and shortly the child is fetched from whatever country. Trevrizent tells Parzival that he does not know whether those “neutral angels” were forgiven or damned in the end.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 37 Nonetheless. For. both pagan and Christian. . had written of the hidden secrets in the constellations. who discovered the primary version of the Grail cycle in Toledo written in “heathenish script” (presumably Arabic). For instance. [as] if their innocence drew them back again. upon which Trevrizent tells the story of King Anfortas and his wound. He or she is forever after immune from the shame of sin. most notably in the esoteric significances of writing and speaking.” we are told that Flegetanis wrote.
of course. 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. for a knight comes to live with a princess on the condition that she never ask his name. This theme clearly holds for both men and women. and lost by asking the wrong one! Parzival is. and that of all the Grail servers. There remains one more aspect of the Grail tradition that we need to discuss further. and indeed it may be that the fusion of this-worldli- . of course. the Grail tradition is both independent and syncretic. then naming them one by one in Arabic. For instance. And near the end of Eschenbach’s story of Parzival. of his good fortune and that he shall ask the Question. remains this-worldly in emphasis. for instance) and of not speaking when one oughtn’t. where suddenly they saw it written that a knight would come. like so many of the Western esoteric currents. we are told to honor women. Saturn to suffering.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. Throughout the tale. or still less into discussions of spiritual illumination. he is forced to leave—a repetition yet again of the constant theme throughout Parzival. then their sorrows would end. but certainly it is safe to say that it also contains esoteric references central to the tale. He was to ask. and that is the exalted position of women. And at the book’s conclusion. whether it be Trevrizent or Eschenbach himself who advises. in particular. we are told explicitly that Anfortas’s suffering. why the king suffered—but Parzival himself had not done this and thus had already failed. we are left with a curious twist on the mystery of naming. Parzival. The Grail. like chivalric literature more generally. was cared for by twenty-five women who by serving it are exalted. When inevitably she does so. but also with the changing of the moon. we will recall. the knight is told by Feirifiz.1 There are throughout this tale astrological references with esoteric implications. that of speaking when one ought to (asking the Question. we are told again to honor and never denigrate women. exists both within and without specific religious traditions. and if he asked a Question. 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.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. 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. Yet this implicit esotericism. just as is Western esotericism more generally. and at the end of the tale. Rather. entertaining. but if he were forewarned of the Question it would turn harmful. the spotted knight.” This conclusively links the planets to consciousness.” chiefly Saturn. the two nodes of which are called the “dragon’s head” and the “dragon’s tail.
whose enchantments together with the Green Knight . For one certainly finds the same theme illustrated in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. is marked with a tiny colored initial. instead of trusting only in this “endless knot” of the pentangle. where we are told that this sign comes from Solomon himself.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. with the five wounds of Christ. and is associated not only with the five wits or five senses. And at this point we might remark on two aspects of this transformation. marking why Gawain is a fine man. in Gawain as in Parzival. This famous passage. he ultimately feels shamed.” meaning that good comes forth out of evil. Once again. these being liberality. and even wearing a sign of it themselves—a green one. All of these five categories add up to twenty-five.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. part of a scribal code of letters that mark critical junctures in the work. and are called together the “endless knot” by the Gawain-poet. reveals a fall and a redemption: the characters go through suffering into a renewed union on a higher level. Gawain is the story of a virtuous knight on his travels. the number of maidens serving the Grail. For the color green has a special symbolism that recurs throughout medieval literature and is especially prominent in Gawain. and piety. Thus the poem ends with the well known motto “Hony soyt qui mal pence. but a way of conveying secret or esoteric meanings within a poem outwardly devoted to the telling of a story. Gawain’s symbol. is not simply the repetition of letters and numbers for the way they sound. the explicit story is clearly one of virtue upheld. in the image of the pentangle. when Gawain to his shame tells the story of how he was fooled into wearing that braided belt. we see Arthur and the entire court laughing and enjoying Gawain’s tale. First. And we should remember that Gawain is alliterative poetry. of course. The Green Knight is a mysterious supernatural figure who puts Gawain to the test. like Grail tales more generally. the five virtues. courtesy. as I have elsewhere shown. the first is the true knot. the poem. When Gawain. continence. and the second that of bewitchment and bewilderment. Yet in the story’s conclusion. But there is an implicit esotericism that emerges in the work’s center. This esoteric symbolism emerges especially in the author’s discussion of the pentangle. loving kindness. the five joys of the Virgin Mary with her Child. Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table find the story not only funny but so instructive that they all decide to wear a green girdle like Gawain’s. and. At the end of Gawain. like several others in the poem. part of a tradition that. trusts instead in the knotted “braided belt” given him by Morgan le Fay. but with the five fingers. and behind him is the figure of Morgan le Fay. And this green marks my second point of observation.
valgues nos gens! [Let us talk in secret signs.” The Friends of God were. as when the poet Bernart de Ventadorn (1150–1180) writes “Parlar degram ab cubertz entresans / e. which on the one hand is associated with jealousy.” or “the Green Isle. and the death that inheres in and underlies them. a group called “the Friends of God” who established a community called “L’Ile Verte. and although one can read such poems on multiple levels. which begins by discussing the “book of memory. the hidden divine messenger. One finds at the center of the Friends of God mysterious communications from a “Gottesfreund vom oberland. not monastic or priestly. they set themselves apart from the rest of society by their spiritual vocation. first must be humbled by the Green Knight and symbolically die with a snick of his neck. yet at the same time.40 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E symbolize the bewitchments of the world. Thus we have a dual symbolism of women—that is. The symbolism of green here corresponds to that of a more esoteric group around Rulman Merswin (1302–1387). Both chivalric and troubadour literary traditions are allusive enough to accomodate esoteric interpretations. yet it is also the symbol of new life.” under whose spiritual guidance the circle proceeded. there are the lines of the young Raimbaut d’Orange (c. and in fact the gnostic symbolism of green is quite widespread. / And since talking directly can’t help us. Among the most explicitly esoteric of medieval poems more generally is La Vita Nuova by Dante. occasioned by his observation that he cannot find a name for his verses. and continuing into at least the twentieth century in the novel The Green Face of Gustav Meyrink. Recalling the emphasis that Eschenbach laid on the astrological timing surrounding the . But one does not find this kind of overt esotericism among the troubadours and trouvères.” and then the lines written down in his little book that he entitles “The New Life. green is the color of nature.”] Or again. Here even the kind of esotericism we find in the chivalric tales is muted and filtered into literary forms. which can seem so merciless and in which death is inevitable. perhaps cunning can. although a lay group. and the illicit. like the chivalric orders. One does find esoteric themes. and renewal. pus nons val arditz. but they are almost never explicitly esoteric.” La Vita Nuova is full of esoteric implications from its very beginning. The Green Isle represents an intermediate realm of spiritual passage. adulterous relationship offered by Morgan le Fay. This same duality inheres in the color green. there is little hint in any of this of open or even covert discussions of gnosis. being found in Islam associated with Khidr. We might remark here that the Gottesfreunde had a Meisterbuch with a gnostic alphabet representing the twentythree aspects of the spiritual path. become beautiful and haunting lyrics. the licit and noble relationship symbolized by Guinevere.4 But this secret language is that of lovers. to be renewed. Gawain. Or again. yet on the other is associated with the beauty of Venus. 1150–1173) playing on namelessness and naming. growth.
Boethius. an intervening figure in the tradition. Boethius goes on a journey of celestial memory that takes him to his true origin beyond the sphere of the stars. of course. calls upon the “book of memory. that being Boethius in his Consolation of Philosophy. like the great Divine Comedy. Vita Nuova and the Divine Comedy. The poetic work emerges out of a pregnant silence in order to unfold Dante’s vision of celestial memory with glittering poetic images of his divine Beatrice. and exactly nine years later. ruling over him by virtue of a strong imagination. all of this corresponds closely to what we see in Dante’s Vita Nuova. go far beyond it to include all manner of esoteric implications. and is in the tradition of the Book of Revelation. philosophical. and words and ideas into the empyrean. Dante ends this strange work. in the ninth hour of the day. she called Beatrice by those who nonetheless fully do not know her name. an allusion to the coming extraordinary visionary journey of the Divine Comedy. So too does Love appear to him in terrible aspect during the beginning of the night’s nine last hours. who wishes to restore him to spiritual health by awakening his celestial memory and recalling him to his proper state of mind. And of course. though certainly showing the influence of the troubadour tradition. who lived during the fifth century.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 41 Grail. and of beautiful images shimmering in space. as does the play that we see here on naming. The strong imagination to which Dante refers is not just daydreaming. and here. and religious inheritance into visionary narratives that in fact . Dante sees Beatrice again. as in the Divine Comedy. Beatrice herself appears to Dante in a crimson dress as if she were an apparition. full of images. and to fuse the tradition’s literary. this time wearing a white dress. Thus Dante’s greatest works. but it is also bringing Vita Nuova to the closure of silence. 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.” The number nine recurs in various ways throughout the poem. was imprisoned and preparing to die when he wrote his Consolation as a summary of his understanding. with a final vision about which he will not now write. Within the work’s visionary interworld we enter into an archetypal realm of celestial numbers reverberating in time. In De consolatione. thrice-blessed Lady. This is. There is. and his commentary. albeit more literary. time. Boethius meets while in prison the divine figure of Philosophia. but the faculty of imaginal perception. where a “new perception” shows it a Lady of light. poems. of course. is a visionary poem. But there is more that ties this work to the esoteric lines we are tracing through history. where Dante is upbraided by the divine figure of Beatrice. and it turns back to that silence again at the end. we end by passing beyond space. La Vita Nuova.” and at the poem’s end sends a sigh upward beyond the farthest sphere.
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 of divine service.” The eastern gate was dedicated to Venus.” and by “kervere of ymages. in a new ambience produce new revelations that often seem to appear ex nihilo. The two medieval currents we have been discussing here—the chivalric and the troubadour traditions—meet in two final figures whose work we must consider here—Geoffrey Chaucer (ca. yet he went further. a nude Venus depicted with a golden garland and a “cokkow sittynge on hir hand. The celestial images rule over the terrestrial actions within the circle of life. and occasionally elsewhere in his work. and built by masters of “geometrie or ars-metrike. Like Dante. These references form a memory theater of images that govern the lists or battles taking place within their purview.42 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E depict unfolding gnostic revelation. caroles. but rather to recognize that esoteric elements flow in the mainstream of Western literature itself. interested in depicting his sometimes bawdy characters and tales. Chaucer drew on Boethius in his own work. knarry.” Thus this tale.” In that “portreiture.” with a temple of Mars “wrought al of burned steel. also incorporated esoteric elements into his poetry and prose. however. with an oratory. what we might call literary reflections or manifestations of esoteric traditions. marked east and west by gates of marble. we find here too signs of the themes that have occupied our chivalric and troubadour poets. Chaucer was not an esotericist. Chaucer.” “gastly for to see. This is not to say that Chaucer was an esotericist in the sense of a Kabbalist or a Gnostic. for Chaucer also translated Boethius’s Consolation of Philosophy from Latin to English. In the third part of The Knight’s Tale. the themes of divine images that recall celestial memory. known as a primary literary figure in English history. The western gate dedicated to Mars displayed a forest full of “knotty. And these are evoked . instrumentz. daunces” around her. We see in Chaucer’s tale. here. is also a tale full of mythological and astrological references to the planets. the theater of art. bareyne trees olde. Chaucer was not that kind of poet.” with “festes. Chaucer elaborates on the “noble theatre” of Theseus. above all. but in fact represent continuations not of specific lineages so much as currents or approaches to transcendence. Here. This “theatre” was circular and a mile in circumference. One finds traces of this influence in a number of Chaucer’s poems. which tells the story of how the knight Palamon and the lady Emelye were ultimately wedded. Earthy.” it was “depeynted in the sterres above / Who shal be slayn or elles deed for lov. Certainly there are no explicit and even relatively few implicit esoteric allusions. we will concentrate on The Knight’s Tale because it illustrates some of our primary esoteric themes. especially of the knight for his lady. including Troilus and Cressida as well as The Knight’s Tale. 1343–1400) and Ramon Lull (1232–1316). But all the same.
and this is no accident. which alludes to the ninety-nine names of God in Islam. but with the advent of rationalism. in the voluminous works of Ramon Lull become explicit. was prolific. given its astonishing scope. which tells the story of a man who rises to the position of pope. Evidence of this is visible in his choice of ninety-nine for this chapter on contemplation. (part of his romance Blanquerna). we are given the meditations of the hermit. For although Lull. it was eclipsed and almost completely vanished until it was rediscovered in the late twentieth century. “knowledge” and “remembrance. only to leave and become a hermit contemplative. The Book of the Lover and the Beloved. for it includes other dimensions and reminds us of the celestial meanings behind human action. literature is not only entertainment. (a kind of chivalric code). and of course his most well-known and influential works. At this juncture. but a complete way of knowledge that penetrates through all aspects of life. and esoteric streams into a remarkable fusion. Lull was himself something of a troubadour. The Book of Chivalry corresponds to what we saw already in the Grail and other chivalric literature. The Book of the Lover and the Beloved is much more complicated. Not surprisingly. and Ars generalis ultima. among his vast number of works are The Book of Chivalry. He asked how the Beloved’s presence differs from his absence. and unquestionably entails explicitly esoteric dimensions. ‘As knowledge and remembrance differ from ignorance and oblivion’” (7). unlike him Lull was primarily concerned with elaborating his astonishing system of universals known as the “Lullian Art. on the love of the soul for God couched in the terms of lovers. on the first page of the Book of the Lover and the Beloved—these terms representing a favorite motif of Sufi poetry throughout the centuries—we find a direct reference to Sufism itself. the Lullian Art was immensely influential during the medieval and early modern era. like Chaucer. bringing together the chivalric. Characteristic of his meditations is this: “The Beloved tested his lover in order to see if his love for him was perfect. one for each of the 365 days of the year.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 43 through literature. It is self-evident from Lull’s own introduction that he is drawing on esoteric Islam in order to create a kind of Christian Sufism. troubadour. Lull. until he was thirty. chiefly through the heroic scholarly work of Frances Yates. In the ninety-ninth chapter. The lover answered. The Book of Contemplation. These terms. the careful reader might notice some resonances with esoteric Islam. consisting chiefly in recounting the moral code of the knight. was also a syncretist who learned and taught Arabic and drew on his knowledge of esoteric Islam in his writings. But what in Chaucer are only allusions.” are familiar to students of . In fact. not just a set of correspondences.” The Art represents. a tireless proselytizer for Christianity in Islamic countries. We are concluding this discussion with Lull because his work encapsulates virtually everything that we have so far considered. It represents the ninety-ninth chapter of Lull’s romance Blanquerna. and indeed. Ars brevis.
44 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Sufism. Such a proviso is particularly appropriate for Lull’s own work. just as the writer is in his book. there is a profanation of this true reading and writing. and is founded on a special kind of alphabet. and images. all errors are implanted in the world. ‘Is your Beloved in the world then?’ He answered. Lull created a kind of Christian Kabbalism. north and south. ‘It is a book for those who can read in which is revealed my Beloved. and therefore the world is in my Beloved. whose influence extended across Europe. but for purposes of clarity. Lull himself was certainly accused of an inordinate and presumptuous lust for knowledge in the pursuit and teaching of this art. invoking evil spirits as good angels. some “insult the Name of God with curses and incantations.’”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. which he claimed to be a universal system of knowledge that allows one to see into the universal nature of all things and of the Divine. by seeing the Sign of God in the east. we are also participating in this relationship. investing them with the names of God and of good angels. was a means of investigating and coming to understand the true nature of things. and profaning holy things with figures. and so the relationship between humanity and the divine is that of a reader and a writer. each of which has multiple meanings and is used to create figures and reveal the principles within all that we see. Lull used more letters.’ ‘And in what does this book consist?’ ‘In my Beloved. ‘Yes. we find the following: “They asked the Lover. images. And through presumption. as well as from the Grail tradition in particular. His brief alphabet extends from B to K (excluding J) and includes a range of mean- . and that is the book. since there is absolutely no doubt that Lull himself extensively used figures. engraved in precious jewels and worn on him in order to always remind him. But there is one theme above all others which we have been tracing that emerges clearly here. Of course. out of arrogance or presumption. as the readers of Lull’s book. since my Beloved contains all. Further. and writings. Spiritual knowledge is also celestial memory or remembrance. most of all in the exposition of his art. and writings in themselves. For in a delightful appendix consisting of questions posed to the Lover.” But the Lover corrects this through the remembrance of truth. not of figures. meant to reflect that of humanity to the divine. Originally. Here we find a clear condemnation.” In this falsified knowledge. which emerges from “a lust for knowledge and presumption. However.’ They asked him. but of those done with the wrong attitude. that is. west. By means of these letters. images. The cosmos represents the divine writing. and by writings. ‘What is the world?’ He answered. rather than my Beloved in the world. This extraordinary art. but are also familiar to us from our examination of the Western esoteric traditions more generally. he condensed his art into nine letters.
prudence. At the same time. found in the Ars compendiosa. trees. and can be applied not only to philosphy and theology. which is the unspoken origin of and connection between all the other letters arranged in a circle around it. B signifies. and gluttony. For instance. triangles. The Lullian art. difference. and numerous other arrangements. And although Lull’s thought has been explored relatively recently as a system of logic. . 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. and avarice. The Lullian art is a means of working with letters and words as a way of entering into transcendent consciousness of the inner metaphysical principles informing and transcending the human and natural realms. depending upon how the letters are combined. for instance. what?. Of course his work is unique.” C signifies “greatness. whether?. Hence in many respects. and in the outer circle are the primary qualities asociated with each of the letters. it was naturally applied to astrology and to alchemy. God. B—Bonitas. For this reason. In the full art. the number of letters and qualities makes their range enormous. angel. I— Veritas. it becomes difficult to believe that the placement of the A here could fail to have esoteric origins and meaning. it also represents a synthesis of the primary currents we have been discussing. above all the view of literature as a vehicle for the transmutation of consciousness. Lull represents the juncture of almost all the currents we have thus far discussed. E—Potestas. probably the most revealing of which for our purposes is the socalled “A” figure from the Ars compendiosa inveniendi veritatem. justice. it includes and transcends logic.”6 Thus each letter contains within it a constellation of meanings that. Around the A in these figures is a geometric series of lines linking many of the letters in intricate correlations. but to the physical world and indeed to virtually every aspect of life. Lull himself combined them using circles. and even the Ars brevis represents a daunting set of combinations. not least in its use of the combinations of letters.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 45 ings. a host of Lullian-based alchemical treatises emerged in the wake of his works. can produce an almost infinite series of correlations. to which we can here offer only the briefest of introductions. “goodness. has vast implications. or that from the Ars brevis. tables. which are seen in both traditions as transcendent principles the combination of which can ultimately bring us to and reveal the inner nature of the divine. for in essence the Lullian art most resembles Kabbalism. 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. according to Lull in his Ars Brevis. concordance. and although Lull himself explictly denied the transmutation of metals. and so forth. for example. The “A” figure is so designated because it contains in its center a letter A.
whose influence also extends well beyond their disappearance as living social movements. the spiritual love poetry of the troubadours. commonplace to regard each of the primary currents of Western esotericism as having emerged ex nihilo and completely separate from its predecessors. troubadour. intricately woven. 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. but this is virtually never the case. . Thus the transposed spiritual chivalry. In these traditions. of course. with the emergence in the twelfth century in Europe of Jewish Kabbalah (a Hebrew word meaning “tradition”). the words. however. but what is more. 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. it is as it was in the first centuries of this era—Jewish. there was an efflorescence of another kind of literature entirely. French. poetry and stories go beyond entertainment. It is. we must first look at another primary current whose influence can hardly be underestimated: Kabbalism. cross-fertilizing currents of Western esotericism. that the medieval authors created in order to convey their visions. Before we turn to the emergence of Western esoteric traditions at the cusp of the modern era. Rather. for here literature possesses powerful cultural and spiritual dimensions. or English gnostic. whose origins are still shrouded in mystery.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 other forms of esotericism are often closely linked and influence one another. And as literature. the chivalric. but out of a particular literary and religious ambience and with definite predecessors. Jewish Kabbalah did not appear in a vacuum. profoundly important and influential instances of the mysteries of the word as means of spiritual awakening. and Freemasonry. How do these various currents reëmerge later in history? Chiefly through the influence of the books. Rosicrucianism. And in Kabbalah we see not only some potential connections to earlier Gnostic traditions. still there is an affiliation because all exist within the larger. BOOKS WITHIN BOOKS: JEWISH KABBALISM Around the same time that chivalric and troubadour literature was being written.or eighteenth-century German. and the alphabetical mysticism of Lull and others later appear in Christian theosophy. 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. so that even if there were no direct influence of troubadour poetry on the spiritual love poems of a seventeenth. Christian.
. and elsewhere in Europe. with at least some connections to the contemporaneous Cathar or Albigensian Christian heretical movement. also may have roots elsewhere. It derived from the long line of previous Jewish mysticism. For instance. number. terminology. the crux of the paradox inherent in the mysteries of the word.”7 What is this “entirely different world”? Certainly the Bahir emerged in the ambience of twelfth-century French Judaism.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 47 We first encounter Kabbalistic literature in the Sefer ha-Bahir. the Kabbalistic works of this period are deeply concerned with exactly these mysteries of word. dating to the Talmudic period. in particular the Merkabah mysticism that dates back to at least the second century C. and to recognize that Kabbalism explicitly continues our primary themes within the Western esoteric traditions. And it emerged during a period of established Jewish speculative mysticism in the Provençal region. and cosmogony.8 But for our purposes. disclosing them only in parabolic language. many of which had at least passed through certain circles of the German Hasidim. which are also discussed in the Sefer Yezirah or Book of Creation. Scholem holds that there arrived in Provençe some time in the middle of the twelfth century a collection of older gnostic writings. for instance. a work that Gershom Scholem insists “cannot be explained on the basis of the tradition of philosophic thought in Judaism or as a product of its decline. Scholem’s assessment is that the Bahir. it is entirely enough to note the profound resemblances between these movements. which in turn were edited and developed by a group of Kabbalists. discusses at length the origin and meaning of the sephirot.” Scholem concludes. Rabbi Isaac the Blind wrote a well-known letter to Nahmanides bemoaning the common contemporary tendency to write publicly about the Kabbalah. which in turn has been linked to the troubadours. The book Bahir. “The affinity with the language. and Gnosticism of any sort in antiquity. There can be no doubt that the Kabbalistic works emerging during and after the twelfth century are esoteric. or ten dimensions of the cosmos. and thus Kabbalism. and Kabbalism more generally. And in fact. Castile.E. regardless of whether there was a direct historical link between the emergence of Kabbalism in Provençe. But the Bahir.9 Yet at the same time. It [the Bahir] has its roots in an entirely different world. the mere fact of composing Kabbalistic literature or commentaries represents a disclosure of what is secret. has origins in a Jewish gnosticism of a much earlier date. and Nahmanides’ disciples intensified their protection of the secret Kabbalistic teachings. 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. Although there has been some controversy over his conclusions. and symbolism of Gnosticism suggests an Oriental origin for the most important among the ancient texts and sources of the Bahir. not only in that they reflect and point toward a hidden wisdom tradition.
for example. but another view. he wrote the entire work without any precedent. said to symbolize the abdomen. We also see these alphanumeric mysteries in the Zohar. as a female is fertilized from the male.” (that is.”12 And we are treated to a fascinating explanation of why the verse-divisions. informing the cultural. the Zohar is replete with alphanumeric mysticism. 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. which comprise a total of 613 letters. One of the most influential Kabbalistic books of this period is the Fountain of Wisdom (Ma‘yan ha-Hokhmah). In section 124. the “Oral Law” as female or receiver. Opposite them are the twenty-two little letters of the lower world.10 Thus we can see how here mystical numbers and letters reflect the hidden divine principles of the cosmos. But there is another work that helps shed light on what the nature of these alphanumeric mysteries might be. but here takes on the meaning of “com- . often said to be the culmination of the early Kabbalistic period.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. it is not at all out of character for the Zohar to have connections to the mysteries of the “Writing Name. and which was central in the founding of Hasidism as well. 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. and that in this sense he really was copying from the transcendent source of the Kabbalistic tradition.” and are the means by which “the Written Law fertilized the Oral Law. is that Moses de Leon composed the Zohar himself by way of “conjuration of the Writing Name. Although the origins of the Zohar are somewhat controversial. there is a third possibility—that Moses de Leon composed through spiritual imagination. including the human body. writing the Names of God) and through this power. a word that usually means “restoration” in Hebrew.”13 We might note that here the “Written Law” is seen as male. The Fountain of Wisdom consists in a discussion of tikkun. But in any event. and that it regards the written word as being at the center of those mysteries. which sixteenth-century Kabbalist Moses Cordovero regarded as being among a handful of the most important works.11 Of course. For example. the tonal accents. the ten fingers of human hands are said to correspond to the ten sephirot and to the commandments. and natural realms at once.” Indeed. 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. including all twenty-two letters of the alphabet except tet. this controversy itself reveals much about the nature of Kabbalism. spiritual. and so forth are absent from the Scroll of Law: these signs were hidden in the “interior of the Divine Throne. caught up in the spirit. supported by some contemporary testimony.
.” The “Back” here is the mysteries of creation. from reading this extraordinary work. . Its linguistic mysticism undoubtedly requires an oral commentary: here the written word remains opaque without vocal explication. and yod in turn becomes twenty. all are found in this Name. one comes to understand not only why the thirty or more versions of the Fountain are generally regarded as ‘corrupt. Through this kind of multiplication. but My Face will not be seen. 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.’ but even more why this work was traditionally explicated word by word from teacher to pupil. one also arrives at the seventy-two Names of God. tikkun is a kind of linguistic mysticism that through its praxis brings one into the “immeasurable light” “in the superabundance of the secret darkness.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 49 bination. the tenth letter. utterance. so to say. the “Face” is the Primal Darkness “that is the focal point of My existence.”18 This. “so as not to distort the knowledge of the image of the Holy One.”15 Central to this linguistic mysticism is the letter A. For instance. the essence of everything. Investigating this holiest of mysteries is prohibited even for a Moses.” The ’alef is the mystery of the ether and the root-principle of all being. out of it emerges the Names. yet when these Names are removed. Here we see the mysteries of the word laid bare. we have gone behind the alphanumeric mysticism into the visionary understanding that precedes and informs it. and 160. speech. made transparent so . the “unique master” that “radiates in the green flames. in the text the ’aleph is said to be “divided into five heads.” which may or may not itself be an “a. eighty.” One can easily see. one comes to understand how “all wisdom and understanding.”17 By investigation. or aleph. For prior to the Names and even prior to the Ether and root-principle of all being is the “Primal Darkness. all comprehension and thought. corresponding to yod.” about which no one.” from which four emerge—and between these four emerges a fifth. we are told. there remains still the ’alef “pivotal amongst them. action . an ¯ “ether. is the secret meaning of the verse from Exodus 33:23: “You will see My Back.”14 In other words. This visionary understanding leads backward through the process of creation to its source. . forty. voice. in the Fountain of Wisdom.” for when you open your mouth to say “ah. . whispering. inquiry . In reading the intricate discussion of this letter’s transformations.”16 These five alefim are calculated by doubling as ten.” two vocalizations result: “â” and “a. not even Moses. in this context. Here. why it is no doubt so profoundly difficult to translate it: it is an inordinately difficult work that requires oral exegesis because it clearly emerges from direct spiritual experience. is allowed to ask questions.” 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. and out of them all the “lanes” and “paths” and the countless lights of life.
which is to say also a knowledge of how the mind is prior to the emergence of language and thought. Although it is possible that medieval Kabbalism owes more than a little to the Gnosticism of antiquity. but to the inner experience of how existence emerges from the Primal Ether. ’En sof literally means “infinity. Here “Voice” refers not to ordinary human speech.”19 But underlying the entire work is the gnosis of how light emerges from darkness. and how the Voice emerges from light through speech and breath. 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.” but in early Kabbalism also is connected to “that which thought cannot attain. that of hardened or congealed materiality. 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. including thought. but also metaphysical. where all that is seen in the eye of imagination is light and color and energy welling forth from the indefinable Primal Darkness. sometimes with the influence of particular earlier esoteric authors. All of these exist. of which emergence ordinary human speech is but a reflection.’ Only that which lives in any particu- . Thus there is a double quality to this mystery: it applies to the emergence of consciousness both within us and in the cosmos. sometimes without.” or absolute transcendence out of which everything. then. Its cosmological dimensions we have glimpsed in the intricate doctrines of the ten Sephirot and in the profound complexities of its alphanumeric gnosis. Just as in antiquity the Gnostics often laid emphasis on the mysteries of language and consciousness. broadly speaking.20 For that matter. not from this side. within the general currents of Western esoteric traditions. for the Kabbalists “the world of language is therefore actually the ‘spiritual world. But none of these correspondences necessarily indicate historical influence. and so it is natural that common elements reemerge again and again historically. Medieval Kabbalism. emerges. as Scholem remarks. and how words emerge from primordial consciousness into being. It is obvious from Kabbalistic works themselves that they do not derive from scholastic but from direct knowledge. is not only cosmological. but from the other. it is also entirely possible that in the works of the Gnostics and Neoplatonists. and this is corroborated by the very linguistic mysticism that they express.50 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E that through them in the eye of imagination we can see the hidden principles and working of the cosmos itself. its metaphysical dimensions are to be found especially in its use of the term ’en sof. we have spontaneous investigations into some of the same mysteries that the Kabbalists investigated. Indeed. as well as in Erigena and in Eckhart. It may be that there is some historical link with Neoplatonism here. so too the medieval Kabbalists emphasized this same linkage. We are viewing a pure mysticism of the word.
lar thing as language is its essential life.”21 In fact, for the Kabbalists letters have a plastic quality: in forming words, they are forming also the actual divine nature of things, so that to enter into the mysteries of words is to penetrate beyond language as we ordinarily conceive it into the hidden nature of God himself. Here again we have come upon the dual nature of language: there is exoteric language, which is veiling and limited; and there is esoteric language, which is unveiling and virtually unlimited in its ramifications. Particularly in the case of Kabbalistic word and letter combination can we say that esoteric uses of language are virtually unlimited in effect, for Kabbalism has since at least the time of Rabbi Eleazar of Worms (c. 1165–1230) and Abraham ben Samuel Abulafia (c. 1240–1292) employed techniques of linguistic recombination that in turn, if practiced over a period of time, result in ecstasy and visionary illumination. In the case of R. Eleazar and Abraham Abulafia, the technique entails combining the Tetragrammaton with the letters of the alphabet in order to bring one to a transcendent state of divine knowledge or gnosis. According to Abulafia, this technique, which requires isolation, prolonged practice, and special breathing techniques, “draws down the supernal force in order to unite it with you.”22 Thus esoteric language is not only a guide toward gnosis, it is here the actual means to gnosis. Central to Kabbalism is esoteric language. Isaac of Acre, for instance, distinguished between the mere acquisition of knowledge through ordinary learning and the direct gnosis by the intellect.23 And his predecessor Isaac the Blind used the analogy of a great tree, in which inward and subtle essences of wisdom (hokhmah) exist and move through the tree like sap. We partake of this wisdom, or sap, by “sucking,” which is a fundamentally different kind of knowledge from that gained by ordinary reading; it is a participatory gnosis in which we directly experience the essence-language of creation itself, moving in and through all that is. Here again we have reading and writing that go far beyond what we ordinarily regard them as—here esotericism and literature are totally fused. Such analogies and definitions as that of the tree, or “sucking,” or for that matter of celestial reading and writing, do indeed correspond to those of the ancient Gnostics; and like the ancient Gnostics, the Kabbalists too produced a wild profusion of works expressing variants of a complex and profound cosmology, as well as a metaphysics of absolute transcendence. In Kabbalism, as in ancient Gnosticism, we find the figure of Sophia, or Wisdom, to be prominent, and indeed even find the teaching in Kabbalah of the higher and lower Shekhinah, which parallels the teachings of some Gnostic sects regarding a higher and lower Sophia. There are numerous parallels, but this does not mean that there was direct influence. In any event, this profusion of Kabbalistic works and teachings in turn was to have an immense influence on the subsequent history of Western esoteric
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traditions, and unlike the relationship of Kabbalism to Gnosticism, the relationship of Kabbalism and Christian Cabala is relatively well documented.24 Here it is possible only to allude to the ways Kabbalism flowed into Christianity, especially beginning in the fifteenth century. It is generally held that the first major influx of Kabbalism into Christianity occurred with Giovanni Pico della Mirandola (1463–1494), who in his On the Dignity of Man proposes the harmony of Christianity and Kabbalah, holding that in fact Kabbalah is evidence for Christianity because in it we find discussions of the Trinity, of the Word, and much else that corresponds to the works of Dionysius the Areopagite. For our purposes it is noteworthy that Pico insisted on the initiatory nature of original Christianity championed by Origen and Dionysius the Areopagite: that Christ gave secret teachings to some of the disciples, teachings that subsequently were continued. Pico holds, in his oration, that Kabbalah corresponds to these teachings in its initiatory lineage and in its doctrines: “to make public the occult mysteries, the secrets of the supreme Godhead . . . what else were this than to give a holy thing to dogs and to cast pearls before swine?”25 Thus Kabbalah, according to Pico, furnishes a way to recover the original true nature of Christianity. This true nature includes the doctrines of the ’en sof, as well as that of the emanated Sephirot and, above all, the Names of God by which God created the cosmos.26 There is in Kabbalah, as in Plato, a divine mathematics that is not like the jottings of traders.27 And so Pico brings Jewish Kabbalah into the broad stream of Western learning that includes all the classics and has come to be known as the prisca theologia, confirming precisely those elements that we have come to see characterize the Western esoteric currents as the initiatory sciences of reading and writing. It is true that Pico only refers to Kabbalah and does not offer detailed exegeses or doctrinal expositions, but what he chooses to touch upon— “divine mathematics,” initiatory lineages, secret knowledge not divulged to the hoi polloi, the transcendent Godhead, the hidden Names of God, and reading and writing as the transmission of esoteric knowledge, when accompanied by oral transmission—all correspond exactly to the threads we have been tracing throughout Western history. Naturally, Pico was far from alone in the endeavor to bring Kabbalah into Christianity—or, put from the viewpoint of the Christian Cabalists themselves, to show how Christianity is illuminated by Kabbalism. Another important figure is Johannes Reuchlin (1455–1522), author of De verbo mirifico (1494), and of the more well-known De arte cabalistica (1517). The first book, whose title alone brings it into our purview, is arranged as a dialogue between a pagan philosopher, a Jewish mystic, and a Christian; the pagan is concerned with cosmology, the Jew with Kabbalah and the divine Names, and the Christian with absolute transcendence. Both books are intensely concerned with the nature of
language, with its divine origin, and with how it illuminates the path toward the deification of man. Reuchlin in turn drew upon Pico and influenced Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa von Nettesheim (1486–1535), whose work De occulta philosophia (1533) is among the most influential works on magical esotericism in European history. Agrippa’s book is chiefly concerned with magic, but it focuses on magic in a larger context that further develops the new tradition of Christian Cabala. Rather like Reuchlin, Agrippa begins by discussing cosmology and the nature of the world; turns then to numbers and letters and their celestial significances (with references to the Sephirot); and in the third book discusses the Names of God and the relation of the magus to God. Agrippa’s concern with the practice of magic inaugurates a subsequent long tradition of Christian magical esotericism drawing upon Jewish Kabbalah. But Kabbalah’s influence on Christendom was not limited to magical esotericism alone; indeed, it would seem that during this time Kabbalah’s influence extended from the royal courts to the Vatican. One finds in France Jean Thenaud (?–1542) writing an extensive manuscript entitled Traité de la Cabale chrétien for Francis I in about 1521; one finds in Italy Paul Rici, author of De coelesti agricultura (1541), as well as Cardinal Egidio (Gilles) da Viterbo (1465–1532), an important figure in the Vatican, whose unpublished work Scecina (1530) was finally made available in 1959. And, of course, there is Gillaume Postel (1510–1581), among whose papers we find references to and translations of many Hebrew works including the Bahir and the Zohar. Postel is well known for his devotion to a woman named Mother Johanna, whom he regarded as the Virgin incarnate. We could continue to trace the byzantine influences of Kabbalism in the history of Western esotericism here, and if so, we would have to make mention of figures like John Dee (1527–1608) and Robert Fludd (1574–1637), both major Renaissance authors whose works drew on Kabbalistic themes to create new Western esoteric syntheses, as well as examine the possible course of Kabbalah into the works of arguably the most influential esotericist of the past five centuries, Jacob Böhme (1575–1624). Böhme’s works may reveal the traces of Kabbalism, but if so, here too Kabbalah is transformed in new and specifically Christian ways. Yet there is not room here for such an extensive study, and since we will shortly look at Böhmean theosophy in much more detail, it is perhaps more useful to consider what we have learned. Without question, Kabbalah had widely penetrated Christianity in Western Europe by the seventeenth century, but oftentimes its influence was underground and not at all easily traced. What is more, just as Kabbalah itself resembles earlier Gnostic traditions in antiquity, so too within Christianity one finds more modern movements or views that may or may not be historically affiliated with Kabbalism. For instance, Thenaud in his sixteenth-century
literature increasingly lost even the inkling of bearing within it other dimensions. Kabbalah represents a polar opposite—for it. and perhaps even of the origin and nature of consciousness. which is. that is. In the eighteenth century. almost always willing to draw from another religion if it illuminates one’s own. or vice versa. with the prevalence of materialism and scientism. and the boundaries between Judaism and Christianity far less distinct than usual. not a barrier to but a vehicle for transcendence. and beauty. and instead creep over the surfaces of things like painstaking caterpillars. however unfamiliar to us today. Nowhere is this more evident than in the history of Kabbalah. it also fascinates us with its riddles and mysteries. much less the possibility of transcendence. and so it goes right into the heart of the Middle Ages and Renaissance. precisely what she said had happened? It would seem that in this case as generally. surface is nothing and depth is everything. Symbolic of Western syncresis is La Mezquita in Cordoba. Spain.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. where one finds literature and religion fused. But before discussing these implications. we shall turn to another primary current of the Western esoteric traditions: alchemy. it may be better to look at ‘vertical’ or categorical similarities. In the twentieth century. represents the confluence of literature and religion in esotericism. . Western esoteric traditions are perpetually changing and self-renewing. many novelists and poets explicitly denounce even the idea of spirituality. For Kabbalah. even where it is roughly or awkwardly written. Such an approach to literature. an ornate mosque in whose center is a Christian cathedral. Indeed. in its willingness to go through the letters and words into the consciousness that they represent. that the heart of Christianity is Jewish Kabbalism. or vice versa. after all. If great literature like Dante’s attracts us because of its grandeur. Here. we find the English theosopher Jane Leade holding the same doctrine. Here the written word becomes not opaque but transparent. To such approaches. One finds those who insist that the heart of Islamic Sufism is Christian. we can see why it had such profound literary and religious influences. But is there any historical influence of Kabbalism on Leade? Or did she independently rediscover the same esoteric doctrines in vision. This transcendence lends itself to syncretism. that ultimately all beings will be saved. But Kabbalistic literature opens up almost endlessly. literature represents portals into the transcendent. but it is also important because it offers us a completely different way of understanding the very nature of writing. perhaps more than any other Western tradition. ramified throughout religious and literary history. And when we look at Kabbalism. each letter and number potentially bearing infinite depths. its grandeur lies in the daring of its visionary heights. rather than only trying to trace ‘horizontal’ historical influence. intricacy.
when we look more closely at specific works in the alchemical traditions. Thus Western alchemy has a peculiar place. operating by metaphor and allusion and parabolic expression. like the alchemical expression or riddle. but through meditative concentration and inspiration. However. peripheral since it is not wholly Christian. So too. When we look at European alchemical works. alchemy. to come to terms with it not just by rational explication. on the other transmitted by way of literature. hence on the one hand religious. with their plethora of brilliant and resonant images. And in fact Western alchemical works are highly literary. Hermetism itself occupies a syncretic place in the midst of numerous traditions. to work it through.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. Western alchemy remains largely uncharted by modern scholarship. but represents nonetheless a separate path of its own. as we saw earlier. sort of a mistaken byway people once took before they saw the light of materialism and rationalism. To the first-time observer. . and also because alchemy is the transmission of mysteries that must be directly experienced. itself also highly literary: the koan. One might compare these means of arcane expression to the Zen Buddhist koan tradition. for only a few intrepid souls have ventured into this territory. Yet both the koan and the alchemical work emerge within stylized and traditional contexts. we cannot help but notice religious references. we find that they reveal striking new applications and manifestations of Western esotericism. yet in that its adherents claim to realize the gnosis at the heart of Christianity.’ yet not entirely Christian. Of course. and a current representing a particular path between religion and literature. Indeed. because the opposition of exotericism to esotericism in Western Europe was often so violent. European alchemical works resemble bizarre collections of riddles wrapped in enigmas. especially to the need for humility and for reliance on divine grace.” draws on the particular religious ambience within which it finds itself. and even with extended study often yield no certain interpretation. by virtue of its initial incomprehensibility. alchemists took to arcane ways of expressing themselves. the term alchemy itself emerges out of the Arabic word al-kimiya. not entirely ‘pagan. and so it is little wonder that many historians of science have denigrated European alchemy as merely a strange predecessor to modern chemistry. with their astonishing repertoire of exotic terminology. Because the Western alchemists’ place vis-à-vis Christianity was seldom entirely clear. which in turn reflects GrecoEgyptian origins whose precise outlines likely never will be thoroughly traceable. forces one to wrestle with it alone. as the “art of Hermes. alchemical writings seem totally impenetrable. Full of exotic images and peculiar language.
E. One places oneself in the line of what is.. For how else might a medieval or Renaissance figure come to know Geber or Rhazes? Cultural context has been largely lost. as well as Islamic figures such as Jabir ibn Hayyan of the eighth century (later latinized as Geber). This process of awakening entails a kind of double working. who draws upon them in order to undertake the alchemical work himself and subsequently to write his own alchemical treatise. . partaking at once in the realms too of religion and literature.E. plant. Ramon Lull.—latinized as Rhazes). and reveal the gnostic center of the tradition. even if the alchemical labors to which these writers refer are certainly not literary but take place in a laboratory. even if its work resembles these in some respects. Thus it is conventional for the author of an alchemical work to list predecessors to whom he is indebted. either. and the spiritualizing of the body. a tradition transmitted through literature. All of these authors did write on alchemy. Olympiodoros. it is certain that such a historical recitation would do little to unveil our primary theme: how religion and literature coincide at the juncture of consciousness in the Western esoteric traditions.. it is by no means just a kind of metallurgy or chemistry. and takes place by way of fire. and might include also such figures as Zosimos of Panopolis of the third century C. Indeed. and Morienus of the seventh century C. Such a list undoubtedly would include Hermes Trismegistus. alchemical literature. What matters is that the works under the name Geber speak to the later alchemist. 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. Roger Bacon. the embodying of spirit. Thus alchemy itself consists in processes that are at once spiritual and physical. at heart. Fire burns up impurities and allows the transmutation of a fallen metal. the vegetable. Thus.56 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E with constant reference to the accumulated prior works in relation to which any given work is seen. in the revelation of paradise. for all its symbolic complexity and mysterious allusiveness. To list such names as Arnald of Villanova. even if it does not entirely belong to these. or animal into its paradisal original true nature. After all. author of the Rosarium philosophorum (attr. Synesius. put another way. so that their lineage from the alchemical perspective forms an Aurea catena or “golden chain” from antiquity to the present. as has historical placement.E. be they in the mineral. thirteenth century). that is. refers by its own testimony to the transmutation and redemption of the physical world: its work takes place on Earth. although we could here offer a historical survey of alchemy. 825–932 C. or the animal kingdom. Nicholas Flamel (fourteenth century). And so Geber joins the line of figures in what is indisputably a literary transmission. we may well say that alchemy consists in the transmutations of the earth or. The alchemist’s work consists in the awakening of dormant qualities in the natural world. George Ripley (fifteenth century). For alchemy extends into many realms. or al-Rhazi (ca.
between those who insist on a purely physical medicine consisting in the treatment of symptoms.”29 Thus the alchemical work exists within a classical literary context.”28 And Maier concludes with this admonition: “Let this suffice thee. which Vulcan cast into the sea. only goes to show the historical line that we are tracing. Here. and historically it makes sense that the monasteries were places where writings from antiquity on could be stored. He bore away the golden fleece from Colchis. Maier.” derives from the words of the Delphic priestess: “The feud between the Meropes and the Ionians will not cease until the Golden Tripod. Maier deliberately brackets his alchemical texts with literary epigrams. composer. consisting in three alchemical treatises arranged and edited by none other than the alchemist.” that is. and thou knowest all. physician. but without value in revealing the actual nature of the alchemical tradition itself. Thomas Norton. of course. and where some might find the time to pursue the alchemical work. In order to understand the alchemical current of the Western esoteric traditions.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 57 Michael Maier (early seventeenth century). “The Golden Tripod. it is necessary to look more closely at exemplary works. seek not many utensils for thy labor. But we should recognize the elegant and highly literary nature of Maier’s expression. . Indeed. and a medicine that includes other dimensions and is centered in the alchemical or spagyric arts of transmutation. and author Michael Maier. For “The Golden Tripod” includes treatises by the Benedictine monk Basilius Valentinus. we find a confluence of major alchemical authors and works that will provide a useful introduction to the tradition. If thou knowest the substance and the method. places these works in the context of a seventeenth-century struggle between the followers of “Dogmatic” or “Hermetic medicine. the conflict between merely physical medicine and Hermetic medicine can be resolved through the study of alchemy. it is enough. we find such a plethora of both collections of images and written works that it is more than difficult to choose. One finds in the literature numerous references to monks as alchemists. bracketed by mythological references. is brought into the house of the man who knows the things that are. . and gave it to us by mighty toil. useful in demonstrating some kind of continuity. the treatise joins what we may call a mythological field. But in a work titled “The Golden Tripod” (1618). Basilius Valentinus and Eirenaeus Philalethes (seventeenth century). and an abbot of Westminster named Cremer. and are to come. His title. We might begin by remarking on the fact that two of the three authors Maier included were Benedictines. preceding Valentinus’s treatise on the “great stone” with the words “Pactolus contains not such great treasures. . nor does gold-bearing Hebrus roll down such precious things in its golden sand. were. For he bore away the golden fruit from the Hesperian garden and blessed with them fair Germany’s fields.” In other words. in his preface. as Valentine scatters abroad in this one book .
and this Mars has done. after which there will be formed a new heaven and a new earth. being bereft of images . including two archers shooting at targets. performing all things whatsoever possible under the sun. The commentary here discusses putrefaction and resurrection. on the far left side a single candle. all shall be judged by fire and reduced to ashes. with a furnace and various kinds of glass and tools. Shortly thereafter. with Mars imprisoning Mercury under the control of Vulcan. the Sun. as well as an angel blowing a horn.” The first of the twelve keys shows a couple. before him a burning barrel. is at once literary and practical.” which is of quite a different nature from Valentinus’s. the king bearing a staff. On the title page of this little collection we see an alchemist’s laboratory.33 The eighth of the twelve keys shows a man rising from the grave. as a result of which ultimately the great secret of alchemy was revealed to him. a king and a queen. The commentary here tells us that “whoever drinks of this golden fountain. and a man sowing seeds. over a fire. that which is visible. learned men of the country gather to decide the meaning of this enigma. . and separate it into its component parts” “prior to what it was before it became gold. and that which is palpable. The practical instructions of the treatise are interwoven with literary passages. while the Moon. 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.”30 Eventually he found a mineral substance that “exhibited many colors. . “a beautiful lady in a long silver robe. and the commentary tells us of the uses of the stone.”31 This combination of practical instructions and more figurative.58 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Yet the treatise itself. he cured a sick fellow monk completely. in the background a dead tree stump. while around him are various figures. despite its elliptical means of expression.”32 The fourth of the twelve keys shows a skeleton atop a casket or box. and the other planets holding a colloquy to decide what to do. while to the king’s right we see a leaping wolf. and how one who possesses it “shall possess all in all. Saturn wants to kill Mercury. to be invisible. a vanishing of all unhealthy matter. a half-naked man with a scythe. and the text tells us how at the end of the world. as when we are told to “take a quantity of the best and finest gold.” With its spiritual essence. and proved of the greatest efficacy. The twelfth key shows a man with a lion in a laboratory. experiences a renovation of his whole nature. literary passages also includes a series of images called the “twelve keys.” pleads the case of her husband. to become impalpable . and to the queen’s left. Here you see the perfection of our Art. and this secret the entire subsequent treatise is meant to reveal.” For these apparently practical instructions become a tale about the planets as characters in a little drama. and a venerable man with white hair and a flowing purple robe tells them “cause that which is above to be below. the queen a three-flowered plant.”34 The second of Maier’s treatises is Thomas Norton’s “Ordinal of Alchemy.
In recent times. Dalton said he was happy to die. as opposed to literary and figurative allusions. and Cremer’s testament does corroborate it. we are told. and two of willow charcoal. 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.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 59 and much more inclined to tell stories. 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. of course. and so was let go. and protected by precisely the same invocation of the Book of Life. and then of how a certain Thomas Dalton. His testament is to be copied every sixty years. Such. and prepared in about four days. strong and pure. was betrayed to King Edward by an assistant named Delvis who had been sworn to silence. so as not to lose legibility over time. Here we have a “full and accurate account of Alchemy without using any obscure technical terms. Cremer in this. two of living sulphur. After admonitions about how we must avoid deceit and self-delusion. 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.” and add to it five ounces of petroleum.”35 And indeed. itself an esoteric text made exoteric. are the sufferings of those who aspire to a knowledge of the Art. and tortured for four years.” Benedictine abbot of Westminster. and given Cremer’s explicit instructions. and “whoever does not observe this my mandate. let his name be blotted out from the Book of Life. two of orange arsenic. This invocation of the Book of Life naturally suggests one of our primary themes in the study of Western esotericism: reading. and that all Norton’s instructions are useless except to the wise in light of direct experience. But also he is invoking the very language of the Book of Revelation. There is a long tradition of monasteries as sanctuaries for secret knowledge. The briefest and most specific of the three treatises is that entitled the “Treatise of Cremer. his last testament.” in a well-stoppered glass jar.”36 Here we return to the themes of the Book of Revelation—and despite the more or less prosaic terms of this testament. three of rabusenum. he was thrown into a dungeon by one of the king’s retinue. Even though Dalton had discarded the Red Powder because it had become a source of grief and anxiety. a man named Herbert. Only after such warning tales are we told in more specifics of the nature of the Art. tells us to “take three ounces of tartar of good claret. we can understand why he should impose such conditions. To publish widely his alchemical testament would be to divulge what should remain the secret of those presumably capable of bearing its power. Here reading can take place on multiple levels at once—there is the prosaic reading of instructions. who possessed a larger quantity of the Red Powder than any Englishman. and the secret is not to be given out to anyone except the Abbot and Prior of the monastery. Norton tells the story of how he himself was robbed of all he had. Eventually sentenced to death and brought before the executioner. of .
what is an aspiring alchemist to do but contemplate such a work. Clearly the imagination plays a role in the processes of alchemy. and the plant grows into its image as best conditions will allow. But here ‘imagination’ does not belong to any individual—rather. Spagyric medicine. not only by looking at words on a page. to enter into it until its images and approach permeate one’s consciousness and become second nature? Such a “second nature. for they occupy different dimensions within it. its subtle essence. which Paracelsus in De virtute imaginativa called a “sun in the soul of man. to carry it within. We may ‘read. Imagination governs the development of things. the individual human being may participate in the divine imagination that brings forth nature itself. Through these evestra. not merely from the outside and as other. these subtle realms and beings may be encountered in the realm of the imagination. one branch of alchemy. not all evestra are benefic. one may know the inner nature of anything.” Just as the sun draws forth the visible and growing forms of plants. everything that exists in the physical cosmos has what he calls evestra. There are incalculable numbers of evestra. According to Paracelsus. which exist in subtle matters of their own kind—for instance. Paracelsus tells us. and so it is only natural that humanity also participates in this power. which in turn may awaken the corresponding quality in the human being and thereby effect healing. and animal realms. consists in the awakening of subtler dimensions of a given plant. And of course. for the image of what a flower or plant is exists germinally in the seed. fire. or earth—and which may know nothing of the human world even though they exist in the same cosmos.’ then. ethereal counterparts. but is joined with them in the imagination. so too there is an inner world where the imagination may draw forth hidden things from ‘seed’ into flower. Here the individual mind is not separated from mineral. beyond the book of nature is the Book of Life. poems. literary allusions. 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. allows one to see the actual landscape or “first nature” in a different way. But in any event.60 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E course. To say. Of course. but inwardly and as mysteriously connected to oneself by way of imagination. The cosmos is created through the divine imagination. which perceives and participates in these other subtler dimensions of existence. where we see literature conveying the transmutation of consciousness that manifests in the natural world as well. epigrams. and figurative expressions that so characterize alchemical literature. allegories. One learns to read the inner significance of the book of nature. then. water.” consisting in the imaginative landscape. just as we might look at an image reflected in a mirror or water. that alchemy takes place in the imagination is not to say that it is imagi- . but also through the power of the imagination. air. but then there is also another kind of reading that we see in the collections of images. Confronted with such a colloquy. vegetable.
. more real than what we see in the physical. like Cremer’s testament. The terms used in its title—oil. empowered with the Salt of divine and natural Truth). fire. light air. Of course.”38 It is revealing that the light of nature is said to lead to the “whole Machina mundi” (II.” and to a host of Biblical references. geschärft mit dem Wein der Weisheit. confronted by the emerging materialist science of chemistry. moves away from physical alchemy into the realm of spiritual references alone. Many alchemical works are more susceptible to one interpretation than another—hence some. . may be interpreted in both ways at once. and this is characteristic of the work as whole. emphasize their recipe quality. bekräftiget mit dem Salz der göttlich und natürlichen Wahrheit (Amor Proximi. II Chronicles 13:5. these two poles became further separated. a matter of . just as the true maguss leads us to Christ. and so forth. while others. flowing out of the Oil of Divine Compassion. a distinctly modern image of the cosmos and a term that is in fact repeated in the work. including Romans 1. geflossen aus dem Oel der göttlichen Barmherzigkeit. and mist. and medicine together” that leads us through Wisdom to God. and salt—are not uncommon in physical alchemy. one finds a new kind of alchemical literature whose primary implications are almost exclusively spiritual. it is entirely real. . But during the late seventeenth and the eighteenth centuries. 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. This is the true Ground of Nature . .37 And thus “the true medicine is thus the heart of Wisdom: out of this heart (or eternal spiritual salt) emerges life. The prefatory remarks to the work refer to the “heavenly Wisdom” who reveals the “two lights of nature and of grace. wine. this Mist-Spirit-Water is Salt or Earth . 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. as a spirit. indeed. 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 body is the pure light of nature. It is as though here alchemy. but that in this particular worldview. the true medicine of the soul is the pure light of grace. There is no doubt that the work is engaged in justifying a true “theology. But rather than proceeding toward specific instructions. but the new ambience is not so much Hermetic with a tinge of Christianity as it is totally Christian. Amor proximi proceeds instead to refer in passing to the knowledge of the “heathens. but here are clearly spiritualized. Genesis 1:27. even here physical significances of alchemy are implied. philosophy. which mist transforms itself into a water of life in the new birth. sharpened with the Wine of Wisdom. The mechanistic worldview is all surface. like Valentinus’s.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 61 nary. the true medicine and theology.74).
There is a process of spiritual alchemy alluded to in Amor Proximi. in harmony” (II. Yet alchemy. for it is conceivable that physical alchemy could degenerate into nothing more than chemistry. and based in the books of Teutonici philosophi Jacob Böhme (II. here instead we are being introduced to the hidden nature. Certainly we do not find in this treatise the kind of alchemical work that we saw in the previous works. Whoever wishes to understand practically this depth-perception must first have a fundamental knowledge of it. nor whence they emerge (II. here the terminology of alchemy is spiritualized in order to discuss the awakening and rebirth of the individual. and hence we find a Christian alchemy. which concerns the transmutation of the planetary qualities in an individual. the great Universal-Stone wherein the fall and restoration of mankind is clearly to be seen with the eyes” (II. traditional alchemy consists in both inner and outer work at once. Oil. and it is not surprising that during the rise of secular science we find alchemical treatises that emphasize the inward. easily translates into a dominant religion. But we could also see this spiritual alchemy as the counterbalancing restoration of alchemy’s gnostic. inward dimension. for instance. And so we find the three One.77). but here they are transposed to reveal a particular metacosmic vision. and one three . these terms have an alchemical provenance. of existence.83). Here we find no interest in historical explanations.62 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E measurement and quantity leading to technology. in whom the Magia is a holy Light or Spirit. but they don’t really understand the spiritual nature of these elements.80). and a true Medicus. or Water is. the depths. the author writes “That the earth is dark. . as a kind of counterpoint. Of course it is possible to see the spiritualized alchemy of Amor Proximi as the abandonment of more physical alchemy. like Hermeticism. In fact.93). Fire. and when either one is absent. and is the ground of the revelation of the eternal Godhead” (II. And what we are seeking is “a single subject in Nature. Yet those who don’t seek God’s knowledge in nature also remain blind. for here the “illuminated brotherhood” finds written the “holy Scripture” (II. and which leads to the individual being a “true Theologus. just as we find for instance Islamic . However. and indeed have spiritual meanings as well within alchemical work.105). what is left soon ceases to be alchemy and may be absorbed into the dominant religion or may become chemistry. that is the mystery wherein all lies. such a degeneration is exactly what we find happening during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The Sophists want to seek the prima materia among the elements. but here. and so the author leads us through a discussion of the metacosmic nature and history of humanity. Oil. but the Sun light. in whom the philosophy as a holy Salt.83). is a perspective that is all depth. or perhaps as its translation into Christian allegory. a true Astrologus. Thus. Water. we are told. Salt. spiritual dimensions of the work. . in whom the Cabala with all its sciences as a holy Fire and Blood is.
the Western alchemical current flows into Böhmean Christian theosophy. practical alchemy is seen as a subset of spiritual alchemy.” the “fall of Lucifer” and the “eternal peace and gentle still joy of the eternal divine kingdom. of course. for here we again see the confluence of our principal themes in Western esotericism. astrology. The implication. a letter to a lady who had discovered the prima materia and had asked him for further guidance. and Kabbalistic themes. and in the end must conclude that in this theosophic worldview. Pordage’s work.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 63 alchemy. not merely a pastiche. and whose ending is almost identical to the conclusion of Amor Proximi. astrological. 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. on sulfur. Gichtel was reputed at the time to have been a practicing alchemist since his light was often on long into the night.”40 There can be little doubt that von Welling was drawing on a wealth of specific knowledge of alchemical. including “Chymie” or alchemy. we find numerous direct references to alchemy in Gichtel’s own letters. Opus Mago-cabbalisticum et theosophicum by Georg von Welling (1735). and gnostic metaphysics. of the second. as well as Theo-Philosophia Theoretico-practica by Samuel Richter (1711). and of the third. the Engelsbrüder or Angelic Brethren. whom Gichtel claimed to be able to spot immediately. it may be useful to concentrate on another work. Hence the fundamental organization of the Opus is alchemical. subsisted without any visible means of monetary support. on salt. The Opus Mago-Cabbalisticum is unquestionably a synthesis of many currents already touched upon.39 There are also the many references to alchemy that we find in Johann Georg Gichtel’s Theosophia Practica (letters from 1668–1710). beginning with the organization of the first section. 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. But such rumors aside. This is not . which produces mysticoalchemical works such as Amor Proximi. Here practical alchemy is taken for granted as a real possibility. Indeed. But to see the way alchemy was incorporated into theosophy. is among the clearest works on spiritual alchemy that we have encountered. from spiritual to physical. Christian theosophy. Kabbalah. but whose spiritual implications are always foremost. detailing an alchemical process of awakening and transmutation that could be read simultaneously as physical and as spiritual alchemy. is that Gichtel himself possessed the keys to the full range of alchemy. on mercury. the Opus Mago-Cabbalisticum et Theosophicum (1735) of Georg von Welling. which in turn is incorporated into the full breadth of theosophic discipline. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. and he and his spiritual circle. and John Pordage’s Epistle on the Philosophic Stone (ca. albeit scorned when the art is claimed by frauds and puffers. 1675).
.” “Thronen. then in a Liquorem . Typical of von Welling’s syncresis is an illustration showing at the top the Ungrund. Die Bereitung des Steins [Celestial Manna: the Heavenly Manna Named. and into these he weaves discussions using planetary and alchemical symbols. Indeed.” Further. diagrams. Arrayed next to these names are their Hebrew equivalents. with a plethora of astrological symbols. . he elided many details. one needs to “reduce it in an alcohol. a term of Jacob Böhme’s for the abyss prior to creation. 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 . and calcify it by hand. or mercury. and beneath which is a series of concentric circles labeled “Seraphim. But it is with alchemy that von Welling’s work both begins and ends. x (the Moon) and out of P (Saturn). His discussions of alchemy and astrology are very detailed and full of specific tables. At the same time. to properly prepare mercury. and in this regard he succeeded. but might well also be called pansophic.” “Cherubim. meaning the transcendent Godhead. Here. . one should not think that because von Welling aimed at such breadth as a pansophic esotericism requires. in other words. “Alchimische Fragen. of Pisa. The Preparation of the Stone]” as well as “Non plus ultra Veritatis: das ist. Beside these is a heptangle around which are arrayed the seven planetary symbols. and Kabbalistic references in a theosophic framework. the basic Dionysian angelical hierarchy. prepare it in a series of alchemical operations in a pair of vials. some of his Hebrew seems rather distorted—but he had in mind producing a vast compendium of esoteric knowledge unified within a theosophic understanding. The collection concludes with a translation into German of English alchemist George Ripley’s song of the newborn alchemical . For instance.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. diagrams. Hensing’s “Discurs von dem Stein der Weisen [Discourse on the Stone of the Wise]” (1722). . including D. he begins each of his large sections with specific discussions of alchemical salt. charts. he appends to his five-hundred-page Opus several alchemical treatises in their entirety. von dem Universali und den Particularibus [Alchemical Questions on the Universali and the Particularibus]” (1726).” and so forth. das himmlische Manna genannt. and instructions.”41 Von Welling’s astrological instructions are equally detailed. next to which is the Kabbalistic term ’en sof. tables. sulfur. and “Manna Coeleste. Christian scripture. 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. Eine Untersuchung der Hermetischen Wissenschaft [Nothing More True: That is: An Investigation into Hermetic Science]” by Francisco Sebastiano Fulvo Melvolodemet. and analyses clearly meant to produce not only a theoretical synthesis but a useful compendium of source material.
fits into our general discussion of Western esotericism and literature. alchemy is like learning to use a language. and to ‘write. as well as with what these represent. air. but also in the microcosm of the artist. so that everything—mineral. water.’ in the broadest possible sense. Here. and this almost infinite adaptability undoubtedly derives from the universalism of their central perspective. In some respects. alchemy extends this literary mysticism into the entire cosmos itself. Alchemy. letters.42 Both entail emulating or paralleling the creativity of life itself. like a painting. which consists in the transmutation and restoration of all things. we find that such aims are in fact vast indeed. In this sense. If Kabbalah entails a literary mysticism in which letters and numbers reveal secret spiritual depths. of course. is a relatively modern phenomenon. consisting not only in the perfection of elixirs or medicines drawn from herbs and metals. and the Hermeticism with which it is allied are religious chameleons. Such perfecting takes place in the alchemist’s laboratory. of course. Thus we may well say that. for its focus is not only in the mesocosm of the work. and in which writing can form a pathway to the divine. for example. fire. and that we will shortly examine further. Alchemy.” for it consists not only in the creation of a particular form. It is no coincidence that the alchemical work is also called the “great Art.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 65 king. the alchemical work transcends that of the artist. we can easily see. or grammars. but only with the guidance of the alchemical handbooks. and images. a natural homology between alchemy and art. While it is true that alchemical aims may at first seem circumscribed to the revelation of the philosopher’s stone. vegetable. alchemy goes well beyond contemporary conceptions of art. Here it is perhaps most useful to step back and consider how alchemy. when we look more closely at alchemical literature itself. 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. particularly in the profusion of brilliant images . however far-reaching. but even more in the perfection of humanity. recipes. both seek to perfect this creativity. including not only chemicals and equipment. animal. All of this underscores how alchemy and Hermeticism pervaded the pansophic esotericism that came to dominate the early modern period. One must learn both to ‘read. as we have come to see it since the seventeenth century. contemporary art and literature remain quite limited in scope by comparison to alchemy as spiritual illumination. the stars and planets—is revealed as a cosmic language and as a spiritual means of transmutation. but in a transmutation both of the focus of the work and of the artist. capable of taking on whatever coloration fits with their surroundings.’ There is. requiring long familiarity with special symbols. for its claims are to a lasting awakening and transmutation of the alchemist. but subtle and spiritual qualities as well. broadly seen.
For not only is the division between self and other or between subject and object gradually revealed to be false in alchemy. But virtually no one has looked at alchemy as a field where all such apparent divisions are overcome. the mysteries are conveyed primarily through literary riddles and parabolic expressions. literature. Contemporary views of literature. religion. Here in alchemy. no doubt of that. extends into a range of realms at once. This is by no means to suggest. were one to decipher what x and y mean. one would have the solution. The ‘solution. But in alchemical works. as in Christian mysticism and in Jewish Kabbalism. and also a successor’s primary guide to achieving transcendence. like those of science. Rather. nature. alchemy is understood through living symbols that allow us to understand nature. and the divine. However. between the observer and that which is observed. For there is here an operative mysticism of the word—the written word and image become a medium to express transcendence. 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. It is true that more recently theorists. largely have been based in a fundamental division between the writer and the reader. except that an alchemical work is not simply decoded as if. that alchemy is chiefly psychological. and the divine that it is alchemy’s goal to restore. in the manner of a mathematical equation. humanity. In alchemy.’ in the case of alchemy. In Christian terms. 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. 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.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. alchemy consists in coming to understand the nature of consciousness and the consciousness of nature. Oral commentary by a master is important. Indeed. literature takes on a greater significance than simply alluding to an oral tradition where the real mysteries are conveyed. humanity. For in alchemy literature is a means of transmitting precise knowledge of nature. so too is the apparent (but strictly modern) division between the sciences and the humanities. albeit knowledge that is not quantitative but qualitative. This unity is founded in the fundamental union of humanity. I would use the word decoding. and cannot be understood without reference to our inner human landscape of consciousness. between subject and object. and the divine in ever more profound ways. both of physics and of literary criticism. and the restoration of the right . like Jung. have begun to argue the insufficiency and even the falsehood of such easy divisions. and science are one. and that presupposes and requires humility before power greater than oneself. this is expressed in terms of the Fall and expulsion from Eden.
So it is with alchemy. with the invention of the printing press and with concomitant investigation into the numerous esoteric currents of antiquity. and brings us gradually by way of a spiritual process that includes physical and transphysical work. one must keep in mind its essential fluidity: alchemy during the early modern period did not exist alone. During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. but in relation to a host of other currents. toward the revelation of the fundamental consciousness informing all that lives. This universalism is the dream that was to haunt virtually the entirety of modern Western esotericism. The major currents of modern Western esotericism developed in the context of burgeoning knowledge about the past. but also fed into other major currents of Western esotericism. And it is to these that we will now turn our attention. esoteric universalism became more and more commonplace. PA N S O P H I C . 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. Such a restoration takes us beyond the separated consciousnesses in which we now find ourselves. As we have seen. when its literature and imagery attained its most brilliant formation. it is perhaps more useful to keep in mind their social and historical contexts. in particular Christian theosophy. it became possible to conceive of a universal approach to knowledge that included the whole of the human inheritance. the essential purpose of the resonant alchemical symbolism. Indeed. and Freemasonry. Rosicrucianism. esotericism necessarily became even more eclectic in scope. nineteenth. Whereas in the medieval period and earlier. 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. in the modern era. against ourselves. pansophy. We should also keep in mind the growing split. written works were comparatively difficult to obtain. between the sciences and the . and against the divine. especially during the eighteenth. We have already seen how alchemy emerged during the early modern period.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 67 human relationship to nature and to the divine corresponds to a restoration of paradise. Literature here is a means toward awakening greater consciousness. R O S I C R U C I A N . divided against the world. it has not only continued to exist to the present day. In the study of Western esotericism. precisely what we find at the end of numerous alchemical treatises. even if its fundamental outlines or concerns remain the same. 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 . and twentieth centuries. But alchemy did not disappear thereafter.
he wrote numerous works beginning with Die Morgenröte. in Western esotericism we find. But his inspiration came chiefly from within. chemistry. comparative and syncretic.” One thinks of figures as diverse as Robert Fludd. particularly during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. the emergence of biology. Thus during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries we find numerous major esoteric figures who engaged in scientific investigations. and drawing from his visionary experiences. But Western esotericism. and the historical and comparative investigations into Christian origins.68 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E humanities. trace the broader lineaments of recent Western esotericism. from the eighteenth to the twentieth century. and the sciences and humanities in turn ever more separated from religion. near Poland. John Pordage. in a border area where he came in contact with a range of esoteric traditions. as we have already glimpsed in the case of alchemy. including. medicine and astrology. practiced medicine and astrology. aimed for a universal approach to knowledge that. Whereas in medieval Europe and England. a city on the eastern side of Germany. we will instead look closely at some seminal authors in the modern esoteric traditions and by so doing. the fields of alchemy. all human knowledge was conceived of as unified—like a wheel whose spokes are the various disciplines and arts. in the sciences. to name only a few of the most luminary. and Franz von Baader. with each of the disciplines ever more separated from the others. this sense of unity dissolved. quite the opposite movement. Böhme lived during a time of social unrest. and including a vast commentary on Genesis called Mysterium Magnum. and whose center is spiritual knowledge—with the advent of the Protestant era. physical chemistry from metaphysics. say. rather than seeking to separate. But here we do not have space for a complete survey of all such figures. illustration and literature. Any study of modern Western esoteric traditions must consider the work of Jacob Böhme (1575–1624). However. For the Western esoteric traditions that emerged during this period. we find a historical movement toward more and more specialized and fragmented knowledge. instead seeks ever more firmly to conjoin them. Indeed. explored theology and metaphysics. It is true that. nonsectarian and ecumenical approaches to spirituality. as well as De Signatura . all acted to separate religious faith from scientific investigation and from literature and the arts. the “illuminated shoemaker” of Görlitz. the historical movement of Western esotericism during the modern period is to unify the entire range of human knowledge. in the arts. wrote literary works. or Aurora. The Copernican revolution. much more indebted to the medieval era than is usually supposed. and in religion. continued and developed this belief in a unified approach to knowledge. and geology. the discovery of more complex technology. archaeology. including Kabbalism and Hermeticism. Rather. and in general correspond to the description of “Renaissance man. nor is that our aim. at least in the secular world. our approach being thematic.
Rerum (The Signature of All Things), Christosophia, and numerous letters and shorter works. Even these titles reveal the connections between Böhme and the earlier traditions we have discussed: Mysterium Magnum, with its elaborate exegesis of Genesis, is certainly indebted to the Kabbalistic tradition; The Signature of All Things is an extended discussion of, among many topics, the Hermetic doctrine of signatures developed by Paracelsus; and Christosophia, often translated as The Way to Christ, entails a chivalric ethic of fidelity to the feminine figure of Wisdom, the Virgin Sophia. What is more, there unquestionably are profound parallels between Böhme’s writings and ancient Gnosticism, parallels that became even clearer in later theosophic figures like the English Philadelphians.43 Thus we can see how Böhmean theosophy reveals the syncretism so characteristic of modern esotericism more generally; here numerous traditions meet and are fused into a profound new union that was to have enormous influence on the subsequent history of Western esotericism. Böhme’s work, according to his own testimony, derived chiefly from his own personal experience, but there is evidence that he had extensive contacts with Hermetic and Kabbalistic circles of his day, including lengthy discussions with Abraham von Frankenberg, himself an author on Kabbalistic subjects. That Böhme’s writing emerged from his own visionary perceptions and inspiration is unquestionable, for he wrote with authority and certainty about a vast range of cosmological and metaphysical principles. What is more, he developed a particular language, drawing upon Hermetic, alchemical, and Kabbalistic sources, to express this inspiration, a special terminology with both Latinate and Germanic roots. But Böhme drew from prior traditions as well, and his work may be described as unique or as a brilliant synthesis, for both are true. Although Böhme’s terminology and mode of expression are often difficult, the basic elements of his thought are not. It is true that Böhme presents a complex cosmology, with his exposition of the Ungrund, or abyss, that precedes existence and that corresponds in Kabbalism to the ’en sof, and in Christian mysticism to Eckhart’s Godhead; with his exposition of the seven source-spirits; and with his unfamiliar terms like limbus, lubet, and schrack, describing hidden principles or aspects of the creative process. Yet Böhme has been popular for centuries—from Germany to Russia and America—among those drawn to direct spiritual experience, and this popularity derives from the fact that while his doctrines are almost inexhaustible, the fundamental nature of Böhme’s teaching is clear and simple. Here I will compress a great deal in the hope of sketching the outlines of Böhme’s thought. Böhme held that before the cosmos came into being, there was the Ungrund, or transcendent abyssal origin. From this emerged two realms, the dark-world of wrath and the paradisal light-world, and after a series of primal catastrophes, a “third principle,” physical nature. Human beings
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can participate in all three of these principles; some people belong to the wrathworld of fury and destructiveness, some to the paradisal light-world, but mostly we find ourselves mediating among all of these. Our purpose as human beings, simply put, is to transmute the wrath-quality in ourselves into paradisal light and love. This process of transmutation, a kind of spiritual alchemy, is true religion; without it, religion is merely outward “Babel,” the appearance without the reality. Böhme’s approach to language is of particular interest to us, for, quite in line with the numerous currents of the Western esoteric traditions that preceded him, Böhme created a complex linguistic mysticism. In Aurora, Böhme’s first book, he introduced this mysticism of the word, writing that “The whole power of the Father speaks, out of all the qualities, the Word, i.e., the Son of God. The same word, or the same sound, spoken by the Father, issues out of the Salniter, or the powers of the Father, and out of the Father’s Mercurius, or sound . . . for the outspoken Word remains as a glory or majestic command before the king, but the sound, issuing through the word, executes the command of the Father which he has spoken through the word, and in this is the birth of the Holy Trinity. The same takes place in an angel or in a man” (vi.2). Böhme’s language here is resonant with alchemical and Jewish allusions, but these allusions appear in a clearly Christian context, and although they refer to the Word in the Trinity, they also refer to the word in humanity. Böhme extends this linguistic mysticism to every living thing. In his giant commentary on Genesis, Mysterium Magnum, he writes that “every creature has its own center for its outspeaking, or the sound of the formed word within itself, both eternal and temporal beings: the unreasoning ones as well as man; for the first Ens has been spoken out of the sound of God, by Wisdom, out of her center into the fire and light, and has been formed into the fiat, and entered into compaction. The Ens is out of the eternal, but the compaction is out of the temporal, and therefore in everything there is something eternal hidden in time” (xxii.2). Here Böhme elaborates on the metaphysics of what he also discusses in De Signatura Rerum, the esoteric view older than Pythagoras that everything in creation emerges out of its resonating linguistic, sonic, energetic origin as an emanation or manifestation of an archetype. What is more, there is a teleological significance to this doctrine. For if all beings preëxist their material manifestation in the archetypal realm of the word, after manifestation each manifested thing will return to its transcendent origin, that belonging to love returning to love and that belonging to wrath returning to wrath. Böhme writes: “In that quality in which each word in the human voice in the act of outspeaking forms and manifests itself, either in the love of God, as in the Holy Ens, or in the wrath of God; in the same quality will it be taken up again therein after it has been spoken out. The false word becomes infected by the devil, and sealed up for its [future] detriment, and is received within the
Mysterium of the wrath, in the quality of the dark-world. Each thing returns with its Ens to where it has originated” (xxii.6). This is not predestination, exactly, but rather the sifting of the chaff from the wheat at time’s end. We can see here how language is intimately tied up with the metaphysics of love and wrath. In the fallen world, wrathfulness is the principle of separation and objectification as well as of anger, and so the language of extreme ratiocination also belongs to the wrath. Reason has its place, but when it becomes separated from love, it becomes objectifying and destructive and a functionary of wrath, while language divorced from its transcendent origin becomes Babel or babble. Yet all of this refers to the fallen world, the sphere of discord, chaos, confusion. The means of order’s restoration is the Word, the restoration of light and love in one’s life. But such a restoration takes place through a process of awakening or illumination that is a process of transmuting wrath into love, darkness into light. This process is also that of restoring language from its fallen state (as a means of objectification) into its primordial state of union. This process is the awakening of the true Word in us. Böhme writes that “our whole religion consists in learning how to go out of dissension and vanity and to reënter the one Tree, whence we have come in Adam, and which is Christ in us” (Regener, viii.2). Thus, “he who fully enters into this state of divine rest in Christ arrives through Him at the perception of divinity. He then sees God in himself and everywhere; he speaks with God and God speaks with him, and he understands what is the Word, Essence, and Will of God. Such a one, and no other, is capable of teaching the Word of God himself: for God is one with him, and he wills nothing but what God wills through him” (Mysterium Magnum, xlii.63). The Word of God here has special and profound meaning; it refers to the essence of deity, the transcendent origin of existence. And by realizing this Word, one restores all subordinate language as well as nature itself (whose creatures each also incarnate divine signatures or words) to their primordial unitive or paradisal state. From all of this we can see that the fundamental impetus of Böhme’s work is integrative, not on a cultural so much as on an individual, primal level. Böhme calls the individual toward reintegration or union, and it is the individual nature of this call that has subsequently attracted so many people, in such diverse social situations, toward theosophy. But at the same time, we can easily see how this same integrative impulse aimed at individual transformation could as well be applied on a wider cultural scale, as for instance as the foundation of an effort to reunify the sciences and the humanities with religion. And in fact, such an effort is precisely what we find happening over the century following Böhme’s life, in the movement called Rosicrucianism. It may be, as some scholars have speculated, that Böhme was himself familiar with the same movement which, ten years before Böhme’s death, began to emerge under the name Rosicrucian, with the publication of the
translates the “book M.44 For when we look at the actual wording of the Fama and the Confessio. Böhme’s writing and thought both paralleled and influenced that of the Brotherhood of the Rosy Cross. he begins a secret fraternity with only four members including him- . But in any event. travels to the Fez and to the Damascus of the mind. “or a perfect method of all arts. for it captured the imagination of the age with its tale of Christian Rosencreutz and his mysterious journeys through exotic lands and secret knowledge. whereas there is another more mysterious book that is the source of wisdom. we are told at the outset that were the learned wise. “so that finally man might thereby understand his own nobility and worth. C. a visionary trip to the Orient of the spirit. like its complement the Confessio. and who goes as well to Egypt—precisely where European esotericism has always located its sources of arcane knowledge. Hermeticism. Not coincidentally. but at the same time it links the Rosicrucian movement from the very beginning with the most gnostic aspects of Islam and Judaism.” however. and how far his knowledge extendeth into Nature. in the Orient. like us. The Fama begins by telling the story of C. which first came to general public attention with the publication of the Fama Fraternitatis. R. according to the Fama. R. they could collect Librum Naturae. generally speaking. we find ample confirmation of all the primary elements of Western esotericism thus far traced. To see the journey as a visionary recital also helps elucidate its most salient feature: the book. even if at times such orders did exist. 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).”46 When C. and among Sufis and Kabbalists.”45 This universal renewal and extension of knowledge is.. are to be collected by the wise. if not universalism.. was to follow Christ by renewing all arts to perfection. But there are many other elements here that correspond exactly to our primary themes. the gnostic goal of Kabbalism. R.” These “Books of Nature. And of course this brief work. as well as with its assertion of a secret order as keeper of profound and powerful knowledge and means. For from the very beginning of the Fama. the book is a central image and source of wisdom. caused a great stir in Europe. Indeed. who travels among the Arabians and the Jews on a quest to Jerusalem. of Christian theosophy as well.” into good Latin from Arabic. 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. This journey may also be seen as a kind of visionary recital. returns eventually to Germany. both the Fama and the Confessio reveal the fundamental themes we have seen woven through the Western esoteric traditions. and why he is called Microcosmos. underscoring immediately the movement’s eclecticism. and later we are told that Paracelsus had also “diligently read over the book M: whereby his sharp ingenium was exalted. The Rosicrucians’ goal. R. and later.” C.
but follow only Christ. first. of eclecticism or universalism. . recur as well in the Confessio. as when we are told that every “side or wall is parted into ten figures. and shall be learned and found out of them?”51 . wish. is. as well as a host of mysterious letters and Latin inscriptions. as they are truly shown and set forth Concentratum here in our book. belongs to the mind and imagination.”48 But the import is clear: the tomb’s architecture itself. or hope for. and all are sworn to write down all that they learn. the which (if we well behold our age) containeth much of Theology and medicine . sciences. 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. “After this manner. called I. The Confessio begins by telling us that its authors cannot be suspected of any heresy. The description is often hard to follow. . the Confessio asks: “Were it not a precious thing. . . the foundations and contents of all faculties. and by them was made the magical language and writing. by four persons only. undestroyed. that you could so read in one only book. with a large dictionary . he was placed in his tomb with a parchment book. all that which in all other books (which heretofore have been. and with mention of one hundred fortyfour thousand saved from the wicked world at time’s end? These themes. shall find more wonderful secrets by us than heretofore they did attain unto . Certainly reading and writing are central to the Rosicrucian mysteries. . we find references to far-flung places and hidden wisdom. Interestingly. are now.”50 Thus the essence of Rosicrucianism is the universal philosophy informing all arts and sciences. full of geometric symbolism. every one with their several figures and sentences. than that which is the head and sum.” There is more. “began the Fraternity of the Rose Cross. they also made the first part of the book M. itself a work with intricate geometric symbolism. and hidden to the wicked world. And there is in the tomb’s description a great deal of arcane geometry and architecture. and pay no mind to the Pope or Muhammed. . Among other questions. forms “sentences” and a kind of book of the hidden principles of nature and of the microcosm. Yet once again. like the book. it is to read the universal book.”49 How could this mysterious building be invisible and untouched unless the building. and of reading the mysterious book of books. a century old. and arts. and come into our brotherhood. and withal by reading understand and remember. and we find this definition of the Rosicrucian philosophy: “No other Philosophy have we.”47 These early members of the Rose Cross order then collected of their own writings “a book of all that which man can desire. whereof all learned who make themselves known to us. or are able to believe or utter.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 73 self. not the body? And does not the “one hundred thousand” resonate with the Book of Revelation. and shall be) hath been. For when Christian Rosencreutz died. so that no one might later be deceived.” the Fama continues. of the uniting of all arts and sciences.
correspond closely to what we also find in Christian theosophy at roughly the same time. the universal revelation of Christ to humanity. and grave warnings are given to those who approach its mysteries selfishly. reminds us rather strikingly of the Book of Revelation. yet shall we never be manifested . of course. a new language for ourselves. is hidden the real essence of Christianity itself. the Bible. Throughout they emphasize reading the divine books of humanity and nature. an era that recalls the earlier hierohistorical mysticism of Joachim of Fiore and his complex theory of a coming “age of the Holy Spirit. of course.54 It is no coincidence that Böhme titled his first book Aurora. yea.” The authors of the Fama and the Confessio certainly believed in the hierohistorical significance of certain dates and astrological conjunctions connected. a new era for mankind. as God hath here and there incorporated them in the Holy Scriptures. metahistorical events at the end of time. and have found out. . and writing in a “magic language. including the hierohistorical view of dates and the expectation of an impending apocalypse or unveiling. . and quite probably to Egypt. and held that there was emerging a new revelation. a very long history in the West. 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. It certainly emerges in the Middle Ages in the works of Agrippa and Trithemius. in which we find the sources of many subsequent works illustrated by . without and against the will of God. and endue them with learning . in the which withall is expressed and declared the nature of all things. 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. or sixth age. stretching back at least to the Gnostics. in the Rosicrucian mysteries. who as we have seen drew upon Kabbalistic sources.” Such an idea of a magic language has. Clearly for our purposes the most relevant aspect of these most seminal Rosicrucian documents is their embrace of linguistic mysticism. .”52 “These characters and letters. and made. From which characters or letters we have borrowed our magic writing. and that one must approach it with humility or find nothing. with all of its emphasis on hierogeometry. . with the date 1604. One can hardly miss the Biblical resonances of these final words of the Confessio: “Although we might enrich the whole world.74 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Likewise. . for instance. or worse than nothing. it shall be so far from him who thinks to get the benefit and be partaker of our riches and knowledge. so hath he imprinted them most apparently into the wonderful creation of heaven and earth.”55 The implication is that here. . unto any man without the special pleasure of God. yea. into all beasts . and above all. All of this. for instance. Agrippa and Trithemius are well known for their primary and influential works on magic.”53 The implication throughout the Fama and the Confessio is that there is dawning a miranda sexta aetatis. But this new revelation must be approached with humility. These aspects of Rosicrucianism.
One also finds such a magical language in the work of Dr. was of a non-sectarian. demons. or why. By 1623. and it too has been used in magical workings. there was a great deal of anti-Rosicrucian sentiment. as well as a developing mythology of Rosicrucianism. on a pansophic mysticism. as Frances Yates notes. discovered the “Enochian language. and the subsequent furor manifested itself in a host of other Rosicrucian works. it is a culture founded on Kabbalah and alchemy. if there was such a fraternity as claimed in the Fama and Confessio. or pansophia. as well as in subsequent literature. brilliant.56 Is it only coincidence that the date given as the discovery of C. But it is worthwhile to note that the Rosicrucian furor lasted only a few short years. Dee’s Enochian language is important because no less an authority than Frances Yates concluded that the single most important figure in the appearance of early Rosicrucianism is in fact John Dee. in his controversial “conversations with spirits” along with Edward Kelley.” 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. is the date of Dee’s death? And is it only coincidence that the Fama and Confessio make so much of a “magical language. disappearing around 1620. stellar and numerical patterns connected to specific angels.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 75 sigils and magic squares. the Confessio. or intelligences. and the outrageously baroque. one is calling upon the language of the stars in order to invoke the powers or intelligences with which they are connected. The Enochian language is a mysterious tongue that requires tables or “keys” for its deciphering. Here. it should be publicly proclaimed in this way. 1604. R. By using these stellar and numerical patterns in ritual magic. we have no reason to delve into the question of whether there existed any such secret orders. particularly in France. Here. universal culture dedicated to the investigation of the language of nature. Here we must introduce the word pansophy. The Rosicrucian dream. even a kind of nascent Rosicrucian witch-hunt. who. a work so incredibly full of dense oneiric symbolism that next to it other literary works generally seem comparatively devoid of symbols. written in the microcosm and in the macrocosm. 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.’s tomb. 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. that is.” which has subsequently played an extensive role in the history of magic in the West. precisely the time of political upheaval in Germany and the advent of the Thirty Years’ War. John Dee (1527–1604). One finds this word appearing frequently in Hermetic publications immediately following . which we see outlined in the Fama and Confessio. peaceful. and playfully symbolic Chemical Wedding of Christian Rosencreutz.
In many respects. central to the subsequent emergence of modern forms of esotericism. in its aims and in the sources upon which it draws. The pansophic current includes all the primary streams of esotericism. The word pansophy itself largely disappears from the European vocabulary after the eighteenth century. but one might well see chemistry as a dimunition of alchemy—for alchemy requires humility and selflessness. universal culture like that imaged in Bacon’s New Atlantis or other utopias of the time. in contrast to theosophy. is universal. or a Brief Introduction to the Ancient Wisdom. cabala. but the pansophic impulse nonetheless has continued to govern Western esotericism up to the present day. and Michael Maier. 1618)]. and draws eclecticly on much earlier ‘pagan’ traditions like those attributed to Egypt and Persia. of course. and technologism. and gnostic. pansophy resembles the aims and works of Giordano Bruno. for instance. derived from alchemy. various forms of magic. Christian or not. there is a long tradition of Kabbalism as . Ruechlin. or magia naturalis. it emphasizes magic. but what the word signifies certainly does not disappear.p. in order to form the basis for a new. including. an esoteric universalism that includes alchemy. The pansophic view. which is specifically Christian gnosis. magical. whereas purely chemical experimentation requires nothing of oneself except to be a firmly rationalist observer. herbalism. not specifically Christian. and inquiry into nature more generally. Paracelsus. The most obviously included is natural magic. but one also finds the emergence of various other shades of magic. alchemical. often with Kabbalistic influence.. 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. hence on our separation from and manipulation of them. cabalistic.76 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E the Rosicrucian announcements. although the Kabbalists we discussed earlier were almost exclusively interested in what we may call high mysticism. The word Pansophia here separates this new form of esotericism from Theosophia. We might recall that. as in for instance Joseph Stellatus’s Pegasus Firmamenti sive Introductio brevis in veterum sapientiam [Pegasus of the Firmament. healing. that quixotic character still insufficiently studied. Pansophy. alchemy. 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. and thus places himself squarely in the mainstream of the primary Western esoteric currents. but like Dee. mechanism. 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. It is true that chemistry. Stellatus cites Hermes Trismegistus (of course!). The latter are all based in an objectivization of the cosmos or of humanity as objects of study. certainly was temporarily vanquished by rationalist materialism.
Cabballa: Not Only Magic and Philosophy. was published at Altona in 1785–1788. magic squares. the pansophic impulse is fundamentally similar to the scientific: it consists in investigation into the mysteries of the unknown and of nature. is peculiarly modern and in some respects characteristically pansophic. as a somewhat medieval figure. almost all. of vast and intricate tables. Yet the Faustian impulse to search out all knowledge and means of knowledge. The Faustian legend is so resonant still because it expresses something fundamental about the emerging modern period. and much else. diagrams. and illustrations revealing the hidden nature of the universe. and a series of .58 Characteristic of these esoteric illustrations is one entitled Figura Divina Theosoph. predating the Rosicrucian furor but certainly influencing its later productions. including the names and seals or sigils of angels in Hebrew and Latin. Once Protestantism and secularism began to emerge in Europe. Metaphysica. which later emerged in almost endless detail in the Geheime Figuren [Secret Figures] of the Rosicrucians. It was probably preceded by and certainly followed by other versions. There are numerous such manuscripts with various versions of these ilustrations. who refused to allow any boundaries to his search for knowledge. It is an astonishingly complex illustration. one finds a range of possibilities opening up. One also can see in such willingness to incorporate any form of knowledge whatever. including a French edition titled F. with concentric circles marking divinity at the top.M.57 and in all cases is replete with examples of the effort to map universal knowledge not only physical but also metaphysical.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 77 the basis for magical practices including sorcery. who makes a pact with Mephistopheles in order to gain knowledge. de La Rose-Croix. and perhaps all belonging to the late eighteenth century. the pansophic impetus behind the legend of Johannes Faust. Of course because of the ascent of rationalist materialism and secularism. Among the first of these. a series of extraordinarily complex illustrations. planetary correspondences. at the other pole research into the previously forbidden also becomes more common. chiefly under the title Physica. et Hyperphysica.A. nee non Magia. in later Rosicrucianism. and if at one pole rationalist disbelief in the transcendent becomes acceptable. printed by Theodore de Bry in 1582. In some respects. One sees this desire to map the cosmos in the emergence. including sorcery. was the Calendarium Naturale Magicum Perpetuum Profundissimam Rerum Secretissimarum Contemplationem [Perpetual Natural Magical Calendar] of Tycho Brahe.. we tend to think of Faust. The Geheime Figuren der Rosenkreuzer. Here we have a massive compendium of magical knowledge.O. This compilation is of special importance for us because it reveals the far-flung syncretic origins of the pansophic impulse. Philosophia. But Chemistry]. And in fact most grimoires have a Hebrew basis for the angelic and demonic names and characteristics that they list for invocation or evocation. D. atque Chymia [Divine Figure of Theosoph. even if it is illicit. Cabball.
O.M. it seems entirely symbolically appropriate that Dr. and Holy Spirit. Just as the eighteenth century was an era of physical cartography. here we have a different focus. the greatest occultist of his day. is an effort to render a mappa mundi. the lower sphere represents the temporal realm. marking a host of alchemical stages and enigmatic sayings as well as planetary and zodiacal symbols. manuscript and the efforts at a comprehensive cosmology found in modern science. entitled “Unendliche Ewigkeit und Unerforschliche Primum Mobile” [“Infinite Eternity and Unknowable Primum Mobile”].M. such as “Ein Prophet gilt nichst in seinem Vaterlande [A prophet is not honored in his native land.59 There is a great deal of controversy over the precise relation of such a manuscript or illustration to Böhmean theosophy. in visual form.78 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E triangles and concentric circles below.” “Animal Seed.A. of its hyperphysical dimensions. and in the effort to create a comprehensive map of the cosmos. This middle realm is marked “Figura Cabbalistica. Fundamentally the same characteristics mark the comprehensive esotericism represented by the D. Here chaos does not mean total confusion so much as ‘potentiality’. yet there is ample reason to use such a term. as well as Jehovah in Hebrew.” “Heavenly Seed. Below that is an intermediate principial realm marked “Water. John Dee. surrounded by winged angelic forms. in time and in eternity. Extremely intricate hyperphysical cartography like this seems to be chiefly a creation of the early modern period. in scholastic theology. of efforts to survey the ethereal realms. and with the word Chaos. for instance.” and “Mineral Seed. in investigation without regard for dogmatic religious barriers. Is there a direct indebtedness to Böhmean theosophy. we find a more or less typical series of images: above is the Prima Materia. Here. . The term occult sciences may raise an eyebrow. partaking in both. but it appears the early modern mania for physical cartography had its exact complement in the occult sciences—indeed. For our focus is upon what such an illustration signifies. but even more because there is good reason to think of Western esoteric currents in general as being based in verifiable experimentation. that is. or to Rosicrucianism. for instance. marked also Father. so too it was an era of hyperphysical cartography. of course. but a map of the hidden aspects of the world.” “Vegetable Seed.]” Below is an elemental sphere marked with the zodiacal signs.” and has on either side gnomic sayings. also was relied upon as Queen Elizabeth’s cartographer. 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. Son.” and so forth.O. such spiritual mapmaking has its predecessors in the medieval era. not only because many of the early major scientific figures were in fact also alchemists.A. And thus when we look at an illustration from D. and Earth depicted as a ball exists between the elemental and intermediate realms.
This is the kind of comprehensive worldview visible in such illustrations as the ones we see emerging during the eighteenth century. Western esotericism often aims at universal knowledge. at a truly comprehensive metaphysics and cosmology. and later in the development of modern Freemasonry. originally a scientist. maintained a definite organizational hierarchy and structure. which. but published only in German). And one sees the same effort to bridge the realms in the works of Franz von Baader (1765–1841). One finds the same effort at universality in theosophy. of course. as for instance in the vast metaphysical cartography of John Pordage (1604–1681). author of such works as Theomagia. Freemasonry. unlike these other more individualistic movements. but after his visionary entry into discarnate realms. and specifically. science. Such a universalist goal does not exclude the human. or the Glory of the Rosie-cross. but a profound intellectual who consciously sought to bridge the gap between the sciences and religion. and became one of the most impressive writers on religious and spiritual themes of the nineteenth century. the arts. One sees this also. But such universalism is a constant theme from the seventeenth century on. and is certainly not limited to works labeled Rosicrucian. those of masonry belonging to the arts of architecture and building. not a visionary. was John Heydon.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 79 There was a time. truly a Renaissance man. and associated with the vast . chronicled what one discovers in visiting in vision the various discarnate realms of existence. invented an industrial process. and literature in a spiritually centered universe. or the Temple of Wisdom. of course. began in the medieval period as one of many craft guilds. (London: 1665). stretching right into the nineteenth century. And it is in the sociopolitical realm that the Rosicrucian impulse had considerable impact. the social and political realm. in other words. and pansophic movements we have discussed in turn fed into Freemasonry. who studied minerology. representing exactly such a compendium of knowledge in largely written form (albeit including also illustrations and tables). theosophic. first with the consistent emphasis of Rosicrucian works on the transformation of society and the establishment of a utopia. each of which guarded its particular mysteries. For all of the Rosicrucian. denigrated in his own day as something of a plagiarist. (London: 1663–1664) and The Wise-mans Crown. a prolific chronicler of the unseen. and it is also clearly visible in the major works of that era. in the numerous volumes of Emanuel Swedenborg (1688–1772). From the seventeenth until the twentieth centuries. who in his multivolume Göttliche und Wahre Metaphysica (Frankfurt/Leipzig: 1715/1746) (probably written during the 1670s. Another such figure. not so very long ago. Heydon’s Theomagia in particular attempts to be a kind of universal compendium of the occult sciences. when esotericists could imagine a unified cosmology that included religion. We have already referred to Georg von Welling’s Opus Mago-Cabbalisticum et Theosophicum (1784).
but the Freemasons endured the longest. Robert Fludd (1574–1637) was born into a Shropshire family. 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. and among his primary influences were Kabbalism. not surprisingly. contact probably having its origins in the lengthy period of communication between Islamic. on which he explicitly drew. Fludd was somewhat contentious as a young physician. intended as a vast compendium of human knowledge including theosophy. in 1616 and 1617. 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. Physica Atque Technica Historia [History of the Macrocosm and Microcosm] (Oppenheim: de Bry. and the sciences. John’s College in Oxford. It is true that there were other such guilds with their own rites and mysteries. Fludd was among the first to develop a comprehensive esoteric framework for seeing the world. but as an influence Rosicrucianism remained powerful. Martianus Capella and. Such publication was. 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. Fludd. and although . including his encyclopedic Utriusque Cosmi Maioris Scilicet et Minoris Metaphysica. (where he probably began to learn Paracelsian medicine). his father. Sir Thomas Fludd. clearly sought to incorporate the full range of human knowledge into his theosophia perennis. and eventually returned to England to receive his doctorate in medicine. and during this time began work on his major treatises. Indeed. of course. having received a knighthood for his military service.80 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E cathedrals of medieval Europe. Certainly it is the case that Rosicrucianism as a movement dried up fairly early. Of course. the conventional way of advertising one’s desire to join the fraternity. Jewish. to a speculative. but it is clear that like Rosicrucianism. the arts. Freemasonry became the nexus for many prior esoteric traditions. traveled for a time as a tutor to aristocratic families on the Continent. and having left his military career to become a justice of the peace in Kent. Indeed. and Rosicrucianism. of course. and its universalist esotericism became immensely influential in Masonic circles chiefly through the auspices of Robert Fludd and Elias Ashmole. Plato and the Bible. 1617). primarily because of Kabbalistic influence that allowed Freemasonry to transform itself completely from a society devoted to the arts of building. if as a fraternity it had ever really existed at all. flourished in the vicinity of Jewish scholarship and Kabbalism. to whom the term Renaissance man could certainly be applied. Masonry. and Christian circles in Spain and Provençe. the exact history of this transformation is sketchy at best. Robert Fludd went to St.” published in Leiden. semireligious occult fraternity. Like Paracelsus himself. the Kabbalah.
who was responsible in part for the renaissance of Rosicrucianism within English Freemasonry. and through his acquaintance with Elias Ashmole. one of the major English literary figures of the seventeenth century. Frances Yates convincingly argues that Dr. But in any event. and back to England. born to an aristocratic family. in the Ashmolean library at Oxford. And Dee and Browne in turn knew Ashmole. it was also conventional to say that one had received no reply. Dr. most significant is the fact that Ashmole was demonstrably a Mason. he did say that the Rosicrucian “Pansophia or universal knowledge in Nature” was very like his own view. and assiduous bibliophile. who was certainly acquainted with Fludd before Fludd’s death in 1637.”61 But for our purposes. By the early 1630s. Mersenne was a friend of the young René Descartes. 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. Marin Mersenne. Ashmole. for he himself noted that “Robert Fludd in his apology for the Brethren of the Rosie Cross hath gone very far herein. Himself an alchemist. almost exclusively for esoteric causes. was himself an alchemist and esoteric scholar. That Ashmole knew of Fludd and his Rosicrucianism is certain. John Dee.” Elias Ashmole. was very influential in the founding of Rosicrucianism some years after Dee’s travels through Germany and Eastern Europe. Arthur Dee. astrologer. since the Rosicrucians were traditionally sworn to silence. Such attacks undoubtedly prompted Fludd to write in his Clavis Philosophae that the name Rosicrucian must today be replaced by simply “the Wise.60 Then again. Yet this relationship itself is only the tip of a far greater network of associations and friendships as well as influences.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 81 Fludd later claimed that he received no reply. Dee’s son. Ashmole collected what undoubtedly was and remains one of the world’s greatest collections of papers and books. used his wealth and influence primarily and one may even say. for thus we can see direct evidence of the link between earlier Rosicrucianism and later Freemasonry. 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. he may indeed have provided a bridge between the earlier Rosicrucian movement and the nascent Masonic one. back and forth in an intricate series of associations and publications that certainly have not been exhaustively examined. who in turn was a friend of Sir Thomas Browne. having been initiated into a Masonic lodge in 1646. . it is clear that Fludd identified with the Rosicrucian views. and especially his treatise Monas Hieroglyphica. 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. was a remarkable figure who stood at the center of esoteric currents in England.
although certainly that impulse was strong in him. All three of the men had been active in Rosicrucian circles. resonates closely with the Rosicrucian ideal of silence and invisibility. .” “bequeathed to me as a legacy. of course. one could ignore it.82 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Ashmole. . which in turn harks back to the “namelessness” and invisibility of the true Knights of the Round Table in chivalric literature. . He also was a practicing Hermetic esotericist. or as Kabbalistic.” attested in a note by Ashmole dated 3 April 1651.” and transmitted orally from master to one disciple since antiquity. Backhouse contributed old alchemical manuscripts to Ashmole’s collection. . and wrote himself in Theatrum Chemicum that the spiritual son was under an obligation never to reveal the mystery into which he was initiated. and Hartlib had worked to form such colleges both in Germany . This was a Hermetic spiritual adoption. never referred to it again. was not simply an antiquarian. non-sectarian utopia where all the divisions of knowledge could be studied together.” Samuel Hartlib (1593–1670).64 These three men. the real . who had left Germany for England after the failure of the Palatinate. Hugh Trevor-Roper remarks that Cromwell’s movement was impelled by “three philosophers . and must remain so. and John Comenius (1592–1690).” or what Comenius termed the Collegium Lucis. had had connections with John Dee and Edward Kelley. editor of the extensive Theatrum Chemicum Brittanicum collection of alchemical works. John Dury (1596–1680). and now in England all worked at the immediate transformation of society into a peaceful. The true name is hidden. an esoteric network of illuminated intelligentsia. introduced Ashmole to Hermetic circles. using a symbolic metalanguage. All of this. and only philosophers of the English Revolution. but instead one finds that a linguistic mysticism was in fact at the heart of a movement that fired the English Civil War. If this were the only instance of ‘magical language’ during this era of the emergence of Freemasonry as a vehicle for esotericism. Samuel. of course. after recording this revelation. meaning that they convey the true and secret name and character of the philosophic work. and according to Ashmole’s note in 1653. but they are in any case gnostic. except to his own spiritual son. when Backhouse thought he was dying. It is significant that Ashmole. These “silables” may be seen as alchemical hieroglyphs.”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. himself an alchemist and antiquarian as well as a botanist and student of architecture. were at the center of a movement of educational and societal reform called the “invisible college. said to have its origins in the revelation of Hermes to his “spiritual son. whose mentor was William Backhouse of Swallowfield (1593–1662). conveyed to Ashmole “in Silables the true matter of the Philosopher’s Stone. and William Backhouse adopted Ashmole as a “son. Comenius had developed a system of education based in analogical correspondences.62 Backhouse’s father.
which had a considerable influence in promoting Masonry’s nonsectarian tolerance. . Meanes to perfeit the knowledge of the Orientall tongues and to gaine abilities fitt to deale with the Jewes. whereby not only the Secrets of Disciplines are harmonically and compendiously delivered. the conjoining of all the disciplines in service of the “secrets of Nature. whose calling is supposed to be neere at hand. . the establishing of a “magical language” for the conveying of secret knowledge. Such a language. needless to say. 3. like the symbolism of alchemy. would transcend any national or cultural linguistic boundaries.”66 But this rationalist tolerance marks exoteric Freemasonry. and had often been seen as a means of connecting Christianity with Judaism. But most important for us is the final point. 4. However. and as Edmond Mazet remarks. A magical Language whereby secrets may be delivered and preserved to such as are made acquainted with it traditionally. and also to convey what cannot be conveyed in common language. but also the Secrets of Nature are thought to be unfolded . according to the Constitutions. visible in James Anderson’s Constitutions of the Freemasons (1723). Also important here is the third point. Arts and Sciences.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 83 and in England. Philosophicall. For Dury listed under “Things to Be Observed” in his platform for social transformation: 1. esoteric: to limit those who understand it. means that “A Mason is oblig’d by his Tenure to obey the Moral Law .” certainly a pansophic goal. which quickly established lodges all across Europe and in America. and Mechanical. Early in the eighteenth century. . so that by the mid-eighteenth century much of the Western world was dotted with Masonic groups. Masonry had a deist and rationalist quality that aided in its spread. there is another aspect of such a magical language: its universality. The aim of a magical language is. there is little in the basic principles of Freemasonry to suggest a specific Masonic esotericism. 2. Freemasonry. . but it is on some remarks by Dury that we should now focus. Its pansophic universality has its parallel in the universalism of Masonry. . which from a Christian viewpoint could well be defined as “some extraordinary meanes to perfeit the knowledge and unvail the mysteryes” of the Scriptures. 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. Chymical.65 Dury’s remarks here are interesting not least because they reveal his attraction to Jewish Kabbalism. Some extraordinary meanes to perfeit the knowledge and unvail the mysteryes of the Propheticall scriptures.
Masonic values of rationalism. . it quickly began to develop an esoteric emphasis. he discussed the importance of chivalry and the Templars. has subsequently been credited with at least some of the inspiration for the later French philosophes and their Encyclopédie. a Scotsman who early in his life was a member of the Philadelphian Society of Jane Leade and Francis Lee. especially in England. who had been initiated into Masonry years before. with its general tendency to reject. 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. and useful in all the sciences and in all the noble arts. deism. while publishing numerous books. and a long tradition of eclectic esotericism among its members. luminous. which will be a universal library of all that is beautiful. the introduction of alchemical symbolism into the rites. announced in Ramsay’s oration. developing complicated symbolism in its rituals. Thus we find that Freemasonry has a peculiarly dual relation to esotericism and modernity. . but here they take on a distinctly rationalist flavor. it is not surprising that this project. thus stimulating a host of higher degrees. Italy. England. On the other hand. In this oration. After her death. By this means the lights of all nations will be united in a single work. including. Ramsay also called for a massive project of universal illumination: All the Grand Masters in Germany. In it. he became a tutor to various aristocratic families. . and nonsectarianism certainly helped develop the modern era. after which he became secretary to Madame Guyon.67 There are echoes in this project of the Rosicrucian aims of a century before. consisting in three degrees of apprentice. a theosophic circle in London. On the one hand. The work has already been commenced in London. for instance. a Böhmenist who then sent him on to Archbishop Fénelon. and in 1737 gave an oration that had a profound effect. especially in France. and master mason. one finds a continuous struggle since at least the eighteenth century between those such as Jean-Baptiste Willermoz (1730–1824). fellow craftsman. great. From here he went on to stay with Pierre Poiret. and by means of the union of our Brothers it may be carried to a conclusion in a few years . fraternal Freemasonry. This esotericism was kindled by Andrew Michael Ramsay (1686–1743). one of the founders of the Rectified Scottish Rite and a powerful proponent of speculative or esoteric Masonry. and indeed.68 Within Masonry itself. suppress. And during this time. Masonry became a vehicle for esotericism. and those who insist on a much more exoteric.84 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Yet if early-eighteenth-century Freemasonry. or ignore esotericism. excepting only theology and politics. became prominent in French Masonry. had an exoteric. solid. Ramsay. nonsectarian basis.
in The Whole Institutions of Freemasons Opened (1725): “Yet for all this I want the primitive word. of human and divine architecture both. when we look closely at the emergence of Freemasonry. In the Graham manuscript of 1726. as maintaining a special linguistic power that lies at the heart of building. but it also later drew explicitly and implicitly on the chivalric. . and that as the Masonic current continues through the eighteenth century. six for the clergy. and so it is not surprising to discover that in 1676 we find Masonry associated with the “Modern Green Ribbon’d Caball. 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. even to this day. Indeed. by which. theosophic. since one finds Hebrew frequently in Rosicrucian illustrations and works as well. to wit I am.” In other words. a Masonic Rosicrucianism begun in 1757 in Germany that incorporated Templar and alchemical symbolism too.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 85 Yet despite the insistence of some on a more exoteric Masonry. and alchemical currents of Western esotericism. the tradition is linked to Masonic linguistic mysticism. it continues to draw upon these and other currents to become itself among the most eclectic of esoteric traditions. has a natural connection to Kabbalistic mysticism that also focuses on divine architecture. such an emphasis on the powers of divine creation is characteristic of Kabbalism since the medieval period. preserves its eighteenth grade as that of the Chevalier Rose-Croix. the Order of the Gold and RosyCross.”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. yet in thirteen branches in reference to Christ and his twelve apostles. based as it is on the craft of building.”71 And there are some Hebrew words in early Masonic documents—not surprisingly.8). especially with the founding of the Orden des Guelden-und Rosen-Cruetzes. that is. Freemasonry. according to the Sepher Yetsirah (1.” which Edmond Mazet sees as “a clear allusion to the six permutations of the trigrammaton YHW. from very early on in the development of modern Masonry. which is as follows: one word for a divine. In other words. we find that it definitely does draw upon earlier esoteric currents.” as well as references to those who are said to have the “Mason’s word. Rosicrucian. As we have already seen. the most popular form of contemporary Masonry. I answer it was God in six Terminations. God has sealed the six directions of space. and six for the fellow craft. we find an exorcism ritual to be used by Masons in the construction of a building. the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite. the tradition has long been seen as maintaining occult knowledge. specifically. even if it is subject to periodic spasms of anti-esotericism.”69 These words take their derivation from the building of Solomon’s Temple.
” or signature. we are disregarding the more or less social aspects of Freemasonry. of course. When we consider the seminal modern Western esoteric currents together. joining the humanities and the sciences under the aegis of a broadly conceived spirituality. all of these esoteric traditions are founded upon the overcoming of this objectification through the recognition of how microcosm and macrocosm are mutually illuminating. Finally. The universalist esotericist dream is not the provenance of Masonry as an organization. Kabbalah.86 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Like the Rosicrucianism that preceded it. and Christian theosophy. woven through all of these traditions is the theme of language. speculative Masonry is a manifestation of the more general modern dream of universalism. What is more. One might best say that Freemasonry contains the possibility of a universalist esotericism. Here. And this role is played out through reading and writing. but of individuals and circles within the larger stream of Masonic tradition. not just as the means of communication among people. the esotericist is actually redeeming or restoring the cosmos to its transcendent or paradisal origin. but as the actual medium linking humanity. For according to Western esotericism generally. but actually the means for overcoming that objectification. Here. divine language inheres in the whole of creation—each kind of creature bears within it the divine stamp. including alchemy. nature. . Above all. as well as its political dimensions that came to the fore with Adam Weishaupt and others during the eighteenth century. Thus the esotericist plays a central role in the drama of cosmic redemption itself. of how humanity is meant to redeem the cosmos. in this case a universal esotericism that unites all forms of knowledge. pansophy. All of these esoteric currents further presuppose that humans are capable of spiritual regeneration and of attaining gnosis. and the divine. language is not just a means for objectification and separation. or direct experiential knowledge of the divine. Rosicrucianism. we see a central distinction between them all and what we can characterize as the dominant modern materialist view. magic. we cannot help but recognize similarities among them all. its secret “silable. not consume it. and this the esotericist unveils through visionary perception. in Western esotericism. For whereas modern society is founded on the objectifying separation of everything from the individual (allowing the exploitation of the entire cosmos. Masonry. including humanity). which has been sporadically realized by individuals. by coming to learn the divine language of creation. the theme of our next section.
.Figure 1 Alchemical images from Michael M a i e r. T r i p u s A u r e u s ( F r a n k f u r t : 1 6 1 8 ) .
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.
Theosophia Revelata. oder: Alle Götliche Schriften Jacob Böhmens (1730 ed.Figure 3 Theosophic image entitled “Serenity” from Jacob Böhme. .). edited by Johann Georg Gichtel.
Theosophia Revelata.). oder: Alle Götliche Schriften Jacob Böhmens (1730 ed.Figure 4 Theosophic image entitled “Three Principles” from Jacob Böhme. edited by Johann Georg Gichtel. .
edited by Johann Georg Gichtel. oder: Alle Götliche Schriften Jacob Böhmens (1730 ed.).Figure 5 Theosophic image entitled “Earthly and Heavenly Mysterium” from Jacob Böhme. . Theosophia Revelata.
C a b b a l i s t i c u m e t T h e o sophicum (Frankfurt: 1784). . Note that beyond the celestial hierarchy is the Ungrund.Figure 6 Pansophic image from Georg von We l l i n g . O p u s M a g o . which is here explicitly identified with the Kabbalistic ’en soph.
Figure 7 Pansophic image from Georg von We l l i n g . O p u s M a g o . . (Frankfurt: 1784). as well as the prominence of the figure of the eye.C a b b a l i s t i c u m e t T h e o sophicum. Note the threedimensional nature of the illustration.
.Figure 8 Pansophic image from Georg von We l l i n g . 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 (Frankfurt: 1784).
otherworldly nature of Collins’s work. and the evocative.Figure 9 Cecil Collins. “The Music of Dawn. Note the contrast between the g e o m e t r i c a l i m a g e s i n G e o rg v o n We l l i n g ’s illustrations. .” 1988.
.” 1976.Figure 10 Cecil Collins. “Paradise.
But release me from my bands With the help of your good hands. The Tempest. Which was to please. or else my project fails. so that we are left viewing the magician himself. the magician Prospero. The main character. Now ‘tis true I must be here confined by you.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. And what strength I have’s my own. something remarkable happens at the play’s end. Let me not Since I have my dukedom got. And pardoned the deceiver. and the comedic drama is brought to its resolution. Or sent to Naples. dwell In this bare island by your spell. Which is most faint. Now I want Spirits to enforce. Gentle breath of yours my sails Must fill. Prospero then offers the famous epilogue: Now my charms are all o’erthrown. art to enchant And my ending is despair Unless I be relieved by prayer Which pierces so that it assaults 87 . has brought the play’s action to an end.
but certainly not always—that in themselves are believed to powerful. Warlick. Suddenly. today. for example. We have already seen this linguistic mysticism in Kabbalism. language is not a series of arbitrary signs used to designate objects. Here Prospero. reveals at a stroke the nature of magical esoteric literature. in effect gives his wand to his audience. where the poet-singer is. for instance. but the imagery is individualized and rendered surreal. there are numbers.88 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Mercy itself and frees all faults. To be a vehicle for the right words. But this is not the way literature always has been seen. letters. E. we realize that we. I had intended to include here a study of the art of surrealist Max Ernst. As you from crimes would pardoned be. This transference of magical power from the playwright and actor. Prospero’s transfer of power from himself to his audience is reminiscent of Celtic tradition. It is true that the Western esoteric traditions are very diverse. but rather a linguistic manifestation of what informs and transcends these objects. and freed him. In all of these esoteric traditions. via the main character. Let your indulgence set me free. we may read in order to be diverted or entertained. also a magician. Reading. Here. behind whom is what at first glance resembles an alchemical retort with a candle in it. a magical transferral has taken place: we realize that we are the magicians. that ours is the magical breath to fill the sails. it is often inverted and does not . are the magicians. but there is no transference of magical power. That is. is a prosaic matter. pansophy. by virtue of his skill with words. for most of us. winged creature in an ornate room. and words—often Hebrew. often little more than the accumulation of data. as audience. and Freemasonry. To incant is to enchant. and seen it implied in chivalric and troubadour literature as well as in theosophy. is to touch the nature of being itself. In this most magical of plays. to invoke the forces of creation itself. Rosicrucianism. But closer examination of this and Ernst’s other works does not seem to reveal what we find in alchemical works themselves. or in works by twentieth-century authors that convey various forms of initiatory transmission.1 Many of Ernst’s paintings reveal his use of alchemical imagery: his collage “The Laugh of the Cock” (1934). shows a tall. Initially. but one can certainly trace throughout their history a thread that we might call the mysteries of the word. Conventionally. having relinquished his magical power. to the audience. whose fascination with Hermetic and alchemical themes is well known and documented conclusively by M. Ernst indeed draws on esoteric imagery. to sing or to say into being. traditionally. ours the prayers that can free Prospero just as he in turn held the spirit Ariel in enchantment. we may read in order to gather information about a subject. standing above a reclining woman.
V. Naturally. choosing a synecdochic study that will in turn illuminate aspects of literature that are today all too often overlooked. Milosz wandered the vast forests nearby as a child. Lewis (1898–1963) and others. his mother Jewish. Milosz and Spiritual Transmission through Poetry O. D. secular or not. and entry. It is true that esoteric themes or topics emerge in all sorts of unexpected places in modern literature.. sometimes explicitly. After a good education. D. Here. more or less. However. it would be possible to catalogue and survey how the Western esoteric traditions appear in relatively recent literary history. While a broad. D. Born to a wealthy family in Lithuania who lived on an estate called Czereïa. (1886–1961). Milosz traveled widely. I will leave such a project for another time. as with Emerson or Rilke. sometimes more implicitly. and who has incorporated the linguistic mysticism that emerges from them into his own poetry of the first order. turning then to H. V. and finally to the remarkable art and writing of Cecil Collins (1909–1989). without question chiefly in the sphere of Hermeticism. but there certainly is an area here worthy of further investigation. But his learning is of a particular kind. as with Yeats or H. for instance. third. Milosz is without question among the most learned poets of modern times. split further into sections on poetry and prose. and so I will not discuss them further here. not only in the case of Ernst. And so we will concentrate first on the work of Oscar Vladislas de Lubicz Milosz (1877–1939). but in that of the entire surrealist movement. He wrote poetry touching on the despair and hollowness of modernity. I will instead focus on several major figures and trace the influences on their work. S. for instance. and at twelve he was sent to Paris for schooling. deeper study of how Western esotericism intersects with literature and consciousness in our own time. I cannot say with certainty whether or how Ernst’s works convey a particular kind of initiatory transmission. It is certainly worth doing. of even greater value is a vertical. with sections on each of the major currents. during which time his family sold their estate. horizontal survey is of value. into the world of French intelligentsia.2 And even when we turn to literature of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.3 But it is relatively difficult to find a poet whose primary concern is with these various Western esoteric traditions.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. we find that there are not too many authors who know about or are even concerned with this understanding of language. the poet H. more . to the magical fiction of C. and perhaps for someone else to do. as can in fact be said of the works of. Milosz’s outward life can be outlined rather succinctly. Canticle of Knowledge: O. his parents somewhat cold and aloof.
beginning of course with Paracelsus and Böhme. for that matter.90 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E or less like that of the early T. It was during the first half of this service that Milosz wrote his most Hermetic works. 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. perhaps the most seminal is Swedenborg. Not so Milosz. and the dwelling places of spirits. William Blake (1757–1827).” However. he remains a primary force behind the works of William Blake. and Johann Wolfgang Goethe (1749–1832). a Don Juanesque figure. and became. who was trained as a scientist but went on to write voluminous works surveying the nature. to bring about a cultural renaissance that would join together the sundered limbs of human knowledge. and both wrote in dry. also a tactile visionary. and Western esotericism in general. in fact. Milosz’s predecessors in the Western literary tradition are indissolubly linked with religion and philosophy. his effort to chronicle the visionary experience with a kind of new science of the spirit. Milosz’s poetry. and from this period on became a serious scholar of Hermeticism. come to fruition in literary form. Then. Among these figures. but all of these under the sign of a Hermetic spirituality. in a mysterious way also embodies and is the experience. . Diverse as this list is in certain respects. far more influential than is usually acknowledged in intellectual histories. neither Pordage nor Swedenborg was a poet. and invariably sought to conjoin not only the sciences and literature and the arts. S. In both Swedenborg and Goethe we see the emergence of what we might call a nascent spiritual science. he experienced a spiritual illumination. in vision. and depicted as peculiarly concrete—the visionary realms of the spirit for him are palpable and his work certainly a kind of hyperphysical cartography. theosophy. of heaven. which are what concern us here. LouisClaude de Saint-Martin (1743–1803). whose massive works are themselves scientific in their precise descriptions and careful elucidation of all the various “divine mansions. Swedenborg was. Kabbalah. create a kind of lineage of such figures. and perhaps remains. Swedenborg of course was himself preceded in this effort by John Pordage. and including such authors as Emanuel Swedenborg (1688–1772). Goethe. Eliot. Milosz also became active as a diplomat for Lithuania. by way of a renewed Hermetic spirituality. Financially ruined during this time by the collapse of Russia. as he saw it. in 1914. One can. almost pedantic ways of their visionary experiences. but are in fact also intended to invoke these experiences in the reader. its members have in common that most lived during the eighteenth century and that they sought. though drawing on this tradition of scientific observation of visionary experience. hell. whose poems and prose are not only recountings of visionary experiences. so his nephew Czeslaw Milosz later wrote. and. But it is in Milosz that we see Swedenborg’s approach. participating in the League of Nations and serving until his retirement in 1938. These Swedenborg saw.
”4 He discerned “a new mysticism. and like Blake. at his “Cantique de la Connaissance.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. but indeed. to survive not only our industrial civilization but also Space-Time itself. thieves of joy and pain. But the poet. and also prehistory and archaic history. Milosz experiences this inner devastation as well as the powerful creative life awakened when one enters into the living realm of the spiritual imagination.]” Thus the canticle is devoted to teaching on the nature of spiritual illumination.” which.”5 And he writes of the “sacred art of the Word. / Others. which “will contribute in large measure to realizing an inner synthesis of the great discoveries in physical chemistry. The canticle continues: “A ceux. insisting instead on the inner creative life of the artist.” which “springs from the hidden depths of Universal Being. n’entendront rien à ces choses. they are all intimately aware of the great schisms taking place in modern humanity. on reçu et savent déjà. seems bound. from the cosmos. Cartographers of consciousness. Milosz himself wrote in a brief and late treatise on poetry. summarizing in some respects his life’s work. have received and already know. turn their attention inward and become careful observers of the inner landscape.”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. that he anticipated a new poetry. the immense devastation of the self as it is torn asunder from the divine. the passionate pursuit of the Real. / For those whom prayer has led to meditation on the origin of language. it will no doubt be useful to look more closely at some of Milosz’s work. having asked. The “Canticle” begins with the striking line: “L’enseignement de l’heure ensoleillée des nuits du Divin.” or “Canticle of Knowledge. and especially in Milosz. Milosz’s work is explicitly dedicated not only to entering into this realm of the spiritual imagination. les voleurs de douleur et de joie. the observer looks outward. This isolation Blake rails against in his epic poems. / Les autres. and from its fellow humanity and seemingly set adrift as an isolated being. and does not in general investigate the nature of the observer’s own consciousness. will understand nothing of these things. and in particular. de science et d’amour. [For those who. seems called upon. / A ceux que la prière a conduits à la méditation sur l’origin du langage.” from The Confession of Lemuel (1918). At this juncture. [The teaching of the sunlit hour of the divine nights. on 14 December 1914. and especially the figures we are discussing here. Contemporary sciences are founded in observation of the cosmos. “setting out from proven scientific foundations. through a new metaphysics.” telling us that “poetry. as the organizer of archetypes. ayant demandé. crown of human knowledge. qui. to awakening it in his reader. which Milosz experienced at eleven o’clock in the evening. to join up with ancient teachings. astronomy. knowledge and love.]”7 .
/ For these names are neither brothers. sun. through the initiates of Alexandria and Christian mystics. “their substance is nameless.]”10 This “arcana of language” is the “key to the world of light.—all say the same things to anyone who knows how to listen. he continues. he is alluding to Christ’s saying that those who ask will receive.]”9 In other words. to Claude de Saint-Martin and Swedenborg.” A linguistic gnosis is at the heart of the canticle. for “Tous les mots dont l’assemblage magique a formé ce chant sont des noms de substances visibles [All the words whose magical assembling has formed this song are names of visible substances. But characteristically. mais bien les père des objects sensibles. “meditation on the origin of language.92 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Milosz was unquestionably Christian in orientation. corresponding to Plato’s realm of Forms or Ideas. and already know. “il est nécessaire de connaître les objets désignés par certains mots essentiels / Tels que pain. Milosz once wrote in a letter that “there are only two kinds of men: the negators who profess irreconcilable systems and the modest affirmers who. have received. lumière. are merely thieves of love and knowledge. all that was in antiquity described in metaphors “exists in a situated place. light. the names of things emerge from the realm of archetypes. but negators. darkness. ni les fils. not like “Patmos.” is not merely a sterile world of symbols. sang. nor sons. as well as the names of metals.” “terre de la vision des archétypes [earth of the vision of archetypes]. to the initiate.” We think that the sensible world is situated. and which is “situated in the consciousness of the solar egg [situés dans la conscience de l’œuf solaire]. etc. blood. those who are not affirmers. The power to name sensible objects comes from supersensible knowledge of the archetypal realm to which our spirit belongs. the names “were hurled from the motionless world of archetypes into the abyss of time’s turmoil. sel. addressed to the latter. this allusion is close to Kabbalism in that it offers a gnostic interpretation of those verses. but living. but utterly serious—this is a poem about the mysteries at the heart both of language and of .” writing that to understand the origin of language. In fact. terre. ainsi que par tous les noms de métaux / Car ces noms ne sont ni les frères.” 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]. this “situated place. [it is necessary to know the objects designated by certain essential words / Such as bread.”8 This gnostic canticle is. of course. eau. but truly fathers of sensible objects. soleil.” Only “the spirit of things has a name”.” Indeed. earth.” These names precede existence in the sensible world and time’s turmoil.” It is clear by now that Milosz is not dabbling with words here. but it is not so. and when he dedicates the canticle to those who have asked. salt. Milosz continues his explanation of this linguistic gnosis in the “Canticle of Knowledge. ténèbres.” This earth of the vision of archetypes. from Pythagoras to Plato. water. suggesting that the center of prayer is knowledge.
and only describes what he has seen. . that is. and the gold of celestial memory. [truth does not make sacred language lie: . 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. he tells us. Thus Milosz goes on to tell us matter-of-factly that he who has seen stops thinking and feeling.]”11 There is in the “Canticle of Knowledge” a continuous thread of allusions to gold and to the sun. muet comme le plomb. Here. he calls us to the celestial gold. which only draw their value from their supersensible archetypes. calls us through its language into the truth that language manifests. it is also the visible sun of the substantial world]. 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. / In the leap and wind of the fiery mass. “is the key to the two worlds of darkness and light.” Simply that. Milosz exultantly writes. is the “key to the world of light. the first section of “Poemandres” in the Corpus Hermeticum is also a visionary creation-account.]”12 This charged and sun-enveloped word reminds us of the account in Genesis of creation. for as he told us before. At such points. The man of light (“l’homme la lumière”) draws his knowledge from this supersensible sun in the “motionless” realm of substances. “I have named you! [Je t’ai nommé!]”. mute as lead.” These two worlds correspond to the two worlds of Böhme. of love and of wrath. he implicates us in the poem.” But the allusions are not necessarily to earthly gold nor to the sun visible from the earth. [Here you are in the first ray in the womb of the fixed cloud. / In the passage from the egg to the sphere. . a revelation. Milosz tells us again. of the primal . And so it is here. But beyond these two worlds is the “word enveloped in sun. but also of the Corpus Hermeticum. which recalls the primal naming of all things by the primal man. as well as to the “solar egg” of the soul.” “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.” There is the earthly gold. / Dans l’apparition de l’esprit virginal de l’or / Dans l’apparition de l’ove à la sphère . or in Milosz’s words. as well as the first chapter of John (In the beginning was the Word). he means precisely what he says: “I have seen.]”13 As we might recall. / In the appearance of the virginal spirit of gold. . . For “la vérité ne fait pas mentire le langage sacré: car elle est aussi le soleil visible du monde substantiel. of blessing and of desolation. Adam. le mot chargé de foudre de ce temps dangereux.” to names that precede and transcend their earthly counterparts. / Dans le bond et le vent de la masse de feu. these ancient metaphors refer to “substances. and then comes the following passage: “te voici dans le rayon avant-coureur au sein du nuage figé.” This distinction between truth and lie.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 93 existence. when Milosz addresses us directly. and “knowledge’s golden candlestick. the word charged by the thunder of this dangerous time [la parole enveloppée de soleil.
for that matter. Milosz tells us. “the Father of Ancients. Here too we find the “leap and wind” of a fiery mass. and a kind of corporeality of language. delirious. Milosz muses on his early poetry.” an “eternity of horror. [I am always in the same place. we find a spiritual corporeality. of light and darkness. and is the province of those who speak pure language.14 I am not suggesting that Milosz is directly alluding to the Corpus Hermeticum. to whom Milosz was definitely indebted. Luciferic brain]. where he saw “the source of lights and forms.” selfknowing. In the concluding lines of the canticle. and at this moment the “sterile woman” in him died. by “omnipotent negation” in “Ce lieu séparé. he noticed that he had stopped before a mirror. and this is the “solar egg. here too we find a kind of “fixed cloud”. cet immense cerveau délirant de Lucifer [This separated place. / being in place itself.”15 Here we find.” The “omnipotence of affirmation” is counterbalanced. chaste archetypes. le seul situé. but “great trials of negation.” We might recall that the mirror. The ascent to the “solar place” that Milosz describes here brings one to the “omnipotence of affirmation.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.” to a “place” where “myriad spiritual bodies reveal themselves to virtuous senses. and looked behind him. this immense. “I learned that in its depths man’s body encloses a remedy for all ills. Thus. différent. hideux. Thus the poet tells us not to weep for him.]”16 See. / played with me as a father with his child.” Yet there is a realm beyond these two worlds of affirmation and negation.” “mois je suis toujours dans le même lieu. not light and serenity of recognition.” “the world of profound. wise. when “like all nature poets I was sunk in profound ignorance [Comme tous les poètes de la nature. Milosz’s visionary experience here is quite simply parallel to and in the tradition of what we also see in “Poemandres” and. j’étais plongé dans une profonde ignorance.” or “hurled into the madness of the black eternity.” “immense.” those “lands of nocturnal din. different. and that the knowledge of gold is also knowledge of light and blood.” yet also to a “place” of utter desolation. is the sign of Wisdom personified: Wisdom showed him the realm of Forms prior to existence. of those who speak pure language. here too we find the emergence of light and life in the opening of the “world of light” for the visionary seer.” This playing “between worst darkness and best light” emerges from beyond both darkness and light. the only one situated. / étant dans le lieu même.]” Then one day. hideous.” just as in so much of Western esotericism. because whether he is “dazzled by the solar egg. rather. innocent.” and “marrow of iniquity. Milosz writes.” for the key to the world of light also opens the—“other region. in theosophic tradition. [C’est ainsi que j’appris que le corps de l’homme renferme dans ses profondeurs un . in the visionary writings of Böhme. on this naked cold planet of iron and clay. Milosz tells us that he has “visited the two worlds. even though I am certain that he was at least familiar with it. Thus in the “Canticle of Knowledge.
is especially of interest to us here. between the lightworld and the darkworld. Beatrix. but refers to an inner alchemy.” replies Beatrix. Frequently his poetry has a dramatic or semidramatic quality. and is clearly expressing his own direct experience. trois vois—le signe. 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. [1775–1802]). tender metal partners in marriage.]” . le signe! [seven times for the past. but the descent into immense suffering and privation. at its end.]” To this Beatrix replies: “Farewell. innocents! [The parents sleep there. and clothed with the sun. to “tender metal partners in marriage.” Milosz has his character “The Adept” speaking with his inner spouse. especially given Milosz’s own essentially solitary life. by the grace of inner vision. and his Hymns to the Night. you speak the truth. In some poems he has a choir or a chorus. par la grâce de la vue du milieu. Et puisque nous connaissons depuis sept ans. and with it the initiate asks for peace for Beatrix and for himself.18 But Milosz has forged his own mode of expression. How beautiful and innocent they are!]”19 This reference. This understanding he expressed often in a peculiarly theatrical way. again three times.]”17 The canticle concludes with the poet’s prayer that when he is finally cleansed of both evil and good. Beatrix is surprised: “So you can see them? How? In this hermetic egg? With what eyes?” The adept replies: “Chère enfant. tendres métaux époux. reaffirms the importance not only of the ascent to the knowledge of light. dans cet œuf appuyé sur le feu nuptial. the sign!]” This is the sign of the cross. je te touche le front. I touch your brow. “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. and for our three days to come. let us make the sign.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 95 remède à tous les maux et que la connaissance de l’or est aussi celle de la lumière et du sang. because of its fusion of literature and Hermeticism. Qu’ils sont beaux. This poem. space and time!” And the adept suggests they both to kneel in adoration “devant le cher fourneau” [before this dear Furnace. and since we have now known one another seven years. he will not lose the memory of the suffering he has undergone. In this acknowledgement of fundamental duality in the cosmos. who wrote too of the division and conflict between love and wrath. Thus the canticle. in his 1922 poem entitled “The Adept’s Christmas Eve.” is unquestionably alchemical. And then the adept makes a strange remark: “Les parents dorment là. it affirms the significance not only of the virginal gold of the soul’s solar egg. “Master. as well as in more modern movements like Freemasonry. Milosz is very much akin to Böhme. Milosz is close to Novalis (Friedrich von Hardenberg. et pour nos trois jours à venir. in this egg resting on the nuptial flame. but also of the inner desolation that one can also experience on earth. [Dear child.
and all is finished”—yet this is also the moment of rebirth. and “Lumière de l’or. sometimes almost disjointed quality like hieratic speech heard in a dream. partially because of her name’s meaning—thrice beatific—which in turn recalls not only the Trinity.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. including the way the Greco-Roman Mystery traditions fed into the Christian mysteries of symbolic death and rebirth. dancing in a circle in the rigor of red.]”21 It is. her words are not ordinary or even precisely human. “The Adept’s Christmas Eve” draws on a range of allusions. charitée.]”20 Beatrix warns the adept of the legions of destroyers massed to ruin his creation. of course. the alchemy of inward marriage and of the spiritual birth of the alchemical child. you liberate yourself. he comes back to life. Here we are looking at spiritual alchemy. The woman in the poem.” while the “oil of blind corruption. which became openings for him as he ascended into paradise in the Divine Comedy. and to its incantory language. the poem is really an initiatic dialogue incorporating the language of alchemy. “I believe it is. partaking rather of a heightened.]” To which Beatrix replies: “C’est la vie délivrée.” At the climax of this strange initiatic psychodrama. is reborn!” Thus once again. but also thrice-greatest Hermes. impossible to miss the allusions here to Dante’s Divine Comedy. The alchemical . but a player on the poet’s inner stage. and black. [It is life liberated. He opens his eyes and is reborn. your eyes!” The adept’s final line is: “Mes chaines de constellations sont rompues. or like the language of a ritual enactment of the Greek mysteries. [My chains of constellations are broken. the adept speaks of “seven deadly cries in the night. It may well be that Dante’s great poetry emerges through Milosz’s here primarily because it too is the unfolding of an ascent of consciousness in an inner drama. the adept exults of “how all your [Beatrix’s] secret being breathes within me. The adept watches. but the adept replies. Thus the allusions to Dante’s poetry are subordinate to the poem’s initiatory psychodrama. tu te délivres. Yet Beatrix does not seem a human spouse. leaden and lachrymal. and what does he see? “Purity rises to the surface. I tell you.” not only references to the alchemical furnace. Beatrix. Thus a new cry sounds seven times—Is it a name? asks the adept. undoubtedly reflects Dante’s beloved. The adept’s fascination with Beatrix’s eyes—“your eyes. charity. woman. any more than are those of the adept. your eyes!”—reminds us of Dante’s fascination with Beatrice’s eyes. [Light of gold.” sinks to the depths. For not only are there references to the “tender metal partners in marriage. And in the conclusion of the poem. at once also alluding to the birth of Christ. and the longstanding alchemical traditions as well. Beatrice.” And he repeats how extraordinary are “your eyes. The Master forgives me. the mystery of the sacred name emerges as the crux of the spiritual rebirth. yellow. but also countless other allusions to a kind of visionary inner alchemy. “I see only one. white and pale blue.
The poet of Ars Magna and the Arcana does not write for his contemporaries. in such a way that it seems to be seen through the parietal bone. To see how far Milosz’s work is from what we often call poetry. and what effect does he anticipate the poem will have? This is a much more far-reaching question than one might at first imagine. rests in a horizontal position.” The line is the fourth verse.” not to mention Ars Magna or The Arcana. not very high in the vaporous mass behind the top of his skull. then? Undoubtedly. Whereas much of what we call modern poetry has only itself and the physical world for references.: initiate]. sometimes decidedly strange language of Milosz’s poetry brings the reader into a similar state to that Milosz is describing. In his exegetic notes to his own prose work Ars Magna (whose title is drawn from the similarly named work by Ramon Lull). or rather. in what it reveals. Perhaps most interesting for us is the question of the poem’s reader. perfectly awake. one senses vast expanses around one. with the initiatory drama unfolding itself in an inner theater whose audience is. at a small distance from the large cupric cloud which conceals from him the upper luminous level. is also to participate in it. as though the poet does not exist as an ego.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 97 work. 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.”22 To whom does this legacy belong. Milosz’s poems presuppose a visionary experiential reality behind and above them. after all. Milosz writes that his work is a “testament. to read such a poem as “Canticle of Knowledge” or “The Adept’s Christmas Eve. oneself. To whom is Milosz writing in such a poem.” Milosz’s commentary goes far. as unemotional as nature. “Yet I shall humble in the dust before you this brow which has received the crown.” and that “In the author’s mind. . a light appears. the large cloud vanishes. At the same instant. archetype of the coronation of regents by divine right in the material world. in an elliptical leap of extreme violence and with the noise of a strong wind. 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. by a metallic red-hot egg. in other words. The various phases of this rite correspond to the principal moments in the regeneration of a mineral. perhaps we should examine one of his exegetic notes on a single line of his own “Poem of the Arcana. by Milosz. When the ascent through the nebula is finished and the epopt [Gk. He writes in exegesis that The revelation of a superior phenomenalism opens with a mystical consecration. exposing the upper region which is suddenly crossed.” a “faithful and pious narrative. And there is in this unfolding drama something profoundly impersonal. The incantory. far beyond what we might think such a line may mean.
about an actual experience of spiritual coronation. Milosz . he is among the most erudite of poets. There is in Milosz’s work a paradoxical insistence on humility. Without question. that. and a scorn for our own era that bespeaks a kind of pride. His is a peculiar combination of humility and pride intermingled.” Milosz’s “superior phenomenalism” is his term for direct spiritual experience. at this point. and in this there is a kind of reversal. for what seems situated and real in this world is revealed in the other to be unreal. scientifically. to remark on the question of Milosz’s antecedents.” thus bringing his reader into the dialogue much as one finds in the Corpus Hermeticum and in other Hermetic dialogues or monologues since antiquity.98 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Turning into a golden globe. as he put it in his last poem of 1936.23 There is still more. thereafter. one may even say. referring to the reader as “my son. on which it alights like a crown. and plunges its omniscient stare for a long time into the deepest thought of the new King. its secular hedonism and materialism. He insists that in order to understand. meaning the archetypal realm. we must bow down. and insists that his true reader will recognize the worth of his writings only far in the future. It is perhaps useful. Only what is behind or in the symbolic is ultimately real. and for him such experience is more real than our mundane lives precisely because it is not constrained by duration or mensurability. In all of this he assumes a prophetic voice. it descends slowly towards the top of the skull. Yet at the same time Milosz in his prose and poetry addresses himself to a future reader some centuries hence. 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. its brutal mass wars.”24 He writes sardonically of the blindness and destructiveness of modern society with its industrial gigantism. is revelatory and prophetic in its very nature. 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. just as he ignores and despises that world. it assumes the appearance of a magnificent golden sun of oval shape. moving up a little.” and adds that “Behind the symbol there is an immutable situated reality. stands still. “who will read these pages with a filial respect for their author. only he who bows down will be bowed down to. Such experience is of the truly situated. because it springs from this archetypal reality. yet his erudition. becomes rounder. This account suggests that Milosz is writing rather precisely. though including many great poets. And authentic literature. is focused particularly on the syncretic Hermeticism that began to flower in the eighteenth century. one senses that his pride comes from a certainty of knowledge that is ignored and despised by the human world. and with unspeakable scorn for the epoch which saw their birth.
”25 And he remarked elsewhere that he spent the best years of his life in solitude “getting drunk on the Holy Scriptures and nourishing myself on them.” Milosz continued. Milosz not only had studied and read Hebrew. Claude de Saint Martin.” and . sought in them peace of spirit. as when the poem refers to the “betrothed sister of the new canticle. The Rosicrucian Polybius the Cosmopolitan.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. Eugène Ledrain.” first with his teacher of Hebrew. but in the tradition of many Christian Cabalists. but it reveals at the heart of all things “a single new word. looked forward to the day that the Jews would be converted to Christianity. he was well acquainted with Jewish Kabbalism. Swedenborg. passing through the Pre-Socratics.” 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. Plato.]28 The peculiar rhythm of the lines and line breaks makes this poem unusually difficult to follow. and then with his “spiritual guides: Goethe. the mystical eighteenth century. but kept a Bible in Hebrew nearby as a constant reading companion.” 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 disciple of the Kabbalist Raymond Martini. the School of Alexandria. Martinez de Pasqually. The allusions to Milosz’s favorite doctrines and language are here hidden in the allusions to Hebrew names and places. We can see how deeply Milosz’s fascination with Judaism penetrated his work by examining his final poem.”27 “Psalm of the Morning Star” is so suffused in Hebrew and in Old Testament language as to be inseparable from them. the Neoplatonists of the Middle Ages. from Egypt up to today. [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. alias René Descartes. we cannot help but notice the parallel focus on Judaism and Kabbalah. Swedenborg. These writers—and also Jewish exegesis—exerted a decisive influence upon Blaise Pascal.26 If we see here the depth of Milosz’s focus on Hermeticism in history. “Psaume de l’Étoile du Matin [Psalm of the Morning Star]. 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. In the “Psalm” we read of another primary theme.
Milosz tells of his visionary experience.”30 The name Hiram is found in Masonic tradition. drawn together with a universalism that both resembles and includes Freemasonry.” Milosz writes that The personage who concerns us here is not the symbolic hero of the Templars or of Scottish Freemasonry in England. La Clef de l’Apocalypse [The Key to the Apocalypse]. . for instance. King of the unified world. Joseph de Maistre. . we are waiting for the continuation and fulfillment of the only Book. says that “I am entering the twelfth year of supreme knowledge.” and yet writes that he will humble his brow in the dust before “you. the visionary poet.”29 Here we see the nascent Christian millennialism that pervades so much of Milosz’s work as he anticipated a future renaissance. King of the Unified World. . 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 books. inside the books of life and of knowledge. science. Thus we find in this final poem of Milosz the linguistic and. Architect of the effective Catholic Church of tomorrow. as early as 1919. 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. my son. S. Under the heading “Hiram.” which are far more extensive than anything T. it is not books that we are waiting for.” in fact. 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. are enormously important for understanding the complex work of Milosz and his mysticism of the word. wrote for his poetry. if we may coin a word. and art. words. but there are still other currents of Western esotericism that emerge in the poet’s work. Here.100 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E a mysticism that has “all those things” “sleeping in closed books” that open themselves under the poet’s hand. the books open themselves to him. and Savoy. the universal regent of faith. Hermeticism and Kabbalism. Le Forestier. and several other historians of the brotherhoods in their research on the origins of an institution which claims to descend from the Essenes and from the Priests of the Holy . If the author has considered it useful to follow Lessing. libric mysticism that has haunted Western esotericism from antiquity. The allegory is clearly indicated by the password Nekom (Vengeance) used by the Chapter of Clermont and the Scottish lodge of the Berlin Union. in short. and Milosz explains his poem’s relationship to Freemasonry in his “Exegetic Notes. Milosz held. just as in the Book of Revelation and just as in Kabbalism. and the true poet. in 1938. and that he shared with much of the Christian theosophic tradition. In his “Poem of the Arcana. Hiram. Eliot. opens those books in order to reveal their inner mysteries—or rather. The “architect” of those brotherhoods was Biblical in name only. the archetypes of the cosmos exist inside letters. R. Germany.
particularly for Kadosch Dante Alighieri of the Fede Santa. as we have seen. many themes in Milosz’s outer life—chiefly his work in the League of Nations— reflect those of the Rosicrucians and early modern Masons. “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. Milosz goes on to tell us that the “future architect mentioned by name in the Arcana is the spiritual son of Hiram-Abi. but so too were fifty-three of the fifty-six signers of the Declaration of Independence. relatively not distant. the times of ‘perfection in the Restitution of Nature.” Here. was so profoundly characteristic of early Rosicrucianism and of Freemasonry as well: the union of science and religion in a glorious unified future world. the depository of the one divine and human truth confirmed by philosophy and science.34 And Milosz goes on to ask.” And he imagines too the “approaching moment. as well as the emergence of a “Cathedral of Peace. the times foreseen by Guillaume Postel. and further that although he is drawing on Masonic lore. who announced a coming millennium. it is perhaps enough to recall the prophetic late-medieval character Postel.31 It is clear from this note alone that Milosz was intimately familiar with the history of Masonry and Rosicrucianism. when the organization of Europe will be based upon the principles which guided the foundation of the great American federation. aspire to holy unification. Religion and science.” 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. Indeed.’ announce their impending appearance. But Milosz’s grand dream goes beyond Masonry as well. he brings in the theme that.”33 This last remark is especially interesting given that not only were George Washington and Benjamin Franklin Masons. like all the continents and all the states of this world. like spirit and matter. especially the dream of a world utopia.”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. and to the Rosicrucian Polybius the Cosmopolitan. He writes that “Today. the builder sent by Hiram of Tyre to Solomon. and in so doing was drawing upon a tradition of “the Restitution of All Things” that runs . in the sacred poem of the Arcana.” This Hiram will establish “his temporal dominion over a world unified at first in spirit by the Holy Catholic Church. a Virgin-Mother of Knowledge. even though Milosz implies that his Hiram is different from the Masonic one. alias René Descartes.”32 Here. it is above all as testimony of veneration for some of its members.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 101 Sepulchre. Hence Milosz continues his exegesis of his own poem with several pages on the emergence of a unified world and a new world monarchy. his reference to Hiram in the poem is of his own devising.
a group that included “the proletarian Masons whose G[rand] M[aster] is one of our friends. but our modern attire is truly incompatible with all effort toward the Good. Several years after his illuminatory experience in 1914. so too he drew on Masonry in his private life. And there are numerous other such examples.”39 These dreams of universality. most important is that Milosz’s work extended into every sphere of life. Milosz wrote. whom he later adopted as his spiritual son and gave his family crest name. the sciences. author of The Magus. to which era belongs the spiritual son whom he addresses throughout his gnostic poetry and prose. of the London Rosicrucians of the early nineteenth century associated with Francis Barrett. de Lubicz. moral or social. Hiérarchie-Liberté-Fraternité. but explicitly Christian. he drew together a small esoteric coterie that included René Schwaller.36 Milosz too saw himself as a prophet of a future era of universal peace and knowledge. among them its ritual dress. the “science of the divine. Milosz explicitly forecast the unification of politics. however outrageous they may seem in their magnitude. And in 1929 Milosz wrote a letter to a friend in which he explained that Carlos Larronde. Here too was a group with Masonic overtones. in his work as in his private life. however. and that he deliberately. of political. The Master alone will wear a red cap. For us. “Dress for meeting: the robes will be of black silk. and scientific fusion.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. with a white collar. In his work.” And in his little esoteric group. certainly has its historical predecessors: one thinks. Just as Milosz drew on the full breadth of the Masonic tradition in his poetry and prose. of course. the other members being his apostles. one of Milosz’s most devoted friends. The fundamental teaching will be that of the Arcana. and the arts via religion. while also publishing numerous articles in several journals of the time. and in 1919 they established an exoteric center called the Centre Apostolique.”37 This new esoteric group had some Masonic characteristics. sought the widest possible range. being the Christ-figure. 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). “The hour of Apostleship has sounded”—Milosz himself. not to say grandiosity. . and of forming a group of disciples that in turn would help to transform the whole of human society. These are the three colors of the great work (spiritual and physical). I am the enemy of exteriorization. a kind of Christian semi-Masonic esotericism. was drawing together a new group of which Milosz was to be spiritual director.”38 Such a group. for instance. Our group will have no more than twelve members. in his letter to James Chauvet. This small group they called Les Veilleurs (The Watchers). religious. as we have seen.
all of these efforts were ultimately pointed. and Milosz. D. Here. through his writing.40 But we still await a comprehensive study that incorporates the full range of H. in which we begin to explore the theoretical dimensions and implications of Western esoteric literature in relation to consciousness. for however assiduous Milosz was in working toward universality in his writing and in his life. but as we can see from this discussion of his work and life. Rosicrucianism. then without doubt the emblematic female poet has to be H.. and the Christian theosophy of Zinzendorf and the Moravians.’s poetry. However.’s life and interests. Among the best of these is Susan Friedman’s chapter entitled “Initiations” in her book Psyche Reborn (1981). little studied in academe. D. all of whom also were involved in esoteric circles. and specifically toward a future reader whom he regards as his spiritual son. There are. not toward the present. we . C. and Kathleen Raine. but toward the future. novels. which outlines the intertwining of H. but also for the universality of his aims. today. we have by no means finished with either of these inexhaustible figures: Prospero. Milosz in some respects cast aside his wand (any influence on his contemporary era) in order. That H. D. Milosz certainly resembles the figure of Prospero in Shakespeare’s The Tempest. In these efforts. D. psychic insights or visions.— born Hilda Doolittle [1886–1961]—was fascinated with esoterica is well known. S. various heresies of antiquity including the Ophites and other Gnostic groups. He sought nothing less than to bring about the renewal of Christianity through its universalization. the poet H. H. Charles Williams. of course. Indeed. and the Initiatic Word If Milosz is emblematic of an initiatic male poet in the twentieth century. a relatively obscure figure. there is no other figure who so completely reveals the confluence of all the primary currents of Western esotericism in the modern era. to reach an audience whom he specifically invoked in his writing itself. Milosz is unique not only for the vast range of his studies. D. Indeed. the list of names of modern authors and poets influenced by esoteric currents of thought is nigh unto endless. 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. Like Prospero in his final speech. Although we here will take our leave of them. Lewis. magic.’s biography and her fascination with mysticism. astrology. D. including such authors as William Butler Yeats. and essays. and in such aims is a classic exemplar of modern Western esotericism. D. numerology. a number of books have explored the wide range of esoteric influences that appear in H.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 103 Milosz is. and a new golden age. the Tarot. others whose work certainly bears the imprint of esoteric influences.
was fascinated by esoteric correspondences in her life.”41 Although the major works by H.” The work is essentially an elaboration of this gnomic statement. very much resembles both of them in certain respects. however. for our purposes are her later ones such as her poems in Trilogy and Vale Ave as well as her novel The Gift. written in July 1919 in the Scilly Islands. by recognizing that H.’s life it is repeated a number of times. and soon (by 1911) came to see the emblem of the thistle and serpent as her own. so it will be necessary here only to allude to the parallels. and it was included as the frontispiece for her most well-known book..’s early. the much earlier work Notes on Thought and Vision helps to make clear H. She begins Notes with the cryptic proclamation: “Three states or manifestations of life: body. D. mind. Notes is a very unusual work. We should begin. D. was fascinated by numerology. And when we turn from Dickinson to H. She writes: If I could visualise or describe that overmind in my own case. as a wrenching spiritual awakening. as many critics have observed. overmind. 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. Margaret Fuller.. save that in H. Woman in the Nineteenth Century. D. for H. I have written in detail about both Dickinson and Fuller in The Esoteric Origins of the American Renaissance (2001).” Vulnerable to periodic psychic breakdowns. astrology. She created a hermetic emblem or herald for herself. a cap of consciousness . and on the other Margaret Fuller. “The Thistle and the Serpent. like H. H. D. that Dickinson underwent at least one extended spiritual and psychological crisis. D. But when we begin to look at H. In his introduction to H. D.” Albert Gelpi writes that H. it argues for the characteristically Emersonian idea of an ‘overmind’ as a model of higher consciousness. the parallels we see perhaps most clearly are not so much with Fuller as with Dickinson. and her extreme sensitivity had made her preternaturally susceptible to the intensities of experience that others might overlook. I argue that this crisis can be interpreted as initiatory.’s Notes on Thought and Vision.” which she calls in Notes her “jellyfish experience. was a reasonably accomplished astrological interpreter. we see very much the same pattern of psychological and spiritual crisis as awakening. and what we might term esoteric correspondences or patterns in life. For it seems clear from her poetry. D. underwent “a severe psychic breakdown. D. Likewise. belonged to what is clearly an American feminine literary lineage that includes on the one hand Emily Dickinson. D. D. D. In Esoteric Origins. I should say this: it seems to me that a cap is over my head. “her unusual susceptibility also made possible a breakthrough into heightened consciousness. Notes on Thought and Vision (1919).’s gnostic perspective in relation to literature.
D.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 105 over my head. some of whom will have the secret of using their overminds.”43 H. contained in a defininte space. She does write about a “vision of the womb. There are even traces here of Gnosticism. except through the intellect. I visualise it just as well. fluid yet with definite body. we begin to suspect that this odd book of fragments is itself a kind of initiatic book of clues for those very coming artists of the overmind. D.’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. D. those future initiates for whom this little book is intended. transparent. they “bring the world of vision into consciousness. But Gnosticism is here only as allusion. which is possible for all. yet make one picture. had outlined a fundamentally gnostic worldview. . this is the source of creativity just as it is the wellspring of spirituality. Whatever else we may make of it. one must. engage in a union of love and intellect. since she experienced it along with the birth of her child. my forehead. even if most prefer to stay entombed in their comfortable closed houses. indeed.’s work has feminist implications. as primary to the true artist. syncretic . 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. and third is the awakening into the overmind. . perceive separately. now. continues: first is the life of the body and sexuality. wonders whether it is easier for a woman than a man to attain consciousness of the overmind. a musician. as some of Plato’s dialogues suggest. but it would be a mistake to see all of her writing only in this context. D. The two work separately. As we read on through Notes.”44 This initiatic process is similar to that of the Eleusinian mysteries. Into that over-mind. .” but she writes about it that this is the vision of “dream and of ordinary vision. with the gulls and the sky and the earth. She holds that “a lover must choose one of the same type of mind as himself. a musician. she insists that “There is no way of arriving at the overmind. D. or anemone. thoughts pass and are visible like fish swimming under clear water . as when she speculates on the meaning of the pearl in her gnostic sketches. She writes that to be a true artist. . second is the life of the intellect. is a gnostic with a small g. Without doubt. H.” And she adds that “I believe there are some artists coming in the next generation. a nonsectarian. H. It is like a closed sea-plant. without question we can see here that already in 1919 H. D. and when love-vision and intellectual vision coincide. That overmind seems a cap.” The minds of the lovers unite. She places gnosis. centered in the love-region of the body or placed like a foetus in the body. almost like two lenses. like water. jelly-fish. affecting a little my eyes . or awakening into the overmind.” She does not valorize this vision against that of the intellect. H. I first realized this state of consciousness in my head.42 H.
In Notes on Thought and Vision.” “Tribute to the Angels. is a false path.” who “know each other / by secret symbols.” In the next section. / companions / of the flame. She writes “dare. . / oneness lost.” And the section ends with “illusion.” H. / jottings of psychic numerical equations. This is an important distinction because in “The Walls Do Not Fall. seek further. In this respect. D. Here. she extends the unity of Dionysius and Christ that ended the earlier work. and H.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. prayer” for healing. Amen. devour.47 In M. But it was during the German siege of London during the Second World War that H. Her themes are explicitly esoteric throughout these poems: she writes of her experience of “The Presence. boasting. the poem is at heart profoundly esoteric in its unified vision amid the shards of bomb-shattered modernity. All-father.” and “The Flowering of the Rod. dare more. D. the subconscious being below ordinary consciousness. helpers / of the One. H.”48 All of this suggests that there is . spell. D. D.” and of “the most profound philosophy”. / subconscious ocean where Fish / move two-ways. distinguishes between the subconscious mind and the overmind.” In “The Walls Do Not Fall. is the Egyptian god Amen-Ra. D.” here. D.” H. even offering a diagrammatic illustration of the two. of the stars as “separate entities” “intimately concerned with us” who can be “invoked / with accurate charm. she holds.” we “nameless initiates. for instance.” She writes. pitiful reticence.”45 “Amen.” “arrogance. E.’s work is a complex tapestry of just such word-play and religious concordances. the overmind being above it. develops many of the themes initially sketched in Notes on Thought and Vision. / born of one mother.” At first it would seem she is endorsing modern uses of alchemy in this “age of the new dimension.”46 It is obvious from “The Walls Do Not Fall” that although H.” Yet when the “secret doors” are “found . intrusion of strained / inappropriate allusion. this. seek. too. criticizes the surrealist use of alchemical imagery as a means to the subconscious. she is very much in the American tradition inaugurated by Ralph Waldo Emerson. But in “The Walls Do Not Fall. of the “alchemist’s secret.” and of her “companions / in this mystery. as these entities are “healers. was lost in sea-depth.” she extends it to discuss the emergence of surrealism with such figures as Max Ernst and Andre Breton. As a number of scholars have demonstrated. wrote the collection of three long poems later published as Trilogy. .’s outward circumstances were the terrors of war. over-confidence. she criticizes “a riot of unpruned imagination. madness. we clearly see how extensive and lifelong Ernst’s fascination with alchemical imagery was. These three poems were “The Walls Do Not Fall. surrealism and symbolism (particularly the latter in Russia) were deeply indebted to alchemy.” mind “floundered. writing that “it appears obvious / that Amen is our Christos. reversion of old values. / here is the alchemist’s key. / it unlocks secret doors. Warlick’s Max Ernst and Alchemy. unlocked.
/ inventive.51 Taken in context with the earlier invocation of Hermes-Thoth. D. D. . this passage suggests the complexity.” “candle and script and bell. but also those who come after her. The poet is called to “take what the old-church / found in Mithra’s tomb. itself conveyed through the act of sacred writing. explicitly invokes the Hermetism of antiquity. too little: I know. but this. continues. H.’s trilogy is “Tribute to the Angels.” what the “new-church spat upon / and broke and shattered. she is calling herself to a sacred task. . illuminate what came after. who as the sacred scribe is invoked through the act of using “pen or brush. I feel the meaning that words hide. H. D. one that leads toward the subconscious and illusion—and this is the path of the surrealists. but suddenly from them emerge living butterflies. / rededicate our gifts / to spiritual realism”. She calls us to “prepare papyrus or parchment. D. the difficulty of conveying initiation through the written word—it includes the implication that such efforts are bound to be deemed ‘heretical’ by some. devoid of life. they are anagrams.” This poem exhorts the poet to “plunder” the past.”49 Thus. / in the light of what went before. as Hermes is patron of poets and thieves. cryptograms.’s invocation of Hermes. this has been proved heretical.” through painting or writing. “Let us substitute / enchantment for sentiment. symbols of Psyche reborn.” and it begins with an invocation again of Hermes Trismegistus. / lead us back to the one-truth. D. too much.” whose “province is thought.” . too little affirmation. and that one must know and feel by intuition the meaning that words hide.” invoke “Hermes-thrice-great. D.” Her invocation continues: “Let him (Wisdom. conditioned to hatch butterflies . The words themselves may resemble boxes. this. of the soul that passes through initiation and awakes.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 107 a wrong path. / re-vivify the eternal verity. H. artful and curious. with their overconfidence leading only to floundering in sea-depths of confused images and “incongruous monsters. little boxes. In a well-known passage.” “invoke the true-magic. The next work in H.’s words here are an invocation and a kind of Hermetic initiation. The reader is called to sacred writing by way of H.”50 Here H. then writes: We have had too much consecration. “patron of alchemists.
the shattered glass of the past.52 These lines reveal many layers. I testify. D. One is the layer of the destruction in London during the bombing. but whereas Rilke could not write during war. H. reinvoked in a new form. is attempting in her poetry here. then still not knowing whether (like the wall) we were there or not-there. re-create” that which is now “scattered in the shards / men tread upon”.” but re-awakened. so too can the poet be. H. how is it you come so near. is in fact transmuting the war experience into one of divine . recreated by the poet. after all.’s poetic narrative reminds us of Rilke’s accounts of meeting angels in his Sonnets to Orpheus and Duino Elegies. indivisible Spirit. We should not underestimate the magnitude of what H. saw. Another is the layer of Hermetic invocation. the conditions under which. D. in the high-altar of a ruined building. it was an ordinary tree.53 This is an account of self-transcendence (not knowing whether we were there or not-there). but I believe the heart of the poem is to be found in the following section: Invisible. H.108 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E This. and still another is that of an older true unified religion rejected by a “new-church. the poet must “melt down and integrate. how is it that we dare approach the high-altar? we crossed the charred portico.” I take these lines as placing the poet’s vision in the context of John’s Revelation: John was a prophet and seer. D. was writing these poems. passed through a frame—doorless— entered a shrine. an angel manifesting in the flowering tree.” One must “reinvoke. and so too by implication can we be. we entered a house through a wall. What does the poet see? The poem is far too vast to attempt a complete exegesis here. but also of a meeting with an invisible spirit. we saw the tree flowering. in an old garden-square. D. like a ghost. John. She includes lines from the Revelation of John: “I.
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. one can only suggest it so that the reader can realize it too. / the darkness of ignorance. it is happening everywhere.54 Here she is conveying in poetic form what cannot be captured but only conveyed. the divine feminine.’s poetry. D. bind together Christian and pre-Christian religious traditions. In this context.’s “Tribute to the Angels. nothing whatever. writes that This is no rune nor riddle. but gnosis manifested through a web of interconnected symbols. that “Hermes Trismegistus / spears. alluded to. the next section is very important. This experience. / it was the Holy Ghost—. D. and this suggestiveness is how initiation through the word takes place. / . just as Christianity and the mystery religions of antiquity are joined indivisibly.” she also builds toward a specific spiritual experience in which she saw “God in the other-half of the tree. Sophia appears here in this larger context as a figure of the divine feminine .” This experience is what she calls the “flowering of the rood. joining together the worst and the highest of which humanity is capable. / casts the Old Dragon / into the abyss. D. D. music could do nothing with it. seeing Christianity as being a continuation of earlier traditions.” This experience “was vision. Hence H. D. what I mean is—it is so simple yet no trick of the pen or brush could capture that impression.’s vision. One cannot capture this esoteric illumination. symbol of Hermes. transmitted as an “open secret” (to use Carlyle’s phrase describing Emerson’s essay Nature). / it was the Angel which redeemed me. And this experience is gnosis. H. conveyed through the poetry.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 109 revelation. / it was a sign. In it.” the name of the final poem in Trilogy. is a gnosis of the word. what I mean is— but you have seen for yourself that burnt-out wood crumbling you have seen for yourself. D.”55 Hermes and the Archangel are thus merged in H. In H. H. writes that the Cross and the Tau or “T-cross” merge with the caduceus.’s poetry in general. . . and even more overtly. with Saint Michael. and Trilogy in particular. the flowering of the wood. themselves conveyed to the reader through H.
thus “The Flowering of the Rood” is also about the redemption of art through religious experience. entitled “The Flowering of the Rood. who is also redeemed. The artist who participates imaginatively with Christ is redeemed. is reluctant to label Sophia as a single reified figure. / out of the cocoon. / who did not forego our heritage” . D.’s Trilogy. and “she carries a book but it is not / the tome of the ancient wisdom.” Here the focus is not feminine but masculine—the birth of Jesus Christ and the coming of the Wise Men bearing gifts. under her “drift of veils. the writer. preserving the evocative power of poetry that resists the power of reason alone. D. She who has been seen “the world over. and that. in the context of the three poems together. allied to Mercury also. the Bible. obviously. as we will see in more detail shortly. to her astonishment. D. the scribe. This imaginative participation is at the heart of H.’s own heritage. just as the Word is transmitted through the Great Book. But the “we” who did not “forego our heritage” also has a wider context. 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. as we will see when we turn to her novel The Gift. It would be a mistake to presume that because H. Hermes is the patron of the artist. requiring instead imaginative participation on the part of the reader. right into the final poem. she retains the web of interconnected meanings and symbolisms. And She is “Holy Wisdom.” This book is the transmission of the spiritual experience through the book of poems. D.” as well as “the new Eve who comes” bringing “the Book of Life. “Our Lady of the Pomegranate. D.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.” “she carried a book. was a baptized Moravian.” she of the Bona dea. the thief.”56 Sophia herself appears to H. Here it might be valuable to recall that H. Sophianic spirituality was in H.” And She is also “Psyche.” for hers are the blank pages “of the unwritten volume of the new.” at once both Christian and pre-Christian. they are therefore a repudiation of Christianity in favor of a neopagan goddess tradition..” This refrain.” H. affirms the divine feminine in her Trilogy poems.” “Santa Sophia. at once the Magna Mater and the Virgin of the Book of Revelation of John. Rather. whether it is con- . They are not. for H.” Yet Sophia is also “the Vestal / from the days of Numa.” 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.” “the SS of the Sanctus Spiritus. the artist is the thief who is redeemed on the very day that Christ is crucified. brought into paradise with Christ. D. she was deeply familiar with the esoteric spirituality of the theosophic community of Count Zinzendorf in Pennsylvania. D. And there is one more critical detail: when Sophia appeared. speculates that “she must have been pleased with us. and the thief. then notes that she is referring to “the straggling company of the brush and quill. the butterfly. and H. D. clearly alludes to the figure of Hermes.
with the simultaneous symbolism of his birth and death.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. fear.57 It was not until 1998 that Jane Augustine’s edited original edition of this extraordinary novel was published. In her poetry. It is no accident that both the Trilogy and The Gift have woven into them the horror. wove into The Gift her own extensive research into her family’s history. unabridged version of her novel The Gift. as well as of Christian and pre-Christian religious symbolism. I suppose. and how at its very heart is—the gnosis of the word. the Trilogy culminates with “The Flowering of the Rood.’s poetry is far more complex than it is frequently depicted as being. which was intertwined with the history of the Moravian Church in America in its . D. the editors sought to remove many of the references to the mysticism that is in fact at the center of the book. H. Eve and Mary. an esoteric emblem that she designed herself. sought to accomplish a feat similar to that sought by the other great modernist poets T. Eliot and W. and confusion of the Second World War as experienced in the bombing of London. What is more.” all are interwoven here. as in the original. The Gift. that until 1998. of mysticism. Hermes and Christ. when New Directions published their abridged version of The Gift about a century later. the only available versions of The Gift were more or less bowdlerized ones from which nearly a third of the original text was missing. we must turn to The Gift. D. D. As I detail in The Esoteric Origins of the American Renaissance (2001). also reveals the overarching spiritual unity not only of mythology but. S. was published posthumously under the direction of her brother without her original frontispiece. H. Woman in the Nineteenth Century. D. however. the Vestal Virgin and “Our Lady of the Pomegranate. To understand this mysticism more fully. they even changed significantly the emphasis of the entire novel from Moravian spirituality to the gift of artistic creation. like Eliot in his Four Quartets. Likewise. 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. Such a massive lacuna is not surprising because it has at least some modest precedent in American letters.” with the experience of Christ. It is not surprising. and that includes a unification of male and female symbolism. 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. B.’s own notes. Margaret Fuller’s most well-known work. D. H. in the midst of the terror and chaos and destruction of war. H. Only when we read the original version of the novel can we recognize just how remarkable an achievement it is. Her brother sought to keep from the public eye his sister’s interest in esoteric or ‘occult’ areas of thought. complete with H. In the midst of the worst of which humanity is capable.
1753).” as well as of “Secrets probably known by the adepts alone. And her personal library gives ample proof that H. H. “Old Father Weiss.” or Jedediah Weiss.” of the “Arcana. Commonly Called Moravians (London: A. deliberately incorporated much authentic historical background into the novel. In other words. Robinson. Her notes are in fact an important aspect of the novel. Linde. in . especially those now housed at Yale University. D. For Zinzendorf and his group were far more esoteric in their interests than those who were to follow them.112 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E earliest years. 1753). Mysticism. in the middle of the eighteenth century. offering the reader incontrovertible evidence not only that H. itself. Georg Heinrich Loskiel’s History of the Mission of the United Brethren Among the Indians in North America (London: Brethren’s Society. in her notes. In toto. Joseph Edward Hutton’s A History of the Moravian Church (London: Moravian Publication Office. . with its numerous original eighteenth-century publications. D. D. We can see the extent and depth of H. shaping the way that she intended it to be read. H.’s research into this area when we look at her own notes for the novel as well as the books from her own library. But her interest in the Moravians took on a new intensity when she realized more about the esotericism of the original Moravians and of the charismatic Count Zinzendorf.’s library demonstrates the depth of her research. among its volumes are Andreas Frey’s A True and Authentic Account of Andrew Frey. Pennsylvania.”58 About such accusations. Her notes for The Gift are remarkably detailed. D. came by her fascination with the Moravians naturally. George Lavington’s The Moravians Compared and Detected (London: J. or Secret Counsels of their Leaders. and Henry Rimius’s A Candid Narrative of the Rise and Progress of the Herrnhuetters. D. H. Knapton. 1755). and weave together genealogical and historical materials. cited by H. as well as original copies of Rimius’s other major works on the subject. H. had done her research. Zinzendorf ’s most effective detractor. accused the early Moravians of “gross and scandalous . containing the Occasion of his coming among the Herrnhutters or Moravians (London: J. D. 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. was a watchmaker and silversmith for more than forty years in Bethlehem. I consider these findings highly stimulating and exciting. . D. D. but also that the artistic and spiritual import of the novel is bolstered by being based on actual fact. wrote that they were precisely what she found attractive about the Unitas Fratrum: “Personally. make clear this distinction. her grandmother’s father. and he was born in Bethlehem. Rimius. was herself a baptized Moravian. Pennsylvania. Her grandfather’s name was Francis Wolle. Rimius’s works. 1909). it was in fact in her blood. 1794). & P. though I must confess. He was a gifted musician who sang in the Moravian choir.
But the reader is initiated into these mysteries vicariously. an overarching spiritual narrative that redeems modernity from its chaos and fragmentation. saw itself as a branch of the primordial and pure Christianity. We were a small community. explaining the novel’s initiatory power via the word and image within the novel itself in a kind of metanarrative. it is one of those things that you really do find in your Grimm or your Anderson . . Zinzendorf espoused a doctrine of the Trinity that conjoined the Holy Spirit with the divine feminine. in short.” H. D. This redemption from chaos that the reader undergoes by working through the novel is parallel to the initiation of the child Hilda. But more important than Zinzendorf’s own esotericism is how it was incorporated by H. It is written in a characteristically modernist fragmented style that reflects on the one hand the fragmentation of modernity and on the other hand. D. and had existed in Bohemia-Moravia for many hundreds of years before what is now called the Reformation. and in this sense the book is clearly meant by H. who through the course of the novel comes to realize the true nature of her gnostic Moravian forebears and their unique relationships with American Indian spiritual elders.”59 There can be no doubt that Zinzendorf himself and his early circle held views that were seen as unacceptable by the German Protestant establishment at Dresden. the reader is carried along vicariously on the discoveries not only of young Hilda. is a coming-of-age or initiation-into-the-mysteries-of-adulthood narrative. conventionally the church.. to initiate the reader. writing these reflections during the siege of London in the Second World War.” that “someone must inherit” access to a hidden “continent” that includes links to people long dead. “you just stumble on it. The Moravian Church that he was instrumental in revivifying in the mid-eighteenth century actually was linked more to Greek Orthodoxy than to Rome. D. but also of the older poet H. respected and highly respectable. D. whose voice in the novel is clearly childish. Mother. writes. and Son. or Unitas Fratrum as resuscitated by Zinzendorf. “There is no royal road into this kingdom. Hilda. The novel. . D. The Moravian Church. She tells us that there is a “Gift waiting. and its doctrines as representing a pure. it does exist. through the reader’s assembling of clues into a larger narrative. is initiated into the matrilinear gnosis of her family’s secret Moravian traditions. he also held that every woman represented an image of the Bride of Christ. For suddenly we encounter the voice of the elder H. But The Gift is also an initiatory work in the other sense of the term—it opens up into an initiation into the spiritual mysteries of the Unitas Fratrum as well.” She goes on: . there was no hint of this exoticism. referring to Father. The Gift is an initiatory work in the classic anthropological sense: it is on one level a story of how a young girl.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 113 my own day. Its esotericism derived its power from these beliefs.. into The Gift. nonhierarchic tradition of true Christianity.
as some scholars seem to think. The word is like a bee-hive. indeed. . Hilda is fascinated by Mamalie’s talk of Wunden Eiland. men play a greater role than women. Rather. the word stops. Mamalie tells Hilda that the Moravians were at heart a continuation of “the Hidden Church that . aspects of a solely matriarchal tradition. that is why it is so quiet. it is what the novel does for H. but Hilda (and along with her. In chapter 5 of The Gift. And Hilda speculates: I want her to go on talking because if she stops. I mean. it is like that little flower that Mrs. that Mamalie called himmelschlüssel or keys-of-heaven. I am the last bee in the bee-hive. cut on a wall at Karnak. D. the reader) must unravel their mysteries through cryptic comments and fragments let drop by her grandmother. while it is the case that Mamalie is telling this complicated history to her granddaughter Hilda. That is how it is. A bit of me can really “live something of a word or phrase. . Hilda surmises. 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. A word opens a door. But there is more. keep Wunden Eiland for the other bees. Island of Wonders. 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. these are the keys. I mean. and even here in her narrative. But really “live” it. A word opens a door .114 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E It is like matching beads. “Christian had left the Secret with me. when they come back?61 The word is the means of preserving and of transmitting the honey of spiritual knowledge. a German name for an early Moravian island sanctuary (the name meaning. Can one bee keep a bee-hive alive. I was afraid the Secret would be lost. “The Secret. .” The first is when Mamalie. in some aspects of the story. even though the beehive is presided over by a Queen bee (Sophia?). Then am I for a moment .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. . Hilda’s grandmother. considerably more of this theme to unpack. These spiritual mysteries are not. Egyptian . later learning it means Island of Wounds). And in this story men play at least as significant a role as women. can one person who knows that Wunden Eiland is a bee-hive. The other bees have gone. we are given more explicit hints about the title of the chapter. . begins to speak of “the papers” that she was afraid she had lost. Hilda knows that she is the last one in the family to whom Mamalie could entrust her secrets. but there are no bees in it now.” she told Hilda. who is somewhat forgetful near the end of her life. . this is the game I play. Williams called a primula.
He said it would be impossible to follow the language without the music. indeed. Mamalie continues. bore the names of Cammerhof. though. As Mamalie put it in her narrative to Hilda: In fact. this laughter that ran over us. but all of them. Zeisberger and Christian Seidel.” only driven “underground” to resurface with Count Zinzendorf and his disciples. chiefly through the narrative of elderly Mamalie. this meeting of the Moravians and Indians under the sign of the Great Spirit / Holy Spirit? She was a musician.” Pyrlaeus passed on a scroll written “in curious characters.” not just Minne-ha-ha. Greek. to give the answer that the warriors had debated at their councils. the answer given by the Spirits. Pyrlaeus. altogether.62 Like the Templars. Already tracts of land further north were depleted of their wild animals.”64 The Indians and the Moravians indeed had an unusual relationship. where the Moravians came during the eighteenth century and immediately formed a rapport with the American Indians.” This scroll.” “the laughter of leaves. it poured from the sky or from the inner realm of the Spirit. so that “It was laughing. but this was untrue.”66 How did Mamalie know so intimately what it was like. as to what was to be the relationship in future between the white-men and the Indians. in particular the Shawnee. of snow swirling.’s. they conducted a syncretic ritual that joined the spiritual traditions of the two peoples. . she decoded it from the cryptic musical notations and multilingual script of the parchment kept in the birchbark case. though. was to decide the future of the whole country .65 In this spiritual meeting of the medicine men and the Moravian initiates. the Moravians were accused of scandalous behavior. not least because the Moravians respected Indian spirituality. and Indian dialects and writing and marginal notes of music.63 In The Gift. it was the laughter of the water.” so he “made notes of tones and rhythms of their voices. Hebrew. This rapport is historically verifiable. she draws upon historical fact in order to build a larger mythos. She and her . it was the outpouring of the Mystic Chalice that Paxnous’ priest too. and a hundred years after this ritual meeting and descent of the Holy Spirit took place. Johann Christoph Pyrlaeus was a musician who collected “Indian words and sayings and made a dictionary of them. along with a list of “medicine-men or priests of the Indian tribes. it is not a confabulation of H. 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. The most important scene for this gnostic drama. The Moravians and the Indians under the chief Paxnous met in order to let their guiding spirits determine the fate of white-Indian relations.” but that “wasn’t really destroyed. is not Europe but North America. “like scales running up and down. . According to Mamalie. had a name for. the Christian initiates of the fateful meeting at Wunden Eiland. of wind. kept in a birch-bark case. laughing all the time. D. done in their picture-writing.
called “New Gnadenhütten. and both Moravians and Indians were slaughtered. the promise of Wunden Eiland and of the descent of the Holy Spirit is not lost but realized again. or a subsequent realization of the original Moravian-Indian spiritual illumination. And in a subsequent event.68 The final section of The Gift at first seems anticlimactic. so much so that she never played music again. Among those killed were twenty-four women and twenty-two children. D. The Gift. 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. who was responsible for the attack on “New Gnadenhütten. We have been shaken out of our ordinary dimension in time and we have crossed the chasm that divides time from time-out-of-time or from what they call eternity. so that even amid the terrible bombing of England. Wunden Eiland. decoded it and she played it. domination. Instead of recounting the transmission of Mamalie’s understanding to young Hilda. in an even more attenuated form. . composed of both local Indians and Moravians working with them. Mamalie.” Mamalie and her young husband were taken away in rapture by this union with the original ritual and spiritual illumination.116 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E young husband. So it would seem that The Gift is a tragic book. where the falling arrows of the original “French Indian” attack on Gnadenhütten metamorphose into the falling bombs of the Germans attacking England. of universal peace and the descent of the Holy Spirit. who was to die at twenty-five.” Thus we can see the palimpsest form of the novel. H. a means of underscoring that the immense promise of the Moravian-Indian spiritual brotherhood and sisterhood.” as “Aryan. or Wounded Island.”69 The two worlds have become one. even refers to the American David Williamson. and then. is also the wounded island of England as it is being bombed by the Germans. At the novel’s conclusion. could have “lifted the dark wings of evil from the whole world. we realize that the Moravian sanctuary island. and Hilda tells us that “We have been face to face with the final realities.” 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. said in her fragmented narrative. And yet in the very final passages. stands perpetually opposed to those whose aim is slaughter. past and present superimposed upon one another and intermingling. we return to the fragmented narrative of the Second World War. the Moravian colony of Gnadenhütten. those hiding in the attic burned alive. having “burnt it up. to young Hilda as Mamalie became delirious on her deathbed. In 1755.”67 Thus “the Gift” was transmitted from the original Moravian participants in the ritual to Mamalie and her husband.” but instead what we see is a tragic history. was attacked by a band of Indians loyal to the French. all of these themes are brought together into a unified whole. In her notes. raining down terror from the skies. Christian Seidel.
it becomes the foundation for an entire worldview.V. and as the way in which her work functions for the reader. and out of which all great work is generated. and future continually intermingle.” and she has suddenly achieved the union again in the twentieth century just as Mamalie had realized it in the nineteenth. there.” she realizes that “Our earth is a wounded island as we swing round the sun. D. But above all.70 She hears the “great choir of the strange voices that speak in a strange bird-like staccato rhythm.’s work exemplifies what I have termed “initiation through the word. H. As we have seen. present. but also a larger unity that even presents a way beyond chaos and evil into transcendence. her work suggests that past. but as integral to her work. de Lubicz Milosz as exemplary of the literary-mythological possibilities of Western esotericism.” an echo of Emerson’s “Oversoul. for instance. D. and Western Esotericism: Some Conclusions. the more deeply one looks into her works. but rather is woven into her entire worldview. singing of the Wounds.” in which the individual consciousness is exalted.” both as a theme treated explicitly in her poetry and prose. and that it is possible to realize a timeless state she terms the “over-mind. and the sound of the Moravian-Indian choirs of the past—and with this the novel concludes. not least because although outwardly its modernist fragmentation suggests confusion and chaos. In her poetry and fiction. In this context. Among major twentiethcentury authors. Her later work in fact exemplifies exactly this idea. Likewise.’s fascination with various figures and currents of Western esotericism becomes more than a collection of interests. H. the more certain one is that here is someone whose work cannot be understood fully without reference to Western esotericism. as well as of timelessness and time. she hears the “deep bee-like humming of the choir of single brothers. not merely as decorations. past and present. D.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 117 In England. this fragmentation actually represents in artistic form a higher union of past and present. H. Hilda hears the voice of Christian Renatus. In her profoundly ambitious works. does not exist separate from her poetic and fictional work but rather represents an important aspect of it. H. . D. Her interest in spiritualism. one of the original Moravian initiates. 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. we find a wide range of Western esoteric currents manifesting themselves. both poetic and fictional.’s English present. the dead and the living are not separate but part of an interwoven continuum. and the original initiates had realized it in the eighteenth. her abiding fascination with Moravian esotericism is not merely an aspect of her genealogical interests. D.” There is a great sound—the sound of the all-clear siren in London. H.” but she knows what they are saying even though they “are speaking Indian dialects.’s poetry and prose reflect a sense of the transparency of time and place: from Notes on Thought and Vision onward. D.’s work stands with that of Yeats and of O. Indeed.
D. Vale Ave. as Adam. through time—specifically. She is the niece of the Elizabethan poet and alchemist Sir Edward Dyer. through her fiction and through her poetry.71 . Sir Walter secretly and mysteriously becomes her lover during the last months of his life in the Tower of London. whom we invoke as Lucifer. Adam-Eve formula may be applied to all men and women. but understanding it places her work in an entirely different light. legendary Provence. Mystery and a portent. to be sure. dynastic Egypt. as history tells us. After his death. We cannot conclude without reference to H. early seventeenth-century England. which makes it absolutely clear that in her later poetry she was even more deeply immersed in Western esotericism. H. meeting and parting. The Lucifer-Lilith. parted in the dark. late Rome. She had begun to outline this concept already in her early Notes on Thought and Vision. there is Resurrection and the hope of Paradise. yes. outlined in entirety. Lilith.’s work is fundamentally that of esoteric transmission through ahistorical continuity.’s esoteric worldview is complex and rather heterodox. Elizabeth recalls him to her. true we had met in sudden frenzy. illuminating many aspects that otherwise could not be fully understood. H. through her grandmother’s reconstruction of it in The Gift. but at the same time. though here we follow the processus through the characters of Elizabeth and Sir Walter [Raleigh].’s complex 1957 poem Vale Ave. D. and that also incorporated a sexual mysticism she found deeply congenial. and its implications. although: I hardly knew my Lord. has the same root derivation as Seraph. but it was only in her later work that we see it. in his pre-Eve manifestation. Sir Walter was himself an alchemist. and contemporary London. so Lilith may be Serpent or Seraph. and all the rest was mystery and a portent.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. Through the codex left by the original Moravian initiates. the Light-bringer. The poem begins with the following preface: This sequence introduces Adam’s first wife. through her uncle’s Art and through the alchemy of memory. may be Angel or Devil. and Elizabeth identifies herself with him. Is she the Serpent who tests the androgynat primordial? Serpent (saraph) it is said. timelessness conveyed through time by way of word and image. At the center of her esoteric worldview is the primacy of the word as means of initiatic transmission. D.
.74 In our day of ever more complex technology and ever more information. 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. / infinity portrayed in simple things. D. .” I cite from Vale Ave here because it makes clear that H. 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. and the Scroll. here again “the words laugh. I would like to explore not the art of magic. the “springs gone under the hill. Here. ‘magical fiction’ in fact belongs to a larger category. But my .” and again through it “I had the answer. D.”72 Here again the scroll becomes a “palimpsest. Her poetry and her prose.” but a new mythology that turns out to be the grand theme of Western esotericism and that is perhaps as old as the mystery of the word itself.” Here again we find the same themes that recur throughout H.” Kathleen Raine wrote of how the mysteries were once upon the earth.” Her poem ends with the stanza: Inviolate in dream The mysteries still are shown. 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.’s recurrent theme of initiation through the word. the Writing.” the mysteries of the holy well.73 Magical Fiction In a poem entitled “Dreams. But bring them back none may Who wakes into this day.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 119 Obviously. but rather how magic dwells in the realm of relatively recent fiction.’s lifetime of work. magic and the ancient mysteries still dwell. the mysteries of the “tree and miraculous bird. it may seem as though nothing could be farther from us than a world in which magic is possible. Of course. of timelessness revealed in time’s transparency. just as it dwells in the realm of dreams. The dead are living still. taken in toto. as in poetry.” the holy presences withdraw. Yet in the twilit realm of fiction.” the alchemical processus of transmutation that is brought about for Elizabeth “through her uncle’s Art and through the alchemy of memory. this preface and the poem itself are filled with esoteric elements. here again we find that “I transcribed the scroll” .” echoing the laughter in the culminating initiatory moment in The Gift. “the Mystery. is not a youthful digression but central to her work even late in her life. But then “From grotto grove and shrine.
” He continues: Enchantment produces a Secondary World into which both designer and spectator can enter.” says Ransom. or Mercury.” which might best be translated as “magic. Tolkien begins by describing “fairy stories” as those stories touched by “faëry. the “true powers of Heaven.75 In his essay “On Fairy Stories.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. Tolkien. 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. Is there really a difference in practice between enchantment and magic. domination of things and wills. Viritrilbia. or pretends to produce. as one might imagine. to the satisfaction of their senses while they are inside.” whereas the “elvish craft” might best be referred to as “enchantment.” “Sir. In his extraordinary novel That Hideous Strength. here. yes. and so forth. His main character.” replies Ransom. This is actually a rather rare kind of fiction.” “Their naked power. S. an alteration in the Primary World. and Charles Williams). invokes the Oyéresu. R. or Venus.” But later in the same essay. it remains distinct from the other two.” in a collection of essays presented to Charles Williams.”77 In the subsequent chapter 15. It does not matter by whom it is said to be practiced. But chief among such authors are without doubt the Inklings (in particular. saying “I have become a bridge.” “Through a man whose mind is opened to be so invaded.” the planetary spirits of Perelandra. while I will draw on some writings of Tolkien and Williams. what will come of this?” asks Merlin. “That is why they will work only through a man. for “if they [the Oyéresu] put forth their power. and the descrip- . R. I will concentrate on the works of Lewis and Fortune in order to explore how their fiction becomes magical. things are not nearly so clear cut. R. C. but in its purity it is artistic in desire and purpose. J. Lewis describes a magical invocation that marks the climax of the book. Let us take an example. he backtracks and remarks that “Magic should be reserved for the operations of the magician. Here. fay or mortal. and perhaps becomes itself a magical act. Lewis.” Ransom invokes these powers he calls the Oyéresu. Ransom explains what is happening to the resurrected ancient magician Merlin. they will unmake all Middle Earth. J. John Ransom. C. R. as well as Dion Fortune (Violet Firth).76 While the distinction Tolkien makes. Magic produces. seems reasonable enough in theory. it is not an art but a technique. its desire is power in this world. “The Descent of the Gods. when we turn to actual works. S. “one who by his own will once opened it.
the narrator imagines what it must be like to enter the house.” the narrator tells us. where the invocation has its center. then we imaginatively enter the Blue Room. In this chapter. A soft tingling and shivering as of foam and breaking bubbles. outspeeding light: it was Charity . “I do not think he could have reached the door unbidden. They thought it would burn their bones. They experience “needle-pointed desires. lynx-eyed thoughts” “rolling to and fro like glittering drops. in the white-hot furnace of essential speech.” “He would have known sensuously. . to do full justice to these descriptions of the planetary powers’ arrival. bright and ruthless. In this chapter of Lewis’s novel. sticky gums . 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. . for “the whole house would have seemed to him to be tilting and plunging like a ship in a Bay of Biscay gale. Into the Blue Room come summer breezes. In the beginning of the chapter. or between “sub-creation” of a “secondary world” and magical effects on the “primary world” of this earth. in which none other than the ancient . calling down the powers. The ordinary people in the kitchen experience first the coming of Mercury: they become exceptionally talkative. brisk merriments. They could not bear that it should continue. Laden with ponderous fragrance of night-scented flowers. scorched. We encounter how people ordinarily encounter Mercury. sharp. They were blinded. full of wordplay and puns and metaphors. . . whose colour no man can name or picture” darting between Ransom and Merlin. . . were it possible. Clearly Lewis is describing a magical working: the invocation of the planetary powers.”80 It is not really possible. here. . so well-crafted and evocative are Lewis’s words. until his outraged senses forsook him.”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. Fallen upon them direct from the Third Heaven.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. there are two scenes: a room where several ordinary people sit. and the Blue Room. To keep their beams upon this spot of the moving Earth’s hide. “laden like heavy barges that glide nearly gunwale under . but it is in the description of the Blue Room that Venus truly comes alive. and then comes the goddess: “fiery. ready to kill. . deafened. awakening dormant passion in the people in the kitchen. where Ransom (the Pendragon) and Merlin sit.”79 After Mercury arrives Venus. such a distinction does not hold up well at all. ready to die. unmitigated. 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 . sweet-scented and full of desire.” Ransom “found himself sitting within the very heart of language. They could not bear that it should end.” Merlin and Ransom tremble. and there we see a “rod of coloured light.
Lewis not only achieves dramatic success. The invocation takes place. whose work I would certainly be remiss if I did not mention here. of course. one with ordinary people. and Mark’s shirt is hanging partway out of the window. In so doing. the reader feels as though he has passed through those dimensions too. and one with Merlin and Ransom). but also is able to take along even the skeptical reader. and the Director (Dr. Ransom) is taken up to Perelandra bodily. though one could easily imagine it so. and by its end. Here the various good characters come together to discuss what happened. and all is brought to a conclusion in “Venus at St. Gareth Knight observes in The Magical World of the Inklings: those who read his fiction tend to be affected strongly in two ways. This passage is what I mean by magical initiatory fiction. even though of course the reader has not physically participated in the invocation of the Oyéresu. in a “secondary world” of fiction.” the seventeenth chapter. but this healing is also one in which the reader necessarily participates. But even this is not the end: the end comes when the character Jane returns to her husband Mark. the magical working here is meant also to have effects in the “primary world” of the reader. It is important that this magical working is not the end of the book. In other words. “How exactly like Mark!” Jane thinks. rather like Elijah or King Arthur. Therefore . in the following chapter we see the destruction of the malevolent Institute and its depraved characters. she sees that clothes are piled inside. the novel has dimensions that most other fiction simply does not. After the “descent of the gods” is achieved in the fifteenth chapter. Uncertain whether to enter the lodge where he is sleeping. but Lewis’s novel is clearly about the “primary world” in which we live. “Obviously it was high time she went in. still it feels as though one imaginatively has. Lewis brings us into the realm of Ransom’s and Merlin’s magical rescue of England from the grip of a malevolent force. but he always maintains a link with mundane life even at the heart of the magical working itself (by way of the device of two rooms. About Williams’s novels.” but also because of the delicate tension it maintains between ordinary life and magical events. Lewis’s work is a masterpiece not only because of how it carries us into the magical working in the “descent of the gods.”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. One feels a satisfaction at the conclusion of That Hideous Strength that very few novels are able to elicit. 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. “The Descent of the Gods” is about a celestial healing of a ruined world. to the familiar world in which a married couple need each other. One finds exactly the same sense of initiatory passage in the novels of Charles Williams. Anne’s.122 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E magician Merlin participates.
I have put a great deal into it. Thus a close reading of his novels can have a purificatory. they unveil the power of archetypes and. 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. both Williams and Lewis were able to widen the metaphysical dimensions of fiction. almost cathartic effect. On the other hand. and divine reality and angelic brightness shines through the other side of his work. One might even say that the writing of it was a magical act. then what have I created in Lilith Le Fay? . [Emphasis added. it is possible to respond to the quality of good. I am afraid. .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. . to find out what it was about. 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. but she did offer some preliminary remarks to her novel Moon Magic. such as the poet Peter Stanhope of Descent into Hell. Fortune rarely wrote about her fiction. not find it very entertaining. in general. 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. [Emphasis added. and her observations are revealing. For that. such as Simon Leclerc in All Hallows’ Eve. they reveal forms of necromancy.]82 Exactly the same thing may be said here about Lewis’s foray into what was chiefly Williams’s domain. She writes there that Those who read this story for the sake of entertainment will. for in the act of reading. I wrote it. and how therefore the reader is in . for instance.] If it be true that what is created in the imagination lives in the inner world. but rarely if at all in exactly the form I wish to consider here: initiation into magical ritual itself. to make fiction something much more powerful than it ordinarily is. we should turn to a second exemplar: the fiction of Dion Fortune. in fact. Who and what is Lilith. one is also encountering new realms of existence. and there is a great deal more in it than I ever put in. and why did she live on after the book about her was finished. By doing so. for both writers evoked magical workings or paranormal events in ways that very few authors have. But while Williams’s fiction certainly touches upon magical themes and features magician characters both noble. and decidedly corrupt ones. It was not written for its entertainment value. Williams’s characters offer insights into what it is like to be dead. when Ransom invokes the planetary powers. In effect they are initiations.
Moon Magic is exemplary of this complementary relationship between the extraordinary events the narrator relates and the matter-of-fact tone in which such events are discussed. I had the sensation of the descent of a swift lift. That Fortune was herself a magician is not in question. and artists use it as a window in a watch-tower.84 Here we are observing a magical working of a very different kind from that evoked by Lewis through his character Ransom. magicians call it magic. 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. untidy. She gave rise to the character Lilith. for it is effectual. She writes matter-of-factly about all manner of paranormal events. the founder of the British Society of the Inner Light. after all. appears clearly in her novels. and author of numerous books on the practice of magic and related subjects. who is Moloch. not surprisingly. that is to say. I made the astral projection by the usual method. all awareness of my physical surroundings faded. Fortune’s wealth of direct personal experience in the practice of magic.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. the narrator begins this way: I will tell what I did. putting my cards on the table. which always characterizes the change of the level of consciousness. which is the dark side of the Moon. but Fortune was. It does not matter to me what it is called. In some respects. and in this the prosaic tone of the narrator’s voice itself acts as a kind of counterweight to what the narrator is discussing. Fortune’s novel. In the novel’s seventh chapter. and take refuge in the Secret Kingdom. and this matterof-fact tone of voice has an effect similar to that of the ordinary characters in Lewis’s That Hideous Strength. badly lit and ill-tended room. a shabby. Fortune’s novels are as much like primers on magical practices as they are fiction. and the man in the street calls it illusion or charlatanry according to taste. There is little evidence that Lewis was a practicing magus. Psychologists call it a psychological mechanism. often enough in the first person from the viewpoint of a female character. The magic worked. Then I visualized the face of the man with the greying red hair. the side She turns away from earth. and I seemed to be in a strange room. it is the door by which the sensitive escape into insanity when life is too hard for them. and imagined myself speaking to him. and was startled to find that the character lived on in Fortune’s own imagination after The Sea Priestess was finished. for it shows how we use the Door Without a Key to escape the Lord of This World. The Door Without a Key is the Door of Dreams. as if those characters were somehow joined with Ransom’s voice. like all of her .
and who is in fact of supernatural lineage. but perhaps most interestingly. The Secrets of Dr. Marius. one will recall.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 125 fiction. for I was one with them . After his entry into the Unseen. for. .”85 And so the book concludes. in particular that of Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes. Taverner. Rhodes. was consummately the logician. she is interested in “putting her cards on the table. Among the more interesting of these stories is “A Son of the Night. There is little art in the way she tells of the magical working: if Lewis’s account is closer to poetry than to prose. Taverner gets to the bottom of the case immediately. Fortune’s account here is closer to journalism. a fellow named Fouldes. at the end of the story. Holmes. Rhodes’s initiation into nature magic corresponds in some respects to the natural magic of Merlin in Lewis’s That Hideous Strength: it represents a kind of foundation for other sorts of magic. a bullish young man named Ted Murchison. is concerned with practical magic and phenomena like astral projection. like Taverner. but I shared in their life. . I had passed over into the Unseen. and many others. who represents the voice of the ordinary observer. a collection of stories entitled The Secrets of Dr. Characteristic of this strategy is one of Fortune’s earliest and best-known works.” an expression characteristic of the way she clearly lays out in her fiction to reflect the way her magical practice is experienced. and something of the same flavor comes across in Taverner. the ordinary observer of the magus Taverner. (a kind of Watson to Taverner’s Holmes). Taverner certainly falls under the category of ‘occult fiction.” which is about an English nobleman whose family seeks to have him certified mad in order to take over his estate. a young woman named Ursula . to “enter the Unseen. Taverner is patterned after Holmes.’ but it is in fact just as much in the genre of detective fiction. while the stories are written from the perspective of his companion. Rhodes. As a character. Not only were they alive. with the addition of Taverner’s great experience in magical or occult events.” to pass “an invisible barrier” of consciousness. set loose a magical attack on the protagonists. “for to me they had suddenly become alive. I was no longer alone. based on the life of one Theodore Moriarty. 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. “in all things there was a profound difference.” Rhodes remarks at the story’s conclusion. Such an observation is not meant entirely as criticism.” 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. an unsavory magician named Hugo Astley—with some similarities to Aleister Crowley—and his protegé. but also to point out a means by which Fortune’s novels attract and hold a reader. and here too there are correspondences with what we have seen in That Hideous Strength. Thus Rhodes. But there are other sorts of magical initiations in Fortune’s fiction as well. decides to heed the call of nature that he feels. In Fortune’s novel The Winged Bull.
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. like Astley in The Winged Bull. a bear of a man. of course Lewis’s is far the greater both in literary skill and in significance. pure selfishness. The three protagonists were just about to go to bed when Murchison cocked his head and stared into space over Ursula’s head. broke and starred like a smashed mirror. banked and double-banked. a change came over the atmosphere of the room. there are also depraved black magicians. and in another moment the room was empty . . an experienced magician. but clearly in both depravity is necessary on one side in order that there can be noble transcendence on the other.’ said Brangwyn. The strange. ‘Well. But there was nothing he could do for the other two .’ ‘Yes. Fortune continues: Then Brangwyn also caught it. but then Murchison. ‘so that’s that. represent evil on another scale entirely from that which one usually sees depicted in modern fiction. The girl he could do nothing for. . He was experienced in dealing with such things. ‘If Fouldes and Astley were en rapport at the other end of the telepathic wire. Of the two books. breaking the embarrassing silence. they were getting it in the neck. She had passed out of his reach on the tides of the force as if water had whirled her away. Yet paradoxically.’ replied Murchison.126 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Brangwyn.86 At first it appeared that Murchison and Ursula were to be lost in the force of this magical attack. In That Hideous Strength. suddenly. These characters represent sheer malevolence against humanity. but one can certainly see some parallels between it and Lewis’s That Hideous Strength.’87 The writing here feels a bit more awkward than in some of Fortune’s other novels. became furious and the force of his fury came back over the ‘telepathic wire’ to Fouldes and Astley. ‘That is very much that. . It was best to leave Murchison to his unaided wits. such characters are necessary not only dramatically. and felt the waves of evil influence come rolling in. running in every direction like spilled quicksilver. they are without morality. and the waves divided and swept past him like the tide round a pier. evil power that had been pouring in as steadily as waves beating into a bay. and. and her half-brother. but also logically. .’ Brangwyn concluded. among them men named Frost and Wither. . Then. dropping into a chair as if exhausted. who have developed a means for communication with what they call “Macrobes” (in fact another name for demons). cold and merciless.
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. in this kind of fiction. which represent profoundly divergent ways of relating to the cosmos. a series of magical initiations that begin with something like Rhodes’s entry into the Unseen. But Charles Williams and even C. and finally the Society of the Inner Light. Lewis.89 While the works of these authors are more artistic than Fortune’s. . rising to insight into the metaphysical underpinnings of human life. The initiation serves to regenerate our consciousness. powers both good and evil. also reflect at least some initiatory knowledge in their writings.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. and Fortune. S.” Antoine Faivre discusses the nature of initiation. but that also go beyond seeing into nature.85 In the works of Fortune we are unquestionably seeing the reflection of her own extensive experience in magical initiation. There is. they also carry the reader along on an initiatory course. whose novels without any question reflect the fact that she was herself the founder of an initiatory order. helped by appropriate texts. Taverner. . This provides the profound tension that drives these works and that creates the ‘space’ within which the magical workings take place. while more circumspect about their own knowledge and at least in Williams’s case. 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. he is in fact being initiated into the existence of forces invisible to the vast majority of people. he has to access a knowing—or a form of nonknowing— transmittable by the word. either alone. to living Nature (theosophy lato sensu). When the reader enters into the magical fiction of Lewis. In “Approaches to Western Esoteric Currents. experience of magic. at the end of The Secrets of Dr.90 . Williams. initially called the Christian Mystic Lodge of the Theosophical Society. and thanks to that. but later called the Community of the Inner Light. which hide the mysteries while revealing their keys. In all of the fiction we are considering here. to advance in the knowledge of the connections uniting the disciple to higher entities (theosophy strictu sensu) and to cosmic forces. thanks to a process that lets us reappropriate the knowing we have lost . who can be an isolated master or a member of an initiatory school. The phrase magical initiation is perhaps most suitable here for the works of Fortune. thanks to which we refashion the experience of our relationships to the sacred and the universe. Faivre writes that We follow this path by committing ourselves to it. and in particular how the individual on an esoteric path follows a process of awakening. Whether or not a disciple has a master. or with the help of an initatory.
Such a tension corresponds. active imagination is essential.”92 This special kind of imagination allows one to “escape both from the sterility of a purely discursive logic. Williams. we have seen that magical fiction in general represents to the reader a series of stages or grades. we have seen that often central to this magical initiation is a kind of magical battle between evil and good magicians. .” and thus to written works like novels. thoroughly real. a mesocosm possessing its own geography. Indeed. 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. as one reads a novel like Dion Fortune’s The Sea Priestess. Second. or such as Isis in Fortune’s The Sea Priestess.”93 Faivre’s observations here are particularly important because they help us to understand in a different light what Lewis. since in the fiction we have been discussing. from this brief foray into the realm of magical fiction? First. and a realm in which one may encounter and work with nonphysical beings and powers.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.” What conclusions can we draw.” putting us in contact with the mundus imaginalis or imaginal world that “is the space of intermediary beings. in literary form. initiating readers into “the space of intermediary beings. if we may so put it. For magical fiction is in fact remarkably suited to. for instance) to initiation into encounters with transcendent beings the Oyéresu in Lewis’s That Hideous Strength. and Fortune were up to in their fictional works. initiation into living Nature tends to precede initiation into the powers of higher entities. Third. to the age-old relationship between the initiate and the initiator. he calls ‘active imagination’ “the essential component of esotericism. But this passage as a whole clearly can be read as referring to initiation “transmittable by the word. moving from initiation into elemental or natural magic (represented by Lewis’s character Merlin. perceptible to each of us as a function of our respective cultural imagery. a mesocosm possessing its own geography. which manifests a deeper conflict between destructive and constructive powers in the cosmos as a whole. 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. In fact. even though the ultimate source of the reader’s magical initiation in fiction is the author.91 Faivre goes on to remark that to succeed in this process of regeneration or initiatic awakening. we have seen that central to this initiatory passage is a tension between matter-of-fact or ‘ordinary’ characters and those experienced in magical work. then. and from the rule-free extravagances of fantasy or sentimentality. Finally. ‘behind the scenes’ of the drama of ordinary human life.
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. this is not the only means of esoteric transmission in twentieth-century works. While Fortune was certainly a practicing magician. and that like his contemporary poet. Collins revealed in his work insights into the hidden. there remain fundamental differences. in the sense of Rilke. Theosophic illustrations in particular. which is why I have chosen to study them together. and his writings reveal in detail his . represent a visual form separate from and complementing the texts they accompany. It is in Lewis’s That Hideous Strength that the reader can perhaps most powerfully encounter the transmuting power of artistic beauty expressing ritual magic that. angelic realm. One felt as though one were in some sense being initiated into a way of seeing. Something of the same relationship between word and image exists in the works of Cecil Collins (1908–1989). but with the publication of this book.. This was an exhibition that I was fortunate enough to attend. E. where images accompany the written word and yet represent a separate set of works on their own. but the most magical works of all may well be found in literary art. and I recall the otherworldliness of the images. but also in Böhmean theosophy. Thus. held in London’s Tate Gallery. As we have already seen. Collins was a gifted aphorist. not merely viewing paintings but through them being shown new ways of understanding humanity and the transcendent. Collins’s paintings were exhibited in a major retrospective in 1989. if I may be permitted a single conclusion. the sense that the artist belonged to the same tradition as A. images played an important role not only in alchemical works and later in Rosicrucianism. higher aspects of nature and humanity. one could understand much more clearly the nature of Collins’s paintings. indirectly or directly. such as those accompanying the original German and English editions of Böhme’s complete works. is linked to the world in which we live and that offers us profound insights into the cosmos and into humanity. Collins is best known as an artist whose works manifest an ethereal. 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. her novels have a workmanlike quality: they do depict magical rituals and do offer insights into the nature of magic. an important and genuinely original British painter. 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. and were engaged at least to some degree in similar enterprises. it is this: there is undoubtedly art in magic. transcendent and perhaps. visionary style that may best be described as glimpses into another. Esoteric Transmission in the Art of Cecil Collins Although this book is primarily about literary transmission. Still.
1945. with the white compassionate temples of the clouds floating in wise happiness and detached love. The coldness of the vanity of the intellect on one side. and the task of the artist is to remind us of this. Devonshire]94 He writes beautifully also of his life in nature. Denies the artist.” Ordinary life in the natural world. By reading Collins’s aphorisms. the human being. [14 January. of how “The tasting of these things in our days and nights is the partaking of the sacrament of existence. I long for my kingdom.’ must make intellectual connections individually.” consisting in excerpts from Collins’s journals during the Second World War. the aphorism by its nature stands on its own surrounded by the white space of the page. on the other his works are infused with profound criticisms of the “insect-life” of modern industrial society. A frustration of all that which is growing. Our time denies.95 In 1965. The aphorism is in many respects the most poetic form of prose. of all that which desires to give. and most holy are you O beautiful servants. It is this official denial of life that confronts us in everything. I long for my race. denies all who have inward fruit. I know of your existence. But here I wander. to come to fruition. he writes: O holy ones I long for you. But deep underneath flows the secret stream. is imbued always with spiritual significance. Totnes. for Collins. when in fact it is quite clear that we are ruled today by the elite of scientific technocrats and politicians . But you exist. the contemplative. and this from a comparatively early period in his work. so that the reader has a greater task than in prose works.” 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.” or again.130 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E worldview. of his solitary walks in the countryside. we are all exiles. even as they transmit that worldview to the reader. I remember you. 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. If Collins loved solitude and nature on the one hand. In “Hymn of Life. and cheap vulgarity of attitude towards life on the other side. for he must ‘leap the gaps. and I know nothing. to show us the hieroedietic beauty of life through art. A winter of the spirit is over all society. Collins gave a public lecture titled “The Artist in the New Age. one is placed in contact with another reality through them. and my life with you. of “The long eternal afternoons robed in blue.
how apt his descriptions still are of the moribund vacuity characterizing so much of modern life. “How” knowledge refers to mere process and manipulation of apparently dead objects. the instrument of art helps to sensitise the interior nature and to continually re-sensitise it when it grows stale and dull in the world of mere existence—the world of repetition. and the making of money. The higher worlds are inaccessible to the insensitive.” “How” knowledge is merely instrumental. The value of the artist is not to decorate. awaken this inner rapport in us. . and sensitivity to the vibrations and rays of that livingness which is at the heart of things. Collins calls us out of this stupor of the insectoid hive-life in industrial society through his art. 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.] 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. It can only be known by inner nuance. This is the same thing actually. whereas a great deal of ‘why’ knowledge is known only through nuance of consciousness. in Collins’s view. they have no philosophy of life other than the exploitation of nature and of man. whereas “‘why’ knowledge is concerned with the significance of things. rapport. but only by rapport with those worlds.96 It is remarkable how timely Collins’s critique of industrial society has remained.97 Works of art. by description. and central to our awakening is a change in 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[. the meaning. and thus ultimately nothing less than a transformation of our consciousness. to make pretty that “empty and mechanical desert we call modern civilization. they cannot be reached by knowledge of them. by measurement or analysis. They represent a low level of awareness and consciousness. .” but to offer what Collins calls “rapport” with the transcendent. In his essay “Art and Modern Man. For like answers to like and creates actualization . another way of expressing what he calls “why” knowledge. .” Collins distinguishes between “how” knowledge and “why” knowledge. they offer avenues into direct inner spiritual realization.
But we have to learn how to concentrate on the sacramental without the use of this ‘closed’ formality. But there is something else that has to be opened. religious. canonic language. and what is more. the answer comes back to us from within them. the opening of man’s inner nature. we have no canonic culture of our own. it becomes qualitative.98 The work of art. a mere turning of the wheel of existence. we have communion with it[. in a “time of the apocalypse.] we have a deeper rapport with the earth. Art enables us to experience what the French poet René Char calls ‘the friendship of created things. rocks. Collins sees this artistic transmission as taking the place of older. it is a means of initiation and spiritual transmission. ‘Everything that lives is holy. canonical religions and ritual. Collins concludes his lecture by reaffirming the initiatory nature of art. it is also a means by which human consciousness is awakened.’ In other words. We live. and that is the eye of the heart. .] it is consecrated and is now sacramental. And this brings us to the big problem Within this new open consciousness we need to recover a sacramental sense. that the canonic cultures of the past are decaying and dying. Creative art has always been concerned to touch and open the eye of the heart. trees.” 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. In the past. Collins holds that “a new period of art will come not through this decaying. . in Collins’s view. he writes. in the great canonic formality of traditional civilizations there was of necessity a ‘closed’ consciousness in order to focus upon the sacred . his inner world. and the word ‘apocalypse’ means to unveil. the elements. the unveiling of the atom. in Collins’s view. living art is initiation into the realization that all is holy and that our true relationship to nature and to one another is sacramental.” In his final remarks. We are all apt to fall asleep. with the transformation of consciousness our experience of matter undergoes a change.99 This awakening of the sense of the sacramental is the task of art. He writes in “The Artist in the New Age” that in the modern era. widened.’ if only the doors of perception would be cleansed. spiritu- . and transmuted. but through a lyrical contact with the archetypal world. We must have sacrament everywhere: as Blake says. he writes that This is the time of unveiling.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[. is thus more than a portal into the transcendent. of mere desires. If the eye of the heart is closed then the whole of the universe is dead.
Many of these images have a strange.” it is as though the black-and-white world of industrial civilization is being transformed before our eyes into the paradisal realm suggested by the awakening colors in its landscape. Collins’s paintings reflect an uncanny unity from the earliest to the last. hieratic quality. her hand outstretched over the land in benediction. a rapport with something that we cannot quite articulate. and vibrant color. in its hand a staff topped by an orb. Here. landscape is transformed as well. “The Invocation” reveals a paradisal relationship between the invoking angelic human figure. In all of them the human form and/or landscape is present but stylized. and the eye of the heart is opened by these two artists. as in many of his visionary paintings.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 133 ally. In many of his later paintings. it refers to the inner visionary spiritual capacity of the individual. around them a halo of golden-yellow light. by patterns on the limbs and torso. Here the landscape below seems to be swelling up and rising with energy like an ocean swell. or to show to us how interwoven is our own consciousness with that which he is revealing through the paintings. as if to reflect Collins’s own opened sense of inner vision interconnected with the exterior world. To gaze at this painting is to . The figure looks out with a far-off gaze. too. their faces closed in rapt contemplation as they seem but a moment from ascending. and the other with the light. reminding us of the innate spiritual awareness that we can awaken if we wish to do so. make it bleed. like “Angels” (1948). Human forms are elongated and have a geometric quality that’s intensified in some. 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. landscape. the one with the sword. Here the entire image is awash in golden light. Such paintings are mysterious in their capacity to evoke in us a sense. such as “The Invocation” (1944). and in this it captures (in 1944!) precisely the sacramental relationship with nature that Collins discussed in his lectures so many years later. an active support. in “The Invocation. not afraid to wound the heart. a union of figure. Collins’s paintings are ecstatic. but that is uplifting and paradisal. her head bent back and contemplative. to the left the sweeping forms of two intertwined angels whose colors partake of the earth’s brown and of white. to the left the orb of the sun. the figures’ eyes are opened. Often. and here it seems an appropriate way for Collins to conclude. 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. dreamlike. its features smooth and surrounded by a mane of hair. revealed as clearly as anywhere in “The Music of Dawn” (1988). that we may share each other’s creative response to life.100 The phrase “eye of the heart” is found in Christian theosophy. while above it sweep golden spirals and a red sun.
chair. D. implicit in the works of all three of our main authors and artists here—Milosz. of kinds of consciousness that transcend the subject-object divisions characteristic of modernity. Indeed. .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. and indeed.’ sacred images. or altar. his drawings. but also essays. that like Milosz. instruments for transmitting a reality higher than ourselves. But Collins offers these through visual images. by which we make contact with reality through images . I offer these paintings as indicative of Collins’s extraordinary ability to reveal through the image something that transcends image. And it is also clear. and it is the archetypal that we see in the hieratic figures and landscapes of his paintings. like an electrical transformer. from his writing on a “new age” of the spirit. is so powerful that we cannot look on it and live—therefore we need a buffer. to achieve precisely what he wrote about so eloquently. and Collins—is this sense of a future audience. Here. If this participation in reality through images is brought down into our environment. one that partakes as much of humanity’s Edenic past as of its potentially paradisal future.. but central. In this respect. he is like very few other painters. we then have ‘sacred space. they are nothing less than (to cite Collins on the nature of symbols) “transmissions of the nature of reality. and poems that illuminate his paintings. of their work as a transmission through a confused and destructive era into a paradisal future. In all of these works. Lost paradise and . he offers through his paintings. aphorisms. dawn of a more spiritual humanity gazing on mysteries with serene contemplation.. so that God becomes a table. not least because his work includes not only images. as in the works of Milosz and H. we see intimations of a future paradisal existence. he saw himself addressing a future audience that would be receptive to primordial ways of seeing humanity and nature. in Collins’s view. . Collins also wrote about the critical importance of awakening to an awareness of the archetypal. Pages from a Sketchbook (1997). an esoteric transmission of new ways of seeing humanity and the world is not merely decorative. even if in writing he offers the context for viewing and understanding those images. Collins wrote in this book. Poems.” Cecil Collins represents the archetypal figure of the twentieth-century esoteric artist. and his written work the clear sense that his work represents portals into other dimensions of consciousness beyond the merely quotidian. D. Divine Reality. H. Meditations. a world between us and it. This buffer world is called the archetypal world. in the works of Lewis and Williams as well.101 The living work of art is a reminder and a means of exactly this transmission. to take the impact and transform it to our dimension. In another book.
But the term literary here refers to an interdisciplinary nexus. science. the work of Meister Eckhart or of Johannes Tauler. Yet when we penetrate entirely through the via positiva. Strictly speaking. we can characterize it as falling into two general categories that go back at least to Dionysius the Areopagite: the via positiva. literature (in which we include images and numbers) is generally conceived as a means of transmuting consciousness. or way of negation. Here ‘literature’ takes on new meanings. as a means of transmitting knowledge. rather than to the ascent to absolute transcendence of all forms that we find in. what we find is in fact the via negativa. And most of the Western esoteric traditions correspond to the via positiva. For in our overview of Western esotericism. are in fact essentially gnostic: that is. and the via negativa. for instance. and now it is time for us to consider the broader implications of Western esoteric traditions in relation to consciousness. despite the dazzling wealth of diversity in its means of expression. and are meant to lead their reader toward those experiences. made visible in the mysterious archetypal images of Collins. as Dionysius himself points out. And it is on this paradox that we must concentrate in addressing the relationships of Western esotericism to consciousness. Thus our third point: that . there have emerged common characteristics on which we may be able to shed some light by summarizing them and considering them as a whole. these two ways are in fact ultimately one in that they both lead to the same transcendence. THE WESTERN ESOTERIC TRADITIONS AND CONSCIOUSNESS When we consider Western esotericism in its full range. But this we have already done in our historical overview of Western esoteric currents. but nonetheless in practice these two ways do differ. It is. for in Western esotericism it is generally regarded as a vehicle. they are charged with visionary or spiritual experiences. or way of affirmation. of course. and the arts in written form.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 135 the restoration of paradise. the way of images and forms and transformations. and it is undoubtedly better to consider individual traditions. and awakening gnosis. we may say that Western esotericism is fundamentally literary in expression. particularly that of alphanumeric gnosis. This brings us to our second point: that in Western esotericism. somewhat too general to speak in the abstract about Western esotericism as a whole. but rather. First. these are the themes of these great artists. The words and images of Western esoteric traditions are by no means diversions. although they may contain an element of play. sheer transcendence of all subject-object divisions. or mere entertainment. to the conjunction of spirituality. the hidden themes perhaps of our entire era.
the divine. are founded in a totally different way of seeing the individual in relation to the cosmos. And Western esoteric literature.’ we can discern two general levels: there is the archetypal realm of Forms. All of these disciplines are expressions of the same general theory of ‘objective. that transcends and links both humanity and the cosmos. Here is the essential division between a modern. between humanity and the cosmos.’ Hence we find the basis of all the various disciplines: biology. Western esoteric traditions. and implicit in them all is that there is an ‘I’ that is separate from and learns about the cosmos. be it Rosicrucian or alchemical. Within this fundamentally different way of understanding nature and humanity is also a profoundly different way of understanding literature and art. Ideas. history. an explicit goal of such modern poets as Milosz and H. and so on. schooled as we are in the division between subject and object. works only by reference to this third element. This other view is particularly acute in alchemy. But in Western esoteric traditions. Western esoteric traditions—and this is true of all of them—are founded on the existence of this mysterious. For the correspondence between humanity and the cosmos can take place only by means of a third: the divine. Rather. whose fundamental nature is to join together self and other. where alchemical work consists in the transmutation of both self and other at once.’ the divine. ‘third element. or Symbols. but to understand why this is so requires some further explanation. The alchemist works with natural substances—for example. sometimes called by Böhme the . geology. All of these aspects of Western esoteric literature may seem foreign to contemporary eyes. Under this broad rubric of ‘the divine.’ quantifiable knowledge. or minerals—but that work is not merely manipulating chemicals or substances. but never overcomes and rarely is even aware of this great gulf between self and other. and there is sheer transcendence. sociology. on the other hand. chemistry. hidden. theosophic or Kabbalistic or magical. the cosmos. which often enough becomes humanity pitted against the cosmos. In a modern worldview. materialist worldview and what we find in Western esotericism. psychology. in achieving what one might call as well a restoration of paradise or a golden age—as we have already seen. and the divine. there is only the division between self and other.’ and that knowledge consists in learning about the various divisions or aspects of the ‘I’ and of ‘the other. D. alchemical work is based on a fundamental correspondence between self and other. In modern education. one finds the ternary predominating: humanity. Alchemical work consists in raising up or redeeming both humanity and nature. between the human and natural realms. plant extracts. gathers means of technical power over the cosmos. we are taught from childhood that ‘I’ am separate from ‘the other. gnostic experience is the crown and purpose of human life.136 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E in the Western esoteric traditions.
a mythologist. meaning by that not absence. Rosicrucianism. theosophy. first. and by others the Nothing. which in turn is meant to guide or awaken the reader to its archetypal or symbolic reality. and in this externalization was the separation or fall from paradise into the increasing objectivization of history. This archetypal realm. These two aspects of the divine—but especially the lower. the “Vision” of William Butler Yeats. cosmology. must see into the archetypal realm that is above the limitations of time and space. in this worldview.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 137 Ungrund. in order to create. The aim of the esoteric . what transpired before history goes something like this: Primordial humanity. suffused by their deep study of Western esoteric traditions. The artist. In all of these traditions. For the purpose of such literature is. archetypal realm—are critical to understanding Western esoteric literature. to awaken the reader’s consciousness of this archetypal realm. and literary expression. symbolic realm of images contacted by the imagination from which in turn appears the panoply of the arts. Underlying all of these Western esoteric traditions is also a universalism in the myth of the fall and of restoration. an artist. this latent memory of higher consciousness waiting to be awakened. biology. and his fall from paradise. is the origin of both nature and humanity—and of art. the absolute unity of subject and object. and so there is in all true art a timeless and universal quality. Milosz calls this awakening power “Memoria” and insists that it is the essence of our consciousness. a theologian. but nothing. The eighteenth-century alchemist is often at once a poet and a historian. Hence we may view the “Prophecies” of William Blake. alchemy. There is in the universalist aims of these poets a definite indebtedness to the inherent universalism of Western esoteric traditions. a biologist and geologist and a priestly hierophant. in turn created clearly prophetic works meant to foretell a future that they also invoked. That is: whether we look at Kabbalah. In brief. and in returning has written or illustrated a work. and a chemist. is in fact prophetic. what we find in fact is not limited to the sphere of religion alone. was tempted to look outside itself for knowledge. but instead ranges freely across all of what we today call separate disciplines or fields. often seen as androgynous. Thus the artist. This myth—although it appears in numerous variants—is always tied to the Ur-Mensch. perhaps denoted by some ancient Gnostics under the term Pleroma. or Fullness. and the poetic prophecies of Oscar Milosz in perhaps a different way. by definition a ‘seer. for all three of these poets. the Platonic realm of Forms or Ideas. we find a divine art and a divine science. a divine mathematics.’ who partakes in a particular kind of hieroeidetic knowledge. One cannot separate any of these roles because they are all intimately bound up with the enormous range covered by the rubric alchemist. or any of the other major esoteric currents. For this sphere of archetypes is the infinite hieratic. Adam. The author has presumably already journeyed to this realm.
138 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E practitioner. but instead a further means for our separation from and objectification of the world. magical. and this view is found throughout other Western esoteric traditions. and notarikon. almost always denoting divinity. often with Hebrew as the celestial language of choice. These in turn are related to Hebrew letters. and within every living thing is its transcendent or archetypal signature or word. in the Russian symbolist poetry and prose near the beginning of the twentieth century. theosophic. contains some secret of wisdom. where it arguably sparked the entire . but as humanity fell away from it in the long descent that is human history. In this perspective. or a pansoph. the entire cosmos represents a kind of celestial writing.’”102 Likewise.”103 And we find this insistence on the importance of magical language in many unexpected places—for instance. The myth of a primordial humanity entails a primordial language. . a theosopher. and indeed as Yeats pointed out. . the poet Robert Southey observed that London Swedenborgians prized a “Celestial Alphabet” “in which every letter signifies a complete thing . is nothing less than the restoration of paradise.’ not the means of celestial union with all that surrounds us. the language of creation itself. and of intricate maneuvers with letters and numbers in gematria. which is to say. which show that he had learned the unfamiliar way of writing then known to some occult students as the ‘Celestial Alphabet. one finds Hebrew letters inscribed in alchemical. We see this idea of a celestial or universal language appearing in various forms throughout Western esotericism. temurah. Hence. even from a single letter. drawing a virtually infinite range of connotations from a single verse. whether a Kabbalist. William Blake in some of his illustrations used “Hebrew characters on some of his designs. Underlying these alphanumeric permutations is the understanding that in fact one is working with the very language of creation. for instance. pansophic. in a group of London Rosicrucians associated with Francis Barrett (1765–1825). A typical manifestation of this tradition is found around the turn of the nineteenth century. and Masonic illustrations. Rosicrucian. the restoration of unity between humanity and nature by way of the divine. Primordial humanity knows this celestial language. and every flexure and curvature of every letter. author of The Magus. But it is certain that Barrett proposed a “magical alphabet” closely resembling the “Mason’s marks” or Masonic hieroglyphs. 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. an alchemist. language too became externalized and ‘hardened’ outside us into mutually incomprehensible ‘tongues. Jewish Kabbalah of course maintains a long tradition of Hebrew exegesis. 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.
’ and this is not necessarily so. which they conceptualized as the time when human beings spoke a language in which the signifier and the signified existed in complete organic unity. following the various currents through Kabbalism. when surveying the various esoteric currents. The book may be the cryptic “Liber M” of the Rosicrucians. Sacerdotal or magical language provided a model for the new language each of these movements was striving to create. theosophy. and especially of written language and of the book. and Masonry. we cannot here pursue further this fascinating theme of how magical views of language pervaded Russian and even early Soviet literature. and that these are consistently linked with an alphanumeric mysticism of language. consequently.” or the “Book of Life”. .M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 139 symbolist movement and. . certainly it may be the Christian . influenced much of modern Russian literature.” Irina Gutkin summarizes this argument as follows: However diverse Russian modernists’ language theories and related visions of the future may have been. But only to trace influences assumes that everything in Western esotericism can be attributed to questions of ‘influence. 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. generally speaking . It is theoretically possible to trace these ideas of a celestial alphabet throughout Western history. In her article “The Magic of Words: Symbolism. Some of this work we have already done earlier in this discussion. it is to suggest that there are governing images and currents of Western esotericism. Futurism. seeing where they emerge also into the world of letters or poetry. 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. of which these various currents are particular manifestations filtered through the conditions of an era and religious tradition. in that their theories implied restoration of the world’s original Edenic state.104 Obviously. a synthetic magical language of unprecedented epistemological power whose ultimate function was to serve as a means of conjuring new life in the future world. This is in fact precisely the argument of several contemporary scholars of Russian literature. Social Realism. For it well may be that there is a general paradigm recurring thoughout the various currents of Western esotericism. magic. it may be the “Book of Nature. They shared a utopian dream of a new perfectly ‘transparent’ language.” or the “Book of Revelation. This is not to say that there is a universal esotericism—for here we are not venturing beyond fundamentally European traditions—but rather.
rely upon the written word not only as a focus for oral communication or transmission. where it is traditionally said that one must be initiated by an alchemist in order to work the magistery.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. This would certainly explain why figures like Meister Eckhart or Johannes Tauler did not found initiatory lineages of disciples. Certainly there were such nascent initiatory lineages early in the Christian era among gnostic circles. it is rather difficult to find any cases of such initiatory lineages even within the broad sphere of Western esotericism. for instance. there are virtually no available records on any such actual initiatory lines in Western European literature. and Christianity—have a specific reverence for the sacred book. or in Buddhism. but rather relied upon the written word. other than occasional fragmentary lists and the perfunctory listing of such figures as Plato. Hermes. gurus. 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. But perhaps there is a solution to this general absence of initiatory lineages. and indeed even farther back. Islam. interrupted. It is true that many of the world’s religious traditions include sacred writings. Such initiatory continuity is found also in Islam with Sufism. In Hinduism or Buddhism. where initiatory lineages seem largely broken. and it may also be the visionary Mysterium Magnum of Jacob Böhme or an alchemical manuscript. Given our overview. and so on back into antiquity. or masters. regard the book itself as a primary means of transmitting the tradition. and Geber. 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. much less in Christianity specifically. but it is a peculiar fact that the three major monotheist traditions— Judaism. which indeed still finds them audiences today. or nonexistent. but it is quite another for the writing itself to become so primary as the sacred writings of the three monotheistic traditions. Indeed. Even in the case of alchemy. the traditions are largely continued by means of initiatory lineages of teachers. it seems entirely possible that Christianity and Western esoteric traditions more generally. Thus we are left with the enigma of Western esotericism. where the tradition . who were in turn taught by a spiritual master. and what is more. but also as a primary means of spiritual transmission. It certainly fits well with Kabbalistic mysticism. and in Judaism with Kabbalah. 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 there is no evidence that any of these continued even into the medieval period. But in all cases the mode of transmission is in some sense a book. However.
’ or ‘data’. and his method of “writing the names” until one enters ecstasy. to some future initiate in a far century. 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. In modern parlance. but also on writing as an actual means of spiritual illumination. are not simply decorations. One thinks here. have been adorned with copious illustrations. Such a view of the written word is. who. it assumes that writing has a sacred origin and purpose. for it above all has what we may call a ‘vertical’ aspect. Let us take another example. hieratic. then it is indeed possible for the written word to serve this function. I believe. of course. naturally. of Abraham Abulafia. Somehow. often strikingly beautiful. the divine is seen to inhere in language generally. to write in all of these traditions means something quite different. And one recalls the Rosicrucians.’ a means of conveying ‘information. particularly the works of Böhme. Such evocation is. Is it possible for writing alone to serve as means of initiation? Naturally. when we look at the writing of Milosz. and in particular at its strange. for example the famous ones accompanying Gichtel’s well-known edition of Böhme’s works. writing is essentially a ‘collection of signs. But if the word initiation is taken to refer to an awakening of higher degrees of consciousness. By contrast. but also because he quite clearly saw himself as an illuminant who by writing was also transmitting this illumination into the future. whether it be in Kabbalah or alchemy or theosophy. Thus we can conclude that the writing itself is meant to have an initiatory function. That is to say. Milosz. We see exactly such a view in the figure of O. Milosz’s future reader would have to become Milosz’s initiated successor by way of Milosz’s writing alone. it seems obvious that the poetry is intended not only to describe but also to evoke the kinds of consciousness it represents.” had no prospect of actually meeting or initiating him directly—his poetry and prose had to serve that function. rather far indeed from most contemporary perspectives. Christian theosophic literature. for in all cases. If by this word one is referring to some kind of ceremony or ritual involving a group of people. but .M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 141 focuses a great deal not only on mystical exegesis. may think of his poetry. is unquestionably an exemplary figure not least because he consciously represented in his work virtually the entire range of Western esoteric traditions. These illustrations. in addressing this far-off “son. then of course writing could not be initiatory in itself. the writing of someone who has actually realized the tradition’s aim of spiritual illumination. Indeed. who never revealed themselves publicly at all. whatever one . dreamlike language and imagery. and insists that the word can only mean direct contact between two living people. initiatory. and specifically in revealed or illuminated writing. but who rather offered the world only written works. the answer to this question depends upon what one means by initiation. it is a means of horizontal communication between two discrete people. V Milosz.
marked also “Sophia. in other words. Bromley’s narrated overview of the theosophic spiritual journey. clearly understandable form the nature of theosophy as a growth in consciousness from the constraints of darkness and wrath or separation. grow. that is. theosophic. In my view. so there is no need here to repeat myself. of spiritual growth and illumination in the figure of a growing plant. It is at once a natural and a spiritual image.105 This illustration shows the theosophic three principles or three realms. Such an illustration. and the intermediate realm of nature between them. I use the term ahistorical continuity. and conveys in a single organic form the outlines of theosophic illumination. for instance. A good example of an initiatory illustration is one accompanying Thomas Bromley’s book The Way to the Sabbath of Rest. pansophic. ancient Gnosticism as such ceased to exist by the early medieval period. and Rosicrucian esoteric currents (to name only the most obvious) is to emphasize and amplify the hieratic nature of these traditions. it is more immediate and visceral. represented by a cross. reaping. and over time those seeds can take root. one is in effect partaking in and absorbing what it represents. Taken together. the words and images can evoke in the reader the seeds of the experiences visible through the work. For instance. I have discussed this theosophic iconography at length in my book Wisdom’s Children. In the midst of the dark-world we see a seed whose green stem grows upward through the spatio-temporal cosmos.106 To explain this phenomenon. it can better do so if it reveals its subject in words and images both. Obviously. Such an illustration is not merely allegorical. the illustration is a condensed image of the theosophic path. and becomes a seedhead in the light-world above. tending. certainly by the seventh century—yet one finds striking parallels in seventeenth-century Christian theosophy without any historical link. but expresses how a book can indeed serve as an initiatic medium irrespective of whether there is any historical contact between author and reader. meaning that some image in it ‘equals’ some moral quality. This visual absorption is of a different kind from that of reading the accompanying text. into the serenity and illumination of transcendence. does have an initiatic function—that is. through the turbulence of earthly life. If a book is to serve an initiatic function. the book becomes hieroglyphic—it is not merely an abstract discussion about some topic. the prevalence of accompanying illustrations in alchemical.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. In this way. But we can take a single such illustration here and demonstrate how it can function in an initiatory way. and sowing again—is not merely a literary figure. the Western esoteric traditions are often discontinuous historically. by gazing at such an image. it actually reveals (hiera-) the nature of its subject. This metaphor—of sowing. which refers to .” or Wisdom. the dark-world of hell. it represents for the neophyte reader in simple. What is more. Rather. and flower in the reader too. the lightworld of paradise.
and are in earnest. Perhaps. I am not using the word initiation to refer to rites. Thus. This is not to say that Böhme’s works necessarily in themselves inspire visionary insight. Here. . or a biology textbook. it is possible for reading and rereading a given work to effect lasting changes in that reader’s consciousness. But for the reader who is in sympathy with a particular esoteric perspective.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. There can be no doubt that Böhme regarded his books as spiritually charged. it exists as a nascent possibility within the tradition and even if it is eliminated by force or attrition in one historical period. so that they do not ignite the wrath of God in your soul. the written word itself can have an initiatory function. the daily news. Let us take an example from the works of Jacob Böhme. as I am suggesting. But perhaps those countless people influenced by Böhme’s writing did or do not read it in the way that we read. and as the entry of one’s consciousness into a larger current. leave untouched the precious Names of God . If. without doubt one of the most influential authors in the Western esoteric traditions. you truly will know its worth. instead. it can reëmerge in another. and who have a desire to begin. . and so the reader too becomes a kind of channel or conduit. if you wish to use this little book aright. one might even say impossible. Such a reader joins with the author. but they may well change a reader’s consciousness in profound ways and even in some respects prepare one for such inward vision. since we are essentially discussing the individual reader encountering a particular esoteric book. Böhme himself frequently warned his readers not to read his works unless they were attuned to them. They will experience both the words that are in it and the source that . and in fact many of his works feature dire warnings to those who approach Böhme’s writings in the wrong fashion. After all.’ 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. the word initiation is being used in several ways—as meaning a beginning on the spiritual path. Naturally. But I must warn you that if you are not in earnest. This little book belongs only to those who eagerly wish to repent. this function must be a change in consciousness. Böhme’s works require a kind of ‘steeping. who in turn is in touch with an archetypal or primary stream within a given esoteric tradition. 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. as in this example from his book Christosophia (1624): “God-loving reader. although there may be an initiatory lineage in a given Western esoteric tradition. Such a paradigm can be reawakened. forging a link to others with similar esoteric aspirations. for one is not to misuse God’s holy Names. To read Böhme’s works and attempt to categorize or analyze them logically is notoriously difficult. for example.
on the other hand his writing is addressed to those who “have a desire to begin. it walks in its own delusion. In Christosophia he writes that “as soon as the soul eats of self and lives in reason’s light. which it sees as divine. is only the external constellation that intoxicates it as soon as it grasps at it. a prayer for the evening. it cannot become authentically a part of one’s direct awareness. But the word awareness does not entail a subject-object duality. not by merely mouthing the words. to become a channel for the divine current. Böhme insists that the reader must overcome this self-other division.” or objectified realm. and for when one rises. So long as the divine remains objectified outside oneself. but. When one is caught in the self-other or subject-object division. 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.” for they will experience not only the words he has written.144 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E gave rise to them. and in fact much of what we term divine is in fact nothing more than a projection. he tells us. that it encourages one to begin the spiritual path. we should leave unsaid the words in the prayers he gives us. a prayer for washing and dressing. a prayer for noon. and experience the divine directly.”107 Or again. This passage is particularly useful for us because it neatly encapsulates the shift in consciousness toward which Böhme is guiding his reader.108 Clearly this work is initiatic in at least two ways: first. Then that thing. so that consciousness shifts to awareness. or they will be the “judgement of God in you.”109 The individual soul must ceaselessly sink down into the divine Nothing.” Böhme tells us that if we are not in earnest on our way to the new birth. and become not its own possession. but the “instrument of God.”110 And only if it does this will the soul awaken into its divine inheritance and true purpose. . Hence Böhme includes in Christosophia prayers for one’s entire daily life—a prayer for when one awakens on Monday morning. Then it walks in error until it again gives itself completely into resignation.” If on the one hand. Böhme’s works require stern admonitions to those who might not approach them properly. and a prayer before sleep. and whatever one perceives as divine is in fact tainted by this constant separation. one automatically is caught in delusion.” “Be rightly warned. or has knowledge-of. so that even what is apparently divine is in truth merely another facet of the “outward constellation. a prayer for one’s daily work. The word consciousness implies always a duality—one is con-scious. that it encourages a change in consciousness that permeates one’s whole life. judgemental consciousness. but by internalizing and becoming what one reads. and second. in his “Warning to the Reader. and so on for the entire week. this objectifying delusion.” It must remain “in resigned humility just as a fountain depends on its source. Here Böhme is plainly saying that his writing is charged and has initiatory power— one can move through his work toward the divine. the source from which they emerge.
but of the cosmos itself. we have the point of origin. and these in turn give birth to the qualities or archetypes inherent in the entire cosmos. But we have reached the center of the theosophic tradition. conversely. This transcendent point gives birth to duality.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. Above. 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. intermediate between nature below and the divine above. love and wrath. and might from this point recapitulate by way of a diagram a schematic overview of how language may be understood in this context. of course. Here we are. although there are divisions between archetypes. Thus language belongs also to the intermediate human realm. for it is only humanity that can mediate between sky and earth. as we have seen. just as. the self in one sense continues to exist. From these archetypes then emerge the natural and human realms. or divided from the divine. and it is at this point that paradox and enigmatic expression become necessary. or perceiver and what is perceived. For language is in its innermost nature divine. Divine Unity—the No-thing * Duality: The Yes and the No. the yes and the no. divine in its origin. If humanity and the cosmos itself are fallen. There emerges a spacious or open quality. and at its most sublime when it expresses or manifests this transcendent divinity. in the archetypal realm there is . there is no sense of separation between self and other. or the divine eye that sees itself. or subject and object. in that there remains an observer. where they are incarnated or manifested in the everchanging panoply of history. in other words. but the observer in another sense is no longer separate from the divine that is observed. where. the light and the dark. Indeed. In other words. then language must reflect this division. Love and Wrath ** The Archetypal Realm of the Imagination: Divine Language *** The Manifested or Elemental World **** Language belongs above all to the archetypal realm. in Western esotericism generally. at the far limit of what we can express in language. language is said to inhere in the entire cosmos. the origin not only of language. This divine self-awareness Böhme sometimes alludes to as the divine eye turned inward. between the divine and the natural. a path beyond this separation and suffering must go through language. as are nature and humanity. Language is the means by which this process of mediation or reconciliation is effected: it is. There is simply awareness.
There is such a gulf between these two views as to seem almost unbridgeable. for after all. or manifest more indirectly in literature. For Western esotericism. the secular modern world emerged through the jettisoning. in these esoteric traditions. and the participatory. and objectified worldview. and objectifying worldview and the perspectives that characterize Western esotericism? Perhaps not. Undoubtedly. language as merely a collection of signs functioning as more or less arbitrary designators. During this . is transformed from objectifying to unifying. any objectifying perspective divorced from the divine origin and purpose of language automatically will be barren or sterile. suppression. of sign and object and manipulation of one or the other. and gnostic perspectives characterizing Western esotericism seem far removed from and incompatible with that machine. secular. Nothing could be further from the various viewpoints of Western esotericism than the fallen language of mere designation. including harsh critiques of technology’s effects on the natural world. but never owned. in modern literary theory or theories of language. the divine is perforce unmentionable. pansophy and theosophy were relegated to movements of merely historical interest. in vogue instead are theories of causality that refer to a world devoid of the divine. which is rife with the language of objectification. restoring to humanity its proper relation to nature and to the divine. and so forth. esotericism remained mostly underground— alchemy was denigrated as nothing more than a primitive precursor of chemistry. Is it possible to build a bridge between a modern. yet this expresses a very prevalent supposition underlying much contemporary literary theory. These archetypal forces do not belong to the poet. consumerist state was built from a materialist. From the eighteenth through the twentieth centuries. The massive machine of the modern technological. this objectification of literature and literary theory has much to do with why such theoretic discussions are so often unreadable—from a viewpoint within the ambit of Western esotericism. language is in its very nature bound up with the divine. there are only the archetypal powers or forms that the poet or visionary may experience directly in vision. alternatives to the technoconsumerist machine became more commonplace—ecosocial criticism began to emerge. or separation into self and other.146 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E still no possession or ownership. But by the late twentieth century. and the divine. By contrast. 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. it is a vehicle not of separation but of union between humanity. they may be glimpsed and even imperfectly expressed. nature. or ignoring of most of these esoteric currents. Language. transformative. secular. Ownership belongs to the fallen realm of separation and objectification—I own this as opposed to that—and therefore belongs also to fallen language.
but rather the idea that these literary works themselves are . including elements of the sciences. we must begin by coming to see literature and the meaning of the word in new ways. psychology. too. inner territory. even while the bulk of society industriously tried to avoid recognizing those limits. 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. scientific or otherwise. Given these tendencies—on the one hand criticism of technoconsumerism. and widespread acculturation of Asian religious and medicinal traditions. To this we now turn. nature. But to begin to explore this new. religion. and in the countless literary works that express the discoveries of those who have gone before us. and the divine. Buddhism. in theosophic works. troubadours and chivalry. and of restoring a paradisal union between them. and the arts. at least for some. pansophy or esoteric Rosicrucianism or Freemasonry. the Lullian art.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 147 time. Western esotericism is inherently transdisciplinary by nature. Joining all of these disparate disciplines is a focus on the transmutation of consciousness. to an exploration of the inner cosmos and of how we perceive the world. with the intense focus of many of its practitioners on meditation practices. If so. then the ways of exploration are already marked out for us. after all that we have surveyed. One also found increasing interest in alternative approaches to medicine and to spirituality. magic or theosophy. that inherent in the Western esoteric traditions is what we have called a libric or alphanumeric gnosis. the various currents of Western esotericism with all their diversity share a common thread: the transmutation of consciousness through hieroeidetic knowledge. to name only a few. in particular. Here we are discussing not merely the obvious fact that such traditions are represented in written works. A R T. but also for society itself. As we have seen throughout this study. L I T E R AT U R E . began to have profound effect on many people in the formerly Judeo-Christian world. profound connections between humanity. Be it Kabbalism or alchemy. one finds a consistently recurrent theme of transmuting consciousness. It may well be that we have reached a time when the ceaseless and ever more minute exploration of the cosmos may give way. A N D C O N S C I O U S N E S S It is evident. of awakening latent. which has ramifications not only for the nature of knowledge. one found a growing awareness of the limits that the natural world imposes on consumerist expansion. which is to say. and for a reëvaluation of all the various disciplines in that light. imaged in alchemical manuscripts and in Kabbalistic treatises. inspiring more than a few to also rediscover overlooked Jewish and Christian mystical traditions.
but of reality. he simply began to murmur line after line. as we have seen. he tells us. at this juncture. fundamental to the awakening of a paradisal union between humanity. images. The poet or prophet sees and enters into the celestial realm. but is seen even more clearly in the archetypal realm of the imagination. and the divine. rejoicings. E. as the seers tell us. Naturally. visible in Greek tradition in such figures as Pythagoras and Plato. E. tells us that its appearance was “as much a surprise to me as if a flower had suddenly glowed before me in the hollow of the air . the gold-gleaming genius makes beauty. one must already have left the imprisoning cave and seen the actual sun and the true landscape to which we belong. a friend of Yeats. A. for in its structure will be the creative power of life itself.”111 Unconscious of creation. Remarking on how a poem emerged unbidden one evening while he was sitting on some rocks.148 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E vehicles of spiritual praxis. and indeed.’s subsequent meditation on how he created this poem is well worth investigating. full of imagination’s power and exhiliration. The poet’s psyche. E. To use Plato’s metaphor. The poet and the seer both engage in the ascent of consciousness from multiplicity toward union. And only then will one’s written work be of enduring value for others. the cosmos itself is a kind of book—the structure of words. but rarely any longer is recognized as having its origin in the inner springs or fountains of life. . in order to consider more carefully how a poet may view what we are discussing here. It may be of use. A. joys. But A. and how his poetry was inseparable from his visionary experiences. . This intricate geometry of meaning can be glimpsed in the forms of nature. and music is the intricate geometry of meaning that permeates creation. where poetry might be seen by some as offering beauty or insight. from the Kabbalistic Sepher Yezirah or Bahir or Zohar to the works of Jacob Böhme and the Rosicrucian manifestos. beyond history. (George William Russell. wrote at length about how he came to write poetry. nature. Only then can one return and tell others where authentic life lies. not the life of shadows. 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. to turn to a poet. . Here the book is a means of spiritual transmutation. found throughout Western history. Indeed. here is what we may call a spirituality of literature as much as a literature of spirituality. E. Such an understanding of literature is very ancient indeed. of charged and living images once associated with the gods. A. this view of the poet invests in him far more authority and power than do contemporary views. The verses came to me almost as swift as thought. In this esoteric view of literature. In this view. ascends to “that high state where. and in this ascent enter into the imaginal realm of archetypes. 1867–1935). the ‘book of life’ out of which history itself emerges. to write presupposes already having seen. In his book Song and Its Fountains.
it draws nigh to its own divine root. though too often they have not kept faith . when once he became conscious while “in some profundity of being. A.” Although he struggled to remain in this state. and the withdrawal of the universe into the Pleroma—all that was wrought in some secret laboratory within the psyche. A. The Mount is a symbol for that peak of soul when. and there is revelation in it and the mingling of heaven and earth. recognized his limits.”116 Still. even if unaware of precisely how or why. but of the universal spirit he understood little. perhaps surprisingly.” he wrote.’s view actually emerges from a dimunition of spiritual vision. 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.” he wrote. was later translated into words. the creation of poetry in A. It is the light of spirit that transcends the psyche as the psyche in its own world transcends the terrestrial ego.” “Whatever went to making an intricate harmony of color and sound. E. analyzes the movement of consciousness.”114 A far exile from that glory. of nature become so ethereal that it was the perfect mirror of deity. “—the imagination of the ending of the long tale of time. A. from a descent after an ascent. “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. later discussed with W. and remarks that “almost the only oracles which have been delivered to humanity for centuries have come through the poets. he found himself “dragged down” toward waking consciousness. for its subtlety and universality make it ungraspable: “It cannot be constrained. and song. E. “never had the high vision of those who have gone into the deeps of being and who have returned rapture-blinded by the glory.”117 For this reason. writes that “all true poetry was conceived on the Mount of Transfiguration. E. E. somehow comes in touch with this sheer transcendence. Yeats. There was neither sight nor sound. But there are enchanted hours when it seems to be nigh us.”113 This movement of consciousness A.”112 Yet “what comes back to us from that high sphere loses beauty in its descent. looks upon the poet as a prophet. focusing on his experience emerging from a deep sleep. gone inward into itself. and after that images. and not to the sublimity of the spirit. and memory and imagination are shot through and through with the radiance of another nature. that his experience belonged to the psyche or soul. but all was a motion in deep being. A. and it changes the dry dust of logic into color and music and a rapture of prophecy. still recognized “that greater light shines behind and through the psyche. E. E. Yet A. who said that he had experienced precisely the same descent into words.”115 He understood something of the psyche. E.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 149 dance. the poet. and cried out in a divine intoxication to the Light of Lights. nigher to us than the most exquisite sweetness in our transitory lives. “I have. B.” Thus. And still being drawn down there came a third state in which was originally deep own-being.
which could also be expressed as the ending of objectification. In Christian theosophy. E. we find numerous accounts of the spiritual path as exactly such a movement beyond ordinary distinctions of self and other. . .” The psyche.” And there is more. And A. and our thoughts may become throngs of living souls. E. goes on to remark that he often thought the great literary masters like Shakespeare or Balzac “endowed more generously with a rich humanity. may. still conform strikingly to the model we have begun to develop as characteristic of the Western esoteric traditions. feel a mutual Indwelling in the pure Tincture and Life of each other: and so. without knowing it. tells the story of how he once in his office went into a reverie and saw a host of images—a redhaired watchful girl. when we seem most alone. and as we mingle our imagination with theirs we are exalted and have the heartache of infinite desire. 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. when it becomes truly self-conscious.”120 Thus “when we sink within ourselves.”119 Through them the immortals utter their divine speech.150 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E with the invisible . we have seen Western esoteric traditions as including the restoration of paradise. Throughout our investigations. and they wove into drama or fiction. wrote of how “they that are in this near Union. In essence. characters they had never met in life. because in the practice of their art they preserve the ancient tradition of inspiration and they wait for it with airy uplifted mind. they come “trailing clouds of glory. as did the sybils of old. returns to the cave of constrained or dulled ordinary life to create written works that are themselves also permeated with the seer’s visionary realizations. expresses here is not far from what we see in the work of an exemplary and influential esoteric figure like Jacob Böhme. E. the view of literary creation that A. the further we come out of the animal Nature. for in both cases one sees a visionary who penetrates deeper than ordinary people into the mysteries inherent in creation. But at times they still receive the oracles. . have made their hearts a place where the secrets of many hearts could be told. the poet or seer enters into a realm where conventional notions of self begin to vanish. In this exaltation or transcendent creativity. into the nature of poetic vision or imagination. and imbued with this new visionary understanding. E. in his The Way to the Sabbath of Rest (1650). but which were real and which revealed more of themselves in that profundity of being than if they had met and spoken day by day. though they do not take place in the explicit context of Western esotericism properly speaking. or division into self and other.”118 The poets and musicians offer us “the sense of a glory transmitted from another nature. These written works express and indeed embody some of the secret structure inherent in the cosmos. through love and sympathy may come to know “that the whole of life can be reflected in the individual. A.”121 These insights of A. for instance. Thomas Bromley. thinking all the while that it was imagination or art of their own.
which later emerge in poetry. E. he is discussing how the poet may unwittingly enter into an archetypal realm of the imagination.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 151 the more universal we are. there are unquestionably parallels between these two examples. set aside a space within our consciousness where the characters or . at least temporarily. become part of us and indivisible from our inner lives. and nearer both to Heaven. in A. and stranger than any experienced in ordinary life. passive. by A. or beyond a rigid self-other distinction. in between both author and reader. irrespective of time or distance—and A. as if we knew them as neighbors. or of Captain Ahab. and later forge them into a written work of uncommon power. Of course.’s discussion of how the poet may unknowingly absorb or participate in other people’s lives or personalities. he may encounter unfamiliar figures.”122 As the soul ascends toward paradise by way of spiritual praxis. In order for a book to ‘reach us’ it has to resonate within us. absorbed completely in a book. In Bromley’s case. more powerful. events. there also is participation in what is observed. in the latter case. as if by happenstance. But nonetheless. fiction. takes place on a field midway between audience and author. where. does not participate in it along with the characters? Its characters enter into our consciousness. and the world is shot through with light. Reading. and between the models that they represent.’s case. a novel. One becomes what one sees. E. and experiences. and the further instrumentally to convey the pure Streams of the heavenly Life to each other. it increasingly enters a paradisal union with those on the same path. and so requires our sympathetic participation. the book or work has been separated from its writer. We are carried along on the words of the author. or drama. like theater. which no earthly Distance can hinder. say. and its relationship to nature also becomes paradisal or unified. but must enter into the work by an act of imaginative participation. and taken on a kind of life of its own. One experiences great bliss. For who. on the other a visionary poet. for instance. one finds spiritual seekers who actively pursue inner vision. Underlying both of them is a clear movement beyond objectification. In the first case. the poet is more like a receiver. Such experiences are not very far at all in turn from our own ordinary reading of. And so it is possible for us to speak of the great Gatsby. one is looking at people consciously engaged in a spiritual path together. and we must. although there is still an observer and what is observed. on the one hand an exemplar of Western theosophic esotericism. there are differences between what Bromley is describing—a kind of mutual communion among those in a spiritual group. Likewise. and to one another in the Internal. E. symbols. This movement goes through an archetypal realm in which they experience figures vaster. the author also is not directly present. In this realm. Thus we can see that the experience of reading itself corresponds in some respects to a visionary encounter like those described.
who himself was certainly influenced by the Western esoteric traditions. but eventually puts the book down. 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. essays. writing. for example. By contrast. Literature is playing the game with no stakes. Here we are beginning to develop a schema to see how poetry. rather than diminishing the visionary encounter to mere fantasy. And indeed. our authors tell us. We see this in the Book of Revelation. these esoteric traditions in general aim for enduring changes in consciousness. the consciousness is not caught up in its humdrum of daily affairs. drama. where to have one’s name in the Book of Life. we might reverse the terms. 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. the history of Western esotericism is filled with such insistence on the actual nature of what is being discussed—alchemy is real. emphasized exactly this point about ideas—that they are not our individual property. This schema is based on the idea of self-transcendence. and books. of course. But in fact Bromley’s friend John Pordage. in alchemical work. For when a reader engages in a literary work. and one enters into the new birth. precisely what is at work also in the visionary encounter. playing for keeps. Ordinary. The barriers between self and other become at least a little permeable. and suggest that literature and art in their highest forms are an attenuated kind of visionary encounter. existing in a supraphysical dimension. 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. took great pains to point out that the visionary realm he had experienced was not imaginary but real. whereas the esotericist is. merely ‘imaginary’ in the dismissive sense of the word. And in fact Ralph Waldo Emerson. where the cosmos can be ‘read’ in new ways. one turns away from the painting. The visionary encounter is similar in that here too.152 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E insights it expresses can exist. and one has entered a new world. the visions of the theosophers are real. . but in a ‘space’ within itself leaves room for self and other to meet on the stage of the imagination. but emerge in our consciousness if we are open to them. symbolizes eternal conditions. presumably. fiction. Of course. Kabbalistic cosmology is real. and art can be understood in light of the Western esoteric traditions and their continuing themes of spiritual reading. or make of one a laughingstock and utter failure. magic is real. And we see it in the assertion of the alchemists that alchemical work can bring one to the pinnacle of human possibility. habitual self is gone. and in Kabbalistic practice. Perhaps. The difference. or to have it stricken. 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.
If a primary aim of the alchemist. but what came into existence through him. but there is much more to be done. And one joins the literary community of the ages the way one joins the community of alchemists. And it may very well be that the origins of modern poetry. Thomas Bromley.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. largely hidden debt to the Western esoteric traditions and to their common theme of the mysticism of the word. their works like second nature. For literary immortality is in some respects a ‘second birth’—the author may have long ago died. where communion and union are an underlying expectation of both author and reader. the Kabbalist. But regardless of whether one subscribes to a theistic perspective or not. Johannes Tauler. But fundamental questions remain. the literary work. the divine creativity that brought the cosmos into being. Works such as Marsha Keith Schuchard’s landmark dissertation Freemasonry. Nicholas . so too is the author. and other forms of literature are to be found in Western esotericism and its pervasive theme of reading and writing the world. perhaps the literary impulse may be seen as a secular reflection of this goal. what is the motivation of the author? It was J. the more we uncover links between major literary figures and various currents of Western esotericism. for if the reader is ideally moving toward a momentary union of subject and object. gnostics. the alchemist. The deeper we investigate into the origins of modern literature. Meister Eckhart. If the movement of a given reader ideally is toward self-transcendence. the Kabbalist. Certainly modern Western literature owes a great. and may even connect profoundly with each other. or Kabbalists—by self-election. Through the medium of the written word or the painting. fiction. One reads and rereads one’s predecessors’ works until the authors become like old friends. Jacob Böhme. Thus the essential trajectory of both author and reader or artist and audience is toward communion and union. lives on. And here too is a profound parallel with Western esotericism. Tolkien who suggested that a poet or author is a kind of “co-creator” reflecting. Secret Societies. R. one can still find a correspondence between reading and writing. is to attain paradisal immortality. the sympathetic reader and the author may meet. in the process of creating a fictional world. John Pordage. Yet at the same time. Abraham Abulafia. and the Continuity of Occult Traditions in English Literature (1975) and Désirée Hirst’s Hidden Riches (1964) are important initial forays into this field. but reveals an underlying motivation of literary creation—that through this work one will connect profoundly with the consciousness of another. Jane Leade. R. that through this work one attains a kind of immortality. Such a trajectory is intensified in the case of esotericism. Ramon Lull. the gnostic. Milosz’s insistence that he wrote for a single reader not yet born is perhaps an extreme example. and the gnostic themselves live on for us their readers precisely the same way as does Shakespeare or Dante or Emerson—through written works.
the author is reaching out. emerge from a pervasive human need to discern or restore the hidden unity of all things by reading and writing the world anew. esoteric or not. and explicitly seeking to guide the reader toward new and intensified kinds of consciousness. Perhaps the symbolism of a novel is an attenuated form of what we find made even more explicit in these esoteric traditions. to vicariously participate in the author’s understanding. Berdyaev tells us. 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. therefore. and how they correspond to what we have learned about Western esotericism. One should not be too surprised at the introduction of Berdyaev’s work here. 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). his work formed a kind of bridge between Eastern and Western Christianities and worldviews. help explain what I am arguing about the various currents of Western esotericism. there is no true freedom—true freedom is to be found only in the Ungrund.124 The Ungrund. which belongs to history and to the constraints of time and space. and consciousness. but instead will look at his philosophical contributions. being Russian and deeply influenced by Eastern Orthodoxy rather than Western European Christianity. In being. literature.123 But Berdyaev was also a philosopher.154 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Flamel—the list can be extended indefinitely. precedes all being. These authors are important for us because their religio-philosophical perspectives. And perhaps all forms of Western literature. and place them in a world religious and philosophical context. to be guided by the author. for as I have discussed elsewhere.” It may well be. “add it to his own arsenal of power. but that also includes those who insist on far higher stakes and greater rewards. in the . and indeed even God himself. to in Emerson’s words. moreover. and publicly identified himself as a Christian theosopher in the line of Dionysius the Areopagite and Jacob Böhme. Berdyaev was himself definitely part of Western esotericism. And the reader from his side is seeking to comprehend. taken together. and intimately familiar with the history of modern philosophy. 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. where everything in the cosmos is seen as bearing its divine signature. that Western esoteric and Western literary and artistic traditions are far more mutually illuminating than we could have guessed. but in every case. for whom literature and art are the expression and vehicle of spiritual illumination and of the transfiguration of the world. a means for nothing less than the restoration of paradise. They exist on a continuum that includes reading or viewing art for diversion or pleasure. Here we have neither space nor need to survey Berdyaev’s life and work.
which extends the division between subject and object beyond death. to which our categories of thought are not applicable. or essayistic creation—one is on the frontier. or whether this division persists into eternity so that the soul is always in some sense separate from God. as well as the close ties between those traditions and the arts. at the point where ontic dissolves into meontic. By drawing on the Buddhist tradition. As Berdyaev points out. For if meontic freedom has its origin in the divine Nichts of absolute transcendence. fictional. issues from existential eternity. the poet (and the esotericist) all often find themselves marginalized or shunned by their contemporary society because they represent the emergence of newness. of creativity. and especially on the . the artist. in contradistinction to the deterministic and merely ontic realm where there can be no real freedom.” and “is the beginning of a different world.” Here Berdyaev puts his finger on a fundamental link between esotericism and the creator. or to put it another way. but deeply learned in Western and especially German philosophical tradition up to Heidegger. where one moves from the realm of social necessity or determinism or law into the realm of mystery and freedom. Nishitani is certainly familiar with but not limited to the problems inherent in Christian theological paradigms. Nishitani Keiji. This true freedom Berdyaev calls meontic. Berdyaev is a philosopher of creativity. “it is an end of this world. “Creative activity. and runs counter to his own recognition of the central importance of Jacob Böhme’s Ungrund in Western philosophical-religious history. and its expression in human creativity. a different sort of knowledge. at the center of which is precisely this problem of whether self-other ultimately dissolves into unity. In both cases—in esotericism and in poetic. Meontic freedom has its origin in sheer transcendence. Coming from a Buddhist perspective.”125 This assertion of a different order of knowledge certainly describes what we see in the Western esoteric traditions. or the poet: all are concerned with beginning or entering a new world. 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. and what he writes about creativity is revealing when considered in light of the continuous renewal and creative transformations of the Western esoteric traditions. of direct contact with the springs of inspiration and human awakening. begins with dissatisfaction with ordinary life. and therefore of division. But Berdyaev does not follow his own premises to their logical conclusions.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 155 divine Nothingness prior to existence itself. It is knowledge. And at this point we turn to our second religious philosopher. then how could the indefinite extension of personality. the artist. To enter into union with mystery is not only the frontier of knowledge. He insists on the importance of an eternal personality.” he writes. Berdyaev writes that “the creative imagination which demands what is new. particularly the arts of literature.
The force of destiny is at work here. or perhaps better still. . .”130 When we turn to the literature of the Western esoteric traditions with Nishitani’s Zen Buddhist-influenced perspective in mind. but of intimately uniting us with existence at its most essential. or “true emptiness. . This intensifies our narcissism. Nishitani is able to point toward the resolution or transcendence of the fundamental dilemmas that face us today. . It is the field on which the awareness of our true selfnature—or. “an equality in love. This mode of being is fundamentally self-centered: “our reason grasps itself from the posture of reason. it is instead absolute autonomy that is at the same time absolute service to all things. Authentic freedom is beyond merely subjective freedom. we grasp ourselves and thereby get caught by our own reason or personality.”128 True emptiness. the choices of the will. and indeed. .” Authentic freedom is.” an “absolute openness. This is the field of shunyata. 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. and us from them. with an underlying breach among all things that fundamentally seems to separate them from one another. of course. Nishitani. that is. in other words.156 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Buddhist understanding of shunyata. . or the emptiness of all things. in which the self-other dichotomy is resolved. self-centered consciousness.”127 He defines shunyata as “nothing less than what reaches awareness in all of us as our own absolute self-nature . What . Out of this transcendence alone.”129 Only in the field of shunyata is such mutually affirming freedom possible. and our personality grasps itself from within the personality itself . for faced with nihility. but in modern life we are faced also with nihility. it is the absolute transcendence of self-object divisions belonging to ordinary.”126 This self-centeredness is the ordinary human condition. one retreats into self even further. “unless the thoughts and deeds of man one and all be located on such a field. As rational or personal beings. the sorts of problems that beset humanity have no chance of ever really being solved. emerges authentic freedom. we see the emergence of a genuine world-philosophical standpoint that allows us to understand more deeply the significance of Western esoteric traditions. Yet there is another field that is not nihility. egoistic mode of being. what is the same thing. in which there is nothing to grasp or rely upon. In Nishitani’s work. is beyond definition. and has the effect not of separating. it is not something we are free to do as we please . self-identically. there is in Western esotericism in all its myriad forms a pervading theme of alphanumeric gnosis. self-nature as true self-awareness—and the selfness of each and every thing in the form of its suchness come about simultaneously. so that “self and other stand simultaneously in the position of absolute master and absolute servant with regard to one another. begins where we all are: with our ordinary. While this is our own act. As we have seen throughout this study. or rather in unison. Nishitani affirms.
from a ‘thrown’ or ‘fallen’ condition of divided. have at their center this mystery of the word. our authentic self is confirmed: in this is the mystery of literature and ultimately of the union of self and other in consciousness. including paintings. as the sense of self and other diminishes. a calling toward what we are meant to be. It can lead us. language is indeed divine. joined together with one another. for here literature is not merely a collection of ‘signs’ or ‘signifiers. Hidden within literature truly worth reading and within all great art is a nostalgia for paradise. where to be truly master means to serve in loving compassion. that mysterious point out of which the geometry of language emerges. anything that can be read or written. Paradoxically. or even linguistic construction.” And from such knowledge we may pass to what entirely transcends consciousness. But in any case. political. take their place among the world’s philosophic and religious traditions as uniquely literary paths toward paradise. Thus we can see that insofar as it emerges from and draws us toward its own and our own transcendence. encompassing all manner of hieroglyphs. Here the word language takes on more than the usual valence.’ but embodies different orders of knowledge at once. and with the divine in the field of authentic freedom. This meeting on the field of the imagination I have called “hieroeidetic knowledge. . The Western esoteric traditions. write and are written. in the meeting and reading and writing of all the infinite forms that consciousness can take. seen as a whole. so Western esotericism suggests. We read and are read. And the means of conjoining self and other turns out to be precisely what at first seems the principle of separation: language itself. alienated consciousness toward a mutuality of awareness that takes place on the infinitely plastic field of the imagination. Such a view of the word is far indeed from seeing literature as merely a social. there can be no doubt that the Western esoteric traditions.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 157 appears to be other—the cosmos and the divine—turns out in this process of revealing the fundamental self-other unity to be in fact indivisible from our inner nature. with nature. for all their diversity.
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. a Dutch scholar.msu.msu.Notes INTRODUCTION 1. 1994). Faivre. See Hanegraaff. I also retain the distinction maintained by Antoine Faivre between Hermetism (the current associated with Hermes belonging to late antiquity) and Hermeticism. including Wouter Hanegraaff. There are a number of other scholars now working in this field as well. Access to Western Esotericism (Albany: State University of New York Press. ed. 3. 4. 159 . in this field.. see Antoine Faivre. “Methods in the Study of Esotericism. 1996) reveals the underlying connections between new religious movements today and their Western esoteric antecedents. and readers would do well to become familiar with it. ibid.esoteric. See Arthur Versluis. which belongs more to the Renaissance and after. 2.edu ] for articles. 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. the official Web site of the ASE.edu. See Steven Katz.” Esoterica IV (2002): 1–15 and “Methods in the Study of Esotericism Part II. 1992).org. mostly by North American scholars. whose encyclopedic book New Age Religion and Western Culture: Esotericism in the Mirror of Secular Thought (Leiden: Brill.” Esoterica V (2003): 175–210. much of it in French. 5. who held a chair at the Sorbonne in Western esoteric currents of thought. Mysticism and Language (New York: Oxford University Press. For an overview of Western esotericism. published a large body of work outlining and detailing numerous aspects of esotericism. See www.esoteric. See also the journal Esoterica [www.aseweb. See the definition of the Association for the Study of Esotericism [ASE] and more information on this growing field at www.
11. Paul: Grail. 9. 1999). 14. 1991). Gnosis and Literature (St. Wisdom’s Book: The Sophia Anthology (St. Dreams. See the fifteenth chapter of Parzival. Pordage writes that the invisible paradisal earth of Sophia is hidden from ratiocination and even scoffed at by those limited to reasoning alone. and Mysteries (New York: Harper. in Arthur Versluis. cit. Ibid.. 12. Paragon House. pp. Peers. See. 307. 2. p. p. See Faivre. see also Faivre L’Ésotérisme (Presses Universitaries de France. for an explicit example of this inward sojourn and perception. eds. 83 ff. Louis-Claude de Saint-Martin. p. See Frederick Goldin. Lyrics of the Troubadours and Trouvères (New York: Anchor. 4. “Koan and Kensho in the Rinzai Zen Curriculum” in Stephen Heine and Dale Wright. Paul: Paragon House.. See ibid. Myths. See Charbonneau. Nag Hammadi Library. E. 8. 309. 13. John Pordage. Ramon Lull. 2000). pp. The Book of the Lover and the Beloved. See my discussion in Gnosis and Literature (St. Theosophic Correspondence (Exeter: Roberts. 219–233. 1996) of Piers Ploughman. op. 140. 151. Translation is mine. 1863). . See Versluis. Sophia... 6. 5. 18 ff. “Christian Theosophy and Ancient Gnosticism. 1973).160 NOTES TO CHAPTER ONE 6. 223. 1975). pp. 4. 7. p. whether they know it or not. 1978). 1965). see also Dionysius the Areopagite on like and unlike images. 1992).. 97. Paul. 14–21. p. 2000). 1974). trs. 180. 3. 2. 145. Victor Sogen Hori. 76–106. pp. Initiation (Manchester: Manchester University Press. 51–89. p. Kabbalah (Jerusalem: Keter. See Gershom Scholem. 3. see also Wisdom’s Children: A Christian Esoteric Tradition (Albany: State University of New York Press. 1986). pp. pp. 10–15. 5. (London: Sheldon. 248.. 111. 1996). On the Kabbalah and Its Symbolism (New York: Schocken. Mircea Eliade. Wisdom’s Book: The Sophia Anthology (St. ed. 37 ff. The Koan: Texts and Context in Zen Buddhism (New York: Oxford University Press. p. All of this is to be found in the ninth chapter of Parzival. The Bestiary of Christ (New York: Parabola. CHAPTER ONE 1. pp. pp. CHAPTER TWO 1. 10. See Arthur Versluis. Jean La Fontaine. but they like everyone have access to this inward realm all the same. See Versluis. 2000).” Studies in Spirituality 7(1997): 228–241. p. Nag Hammadi Library. Paul: Grail. p. see also Scholem. pp.
Cassirer. Ibid.. 1992). 1969). p.. 21.. I. p.. ed. 17. Doctor Illuminatus. See Scholem. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 29.71.. (Princeton: Princeton University Press. eds. ed. p. Ibid. See. Scholem. 36. See “Oration on the Dignity of Man” in E. 1988). 31. 394. vom Stein der Weisen (Berlin: Christian Ulrich Ringmacher. Ibid.314. 25. I. Opera omnia. ed. see also Moshe Idel. Ibid.80 ff. 1965). 9. 18.77. The Renaissance Philosophy of Man (Chicago: University of Chicago Press. p. (London: Soncino. op. cit. The Books of Contemplation (Albany: State University of New York Press. in The Zohar. 57. 37. as well as Antoine Faivre and F. 38.. 1979). The Early Kabbalah (Paulist Press. I.. 59. 57. 14. 280. I. Joseph Blau. Ibid.75. See Arthur Edward Waite. 15. 27. I. Origins. 101–102. Ibid. 197. 29. pp. p. 12. 28. p. 250. 1986). 1985). See Mark Verman. 16. 1961). Cassirer. .351. Twersky. 26. Ibid. p.... See Verman. 35. 11. C. p.. trs. See J. 66. See A. p. 1987).C. 22. 1953) I. p. p. Kabbalistes chrétiens (Paris: Albin Michel. The Christian Interpretation of the Cabala in the Renaissance (Port Washington: Kennikat.205b–206a. 1779). Kabbalah: New Perspectives (New Haven: Yale University Press. 61. I. p. Ibid. Origins of the Kabbalah (Princeton: Princeton University Press. p.. Ibid. Tristan. pp.76. trs. Ibid. See Moshe Idel. M. Ibid.B. 1984). The Hermetic Museum (London: Watkins. 30. 1983).. II. II. Gershom Scholem. p. See Pico della Mirandola. p. 23. 10. 298 ff. II. A translation of Ars Brevis is to be found in Ramon Lull. 270.320–323. see also Scholem.. 49–50. A. 24. 278. 33. cit. Les Kabbalistes chrétiens de la Renaissance (Paris: Dunod. Ibid. Zohar IV . 34. 13.205b.. (Hildesheim: Olms. I. cit. 52. Dan. 246... ed. 197. op. ed.325. and Françoise Secret. Ibid. Origins.312. 19. p. 8. Rabbi Moses Nahmanides: Explorations.. 32. Ibid...NOTES TO CHAPTER TWO 161 6. et al. Ibid. Vasoli.331. 1964). IV .. Bonner. II. See Verman. Simon. 20. 51. 7. for instance. Origins. op..
59.. 77. Ibid... .. 1975).. 60. 58. 46. 62. table of contents. Ashmole.. I. p. 1997). The Tessera of Antilia: Utopian Brotherhoods and Secret Societies in the Early Seventeenth Century (Leiden: Brill. C. (Cassel: Wessel. Hall. The Alchemy of Art.A. See Frances Yates. Fama. Confessio.. p. II.. 37. 56. 54. 40. 221. 1615). This commentary was shared with people from diverse walks. Fama. especially on Gichtel’s and other theosophers’ tendency to carefully date their revelations. .102–104. 1972).. Confessio. 220. See Codex Rosae Crucis D. p. ms. Ibid. . Ibid. 67. a cosmologist. 371. Ibid. Josten. p. and The Rosicrucian Enlightenment. 42. Opus Mago-Cabbalisticum et Theosophicum (Frankfurt: Fleischerischum. H. 242. for text. see Donald Dickson. in a group called the Round Table. p. I have translated this work of Pordage. p..A. p.M. including two physicists. For an excellent survey of the scholarship since Yates. p. Ashmole. 253. Ibid. a theologian.. der gantzen weiten welt . p. 1784). Ibid. 260. Ibid. cit. 255. for background. and even chart them astrologically. 238.M. 49. p. 44. Ibid. p. The first English translation was published by Thomas Vaughan in 1652. (Cassel: Wessel. See Versluis. 241. See. Theatre of the World.. Ibid. 52.. p.D. 63. University of Texas at Austin. The Rosicrucian Enlightenment (London: Routledge. a musician. 50. See. (Los Angeles: Philosophical Research. and also written an extensive commentary on it. 61.O. The following page references are to Yates. p. See Josten. Frances Yates. The original (short) titles of Fama and Confessio were Allgemeine und General Reformation. and the Continuity of the Occult in English Literature (Ph. . 1998). Confessio. Freemasonry. “Christian Theosophy and Ancient Gnosticism” in Studies in Spirituality (Fall. 252. 45. p. 48. p. The texts of the Fama and Confessio in English are most easily found as appendices to Yates. 55. ed. 57.. forthcoming. D. Ibid.P.162 NOTES TO CHAPTER TWO 39. Ibid. 129. 1971). p.681. 49. op. 51. From von Welling. See Versluis. . and others. 43. Resicrucian Enlightenment. p.O. Wisdom’s Children: A Christian Esoteric Tradition (State University of New York Press.: A Rare and Curious Manuscript of Rosicrucian Interest. ed.. for the reader’s convenience.77. 22. Fama. 1966). 1999).. I. 251. Ibid. Confessio. Elias Ashmole (Oxford: Clarendon. Fama. M. diss. Yates. 47. 257. William Huffman. 1988). 246.. 41. Ibid. See Versluis. 1614) and Secretioris Philosophiae Considertio brevis . 53. p. See also Marsha Schuchard. Secret Societies. p. Robert Fludd and the End of the Renaissance (London: Routledge.
Hugh Trevor-Roper. See Dickson. 67. p. 9. 247–249. See also Bernard Fay. 1992). p. and Albert Cherél. p. Faivre. 170–171. See Edmond Mazet.. p. regulations . It may well be that a closer investigation of symbolist and surrealist poetry and art would further reveal its affinities to Satanism. Ibid. 71. 417. 1680–1800 (Boston: Little. Mazet. pp. 39. as is in fact suggested in Bernice Rosenthal.” 99–134. 68. 414.. . O. 7. Beyond Painting and Other Writings by the Artist and His Friends (New York: Wittenborn. See George David Henderson. 11. “Freemasonry and Esotericism. citing B. 162–168. 8. See Marsha Keith Schuchard.. fondateurs (Paris: l’Herne. 256. 268. 3. 66–67.” in Modern Esoteric Spirituality.. ed. Milosz. M. 1967). Chavalier Ramsey (London: Nelson. and Social Change (London: Macmillan. Certainly surrealism and related movements such as symbolism provide much more complicated examples than we can deal with here. Religion. cit. (London [Philadelphia]: B. 1997). 1734). 65. 1985). see Versluis. pp. believed that surrealism drew on esoteric currents in a confused way. Paul: Grail. changes. p. p. The Occult in Soviet and Russian Culture (Ithaca: Cornell University Press. Max Ernst and Alchemy (Austin: University of Texas Press. 110. Ibid. See M. Un aventurier religieux au XVIIe siècle (Paris: Perrin. 1952). 253. 2001). 240. (New York: Crossroad. E. A. and Margaret Bailey. Ibid. 170–171. The Constitutions of the Free-masons: Containing the history.. p. M.. Franklin. and without doubt there are bizarre and even deliberately inverted elements in much of surrealism. D. Brown. The Hermetic Book of Nature (St. 409. p. H. 257–272. Sloane. CHAPTER THREE 1. 10. ed. Milton and Jacob Boehme (New York: Oxford: 1914). 1935). See James Anderson. Freemasonry. 4.. 5. 2. Ibid. p. pp. 1992). V de L. Warlick. Ibid. 1948). op. The Noble Traveller (West Stockbridge: Lindisfarne. 191. pp. Restoring the Temple of Vision: Cabalistc Freemasonry and Stuart Culture (Leiden: Brill. Ibid. . See “Le manuscrit graham” in La franc-maçonnerie: documents. 6. 1926). see also Max Ernst. Ibid. 70. 2002). 172–173. . 69. pp. 1997).. p. On Emerson and Hermeticism. See also Schuchard. 66. S. Ibid. pp. especially in Kristi Groberg’s “‘The Shade of Lucifer’s Dark Wing’: Satanism in Silver Age Russia. . Charge I. 654.NOTES TO CHAPTER THREE 163 64. Revolution and Freemasonry. pp. the Reformation.
see Versluis. 36. 8–9. pp. I.. Ibid. Ibid.. The ‘true-rune and right spell’ of esoteric tradition contained the code for H.164 NOTES TO CHAPTER THREE 12. 26. 20. 28. Ibid. pp. the harsh world of necessity that Freud described is itself the “rune” that must be deciphered. Ibid. Susan Friedman.’s] perspective. 37. pp. Friedman writes that “From her [H. 296.. pp. Milosz. Ibid. p.. 15. 41. For a more extensive study.. and to what end? One might hope that critics would eventually cease to assume that there is always only a single thing called “esoteric tradition. Ibid. Ibid. 455. Hermetica (Boston: Shambhala.. p. See Versluis... pp. p. 182–183. in her search to translate the inner meaning of material reality” (p. For the poet of the modernist era. . 174–175. Ibid. pp. p. pp. Ibid. 48–52. p. op. op. 206–207. ranging from entirely cosmological ones such as astrology or the Tarot to more metaphysical or gnostic ones.115.” synonymous with “hermetic tradition.1 ff. 157–206. . 303. 25. 34. pp. See W. 39. p. 29. 178–179. 180–181. Milosz.. 38. Ibid. Theosophia: Hidden Dimensions of Christianity (Hudson: Lindisfarne. 464. 16. 1985). see Steven Bullock. 24. Ibid. Ibid... D. pp. pp. cit... 224–225. The Esoteric Origins of the American Renaissance (New York: Oxford University Press. 1996). 30. Ibid. The question. 18. 27. 210–211. 19. D. p. ed. 14. of course... p. Ibid. 277. 1989). Pollen and Fragments: Selected Poetry and Prose of Novalis (Grand Rapids: Phanes. pp.. 299. 22. Lib. 226–227. is into what did she translate this inner meaning. Milosz.. cit. 1981).” when in fact there are numerous different esoteric currents of a wide variety. . hermetic tradition offered a pattern of meaning in coded form to the initiate . 1994). 2001). 1982). op. 297–298. Notes on Thought and Vision (San Francisco: New Directions. Ibid. Ibid.. 248. 17. Scott. pp. 469.. I. For a discussion of Postel in relation to Christian theosophy. for a translation of Hymns to the Night. See Versluis. pp. pp. introduction by Albert Gelpi. 158). 40. 23. Ibid. H. 33.. Milosz. trs. Ibid.. Ibid. Revolutionary Brotherhood: Freemasonry and the Transformation of the American Social Order (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press. 31. p. 299–300.. Psyche Reborn (Bloomington: Indiana University Press. 35. 32. Ibid. 13. 465. 21. p. D. 204–205. 300. cit.
and I certainly recommend her article. 63. 259. Ibid. Irina Gutkin.. 53.. Ibid. Futurism. Kathleen Raine. 169. 67. Vale Ave in New Directions in Prose and Poetry (New York: 1950. 1967). 65. Ibid.. “Notes. See.. The Gift (Gainesville: University Press Florida. 69. p. Geschichte der Mission der Evangelischen Brüder unter den Indianern in Nordamerika (rpt: Hildesheim: Olms. 1997). ed. 2001). 48. p.. 64. Ibid. Ibid. 20. 45. 66. 19. “Tribute to the Angels.. for documentation. 284–285. hereafter cited as TG. Warlick. 222. 21. Ibid. 223. ed. 56. The Occult in Russian and Soviet Culture (Ithaca: Cornell University Press. Ibid. of course. 68. These passages were transcribed by H. Ibid. Gutkin’s article strongly supports the fundamental thesis we are here exploring. 51. Ibid... Ibid. 157. 271–272. on alchemy and ‘the occult’ in earlytwentieth-century Russia. E. 43. 168. 39.” 17. 71. p.. Rosenthal.. 47. D. 102. 70. p.” 30–31. Ibid. 18. 1988).” pp. Ibid. Ibid.. Ibid. 73. 49. rpt. 67. p. 23. 35... Social Realism” in B. 13. “Walls.. see also... Ibid. 156–159. See M. pp. See Jane Augustine. p. 1998). 9. 17–19. 57. Ibid. “The Walls Do Not Fall. There are. Max Ernst and Alchemy: A Magician in Search of a Myth (Austin: University of Texas Press. 72. as well as this entire collection of articles. 74. D. H. D. p. 61. 50... H.. other authors we could consider here. 75.. D. 52. 50–51. D.” on which see TG. in her “Zinzendorf Notes. 55. 44.. p.. A Candid Narrative (London: 1753). D. 60. chief among them Gustav Meyrink. See H. 70. Ibid.. 66. Kraus. 32. H. “The Magic of Words: Symbolism. pp.. 54. 50. 1989). See H. H. The Gift.. pp.. 59. 165. Ibid. 154–155. p. 62. Rimius.. 20. Selected Poems (Hudson: Lindisfarne.NOTES TO CHAPTER THREE 165 42. Ibid. Georg Heinrich Loskiel. Ibid. The Gift. 21. p. 33. p. 24. p. Ibid. 1.. 225–246. 58. pp. and in particular his novel Angel at the Western Window [Der Engel .” 1.. 46.. 29. Ibid. D.
Ibid. 87. in The Sea Priestess (York Beach: Weiser ed. Essays Presented to Charles Williams (Oxford University Press: 1947). 127. C. 90.. Ibid. Ibid. ed. 40. Yeats. n. 320. noted hereafter as Vision. 102. 87.. p. 291. 1993). 79. 322. See on this point. C. p. op. p. 88. p. p. Vision. Collins. p. Ellis and W. 21. (London: Quaritch.. Letters from England (London: Longman. Ibid. 81. Dion Fortune. Ibid. so I have decided not to include them here. 115. 91. cit. maintaining our focus on the Inklings. 96. But Meyrink’s works are complex enough to deserve a study in themselves. 85. See Collins. 1994). 323. Faivre. pp. 77. 78. Collins. Gareth Knight. p. 93. 40. pp. 1988) p. and while his experience in magical ritual has been downplayed by some literary critics. pp. Access to Western Esotericism (State University of New York Press. 89. See for instance. 112. 95. p. cit. 80. 82. pp. The Vision of the Fool and Other Writings (Ipswich: Golgonooza. including Fortune’s..166 NOTES TO CHAPTER THREE vom westlichen Fenster] (1927). p. 76.. 103. Ibid. . 99. p. 124–125. Subsequent references are to Cecil Collins. and his intensifying “strange awareness” as a function of his magical apprenticeship with Vivien Le Fay Morgan. Ibid. Ibid.. 1893). See Antoine Faivre..d. for a discussion of contemporary esoteric magical groups. p. S. 70–71.. Lewis. hereafter noted as Meditations.. Lewis. B. 95.. S. Ibid. 97. 101. Ibid. 1994). 43.. p. 1994) p. Meditations. 104–104. p. pp.. 86. p. cit. The Works of William Blake. Dion Fortune. The Magical World of the Inklings (Shaftesbury: Element.).. 1997). 94.. The Magical World of the Inklings. 3 vols. Maxwell’s account of his growing understanding of the elemental forces like wind and fire.). 382. 20–21. without doubt had direct experience in magical initiation that was reflected in his fiction. Ibid. 88. That Hideous Strength (Macmillan: 1965 ed. 239.25. Faivre. 84. 102. Fortune. 98. 154. p. 1990). Poems. p. p. and their circles in mid-twentieth-century England. 100.. 82–83. 83. op. The Winged Bull (York Beach: Weiser ed. Williams was a member of Arthur Edward Waite’s magical fraternity. Pages from a Sketchbook (Ipswich: Golgonooza. The Secrets of Dr. Ibid. 101. p.. Dion Fortune. op. Vision. 10. and Meditations. 91. Gareth Knight. 1814). retained his magical regalia in his office. Ibid. 197. Southey. p. I.. Taverner (Columbus: Ariel. 92. E. Moon Magic (York Beach: Weiser..
1980). 71 ff.31. 40. The Way to Christ (New York: Paulist Press. 62. Ibid. p.. Ibid. Ibid. See Charles C. “Vorrede. pp. p. pp.. 117.1.NOTES TO CHAPTER THREE 167 104. “Ancient Gnosticism and Christian Theosophy” in Studies in Spirituality (Fall 1997). 106. 127. 275 ff. 115. 63.. 126. 112. p. 1994). Rosenthal. Ibid.D. p. pp. 111.. 109.. Freedom and the Spirit.. Bromley’s is the image on the cover of my book Theosophia (1994). 122. p. Religion and Nothingness (Berkeley: University of California Press. See Berdyaev’s introduction to Jacob Böhme’s Six Theosophic Points (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan. 108 ff. p... pp. Ibid. 107.31. 114.. pp.” 108. Ibid. Christosophia IV . 105. 103. Irina Gutkin.. 123.. 125. 1957).. 118.” and I.. 124. p. Ibid. p.. See also The Destiny of Man. Nishitani Keiji. Diss. Nicholas Berdyaev. 94. Ibid. 113. See my overview of Christian theosophy in Magic and Mysticism. p. 194 ff. forthcoming. 110. p. II.1 ff. Ibid. 1991).29–30. from “The Magic of Words: Symbolism. 170.. The Occult in Russian and Soviet Culture (Ithaca: Cornell University Press. 129. Ibid. E... The Beginning and the End (New York: Harper. 40 and pp. 105. 74. 116. for example. . p. Ibid. Christosophia. Ibid. Ibid. 199. p. p. Toronto: 1948). 78.. ed. p. 225. 1958). Ibid. p. Theosophia: Hidden Dimensions of Christianity (Hudson: Lindisfarne.. Peter Erb. 1997) p. 1978). A. Ibid. 121. 130. IV . 25 ff. Song and Its Fountains (Burdett: Larson. p. 93. See. trs. 119.” in B. “Warnung an den Leser. 39. 128. Versluis. I. Futurism. I added the colors. 120. Socialist Realism. 95. Knapp. Ibid. Nicolas Berdyaev: Theologian of Prophetic Gnosticism (Th.. 62–63. 285. 106. See Versluis.
ix. 22 Cordovero. 76 Buddhism. 17 Blake. 80. 96 Dee. 10. 46 Christ. 18. Thomas. 59 Dante. 27–28. 28. 20. 1. Arthur. 61–62. William. 97 Cremer. 140. John. 94. 42. 129.INDEX Abulafia. 25 Apocalypse of Ezra. 31 Cloud of Unknowing. 35–43. 152 Brahe. 89. 4. 52. 95. 68–71. 78. 90. 99 Dickinson. 81–82 Descartes. 81 Bruno. 66 Corbin. Giordano. John. 45 Chaucer. 141 Agrippa. Tibetan. 5. 129. 80 Böhme. 18 Arnold of Villanova. 24. 24. 25 Apuleius. 30. Henry. 82–83 Confessio Fraternitatis. 148–150 Alchemy. Elias. Heinrich Cornelius. 56 Baader. 78. 51. Moses. Nicholas. 79 Backhouse. John. 141–142. 57 Beatrice. 53 A. René. 63 Anderson. 105 Christianity [origins of]. 93. Geoffrey. 55–67. 75 Chivalry. 31. 154 Dogen. Sir Thomas. 154 Book of Life. 82 Bacon. 129–135 Comenius. Franz von. 68. 48 Corpus Hermeticum. 40 Bible. 104 Dionysius the Areopagite. 80–82 Astrology. 25 Ashmole. 1 Collins. Abbot. James. 5. 63. 47. 148 Barrett. 97. 28. 143–144. Abraham. 77 Bromley. 75. initiatory nature of. 83 Apocalypse of Baruch. 57. 28–29. 72 Consciousness. 93. 94. 139. 130–133 Ascension of Isaiah. 56 Amor Proximi. 138 Basilides. 40–41. 137 Boethius. 56 Bahir. Francis. 142. 31 Basilius Valentinus. 14. Jacob. 81. 150 Browne. 56 Art. 154–155 Bernart de Ventadorn. William. Tycho.E. 2. 81–82 Dee.. 11 Dury. 42–43 Chemical Wedding of Christian Rosencreutz. 53. 96 Berdyaev. 147 Buddhism. 102. 5. 59. 2 Aurea Catena. 53. Al-Rhazi [Rhazes]. Roger. Cecil. Emily. 82–83 169 . 17–19 Clement of Alexandria. 28. 64.
Brian. Susan. 50. Meister. 72–73 Faust. 83. 56 Fludd. ix. 95 Hartlib. Wolfram von. 78 Gnosis. 25 Hinduism. Friedrich von [Novalis]. 37 Esoteric Origins of the American Renaissance. Edmond. 89–103 Hermetism. 84. 43–45.. 107. 46. 22–24 Initiation. Edward. Victor Sogen. 137 Goethe.. 89. Georg Heinrich. 65. 112 Friedman. 10–12. 109. 56. 19. 2. 80–81 Fortune. 36–39 Gutkin. 103.. 11 Hutton. 31 Melville. 8. 89. ix. 76 Maistre. 77 Flamel. 22. 7–8 Esotericism.S. 82 Knight. 77 Gelpi. 82–83 Heidegger. 109 Hermeticism. 44. 56 Maier. 140 Hippolytus. Book of. 123–126. 102 Ernst. Christian. 138 Katz. 106 Eschenbach. 120–122. 7–8. 111 Geheime Figuren. 9 Eliot. 85 Merkabah mysticism. 2. 88-89. 40 . 19. 51 Eleusinian Mysteries. 89. Jewish. Jean. Abraham von. 46–52. 19 Faivre. Nicholas. 50. Samuel. Albert. Benjamin. 100. 21 Heydon. Gareth. Antoine. 57–59. 153–154 Eriugena. 25 John. 51 Islam. 8–9 Isaac the Blind. 127 Loskiel. 100 Marcus. 55 Koran. Margaret. 79 Hieroedetic knowledge. 111 Emerson. Joseph de. Ramon. 103 Fuller. 63. 103–119 Hardenberg. 112 Lull. Dion. 9. 56 Jerusalem. 127 Frankenberg. Francis. 4. 12–15. 79–86. 19–21. 30. Robert. 8–9 Larronde. Johannes. 75. Mircea. Herman. 129 Kelley. 54. 104. Johann Georg. 102 Leade. 28. 29 Hiram. 100 Hirst. 19 Kabbalah [or Cabala]. John. 155 Hermes [Trismegistus]. 151 Merswin. 72 Jabir ibn Hayyan [Geber]. John Scotus. Désirée. 5. 1 Keeble. C. 26–31. 21–22 Hermetica. 112 Imagination. 42. Andreas. 127–128 Fama Fraternitatis. 29 Mazet. 27–28 Gnosticism. 2. 53. 139 H. Ralph Waldo. 76. 97. Martin.D. Irina.170 INDEX Eckhart. Max. 84 Lewis. 102 Lee. 105. Carlos. 126. 5 Hori. Joseph Edward. Steven. Jane. 104 Gichtel. 90. Michael. 1. 101 Freemasonry. 153 Homer. 140 Eirenaeus Philalethes. 101–102 Frey. 52–54 Kabbalah. 105 Eliade. T. 99 Grail cycle. Jewish. 2.S. 57 Eleazar of Worms. 123. 68. 111 Esotericism [defined]. 18–21. 35. Rulman. 104. 69 Franklin. Johann Wolfgang. 122 Koan. 140 La Fontaine. 104. 120. 21.
103. 43 Synesius. 46. 53. sacred. 56 Moses de Leon. 105. 17. 99 Philip. 39–40 Solovyov. 152 . 56 Origen. 8 Rosicrucianism. Book of. 21. 139 Saint Martin. ix. 11 Russian literature. 116 Nature [concept of]. 105. 46. 13. 53 Theseus. Milton. 103 Pyrlaeus. Thomas. 99 Pasqually. 25 Native Americans (and Moravians). 150. 69. 5. 5. Czeslaw. 14–15. 19. 71–76 Rousseau. Sir Walter. 75–78 Paracelsus. 2. Gillaume. 50 Schuchard. 53 Rilke. Christian. 52 Piers Ploughman. 92. 74. Bernadette.R. 90 Talmud. 57. 115. 89–103. 84 Pordage. 114–115 Thenaud. 110 Southey. 99 Prospero.V ix. 153 Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. 53 Theosophy. 141 . 92. 89. 4 Reuchlin. 85. 56. 18. 113. 2. 108 Rimius. 21 Poiret. 112–113 Morienus. William. 52 Pansophy. Blaise. 84 Reading. 148 Seidel. 66 New Age. 51. 69. 94. 63 Rici. 138 Stellatus. 148 Radical ecology. 112 Ripley. René. 101 Prajnaparamita Sutra. 64. 8 Nishitani Keiji. 47. 26–27 Moravians. 70. 2 Nag Hammadi Library. 25. 2 Postel. 108. 3 Raimbaut d’Orange. 87–88. Henry. Pierre. 137. 40 Milosz. 64 Roberts. 92. Marsha Keith. 140 Tauler. Vladimir. 140 Templars. Louis-Claude de. Martinez de. 99 Scholem. 140 Tao te ching. Robert. 18. 115 Pythagoras. 19. 9. 153 Schwaller de Lubicz. 29–30 Olympiadorus. 26 Tolkien. 99. 79. 29 Pre-Socratics. 59. 152 Richter. 60. 90 Milosz. 109. Kathleen. 120. 32 Plato.R. Andrew Michael. Gospel of. Johannes. 4 Shakespeare. Emanuel. Jean. 67–69. 36.. 63. 119 Raleigh. 79. Gershom. Joseph. Johann Christoph. 68. 52–53 Revelation. Rainer Marie.INDEX 171 Meyrink. 103. 76 Parzival. 148 Platonic archetypes. 23–26. 14.. 30–31 Pico della Mirandola. 6 Sefer Yezirah. 58 Numbers. 56 Swedenborg. 73. 99. J. George. John. 154–156 Norton. Paulus. O. John. 118 Ramsay. 90 Porete. 90. 123 Poimandres. Johannes. Gustav. 48 Mysticism. 102 Science [and the sciences]. Samuel. 116 Self. Jean. 37–38 Pascal. 87–88. 76 Sufism. 47–48. 115. 40 Raine. 136 Science and objectification. 5 Minotaur. 102 Sophia [Wisdom]. Marguerite. 32.
Arthur. 31 Viterbo. 140 Valentinus. ix. 10. 2.. 84 Williams. 103. 63. W. 120. 79 Willermoz. 122–123 Williamson. 53 Versluis. 10. David. 35–43 Ungrund. 104. 67–69 Upanishads. 116 Yates. 148 Zosimos. 82 Troubadours. 103. Jean-Baptiste. Frances. 64. 101 Weishaupt. 111.172 INDEX Trevor-Roper. Hugh. 86 Welling. Nicholas. 110.E. 69–70 Universalism [esoteric]. Adam. 137. Charles. 9. 10.B. 89. 88. ix. 48. 75 Yeats. George. 148 Zen Buddhism. M. Georg von. Egidio Cardinal. 112–113 Zohar. 56 . 156 Zinzendorf. 55. 111 Warlick. 103. 106 Washington..
2 vols. and Antoine Faivre and Wouter Hanegraaff. readers will find many further avenues of research by a wide variety of contributing scholars. notably Gabalia (Berlin: Erich Schmidt. eds. Gnoses. 1998). 1998). Access to Western Esotericism (Albany: State University of New York Press. 1975).aseweb. important if sometimes a bit uneven background works in the field include the books of Will-Erich Peuckert. Important anthologies of scholarship in the field include Antoine Faivre and Jacob Needleman. Earlier. 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. Tradition (Albany: State University of New York Press. I should note that the two volumes by Cecil Collins cited in Restoring Paradise have subsequently been 173 . 2000). as well as Roelof van den Broek and Wouter Hanegraaff. Gnosis and Hermeticism: From Antiquity to Modern Times (Albany: State University of New York Press. (Leuven: Peeters. and Imaginaire Symbolique: Mélange offerts á Antoine Faivre edited by Joscelyn Godwin et al. as well as the series by Karl Frick titled Die Erleuchteten (Graz: Akademische.Suggestions for Further Study A standard reference for scholars and a general introduction to Western esotericism as a field of study is Antoine Faivre.msu. Western Esotericism and the Science of Religion (Leuven: Peeters. 1967) and Pansophie (Berlin: Erich Schmidt.esoteric. Modern Esoteric Spirituality (New York: Crossroad. 1992). 1998).edu) and to visit the Web site of the Association for the Study of Esotericism [ASE] at www. 1956). 1994). Theosophy. In the voluminous Ésotérisme. Imagination.org. (Graz: Akademische. along with its companion book. 1973) and Licht und Finsternis. 2001). A useful historical overview is Jean-Paul Corsetti’s Histoire de l’ésotérisme et des sciences occultes (Paris: Larousse.. 1992). Readers may also wish to consult the journals ARIES and Esoterica (www.
as well as The Mysteries of Love: Eros and Spirituality (St. Paul: Paragon House. 2001). Gnosis and Literature (St. 1994). and The Esoteric Origins of the American Renaissance (New York: Oxford University Press. Paul: Grail. 2000). Paul: Grail. This is a beautifully produced book and highly recommended.174 SUGGESTIONS FOR FURTHER STUDY combined into a single volume entitled The Vision of the Fool and Other Writings. edited by Brian Keeble. . enlarged edition (Ipswich: Golgonooza. Wisdom’s Book: A Sophia Anthology (St. 1996). 1996). Many of my own previous and forthcoming books also deal with themes and subjects touched on in Restoring Paradise—in particular. and Theosophia: Hidden Dimensions of Christianity (Hudson: Lindisfarne. 1999). Wisdom’s Children: A Christian Esoteric Tradition (Albany: State University of New York Press. 2002).
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