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Western Esotericism, Literature, Art, and Consciousness
SUNY series in
Western Esoteric Traditions
David Appelbaum, editor
Art. Literature.Restoring P a r a d i s e Western Esotericism. and Consciousness Arthur Versluis S t a t e U n i v e r s i t y o f N e w Yo r k P re s s .
art. recording.—(SUNY series in Western esoteric traditions) Includes bibliographical references and index. Title.V47 135—dc22 2004 2004045292 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 . 1959– Restoring paradise : western esotericism. NY 12207 Production. mechanical. Suite 700. Occultism—History. electrostatic. BF1411. Occultism in art. photocopying. ISBN 0-7914-6139-4 (alk. Authur. Valentine Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Versluis. I.Published by STATE UNIVERSITY OF NEW YORK PRESS. No part of this book may be stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means including electronic. Series. cm. 2. paper) 1. Laurie Searl Marketing. 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. Occultism in literature. Albany. or otherwise without the prior permission in writing of the publisher. and consciousness / Arthur Versluis. p. address State University of New York Press. 90 State Street. 3. Anne M. literature. II. magnetic tape. For information.
In memory of poet and scholar Kathleen Raine .
and Masonic Literature ix xi 1 17 35 . Rosicrucian.Contents Preface Acknowledgments Introduction: Initiatory Transmission and the Imagination What is Esoteric? Initiatory Transmission and Western Esotericism The Esoteric Imagination 1 Origins Alchemy of the Word The Field of the Imagination The Red Thread of Gnosis Conclusions 2 Historical Currents Divine Service: Chivalry and the Troubadours Books within Books: Jewish Kabbalism The Transfiguration of Earth: Alchemical Literature The Divine Science: Theosophic. Pansophic.
Art.viii CONTENTS 3 Modern Implications Prospero’s Wand: Modern Esoteric Literature The Western Esoteric Traditions and Consciousness Literature. and Consciousness Notes Index 87 159 169 .
At the suggestion of an early reader. I drew on a variety of both primary and secondary sources. and I hope that it will open the way to a new appreciation for each of them in this larger context. This is the first extensive discussion of these authors together. all the way from the early Christian era to twentieth-century poets and artists. D. and locales that play a role in supporting and amplifying the larger argument. V. but in keeping with my original impetus. Hence.P re f a c e Restoring Paradise began as an introduction to the literary and religious history of Western esotericism and was meant for a general audience. figures. but as the book took shape. At the very least. In writing this book. found where literature and religion meet in the works of such extraordinary figures as Charles Williams. C. so did an unexpected thesis about initiation. Lewis. O. Soon it became clear that Restoring Paradise was to be a genuinely interdisciplinary argument whose subjects range across Western religious and literary history. I include a short annotated bibliography to suggest further study for those interested in the fields that I here introduce in the course of making my case about literature and art as means of esoteric transmission in the West.. but the work’s focus remains Western. literature. Milosz. S. art. I hope that Restoring Paradise will serve to introduce many readers to the richness of our common inheritance. I also included references to Japanese Zen Buddhism and to the great Japanese philosopher Keiji Nishitani. H. traditions. and Cecil Collins. ix . and consciousness itself. wrote for a general audience across a range of fields rather than for specialists in one or more of the many periods.
1994) and Meditations. from Trilogy. 1985). © 1945 by Oxford University Press. Many thanks also to the various readers and editors of this book during the course of its production. Pages from a Sketchbook (Ipswich: Golgonooza. from Trilogy. and to the editors of Gnostica 3. in particular “Tribute to the Angels” (excerpts) by Hilda Doolittle (H. (West Stockbridge: Lindisfarne. copyright renewed 1972 by Norman Holmes Pearson. © 1944 by Oxford University Press. the estate of Cecil Collins and the Tate Gallery for citations and images. including the adapted cover illustration.). to Christopher Bamford and Lindisfarne Press for the citations from The Noble Traveller: The Life and Writings of O. V. to The Journal of Consciousness Studies.Acknowledgments Grateful acknowledgments to Brian Keeble. Poems.D. de L. Mélanges offerts à Antoine Faivre (Louven: Peeters. Milosz. My thanks to New Directions Publishing for permission to quote from the works of the poet H. xi . copyright renewed 1973 by Norman Holmes Pearson. “The Music of Dawn” from The Vision of the Fool and Other Works. 2001).D.D. 1997). and “The Walls Do Not Fall” (excerpts) by Hilda Doolittle (H. (Ipswich: Golgonooza. each of whom helped to make it a better work. in which earlier versions of parts of this book first appeared. Used by permission of New Directions Publishing Corporation..). and to Studies in Spirituality.
and metaphysical or transcendent. and one that has ramifications in many directions. but also. requires that one consider the role that language plays in generating. Yet for this to take place. we will focus on a single theme: that of how spiritual initiation takes place in Western esoteric religious. mutually 1 . are now appearing. even apophatic mysticism. I extend this question beyond mysticism to include the full range of what are now termed “Western esoteric traditions. artistic. and one of the most promising of these is what we may broadly term esoteric literature and art.2 In a model that I outline in two articles on method in the study of esotericism. provoking. In this book. and otherwise.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. or conveying spiritual experiences. not least of all for the understanding of art and literature. the study of mysticism. and these in turn may offer us new ways to understand both our past and our present in surprising ways. meaning experiential insight into the nature of the divine as manifested in the individual and in the cosmos. we must begin to go beyond historical research in order to understand not only who or what esoteric works. literary. These are not. of The Cloud of Unknowing and of eighteenth-century alchemical treatises form various sets and subsets. how esotericism is transmitted in the West. As Steven Katz pointed out in Mysticism and Language (1992).1 Here. and perhaps even more critically.” of which (in my definition) the mysticisms of an Eckhart or a Böhme. religious. This is a vast and almost totally unexplored field. or groups have been overlooked or marginalized.3 Gnosis may be divided into two broad categories: cosmological. figures. A wide range of new approaches to and reënvisionments of Western history. however. and artistic traditions from antiquity to the present. I argue that esotericism has as its central characteristic gnosis.
however disparate. Not at all. including alchemy. it can be described also as the transcendence of subject-object or self-other divisions. examples of it include alchemy. even if these also include metaphysical gnosis. Rather. this has not been true until recently for the Western esoteric traditions. 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. 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. Western esoteric traditions have been denigrated or dismissed for centuries. mysticism. In particular. of course. however. or mentioned only to be dismissed as merely outmoded relics. there has been much selective editing of our collective human inheritance. or gnosis.2 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E exclusive but rather are complementary and overlapping. above all this is a book about knowing. religious. But because so little has been written on how Western esoteric traditions are transmitted. provoke. Christian theosophy. Yet these traditions. to therefore reductionistically argue that these traditions represent nothing but linguistic constructions. or convey spiritual awakening. magic. Christian gnosis. Cosmological gnosis is insight into the nature of the cosmos. Like the koan. do have certain characteristics in common. that is what this book is about. and about how we come to know. magic. Rosicrucianism. Metaphysical gnosis in its pure form is apophatic or via negativa mysticism like that of Meister Eckhart or Marguerite Porete. for in order to create the modern world of machinery and science. astrology. theosophy. astrology. on how initiation can take place in the absence of a direct historical lineage in the West. and social histories. In essence. Although it seems that ours is a time when everything from the past is bound to come to light. Here. or Hermeticism. left out of literary. but with occasional reference to what I see as in many respects an analogous Asian tradition—that of the Zen Buddhist koan. philosophical. and related currents of hidden knowledge in the European inheritance. perhaps the most important of which is an emphasis on attaining spiritual knowledge. we will focus primarily on Western esoteric traditions such as alchemy. The term Western esoteric traditions is broad. and what ‘knowing’ by way of literature and language actually means. this must be our primary focus. But the time for such biases is past. for although we will outline Western esotericism’s main currents here. but necessarily so: it defines a vast range of traditions. Undoubtedly. it was necessary for many people to abandon whatever did not fit a positivist paradigm. the Western gnostic treatise uses words to provide an entry into dimensions of consciousness that transcend words. To consider the pivotal role that language and image play in the transmission of esoteric spiritual traditions is not. Jewish Kabbalah. . Freemasonry.4 The bias against esotericism derived in large part from the hegemony of rationalism and materialism.
proliferating wildly. while at the same time we find reactionary fundamentalist Christian sectarianism that often only fuels others’ disdain for Christianity. therefore. a vast field. Thus. Western esotericism is. and continuity of the Western esoteric traditions. about reading the stars. many people have realized that despite all the material comforts made possible by our machinery. it is more than useful to recognize whence they have emerged. Yet beyond the pleasure of discovery we will find something else: for the more we study the field of Western esotericism. . when we look at Western societies. the more we come to see certain underlying patterns. sects. For as we will see. and there are many treasures to be found there. Given the present openness of many people to criticism of modernity. the Western esoteric traditions. an awareness that modern machinery for all its power impoverishes both outer and inner nature. about reading as discovering esoteric knowledge of ourselves and of the cosmos. of course. we will not only be uncovering littleknown aspects of bygone days. And underlying these is. what their predecessors are. we readily can see why the time is ripe for a reëvaluation of the Western esoteric traditions in light of our contemporary situation. but in fact be discovering fundamental keys to understanding both the European esoteric inheritance. and to understand their patterns and meaning. and so a welter of new religious movements and groups has emerged.INTRODUCTION 3 Why? For the first time in several hundred years. By looking more closely at the origin. in my view. and to alternative forms of spirituality. we find on the social front. This is without doubt the reason that there are so many new religious movements—combined with a widespread distrust and even ridicule of Christianity. To navigate one’s way through these movements. At the same time on the religious front. which is often seen either as outdated. we find a definite prejudice in post-Christian societies against Christianity in general. their inner lives have become progressively more barren. nature. a metaphor that illuminates not only all the various disciplines and traditions. and cults existed side by side. which increasingly in the West seems to intellectuals to be moribund except as a social phenomenon. Thus many have begun to cast about for ways to enrich their inner or spiritual lives. and particularly in the radical ecology movement. but even sheds light on the very nature of being human. when a panoply of religions. and ways beyond the impasse at which we find ourselves today. or as oppressive and as having spawned the destructiveness of modernity. are fundamentally about reading: about reading nature. Chief among them is the growing conviction that positivism is bankrupt. In many respects. a single primary and overarching metaphor that we will be able to trace throughout the Western traditions in all their variety.5 But there are other reasons why an examination of the Western esoteric traditions might be especially apropos today. despite their often almost bewildering variety. our time resembles the early Christian era.
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. What is more. minerals and stars. and heaven. but can be transmuted. why do we travel with . it is at the heart of the Western literary continuum. By contrast. reading here guides one toward gnosis. the ‘I’ is recognized to be not stable but fluid. reading in this context extends beyond ratiocinative knowledge limited to a split between the reading subject and the ‘object’ to be studied: instead. in other words. we are not merely passive observers of a great aphorist. we enter into another’s world. but with consciousness itself. Thus we can see that spiritual knowledge is of a different order than contemporary secular or scientific knowledge. imaginatively enter into different lives. so too there are great readers. Why do we travel with Dante’s pilgrim through hell. there is also a union: we as readers are participating in the mind of the writer through the miraculous medium of the written word. and each requires the other.’ itself a metaphor for our time. we have developed machines that ‘read. we feel as someone else feels. Greek in origin. we do not remain just a cataloguer of this or that remarkable confluence of words. and thus there are no permanent divisions between ‘I’ and the cosmos. and will require much elaboration. If there are great writers. Reading here is defined in the broadest possible way. The view of reading and literature that I have just articulated is far from the more widespread contemporary assertion that writing and reading are merely about the exchange of information through signs. or spiritual knowledge. also about union. is the nature of the ‘I’ and the ‘not-I’ in question. yet this view of union is one that most and perhaps all literary readers and authors will intuitively recognize. however. when we read the works of an Emerson. as penetrating into the hidden mysteries of all that we see. The word gnosis. the accumulation of facts based in an apparently insurmountable division between self and other: ‘I’ accumulate facts about what is ‘not-I. The ‘I’ need not remain at the mercy of its own selfishness. And when we read a great poem. ‘Knowledge’ in contemporary usage is essentially ‘data. purgatory. When we read a novel. but in some sense leap the gap between ourselves and the author so as to actively participate in the writing. refers to spiritual knowledge. The mystery of reading is. Likewise. is much deeper than it might at first appear.’ Unexamined here. and ultimately with the divine. reading in the Western esoteric traditions has to do not merely with accumulating data.4 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E This theme of reading. progressively realizing its fundamental identity with plants and animals. of course. but experience the marvel of living metaphor and rhythm for ourselves. 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. for it is grounded not in separation but in union. In every experience of literature.’ that is.
” Although we will begin to unravel the intricacies of these mysteries of the word later. 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. It is often commonly supposed that the written word is inherently inferior to the spoken or oral tradition. to intensely complex theosophic works such as those of Jacob Böhme. a supposition with a long history that goes back at least to Plato in his Phaedrus. in short to the full range of esoteric literature. and during the course of this book we will begin to unveil just how significant is this indebtedness. we will unveil various facets of what I believe are approaches to spirituality via literature that inform all of them. The mysteries of the word represented in these various esoteric traditions are historical predecessors to and influences on what we now . but neither is it to say that the written word is disparaged. we travel ever more deeply into the worldview of the authors. it is to suggest that these works exist on a spectrum that also includes poetry. we understand. 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. not about accumulating more information.INTRODUCTION 5 Piers Ploughman among riddles and toward the apocalypse. are full of mysterious symbols and intricate encoded wordplays. I am not arguing that such insights are identical to what one might experience when working in one of the Western esoteric traditions. it will be useful to comment now on what is implied by this term. and essays. and when we read them. but about qualitatively different ways of understanding who we are. and where we are going. perhaps even experiencing hierophanxic moments of insight during which we suddenly see ourselves and the world around us in a new light. Rather. Using the word literature in this way in no way implies that these works are ‘only’ literary—that is to say. that their authors did not take them seriously as alchemical or spiritual treatises. What is more. like so many others. but even as a vehicle for attaining spiritual understanding. but I am arguing that Western literature owes a very great deal indeed to the Western esoteric traditions. we find that the written word is often seen not only as a means of transmitting spiritual understanding. we will see that literature (in the broadest sense of this word) is fundamentally about consciousness. where we are from. This is not to say that the written word is privileged over the oral tradition. But when we begin looking at the Western esoteric traditions.” 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. When I refer to literature “in the broadest sense of this word. We make connections. fiction. that at their heart the Western esoteric traditions are about reading the world’s and our own secrets. Here “literature” refers also to alchemical treatises and to visionary narrations. drama. As we look closer at the specific currents of Western esotericism. what is the attraction of Melville’s Ishmael? These works.
meaning that our investigations into and control of our world derives from our regarding all that surrounds us as objects to be manipulated. living divorced from humanity. 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. 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. the way we see the world. most notably Western esoteric traditions.” and acknowledging them will require us to change the way we see literature as a whole. and everything becomes a matter of techné. who are reduced to machinelike functionaries. we also have an opportunity to investigate the humanities with new eyes. Contemporary society is based on what we may call objectification. but for connection and union. one based not on division but on union. that have not fit into a worldview emphasizing a self-aggrandizing self pitted against other—to emphasize instead a wholly different approach to knowledge. Such objectification allows us to exploit and consume everything. moving instead toward ever deeper understanding of how one is indivisible from these. validate literature or the humanities in the face of scientism’s obvious and total victory. including people. indeed. we may well say that Western esotericism represents the reverse or inverse of modernity. the trajectory of the Western esoteric traditions is precisely the opposite: toward ever more profound knowledge of our unity with these realms. nature is reduced to “natural resources”. quantitative. as if catalogic. it suffuses our language.6 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E call “literature” or “literary tradition. for in it we are seeking to unveil new and ancient ways of understanding not only the primal act of reading. but also the even more primal act of knowing. Western esotericism in all its manifold forms has at its center the search not for manipulation or control deriving from objectification. Thus this is in many respects a revolutionary book. or manipulation. grounded in spirituality. It is the very basis of industrialization to objectify every aspect of life. no longer quite so dismissive of perspectives. By contrast. from which we believe that we are separate. If the trajectory of modern society is toward a virtual reality for each individual. or reductive explanations or investigations would somehow. In this respect. Those studying the humanities. and the divine. finally. have often turned more and more to quasiscientific approaches. For objectification has permeated all of modern society. people most of all. everything. nature. and particularly literature. 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. so pervasive is this objectification that it is extremely difficult to extricate oneself from this paradigm even if one wants to do so. And if at the beginning of the modern era there was a choice between these two .
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. But the fact remains that there are also figures. it may well be that out of this juncture will come a kind of cultural renaissance. 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.” In an effort to define the academic study of esoteric figures or groups and to separate it from popular definitions. The reader. as we rediscover the Western esoteric traditions. esoteric popularly has become almost synonymous with New Age. W H AT I S E S O T E R I C ? The word esoteric is used today in a variety of ways. particularly in light of their counterparts in the Asian esoteric traditions. perhaps symbolized best by the figure of someone reading an esoteric work from long ago. In Western Europe. and consciousness. literature. One finds under the rubric esoterik books on topics like pendulum dowsing. and groups in Western European and North American history. crystals. 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. and even from purportedly extraterrestrial origins. . particularly from the Renaissance and early modern periods. that are intellectually influential and that are only now becoming more widely studied in universities. one finds esoteric sometimes referring to an eclectic or syncretic collection of merchandise drawn from a wide range of cultures. alone with an author.6 Subsequently. for Western esotericism entails individual awakening. in the latter quarter of the twentieth century. we need to survey some of its meanings as well as to define it for our own purposes here.INTRODUCTION 7 ways. works. thus opening the field up to scholarship on contemporary as well as much earlier historical figures. And indeed. alone communing with the alone through the medium of words—this is the figure that will govern our journey through Western esotericism. But the question remains: how does one define esoteric in a satisfactory way? If one employs the largely cosmological characteristics proposed by Faivre. and so forth. fundamentally a marketing category for merchandise. But it is not particularly fruitful to speculate about social transformation in this field. so too that choice still exists today. and so to maintain clarity. Indeed. the academic study of esotericism is a developing field that may be succinctly and without derogation termed “esoteric studies. however. And in North America as well.
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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-
Freedom in fact lies in gravity. kensho is not a state of noncognitive consciousness awaiting the monk on the other side of the limits of rationality. Esoteric knowledge is expressed through literature and art. 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.INTRODUCTION 11 soluble by the rational mind and to propel the practitioner toward kensho (insight) or satori (awakening). At one time. Instead of blaming thought and language for defiling a primordial consciousness. and then moves to another koan in a more or less standardized series. 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. however. a profoundly important point not only insofar as Zen Buddhist koan study is concerned. The depiction of the koan tradition as irrational has long been criticized.”11 This is. in his Shobogenzo. This is fundamentally a Rousseauian notion of the individual as originally pure but polluted by society and language. Hori insists instead on what he terms a “realizational” model of understanding Zen koans. I believe. through language and image. In the context of the Rinzai koan curriculum. and recent scholarship confirms that the koan traditions in Zen Buddhism are far more sophisticated than popular depictions of them might have it. but into conventional consciousness . we discovered that we float helpless and uncontrolled without gravity. .” 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. It has become more or less commonplace for specialists in . . Dogen (1200–1253) heaped scorn on the idea of koan as irrational. then it itself cannot be separate and distinct from ordinary dualistic experience. but once we escaped the earth’s gravitational field. then it is a breakthrough not out of. not beyond it. If kensho is the realization of nonduality. but also as regards Western esoteric traditions. eventually solves it with a spiritual realization. joined to a view of Zen Buddhism as a way of escaping the pollution of society and language back to an original pureness beyond language. there is no Zen enlightenment beyond thought and language in a realm of pure consciousness. Hori concludes: “Just as there is no free flying above the reach of gravity. we may have thought that freedom lay in ascent beyond gravity. If kensho is to be described as a breakthrough. The pupil is confronted with a koan by the master. In a provocative article entitled “Koan and Kensho in the Rinzai Zen Curriculum.10 Hori goes on to make the following final point. From this viewpoint. kensho is the realization of nonduality within ordinary conventional experience. one should recognize that only in thought and language can enlightenment be realized.
By . Rather. frustrating though this may be. But that is not at all what I am arguing here—far from it. I believe. and the work of the practitioner is to enter into and realize for himself the truths that it contains. has no one capable of discerning a right understanding from a wrong one. This is not to say that the West had or. and that this is in fact the primary means of initiatory transmission in the West—through word and image. The koan derives its name from a judicial term. The same is true of the alchemical or gnostic treatise: the neophyte must work with and through it. the implication being that there is no such thing as gnosis. as I will propose here. is the pervasive lack of initiatory lineages and thus of the immediate reproof or approval of a living teacher. esoteric literature and art can function rather like the koan in Zen Buddhism. In the absence of a well-recognized line of historical masters. Rather. an alchemical treatise stands as an enigmatic representation of a transmutative process. then we cannot really speak of literature or the arts as being the vehicle of an initiatory or transmutative process. or are they manifestations of some other reality beyond oneself? Or. 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. as means of initiation. 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. for that matter. as in individual daydreams. I am arguing that in Western esoteric traditions. I am arguing that in the West. the weight of initiatory transmission is transposed to literary and artistic works.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. Like the koan. but what is the nature of the images perceived by the imaginative faculty? Are images merely phantasms of one’s own mind. particularly those that clearly are esoteric in nature. nor to say that there are no examples of initiatory lineages at all like those of Zen Buddhism. 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. What makes Western esotericism different above all. This role may be seen in some respects as analogous to that of the Zen Buddhist koan. 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. literature and art play a very special kind of initiatory role. If we believe that the imagination is more or less exclusively individualistic. and thus also to the individual.
This is the spirit in which an esoteric work is created and read or experienced. not all literature or art is esoteric or initiatory. 1675) is intended for a reader who has passed a certain milestone in alchemical practice and now seeks further guidance. it is for the few. the action by the act of reading or viewing. and hence the metaphoric journey might better be termed a “sojourn. Pordage’s letter is not accidentally or unconsciously esoteric—it is quite deliberately so. Obviously. For instance. 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. this would be in fact metaphoric for a process of transmutation. but intended as a guide for the individual practitioner. A literary or artistic work is esoteric not only when it conveys certain hidden meanings to an audience. refers to the sympathetic capacity of the reader or audience to participate in a work and to be transmuted by it. guide. This process takes place through the imaginative faculty. Esoteric works draw upon this fundamental participation or sharing between the creator and the audience in order to entice. or through what we may also call the induced vision of art. Although we could describe an esoteric work as a journey or the account of a journey. Imagination. This work is circumscribed. in other words. 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.12 As a result. the images. and doing so is an initiatory process through which the reader or audience develops cosmological or metaphysical insights. literature demands an audience who participates in creating the characters. this very perspective would make it impossible from the outset to .” an entry into and residence in a visionary realm hidden from ratiocinative knowledge. it is clear from its beginning that John Pordage’s “Letter on the Philosophic Stone” (ca. toward perceiving the world in a fundamentally new way.INTRODUCTION 13 its very nature. it is not for a general readership. What differentiates the esoteric work from others is the evident intent of the author that the work is esoteric and initiatory. or provoke the reader toward a gnostic shift in consciousness. and those who enter into it do so in order to undergo the process that it embodies. Imaginative participation is fundamental to art. even though all calls for imaginative participation on the part of the reader or audience. literary or otherwise. and employs parabolic language and images to that end. but also and even more because it entails a mutual intent on the part of the creator and the work’s audience. For example. one cannot read esoteric works in the same way that one reads or perceives exoteric art without doing them an injustice. an initiatory process that takes place through words and image. One has to enter into and dwell in the imaginative realm the creator generates (or reveals) through the work. using the term in a broad sense to mean the reader’s or audience’s openness to the esoteric work.
and this too presents problems. who enter into a work imaginatively. 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. analogous to that of the Zen student who seeks an objectified. This leads us inevitably to the question with which we began. When one reads an esoteric work like John Pordage’s treatise on Sophia.” we may well then be positing the realm of the imagination itself as something objectified that exists outside oneself. For one does not have to conceive of imagination as a purely individual generative capacity.’ 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. who see the work as mirroring a process that they seek to undergo in themselves.” but this would be a purely exoteric answer that objectified the esoteric work of literature or art. From a contemporary rationalist perspective one might answer “no. 2. and 3. of whether that which is imagined or revealed in an esoteric work possesses any existence of its own. 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. But there is a third perspective. Initiates. a process explicitly closed to the exoteric reader. Yet if we answer “yes. 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. in other words. Pordage writes that in the Sophianic process of imaginative vision. not one’s own. to understand them. and nothing less. This does not mean that one jettisons reason and becomes a ‘true believer.” The gnostic. 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. We can thus posit three kinds of readers of esoteric works: 1. 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 . Sympathetic readers. 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. has awakened in him by divine Wisdom the creative power that brings external existence into being. one must enter into them openly and on their own terms. inwardly in you and not constructed outside you.14 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E enter into the work and imaginatively undergo the process of awakening to the hidden realm that he is describing. one is in fact entering imaginatively into the process Pordage is describing. which is what I am proposing here.
What is more. and to the audience or initiate who vicariously participates in or witnesses the work and so has awakened the possibilities that the work represents.13 This new paradisal earth is in the gnostic. At work is a spontaneous inner generation of images for the gnostic. 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. This. one can extend this analogically to all creative efforts. The paradisal earth that Sophia creates is not external to the gnostic. it is generated through the creative power of Sophia and perceived through the gnostic imagination. in sum. 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. Imagination takes place in a continuum of co-creation belonging to the gnostic who perceives. but rather a matter of perceiving (being open to) an inner creative process. This continuum is what makes possible not only Pordage’s gnostic experience of inner creation and a visionary paradisal earth. they represent divine manifestation in the gnostic faculty of imagination so that the gnostic can perceive and be guided toward what they represent and. . 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. is an initiatory process manifested through literature and art.INTRODUCTION 15 into being in him out of the Ungrund. exteriorizing it through a work of art in which others can participate. Thus imagination belongs neither to oneself nor to divine power alone. but neither is it wholly internal as a creation of the gnostic. but resides in a continuum between the two. then. The realm of the 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. but these images exist in a mesocosmic realm between the gnostic and the divine. In other words. what the gnostic imagination perceives is what the creative power of Wisdom within it creates. then that work also belongs to this continuum and guides others into the same process of imaginative awakening. is by its very nature one of co-creation. inasmuch as the author or artist is allowing an imaginative process to take place within. if those images and that gnostic process are then also manifested in a work of art. to the divine power within that creates. taking place in a continuum in which divine power works and in which the reader or audience can participate vicariously at least. and in that work projecting a mesocosmic creative realm in which we can recognize aspects of ourselves anew.
Here. And to find these themes. death. and of this there are only two examples in the canonical Bible: some elements of the Book of John. needless to say. Christianity based on faith or belief in a historical Christ. remains central to what may be called conventional or exoteric Christianity—that is. of whose life we know through the historical documentation of the gospels. and resurrection. beginning with the ambience for and emergence of the Christian Bible and affiliated works. the Book of Revelation. however. and. bolstered to some extent by apocrypha.1 Origins ALCHEMY OF THE WORD To understand the origins of Western esotericism in all its various guises. specifically at the beginning of Christianity. what we may call a 17 . Christianity was centered around written accounts that took two primary forms. 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. central to which are the gospel accounts of Christ’s life. This. From relatively early on. When we look at the emergence of Christianity from the welter of religious traditions at the time. one characteristic appears prevalent above all others: the emphasis upon the written word. One is of course what we find in the canonical versions of the Bible. we must begin in antiquity. we will look at representative or synecdochic writings. is profoundly different. Here we have the fundamental division that has lasted throughout the subsequent history of Western esotericism: on the one hand. Although many aspects of what actually happened during this time may always be shrouded or lost. still we can trace through this era the origin of the primary elements or currents in Western esotericism. The other kind of writing.
and on the other. 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. that one can easily list them. and indeed. be characterized according to people’s approach to language. When we consider the emergence of historicist Christianity in light of world religious traditions. and mythic. . gnostic Christians continued to generate revelatory scriptural works because in their view. and insisted on an objectified historical Christ in whom one must have faith in order to be saved. The gnostics. an ahistorical. What mattered to them was inward or esoteric understanding. the Word was not literal but spiritual. so rare—in fact. symbolic. or technological. legal. the most moving and extensive undoubtedly being that in Apuleius’s The Golden Ass. or historical. by and large eschewed literalist views of language in favor of more complicated.” And written accounts of the mystery traditions are very rare. for on a worldwide scale ahistorical religious traditions predominate. Historicist Christianity has always taken a literal interpretation of the Bible. literal. Consider. Of course. the mystery religions of the time forbade writing about the mysteries: indeed. Perhaps most interesting about this dichotomy is how it centers around approaches to written language. In Christianity. we can see how anomalous it is. for instance. This division between exoteric and esoteric can. individual spiritual revelation is incalculably more important than simple belief in a historical series of events. Some of the Church Fathers were in fact clearly esotericists and gnostics—the most prominent being Origen and Clement of Alexandria.18 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E historicist emphasis. The Johannine elements in Christianity owe a great deal to the various movements collectively known as Gnosticism in antiquity. and hence revelation could take place today just as in antiquity. not only outward fidelity to fixed written words from the past. Such an approach to language is particularly common in modern times. which resembles Gnosticism far more than historicist Christianity: here. the very word mystery has the root meaning “silence. on the other hand. to make this dichotomy so clear-cut is to distort what was and remains a spectrum. many modern people unwittingly inherit these tendencies still. and anti-mythic? This was the battle. be it scientific. of course. Whereas the historicist Christians established a fixed canon of Biblical books that ended with the Revelation to John. multilayered approaches. both esoteric and exoteric tendencies center on how to interpret written language: should it be multilayered or monotonous. in this respect being peculiar to Christianity. the development of Buddhism. where the idea that language might convey multiple layers of meaning has been almost completely jettisoned in favor of objectified technical language. By contrast. as throughout world religious traditions. Plato alluded to this question in Phaedrus. should it be ahistorical. and represent a central reference point for the subsequent reemergence of esotericism time and again. revelatory emphasis.
but for a person to experience an organizing principle of creation itself. however much their literalist opponents think differently. For instance. and who else was accepted as orthodox. We find a similar approach to language visible in Jewish esotericism in the doctrine of the Shemhamphorash. but make a great deal more sense when one considers that language in this context is not merely a matter of transferring data. 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.ORIGINS 19 who insisted that there was an orthodox gnosis and that it is the “crown of faith. are prevalent in Jewish esotericism during precisely the same time that Christian Gnosticism was flourishing.” There have been many gnostics since who have also insisted that they remain orthodox. In general. Such doctrines of the hidden names of God. and were reputed to use certain letters as intonations similar to mantras in Hinduism and Buddhism. And we in fact find such strings of apparently nonsensical letters. in turn allied with similar numericalalphabetical mysticism involving the angels.” or “In the beginning was the Logos. of communing with the power that the letters correspond to. Their repetition and intonation of certain letter combinations were ridiculed by literally minded Christians. here it is vertical. But there remains a spectrum in antiquity nonetheless. Scholem remarks that Merkabah mysticism of the third and fourth centuries drew upon Greek language. and communion. just . that is. and whose primary emphasis was on morality. some Gnostic groups laid great emphasis on the inner meanings of language. and who will not use its power for selfish purposes. It is particularly useful to consider Gnostic spiritual traditions in light of what we have said regarding language. but such an approach is not for everyone. and in fact close scrutiny of this time suggests that Jewish and Christian esotericisms are so intermingled as to be virtually inseparable. true pronunciation. the seeds of all things. who are worthy of it. there were some gnostics who were not far from historicist Christianity. and spiritual illumination. asceticism. Likewise. for in it we find the predecessors of all the later Western esoteric traditions. it is reserved for those who are capable of it. and it is the esoteric side of it that interests us here. We may recall the first line of the Book of John: “In the beginning was the Word. in some of the Gnostic treatises of the Nag Hammadi library. Who was rejected as heretical. one is in touch with inconceivable power. chiefly vowels. corresponding in some respects to the Platonic archetypes. or sacred Names of God: by vibrating the names of God in the permutations of the sacred letters and by knowing their proper. often seems more like an accident of history than an inevitability. a means not for one equal to convey information to another. but of communication. This use of language is fundamentally different from what we ordinarily expect: whereas usual comunication is horizontal.” “Logos” here refers to that which precedes and transcends manifestation.
but if the letters were properly restored. Both Jewish and Christian gnostic esoteric groups tended to think and express themselves mythologically. through images.2 Both the gnosis of the word and the gnosis of the image are extensions of the monotheism of the book. All of this is to suggest that there was in antiquity in Jewish and Christian esoteric circles a very widespread gnosis of language which was grounded in writing. and to which we may refer as a gnosis of the word. Letters and numbers. and macrocosmically. are a means to creation’s redemption. But given the gnosis of the word that we have been discussing. and so forth. and in fact are by no means absent from the larger Christian 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. so the letters were altered. inconceivable power would be set loose. thereby making this conflict inevitable. paradoxically conveyed often through . and its aim is twofold at least: microcosmically. Such images are often found on amulets or talismans and are generally regarded as being ‘magical’ elements in Gnosticism.1 And indeed there is an ancient tradition that the Torah contains so much power in its letters that it could destroy the world. and in this regard man may be said to complete the work of God by being co-creator or co-redemptor.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. basilisks. This gnosis of the word represents a ‘fixing’ of the mysteries. We may remember the four animals that symbolize the four Gospels. as does the creation of images. and so forth. as principles of creation itself. are means in this process of individual and cosmic redemption—and so too are images. and so we find numerous images from antiquity like lion-headed serpents. its purpose is to restore the individual to a paradisal or transcendent state. all of which is entirely accepted within the orthodox tradition. The letters. Both word and image reveal and ‘fix’ the divine. and even if monotheism often turns toward a fundamentalist literalism. 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 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. 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. then. such images represent divine aspects. 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. it is to restore the cosmos itself to its paradisal condition. But monotheism is a rubric under which all manner of possibilities exist.
“for I am with you everywhere. they represent a collection of treatises that bear in common a set of themes and teachings sharing many similarities with gnosticism. who died and came back to life in order to tell people what happens after death. but it also represents Plato’s own version of the mysteries. for the bodily senses fall away and he encounters a vast and magnificent being that proceeds to unveil to him the mysteries of existence. and to his indebtedness to the mystery traditions. What marks the Hermetica most clearly despite the treatises’ diversity is their intimacy: the revelations are always one to one. in the first centuries of this era.” but not like an ordinary sleep. Hermetism is about direct individual spiritual revelations.” And the revelations have much in common with Gnosticism.” or ogdoad—going beyond the cosmos into transcendence. and probably bear a relation to it similar to that between Plato and the mysteries. but also in the Republic in his Myth of Er the Pamphylian. But the Hermetica are not Christian or Jewish.” (X. out of which emerges a “holy Word. These revelations at points have much in common with Christianity. tells him. while belonging to none (though they remain closest to Platonism).25). in symbols and myths. There is no one author of the Hermetica. but share elements in common with all three. of the mysteries tradition.” the being. “I know what you wish. which date to roughly the same time that Gnosticism was flourishing. The relation of such a tale to the mysteries.22b) . And they represent the writing down of an oral tradition. Poimandres. is self-evident. letter. which were also about death and resurrection.” when he reaches rest and joy (I. as when the path of one who died is traced through the spheres of the planets until the “eighth. 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. particularly in the conveying of spiritual truth. One has the complex body of multiple traditions known as the mysteries. The Hermetica themselves refer to Egyptian tradition. presented in the form of dialogues. number. We find a very similar approach to spiritual tradition in the body of writings known as the Corpus Hermeticum.ORIGINS 21 the permutations of word. and this is especially evident in Phaedrus and Timaeus. which begins with the narrator falling into “a sleep. In at least some respects. Plato’s writing represents a setting down or fixing. “there is communion between soul and soul. nor for that matter are they exclusively Platonic.” the “voice of the Light. and one has an individual author drawing upon this in creative ways. as when the narrator sees a boundless and joyous light. We have already alluded to Plato’s expressed distrust of writing. As Hermes himself says in one of the dialogues. The most famous of the Hermetic dialogues is the Poimandres.” From the very beginning. This corresponds closely with some Gnostic and Mandean texts which emphasize reaching the “eighth sphere.
and writings that reveal a great many similarities. then. Like Hermes himself. The most important of these is the insistence upon gnosis. and depicting direct spiritual illumination of the initiate. but insisting above all on one’s own direct spiritual understanding or gnosis. it is clear that the Hermetic treatises occupy a peculiar place. the more one studies the emergence of esotericism in the early centuries of this era. and Hermetism. yet not strictly philosophical either. when we survey the Western esoteric traditions. and it is this that represents the red thread that will guide us through the labyrinths of the centuries. 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. not quite belonging to the sphere of religion. There are five primary currents in antiquity that feed into what we may call the Western esoteric traditions: Jewish esotericism. here the dialogues often take place in an interworld of revelation.” “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. traditions. Christian esotericism. and are between one who embodies knowledge and one who seeks to embody it. mercurial quality to it. It is true that the language is sometimes Platonic. which Henry Corbin called the “active imagination. as there was to many of the movements of antiquity. precariously balanced on the periphery of religious traditions. Occupying an intermediate space between religion and philosophy. what we find is something quite different. But these currents themselves are not discrete from one another. 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. and is generally associated with the more or less random play of images. and together provided a common ambience out of which emerged a panoply of sects. and there is a witness to the revelation. the mystery traditions. no accident that so many of the Western esoteric traditions link themselves to the Hermetica. Indeed. or direct knowledge of the divine. and . But such a term suggests that imagination is otherwise passive. always there is a fluid. Hermetism reveals the ground occupied by Western esoteric traditions throughout the past several thousand years. the more one recognizes the fluidity of the various traditions’ boundaries. For from what we have said. It is. they certainly intermingled. willing to draw upon one or sometimes any of them. However.22 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E There is an initiator or revealer. Platonism. Hermetism refuses to be pinned down or definitively discussed. Such a relationship goes beyond simply that of participants in a dialogue like Plato’s.
and future are visible. when he weeps. the Revelation definitely has a literary form as well. after which come the most prophetic and well known parts of the revelation. However. and numerous striking images including the beasts with eyes before and behind them. At one point. a throne was set in heaven. he sees the twenty-four elders. . I believe that literature. of course. questions. a mesocosm. we will begin by looking at visionary experiences during the first few centuries of the present era. and one sat on the throne. Although the vision has a beginning.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. present. There are. turned. quite well known. It begins with some introductory remarks and salutations to the seven churches. in other words.” These remarks begin the actual visionary sequence. John. and there is relatively little point here in elaborating its intricate numerical and visual symbolism. but it is worthwhile to remark on several aspects of it in relation to Western esotericism more generally. beginning with the Revelation to John. a door was opened in heaven. and he interacts with them. only John’s remark that he heard a great voice. once introduced to this sequence. John remarks that there was silence in heaven for about half an hour (8:1). and where the earthly past. where John meets. mythology. Then. he is told to eat. and is questioned by the angels or divine powers. in the fourth chapter. an angel gives him a rod by which he is to measure the temple of God and those that worship therein. Rather. in this respect it does not appear to have an end: it is as though. and introduces the experience with virtually no biography whatever. saw and heard these things. and visionary experience all emerge on a spectrum in the field of imagination. or field of the imagination. but take place in their own time. Above all. and the auditory part of the vision began. The visionary sequence in the Book of Revelation is. an elder tells him to weep not. off the Greek coast. and does eat. John does not entirely return from it except to say “I.” the book concludes with the admonitions of Christ himself. Yet interestingly. In addition to its being a direct spiritual experience. But in order to understand the nature of this field of imagination. and behold. It is true that the Book of Revelation recounts a visionary experience of John while he was exiled on the island of Patmos. and in the tenth chapter. The revelation of John takes place in an interworld. And immediately I was in the spirit. Thereafter came a series of specific messages to the individual churches. there is the fact that it is a direct individual revelation: John sees and hears Christ himself. different kinds of time simultaneously here: there is the duration of the vision. His is not a passive vision in which events only happen before him: in the fifth chapter. when he eats the book. . and only then. a little book sweet as honey. apparently visionary time. and the first voice which I heard was as it were of a trumpet talking with me . 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 . came the following: “After this I looked. and behold.
And then there is. the Book of Revelation of St.13). Christ’s repeated assertion that “I am the Alpha and the Omega. especially in the Book of Life wherein is written the names of those who belong to the Lamb (13. Christian Gnosticism. we will recall. One. it is like a collective dream in which we participate simply by reading.” during these the end times.9). we are eating his little book—we belong to a direct lineage or current. twelves. Taken together. 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. is the prophetic element: more than one group has identified itself with the “woman in the wilderness” in the twelfth chapter. found in Judaism.12). and more than one group has seen itself as living during the end times. John is given a little book to eat. Another such element is the number and letter symbolism. After the various accounts of Christ’s life and death in the Gospels. By reading the Book of Revelation that John subsequently writes after eating the little book. and by eating the book. and Hermetism.24 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Western esotericism. This image is amplified by the presence of book imagery throughout the entire work. and Christ whose symbolic heart is the written word. The Revelation of John has an oneiric quality.” symbolism charged with initiatory knowledge. But for our purposes. John himself—for he is told to write by a voice from heaven (14. of course. In the tenth chapter. The word eidetikos in Greek refers to a particular kind of knowledge associated with shape or form. and are in a sense initiates. the most symbolically resonant image of all is that of the book. John is united with its knowledge. John eats the little book: it becomes part of him. possesses a special luminosity of symbolism that we may call “hieroeidetic. and finds it bitter in his belly. in other words. a gnostic encounter with elders.” which are opened during the Last Judgment in order to see the lives of those being judged (20. all remind us of the prior traditions. we suddenly are given in the Revelation this overwhelming and astonishing visionary sequence that brings us completely outside the sphere of mundane human life. Additionally. the way we see the cosmos itself changes. becoming symbolically charged. the very book that we are reading. The Revelation. and one hundred forty-fours. there are “other books. symbolizing his union with the esoteric center of spiritual life. 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). which he does.” as well as the repetition of geometric and numerical symbolism such as the sevens. And it has immense power for this reason: by entering into its world of references. revealing the hidden forces beyond history and what happens to all humanity. but sweet as honey on his lips. of letters and numbers revealing the secret powers of the divine. and although the word eidolon early in the modern era . which has inspired countless commentaries or explanations. of course. Every aspect of life is altered. The entire revelation is an unveiling of gnosis. angels.
where an encounter may take place. the Book of Revelation has had a far greater impact than all of these other visionary works combined. 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 . but also esoteric in the fact that it takes place in this visionary field. and so it is charged with cosmological revelations. and they remain separate even while meeting in this charged field of imagery. 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. at the Kabbalistic tradition. for it exists at the meeting point of the transcendent and the immanent. in fact the word eidetic also often refers to a particularly luminous and vivid imagery found among young children and in dreams. and what is heard. the Apocalypses of Baruch and Ezra. but rather that the Book of Revelation is paradigmatic. the Ascension of Isaiah. and as such takes place in the field of imagination midway between the mundane and the transcendent: there is a seer. Hieroeidetic knowledge is not in itself gnosis—that is. words. Rather. or at the theosophic current that in turn manifests in Rosicrucianism.ORIGINS 25 came to mean “phantom” or “apparition” without substance. including the two books of Enoch. This meeting of above and below is also symbolized in the heavenly city of Jerusalem. Of course. When we look at the various currents of the Western esoteric traditions. At the same time. splendid earthly form: but again. profoundly symbolic numbers. hieroeidetic knowledge exists in the field of knower and known. But such knowledge remains partly in the realm of division or objectification: there is a revelatory encounter between John and all the angelic figures of the vision. and is so thoroughly literary or bibliocentric in its essential symbols. and what is seen. hidden knowledge that comes mediated in the field of the imagination through forms. The Book of Revelation is filled with hieretic. in all of these we find parallels to the Revelation. seen by a seer. and the Apocalypses of Peter and of Paul. and some of which are found in the Nag Hammadi library of Gnostic writings. hieroeidetic knowledge is prior to and preparatory for gnosis. it is an image. The Revelation is unquestionably esoteric in its plethora of symbolism. Yet because it became canonical. at the mystical tradition. This is not to say that the Western esoteric traditions all find their origin in Revelation. all of which belong to the apocrypha. a hearer. it is not the spiritual revelation of union or unity. where we see the order of the transcendent manifesting itself in vivid. and because of its mysterious and powerful imagery. with its emphasis on writing and encoded language. and of James and of Adam. and images revealing the hidden nature and destiny of humanity. but among numerous other revelations from the same era. Whether one looks at the alchemical tradition and its symbolism. Hieroeidetic knowledge is the visionary revelation of the unifying principles and powers informing the entire cosmic realm.
and reading is uniquely suited to create inward participation because in reading our habitual boundaries between self and other can disappear. who found himself in the Minotaur’s labyrinth. or put better. a more intermediate or mesoteric approach is to see it as prophetic and revealing truths about our own world and lives. objectifying it. as wild as the book of Revelation. In other words. We can identify with fictional or poetic characters. we can enter into a new world of symbols and meaning. more vital than the mundane world of consumerism and the humdrum tedium of life without the invisible. for although the Revelation is the most well known. Esoteric bears the meaning of ‘inward. There are numerous ways one can approach a work as extravagant in symbolism. and who was able to escape only through the help of King Minos’s own daugh- . And though we risk being burned. THE RED THREAD OF GNOSIS A myth conveys. We return to the field of the imagination because this is where we come to know what it means to be alive. The most external or exoteric is to regard it as an object of study. to make it one’s own. ranging from external to internal. to the transcendent. without relevance to oneself. how hieroeidetic a work is. often in a simple story. a constellation of letters and numbers. And so we are drawn inexorably back to the nature of the book itself and the act of reading. reading about another’s vision may inspire one to experience a vision of one’s own. and exists more for entertainment. we return again and again over the centuries because we recognize in this mystery something more alive. has a certain value here: a symbol or image. What is it that makes a work hieroeidetically charged? Proximity to the invisible. it is certainly not the only one. is a particularly intense form of this inner participation or identification and union. 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. fascinated by its mysterious beauty. and an esoteric approach is to see it as paradigmatic and inspiring of one’s own revelation. possesses a psychic or symbolic charge that allures us. far more than may at first appear. the literature of the Western esoteric traditions. or from exoteric to esoteric. the act of reading gives birth to the act of writing. of being charged. For just as one may consider a work as charged as the book of Revelation from outside. 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.26 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Christianity itself. Some literature is not so charged or hieroeidetic. So it is with the story of Theseus. The analogy of electricity. Esoteric literature.’ of participation. we are drawn toward it. But all literature takes place in the charged field of the imagination: it is simply a matter of how charged. more electric.
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
and in religious experiences. not opposite or even complementary ways. Indeed. The gnostic visionary path is not separate from the way of negation—rather. so that ultimately the “enormous sea” produced by a single letter is in fact infinite. Throughout early Christian gnostic writings. and its light “never sets. All of this suggests that there was in Christian Gnosticism.30 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E sound that in turn manifests others. One who pronounced the name was in fact pronouncing the powers that had brought the cosmos itself into being. we find plays on naming and namelessness. This name was composed of four syllables. between this world and the invisible realm of energies. there is earthly marriage. but different aspects of the same way. Here we begin to see how the via negativa and the via positiva represent. the first of which had four letters. just as there was in Jewish Merkabah mysticism and in the Pythagorean-Platonic tradition. and the entire name had thirty letters. or one will . words. in the Gospel of Philip.” One must “receive the light” in the “bridal chamber” before death. From these observations we can begin to see something of the hidden significances of the mysticism of the word and the book. 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 path from ordinary rational consciousness divided into subject and object.”3 In other words. toward transcendent degrees of consciousness of ever greater communion between subject and object. in dreams. apparent boundaries between subject and object dissolve. and numbers emerge in. we become intimate with them. 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. although we refer to them by the same names. to become privy to these mysteries is to penetrate beyond ordinary humanity and to become divinized oneself. VI. or who was faithful and near death (Ref. 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. always emerging out of this relationship between the expressed and the inexpressible. This is the realm sometimes glimpsed in literature. so to penetrate into the deepest mysteries of human language is to penetrate into the metalanguage that gives birth to the cosmos itself. As we ‘read’ these images.” “in the aeon the form of the union is different. for each letter was also an angel and a forming power. which is of a totally different order. it is the realm of living ideas or energies. Such a metalanguage is implicit both in the human being and in the cosmos as a whole. For instance. we participate in what they represent. embody. a developed metalanguage that both reflects and leads toward its own transcendence. we read that “whereas in this world the union is one of husband with wife. or aeon.xxxvi). and there is another kind of marriage that takes place in the invisible. sacred images. and reveal transcendence.
for such a one the world is transparent. The Gospel of Philip goes on: “And again when he leaves the world he has already received the truth in the images. The world has become the aeon. For whether the gnostics belong to the Jewish Merkabah or the Christian Gnostic. indeed. And here we see emerging the second characteristic: the mystery of names. what I call the red thread of gnosis that leads us out of the labyrinth. The nameless and the named are not divided. evokes. not to arbitrary designations. when one dies. These figures or images of marriage and light are ways of expressing the inexpressible gnosis. not hidden in the darkness and the night. 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. but to inherent characteristics of what is named. 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.”4 In other words. elusive. the first of these is its inexpressibility: it remains always transcendent. the unnameable. Thus “the world has become the aeon”—in other words. the invisible and the visible are no longer divided for the initiate. characteristic ways of understanding. to actual energies that the name itself embodies. The way of negation is not the opposite of affirmation. but hidden in a perfect day and a holy light. my argument here is not about lines of influence so much as about modalities. can see the energies ordinarily veiled from humanity by its fallen. This is the way it is: it is revealed to him alone. Rather. CONCLUSIONS Although the Western esoteric traditions unquestionably have their origins in the early centuries of the present era. and perhaps to a lesser extent to the Hermetic or the Neoplatonic tradition. The cosmos is no longer opaque. one can ‘read’ the invisible in the visible. . gnostic paradigms. But the inexpressible is so only by contrast with the expressible. a collection of objects from which one remains separate. but rather.ORIGINS 31 not receive it after death—and one who receives that light is perfected and cannot be detained. but its inseparable companion. but also the actual energies that these images embody or represent. divided consciousness. What are the characteristics of this red thread as we trace it through history? Naturally. 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. is. This inexpressible gnosis is the “marriage” or union of subject and object. for the aeon is fullness for him. one finds a gnosis of the divine names. unnameability emerges always out of the presence of names. but is free in life and in death. Here naming refers.
and therein we obtain the pure key. On the lowest level. albeit few more wild than those of the Book of Revelation. a third characteristic. Such a gnosis of numbers is visible during the medieval period. By contrast. but lives in an intermediate realm necessary for the birth of unitive consciousness. but men have sometimes lowered them to it. of the different properties of beings. my dear brother. including the gnoses of numbers and letters.5 A similarly gnostic view of numbers appears again in the work of Louis-Claude de Saint Martin (1743–1803). which all proceed from the one only essence .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. which emerge out of the inexpressible into the realms of conscious perception. Out of the gnoses of numbers. who wrote his friend Baron Kirchberger that “Numbers are no algebra. the images may be seen as corresponding to something in our own inward nature. in his own degree. the images remain outside one and are taken literally as referring to history.”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. and are visible in major European literary works. Such images may be seen in terms of degrees of union. numbers designate quantities that one can manipulate. to which I have already devoted some study. but as qualities pregnant with meaning. Even more intimately yet. . and images emerges the fifth characteristic. everyone. A fourth characteristic is imagery. of course. on which conventional mathematics is founded. a gnostic view of numbers and letters sees them not as merely signifying something external. Here. Regeneration alone shows us the ground. According to rational consciousness. where we find definite traces of Latin number and letter transposition corresponding to what in Hebrew is termed gematria. woven together into a . separated from the subject who sees. including Piers Ploughman. These number-letter transpositions yield many hidden significances. But this view of numbers corresponds to seeing reading as the accumulation of data: it remains objectified. They are only the sensible expression. of which the quantitative designation is a husk. however. . whether visible or intellectual. nor wholly from without. letters. which is the mystery of words and of the book. imagination proceeds neither wholly from ourselves. a theosopher in the line of Jacob Böhme. as a panoply on an inner stage where we see acted out the soul’s dramas. here they no longer are taken as having entirely historical dimensions. numbers and letters can open up into aspects of consciousness itself. Here we have the combination of all the elements we have discussed so far. without masters. the images may be seen as reflecting inner aspects of the cosmos. More intimately. so that to work with them is to enter into the existential quality that is their real nature or kernel. Gnostic works reveal a wide array of images and myths. What is more. but instead express aspects of the invisible origin of the cosmos and of ourselves.
often do not hold at all. words. numbers. these gnostic characteristics remain visible. words. are meant to permeate and transmute one’s consciousness so that the invisible is no longer divided from the visible. so that one no longer exists only in a rational separate consciousness in an objectified world. taken together. and indeed even begins to approach the highest mystery. Its mysteries of names. and traditions best express his understanding. Roman. . but also to convey it. We can see that despite the bewildering variety of traditions that existed in the first centuries of this era. just as in the subsequent Western esoteric traditions. from antiquity to the present. And when we look for these fundamental characteristics. Christian. that of the inexpressible from which all of these gnoses derive and to which they inevitably lead. it remains a tradition of the mysteries of the book. remains a heterodox figure drawing upon whatever myths. images. we find that divisions between heretical and orthodox. in one form or another. and images. Egyptian. but instead participates in the energies and powers that give rise to and inform the cosmos. letters. 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 become it. To read such a work properly is to ingest it. as John ingests the little book in Revelation. whether. The esotericist or gnostic in antiquity.ORIGINS 33 tapestry meant not only to point toward the gnostic experience. in the complex admixtures of Jewish. 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. By following the courses of Western esotericism. and other currents that mingled to create the works we have been considering. Greek.
Both the chivalric and the troubadour traditions were centered on service or duty. It is true that there were important intervening figures like John Scotus Eriugena. 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.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. Here I am not arguing that the chivalric or troubadour movements were gnostic. The troubadour. 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. 35 . but we must do so in order to trace the Western esoteric traditions. so much must be left to catalogue elsewhere. but here we are sketching the broad outlines of historical currents drawing on individual works. That there were profound correspondences between the chivalric and the troubadour movements in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries of Europe is incontestable. sees her (or him. of course. and entailed a moral code much higher than that of the rest of society. in giving honor to his beloved. if the poet is a woman) as the divine incarnate. 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. we cannot help but recognize there the influence of chivalry. only investigating whether there are elements corresponding to the mysticism of the word that we saw in antiquity. When we consider the emergence of Western esoteric traditions in the modern era.
Instead. or love’s faithful. Of course. the esotericism that we find in the chivalric or troubadour tradition is allusive and elusive. but one doubts very much that this reflects a widespread or organized esoteric tradition. One such group was the fedeli d’amore. particularly the chivalric tradition. When the troubadour or the knight pledges troth to a woman. we can see in the poetry of the time that there was a mysterious amorous language that referred both to carnal and divine love at once. Can we find anything approximating this earlier explicitly gnostic esotericism in the chivalric tales or the songs of the troubadours? The answer. Much more likely that here.E. and thus there inherently are hidden dimensions to such poems or stories. individuals sought and found as much as they could of such traditions on their own. in the background is also his relationship to the invisible. perhaps occasionally forming themselves into larger groups only again to dissolve under pressure from the church or from other social circumstances. I think. for example. even surreptitious. for hidden meanings not accessible to outsiders. Both of these movements are fundamentally social in nature. that is to say. likewise.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. they do not reflect what we see in those Merkabah or Gnostic or Hermetic traditions explicitly devoted to knowledge of the transcendent. as referring to an actual beloved woman and to the divine. and that may have also in some quarters engendered initiatory groups. we have already seen the explicitly esoteric nature of Gnosticism and other movements of the first few centuries C. the soul’s liberation as one finds in Gnostic treatises. And so the chivalric and the troubadour traditions are fertile ground for esotericism. One does find an outright gnostic esotericism in the writings and sermons of Meister Eckhart and Johannes Tauler. there is esotericism visible in the songs of the troubadours. Undoubtedly much of this allusiveness had to do with the strictures imposed by the Roman Catholic church. relying on implication and multivalent symbols. When a story is about a knight’s remaining true to his word. who conveyed their mysteries through poetic references and imagery. But when we look at these movements as a whole. . as in so much of Western esotericism to follow. a troubadour’s poem also can be read on at least two levels. the troubadour movement was close to esotericism proper. as for instance in the Grail cycles or in Parzival. is no. but these were not part of either the chivalric or troubadour lines. and indeed even they ran afoul of church censors alert for any signs of Gnosticism’s recurrence. But to this day the precise nature of this or similar societies remains largely closed to us. There is esotericism visible on occasion in the stories written by individual authors or in particular cycles. But was there any explicitly esoteric content in these traditions? In other words. it is implicitly also about his relationship to the divine. never explicitly discussing. in that it remained an individual and somewhat anarchic tradition that one joined by self-election.
and this is the mystery of names. upon which Trevrizent tells the story of King Anfortas and his wound.” and we are told that his being a Christian allowed him to enter into the true nature of the Grail. both pagan and Christian. For instance.” on the top of which an inscription announces the name and lineage of one called to the service of the Grail. worthy. for shortly Parzival and we are told about the magical Stone called the “Lapsit exillis. For. Parzival learns about the tradition of the Gral or grail from Trevrizent. had written of the hidden secrets in the constellations. those who did not take sides. occupying a middle ground between these. a descendent of Solomon himself and an astrologer. it is associated with angels whose place corresponds closely with that of Hermes and Hermetism. In any event. and has a rich reward in heaven. but God may have taken them back. who discovered the primary version of the Grail cycle in Toledo written in “heathenish script” (presumably Arabic). a hermit. we are told. Kyot had to learn the characters’ ABC beforehand “without the art of necromancy. in Wolfram von Eschenbach’s Parzival. had to descend to Earth to that Stone which is forever incorruptible. “A troop had left it on earth and then rose high above the stars. whence had come the Grail. Hearing this. we do find traces in chivalric literature of some of the same themes that we saw in antiquity. Parzival exclaims that if chivalric deeds with shield and lance can win fame for one’s earthly self and paradise for the soul. this reminds us rather strongly of the magical powers of naming in the Book of Revelation. for the name disappears. that is. Naturally. a Provençal poet named Master Kyot. And beyond the mystery of naming lies the mystery of the Stone itself. for not only is it given a JudeoChristian mythohistory. then the chivalric life is his one desire. most notably in the esoteric significances of writing and speaking. Afterwards a Christian progeny bred to a pure life had the duty of keeping it. noble angels. . the stone has since been in the care of those whom God appoints. He or she is forever after immune from the shame of sin.” we are told that Flegetanis wrote. and shortly the child is fetched from whatever country. This story is of Anfortas’s pride and his wounding and lying sick. Thus the disclosing of the Grail mystery came about through the mysterious decoding of an unfamiliar language. He found that a man named Flegetanis. and to whom God sends his angel. which has a peculiar mythohistory that Eschenbach briefly relates here. [as] if their innocence drew them back again. and in Jewish and Gnostic esotericism more generally. teacher of Eschenbach. when Lucifer and the Trinity began to war with each other.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 37 Nonetheless. Whether the name is of a boy or a girl. Trevrizent tells Parzival that he does not know whether those “neutral angels” were forgiven or damned in the end. but there is another source. Here the Stone is certainly associated with esoteric mysteries. there is no need to erase it. it was through books that Kyot traced his path to Parzival himself. But there is an even greater mystery about the Grail.
he is forced to leave—a repetition yet again of the constant theme throughout Parzival. and at the end of the tale. And near the end of Eschenbach’s story of Parzival. the spotted knight. just as is Western esotericism more generally. we will recall.” This conclusively links the planets to consciousness. that of speaking when one ought to (asking the Question. we are told to honor women. of course. for a knight comes to live with a princess on the condition that she never ask his name. Yet this implicit esotericism. although intrinsic to the tale inasmuch as it concerns the mysteries of the holy Grail and of the inscriptions upon it.1 There are throughout this tale astrological references with esoteric implications.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. When inevitably she does so.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. intensifies with the “advent of the high planets. of his good fortune and that he shall ask the Question. Saturn to suffering.” chiefly Saturn. of course. or still less into discussions of spiritual illumination. we are told again to honor and never denigrate women. For instance. He was to ask. and if he asked a Question. whether it be Trevrizent or Eschenbach himself who advises. remains this-worldly in emphasis. where suddenly they saw it written that a knight would come. And at the book’s conclusion. exists both within and without specific religious traditions. Parzival. for instance) and of not speaking when one oughtn’t. but also with the changing of the moon. 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. then naming them one by one in Arabic. and lost by asking the wrong one! Parzival is. but certainly it is safe to say that it also contains esoteric references central to the tale. the two nodes of which are called the “dragon’s head” and the “dragon’s tail. but if he were forewarned of the Question it would turn harmful. and indeed it may be that the fusion of this-worldli- . why the king suffered—but Parzival himself had not done this and thus had already failed. like chivalric literature more generally. we are left with a curious twist on the mystery of naming. Rather. and that of all the Grail servers. and there is in this even a complementary relationship: a kingdom can be saved by asking the right question. like so many of the Western esoteric currents. the knight is told by Feirifiz. entertaining. we are told explicitly that Anfortas’s suffering. This theme clearly holds for both men and women. Feirifiz outlines why Parzival shall do so by reference to the “seven stars” or planets. in particular. then their sorrows would end. was cared for by twenty-five women who by serving it are exalted. the Grail tradition is both independent and syncretic. and that is the exalted position of women. The Grail. There remains one more aspect of the Grail tradition that we need to discuss further. Throughout the tale.
these being liberality. continence. when Gawain to his shame tells the story of how he was fooled into wearing that braided belt. and is associated not only with the five wits or five senses. Gawain’s symbol. and behind him is the figure of Morgan le Fay. trusts instead in the knotted “braided belt” given him by Morgan le Fay. the first is the true knot. This esoteric symbolism emerges especially in the author’s discussion of the pentangle. is marked with a tiny colored initial. And we should remember that Gawain is alliterative poetry. and are called together the “endless knot” by the Gawain-poet. First. in Gawain as in Parzival. marking why Gawain is a fine man. instead of trusting only in this “endless knot” of the pentangle. Once again. When Gawain. The Green Knight is a mysterious supernatural figure who puts Gawain to the test. where we are told that this sign comes from Solomon himself. But there is an implicit esotericism that emerges in the work’s center. he ultimately feels shamed. and piety. in the image of the pentangle. and even wearing a sign of it themselves—a green one. like Grail tales more generally. and. part of a tradition that. but with the five fingers. Gawain is the story of a virtuous knight on his travels. Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table find the story not only funny but so instructive that they all decide to wear a green girdle like Gawain’s. For the color green has a special symbolism that recurs throughout medieval literature and is especially prominent in Gawain. we see Arthur and the entire court laughing and enjoying Gawain’s tale. Thus the poem ends with the well known motto “Hony soyt qui mal pence.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. the explicit story is clearly one of virtue upheld. For one certainly finds the same theme illustrated in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. the poem. At the end of Gawain. with the five wounds of Christ. the five joys of the Virgin Mary with her Child. And this green marks my second point of observation. part of a scribal code of letters that mark critical junctures in the work. is not simply the repetition of letters and numbers for the way they sound. as I have elsewhere shown.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. the five virtues. but a way of conveying secret or esoteric meanings within a poem outwardly devoted to the telling of a story. This famous passage. And at this point we might remark on two aspects of this transformation. the number of maidens serving the Grail. loving kindness. reveals a fall and a redemption: the characters go through suffering into a renewed union on a higher level. courtesy. like several others in the poem. All of these five categories add up to twenty-five. of course. whose enchantments together with the Green Knight .” meaning that good comes forth out of evil. and the second that of bewitchment and bewilderment. Yet in the story’s conclusion.
4 But this secret language is that of lovers. as when the poet Bernart de Ventadorn (1150–1180) writes “Parlar degram ab cubertz entresans / e. being found in Islam associated with Khidr. pus nons val arditz. Or again. which can seem so merciless and in which death is inevitable. there are the lines of the young Raimbaut d’Orange (c. Thus we have a dual symbolism of women—that is. One does find esoteric themes. and in fact the gnostic symbolism of green is quite widespread. and the illicit. there is little hint in any of this of open or even covert discussions of gnosis. But one does not find this kind of overt esotericism among the troubadours and trouvères. green is the color of nature. the hidden divine messenger.”] Or again. adulterous relationship offered by Morgan le Fay. One finds at the center of the Friends of God mysterious communications from a “Gottesfreund vom oberland. and although one can read such poems on multiple levels. valgues nos gens! [Let us talk in secret signs. first must be humbled by the Green Knight and symbolically die with a snick of his neck. Among the most explicitly esoteric of medieval poems more generally is La Vita Nuova by Dante. The symbolism of green here corresponds to that of a more esoteric group around Rulman Merswin (1302–1387). yet it is also the symbol of new life. 1150–1173) playing on namelessness and naming.” or “the Green Isle.40 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E symbolize the bewitchments of the world. and continuing into at least the twentieth century in the novel The Green Face of Gustav Meyrink. a group called “the Friends of God” who established a community called “L’Ile Verte.” La Vita Nuova is full of esoteric implications from its very beginning.” under whose spiritual guidance the circle proceeded. / And since talking directly can’t help us. which on the one hand is associated with jealousy. Both chivalric and troubadour literary traditions are allusive enough to accomodate esoteric interpretations.” The Friends of God were. perhaps cunning can. which begins by discussing the “book of memory. growth. The Green Isle represents an intermediate realm of spiritual passage. and the death that inheres in and underlies them. This same duality inheres in the color green. become beautiful and haunting lyrics. they set themselves apart from the rest of society by their spiritual vocation. Here even the kind of esotericism we find in the chivalric tales is muted and filtered into literary forms. to be renewed.” and then the lines written down in his little book that he entitles “The New Life. Recalling the emphasis that Eschenbach laid on the astrological timing surrounding the . yet at the same time. like the chivalric orders. but they are almost never explicitly esoteric. the licit and noble relationship symbolized by Guinevere. and renewal. not monastic or priestly. yet on the other is associated with the beauty of Venus. occasioned by his observation that he cannot find a name for his verses. Gawain. We might remark here that the Gottesfreunde had a Meisterbuch with a gnostic alphabet representing the twentythree aspects of the spiritual path. although a lay group.
of course. and it turns back to that silence again at the end. and to fuse the tradition’s literary. This is. and here. Dante sees Beatrice again. and is in the tradition of the Book of Revelation. as does the play that we see here on naming. And of course. Vita Nuova and the Divine Comedy. But there is more that ties this work to the esoteric lines we are tracing through history. an intervening figure in the tradition. and of beautiful images shimmering in space. and his commentary. though certainly showing the influence of the troubadour tradition. ruling over him by virtue of a strong imagination. La Vita Nuova.” and at the poem’s end sends a sigh upward beyond the farthest sphere. who wishes to restore him to spiritual health by awakening his celestial memory and recalling him to his proper state of mind. this time wearing a white dress. Dante ends this strange work. an allusion to the coming extraordinary visionary journey of the Divine Comedy. Beatrice herself appears to Dante in a crimson dress as if she were an apparition. Boethius meets while in prison the divine figure of Philosophia. but it is also bringing Vita Nuova to the closure of silence. where a “new perception” shows it a Lady of light. and words and ideas into the empyrean. and religious inheritance into visionary narratives that in fact . of course. There is. So too does Love appear to him in terrible aspect during the beginning of the night’s nine last hours. time. was imprisoned and preparing to die when he wrote his Consolation as a summary of his understanding. go far beyond it to include all manner of esoteric implications. thrice-blessed Lady. in the ninth hour of the day. she called Beatrice by those who nonetheless fully do not know her name. philosophical. where Dante is upbraided by the divine figure of Beatrice. that being Boethius in his Consolation of Philosophy. poems. as in the Divine Comedy. Boethius. Boethius goes on a journey of celestial memory that takes him to his true origin beyond the sphere of the stars. all of this corresponds closely to what we see in Dante’s Vita Nuova. like the great Divine Comedy. Thus Dante’s greatest works. albeit more literary. with a final vision about which he will not now write. and exactly nine years later. The strong imagination to which Dante refers is not just daydreaming. but the faculty of imaginal perception. who lived during the fifth century.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 41 Grail. calls upon the “book of memory.” The number nine recurs in various ways throughout the poem. 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. Within the work’s visionary interworld we enter into an archetypal realm of celestial numbers reverberating in time. full of images. 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. is a visionary poem. In De consolatione. we end by passing beyond space.
Chaucer elaborates on the “noble theatre” of Theseus. and of divine service. but in fact represent continuations not of specific lineages so much as currents or approaches to transcendence. including Troilus and Cressida as well as The Knight’s Tale. caroles. marked east and west by gates of marble. but rather to recognize that esoteric elements flow in the mainstream of Western literature itself. interested in depicting his sometimes bawdy characters and tales. One finds traces of this influence in a number of Chaucer’s poems. Chaucer was not that kind of poet.42 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E depict unfolding gnostic revelation. the theater of art. Chaucer was not an esotericist. These references form a memory theater of images that govern the lists or battles taking place within their purview. a nude Venus depicted with a golden garland and a “cokkow sittynge on hir hand. The two medieval currents we have been discussing here—the chivalric and the troubadour traditions—meet in two final figures whose work we must consider here—Geoffrey Chaucer (ca. known as a primary literary figure in English history. And these are evoked . The western gate dedicated to Mars displayed a forest full of “knotty.” Thus this tale. and occasionally elsewhere in his work. Like Dante. Chaucer. But all the same. above all. in a new ambience produce new revelations that often seem to appear ex nihilo. The celestial images rule over the terrestrial actions within the circle of life. yet he went further. with an oratory. and built by masters of “geometrie or ars-metrike.” with a temple of Mars “wrought al of burned steel. This is not to say that Chaucer was an esotericist in the sense of a Kabbalist or a Gnostic. Earthy. Here. Certainly there are no explicit and even relatively few implicit esoteric allusions. for Chaucer also translated Boethius’s Consolation of Philosophy from Latin to English. bareyne trees olde. 1343–1400) and Ramon Lull (1232–1316). 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. which tells the story of how the knight Palamon and the lady Emelye were ultimately wedded.” with “festes.” The eastern gate was dedicated to Venus. Chaucer drew on Boethius in his own work. especially of the knight for his lady.” and by “kervere of ymages. knarry. This “theatre” was circular and a mile in circumference. instrumentz. We see in Chaucer’s tale. daunces” around her. is also a tale full of mythological and astrological references to the planets. also incorporated esoteric elements into his poetry and prose.” it was “depeynted in the sterres above / Who shal be slayn or elles deed for lov. we will concentrate on The Knight’s Tale because it illustrates some of our primary esoteric themes. what we might call literary reflections or manifestations of esoteric traditions. we find here too signs of the themes that have occupied our chivalric and troubadour poets. In the third part of The Knight’s Tale.” In that “portreiture. here. the themes of divine images that recall celestial memory. however.” “gastly for to see.
we are given the meditations of the hermit. The Book of the Lover and the Beloved. was prolific. and indeed. troubadour. and Ars generalis ultima. unlike him Lull was primarily concerned with elaborating his astonishing system of universals known as the “Lullian Art.” The Art represents.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 43 through literature. consisting chiefly in recounting the moral code of the knight. and of course his most well-known and influential works. Lull was himself something of a troubadour. it was eclipsed and almost completely vanished until it was rediscovered in the late twentieth century. not just a set of correspondences. For although Lull. At this juncture. for it includes other dimensions and reminds us of the celestial meanings behind human action. (a kind of chivalric code). These terms. Ars brevis. ‘As knowledge and remembrance differ from ignorance and oblivion’” (7). The Book of the Lover and the Beloved is much more complicated. and this is no accident. in the voluminous works of Ramon Lull become explicit. was also a syncretist who learned and taught Arabic and drew on his knowledge of esoteric Islam in his writings. Lull. and unquestionably entails explicitly esoteric dimensions. one for each of the 365 days of the year. like Chaucer. among his vast number of works are The Book of Chivalry. We are concluding this discussion with Lull because his work encapsulates virtually everything that we have so far considered. which alludes to the ninety-nine names of God in Islam. chiefly through the heroic scholarly work of Frances Yates. The Book of Contemplation.” are familiar to students of . bringing together the chivalric. a tireless proselytizer for Christianity in Islamic countries. but with the advent of rationalism. only to leave and become a hermit contemplative. The lover answered. It represents the ninety-ninth chapter of Lull’s romance Blanquerna. but a complete way of knowledge that penetrates through all aspects of life. “knowledge” and “remembrance. literature is not only entertainment. The Book of Chivalry corresponds to what we saw already in the Grail and other chivalric literature. Not surprisingly. He asked how the Beloved’s presence differs from his absence. In the ninety-ninth chapter. (part of his romance Blanquerna). But what in Chaucer are only allusions. until he was thirty. given its astonishing scope. In fact. the Lullian Art was immensely influential during the medieval and early modern era. 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. on the love of the soul for God couched in the terms of lovers. Characteristic of his meditations is this: “The Beloved tested his lover in order to see if his love for him was perfect. which tells the story of a man who rises to the position of pope. the careful reader might notice some resonances with esoteric Islam. and esoteric streams into a remarkable fusion. Evidence of this is visible in his choice of ninety-nine for this chapter on contemplation. It is self-evident from Lull’s own introduction that he is drawing on esoteric Islam in order to create a kind of Christian Sufism.
which emerges from “a lust for knowledge and presumption. and that is the book. The cosmos represents the divine writing. His brief alphabet extends from B to K (excluding J) and includes a range of mean- . out of arrogance or presumption. By means of these letters. and therefore the world is in my Beloved. not of figures.’ ‘And in what does this book consist?’ ‘In my Beloved. Lull himself was certainly accused of an inordinate and presumptuous lust for knowledge in the pursuit and teaching of this art. engraved in precious jewels and worn on him in order to always remind him. we are also participating in this relationship. ‘It is a book for those who can read in which is revealed my Beloved. and images. but for purposes of clarity. as the readers of Lull’s book.’”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.” But the Lover corrects this through the remembrance of truth. was a means of investigating and coming to understand the true nature of things.’ They asked him. just as the writer is in his book. some “insult the Name of God with curses and incantations. This extraordinary art. whose influence extended across Europe. Such a proviso is particularly appropriate for Lull’s own work. as well as from the Grail tradition in particular. invoking evil spirits as good angels. we find the following: “They asked the Lover. west. all errors are implanted in the world.” In this falsified knowledge. and writings. Further. and profaning holy things with figures. each of which has multiple meanings and is used to create figures and reveal the principles within all that we see. ‘Yes. And through presumption. and by writings. Lull used more letters. Here we find a clear condemnation. which he claimed to be a universal system of knowledge that allows one to see into the universal nature of all things and of the Divine. and is founded on a special kind of alphabet. but are also familiar to us from our examination of the Western esoteric traditions more generally. that is. by seeing the Sign of God in the east. north and south. ‘Is your Beloved in the world then?’ He answered. since my Beloved contains all. Originally. meant to reflect that of humanity to the divine. and writings in themselves.44 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Sufism. images. since there is absolutely no doubt that Lull himself extensively used figures. Of course. images. ‘What is the world?’ He answered. investing them with the names of God and of good angels. there is a profanation of this true reading and writing. However. But there is one theme above all others which we have been tracing that emerges clearly here. Lull created a kind of Christian Kabbalism. and so the relationship between humanity and the divine is that of a reader and a writer. most of all in the exposition of his art. he condensed his art into nine letters. but of those done with the wrong attitude. rather than my Beloved in the world. For in a delightful appendix consisting of questions posed to the Lover. Spiritual knowledge is also celestial memory or remembrance.
for instance. and can be applied not only to philosphy and theology. and in the outer circle are the primary qualities asociated with each of the letters. but to the physical world and indeed to virtually every aspect of life. E—Potestas. For this reason. and numerous other arrangements. or that from the Ars brevis. At the same time. For instance. . The Lullian art is a means of working with letters and words as a way of entering into transcendent consciousness of the inner metaphysical principles informing and transcending the human and natural realms. probably the most revealing of which for our purposes is the socalled “A” figure from the Ars compendiosa inveniendi veritatem. “goodness. to which we can here offer only the briefest of introductions. The Lullian art. it becomes difficult to believe that the placement of the A here could fail to have esoteric origins and meaning. and avarice. I— Veritas.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 45 ings. according to Lull in his Ars Brevis. Around the A in these figures is a geometric series of lines linking many of the letters in intricate correlations. it was naturally applied to astrology and to alchemy. 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. has vast implications.”6 Thus each letter contains within it a constellation of meanings that. Lull represents the juncture of almost all the currents we have thus far discussed. and gluttony. God. depending upon how the letters are combined. not least in its use of the combinations of letters. the number of letters and qualities makes their range enormous. The “A” figure is so designated because it contains in its center a letter A. and although Lull himself explictly denied the transmutation of metals. and so forth. what?. Hence in many respects. which is the unspoken origin of and connection between all the other letters arranged in a circle around it.” C signifies “greatness. can produce an almost infinite series of correlations. tables. found in the Ars compendiosa. emerging as it did largely in a Spanish ambience perfectly suited to the meeting not only of the primary currents of medieval Christian esotericism—including the chivalric and troubadour—but also of Islamic and Jewish esotericism. B signifies. Lull himself combined them using circles. a host of Lullian-based alchemical treatises emerged in the wake of his works. for example. difference. whether?. And although Lull’s thought has been explored relatively recently as a system of logic. angel. it includes and transcends logic. above all the view of literature as a vehicle for the transmutation of consciousness. prudence. justice. B—Bonitas. triangles. for in essence the Lullian art most resembles Kabbalism. concordance. which are seen in both traditions as transcendent principles the combination of which can ultimately bring us to and reveal the inner nature of the divine. and even the Ars brevis represents a daunting set of combinations. trees. In the full art. it also represents a synthesis of the primary currents we have been discussing. Of course his work is unique.
profoundly important and influential instances of the mysteries of the word as means of spiritual awakening. but out of a particular literary and religious ambience and with definite predecessors. cross-fertilizing currents of Western esotericism. and other forms of esotericism are often closely linked and influence one another. Jewish Kabbalah did not appear in a vacuum. the spiritual love poetry of the troubadours. . Before we turn to the emergence of Western esoteric traditions at the cusp of the modern era. of course. intricately woven. still there is an affiliation because all exist within the larger. but this is virtually never the case. with the emergence in the twelfth century in Europe of Jewish Kabbalah (a Hebrew word meaning “tradition”). and Lullian traditions lived on far past their apparent demises: all of them fed into the emergence of the Western esoteric traditions that began to flower in the seventeenth century. And as literature. French. but what is more. whose origins are still shrouded in mystery.or eighteenth-century German. How do these various currents reëmerge later in history? Chiefly through the influence of the books. so that even if there were no direct influence of troubadour poetry on the spiritual love poems of a seventeenth. Christian. commonplace to regard each of the primary currents of Western esotericism as having emerged ex nihilo and completely separate from its predecessors. In these traditions. and the alphabetical mysticism of Lull and others later appear in Christian theosophy. it is as it was in the first centuries of this era—Jewish. BOOKS WITHIN BOOKS: JEWISH KABBALISM Around the same time that chivalric and troubadour literature was being written. or English gnostic. the chivalric. Rosicrucianism. there was an efflorescence of another kind of literature entirely. troubadour. we must first look at another primary current whose influence can hardly be underestimated: Kabbalism. And in Kabbalah we see not only some potential connections to earlier Gnostic traditions. It is. for here literature possesses powerful cultural and spiritual dimensions. that the medieval authors created in order to convey their visions. whose influence also extends well beyond their disappearance as living social movements. poetry and stories go beyond entertainment. the words. Thus the transposed spiritual chivalry. Chivalry influenced future esotericism by providing a code of conduct that as it became individualized or fed into smaller initiatory groups took on esoteric force even as it lost power as a system of social organization. and Freemasonry. however.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. Rather. 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.
number.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 47 We first encounter Kabbalistic literature in the Sefer ha-Bahir.”7 What is this “entirely different world”? Certainly the Bahir emerged in the ambience of twelfth-century French Judaism. But the Bahir. Castile. Rabbi Isaac the Blind wrote a well-known letter to Nahmanides bemoaning the common contemporary tendency to write publicly about the Kabbalah.9 Yet at the same time. For instance. There can be no doubt that the Kabbalistic works emerging during and after the twelfth century are esoteric. and thus Kabbalism. the Kabbalistic works of this period are deeply concerned with exactly these mysteries of word. .8 But for our purposes. Scholem holds that there arrived in Provençe some time in the middle of the twelfth century a collection of older gnostic writings. which are also discussed in the Sefer Yezirah or Book of Creation. It [the Bahir] has its roots in an entirely different world.” Scholem concludes. for instance. which in turn has been linked to the troubadours. Scholem’s assessment is that the Bahir. 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. has origins in a Jewish gnosticism of a much earlier date. and Gnosticism of any sort in antiquity. Although there has been some controversy over his conclusions. The book Bahir. it is entirely enough to note the profound resemblances between these movements. It derived from the long line of previous Jewish mysticism. and cosmogony. also may have roots elsewhere. And in fact. dating to the Talmudic period. 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. or ten dimensions of the cosmos. and elsewhere in Europe. and Kabbalism more generally. the mere fact of composing Kabbalistic literature or commentaries represents a disclosure of what is secret. not only in that they reflect and point toward a hidden wisdom tradition. and to recognize that Kabbalism explicitly continues our primary themes within the Western esoteric traditions. the crux of the paradox inherent in the mysteries of the word. and Nahmanides’ disciples intensified their protection of the secret Kabbalistic teachings. discusses at length the origin and meaning of the sephirot.E. in particular the Merkabah mysticism that dates back to at least the second century C. which in turn were edited and developed by a group of Kabbalists. with at least some connections to the contemporaneous Cathar or Albigensian Christian heretical movement. and symbolism of Gnosticism suggests an Oriental origin for the most important among the ancient texts and sources of the Bahir. many of which had at least passed through certain circles of the German Hasidim. terminology. “The affinity with the language. And it emerged during a period of established Jewish speculative mysticism in the Provençal region. disclosing them only in parabolic language. regardless of whether there was a direct historical link between the emergence of Kabbalism in Provençe.
the Zohar is replete with alphanumeric mysticism. writing the Names of God) and through this power.11 Of course.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. often said to be the culmination of the early Kabbalistic period. and that in this sense he really was copying from the transcendent source of the Kabbalistic tradition. the tonal accents. is that Moses de Leon composed the Zohar himself by way of “conjuration of the Writing Name. which comprise a total of 613 letters. 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. One of the most influential Kabbalistic books of this period is the Fountain of Wisdom (Ma‘yan ha-Hokhmah). In section 124. which sixteenth-century Kabbalist Moses Cordovero regarded as being among a handful of the most important works. caught up in the spirit. and that it regards the written word as being at the center of those mysteries. said to symbolize the abdomen. the ten fingers of human hands are said to correspond to the ten sephirot and to the commandments.” and are the means by which “the Written Law fertilized the Oral Law. For example. this controversy itself reveals much about the nature of Kabbalism. and so forth are absent from the Scroll of Law: these signs were hidden in the “interior of the Divine Throne. as a female is fertilized from the male. for example. including all twenty-two letters of the alphabet except tet. 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.”12 And we are treated to a fascinating explanation of why the verse-divisions. spiritual. We also see these alphanumeric mysteries in the Zohar.”13 We might note that here the “Written Law” is seen as male. But in any event. but another view. it is not at all out of character for the Zohar to have connections to the mysteries of the “Writing Name.” (that is. The Fountain of Wisdom consists in a discussion of tikkun. informing the cultural. but here takes on the meaning of “com- . and natural realms at once. and which was central in the founding of Hasidism as well. a word that usually means “restoration” in Hebrew. including the human body. he wrote the entire work without any precedent.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. supported by some contemporary testimony. 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. the “Oral Law” as female or receiver. Although the origins of the Zohar are somewhat controversial. Opposite them are the twenty-two little letters of the lower world.” Indeed. there is a third possibility—that Moses de Leon composed through spiritual imagination.
one also arrives at the seventy-two Names of God. made transparent so . and out of them all the “lanes” and “paths” and the countless lights of life. voice. in the Fountain of Wisdom.” One can easily see. we have gone behind the alphanumeric mysticism into the visionary understanding that precedes and informs it. and yod in turn becomes twenty. not even Moses. utterance. Here. we are told. the “Face” is the Primal Darkness “that is the focal point of My existence. in the text the ’aleph is said to be “divided into five heads. . eighty. . forty.’ but even more why this work was traditionally explicated word by word from teacher to pupil. inquiry . In reading the intricate discussion of this letter’s transformations. 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. the tenth letter. Its linguistic mysticism undoubtedly requires an oral commentary: here the written word remains opaque without vocal explication.” about which no one. all are found in this Name.” for when you open your mouth to say “ah. in this context. or aleph. is the secret meaning of the verse from Exodus 33:23: “You will see My Back. Through this kind of multiplication.” The “Back” here is the mysteries of creation. 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.”18 This. and 160. from reading this extraordinary work.” from which four emerge—and between these four emerges a fifth. one comes to understand how “all wisdom and understanding. the essence of everything.”17 By investigation. corresponding to yod.”15 Central to this linguistic mysticism is the letter A.” two vocalizations result: “â” and “a.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 49 bination. . For instance.” which may or may not itself be an “a. For prior to the Names and even prior to the Ether and root-principle of all being is the “Primal Darkness. out of it emerges the Names. Investigating this holiest of mysteries is prohibited even for a Moses. .”16 These five alefim are calculated by doubling as ten. This visionary understanding leads backward through the process of creation to its source. “so as not to distort the knowledge of the image of the Holy One. speech. Here we see the mysteries of the word laid bare. but My Face will not be seen. the “unique master” that “radiates in the green flames.”14 In other words.” The ’alef is the mystery of the ether and the root-principle of all being. all comprehension and thought. there remains still the ’alef “pivotal amongst them. yet when these Names are removed. so to say. action . is allowed to ask questions. an ¯ “ether. whispering. tikkun is a kind of linguistic mysticism that through its praxis brings one into the “immeasurable light” “in the superabundance of the secret darkness.” Thus we can see how by way of ascent through the Names one arrives at the hidden true nature of existence—and within this is the mystery of the a. one comes to understand not only why the thirty or more versions of the Fountain are generally regarded as ‘corrupt.
We are viewing a pure mysticism of the word. it is also entirely possible that in the works of the Gnostics and Neoplatonists. where all that is seen in the eye of imagination is light and color and energy welling forth from the indefinable Primal Darkness. of which emergence ordinary human speech is but a reflection. Just as in antiquity the Gnostics often laid emphasis on the mysteries of language and consciousness. since this absolute transcendence resembles the Greek akatalepton as well as the later incomprehensibilis of John Scotus Erigena. so too the medieval Kabbalists emphasized this same linkage. for the Kabbalists “the world of language is therefore actually the ‘spiritual world.” or absolute transcendence out of which everything. one also finds correspondences between the mysticism of ’en sof and the teachings of Meister Eckhart. its metaphysical dimensions are to be found especially in its use of the term ’en sof. All of these exist. is not only cosmological. which is to say also a knowledge of how the mind is prior to the emergence of language and thought. It is obvious from Kabbalistic works themselves that they do not derive from scholastic but from direct knowledge. Medieval Kabbalism. Here “Voice” refers not to ordinary human speech. 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. and how words emerge from primordial consciousness into being. as Scholem remarks.’ Only that which lives in any particu- . and so it is natural that common elements reemerge again and again historically. sometimes without. sometimes with the influence of particular earlier esoteric authors. Indeed. but from the other. but also metaphysical. Thus there is a double quality to this mystery: it applies to the emergence of consciousness both within us and in the cosmos. It may be that there is some historical link with Neoplatonism here. we have spontaneous investigations into some of the same mysteries that the Kabbalists investigated. but to the inner experience of how existence emerges from the Primal Ether.20 For that matter.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. Although it is possible that medieval Kabbalism owes more than a little to the Gnosticism of antiquity. not from this side.”19 But underlying the entire work is the gnosis of how light emerges from darkness. But none of these correspondences necessarily indicate historical influence. and how the Voice emerges from light through speech and breath. emerges. then. as well as in Erigena and in Eckhart. that of hardened or congealed materiality.” but in early Kabbalism also is connected to “that which thought cannot attain. within the general currents of Western esoteric traditions. broadly speaking. and this is corroborated by the very linguistic mysticism that they express. Its cosmological dimensions we have glimpsed in the intricate doctrines of the ten Sephirot and in the profound complexities of its alphanumeric gnosis. including thought. ’En sof literally means “infinity.
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
or vice versa. rather than only trying to trace ‘horizontal’ historical influence. not a barrier to but a vehicle for transcendence. perhaps more than any other Western tradition. ramified throughout religious and literary history. Such an approach to literature. Indeed. represents the confluence of literature and religion in esotericism. many novelists and poets explicitly denounce even the idea of spirituality. literature increasingly lost even the inkling of bearing within it other dimensions. In the eighteenth century. in its willingness to go through the letters and words into the consciousness that they represent. each letter and number potentially bearing infinite depths. but it is also important because it offers us a completely different way of understanding the very nature of writing. and beauty. we find the English theosopher Jane Leade holding the same doctrine. Kabbalah represents a polar opposite—for it. And when we look at Kabbalism. we shall turn to another primary current of the Western esoteric traditions: alchemy. almost always willing to draw from another religion if it illuminates one’s own. But before discussing these implications. But is there any historical influence of Kabbalism on Leade? Or did she independently rediscover the same esoteric doctrines in vision. One finds those who insist that the heart of Islamic Sufism is Christian. Here. . Symbolic of Western syncresis is La Mezquita in Cordoba. much less the possibility of transcendence. intricacy. that ultimately all beings will be saved. and the boundaries between Judaism and Christianity far less distinct than usual. or vice versa. it also fascinates us with its riddles and mysteries. Nowhere is this more evident than in the history of Kabbalah. For Kabbalah. where one finds literature and religion fused. an ornate mosque in whose center is a Christian cathedral. Here the written word becomes not opaque but transparent. surface is nothing and depth is everything. that is. precisely what she said had happened? It would seem that in this case as generally. its grandeur lies in the daring of its visionary heights. Western esoteric traditions are perpetually changing and self-renewing. and perhaps even of the origin and nature of consciousness. In the twentieth century. after all. which is. and instead creep over the surfaces of things like painstaking caterpillars. But Kabbalistic literature opens up almost endlessly.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. To such approaches. we can see why it had such profound literary and religious influences. Spain. with the prevalence of materialism and scientism. and so it goes right into the heart of the Middle Ages and Renaissance. literature represents portals into the transcendent. even where it is roughly or awkwardly written. however unfamiliar to us today. If great literature like Dante’s attracts us because of its grandeur. it may be better to look at ‘vertical’ or categorical similarities. This transcendence lends itself to syncretism. that the heart of Christianity is Jewish Kabbalism.
Of course. itself also highly literary: the koan. peripheral since it is not wholly Christian. but represents nonetheless a separate path of its own. as we saw earlier. hence on the one hand religious. by virtue of its initial incomprehensibility. on the other transmitted by way of literature. alchemical writings seem totally impenetrable. as the “art of Hermes. Thus Western alchemy has a peculiar place.’ yet not entirely Christian. yet in that its adherents claim to realize the gnosis at the heart of Christianity. we cannot help but notice religious references. Hermetism itself occupies a syncretic place in the midst of numerous traditions. sort of a mistaken byway people once took before they saw the light of materialism and rationalism. and a current representing a particular path between religion and literature. When we look at European alchemical works. alchemy.” draws on the particular religious ambience within which it finds itself. especially to the need for humility and for reliance on divine grace. not entirely ‘pagan. One might compare these means of arcane expression to the Zen Buddhist koan tradition. Indeed. operating by metaphor and allusion and parabolic expression. Because the Western alchemists’ place vis-à-vis Christianity was seldom entirely clear. like the alchemical expression or riddle. So too. but through meditative concentration and inspiration. and even with extended study often yield no certain interpretation. forces one to wrestle with it alone. to come to terms with it not just by rational explication. to work it through. the term alchemy itself emerges out of the Arabic word al-kimiya. because the opposition of exotericism to esotericism in Western Europe was often so violent. for only a few intrepid souls have ventured into this territory. and also because alchemy is the transmission of mysteries that must be directly experienced. And in fact Western alchemical works are highly literary. with their astonishing repertoire of exotic terminology. which in turn reflects GrecoEgyptian origins whose precise outlines likely never will be thoroughly traceable. . when we look more closely at specific works in the alchemical traditions. European alchemical works resemble bizarre collections of riddles wrapped in enigmas. Yet both the koan and the alchemical work emerge within stylized and traditional contexts. with their plethora of brilliant and resonant images. we find that they reveal striking new applications and manifestations of Western esotericism. alchemists took to arcane ways of expressing themselves. and so it is little wonder that many historians of science have denigrated European alchemy as merely a strange predecessor to modern chemistry. However. To the first-time observer. Western alchemy remains largely uncharted by modern scholarship.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 55 T H E T R A N S F I G U R AT I O N O F E A R T H : A L C H E M I C A L L I T E R AT U R E Undoubtedly among the most enigmatic traditions of the human inheritance. Full of exotic images and peculiar language.
the embodying of spirit. and might include also such figures as Zosimos of Panopolis of the third century C. and Morienus of the seventh century C. or the animal kingdom. plant. author of the Rosarium philosophorum (attr. and the spiritualizing of the body. even if it does not entirely belong to these. This process of awakening entails a kind of double working.E.—latinized as Rhazes). so that their lineage from the alchemical perspective forms an Aurea catena or “golden chain” from antiquity to the present.. After all. refers by its own testimony to the transmutation and redemption of the physical world: its work takes place on Earth. and takes place by way of fire.E. as has historical placement. partaking at once in the realms too of religion and literature. at heart. in the revelation of paradise. 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. Such a list undoubtedly would include Hermes Trismegistus. either. although we could here offer a historical survey of alchemy. who draws upon them in order to undertake the alchemical work himself and subsequently to write his own alchemical treatise. What matters is that the works under the name Geber speak to the later alchemist. Indeed.E. be they in the mineral. even if the alchemical labors to which these writers refer are certainly not literary but take place in a laboratory. George Ripley (fifteenth century). thirteenth century). that is. The alchemist’s work consists in the awakening of dormant qualities in the natural world. or al-Rhazi (ca. alchemical literature. it is by no means just a kind of metallurgy or chemistry. . 825–932 C. 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. To list such names as Arnald of Villanova. put another way. Nicholas Flamel (fourteenth century). Thus. And so Geber joins the line of figures in what is indisputably a literary transmission. Thus alchemy itself consists in processes that are at once spiritual and physical. or animal into its paradisal original true nature. the vegetable.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. Thus it is conventional for the author of an alchemical work to list predecessors to whom he is indebted. we may well say that alchemy consists in the transmutations of the earth or. Olympiodoros. and reveal the gnostic center of the tradition. All of these authors did write on alchemy. One places oneself in the line of what is.. Ramon Lull. as well as Islamic figures such as Jabir ibn Hayyan of the eighth century (later latinized as Geber). For alchemy extends into many realms. for all its symbolic complexity and mysterious allusiveness. Fire burns up impurities and allows the transmutation of a fallen metal. Roger Bacon. even if its work resembles these in some respects. a tradition transmitted through literature. For how else might a medieval or Renaissance figure come to know Geber or Rhazes? Cultural context has been largely lost. Synesius.
and historically it makes sense that the monasteries were places where writings from antiquity on could be stored. . were. the conflict between merely physical medicine and Hermetic medicine can be resolved through the study of alchemy.” derives from the words of the Delphic priestess: “The feud between the Meropes and the Ionians will not cease until the Golden Tripod. But we should recognize the elegant and highly literary nature of Maier’s expression. and where some might find the time to pursue the alchemical work. and gave it to us by mighty toil. In order to understand the alchemical current of the Western esoteric traditions.” that is. in his preface. Here. nor does gold-bearing Hebrus roll down such precious things in its golden sand. of course. For “The Golden Tripod” includes treatises by the Benedictine monk Basilius Valentinus. we find such a plethora of both collections of images and written works that it is more than difficult to choose. is brought into the house of the man who knows the things that are.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 57 Michael Maier (early seventeenth century). places these works in the context of a seventeenth-century struggle between the followers of “Dogmatic” or “Hermetic medicine. . physician. Maier deliberately brackets his alchemical texts with literary epigrams. If thou knowest the substance and the method. For he bore away the golden fruit from the Hesperian garden and blessed with them fair Germany’s fields. . and thou knowest all. But in a work titled “The Golden Tripod” (1618). and author Michael Maier. Maier. We might begin by remarking on the fact that two of the three authors Maier included were Benedictines. it is enough. only goes to show the historical line that we are tracing. seek not many utensils for thy labor. One finds in the literature numerous references to monks as alchemists. composer. Indeed. it is necessary to look more closely at exemplary works. but without value in revealing the actual nature of the alchemical tradition itself. Thomas Norton.”29 Thus the alchemical work exists within a classical literary context. and a medicine that includes other dimensions and is centered in the alchemical or spagyric arts of transmutation. between those who insist on a purely physical medicine consisting in the treatment of symptoms. He bore away the golden fleece from Colchis. bracketed by mythological references. and an abbot of Westminster named Cremer.” In other words. “The Golden Tripod. consisting in three alchemical treatises arranged and edited by none other than the alchemist. the treatise joins what we may call a mythological field. which Vulcan cast into the sea. as Valentine scatters abroad in this one book . preceding Valentinus’s treatise on the “great stone” with the words “Pactolus contains not such great treasures. and are to come. useful in demonstrating some kind of continuity. His title. we find a confluence of major alchemical authors and works that will provide a useful introduction to the tradition. Basilius Valentinus and Eirenaeus Philalethes (seventeenth century).”28 And Maier concludes with this admonition: “Let this suffice thee.
before him a burning barrel.”31 This combination of practical instructions and more figurative. and a venerable man with white hair and a flowing purple robe tells them “cause that which is above to be below.”34 The second of Maier’s treatises is Thomas Norton’s “Ordinal of Alchemy. and separate it into its component parts” “prior to what it was before it became gold. and that which is palpable.” With its spiritual essence. The practical instructions of the treatise are interwoven with literary passages.” pleads the case of her husband. in the background a dead tree stump. as a result of which ultimately the great secret of alchemy was revealed to him. as well as an angel blowing a horn. and to the queen’s left. to become impalpable . literary passages also includes a series of images called the “twelve keys. The commentary here tells us that “whoever drinks of this golden fountain. over a fire. despite its elliptical means of expression.” For these apparently practical instructions become a tale about the planets as characters in a little drama. The commentary here discusses putrefaction and resurrection.”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. all shall be judged by fire and reduced to ashes. a half-naked man with a scythe. and this Mars has done. performing all things whatsoever possible under the sun. 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. the king bearing a staff. that which is visible. with a furnace and various kinds of glass and tools.58 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Yet the treatise itself. Saturn wants to kill Mercury. is at once literary and practical. being bereft of images . while around him are various figures. as when we are told to “take a quantity of the best and finest gold. he cured a sick fellow monk completely. while the Moon. Shortly thereafter. learned men of the country gather to decide the meaning of this enigma. and proved of the greatest efficacy. Here you see the perfection of our Art. . . including two archers shooting at targets. while to the king’s right we see a leaping wolf. experiences a renovation of his whole nature. On the title page of this little collection we see an alchemist’s laboratory. and the text tells us how at the end of the world. and a man sowing seeds. “a beautiful lady in a long silver robe. The twelfth key shows a man with a lion in a laboratory. and how one who possesses it “shall possess all in all.33 The eighth of the twelve keys shows a man rising from the grave. after which there will be formed a new heaven and a new earth. on the far left side a single candle.”30 Eventually he found a mineral substance that “exhibited many colors. a vanishing of all unhealthy matter.” The first of the twelve keys shows a couple. the queen a three-flowered plant.” which is of quite a different nature from Valentinus’s. a king and a queen. and this secret the entire subsequent treatise is meant to reveal. and the commentary tells us of the uses of the stone. to be invisible. the Sun. with Mars imprisoning Mercury under the control of Vulcan.
and two of willow charcoal. Even though Dalton had discarded the Red Powder because it had become a source of grief and anxiety. tells us to “take three ounces of tartar of good claret. strong and pure. The briefest and most specific of the three treatises is that entitled the “Treatise of Cremer. a man named Herbert. Such. and “whoever does not observe this my mandate. three of rabusenum.”36 Here we return to the themes of the Book of Revelation—and despite the more or less prosaic terms of this testament. To publish widely his alchemical testament would be to divulge what should remain the secret of those presumably capable of bearing its power. and the secret is not to be given out to anyone except the Abbot and Prior of the monastery. 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. His testament is to be copied every sixty years.”35 And indeed. we can understand why he should impose such conditions. two of orange arsenic. and prepared in about four days. let his name be blotted out from the Book of Life. and that all Norton’s instructions are useless except to the wise in light of direct experience. are the sufferings of those who aspire to a knowledge of the Art.” Benedictine abbot of Westminster.” in a well-stoppered glass jar. was betrayed to King Edward by an assistant named Delvis who had been sworn to silence.” and add to it five ounces of petroleum. and tortured for four years. who possessed a larger quantity of the Red Powder than any Englishman. Eventually sentenced to death and brought before the executioner. Dalton said he was happy to die. and given Cremer’s explicit instructions. and protected by precisely the same invocation of the Book of Life.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 59 and much more inclined to tell stories. In recent times. itself an esoteric text made exoteric. two of living sulphur. All are to be mixed in the “bath of Neptune. so as not to lose legibility over time. such instructions also are protected by the fact that society as a whole cares nothing for alchemy or the worldview from which it emerges. as opposed to literary and figurative allusions. and then of how a certain Thomas Dalton. we are told. Norton tells the story of how he himself was robbed of all he had. he was thrown into a dungeon by one of the king’s retinue. Cremer in this. of . his last testament. But also he is invoking the very language of the Book of Revelation. of course. and so was let go. After admonitions about how we must avoid deceit and self-delusion. This invocation of the Book of Life naturally suggests one of our primary themes in the study of Western esotericism: reading. Here we have a “full and accurate account of Alchemy without using any obscure technical terms. and Cremer’s testament does corroborate it. Only after such warning tales are we told in more specifics of the nature of the Art. Here reading can take place on multiple levels at once—there is the prosaic reading of instructions. Thus we can see that Cremer’s instructions are in fact quite specific and truly are largely devoid of the literary passages found in the previous two tracts. There is a long tradition of monasteries as sanctuaries for secret knowledge.
which Paracelsus in De virtute imaginativa called a “sun in the soul of man. fire. just as we might look at an image reflected in a mirror or water. epigrams. But in any event. for the image of what a flower or plant is exists germinally in the seed. what is an aspiring alchemist to do but contemplate such a work. then. The cosmos is created through the divine imagination. Imagination governs the development of things. poems. There are incalculable numbers of evestra. which exist in subtle matters of their own kind—for instance. everything that exists in the physical cosmos has what he calls evestra.60 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E course. for they occupy different dimensions within it. which in turn may awaken the corresponding quality in the human being and thereby effect healing. consists in the awakening of subtler dimensions of a given plant. beyond the book of nature is the Book of Life. that alchemy takes place in the imagination is not to say that it is imagi- . one branch of alchemy. To say. but then there is also another kind of reading that we see in the collections of images. We may ‘read. Of course. not all evestra are benefic. Paracelsus tells us. or earth—and which may know nothing of the human world even though they exist in the same cosmos. Spagyric medicine. the individual human being may participate in the divine imagination that brings forth nature itself.” Just as the sun draws forth the visible and growing forms of plants. allows one to see the actual landscape or “first nature” in a different way. these subtle realms and beings may be encountered in the realm of the imagination. water. to enter into it until its images and approach permeate one’s consciousness and become second nature? Such a “second nature. and so it is only natural that humanity also participates in this power. literary allusions. but inwardly and as mysteriously connected to oneself by way of imagination. and the plant grows into its image as best conditions will allow. Through these evestra.” consisting in the imaginative landscape. Clearly the imagination plays a role in the processes of alchemy. its subtle essence. And of course. ethereal counterparts. but also through the power of the imagination. Here the individual mind is not separated from mineral. and figurative expressions that so characterize alchemical literature.’ then. According to Paracelsus. One learns to read the inner significance of the book of nature. but is joined with them in the imagination. and animal realms. Confronted with such a colloquy. 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. which perceives and participates in these other subtler dimensions of existence. one may know the inner nature of anything. to carry it within. But here ‘imagination’ does not belong to any individual—rather. so too there is an inner world where the imagination may draw forth hidden things from ‘seed’ into flower. allegories. not only by looking at words on a page. where we see literature conveying the transmutation of consciousness that manifests in the natural world as well. air. not merely from the outside and as other. vegetable.
like Valentinus’s. the true medicine and theology. This is the true Ground of Nature . which mist transforms itself into a water of life in the new birth. but the new ambience is not so much Hermetic with a tinge of Christianity as it is totally Christian. but that in this particular worldview. emphasize their recipe quality. fire.” and to a host of Biblical references. this Mist-Spirit-Water is Salt or Earth . Of course. a matter of . one finds a new kind of alchemical literature whose primary implications are almost exclusively spiritual. II Chronicles 13:5. even here physical significances of alchemy are implied. wine. . and so forth. geschärft mit dem Wein der Weisheit. . just as the true maguss leads us to Christ. while others. it is entirely real. Amor proximi proceeds instead to refer in passing to the knowledge of the “heathens.”38 It is revealing that the light of nature is said to lead to the “whole Machina mundi” (II. But rather than proceeding toward specific instructions. but here are clearly spiritualized. and mist.” The true medicine of the body is the pure light of nature. a distinctly modern image of the cosmos and a term that is in fact repeated in the work. The terms used in its title—oil. more real than what we see in the physical. including Romans 1.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 61 nary. these two poles became further separated.37 And thus “the true medicine is thus the heart of Wisdom: out of this heart (or eternal spiritual salt) emerges life. . . philosophy. 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. Genesis 1:27. Many alchemical works are more susceptible to one interpretation than another—hence some. flowing out of the Oil of Divine Compassion. 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. and salt—are not uncommon in physical alchemy. like Cremer’s testament. 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. and medicine together” that leads us through Wisdom to God. geflossen aus dem Oel der göttlichen Barmherzigkeit. sharpened with the Wine of Wisdom. may be interpreted in both ways at once. moves away from physical alchemy into the realm of spiritual references alone. as a spirit. The prefatory remarks to the work refer to the “heavenly Wisdom” who reveals the “two lights of nature and of grace. and this is characteristic of the work as whole. There is no doubt that the work is engaged in justifying a true “theology. It is as though here alchemy.74). empowered with the Salt of divine and natural Truth). indeed. the true medicine of the soul is the pure light of grace. bekräftiget mit dem Salz der göttlich und natürlichen Wahrheit (Amor Proximi. confronted by the emerging materialist science of chemistry. light air. The mechanistic worldview is all surface.
but the Sun light. and when either one is absent. and is the ground of the revelation of the eternal Godhead” (II. And so we find the three One. and indeed have spiritual meanings as well within alchemical work. just as we find for instance Islamic .83). Oil. like Hermeticism. but here they are transposed to reveal a particular metacosmic vision. in whom the Cabala with all its sciences as a holy Fire and Blood is. but they don’t really understand the spiritual nature of these elements. traditional alchemy consists in both inner and outer work at once. Of course it is possible to see the spiritualized alchemy of Amor Proximi as the abandonment of more physical alchemy.77). the great Universal-Stone wherein the fall and restoration of mankind is clearly to be seen with the eyes” (II.62 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E measurement and quantity leading to technology. the author writes “That the earth is dark. easily translates into a dominant religion. of existence. for it is conceivable that physical alchemy could degenerate into nothing more than chemistry. or Water is. is a perspective that is all depth. as a kind of counterpoint. nor whence they emerge (II. Here we find no interest in historical explanations. or perhaps as its translation into Christian allegory. in whom the philosophy as a holy Salt. . Fire. we are told. these terms have an alchemical provenance. in harmony” (II. The Sophists want to seek the prima materia among the elements. Water. There is a process of spiritual alchemy alluded to in Amor Proximi. Yet alchemy. what is left soon ceases to be alchemy and may be absorbed into the dominant religion or may become chemistry. spiritual dimensions of the work. in whom the Magia is a holy Light or Spirit. Salt. However. here the terminology of alchemy is spiritualized in order to discuss the awakening and rebirth of the individual. a true Astrologus. Oil. Thus. and so the author leads us through a discussion of the metacosmic nature and history of humanity. Certainly we do not find in this treatise the kind of alchemical work that we saw in the previous works. and based in the books of Teutonici philosophi Jacob Böhme (II.83). and hence we find a Christian alchemy. . for instance. for here the “illuminated brotherhood” finds written the “holy Scripture” (II.93). and one three . the depths.105). here instead we are being introduced to the hidden nature. and a true Medicus. And what we are seeking is “a single subject in Nature. which concerns the transmutation of the planetary qualities in an individual. inward dimension. that is the mystery wherein all lies. Whoever wishes to understand practically this depth-perception must first have a fundamental knowledge of it. such a degeneration is exactly what we find happening during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. and it is not surprising that during the rise of secular science we find alchemical treatises that emphasize the inward. and which leads to the individual being a “true Theologus. Yet those who don’t seek God’s knowledge in nature also remain blind. In fact. But we could also see this spiritual alchemy as the counterbalancing restoration of alchemy’s gnostic.80). but here.
Here practical alchemy is taken for granted as a real possibility. and of the third. Indeed. a letter to a lady who had discovered the prima materia and had asked him for further guidance. 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. astrological. for here we again see the confluence of our principal themes in Western esotericism. on sulfur. and Kabbalistic themes. The Opus Mago-Cabbalisticum is unquestionably a synthesis of many currents already touched upon. which in turn is incorporated into the full breadth of theosophic discipline. from spiritual to physical. of course. of the second. But such rumors aside. on mercury.39 There are also the many references to alchemy that we find in Johann Georg Gichtel’s Theosophia Practica (letters from 1668–1710). subsisted without any visible means of monetary support. on salt. Christian theosophy. and gnostic metaphysics. albeit scorned when the art is claimed by frauds and puffers. the Engelsbrüder or Angelic Brethren. and John Pordage’s Epistle on the Philosophic Stone (ca. Opus Mago-cabbalisticum et theosophicum by Georg von Welling (1735).HISTORICAL CURRENTS 63 alchemy. is that Gichtel himself possessed the keys to the full range of alchemy. The implication. and whose ending is almost identical to the conclusion of Amor Proximi. is among the clearest works on spiritual alchemy that we have encountered. it may be useful to concentrate on another work. Hence the fundamental organization of the Opus is alchemical. beginning with the organization of the first section. But to see the way alchemy was incorporated into theosophy. Pordage’s work. practical alchemy is seen as a subset of spiritual alchemy. not merely a pastiche. which produces mysticoalchemical works such as Amor Proximi. detailing an alchemical process of awakening and transmutation that could be read simultaneously as physical and as spiritual alchemy. whom Gichtel claimed to be able to spot immediately. and he and his spiritual circle.”40 There can be little doubt that von Welling was drawing on a wealth of specific knowledge of alchemical. and in the end must conclude that in this theosophic worldview. we find numerous direct references to alchemy in Gichtel’s own letters. astrology. This is not . 1675). Kabbalah. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Gichtel was reputed at the time to have been a practicing alchemist since his light was often on long into the night. as well as Theo-Philosophia Theoretico-practica by Samuel Richter (1711). including “Chymie” or alchemy. Within each of these broad sections are individual chapters whose content begins with chemical or alchemical topics and moves through these to theosophic or gnostic themes such as “The urangelical world. the Opus Mago-Cabbalisticum et Theosophicum (1735) of Georg von Welling.” the “fall of Lucifer” and the “eternal peace and gentle still joy of the eternal divine kingdom. the Western alchemical current flows into Böhmean Christian theosophy. but whose spiritual implications are always foremost.
The collection concludes with a translation into German of English alchemist George Ripley’s song of the newborn alchemical . and instructions. and in this regard he succeeded. he begins each of his large sections with specific discussions of alchemical salt. Indeed. with a plethora of astrological symbols. and beneath which is a series of concentric circles labeled “Seraphim. sulfur. we see compressed into a single illustration a whole array of esoteric influences to form a seamless synthesis whose surrounding perspective (visible in the use of Böhme’s term Ungrund to frame the entire illustration) is theosophic. and analyses clearly meant to produce not only a theoretical synthesis but a useful compendium of source material. The Preparation of the Stone]” as well as “Non plus ultra Veritatis: das ist. a term of Jacob Böhme’s for the abyss prior to creation.”41 Von Welling’s astrological instructions are equally detailed. including D. . or mercury. diagrams. and Kabbalistic references in a theosophic framework. Typical of von Welling’s syncresis is an illustration showing at the top the Ungrund. and calcify it by hand.” and so forth. Die Bereitung des Steins [Celestial Manna: the Heavenly Manna Named. and into these he weaves discussions using planetary and alchemical symbols. charts. tables. “Alchimische Fragen. he elided many details. but might well also be called pansophic. 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 . diagrams.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. von dem Universali und den Particularibus [Alchemical Questions on the Universali and the Particularibus]” (1726). Arrayed next to these names are their Hebrew equivalents. next to which is the Kabbalistic term ’en sof. one should not think that because von Welling aimed at such breadth as a pansophic esotericism requires. Eine Untersuchung der Hermetischen Wissenschaft [Nothing More True: That is: An Investigation into Hermetic Science]” by Francisco Sebastiano Fulvo Melvolodemet. But it is with alchemy that von Welling’s work both begins and ends. .” Further. das himmlische Manna genannt. Christian scripture.” “Cherubim. Hensing’s “Discurs von dem Stein der Weisen [Discourse on the Stone of the Wise]” (1722). His discussions of alchemy and astrology are very detailed and full of specific tables. in other words. meaning the transcendent Godhead. For instance. Beside these is a heptangle around which are arrayed the seven planetary symbols. and “Manna Coeleste. Here. he appends to his five-hundred-page Opus several alchemical treatises in their entirety. one needs to “reduce it in an alcohol. some of his Hebrew seems rather distorted—but he had in mind producing a vast compendium of esoteric knowledge unified within a theosophic understanding. . At the same time.” “Thronen. of Pisa. to properly prepare mercury. prepare it in a series of alchemical operations in a pair of vials. . the basic Dionysian angelical hierarchy. then in a Liquorem . x (the Moon) and out of P (Saturn).
alchemy goes well beyond contemporary conceptions of art. broadly seen. but in a transmutation both of the focus of the work and of the artist. vegetable.’ There is. both seek to perfect this creativity. Alchemy. is a relatively modern phenomenon. and to ‘write. requiring long familiarity with special symbols. or grammars. All of this underscores how alchemy and Hermeticism pervaded the pansophic esotericism that came to dominate the early modern period.’ in the broadest possible sense. In some respects. letters. the stars and planets—is revealed as a cosmic language and as a spiritual means of transmutation. so that everything—mineral. contemporary art and literature remain quite limited in scope by comparison to alchemy as spiritual illumination. which consists in the transmutation and restoration of all things. Such perfecting takes place in the alchemist’s laboratory. but only with the guidance of the alchemical handbooks. including not only chemicals and equipment. alchemy is like learning to use a language. but also in the microcosm of the artist. and the Hermeticism with which it is allied are religious chameleons. consisting not only in the perfection of elixirs or medicines drawn from herbs and metals. we find that such aims are in fact vast indeed. but even more in the perfection of humanity. If Kabbalah entails a literary mysticism in which letters and numbers reveal secret spiritual depths. however far-reaching. Here it is perhaps most useful to step back and consider how alchemy. In this sense. animal. the alchemical work transcends that of the artist. we can easily see. It is no coincidence that the alchemical work is also called the “great Art. fits into our general discussion of Western esotericism and literature. for example. a natural homology between alchemy and art. Alchemy. water. particularly in the profusion of brilliant images .42 Both entail emulating or paralleling the creativity of life itself. and this almost infinite adaptability undoubtedly derives from the universalism of their central perspective. as we have come to see it since the seventeenth century. 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. of course. and images. when we look more closely at alchemical literature itself.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 65 king. for its focus is not only in the mesocosm of the work. recipes. Here. air. fire. of course. and that we will shortly examine further. for its claims are to a lasting awakening and transmutation of the alchemist. capable of taking on whatever coloration fits with their surroundings. but subtle and spiritual qualities as well. One must learn both to ‘read.” for it consists not only in the creation of a particular form. Thus we may well say that. alchemy extends this literary mysticism into the entire cosmos itself. like a painting. While it is true that alchemical aims may at first seem circumscribed to the revelation of the philosopher’s stone. as well as with what these represent. and in which writing can form a pathway to the divine.
Contemporary views of literature. For not only is the division between self and other or between subject and object gradually revealed to be false in alchemy. between the observer and that which is observed. the mysteries are conveyed primarily through literary riddles and parabolic expressions. It is true that more recently theorists.’ in the case of alchemy. between subject and object. For there is here an operative mysticism of the word—the written word and image become a medium to express transcendence. alchemy is understood through living symbols that allow us to understand nature. I would use the word decoding. 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. except that an alchemical work is not simply decoded as if. this is expressed in terms of the Fall and expulsion from Eden. largely have been based in a fundamental division between the writer and the reader. and the divine that it is alchemy’s goal to restore. and also a successor’s primary guide to achieving transcendence. This unity is founded in the fundamental union of humanity. and the restoration of the right . like those of science. However. have begun to argue the insufficiency and even the falsehood of such easy divisions. and cannot be understood without reference to our inner human landscape of consciousness.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. that alchemy is chiefly psychological. one would have the solution. and that presupposes and requires humility before power greater than oneself. nature. literature. Here in alchemy. Rather. For in alchemy literature is a means of transmitting precise knowledge of nature. religion. In alchemy. and the divine. no doubt of that. In Christian terms. like Jung. literature takes on a greater significance than simply alluding to an oral tradition where the real mysteries are conveyed. But virtually no one has looked at alchemy as a field where all such apparent divisions are overcome. humanity. albeit knowledge that is not quantitative but qualitative. extends into a range of realms at once. But in alchemical works. This is by no means to suggest. as in Christian mysticism and in Jewish Kabbalism. and science are one. Indeed. 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. alchemy consists in coming to understand the nature of consciousness and the consciousness of nature. in the manner of a mathematical equation. humanity. both of physics and of literary criticism. and the divine in ever more profound ways. The ‘solution. 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. Oral commentary by a master is important. were one to decipher what x and y mean. so too is the apparent (but strictly modern) division between the sciences and the humanities.
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. Such a restoration takes us beyond the separated consciousnesses in which we now find ourselves. written works were comparatively difficult to obtain. and Freemasonry. But alchemy did not disappear thereafter. pansophy. with the invention of the printing press and with concomitant investigation into the numerous esoteric currents of antiquity. So it is with alchemy. 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. the essential purpose of the resonant alchemical symbolism. This universalism is the dream that was to haunt virtually the entirety of modern Western esotericism. THE DIVINE SCIENCE: T H E O S O P H I C . between the sciences and the . when its literature and imagery attained its most brilliant formation. esoteric universalism became more and more commonplace. The major currents of modern Western esotericism developed in the context of burgeoning knowledge about the past.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. During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. As we have seen. it became possible to conceive of a universal approach to knowledge that included the whole of the human inheritance. it is perhaps more useful to keep in mind their social and historical contexts. PA N S O P H I C . Rosicrucianism. but also fed into other major currents of Western esotericism. but in relation to a host of other currents. R O S I C R U C I A N . in particular Christian theosophy. in the modern era. divided against the world. and brings us gradually by way of a spiritual process that includes physical and transphysical work. Whereas in the medieval period and earlier. one must keep in mind its essential fluidity: alchemy during the early modern period did not exist alone. And it is to these that we will now turn our attention. Indeed. toward the revelation of the fundamental consciousness informing all that lives. and twentieth centuries. Western esotericism is not easily fixed or quantified but changes according to its historical context. even if its fundamental outlines or concerns remain the same. We should also keep in mind the growing split. esotericism necessarily became even more eclectic in scope. against ourselves. especially during the eighteenth. and against the divine. it has not only continued to exist to the present day. precisely what we find at the end of numerous alchemical treatises. We have already seen how alchemy emerged during the early modern period. nineteenth. In the study of Western esotericism.
in the sciences. with each of the disciplines ever more separated from the others. and including a vast commentary on Genesis called Mysterium Magnum. and in religion. But here we do not have space for a complete survey of all such figures. explored theology and metaphysics. However. and in general correspond to the description of “Renaissance man. all acted to separate religious faith from scientific investigation and from literature and the arts. and whose center is spiritual knowledge—with the advent of the Protestant era. this sense of unity dissolved. nonsectarian and ecumenical approaches to spirituality. and drawing from his visionary experiences. trace the broader lineaments of recent Western esotericism. quite the opposite movement. including Kabbalism and Hermeticism. and the historical and comparative investigations into Christian origins. or Aurora. in a border area where he came in contact with a range of esoteric traditions. archaeology. For the Western esoteric traditions that emerged during this period. the historical movement of Western esotericism during the modern period is to unify the entire range of human knowledge. the “illuminated shoemaker” of Görlitz. a city on the eastern side of Germany. illustration and literature. But his inspiration came chiefly from within. medicine and astrology. to name only a few of the most luminary. rather than seeking to separate. in Western esotericism we find. the emergence of biology. much more indebted to the medieval era than is usually supposed. But Western esotericism.” One thinks of figures as diverse as Robert Fludd. Thus during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries we find numerous major esoteric figures who engaged in scientific investigations. instead seeks ever more firmly to conjoin them. including. in the arts. Böhme lived during a time of social unrest. The Copernican revolution. we find a historical movement toward more and more specialized and fragmented knowledge. wrote literary works. Whereas in medieval Europe and England. Indeed. the fields of alchemy. comparative and syncretic. physical chemistry from metaphysics. Any study of modern Western esoteric traditions must consider the work of Jacob Böhme (1575–1624). It is true that. and Franz von Baader. continued and developed this belief in a unified approach to knowledge. all human knowledge was conceived of as unified—like a wheel whose spokes are the various disciplines and arts. chemistry. he wrote numerous works beginning with Die Morgenröte. say. John Pordage. practiced medicine and astrology. our approach being thematic. particularly during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. near Poland. and geology.68 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E humanities. we will instead look closely at some seminal authors in the modern esoteric traditions and by so doing. aimed for a universal approach to knowledge that. and the sciences and humanities in turn ever more separated from religion. Rather. nor is that our aim. at least in the secular world. the discovery of more complex technology. as well as De Signatura . as we have already glimpsed in the case of alchemy. from the eighteenth to the twentieth century.
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
44 For when we look at the actual wording of the Fama and the Confessio. a visionary trip to the Orient of the spirit. translates the “book M. in the Orient. R. according to the Fama. and this is the “book M. they could collect Librum Naturae. 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. whereas there is another more mysterious book that is the source of wisdom.” C. To see the journey as a visionary recital also helps elucidate its most salient feature: the book. like us. and who goes as well to Egypt—precisely where European esotericism has always located its sources of arcane knowledge. for it captured the imagination of the age with its tale of Christian Rosencreutz and his mysterious journeys through exotic lands and secret knowledge. But in any event.”45 This universal renewal and extension of knowledge is. even if at times such orders did exist. R. “or a perfect method of all arts. This journey may also be seen as a kind of visionary recital. The Rosicrucians’ goal.”46 When C.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). both the Fama and the Confessio reveal the fundamental themes we have seen woven through the Western esoteric traditions. but at the same time it links the Rosicrucian movement from the very beginning with the most gnostic aspects of Islam and Judaism. and among Sufis and Kabbalists. R. The Fama begins by telling the story of C. Böhme’s writing and thought both paralleled and influenced that of the Brotherhood of the Rosy Cross. But there are many other elements here that correspond exactly to our primary themes. and later we are told that Paracelsus had also “diligently read over the book M: whereby his sharp ingenium was exalted. C. “so that finally man might thereby understand his own nobility and worth. and how far his knowledge extendeth into Nature.” into good Latin from Arabic. Not coincidentally. like its complement the Confessio. caused a great stir in Europe. And of course this brief work.. of Christian theosophy as well. he begins a secret fraternity with only four members including him- . we are told at the outset that were the learned wise. if not universalism. and later. For from the very beginning of the Fama..” however. which first came to general public attention with the publication of the Fama Fraternitatis. Indeed. underscoring immediately the movement’s eclecticism. generally speaking. the book is a central image and source of wisdom. Hermeticism. we find ample confirmation of all the primary elements of Western esotericism thus far traced. travels to the Fez and to the Damascus of the mind. was to follow Christ by renewing all arts to perfection. and why he is called Microcosmos.” These “Books of Nature. who travels among the Arabians and the Jews on a quest to Jerusalem. returns eventually to Germany. are to be collected by the wise. the gnostic goal of Kabbalism. as well as with its assertion of a secret order as keeper of profound and powerful knowledge and means. R.
Among other questions. And there is in the tomb’s description a great deal of arcane geometry and architecture. Yet once again. we find references to far-flung places and hidden wisdom. and arts. he was placed in his tomb with a parchment book. shall find more wonderful secrets by us than heretofore they did attain unto . The description is often hard to follow. and of reading the mysterious book of books. with a large dictionary . as they are truly shown and set forth Concentratum here in our book. 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. that you could so read in one only book. like the book. undestroyed. is. .” the Fama continues. . belongs to the mind and imagination. of eclecticism or universalism. and by them was made the magical language and writing. . The Confessio begins by telling us that its authors cannot be suspected of any heresy. . and we find this definition of the Rosicrucian philosophy: “No other Philosophy have we. and shall be learned and found out of them?”51 .HISTORICAL CURRENTS 73 self. forms “sentences” and a kind of book of the hidden principles of nature and of the microcosm. sciences. and shall be) hath been. itself a work with intricate geometric symbolism. or hope for. Certainly reading and writing are central to the Rosicrucian mysteries. and all are sworn to write down all that they learn. they also made the first part of the book M. as when we are told that every “side or wall is parted into ten figures. or are able to believe or utter. “began the Fraternity of the Rose Cross. are now.”50 Thus the essence of Rosicrucianism is the universal philosophy informing all arts and sciences. first. but follow only Christ. so that no one might later be deceived. recur as well in the Confessio.”47 These early members of the Rose Cross order then collected of their own writings “a book of all that which man can desire. the foundations and contents of all faculties. Interestingly. full of geometric symbolism. . it is to read the universal book. and withal by reading understand and remember. not the body? And does not the “one hundred thousand” resonate with the Book of Revelation. called I. the Confessio asks: “Were it not a precious thing. whereof all learned who make themselves known to us. than that which is the head and sum. and come into our brotherhood. as well as a host of mysterious letters and Latin inscriptions. . every one with their several figures and sentences. “After this manner. and pay no mind to the Pope or Muhammed.”49 How could this mysterious building be invisible and untouched unless the building. and with mention of one hundred fortyfour thousand saved from the wicked world at time’s end? These themes. wish. of the uniting of all arts and sciences.” There is more. a century old. by four persons only. the which (if we well behold our age) containeth much of Theology and medicine . For when Christian Rosencreutz died.”48 But the import is clear: the tomb’s architecture itself. and hidden to the wicked world. all that which in all other books (which heretofore have been.
with the date 1604. . yea. and grave warnings are given to those who approach its mysteries selfishly. of course.” The authors of the Fama and the Confessio certainly believed in the hierohistorical significance of certain dates and astrological conjunctions connected. a very long history in the West. and have found out. and made. yea. 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. and endue them with learning .54 It is no coincidence that Böhme titled his first book Aurora. . an era that recalls the earlier hierohistorical mysticism of Joachim of Fiore and his complex theory of a coming “age of the Holy Spirit. with all of its emphasis on hierogeometry. in which we find the sources of many subsequent works illustrated by . into all beasts . who as we have seen drew upon Kabbalistic sources.”53 The implication throughout the Fama and the Confessio is that there is dawning a miranda sexta aetatis. of course. metahistorical events at the end of time. yet shall we never be manifested . From which characters or letters we have borrowed our magic writing. Clearly for our purposes the most relevant aspect of these most seminal Rosicrucian documents is their embrace of linguistic mysticism. . a new language for ourselves. stretching back at least to the Gnostics. But this new revelation must be approached with humility. One can hardly miss the Biblical resonances of these final words of the Confessio: “Although we might enrich the whole world. as God hath here and there incorporated them in the Holy Scriptures. for instance. . These aspects of Rosicrucianism. a new era for mankind. and writing in a “magic language. so hath he imprinted them most apparently into the wonderful creation of heaven and earth.74 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Likewise. Throughout they emphasize reading the divine books of humanity and nature. . the universal revelation of Christ to humanity. and that one must approach it with humility or find nothing. for instance. All of this.”55 The implication is that here. Agrippa and Trithemius are well known for their primary and influential works on magic. including the hierohistorical view of dates and the expectation of an impending apocalypse or unveiling. without and against the will of God. and quite probably to Egypt. in the Rosicrucian mysteries. It certainly emerges in the Middle Ages in the works of Agrippa and Trithemius. and held that there was emerging a new revelation. it shall be so far from him who thinks to get the benefit and be partaker of our riches and knowledge. correspond closely to what we also find in Christian theosophy at roughly the same time. in the which withall is expressed and declared the nature of all things. or sixth age. the Bible. and above all. unto any man without the special pleasure of God. 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. is hidden the real essence of Christianity itself.” Such an idea of a magic language has.”52 “These characters and letters. . reminds us rather strikingly of the Book of Revelation. or worse than nothing.
Here we must introduce the word pansophy. in his controversial “conversations with spirits” along with Edward Kelley. R. discovered the “Enochian language. as Frances Yates notes. peaceful. By 1623. demons. and the outrageously baroque. it is a culture founded on Kabbalah and alchemy. was of a non-sectarian. brilliant. precisely the time of political upheaval in Germany and the advent of the Thirty Years’ War. that is. and it too has been used in magical workings. as well as a developing mythology of Rosicrucianism. But it is worthwhile to note that the Rosicrucian furor lasted only a few short years. disappearing around 1620. or intelligences. One also finds such a magical language in the work of Dr. John Dee (1527–1604). or pansophia. One finds this word appearing frequently in Hermetic publications immediately following . it should be publicly proclaimed in this way. or why. written in the microcosm and in the macrocosm. there was a great deal of anti-Rosicrucian sentiment. The Rosicrucian dream.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 75 sigils and magic squares. we have no reason to delve into the question of whether there existed any such secret orders. and the subsequent furor manifested itself in a host of other Rosicrucian works. which we see outlined in the Fama and Confessio. 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. stellar and numerical patterns connected to specific angels. 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. as well as in subsequent literature. a work so incredibly full of dense oneiric symbolism that next to it other literary works generally seem comparatively devoid of symbols. who.” which has subsequently played an extensive role in the history of magic in the West. even a kind of nascent Rosicrucian witch-hunt.’s tomb. if there was such a fraternity as claimed in the Fama and Confessio. particularly in France. 1604. on a pansophic mysticism.” 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. one is calling upon the language of the stars in order to invoke the powers or intelligences with which they are connected. universal culture dedicated to the investigation of the language of nature. Here. Here. 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. and playfully symbolic Chemical Wedding of Christian Rosencreutz. is the date of Dee’s death? And is it only coincidence that the Fama and Confessio make so much of a “magical language. The Enochian language is a mysterious tongue that requires tables or “keys” for its deciphering.56 Is it only coincidence that the date given as the discovery of C. By using these stellar and numerical patterns in ritual magic. the Confessio.
it emphasizes magic. The pansophic view. certainly was temporarily vanquished by rationalist materialism. including. Paracelsus. and thus places himself squarely in the mainstream of the primary Western esoteric currents. We might recall that. but one might well see chemistry as a dimunition of alchemy—for alchemy requires humility and selflessness. not specifically Christian. The pansophic current includes all the primary streams of esotericism. or magia naturalis.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. and technologism. Pansophy. an esoteric universalism that includes alchemy. but the pansophic impulse nonetheless has continued to govern Western esotericism up to the present day.p. there is a long tradition of Kabbalism as . magical. and Michael Maier. The latter are all based in an objectivization of the cosmos or of humanity as objects of study. but what the word signifies certainly does not disappear. whereas purely chemical experimentation requires nothing of oneself except to be a firmly rationalist observer. The word pansophy itself largely disappears from the European vocabulary after the eighteenth century. various forms of magic. alchemical. 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. hence on our separation from and manipulation of them. and inquiry into nature more generally. Christian or not. 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. derived from alchemy. for instance. in its aims and in the sources upon which it draws. or a Brief Introduction to the Ancient Wisdom. Ruechlin. but one also finds the emergence of various other shades of magic. herbalism. healing. pansophy resembles the aims and works of Giordano Bruno. mechanism. central to the subsequent emergence of modern forms of esotericism. often with Kabbalistic influence. in order to form the basis for a new. The most obviously included is natural magic. which is specifically Christian gnosis. is universal. as in for instance Joseph Stellatus’s Pegasus Firmamenti sive Introductio brevis in veterum sapientiam [Pegasus of the Firmament.. alchemy. It is true that chemistry. and draws eclecticly on much earlier ‘pagan’ traditions like those attributed to Egypt and Persia. In many respects. that quixotic character still insufficiently studied. The word Pansophia here separates this new form of esotericism from Theosophia. but like Dee. cabala. of course. cabalistic. 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. in contrast to theosophy. universal culture like that imaged in Bacon’s New Atlantis or other utopias of the time. and gnostic. 1618)]. Stellatus cites Hermes Trismegistus (of course!).
diagrams. D. and a series of .A.. Cabball. of vast and intricate tables. at the other pole research into the previously forbidden also becomes more common. a series of extraordinarily complex illustrations. atque Chymia [Divine Figure of Theosoph. planetary correspondences.O. It is an astonishingly complex illustration. One sees this desire to map the cosmos in the emergence. Once Protestantism and secularism began to emerge in Europe. the pansophic impulse is fundamentally similar to the scientific: it consists in investigation into the mysteries of the unknown and of nature. and if at one pole rationalist disbelief in the transcendent becomes acceptable. Among the first of these. which later emerged in almost endless detail in the Geheime Figuren [Secret Figures] of the Rosicrucians. including the names and seals or sigils of angels in Hebrew and Latin. The Faustian legend is so resonant still because it expresses something fundamental about the emerging modern period.M. In some respects. including sorcery. predating the Rosicrucian furor but certainly influencing its later productions. nee non Magia. There are numerous such manuscripts with various versions of these ilustrations. and much else. chiefly under the title Physica. This compilation is of special importance for us because it reveals the far-flung syncretic origins of the pansophic impulse. de La Rose-Croix. even if it is illicit. Cabballa: Not Only Magic and Philosophy. was the Calendarium Naturale Magicum Perpetuum Profundissimam Rerum Secretissimarum Contemplationem [Perpetual Natural Magical Calendar] of Tycho Brahe. in later Rosicrucianism.57 and in all cases is replete with examples of the effort to map universal knowledge not only physical but also metaphysical. we tend to think of Faust. And in fact most grimoires have a Hebrew basis for the angelic and demonic names and characteristics that they list for invocation or evocation.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 77 the basis for magical practices including sorcery. One also can see in such willingness to incorporate any form of knowledge whatever. printed by Theodore de Bry in 1582. Metaphysica. Philosophia. as a somewhat medieval figure. was published at Altona in 1785–1788. Yet the Faustian impulse to search out all knowledge and means of knowledge. and perhaps all belonging to the late eighteenth century. magic squares. almost all. Of course because of the ascent of rationalist materialism and secularism. The Geheime Figuren der Rosenkreuzer. one finds a range of possibilities opening up. and illustrations revealing the hidden nature of the universe. the pansophic impetus behind the legend of Johannes Faust. who refused to allow any boundaries to his search for knowledge. with concentric circles marking divinity at the top. But Chemistry]. who makes a pact with Mephistopheles in order to gain knowledge. Here we have a massive compendium of magical knowledge. It was probably preceded by and certainly followed by other versions. is peculiarly modern and in some respects characteristically pansophic. including a French edition titled F.58 Characteristic of these esoteric illustrations is one entitled Figura Divina Theosoph. et Hyperphysica.
such spiritual mapmaking has its predecessors in the medieval era. we find a more or less typical series of images: above is the Prima Materia. yet there is ample reason to use such a term. such as “Ein Prophet gilt nichst in seinem Vaterlande [A prophet is not honored in his native land. Below that is an intermediate principial realm marked “Water. manuscript and the efforts at a comprehensive cosmology found in modern science. here we have a different focus. surrounded by winged angelic forms. Fundamentally the same characteristics mark the comprehensive esotericism represented by the D. in scholastic theology. The term occult sciences may raise an eyebrow. and Holy Spirit. Is there a direct indebtedness to Böhmean theosophy. in investigation without regard for dogmatic religious barriers. the lower sphere represents the temporal realm. Just as the eighteenth century was an era of physical cartography. also was relied upon as Queen Elizabeth’s cartographer. marking a host of alchemical stages and enigmatic sayings as well as planetary and zodiacal symbols. of course. not only because many of the early major scientific figures were in fact also alchemists. This middle realm is marked “Figura Cabbalistica.M.O. entitled “Unendliche Ewigkeit und Unerforschliche Primum Mobile” [“Infinite Eternity and Unknowable Primum Mobile”].” “Heavenly Seed. and with the word Chaos.A. but even more because there is good reason to think of Western esoteric currents in general as being based in verifiable experimentation. or to Rosicrucianism. 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. for instance. partaking in both. so too it was an era of hyperphysical cartography. . Extremely intricate hyperphysical cartography like this seems to be chiefly a creation of the early modern period. in time and in eternity. marked also Father.” “Animal Seed. Son.78 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E triangles and concentric circles below.A.O. Here.M. of efforts to survey the ethereal realms. For our focus is upon what such an illustration signifies.” and “Mineral Seed.” and so forth. as well as Jehovah in Hebrew.59 There is a great deal of controversy over the precise relation of such a manuscript or illustration to Böhmean theosophy. and in the effort to create a comprehensive map of the cosmos. and Earth depicted as a ball exists between the elemental and intermediate realms. Here chaos does not mean total confusion so much as ‘potentiality’. but it appears the early modern mania for physical cartography had its exact complement in the occult sciences—indeed. that is. of its hyperphysical dimensions. John Dee. the greatest occultist of his day. it seems entirely symbolically appropriate that Dr.” “Vegetable Seed. but a map of the hidden aspects of the world.]” Below is an elemental sphere marked with the zodiacal signs. is an effort to render a mappa mundi. And thus when we look at an illustration from D. in visual form. for instance.” and has on either side gnomic sayings.
representing exactly such a compendium of knowledge in largely written form (albeit including also illustrations and tables).HISTORICAL CURRENTS 79 There was a time. Freemasonry. in the numerous volumes of Emanuel Swedenborg (1688–1772). began in the medieval period as one of many craft guilds. when esotericists could imagine a unified cosmology that included religion. One finds the same effort at universality in theosophy. Another such figure. Such a universalist goal does not exclude the human. who in his multivolume Göttliche und Wahre Metaphysica (Frankfurt/Leipzig: 1715/1746) (probably written during the 1670s. and literature in a spiritually centered universe. maintained a definite organizational hierarchy and structure. at a truly comprehensive metaphysics and cosmology. first with the consistent emphasis of Rosicrucian works on the transformation of society and the establishment of a utopia. stretching right into the nineteenth century. and associated with the vast . (London: 1663–1664) and The Wise-mans Crown. science. originally a scientist. or the Temple of Wisdom. or the Glory of the Rosie-cross. chronicled what one discovers in visiting in vision the various discarnate realms of existence. Western esotericism often aims at universal knowledge. not a visionary. We have already referred to Georg von Welling’s Opus Mago-Cabbalisticum et Theosophicum (1784). but a profound intellectual who consciously sought to bridge the gap between the sciences and religion. invented an industrial process. Heydon’s Theomagia in particular attempts to be a kind of universal compendium of the occult sciences. not so very long ago. in other words. each of which guarded its particular mysteries. the social and political realm. who studied minerology. And one sees the same effort to bridge the realms in the works of Franz von Baader (1765–1841). of course. but after his visionary entry into discarnate realms. and it is also clearly visible in the major works of that era. and pansophic movements we have discussed in turn fed into Freemasonry. those of masonry belonging to the arts of architecture and building. theosophic. and is certainly not limited to works labeled Rosicrucian. unlike these other more individualistic movements. and later in the development of modern Freemasonry. and specifically. From the seventeenth until the twentieth centuries. as for instance in the vast metaphysical cartography of John Pordage (1604–1681). For all of the Rosicrucian. the arts. which. But such universalism is a constant theme from the seventeenth century on. author of such works as Theomagia. a prolific chronicler of the unseen. denigrated in his own day as something of a plagiarist. truly a Renaissance man. One sees this also. of course. (London: 1665). And it is in the sociopolitical realm that the Rosicrucian impulse had considerable impact. and became one of the most impressive writers on religious and spiritual themes of the nineteenth century. was John Heydon. This is the kind of comprehensive worldview visible in such illustrations as the ones we see emerging during the eighteenth century. but published only in German).
the Kabbalah. and the sciences. and during this time began work on his major treatises. Certainly it is the case that Rosicrucianism as a movement dried up fairly early. and although . Of course. Freemasonry became the nexus for many prior esoteric traditions. not surprisingly. if as a fraternity it had ever really existed at all. his father. Fludd was somewhat contentious as a young physician. Plato and the Bible. John’s College in Oxford. Such publication was. to whom the term Renaissance man could certainly be applied. of course. of course. the conventional way of advertising one’s desire to join the fraternity. in 1616 and 1617. but as an influence Rosicrucianism remained powerful. Fludd. but the Freemasons endured the longest. and Christian circles in Spain and Provençe. including his encyclopedic Utriusque Cosmi Maioris Scilicet et Minoris Metaphysica. It is true that there were other such guilds with their own rites and mysteries. Masonry. Like Paracelsus himself. and eventually returned to England to receive his doctorate in medicine. traveled for a time as a tutor to aristocratic families on the Continent. and its universalist esotericism became immensely influential in Masonic circles chiefly through the auspices of Robert Fludd and Elias Ashmole.” published in Leiden. 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. the arts. 1617). Robert Fludd (1574–1637) was born into a Shropshire family. and Rosicrucianism. the same time that saw Fludd’s publication of his History by de Bry saw his publication also of two treatises in Latin defending the “Fraternity of the Rosy Cross. and among his primary influences were Kabbalism. Fludd was among the first to develop a comprehensive esoteric framework for seeing the world. on which he explicitly drew. and having left his military career to become a justice of the peace in Kent. clearly sought to incorporate the full range of human knowledge into his theosophia perennis. Martianus Capella and. to a speculative. Jewish. 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. contact probably having its origins in the lengthy period of communication between Islamic. flourished in the vicinity of Jewish scholarship and Kabbalism. the exact history of this transformation is sketchy at best. Indeed. intended as a vast compendium of human knowledge including theosophy. Indeed. but it is clear that like Rosicrucianism. Sir Thomas Fludd. Robert Fludd went to St. having received a knighthood for his military service. primarily because of Kabbalistic influence that allowed Freemasonry to transform itself completely from a society devoted to the arts of building. (where he probably began to learn Paracelsian medicine). Physica Atque Technica Historia [History of the Macrocosm and Microcosm] (Oppenheim: de Bry. semireligious occult fraternity.80 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E cathedrals of medieval Europe.
was a remarkable figure who stood at the center of esoteric currents in England. who in turn was a friend of Sir Thomas Browne.”61 But for our purposes. since the Rosicrucians were traditionally sworn to silence. in the Ashmolean library at Oxford. he did say that the Rosicrucian “Pansophia or universal knowledge in Nature” was very like his own view. was himself an alchemist and esoteric scholar. having been initiated into a Masonic lodge in 1646. But in any event. Arthur Dee. Marin Mersenne.” Elias Ashmole. . Ashmole. That Ashmole knew of Fludd and his Rosicrucianism is certain. who was responsible in part for the renaissance of Rosicrucianism within English Freemasonry. John Dee. most significant is the fact that Ashmole was demonstrably a Mason. Mersenne was a friend of the young René Descartes. Dee’s son. and assiduous bibliophile. for thus we can see direct evidence of the link between earlier Rosicrucianism and later Freemasonry. back and forth in an intricate series of associations and publications that certainly have not been exhaustively examined. one of the major English literary figures of the seventeenth century. used his wealth and influence primarily and one may even say.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 81 Fludd later claimed that he received no reply. and back to England. and especially his treatise Monas Hieroglyphica. Dr. 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. Yet this relationship itself is only the tip of a far greater network of associations and friendships as well as influences. he may indeed have provided a bridge between the earlier Rosicrucian movement and the nascent Masonic one. for he himself noted that “Robert Fludd in his apology for the Brethren of the Rosie Cross hath gone very far herein. who was certainly acquainted with Fludd before Fludd’s death in 1637. and who collected much on and by John Dee—so that one might well say that the esoteric movement here went from England to the Continent. it was clear to Fludd that identification with the Rosicrucians subjected one to much public vitriol—Fludd had been the subject of bitter attacks by a French monk. and through his acquaintance with Elias Ashmole. born to an aristocratic family. it is clear that Fludd identified with the Rosicrucian views.60 Then again. And Dee and Browne in turn knew Ashmole. Such attacks undoubtedly prompted Fludd to write in his Clavis Philosophae that the name Rosicrucian must today be replaced by simply “the Wise. By the early 1630s. almost exclusively for esoteric causes. Himself an alchemist. astrologer. was very influential in the founding of Rosicrucianism some years after Dee’s travels through Germany and Eastern Europe. it was also conventional to say that one had received no reply. Ashmole collected what undoubtedly was and remains one of the world’s greatest collections of papers and books. Frances Yates convincingly argues that Dr.
never referred to it again.” Samuel Hartlib (1593–1670). but instead one finds that a linguistic mysticism was in fact at the heart of a movement that fired the English Civil War. after recording this revelation. Comenius had developed a system of education based in analogical correspondences. was not simply an antiquarian. Backhouse contributed old alchemical manuscripts to Ashmole’s collection. an esoteric network of illuminated intelligentsia. which in turn harks back to the “namelessness” and invisibility of the true Knights of the Round Table in chivalric literature. and Hartlib had worked to form such colleges both in Germany .” or what Comenius termed the Collegium Lucis. and John Comenius (1592–1690). and must remain so. Hugh Trevor-Roper remarks that Cromwell’s movement was impelled by “three philosophers . It is significant that Ashmole.” attested in a note by Ashmole dated 3 April 1651. conveyed to Ashmole “in Silables the true matter of the Philosopher’s Stone. one could ignore it. said to have its origins in the revelation of Hermes to his “spiritual son. Samuel.”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. This was a Hermetic spiritual adoption. or as Kabbalistic. and William Backhouse adopted Ashmole as a “son. resonates closely with the Rosicrucian ideal of silence and invisibility. and wrote himself in Theatrum Chemicum that the spiritual son was under an obligation never to reveal the mystery into which he was initiated. of course. The true name is hidden. although certainly that impulse was strong in him. All of this. of course. when Backhouse thought he was dying. . He also was a practicing Hermetic esotericist. but they are in any case gnostic. and only philosophers of the English Revolution.62 Backhouse’s father. non-sectarian utopia where all the divisions of knowledge could be studied together. using a symbolic metalanguage. John Dury (1596–1680). had had connections with John Dee and Edward Kelley. These “silables” may be seen as alchemical hieroglyphs. meaning that they convey the true and secret name and character of the philosophic work. . except to his own spiritual son. editor of the extensive Theatrum Chemicum Brittanicum collection of alchemical works. and according to Ashmole’s note in 1653. the real . . If this were the only instance of ‘magical language’ during this era of the emergence of Freemasonry as a vehicle for esotericism. 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. introduced Ashmole to Hermetic circles.82 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Ashmole. and now in England all worked at the immediate transformation of society into a peaceful. whose mentor was William Backhouse of Swallowfield (1593–1662). who had left Germany for England after the failure of the Palatinate.” and transmitted orally from master to one disciple since antiquity.64 These three men. .” “bequeathed to me as a legacy. All three of the men had been active in Rosicrucian circles.
. Such a language. means that “A Mason is oblig’d by his Tenure to obey the Moral Law . But most important for us is the final point.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 83 and in England. Some extraordinary meanes to perfeit the knowledge and unvail the mysteryes of the Propheticall scriptures. 4. Meanes to perfeit the knowledge of the Orientall tongues and to gaine abilities fitt to deale with the Jewes. Philosophicall. 2. Arts and Sciences. A magical Language whereby secrets may be delivered and preserved to such as are made acquainted with it traditionally. 3.”66 But this rationalist tolerance marks exoteric Freemasonry. and had often been seen as a means of connecting Christianity with Judaism. like the symbolism of alchemy. Early in the eighteenth century. whose calling is supposed to be neere at hand. For Dury listed under “Things to Be Observed” in his platform for social transformation: 1. Also important here is the third point. and also to convey what cannot be conveyed in common language. and Mechanical. would transcend any national or cultural linguistic boundaries. and as Edmond Mazet remarks. . . Masonry had a deist and rationalist quality that aided in its spread. Chymical. whereby not only the Secrets of Disciplines are harmonically and compendiously delivered. . but also the Secrets of Nature are thought to be unfolded .” certainly a pansophic goal. there is another aspect of such a magical language: its universality. so that by the mid-eighteenth century much of the Western world was dotted with Masonic groups. Freemasonry. which from a Christian viewpoint could well be defined as “some extraordinary meanes to perfeit the knowledge and unvail the mysteryes” of the Scriptures. Its pansophic universality has its parallel in the universalism of Masonry. but it is on some remarks by Dury that we should now focus. However. needless to say. . the conjoining of all the disciplines in service of the “secrets of Nature. visible in James Anderson’s Constitutions of the Freemasons (1723). esoteric: to limit those who understand it. there is little in the basic principles of Freemasonry to suggest a specific Masonic esotericism. The aim of a magical language is. according to the Constitutions. whereby Masonry becomes the Center of Union and the Means of conciliating true Friendship among Persons that must have else remain’d at a perpetual Distance.65 Dury’s remarks here are interesting not least because they reveal his attraction to Jewish Kabbalism. the establishing of a “magical language” for the conveying of secret knowledge. which had a considerable influence in promoting Masonry’s nonsectarian tolerance. which quickly established lodges all across Europe and in America.
. suppress. After her death. with its general tendency to reject. nonsectarian basis. a theosophic circle in London. including.67 There are echoes in this project of the Rosicrucian aims of a century before. for instance. and master mason. especially in France. announced in Ramsay’s oration. and indeed. the introduction of alchemical symbolism into the rites. became prominent in French Masonry. . great. and by means of the union of our Brothers it may be carried to a conclusion in a few years . developing complicated symbolism in its rituals. In this oration. Masonic values of rationalism. Masonry became a vehicle for esotericism. solid. who had been initiated into Masonry years before. and those who insist on a much more exoteric. In it. had an exoteric. This esotericism was kindled by Andrew Michael Ramsay (1686–1743). deism. 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.68 Within Masonry itself. fellow craftsman. and in 1737 gave an oration that had a profound effect. consisting in three degrees of apprentice. Ramsay also called for a massive project of universal illumination: All the Grand Masters in Germany. By this means the lights of all nations will be united in a single work. Thus we find that Freemasonry has a peculiarly dual relation to esotericism and modernity. has subsequently been credited with at least some of the inspiration for the later French philosophes and their Encyclopédie. And during this time.84 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Yet if early-eighteenth-century Freemasonry. excepting only theology and politics. a Böhmenist who then sent him on to Archbishop Fénelon. one of the founders of the Rectified Scottish Rite and a powerful proponent of speculative or esoteric Masonry. From here he went on to stay with Pierre Poiret. thus stimulating a host of higher degrees. one finds a continuous struggle since at least the eighteenth century between those such as Jean-Baptiste Willermoz (1730–1824). fraternal Freemasonry. it quickly began to develop an esoteric emphasis. . a Scotsman who early in his life was a member of the Philadelphian Society of Jane Leade and Francis Lee. and nonsectarianism certainly helped develop the modern era. On the other hand. England. Italy. especially in England. after which he became secretary to Madame Guyon. while publishing numerous books. he became a tutor to various aristocratic families. luminous. it is not surprising that this project. Ramsay. which will be a universal library of all that is beautiful. he discussed the importance of chivalry and the Templars. On the one hand. and a long tradition of eclectic esotericism among its members. and useful in all the sciences and in all the noble arts. but here they take on a distinctly rationalist flavor. or ignore esotericism. The work has already been commenced in London.
Indeed. even to this day. to wit I am. as maintaining a special linguistic power that lies at the heart of building. In the Graham manuscript of 1726. . especially with the founding of the Orden des Guelden-und Rosen-Cruetzes.” In other words. that is. God has sealed the six directions of space.” which Edmond Mazet sees as “a clear allusion to the six permutations of the trigrammaton YHW. has a natural connection to Kabbalistic mysticism that also focuses on divine architecture.”69 These words take their derivation from the building of Solomon’s Temple. a ritual that relies upon “foundation words. a Masonic Rosicrucianism begun in 1757 in Germany that incorporated Templar and alchemical symbolism too.”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.HISTORICAL CURRENTS 85 Yet despite the insistence of some on a more exoteric Masonry. In other words. the tradition has long been seen as maintaining occult knowledge. we find an exorcism ritual to be used by Masons in the construction of a building. we find that it definitely does draw upon earlier esoteric currents. of human and divine architecture both. it continues to draw upon these and other currents to become itself among the most eclectic of esoteric traditions. such an emphasis on the powers of divine creation is characteristic of Kabbalism since the medieval period.” as well as references to those who are said to have the “Mason’s word.”71 And there are some Hebrew words in early Masonic documents—not surprisingly. according to the Sepher Yetsirah (1. the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite. As we have already seen. the tradition is linked to Masonic linguistic mysticism. and alchemical currents of Western esotericism. even if it is subject to periodic spasms of anti-esotericism. and six for the fellow craft. which is as follows: one word for a divine. six for the clergy. in The Whole Institutions of Freemasons Opened (1725): “Yet for all this I want the primitive word. when we look closely at the emergence of Freemasonry.8). Freemasonry. from very early on in the development of modern Masonry. and so it is not surprising to discover that in 1676 we find Masonry associated with the “Modern Green Ribbon’d Caball. since one finds Hebrew frequently in Rosicrucian illustrations and works as well. based as it is on the craft of building. specifically. the most popular form of contemporary Masonry. I answer it was God in six Terminations. 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. and that as the Masonic current continues through the eighteenth century. theosophic. but it also later drew explicitly and implicitly on the chivalric. preserves its eighteenth grade as that of the Chevalier Rose-Croix. Rosicrucian. yet in thirteen branches in reference to Christ and his twelve apostles. by which. the Order of the Gold and RosyCross.
but as the actual medium linking humanity. we see a central distinction between them all and what we can characterize as the dominant modern materialist view. by coming to learn the divine language of creation. For whereas modern society is founded on the objectifying separation of everything from the individual (allowing the exploitation of the entire cosmos.” or signature. Kabbalah. Rosicrucianism. . joining the humanities and the sciences under the aegis of a broadly conceived spirituality. which has been sporadically realized by individuals. divine language inheres in the whole of creation—each kind of creature bears within it the divine stamp. Here. magic. the theme of our next section. the esotericist is actually redeeming or restoring the cosmos to its transcendent or paradisal origin. pansophy. as well as its political dimensions that came to the fore with Adam Weishaupt and others during the eighteenth century. For according to Western esotericism generally. woven through all of these traditions is the theme of language. but actually the means for overcoming that objectification. we cannot help but recognize similarities among them all. All of these esoteric currents further presuppose that humans are capable of spiritual regeneration and of attaining gnosis. of how humanity is meant to redeem the cosmos.86 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Like the Rosicrucianism that preceded it. in this case a universal esotericism that unites all forms of knowledge. Masonry. nature. Here. not just as the means of communication among people. all of these esoteric traditions are founded upon the overcoming of this objectification through the recognition of how microcosm and macrocosm are mutually illuminating. in Western esotericism. of course. One might best say that Freemasonry contains the possibility of a universalist esotericism. and Christian theosophy. Above all. we are disregarding the more or less social aspects of Freemasonry. its secret “silable. language is not just a means for objectification and separation. and this the esotericist unveils through visionary perception. not consume it. The universalist esotericist dream is not the provenance of Masonry as an organization. including alchemy. speculative Masonry is a manifestation of the more general modern dream of universalism. When we consider the seminal modern Western esoteric currents together. including humanity). Finally. And this role is played out through reading and writing. but of individuals and circles within the larger stream of Masonic tradition. or direct experiential knowledge of the divine. and the divine. Thus the esotericist plays a central role in the drama of cosmic redemption itself. What is more.
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 ) . .
Figure 2 Another alchemical image M i c h a e l M a i e r. from . T r i p u s A u r e u s ( 1 6 1 8 ) .
Figure 3 Theosophic image entitled “Serenity” from Jacob Böhme. .). Theosophia Revelata. edited by Johann Georg Gichtel. oder: Alle Götliche Schriften Jacob Böhmens (1730 ed.
oder: Alle Götliche Schriften Jacob Böhmens (1730 ed. edited by Johann Georg Gichtel. .). Theosophia Revelata.Figure 4 Theosophic image entitled “Three Principles” from Jacob Böhme.
Theosophia Revelata. edited by Johann Georg Gichtel. .).Figure 5 Theosophic image entitled “Earthly and Heavenly Mysterium” from Jacob Böhme. oder: Alle Götliche Schriften Jacob Böhmens (1730 ed.
O p u s M a g o . Note that beyond the celestial hierarchy is the Ungrund. . which is here explicitly identified with the Kabbalistic ’en soph.Figure 6 Pansophic image from Georg von We l l i n g .C a b b a l i s t i c u m e t T h e o sophicum (Frankfurt: 1784).
Note the threedimensional nature of the illustration. (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.Figure 7 Pansophic image from Georg von We l l i n g . O p u s M a g o .
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). .Figure 8 Pansophic image from Georg von We l l i n g .
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.Figure 9 Cecil Collins. otherworldly nature of Collins’s work. “The Music of Dawn. and the evocative. .” 1988.
“Paradise. .Figure 10 Cecil Collins.” 1976.
Now ‘tis true I must be here confined by you. Which is most faint. Which was to please. The Tempest. has brought the play’s action to an end. The main character. And pardoned the deceiver. And what strength I have’s my own. But release me from my bands With the help of your good hands. something remarkable happens at the play’s end. dwell In this bare island by your spell. Prospero then offers the famous epilogue: Now my charms are all o’erthrown. or else my project fails. art to enchant And my ending is despair Unless I be relieved by prayer Which pierces so that it assaults 87 . the magician Prospero. Gentle breath of yours my sails Must fill. and the comedic drama is brought to its resolution.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. Let me not Since I have my dukedom got. so that we are left viewing the magician himself. Now I want Spirits to enforce. Or sent to Naples.
Initially. I had intended to include here a study of the art of surrealist Max Ernst. to the audience. in effect gives his wand to his audience. In all of these esoteric traditions. are the magicians. also a magician. is to touch the nature of being itself. Here. to sing or to say into being. shows a tall. Reading. and freed him. Here Prospero. It is true that the Western esoteric traditions are very diverse. and words—often Hebrew. but one can certainly trace throughout their history a thread that we might call the mysteries of the word. Ernst indeed draws on esoteric imagery. but there is no transference of magical power. but the imagery is individualized and rendered surreal. pansophy. Let your indulgence set me free. As you from crimes would pardoned be. often little more than the accumulation of data. we may read in order to be diverted or entertained. and Freemasonry. there are numbers. by virtue of his skill with words. to invoke the forces of creation itself. That is. where the poet-singer is.88 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Mercy itself and frees all faults. it is often inverted and does not . Conventionally. traditionally. today. To be a vehicle for the right words. behind whom is what at first glance resembles an alchemical retort with a candle in it. letters. or in works by twentieth-century authors that convey various forms of initiatory transmission. language is not a series of arbitrary signs used to designate objects. winged creature in an ornate room. but certainly not always—that in themselves are believed to powerful. for instance. In this most magical of plays. Suddenly. that ours is the magical breath to fill the sails. Prospero’s transfer of power from himself to his audience is reminiscent of Celtic tradition. ours the prayers that can free Prospero just as he in turn held the spirit Ariel in enchantment. via the main character. for example. we realize that we. To incant is to enchant. Rosicrucianism. We have already seen this linguistic mysticism in Kabbalism. but rather a linguistic manifestation of what informs and transcends these objects. a magical transferral has taken place: we realize that we are the magicians. for most of us. as audience. But this is not the way literature always has been seen. This transference of magical power from the playwright and actor. whose fascination with Hermetic and alchemical themes is well known and documented conclusively by M. But closer examination of this and Ernst’s other works does not seem to reveal what we find in alchemical works themselves. Warlick. E. is a prosaic matter. standing above a reclining woman. reveals at a stroke the nature of magical esoteric literature. we may read in order to gather information about a subject.1 Many of Ernst’s paintings reveal his use of alchemical imagery: his collage “The Laugh of the Cock” (1934). and seen it implied in chivalric and troubadour literature as well as in theosophy. having relinquished his magical power.
Milosz wandered the vast forests nearby as a child. and who has incorporated the linguistic mysticism that emerges from them into his own poetry of the first order. D. his mother Jewish. Milosz and Spiritual Transmission through Poetry O. V. more . Naturally. And so we will concentrate first on the work of Oscar Vladislas de Lubicz Milosz (1877–1939). It is certainly worth doing. Here. of even greater value is a vertical. turning then to H. split further into sections on poetry and prose.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. into the world of French intelligentsia. V.2 And even when we turn to literature of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Milosz’s outward life can be outlined rather succinctly. I will instead focus on several major figures and trace the influences on their work. Milosz is without question among the most learned poets of modern times. third. not only in the case of Ernst. Milosz traveled widely. for instance. during which time his family sold their estate. as with Emerson or Rilke. more or less. to the magical fiction of C. we find that there are not too many authors who know about or are even concerned with this understanding of language. It is true that esoteric themes or topics emerge in all sorts of unexpected places in modern literature. After a good education. horizontal survey is of value. it would be possible to catalogue and survey how the Western esoteric traditions appear in relatively recent literary history. with sections on each of the major currents. sometimes more implicitly. He wrote poetry touching on the despair and hollowness of modernity. the poet H. D. S. as can in fact be said of the works of.3 But it is relatively difficult to find a poet whose primary concern is with these various Western esoteric traditions. secular or not. and entry. While a broad. and perhaps for someone else to do. However. for instance. but in that of the entire surrealist movement. deeper study of how Western esotericism intersects with literature and consciousness in our own time. and at twelve he was sent to Paris for schooling.. without question chiefly in the sphere of Hermeticism. but there certainly is an area here worthy of further investigation. (1886–1961). and finally to the remarkable art and writing of Cecil Collins (1909–1989). I will leave such a project for another time. sometimes explicitly. Canticle of Knowledge: O. D. as with Yeats or H. Born to a wealthy family in Lithuania who lived on an estate called Czereïa. Lewis (1898–1963) and others. But his learning is of a particular kind. and so I will not discuss them further here. choosing a synecdochic study that will in turn illuminate aspects of literature that are today all too often overlooked. his parents somewhat cold and aloof. I cannot say with certainty whether or how Ernst’s works convey a particular kind of initiatory transmission.
come to fruition in literary form. Milosz’s predecessors in the Western literary tradition are indissolubly linked with religion and philosophy. One can. he experienced a spiritual illumination. Among these figures. and Western esotericism in general. and the dwelling places of spirits. who was trained as a scientist but went on to write voluminous works surveying the nature. as he saw it. But it is in Milosz that we see Swedenborg’s approach. and. . whose massive works are themselves scientific in their precise descriptions and careful elucidation of all the various “divine mansions. he remains a primary force behind the works of William Blake. S. in 1914. also a tactile visionary. but are in fact also intended to invoke these experiences in the reader. in fact. but all of these under the sign of a Hermetic spirituality. participating in the League of Nations and serving until his retirement in 1938. Kabbalah.” However. William Blake (1757–1827). a Don Juanesque figure. to bring about a cultural renaissance that would join together the sundered limbs of human knowledge. his effort to chronicle the visionary experience with a kind of new science of the spirit. of heaven. beginning of course with Paracelsus and Böhme. theosophy. hell. These Swedenborg saw. Eliot. in vision. Milosz also became active as a diplomat for Lithuania. whose poems and prose are not only recountings of visionary experiences. Swedenborg was. and Johann Wolfgang Goethe (1749–1832). Then. and including such authors as Emanuel Swedenborg (1688–1772). 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. Milosz’s poetry. so his nephew Czeslaw Milosz later wrote. Financially ruined during this time by the collapse of Russia.90 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E or less like that of the early T. and depicted as peculiarly concrete—the visionary realms of the spirit for him are palpable and his work certainly a kind of hyperphysical cartography. far more influential than is usually acknowledged in intellectual histories. in a mysterious way also embodies and is the experience. which are what concern us here. for that matter. and invariably sought to conjoin not only the sciences and literature and the arts. its members have in common that most lived during the eighteenth century and that they sought. create a kind of lineage of such figures. by way of a renewed Hermetic spirituality. Swedenborg of course was himself preceded in this effort by John Pordage. and perhaps remains. LouisClaude de Saint-Martin (1743–1803). Diverse as this list is in certain respects. and both wrote in dry. and became. though drawing on this tradition of scientific observation of visionary experience. perhaps the most seminal is Swedenborg. neither Pordage nor Swedenborg was a poet. Not so Milosz. and from this period on became a serious scholar of Hermeticism. Goethe. It was during the first half of this service that Milosz wrote his most Hermetic works. almost pedantic ways of their visionary experiences. In both Swedenborg and Goethe we see the emergence of what we might call a nascent spiritual science.
the passionate pursuit of the Real. it will no doubt be useful to look more closely at some of Milosz’s work. knowledge and love. n’entendront rien à ces choses. they are all intimately aware of the great schisms taking place in modern humanity. This isolation Blake rails against in his epic poems. At this juncture.” from The Confession of Lemuel (1918).”5 And he writes of the “sacred art of the Word. the observer looks outward.]” Thus the canticle is devoted to teaching on the nature of spiritual illumination.”4 He discerned “a new mysticism.” which “springs from the hidden depths of Universal Being. Contemporary sciences are founded in observation of the cosmos.” telling us that “poetry. and does not in general investigate the nature of the observer’s own consciousness. and especially the figures we are discussing here. / Les autres. astronomy. which Milosz experienced at eleven o’clock in the evening. de science et d’amour. and like Blake. but indeed. 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.” or “Canticle of Knowledge. on 14 December 1914. having asked. ayant demandé. and in particular. turn their attention inward and become careful observers of the inner landscape. / A ceux que la prière a conduits à la méditation sur l’origin du langage.”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. on reçu et savent déjà. and especially in Milosz. The canticle continues: “A ceux. seems called upon. But the poet. that he anticipated a new poetry.” which. / Others. to join up with ancient teachings. and also prehistory and archaic history.]”7 . and from its fellow humanity and seemingly set adrift as an isolated being. / For those whom prayer has led to meditation on the origin of language. crown of human knowledge. summarizing in some respects his life’s work. [The teaching of the sunlit hour of the divine nights. les voleurs de douleur et de joie. to awakening it in his reader. have received and already know. which “will contribute in large measure to realizing an inner synthesis of the great discoveries in physical chemistry. seems bound. the immense devastation of the self as it is torn asunder from the divine. through a new metaphysics. as the organizer of archetypes. thieves of joy and pain. will understand nothing of these things. insisting instead on the inner creative life of the artist. Milosz’s work is explicitly dedicated not only to entering into this realm of the spiritual imagination. Milosz experiences this inner devastation as well as the powerful creative life awakened when one enters into the living realm of the spiritual imagination. Milosz himself wrote in a brief and late treatise on poetry. The “Canticle” begins with the striking line: “L’enseignement de l’heure ensoleillée des nuits du Divin. Cartographers of consciousness. qui. to survive not only our industrial civilization but also Space-Time itself. [For those who. “setting out from proven scientific foundations. from the cosmos.
lumière. and already know.” This earth of the vision of archetypes.” Indeed. and when he dedicates the canticle to those who have asked. “meditation on the origin of language. this “situated place. ainsi que par tous les noms de métaux / Car ces noms ne sont ni les frères. from Pythagoras to Plato. the names “were hurled from the motionless world of archetypes into the abyss of time’s turmoil.92 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Milosz was unquestionably Christian in orientation. earth. corresponding to Plato’s realm of Forms or Ideas. and which is “situated in the consciousness of the solar egg [situés dans la conscience de l’œuf solaire]. to Claude de Saint-Martin and Swedenborg.” 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]. terre. “il est nécessaire de connaître les objets désignés par certains mots essentiels / Tels que pain. suggesting that the center of prayer is knowledge. etc. but utterly serious—this is a poem about the mysteries at the heart both of language and of .”8 This gnostic canticle is. salt.” Only “the spirit of things has a name”. but truly fathers of sensible objects. water.” is not merely a sterile world of symbols. “their substance is nameless. mais bien les père des objects sensibles. are merely thieves of love and knowledge.” We think that the sensible world is situated.—all say the same things to anyone who knows how to listen. sang. / For these names are neither brothers. 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. darkness. ténèbres.” A linguistic gnosis is at the heart of the canticle. ni les fils. 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. of course. this allusion is close to Kabbalism in that it offers a gnostic interpretation of those verses. The power to name sensible objects comes from supersensible knowledge of the archetypal realm to which our spirit belongs. through the initiates of Alexandria and Christian mystics. but it is not so. sun. addressed to the latter. not like “Patmos.” It is clear by now that Milosz is not dabbling with words here. as well as the names of metals. all that was in antiquity described in metaphors “exists in a situated place. sel. But characteristically. Milosz continues his explanation of this linguistic gnosis in the “Canticle of Knowledge. those who are not affirmers. but living. eau. [it is necessary to know the objects designated by certain essential words / Such as bread. In fact. he continues.” writing that to understand the origin of language. he is alluding to Christ’s saying that those who ask will receive.” These names precede existence in the sensible world and time’s turmoil. have received. the names of things emerge from the realm of archetypes. light.” “terre de la vision des archétypes [earth of the vision of archetypes]. nor sons. but negators.]”9 In other words. soleil.]”10 This “arcana of language” is the “key to the world of light. to the initiate. blood.
he tells us. and the gold of celestial memory. which recalls the primal naming of all things by the primal man. Milosz tells us again. a revelation.” “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.]”11 There is in the “Canticle of Knowledge” a continuous thread of allusions to gold and to the sun.” These two worlds correspond to the two worlds of Böhme. [Here you are in the first ray in the womb of the fixed cloud. it is also the visible sun of the substantial world]. is the “key to the world of light. these ancient metaphors refer to “substances. muet comme le plomb. as well as to the “solar egg” of the soul.]”12 This charged and sun-enveloped word reminds us of the account in Genesis of creation. and only describes what he has seen. of love and of wrath. and “knowledge’s golden candlestick. and then comes the following passage: “te voici dans le rayon avant-coureur au sein du nuage figé. le mot chargé de foudre de ce temps dangereux. But beyond these two worlds is the “word enveloped in sun. as well as the first chapter of John (In the beginning was the Word). / In the passage from the egg to the sphere. but also of the Corpus Hermeticum. And so it is here. Adam.]”13 As we might recall. Milosz speaks to us directly: “Do you feel the most ancient of your memories awakening in you? / I reveal to you here the holy origins of your love of gold. of the primal . At such points. “I have named you! [Je t’ai nommé!]”. he implicates us in the poem. which only draw their value from their supersensible archetypes. / Dans l’apparition de l’esprit virginal de l’or / Dans l’apparition de l’ove à la sphère . for as he told us before.” But the allusions are not necessarily to earthly gold nor to the sun visible from the earth. that is. . Here. [truth does not make sacred language lie: . “is the key to the two worlds of darkness and light. he means precisely what he says: “I have seen. the word charged by the thunder of this dangerous time [la parole enveloppée de soleil. / In the leap and wind of the fiery mass. he calls us to the celestial gold. . When he sings “the canticle of the sunlight hour of the nights of God” and proclaims the wisdom of two worlds opened to his sight. mute as lead. of blessing and of desolation.” Simply that.” to names that precede and transcend their earthly counterparts. For “la vérité ne fait pas mentire le langage sacré: car elle est aussi le soleil visible du monde substantiel. when Milosz addresses us directly. Milosz exultantly writes.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 93 existence. calls us through its language into the truth that language manifests. the first section of “Poemandres” in the Corpus Hermeticum is also a visionary creation-account. Thus Milosz goes on to tell us matter-of-factly that he who has seen stops thinking and feeling. / In the appearance of the virginal spirit of gold. .” There is the earthly gold.” This distinction between truth and lie. . / Dans le bond et le vent de la masse de feu. The man of light (“l’homme la lumière”) draws his knowledge from this supersensible sun in the “motionless” realm of substances. or in Milosz’s words.
on this naked cold planet of iron and clay. Milosz’s visionary experience here is quite simply parallel to and in the tradition of what we also see in “Poemandres” and. in theosophic tradition. the only one situated.” “the world of profound. Thus in the “Canticle of Knowledge. chaste archetypes.” The “omnipotence of affirmation” is counterbalanced. Milosz muses on his early poetry. Thus the poet tells us not to weep for him. In the concluding lines of the canticle.” This playing “between worst darkness and best light” emerges from beyond both darkness and light. and at this moment the “sterile woman” in him died.” for the key to the world of light also opens the—“other region. delirious.” Yet there is a realm beyond these two worlds of affirmation and negation. rather.” “mois je suis toujours dans le même lieu. not light and serenity of recognition. Here too we find the “leap and wind” of a fiery mass. of light and darkness.94 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E powers at work in the constant manifestation of existence. and a kind of corporeality of language. and looked behind him. j’étais plongé dans une profonde ignorance.” and “marrow of iniquity. The ascent to the “solar place” that Milosz describes here brings one to the “omnipotence of affirmation. for that matter.]” Then one day. because whether he is “dazzled by the solar egg. this immense. / being in place itself. différent. le seul situé. Thus. Luciferic brain].” selfknowing.”15 Here we find. where he saw “the source of lights and forms.” We might recall that the mirror. Milosz writes. / played with me as a father with his child. wise. we find a spiritual corporeality. of those who speak pure language. Milosz tells us. is the sign of Wisdom personified: Wisdom showed him the realm of Forms prior to existence. / étant dans le lieu même. but “great trials of negation. even though I am certain that he was at least familiar with it. here too we find a kind of “fixed cloud”. by “omnipotent negation” in “Ce lieu séparé.” “immense. Milosz tells us that he has “visited the two worlds.” or “hurled into the madness of the black eternity. “the Father of Ancients. he noticed that he had stopped before a mirror.” just as in so much of Western esotericism. cet immense cerveau délirant de Lucifer [This separated place. [I am always in the same place. innocent. and that the knowledge of gold is also knowledge of light and blood. and is the province of those who speak pure language. [C’est ainsi que j’appris que le corps de l’homme renferme dans ses profondeurs un . here too we find the emergence of light and life in the opening of the “world of light” for the visionary seer.]”16 See.” those “lands of nocturnal din. hideous. when “like all nature poets I was sunk in profound ignorance [Comme tous les poètes de la nature.” yet also to a “place” of utter desolation. and this is the “solar egg.” to a “place” where “myriad spiritual bodies reveal themselves to virtuous senses. to whom Milosz was definitely indebted.” an “eternity of horror. hideux.14 I am not suggesting that Milosz is directly alluding to the Corpus Hermeticum. in the visionary writings of Böhme. different. “I learned that in its depths man’s body encloses a remedy for all ills.
M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 95 remède à tous les maux et que la connaissance de l’or est aussi celle de la lumière et du sang. as 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. In some poems he has a choir or a chorus. it affirms the significance not only of the virginal gold of the soul’s solar egg. innocents! [The parents sleep there. Qu’ils sont beaux. par la grâce de la vue du milieu. dans cet œuf appuyé sur le feu nuptial. [1775–1802]). you speak the truth.]”17 The canticle concludes with the poet’s prayer that when he is finally cleansed of both evil and good. and his Hymns to the Night.]” . Et puisque nous connaissons depuis sept ans.]” To this Beatrix replies: “Farewell. Milosz is very much akin to Böhme. le signe! [seven times for the past.” replies Beatrix. space and time!” And the adept suggests they both to kneel in adoration “devant le cher fourneau” [before this dear Furnace. who wrote too of the division and conflict between love and wrath. and since we have now known one another seven years. Milosz is close to Novalis (Friedrich von Hardenberg.” is unquestionably alchemical. but also of the inner desolation that one can also experience on earth. and clothed with the sun. Thus the canticle. and with it the initiate asks for peace for Beatrix and for himself. but the descent into immense suffering and privation. between the lightworld and the darkworld. In this acknowledgement of fundamental duality in the cosmos. again three times. et pour nos trois jours à venir. by the grace of inner vision. This understanding he expressed often in a peculiarly theatrical way. And in his allusions to the visionary descent into darkness. Beatrix.” Milosz has his character “The Adept” speaking with his inner spouse. This poem. the sign!]” This is the sign of the cross. “The Adept’s Christmas Eve” begins with the Adept’s ritual gesture: “sept fois pour le passé. tendres métaux époux. And then the adept makes a strange remark: “Les parents dorment là. because of its fusion of literature and Hermeticism.18 But Milosz has forged his own mode of expression. especially given Milosz’s own essentially solitary life. reaffirms the importance not only of the ascent to the knowledge of light. tender metal partners in marriage. Beatrix is surprised: “So you can see them? How? In this hermetic egg? With what eyes?” The adept replies: “Chère enfant. [Dear child. as well as in more modern movements like Freemasonry. and is clearly expressing his own direct experience. in his 1922 poem entitled “The Adept’s Christmas Eve. and for our three days to come. but refers to an inner alchemy. I touch your brow. at its end. Frequently his poetry has a dramatic or semidramatic quality. he will not lose the memory of the suffering he has undergone. trois vois—le signe. in this egg resting on the nuptial flame. to “tender metal partners in marriage. is especially of interest to us here. je te touche le front. let us make the sign. How beautiful and innocent they are!]”19 This reference. “Master.
and to its incantory language. Thus a new cry sounds seven times—Is it a name? asks the adept. undoubtedly reflects Dante’s beloved. “The Adept’s Christmas Eve” draws on a range of allusions. For not only are there references to the “tender metal partners in marriage.” sinks to the depths. tu te délivres. [It is life liberated. The alchemical . woman.]”20 Beatrix warns the adept of the legions of destroyers massed to ruin his creation. and “Lumière de l’or. I tell you. white and pale blue. charitée. the adept exults of “how all your [Beatrix’s] secret being breathes within me. including the way the Greco-Roman Mystery traditions fed into the Christian mysteries of symbolic death and rebirth. charity. the adept speaks of “seven deadly cries in the night. but the adept replies. but also countless other allusions to a kind of visionary inner alchemy. sometimes almost disjointed quality like hieratic speech heard in a dream.]” To which Beatrix replies: “C’est la vie délivrée. The woman in the poem.” At the climax of this strange initiatic psychodrama. the alchemy of inward marriage and of the spiritual birth of the alchemical child. The adept watches.” not only references to the alchemical furnace. yellow. He opens his eyes and is reborn. dancing in a circle in the rigor of red. leaden and lachrymal. Beatrice. “I believe it is. and black. but also thrice-greatest Hermes. 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. partially because of her name’s meaning—thrice beatific—which in turn recalls not only the Trinity.” while the “oil of blind corruption. Beatrix. [My chains of constellations are broken. any more than are those of the adept. of course. but a player on the poet’s inner stage. And in the conclusion of the poem. at once also alluding to the birth of Christ. and what does he see? “Purity rises to the surface. Thus the allusions to Dante’s poetry are subordinate to the poem’s initiatory psychodrama. which became openings for him as he ascended into paradise in the Divine Comedy.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. is reborn!” Thus once again. the mystery of the sacred name emerges as the crux of the spiritual rebirth.]”21 It is. Yet Beatrix does not seem a human spouse. The Master forgives me. partaking rather of a heightened. [Light of gold.” And he repeats how extraordinary are “your eyes. the poem is really an initiatic dialogue incorporating the language of alchemy. and the longstanding alchemical traditions as well. your eyes!” The adept’s final line is: “Mes chaines de constellations sont rompues. your eyes!”—reminds us of Dante’s fascination with Beatrice’s eyes. or like the language of a ritual enactment of the Greek mysteries. The adept’s fascination with Beatrix’s eyes—“your eyes. and all is finished”—yet this is also the moment of rebirth. her words are not ordinary or even precisely human. he comes back to life. you liberate yourself. impossible to miss the allusions here to Dante’s Divine Comedy. “I see only one. Here we are looking at spiritual alchemy.
with the initiatory drama unfolding itself in an inner theater whose audience is.” not to mention Ars Magna or The Arcana. far beyond what we might think such a line may mean. the large cloud vanishes. In his exegetic notes to his own prose work Ars Magna (whose title is drawn from the similarly named work by Ramon Lull).” Milosz’s commentary goes far. archetype of the coronation of regents by divine right in the material world. The various phases of this rite correspond to the principal moments in the regeneration of a mineral. and what effect does he anticipate the poem will have? This is a much more far-reaching question than one might at first imagine. “Yet I shall humble in the dust before you this brow which has received the crown. Perhaps most interesting for us is the question of the poem’s reader. or rather. To whom is Milosz writing in such a poem.: initiate]. in such a way that it seems to be seen through the parietal bone. He writes in exegesis that The revelation of a superior phenomenalism opens with a mystical consecration. then? Undoubtedly.” a “faithful and pious narrative. To see how far Milosz’s work is from what we often call poetry. in other words. not very high in the vaporous mass behind the top of his skull. at a small distance from the large cupric cloud which conceals from him the upper luminous level. in what it reveals. And there is in this unfolding drama something profoundly impersonal. in an elliptical leap of extreme violence and with the noise of a strong wind. oneself. by a metallic red-hot egg. . by Milosz. as though the poet does not exist as an ego. perfectly awake. The poet of Ars Magna and the Arcana does not write for his contemporaries. 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. 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. as unemotional as nature.”22 To whom does this legacy belong. to read such a poem as “Canticle of Knowledge” or “The Adept’s Christmas Eve.” The line is the fourth verse. perhaps we should examine one of his exegetic notes on a single line of his own “Poem of the Arcana. exposing the upper region which is suddenly crossed. rests in a horizontal position. Whereas much of what we call modern poetry has only itself and the physical world for references. Milosz’s poems presuppose a visionary experiential reality behind and above them. after all. a light appears. The incantory. is also to participate in it. sometimes decidedly strange language of Milosz’s poetry brings the reader into a similar state to that Milosz is describing. When the ascent through the nebula is finished and the epopt [Gk. one senses vast expanses around one. At the same instant.” and that “In the author’s mind.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 97 work. Milosz writes that his work is a “testament.
Only what is behind or in the symbolic is ultimately real. is focused particularly on the syncretic Hermeticism that began to flower in the eighteenth century. its brutal mass wars.” Milosz’s “superior phenomenalism” is his term for direct spiritual experience. It is perhaps useful. meaning the archetypal realm. His is a peculiar combination of humility and pride intermingled.”24 He writes sardonically of the blindness and destructiveness of modern society with its industrial gigantism. and plunges its omniscient stare for a long time into the deepest thought of the new King. “who will read these pages with a filial respect for their author. Such experience is of the truly situated. we must bow down. Yet at the same time Milosz in his prose and poetry addresses himself to a future reader some centuries hence. and in this there is a kind of reversal. only he who bows down will be bowed down to. Perhaps we can understand more clearly what Milosz means when he quotes “the master Goethe” as saying that “Every passing thing is only a symbol. becomes rounder. moving up a little. one may even say. its secular hedonism and materialism. Without question. thereafter. yet his erudition. as he put it in his last poem of 1936.” and adds that “Behind the symbol there is an immutable situated reality. referring to the reader as “my son. He insists that in order to understand. on which it alights like a crown. There is in Milosz’s work a paradoxical insistence on humility. and a scorn for our own era that bespeaks a kind of pride. Milosz . at this point.” 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. just as he ignores and despises that world. and for him such experience is more real than our mundane lives precisely because it is not constrained by duration or mensurability. stands still. is revelatory and prophetic in its very nature. and with unspeakable scorn for the epoch which saw their birth. for what seems situated and real in this world is revealed in the other to be unreal. scientifically. he is among the most erudite of poets. it assumes the appearance of a magnificent golden sun of oval shape. it descends slowly towards the top of the skull. though including many great poets.23 There is still more. and insists that his true reader will recognize the worth of his writings only far in the future. 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. one senses that his pride comes from a certainty of knowledge that is ignored and despised by the human world. that. because it springs from this archetypal reality. to remark on the question of Milosz’s antecedents. This account suggests that Milosz is writing rather precisely. In all of this he assumes a prophetic voice. And authentic literature. about an actual experience of spiritual coronation.
In the “Psalm” we read of another primary theme. but kept a Bible in Hebrew nearby as a constant reading companion.” Milosz continued.” where he writes of how “shade covers An-Dor and / Pau of the land of Esau covers Matred Tolde Beith / Aram and all Spared of Judea. and then with his “spiritual guides: Goethe.26 If we see here the depth of Milosz’s focus on Hermeticism in history. These writers—and also Jewish exegesis—exerted a decisive influence upon Blaise Pascal. the School of Alexandria. Claude de Saint Martin.”27 “Psalm of the Morning Star” is so suffused in Hebrew and in Old Testament language as to be inseparable from them.” 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. 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. sought in them peace of spirit. the mystical eighteenth century. we cannot help but notice the parallel focus on Judaism and Kabbalah. from Egypt up to today. Martinez de Pasqually. passing through the Pre-Socratics. but in the tradition of many Christian Cabalists. “Psaume de l’Étoile du Matin [Psalm of the Morning Star]. as when the poem refers to the “betrothed sister of the new canticle. Swedenborg. looked forward to the day that the Jews would be converted to Christianity.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 99 wrote in a letter that he would like to lecture on a subject he knew thoroughly: “hermetic metaphysics and doctrines. the disciple of the Kabbalist Raymond Martini. but it reveals at the heart of all things “a single new word. Swedenborg. [a single new word the same / heart as in the time of the fathers beats in wood / stone and water of all that returns there is / nothing new all those things were sleeping / in closed books the books have opened themselves / beneath my hand. the Neoplatonists of the Middle Ages.” first with his teacher of Hebrew.”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.]28 The peculiar rhythm of the lines and line breaks makes this poem unusually difficult to follow. Eugène Ledrain. The Rosicrucian Polybius the Cosmopolitan. We can see how deeply Milosz’s fascination with Judaism penetrated his work by examining his final poem. Milosz not only had studied and read Hebrew. alias René Descartes. Plato. The allusions to Milosz’s favorite doctrines and language are here hidden in the allusions to Hebrew names and places. he was well acquainted with Jewish Kabbalism.” and .
the books open themselves to him. says that “I am entering the twelfth year of supreme knowledge.”30 The name Hiram is found in Masonic tradition. that the work of the coming poet is to be a “crowning” of the New Testament as the latter was a crowning of the Old: “It is not a book. just as in the Book of Revelation and just as in Kabbalism. Architect of the effective Catholic Church of tomorrow. Hiram. King of the Unified World. Le Forestier. science.” and yet writes that he will humble his brow in the dust before “you. . Germany. . R. Here.” in fact.”29 Here we see the nascent Christian millennialism that pervades so much of Milosz’s work as he anticipated a future renaissance.” which are far more extensive than anything T. and art. as early as 1919. 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. Milosz held. 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 . and that he shared with much of the Christian theosophic tradition. S. Eliot. and books. Milosz tells of his visionary experience. in short. Joseph de Maistre. The “architect” of those brotherhoods was Biblical in name only. libric mysticism that has haunted Western esotericism from antiquity. wrote for his poetry. . and Milosz explains his poem’s relationship to Freemasonry in his “Exegetic Notes. drawn together with a universalism that both resembles and includes Freemasonry. and the true poet. King of the unified world. In his “Poem of the Arcana. If the author has considered it useful to follow Lessing. are enormously important for understanding the complex work of Milosz and his mysticism of the word. if we may coin a word. Under the heading “Hiram.” Milosz writes that The personage who concerns us here is not the symbolic hero of the Templars or of Scottish Freemasonry in England. for instance. words. Hermeticism and Kabbalism. opens those books in order to reveal their inner mysteries—or rather. Thus we find in this final poem of Milosz the linguistic and. my son. La Clef de l’Apocalypse [The Key to the Apocalypse]. 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. but there are still other currents of Western esotericism that emerge in the poet’s work.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. we are waiting for the continuation and fulfillment of the only Book. The allegory is clearly indicated by the password Nekom (Vengeance) used by the Chapter of Clermont and the Scottish lodge of the Berlin Union. the archetypes of the cosmos exist inside letters. the visionary poet. and Savoy. the universal regent of faith. it is not books that we are waiting for. inside the books of life and of knowledge. in 1938.
in the sacred poem of the Arcana. even though Milosz implies that his Hiram is different from the Masonic one. like spirit and matter.’ announce their impending appearance. especially the dream of a world utopia. Hence Milosz continues his exegesis of his own poem with several pages on the emergence of a unified world and a new world monarchy.”33 This last remark is especially interesting given that not only were George Washington and Benjamin Franklin Masons. He writes that “Today. as well as the emergence of a “Cathedral of Peace. who announced a coming millennium. it is above all as testimony of veneration for some of its members. particularly for Kadosch Dante Alighieri of the Fede Santa.” And he imagines too the “approaching moment. But Milosz’s grand dream goes beyond Masonry as well. the times of ‘perfection in the Restitution of Nature.34 And Milosz goes on to ask. aspire to holy unification.31 It is clear from this note alone that Milosz was intimately familiar with the history of Masonry and Rosicrucianism. like all the continents and all the states of this world. many themes in Milosz’s outer life—chiefly his work in the League of Nations— reflect those of the Rosicrucians and early modern Masons. was so profoundly characteristic of early Rosicrucianism and of Freemasonry as well: the union of science and religion in a glorious unified future world.”32 Here. it is perhaps enough to recall the prophetic late-medieval character Postel. Indeed.” Here.”35 All of this resonates so strongly with the Western esoteric traditions we have been tracing that it would take several pages just to explicate this single sentence in Milosz’s “Exegetic Notes. and further that although he is drawing on Masonic lore. a Virgin-Mother of Knowledge. Religion and science. but so too were fifty-three of the fifty-six signers of the Declaration of Independence.” This Hiram will establish “his temporal dominion over a world unified at first in spirit by the Holy Catholic Church. and to the Rosicrucian Polybius the Cosmopolitan. and in so doing was drawing upon a tradition of “the Restitution of All Things” that runs . relatively not distant. the builder sent by Hiram of Tyre to Solomon. “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. alias René Descartes. when the organization of Europe will be based upon the principles which guided the foundation of the great American federation. he brings in the theme that. the depository of the one divine and human truth confirmed by philosophy and science.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 101 Sepulchre. the times foreseen by Guillaume Postel.” He prophesies that “all laboratories of the highest thought will come to group themselves in an immense circle around the future Church of Our Lady. Milosz goes on to tell us that the “future architect mentioned by name in the Arcana is the spiritual son of Hiram-Abi. his reference to Hiram in the poem is of his own devising. as we have seen.
And in 1929 Milosz wrote a letter to a friend in which he explained that Carlos Larronde. moral or social. Our group will have no more than twelve members. “The hour of Apostleship has sounded”—Milosz himself. Here too was a group with Masonic overtones. Hiérarchie-Liberté-Fraternité. de Lubicz. whom he later adopted as his spiritual son and gave his family crest name. and of forming a group of disciples that in turn would help to transform the whole of human society. author of The Magus. The Master alone will wear a red cap. he drew together a small esoteric coterie that included René Schwaller. I am the enemy of exteriorization. for instance. in his work as in his private life. with a white collar.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. of course. being the Christ-figure. The fundamental teaching will be that of the Arcana. was drawing together a new group of which Milosz was to be spiritual director. he hoped to influence “all sorts of domains in the evolution of our terrible and admirable epoch. while also publishing numerous articles in several journals of the time. the sciences. “Dress for meeting: the robes will be of black silk. In his work. This small group they called Les Veilleurs (The Watchers).36 Milosz too saw himself as a prophet of a future era of universal peace and knowledge. in his letter to James Chauvet. For us. as we have seen. resemble nothing so much as the inception of Rosicrucianism (whose advocates sought precisely the same social transformation on a vast scale). among them its ritual dress.”38 Such a group. however outrageous they may seem in their magnitude. the other members being his apostles. one of Milosz’s most devoted friends. most important is that Milosz’s work extended into every sphere of life. Just as Milosz drew on the full breadth of the Masonic tradition in his poetry and prose. and the arts via religion. And there are numerous other such examples. not to say grandiosity. religious. but our modern attire is truly incompatible with all effort toward the Good. Milosz wrote. Several years after his illuminatory experience in 1914. and scientific fusion. and in 1919 they established an exoteric center called the Centre Apostolique. of the London Rosicrucians of the early nineteenth century associated with Francis Barrett. but explicitly Christian.”37 This new esoteric group had some Masonic characteristics. a kind of Christian semi-Masonic esotericism. . so too he drew on Masonry in his private life.”39 These dreams of universality. These are the three colors of the great work (spiritual and physical). however. a group that included “the proletarian Masons whose G[rand] M[aster] is one of our friends.” And in his little esoteric group. the “science of the divine. to which era belongs the spiritual son whom he addresses throughout his gnostic poetry and prose. sought the widest possible range. certainly has its historical predecessors: one thinks. Milosz explicitly forecast the unification of politics. and that he deliberately. of political.
D. Among the best of these is Susan Friedman’s chapter entitled “Initiations” in her book Psyche Reborn (1981). Here. D. but as we can see from this discussion of his work and life.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 103 Milosz is. and Milosz. Lewis. through his writing. we have by no means finished with either of these inexhaustible figures: Prospero. but toward the future. not toward the present. Milosz in some respects cast aside his wand (any influence on his contemporary era) in order. a number of books have explored the wide range of esoteric influences that appear in H. and Kathleen Raine. but also for the universality of his aims. others whose work certainly bears the imprint of esoteric influences. astrology. H. to reach an audience whom he specifically invoked in his writing itself. which outlines the intertwining of H. He sought nothing less than to bring about the renewal of Christianity through its universalization. Indeed. magic.’s poetry. Like Prospero in his final speech. including such authors as William Butler Yeats. all of whom also were involved in esoteric circles. Indeed.— born Hilda Doolittle [1886–1961]—was fascinated with esoterica is well known. and the Initiatic Word If Milosz is emblematic of an initiatic male poet in the twentieth century. today. That H. in which we begin to explore the theoretical dimensions and implications of Western esoteric literature in relation to consciousness. then without doubt the emblematic female poet has to be H. and in such aims is a classic exemplar of modern Western esotericism. all of these efforts were ultimately pointed. In these efforts. novels. D. and a new golden age. C. Although we here will take our leave of them. various heresies of antiquity including the Ophites and other Gnostic groups. There are. little studied in academe. for however assiduous Milosz was in working toward universality in his writing and in his life. a relatively obscure figure. However. D. D. there is no other figure who so completely reveals the confluence of all the primary currents of Western esotericism in the modern era. the Tarot.’s biography and her fascination with mysticism. and the Christian theosophy of Zinzendorf and the Moravians. we . Milosz is unique not only for the vast range of his studies. and essays. Milosz certainly resembles the figure of Prospero in Shakespeare’s The Tempest. Rosicrucianism. D. the poet H. D. Charles Williams.40 But we still await a comprehensive study that incorporates the full range of H. numerology. the list of names of modern authors and poets influenced by esoteric currents of thought is nigh unto endless. psychic insights or visions.. 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.’s life and interests. and specifically toward a future reader whom he regards as his spiritual son. of course. S.
explicitly esoteric book.’s life it is repeated a number of times. D. as a wrenching spiritual awakening. it argues for the characteristically Emersonian idea of an ‘overmind’ as a model of higher consciousness. D. Likewise. D. D.. and it was included as the frontispiece for her most well-known book.. D. astrology. D. I have written in detail about both Dickinson and Fuller in The Esoteric Origins of the American Renaissance (2001). But when we begin to look at H. D.104 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E will explore how her work explicitly and implicitly initiates the reader through literature and art. was fascinated by esoteric correspondences in her life.” which she calls in Notes her “jellyfish experience. D. Notes is a very unusual work. and what we might term esoteric correspondences or patterns in life. In his introduction to H. And when we turn from Dickinson to H. Notes on Thought and Vision (1919). Woman in the Nineteenth Century. the much earlier work Notes on Thought and Vision helps to make clear H. like H.” The work is essentially an elaboration of this gnomic statement. For it seems clear from her poetry.’s Notes on Thought and Vision. and her extreme sensitivity had made her preternaturally susceptible to the intensities of experience that others might overlook. D. overmind. H. and on the other Margaret Fuller. for H. we see very much the same pattern of psychological and spiritual crisis as awakening. however. “The Thistle and the Serpent. She created a hermetic emblem or herald for herself. We should begin.’s gnostic perspective in relation to literature. I argue that this crisis can be interpreted as initiatory. a cap of consciousness .” Vulnerable to periodic psychic breakdowns. D. save that in H.’s early. I should say this: it seems to me that a cap is over my head. the parallels we see perhaps most clearly are not so much with Fuller as with Dickinson. belonged to what is clearly an American feminine literary lineage that includes on the one hand Emily Dickinson. so it will be necessary here only to allude to the parallels. very much resembles both of them in certain respects. as many critics have observed. was fascinated by numerology. that Dickinson underwent at least one extended spiritual and psychological crisis. was a reasonably accomplished astrological interpreter.” Albert Gelpi writes that H. written in July 1919 in the Scilly Islands. In Esoteric Origins. Margaret Fuller. by recognizing that H. She writes: If I could visualise or describe that overmind in my own case. underwent “a severe psychic breakdown. She begins Notes with the cryptic proclamation: “Three states or manifestations of life: body. and soon (by 1911) came to see the emblem of the thistle and serpent as her own. for our purposes are her later ones such as her poems in Trilogy and Vale Ave as well as her novel The Gift. D. mind. “her unusual susceptibility also made possible a breakthrough into heightened consciousness.”41 Although the major works by H.
I visualise it just as well. this is the source of creativity just as it is the wellspring of spirituality. syncretic . D. Whatever else we may make of it.” And she adds that “I believe there are some artists coming in the next generation. She does write about a “vision of the womb. .M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 105 over my head. one must. a musician. jelly-fish. thoughts pass and are visible like fish swimming under clear water . continues: first is the life of the body and sexuality.” The minds of the lovers unite. I first realized this state of consciousness in my head. Without doubt. indeed. and third is the awakening into the overmind. as when she speculates on the meaning of the pearl in her gnostic sketches. is a gnostic with a small g. affecting a little my eyes . contained in a defininte space. as primary to the true artist. engage in a union of love and intellect. my forehead. but it would be a mistake to see all of her writing only in this context. those future initiates for whom this little book is intended. which is possible for all. even if most prefer to stay entombed in their comfortable closed houses. . H. yet make one picture. She writes that to be a true artist. D. Into that over-mind. and when love-vision and intellectual vision coincide. H.’s work has feminist implications. D. . a nonsectarian. with the gulls and the sky and the earth. But Gnosticism is here only as allusion. she insists that “There is no way of arriving at the overmind. except through the intellect. 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. since she experienced it along with the birth of her child. fluid yet with definite body. or anemone. as some of Plato’s dialogues suggest. The two work separately. She places gnosis. That overmind seems a cap. without question we can see here that already in 1919 H. centered in the love-region of the body or placed like a foetus in the body.42 H. It is like a closed sea-plant. D.” She does not valorize this vision against that of the intellect. or awakening into the overmind. As we read on through Notes. they “bring the world of vision into consciousness. now. H.”43 H. She holds that “a lover must choose one of the same type of mind as himself. had outlined a fundamentally gnostic worldview. perceive separately.”44 This initiatic process is similar to that of the Eleusinian mysteries. D. some of whom will have the secret of using their overminds.’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. almost like two lenses. and perhaps when she concludes by conjoining Christ and Dionysius in a poetic vision of their unity with the divine mother as with all of nature. like water. wonders whether it is easier for a woman than a man to attain consciousness of the overmind. second is the life of the intellect.” but she writes about it that this is the vision of “dream and of ordinary vision. . a musician. There are even traces here of Gnosticism. transparent. D.
”48 All of this suggests that there is . madness. we clearly see how extensive and lifelong Ernst’s fascination with alchemical imagery was. is a false path.” H.” “arrogance. she is very much in the American tradition inaugurated by Ralph Waldo Emerson. the poem is at heart profoundly esoteric in its unified vision amid the shards of bomb-shattered modernity. the subconscious being below ordinary consciousness. she extends the unity of Dionysius and Christ that ended the earlier work. / subconscious ocean where Fish / move two-ways. Her themes are explicitly esoteric throughout these poems: she writes of her experience of “The Presence. she holds. the overmind being above it. This is an important distinction because in “The Walls Do Not Fall. this. .” In “The Walls Do Not Fall.” In the next section. spell.” and “The Flowering of the Rod. criticizes the surrealist use of alchemical imagery as a means to the subconscious.” she extends it to discuss the emergence of surrealism with such figures as Max Ernst and Andre Breton. D.” “Tribute to the Angels.” and of “the most profound philosophy”. / here is the alchemist’s key.” mind “floundered.” She writes.” And the section ends with “illusion. surrealism and symbolism (particularly the latter in Russia) were deeply indebted to alchemy. She writes “dare. . for instance. / it unlocks secret doors. as these entities are “healers. As a number of scholars have demonstrated. D.” who “know each other / by secret symbols. boasting. All-father. / jottings of psychic numerical equations. unlocked. reversion of old values. Amen.47 In M. develops many of the themes initially sketched in Notes on Thought and Vision. dare more.”46 It is obvious from “The Walls Do Not Fall” that although 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. Here. writing that “it appears obvious / that Amen is our Christos.” At first it would seem she is endorsing modern uses of alchemy in this “age of the new dimension. over-confidence. and H. seek.” and of her “companions / in this mystery. of the “alchemist’s secret.’s work is a complex tapestry of just such word-play and religious concordances. intrusion of strained / inappropriate allusion. she criticizes “a riot of unpruned imagination. In Notes on Thought and Vision.”45 “Amen. even offering a diagrammatic illustration of the two. But in “The Walls Do Not Fall. was lost in sea-depth. seek further. helpers / of the One. D. D. D. These three poems were “The Walls Do Not Fall. too. distinguishes between the subconscious mind and the overmind. devour. Warlick’s Max Ernst and Alchemy. wrote the collection of three long poems later published as Trilogy.” Yet when the “secret doors” are “found . prayer” for healing. / companions / of the flame.” we “nameless initiates. D. In this respect.” H. H. is the Egyptian god Amen-Ra.’s outward circumstances were the terrors of war. / oneness lost. / born of one mother. of the stars as “separate entities” “intimately concerned with us” who can be “invoked / with accurate charm. pitiful reticence. But it was during the German siege of London during the Second World War that H. E.” here.
but also those who come after her. as Hermes is patron of poets and thieves. / lead us back to the one-truth.” This poem exhorts the poet to “plunder” the past. The words themselves may resemble boxes. and that one must know and feel by intuition the meaning that words hide. H. cryptograms. The next work in H. but suddenly from them emerge living butterflies.’s trilogy is “Tribute to the Angels. / in the light of what went before. artful and curious.” “invoke the true-magic. The poet is called to “take what the old-church / found in Mithra’s tomb. this passage suggests the complexity.” invoke “Hermes-thrice-great. D.” “candle and script and bell. / rededicate our gifts / to spiritual realism”. too much. .”49 Thus. D. She calls us to “prepare papyrus or parchment. H. this has been proved heretical. the difficulty of conveying initiation through the written word—it includes the implication that such efforts are bound to be deemed ‘heretical’ by some.51 Taken in context with the earlier invocation of Hermes-Thoth. “patron of alchemists.” Her invocation continues: “Let him (Wisdom. D.” whose “province is thought. little boxes. symbols of Psyche reborn. D.” through painting or writing. with their overconfidence leading only to floundering in sea-depths of confused images and “incongruous monsters.”50 Here H. itself conveyed through the act of sacred writing. too little: I know. / re-vivify the eternal verity.’s words here are an invocation and a kind of Hermetic initiation. explicitly invokes the Hermetism of antiquity. D. then writes: We have had too much consecration. conditioned to hatch butterflies . who as the sacred scribe is invoked through the act of using “pen or brush. continues. too little affirmation. The reader is called to sacred writing by way of H. / inventive. In a well-known passage. H. she is calling herself to a sacred task.” what the “new-church spat upon / and broke and shattered.” and it begins with an invocation again of Hermes Trismegistus. they are anagrams. illuminate what came after. . I feel the meaning that words hide. “Let us substitute / enchantment for sentiment. this. D.’s invocation of Hermes. one that leads toward the subconscious and illusion—and this is the path of the surrealists.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 107 a wrong path.” . of the soul that passes through initiation and awakes. but this. devoid of life.
in an old garden-square. I testify.108 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E This. H. H.’s poetic narrative reminds us of Rilke’s accounts of meeting angels in his Sonnets to Orpheus and Duino Elegies. but also of a meeting with an invisible spirit. recreated by the poet. the shattered glass of the past.52 These lines reveal many layers. we entered a house through a wall. but whereas Rilke could not write during war. it was an ordinary tree. passed through a frame—doorless— entered a shrine. We should not underestimate the magnitude of what H. how is it you come so near. Another is the layer of Hermetic invocation. and so too by implication can we be. D. indivisible Spirit. the poet must “melt down and integrate. and still another is that of an older true unified religion rejected by a “new-church.” but re-awakened. She includes lines from the Revelation of John: “I. but I believe the heart of the poem is to be found in the following section: Invisible. the conditions under which. D. John. how is it that we dare approach the high-altar? we crossed the charred portico. reinvoked in a new form. so too can the poet be. is in fact transmuting the war experience into one of divine . One is the layer of the destruction in London during the bombing. in the high-altar of a ruined building. What does the poet see? The poem is far too vast to attempt a complete exegesis here. D.53 This is an account of self-transcendence (not knowing whether we were there or not-there). was writing these poems. then still not knowing whether (like the wall) we were there or not-there.” I take these lines as placing the poet’s vision in the context of John’s Revelation: John was a prophet and seer. re-create” that which is now “scattered in the shards / men tread upon”. we saw the tree flowering. is attempting in her poetry here. D. like a ghost. H. an angel manifesting in the flowering tree. after all. saw.” One must “reinvoke.
just as Christianity and the mystery religions of antiquity are joined indivisibly. symbol of Hermes. conveyed through the poetry. transmitted as an “open secret” (to use Carlyle’s phrase describing Emerson’s essay Nature). writes that the Cross and the Tau or “T-cross” merge with the caduceus. In H. what I mean is— but you have seen for yourself that burnt-out wood crumbling you have seen for yourself. themselves conveyed to the reader through H. but gnosis manifested through a web of interconnected symbols. joining together the worst and the highest of which humanity is capable. nothing whatever. the divine feminine. the next section is very important.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 109 revelation. alluded to. / it was the Angel which redeemed me. . / it was the Holy Ghost—. that “Hermes Trismegistus / spears. H.” the name of the final poem in Trilogy.’s poetry in general. seeing Christianity as being a continuation of earlier traditions. / . D.’s vision. it is happening everywhere. is a gnosis of the word. One cannot capture this esoteric illumination. In it. / the darkness of ignorance. writes that This is no rune nor riddle.’s “Tribute to the Angels. the flowering of the wood. and Trilogy in particular. / casts the Old Dragon / into the abyss.’s poetry.54 Here she is conveying in poetic form what cannot be captured but only conveyed. / it was a sign. D. 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. Hence H. music could do nothing with it. . and even more overtly. bind together Christian and pre-Christian religious traditions. and this suggestiveness is how initiation through the word takes place. This experience.” she also builds toward a specific spiritual experience in which she saw “God in the other-half of the tree. what I mean is—it is so simple yet no trick of the pen or brush could capture that impression. H. D. D. D.”55 Hermes and the Archangel are thus merged in H.” This experience is what she calls the “flowering of the rood. D. Sophia appears here in this larger context as a figure of the divine feminine . one can only suggest it so that the reader can realize it too. with Saint Michael. In this context.” This experience “was vision. And this experience is gnosis.
” “the SS of the Sanctus Spiritus. affirms the divine feminine in her Trilogy poems. But the “we” who did not “forego our heritage” also has a wider context. requiring instead imaginative participation on the part of the reader. right into the final poem. the writer. at once the Magna Mater and the Virgin of the Book of Revelation of John.” This refrain. she retains the web of interconnected meanings and symbolisms.’s own heritage.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. This imaginative participation is at the heart of H. and “she carries a book but it is not / the tome of the ancient wisdom. D. in the context of the three poems together.” for hers are the blank pages “of the unwritten volume of the new. just as the Word is transmitted through the Great Book. clearly alludes to the figure of Hermes. D.’s Trilogy.”56 Sophia herself appears to H. And there is one more critical detail: when Sophia appeared. thus “The Flowering of the Rood” is also about the redemption of art through religious experience. to her astonishment. And She is “Holy Wisdom. whether it is con- . for H. Sophianic spirituality was in H. then notes that she is referring to “the straggling company of the brush and quill. Rather. obviously. preserving the evocative power of poetry that resists the power of reason alone. the artist is the thief who is redeemed on the very day that Christ is crucified. speculates that “she must have been pleased with us. and H.. She who has been seen “the world over. who is also redeemed. is reluctant to label Sophia as a single reified figure. D. / who did not forego our heritage” . D.” of artists and poets who “did not deny their birthright” but remained faithful to the spiritual origin and vision that is the fount of living art. / out of the cocoon. D.” as well as “the new Eve who comes” bringing “the Book of Life.” “Santa Sophia. Hermes is the patron of the artist. They are not. “Our Lady of the Pomegranate. It would be a mistake to presume that because H. and that. and the thief. allied to Mercury also. 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. the thief. The artist who participates imaginatively with Christ is redeemed. brought into paradise with Christ. D. the butterfly.” Here the focus is not feminine but masculine—the birth of Jesus Christ and the coming of the Wise Men bearing gifts.” she of the Bona dea. D. was a baptized Moravian.” Yet Sophia is also “the Vestal / from the days of Numa. D. under her “drift of veils. as we will see when we turn to her novel The Gift. Here it might be valuable to recall that H. as we will see in more detail shortly. the Bible. they are therefore a repudiation of Christianity in favor of a neopagan goddess tradition.” This book is the transmission of the spiritual experience through the book of poems.” “she carried a book. entitled “The Flowering of the Rood.” at once both Christian and pre-Christian. the scribe. she was deeply familiar with the esoteric spirituality of the theosophic community of Count Zinzendorf in Pennsylvania.” And She is also “Psyche.” H.
in the midst of the terror and chaos and destruction of war. Such a massive lacuna is not surprising because it has at least some modest precedent in American letters. also reveals the overarching spiritual unity not only of mythology but. What is more. Woman in the Nineteenth Century.” with the experience of Christ. Likewise. H. In the midst of the worst of which humanity is capable. and how at its very heart is—the gnosis of the word. S. and confusion of the Second World War as experienced in the bombing of London. the only available versions of The Gift were more or less bowdlerized ones from which nearly a third of the original text was missing. like Eliot in his Four Quartets. It is not surprising. B. that until 1998. H. Margaret Fuller’s most well-known work. H. The Gift. Only when we read the original version of the novel can we recognize just how remarkable an achievement it is.’s poetry is far more complex than it is frequently depicted as being. Eve and Mary. an esoteric emblem that she designed herself. Her brother sought to keep from the public eye his sister’s interest in esoteric or ‘occult’ areas of thought. sought to accomplish a feat similar to that sought by the other great modernist poets T.’s own notes. D. we must turn to The Gift. In her poetry. the Trilogy culminates with “The Flowering of the Rood. 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.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.” all are interwoven here. complete with H. as in the original. with the simultaneous symbolism of his birth and death. they even changed significantly the emphasis of the entire novel from Moravian spirituality to the gift of artistic creation. It is no accident that both the Trilogy and The Gift have woven into them the horror. I suppose. wove into The Gift her own extensive research into her family’s history. of mysticism. as well as of Christian and pre-Christian religious symbolism. Hermes and Christ. fear. D.57 It was not until 1998 that Jane Augustine’s edited original edition of this extraordinary novel was published. D. D. and that includes a unification of male and female symbolism. was published posthumously under the direction of her brother without her original frontispiece. D. which was intertwined with the history of the Moravian Church in America in its . H. the Vestal Virgin and “Our Lady of the Pomegranate. Eliot and W. unabridged version of her novel The Gift. To understand this mysticism more fully. 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. however. As I detail in The Esoteric Origins of the American Renaissance (2001). when New Directions published their abridged version of The Gift about a century later. the editors sought to remove many of the references to the mysticism that is in fact at the center of the book.
1753). 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. her grandmother’s father.” or Jedediah Weiss. Rimius. Linde. though I must confess.’s library demonstrates the depth of her research. Georg Heinrich Loskiel’s History of the Mission of the United Brethren Among the Indians in North America (London: Brethren’s Society. George Lavington’s The Moravians Compared and Detected (London: J. I consider these findings highly stimulating and exciting. . Robinson. In other words. was herself a baptized Moravian. 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. D. was a watchmaker and silversmith for more than forty years in Bethlehem. and he was born in Bethlehem. Pennsylvania. 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. cited by H. with its numerous original eighteenth-century publications. D. And her personal library gives ample proof that H. Her notes are in fact an important aspect of the novel. Commonly Called Moravians (London: A. “Old Father Weiss. in her notes. or Secret Counsels of their Leaders. Rimius’s works. D. H. itself. For Zinzendorf and his group were far more esoteric in their interests than those who were to follow them. Pennsylvania.’s research into this area when we look at her own notes for the novel as well as the books from her own library. H. D. 1755). especially those now housed at Yale University. among its volumes are Andreas Frey’s A True and Authentic Account of Andrew Frey.” as well as of “Secrets probably known by the adepts alone. We can see the extent and depth of H. shaping the way that she intended it to be read. In toto. it was in fact in her blood. D. Mysticism. Her grandfather’s name was Francis Wolle. He was a gifted musician who sang in the Moravian choir. & P. Her notes for The Gift are remarkably detailed. and Henry Rimius’s A Candid Narrative of the Rise and Progress of the Herrnhuetters. H.” of the “Arcana. Knapton. and weave together genealogical and historical materials. D. H. D. deliberately incorporated much authentic historical background into the novel. in the middle of the eighteenth century. came by her fascination with the Moravians naturally.”58 About such accusations. make clear this distinction. D. .112 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E earliest years. accused the early Moravians of “gross and scandalous . 1794). Joseph Edward Hutton’s A History of the Moravian Church (London: Moravian Publication Office. containing the Occasion of his coming among the Herrnhutters or Moravians (London: J. as well as original copies of Rimius’s other major works on the subject. 1753). in . 1909). offering the reader incontrovertible evidence not only that H. had done her research. Zinzendorf ’s most effective detractor.
. D. Hilda. an overarching spiritual narrative that redeems modernity from its chaos and fragmentation. D. . D. explaining the novel’s initiatory power via the word and image within the novel itself in a kind of metanarrative. and had existed in Bohemia-Moravia for many hundreds of years before what is now called the Reformation.”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 Moravian Church. D. But the reader is initiated into these mysteries vicariously.. it is one of those things that you really do find in your Grimm or your Anderson .” that “someone must inherit” access to a hidden “continent” that includes links to people long dead.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 113 my own day. through the reader’s assembling of clues into a larger narrative. to initiate the reader. nonhierarchic tradition of true Christianity. in short. referring to Father. into The Gift. conventionally the church. D. but also of the older poet H. there was no hint of this exoticism. whose voice in the novel is clearly childish. But more important than Zinzendorf’s own esotericism is how it was incorporated by H. Zinzendorf espoused a doctrine of the Trinity that conjoined the Holy Spirit with the divine feminine. Mother. “There is no royal road into this kingdom. writes. the reader is carried along vicariously on the discoveries not only of young Hilda. For suddenly we encounter the voice of the elder H. he also held that every woman represented an image of the Bride of Christ. It is written in a characteristically modernist fragmented style that reflects on the one hand the fragmentation of modernity and on the other hand. or Unitas Fratrum as resuscitated by Zinzendorf. This redemption from chaos that the reader undergoes by working through the novel is parallel to the initiation of the child Hilda. 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. it does exist. respected and highly respectable. She tells us that there is a “Gift waiting.” She goes on: . Its esotericism derived its power from these beliefs.” H. The novel. We were a small community. 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. “you just stumble on it. and its doctrines as representing a pure. saw itself as a branch of the primordial and pure Christianity. and in this sense the book is clearly meant by H.. The Moravian Church that he was instrumental in revivifying in the mid-eighteenth century actually was linked more to Greek Orthodoxy than to Rome. is a coming-of-age or initiation-into-the-mysteries-of-adulthood narrative. The Gift is an initiatory work in the classic anthropological sense: it is on one level a story of how a young girl. is initiated into the matrilinear gnosis of her family’s secret Moravian traditions. and Son. writing these reflections during the siege of London in the Second World War.
. this is the game I play. “The Secret. I am the last bee in the bee-hive. it is what the novel does for H. A bit of me can really “live something of a word or phrase. men play a greater role than women. . but Hilda (and along with her. while it is the case that Mamalie is telling this complicated history to her granddaughter Hilda. Then am I for a moment . can one person who knows that Wunden Eiland is a bee-hive. . the word stops. aspects of a solely matriarchal tradition. But there is more. Egyptian . D. as some scholars seem to think.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. I was afraid the Secret would be lost. And Hilda speculates: I want her to go on talking because if she stops. Hilda knows that she is the last one in the family to whom Mamalie could entrust her secrets. . Rather. . considerably more of this theme to unpack. the reader) must unravel their mysteries through cryptic comments and fragments let drop by her grandmother. when they come back?61 The word is the means of preserving and of transmitting the honey of spiritual knowledge. . I mean. I mean. Hilda’s grandmother. Williams called a primula. indeed. Can one bee keep a bee-hive alive. even though the beehive is presided over by a Queen bee (Sophia?). In chapter 5 of The Gift. The other bees have gone. Hilda is fascinated by Mamalie’s talk of Wunden Eiland. 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. Island of Wonders. Hilda surmises. These spiritual mysteries are not. That is how it is. we are given more explicit hints about the title of the chapter. Mamalie tells Hilda that the Moravians were at heart a continuation of “the Hidden Church that . A word opens a door. these are the keys. that Mamalie called himmelschlüssel or keys-of-heaven. in some aspects of the story. but there are no bees in it now. cut on a wall at Karnak. it is like that little flower that Mrs. that is why it is so quiet.” The first is when Mamalie. The word is like a bee-hive.114 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E It is like matching beads. A word opens a door . keep Wunden Eiland for the other bees. begins to speak of “the papers” that she was afraid she had lost. a German name for an early Moravian island sanctuary (the name meaning. later learning it means Island of Wounds). But really “live” it.” she told Hilda. “Christian had left the Secret with me. And in this story men play at least as significant a role as women. who is somewhat forgetful near the end of her life. and even here in her narrative. 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.
but all of them. and a hundred years after this ritual meeting and descent of the Holy Spirit took place. they conducted a syncretic ritual that joined the spiritual traditions of the two peoples. Hebrew. Pyrlaeus. The most important scene for this gnostic drama. indeed. not least because the Moravians respected Indian spirituality. to give the answer that the warriors had debated at their councils. the answer given by the Spirits. This rapport is historically verifiable. kept in a birch-bark case. The Moravians and the Indians under the chief Paxnous met in order to let their guiding spirits determine the fate of white-Indian relations. . the Christian initiates of the fateful meeting at Wunden Eiland. .65 In this spiritual meeting of the medicine men and the Moravian initiates. Johann Christoph Pyrlaeus was a musician who collected “Indian words and sayings and made a dictionary of them.” but that “wasn’t really destroyed.”66 How did Mamalie know so intimately what it was like. said Mamalie.” This scroll. was to decide the future of the whole country . of wind. where the Moravians came during the eighteenth century and immediately formed a rapport with the American Indians. though. of snow swirling.”64 The Indians and the Moravians indeed had an unusual relationship. it is not a confabulation of H. done in their picture-writing. along with a list of “medicine-men or priests of the Indian tribes. she draws upon historical fact in order to build a larger mythos. chiefly through the narrative of elderly Mamalie.” not just Minne-ha-ha. laughing all the time.” Pyrlaeus passed on a scroll written “in curious characters. Mamalie continues. bore the names of Cammerhof.’s.63 In The Gift.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. she decoded it from the cryptic musical notations and multilingual script of the parchment kept in the birchbark case.62 Like the Templars. As Mamalie put it in her narrative to Hilda: In fact. altogether. this meeting of the Moravians and Indians under the sign of the Great Spirit / Holy Spirit? She was a musician. Already tracts of land further north were depleted of their wild animals.” “the laughter of leaves.” so he “made notes of tones and rhythms of their voices. it poured from the sky or from the inner realm of the Spirit. this laughter that ran over us. it was the laughter of the water. Zeisberger and Christian Seidel. in particular the Shawnee. “like scales running up and down. She and her . so that “It was laughing. and Indian dialects and writing and marginal notes of music. D. Greek. though. According to Mamalie.” only driven “underground” to resurface with Count Zinzendorf and his disciples. it was the outpouring of the Mystic Chalice that Paxnous’ priest too. He said it would be impossible to follow the language without the music. as to what was to be the relationship in future between the white-men and the Indians. is not Europe but North America. the Moravians were accused of scandalous behavior. had a name for. but this was untrue.
. called “New Gnadenhütten. Instead of recounting the transmission of Mamalie’s understanding to young Hilda. and then. in an even more attenuated form.” as “Aryan. So it would seem that The Gift is a tragic book. Christian Seidel.” 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. who was responsible for the attack on “New Gnadenhütten. who was to die at twenty-five. or Wounded Island. H. In her notes.116 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E young husband.”67 Thus “the Gift” was transmitted from the original Moravian participants in the ritual to Mamalie and her husband.”69 The two worlds have become one.68 The final section of The Gift at first seems anticlimactic. a means of underscoring that the immense promise of the Moravian-Indian spiritual brotherhood and sisterhood. And in a subsequent event. said in her fragmented narrative. so much so that she never played music again.” Mamalie and her young husband were taken away in rapture by this union with the original ritual and spiritual illumination. 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.” Thus we can see the palimpsest form of the novel. Mamalie. past and present superimposed upon one another and intermingling. having “burnt it up. so that even amid the terrible bombing of England. could have “lifted the dark wings of evil from the whole world. to young Hilda as Mamalie became delirious on her deathbed. even refers to the American David Williamson. raining down terror from the skies. and both Moravians and Indians were slaughtered. where the falling arrows of the original “French Indian” attack on Gnadenhütten metamorphose into the falling bombs of the Germans attacking England. the Moravian colony of Gnadenhütten. D. those hiding in the attic burned alive. we realize that the Moravian sanctuary island. all of these themes are brought together into a unified whole. decoded it and she played it. Wunden Eiland. stands perpetually opposed to those whose aim is slaughter. was attacked by a band of Indians loyal to the French. At the novel’s conclusion. the promise of Wunden Eiland and of the descent of the Holy Spirit is not lost but realized again.” but instead what we see is a tragic history. And yet in the very final passages. we return to the fragmented narrative of the Second World War. In 1755. composed of both local Indians and Moravians working with them. or a subsequent realization of the original Moravian-Indian spiritual illumination. of universal peace and the descent of the Holy Spirit. Among those killed were twenty-four women and twenty-two children. and Hilda tells us that “We have been face to face with the final realities. is also the wounded island of England as it is being bombed by the Germans. 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. domination. The Gift.
she hears the “deep bee-like humming of the choir of single brothers. Hilda hears the voice of Christian Renatus.70 She hears the “great choir of the strange voices that speak in a strange bird-like staccato rhythm. this fragmentation actually represents in artistic form a higher union of past and present. Her later work in fact exemplifies exactly this idea. but as integral to her work. does not exist separate from her poetic and fictional work but rather represents an important aspect of it. and out of which all great work is generated. In her profoundly ambitious works. Indeed.” she realizes that “Our earth is a wounded island as we swing round the sun. H. it becomes the foundation for an entire worldview. her abiding fascination with Moravian esotericism is not merely an aspect of her genealogical interests. Among major twentiethcentury authors. Her interest in spiritualism. for instance.” an echo of Emerson’s “Oversoul.’s work exemplifies what I have termed “initiation through the word.” but she knows what they are saying even though they “are speaking Indian dialects. D. there. but rather is woven into her entire worldview. one of the original Moravian initiates. not least because although outwardly its modernist fragmentation suggests confusion and chaos.” and she has suddenly achieved the union again in the twentieth century just as Mamalie had realized it in the nineteenth.’s English present. we find a wide range of Western esoteric currents manifesting themselves. past and present. but also a larger unity that even presents a way beyond chaos and evil into transcendence.’s poetry and prose reflect a sense of the transparency of time and place: from Notes on Thought and Vision onward. present.’s fascination with various figures and currents of Western esotericism becomes more than a collection of interests. H. the dead and the living are not separate but part of an interwoven continuum. the more certain one is that here is someone whose work cannot be understood fully without reference to Western esotericism. and the original initiates had realized it in the eighteenth. 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.’s work stands with that of Yeats and of O. not merely as decorations. But above all.V. D. the more deeply one looks into her works. D. H. D. In her poetry and fiction. both poetic and fictional. H.” There is a great sound—the sound of the all-clear siren in London.” both as a theme treated explicitly in her poetry and prose. . D. and Western Esotericism: Some Conclusions. In this context.” in which the individual consciousness is exalted. as well as of timelessness and time. Likewise. and as the way in which her work functions for the reader.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 117 In England. singing of the Wounds. de Lubicz Milosz as exemplary of the literary-mythological possibilities of Western esotericism. and the sound of the Moravian-Indian choirs of the past—and with this the novel concludes. As we have seen. and future continually intermingle. D. her work suggests that past. H. and that it is possible to realize a timeless state she terms the “over-mind.
as Adam. to be sure.’s complex 1957 poem Vale Ave. Sir Walter was himself an alchemist.’s work is fundamentally that of esoteric transmission through ahistorical continuity. The poem begins with the following preface: This sequence introduces Adam’s first wife. legendary Provence. through her uncle’s Art and through the alchemy of memory. Lilith. After his death. there is Resurrection and the hope of Paradise. Mystery and a portent. She is the niece of the Elizabethan poet and alchemist Sir Edward Dyer. timelessness conveyed through time by way of word and image. Sir Walter secretly and mysteriously becomes her lover during the last months of his life in the Tower of London. We cannot conclude without reference to H. D. H. but it was only in her later work that we see it. meeting and parting. H. dynastic Egypt. through time—specifically. outlined in entirety.118 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E she found an esoteric religious perspective that recognized the divine feminine in the form of Sophia. D. At the center of her esoteric worldview is the primacy of the word as means of initiatic transmission. the Light-bringer. D. whom we invoke as Lucifer. through her fiction and through her poetry. and that also incorporated a sexual mysticism she found deeply congenial. through her grandmother’s reconstruction of it in The Gift. late Rome. and contemporary London. in his pre-Eve manifestation.71 . Vale Ave. but at the same time. early seventeenth-century England. Adam-Eve formula may be applied to all men and women. parted in the dark. which makes it absolutely clear that in her later poetry she was even more deeply immersed in Western esotericism. but understanding it places her work in an entirely different light. The Lucifer-Lilith.’s esoteric worldview is complex and rather heterodox. though here we follow the processus through the characters of Elizabeth and Sir Walter [Raleigh]. so Lilith may be Serpent or Seraph. Is she the Serpent who tests the androgynat primordial? Serpent (saraph) it is said. although: I hardly knew my Lord. and its implications. and Elizabeth identifies herself with him. has the same root derivation as Seraph. Through the codex left by the original Moravian initiates. may be Angel or Devil. yes. as history tells us. Elizabeth recalls him to her. She had begun to outline this concept already in her early Notes on Thought and Vision. true we had met in sudden frenzy. illuminating many aspects that otherwise could not be fully understood. and all the rest was mystery and a portent.
Her poetry and her prose. that of ‘initiatory fiction’—novels and short stories whose evident purpose is to take the reader along into new and perhaps unfamiliar kinds of consciousness. But then “From grotto grove and shrine. Yet in the twilit realm of fiction. of timelessness revealed in time’s transparency. magic and the ancient mysteries still dwell.73 Magical Fiction In a poem entitled “Dreams.” the alchemical processus of transmutation that is brought about for Elizabeth “through her uncle’s Art and through the alchemy of memory. / infinity portrayed in simple things. Of course.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 119 Obviously. here again we find that “I transcribed the scroll” . as in poetry.74 In our day of ever more complex technology and ever more information. the “springs gone under the hill. . But bring them back none may Who wakes into this day. D. it may seem as though nothing could be farther from us than a world in which magic is possible. and the Scroll. here again “the words laugh.”72 Here again the scroll becomes a “palimpsest.” echoing the laughter in the culminating initiatory moment in The Gift. ‘magical fiction’ in fact belongs to a larger category. The dead are living still. Here.” and again through it “I had the answer. just as it dwells in the realm of dreams.” Kathleen Raine wrote of how the mysteries were once upon the earth. this preface and the poem itself are filled with esoteric elements.” the holy presences withdraw. I would like to explore not the art of magic. D. the Writing.” Her poem ends with the stanza: Inviolate in dream The mysteries still are shown.” Here again we find the same themes that recur throughout H.” but a new mythology that turns out to be the grand theme of Western esotericism and that is perhaps as old as the mystery of the word itself. 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. taken in toto. 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. .” the mysteries of the holy well. But my .’s lifetime of work. but rather how magic dwells in the realm of relatively recent fiction. “the Mystery. the mysteries of the “tree and miraculous bird.” I cite from Vale Ave here because it makes clear that H.’s recurrent theme of initiation through the word. is not a youthful digression but central to her work even late in her life.
S. or Mercury. what will come of this?” asks Merlin. invokes the Oyéresu. the “true powers of Heaven. In his extraordinary novel That Hideous Strength. It does not matter by whom it is said to be practiced. I will concentrate on the works of Lewis and Fortune in order to explore how their fiction becomes magical. he backtracks and remarks that “Magic should be reserved for the operations of the magician. C. This is actually a rather rare kind of fiction. yes. R. C. and so forth. while I will draw on some writings of Tolkien and Williams.75 In his essay “On Fairy Stories. domination of things and wills. they will unmake all Middle Earth. “That is why they will work only through a man. an alteration in the Primary World.” “Their naked power. Is there really a difference in practice between enchantment and magic. Magic produces. it is not an art but a technique. here. seems reasonable enough in theory. and perhaps becomes itself a magical act. it remains distinct from the other two.” which might best be translated as “magic. or pretends to produce. its desire is power in this world. Tolkien.76 While the distinction Tolkien makes.” He continues: Enchantment produces a Secondary World into which both designer and spectator can enter. but in its purity it is artistic in desire and purpose.” replies Ransom.” in a collection of essays presented to Charles Williams. J. R. saying “I have become a bridge. for “if they [the Oyéresu] put forth their power. Viritrilbia. John Ransom. R. “one who by his own will once opened it. Lewis. and the descrip- . Let us take an example.” But later in the same essay. Tolkien begins by describing “fairy stories” as those stories touched by “faëry. as well as Dion Fortune (Violet Firth).”77 In the subsequent chapter 15. as one might imagine. Ransom explains what is happening to the resurrected ancient magician Merlin. But chief among such authors are without doubt the Inklings (in particular. or Venus. things are not nearly so clear cut. fiction in which the ancient mysteries are still alive and have not withdrawn their springs.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.” whereas the “elvish craft” might best be referred to as “enchantment.” “Through a man whose mind is opened to be so invaded. when we turn to actual works.” says Ransom. fay or mortal. 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. J. “The Descent of the Gods. S. R.” “Sir. His main character. and Charles Williams).” Ransom invokes these powers he calls the Oyéresu. to the satisfaction of their senses while they are inside. Lewis describes a magical invocation that marks the climax of the book.” the planetary spirits of Perelandra. Here.
where Ransom (the Pendragon) and Merlin sit. sweet-scented and full of desire. sticky gums . until his outraged senses forsook him. They were blinded. The ordinary people in the kitchen experience first the coming of Mercury: they become exceptionally talkative. In the beginning of the chapter. full of wordplay and puns and metaphors. where the invocation has its center. Laden with ponderous fragrance of night-scented flowers. . or between “sub-creation” of a “secondary world” and magical effects on the “primary world” of this earth.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 121 tion of this event is one of the most extraordinary evocations of magical working in literature. . to do full justice to these descriptions of the planetary powers’ arrival. A soft tingling and shivering as of foam and breaking bubbles. ready to kill. . They could not bear that it should continue. In this chapter of Lewis’s novel. there are two scenes: a room where several ordinary people sit.”79 After Mercury arrives Venus.” the narrator tells us. Into the Blue Room come summer breezes. but it is in the description of the Blue Room that Venus truly comes alive. outspeeding light: it was Charity . . 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. whose colour no man can name or picture” darting between Ransom and Merlin.” Ransom “found himself sitting within the very heart of language. were it possible. They thought it would burn their bones.” “He would have known sensuously. We encounter how people ordinarily encounter Mercury.”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. such a distinction does not hold up well at all. Clearly Lewis is describing a magical working: the invocation of the planetary powers. and then comes the goddess: “fiery.” Merlin and Ransom tremble. the narrator imagines what it must be like to enter the house. calling down the powers. . They could not bear that it should end. in which none other than the ancient . in the white-hot furnace of essential speech. To keep their beams upon this spot of the moving Earth’s hide. Fallen upon them direct from the Third Heaven. “I do not think he could have reached the door unbidden. lynx-eyed thoughts” “rolling to and fro like glittering drops. then we imaginatively enter the Blue Room. brisk merriments. bright and ruthless.”80 It is not really possible. so well-crafted and evocative are Lewis’s words. They experience “needle-pointed desires. for “the whole house would have seemed to him to be tilting and plunging like a ship in a Bay of Biscay gale. sharp. . “laden like heavy barges that glide nearly gunwale under . In this chapter. and there we see a “rod of coloured light. 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 . scorched. and the Blue Room. unmitigated. here. awakening dormant passion in the people in the kitchen. ready to die. . . deafened.
Lewis not only achieves dramatic success.” but also because of the delicate tension it maintains between ordinary life and magical events. “Obviously it was high time she went in. of course. and one with Merlin and Ransom). In other words. and by its end.122 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E magician Merlin participates. In so doing. but Lewis’s novel is clearly about the “primary world” in which we live. and the Director (Dr. Lewis’s work is a masterpiece not only because of how it carries us into the magical working in the “descent of the gods.” the seventeenth chapter. But even this is not the end: the end comes when the character Jane returns to her husband Mark. “The Descent of the Gods” is about a celestial healing of a ruined world. even though of course the reader has not physically participated in the invocation of the Oyéresu. One feels a satisfaction at the conclusion of That Hideous Strength that very few novels are able to elicit. in the following chapter we see the destruction of the malevolent Institute and its depraved characters. the reader feels as though he has passed through those dimensions too. one with ordinary people. still it feels as though one imaginatively has. she sees that clothes are piled inside. The invocation takes place. in a “secondary world” of fiction. “How exactly like Mark!” Jane thinks. One finds exactly the same sense of initiatory passage in the novels of Charles Williams. and Mark’s shirt is hanging partway out of the window. This passage is what I mean by magical initiatory fiction. Lewis brings us into the realm of Ransom’s and Merlin’s magical rescue of England from the grip of a malevolent force. rather like Elijah or King Arthur. Here the various good characters come together to discuss what happened. Gareth Knight observes in The Magical World of the Inklings: those who read his fiction tend to be affected strongly in two ways.”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. After the “descent of the gods” is achieved in the fifteenth chapter. the magical working here is meant also to have effects in the “primary world” of the reader. the novel has dimensions that most other fiction simply does not. Uncertain whether to enter the lodge where he is sleeping. Anne’s. but also is able to take along even the skeptical reader. but this healing is also one in which the reader necessarily participates. It is important that this magical working is not the end of the book. whose work I would certainly be remiss if I did not mention here. Ransom) is taken up to Perelandra bodily. His description of both good and evil is such that it can bring a real extension of personal knowledge and experience of each to the reader. 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. to the familiar world in which a married couple need each other. and all is brought to a conclusion in “Venus at St. Therefore . though one could easily imagine it so.
for instance. and her observations are revealing. then what have I created in Lilith Le Fay? . It was not written for its entertainment value. such as Simon Leclerc in All Hallows’ Eve. 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. they reveal forms of necromancy. and divine reality and angelic brightness shines through the other side of his work. but rarely if at all in exactly the form I wish to consider here: initiation into magical ritual itself. In effect they are initiations. when Ransom invokes the planetary powers.]82 Exactly the same thing may be said here about Lewis’s foray into what was chiefly Williams’s domain. But while Williams’s fiction certainly touches upon magical themes and features magician characters both noble. it is possible to respond to the quality of good. and decidedly corrupt ones. I am afraid. and there is a great deal more in it than I ever put in. for both writers evoked magical workings or paranormal events in ways that very few authors have. one is also encountering new realms of existence. On the other hand. By doing so. . For that. She writes there that Those who read this story for the sake of entertainment will. but she did offer some preliminary remarks to her novel Moon Magic. and why did she live on after the book about her was finished. [Emphasis added. I have put a great deal into it. Who and what is Lilith. . such as the poet Peter Stanhope of Descent into Hell. still Williams’s fiction is still by and large of a different kind from the specifically magical fiction that we saw in Lewis’s That Hideous Strength. we should turn to a second exemplar: the fiction of Dion Fortune. 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. in fact. I wrote it. in general.] If it be true that what is created in the imagination lives in the inner world. Thus a close reading of his novels can have a purificatory. to find out what it was about.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. for in the act of reading. almost cathartic effect. One might even say that the writing of it was a magical act. Williams’s characters offer insights into what it is like to be dead. and how therefore the reader is in . not find it very entertaining. both Williams and Lewis were able to widen the metaphysical dimensions of fiction. they unveil the power of archetypes and. Fortune rarely wrote about her fiction. to make fiction something much more powerful than it ordinarily is.
which always characterizes the change of the level of consciousness. after all. Then I visualized the face of the man with the greying red hair.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. all awareness of my physical surroundings faded. In the novel’s seventh chapter. that is to say. and artists use it as a window in a watch-tower. which is the dark side of the Moon. 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. It does not matter to me what it is called. not surprisingly. and in this the prosaic tone of the narrator’s voice itself acts as a kind of counterweight to what the narrator is discussing. and I seemed to be in a strange room. Fortune’s wealth of direct personal experience in the practice of magic. but Fortune was. Fortune’s novel. and imagined myself speaking to him. often enough in the first person from the viewpoint of a female character. and this matterof-fact tone of voice has an effect similar to that of the ordinary characters in Lewis’s That Hideous Strength. like all of her . and the man in the street calls it illusion or charlatanry according to taste. and was startled to find that the character lived on in Fortune’s own imagination after The Sea Priestess was finished. the narrator begins this way: I will tell what I did. 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. In some respects. Fortune’s novels are as much like primers on magical practices as they are fiction. Psychologists call it a psychological mechanism. badly lit and ill-tended room. as if those characters were somehow joined with Ransom’s voice. who is Moloch. She gave rise to the character Lilith. and take refuge in the Secret Kingdom.84 Here we are observing a magical working of a very different kind from that evoked by Lewis through his character Ransom. the side She turns away from earth. She writes matter-of-factly about all manner of paranormal events. putting my cards on the table. and author of numerous books on the practice of magic and related subjects. The magic worked. a shabby. magicians call it magic. it is the door by which the sensitive escape into insanity when life is too hard for them. for it is effectual. appears clearly in her novels. The Door Without a Key is the Door of Dreams. for it shows how we use the Door Without a Key to escape the Lord of This World. I had the sensation of the descent of a swift lift. the founder of the British Society of the Inner Light. I made the astral projection by the usual method. There is little evidence that Lewis was a practicing magus. That Fortune was herself a magician is not in question.
There is little art in the way she tells of the magical working: if Lewis’s account is closer to poetry than to prose.’ but it is in fact just as much in the genre of detective fiction. was consummately the logician. and who is in fact of supernatural lineage. decides to heed the call of nature that he feels. Rhodes. Thus Rhodes. a bullish young man named Ted Murchison. who represents the voice of the ordinary observer. a collection of stories entitled The Secrets of Dr. In Fortune’s novel The Winged Bull.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 125 fiction. Rhodes. based on the life of one Theodore Moriarty. Such an observation is not meant entirely as criticism. I had passed over into the Unseen. After his entry into the Unseen. but also to point out a means by which Fortune’s novels attract and hold a reader. Not only were they alive. and something of the same flavor comes across in Taverner. while the stories are written from the perspective of his companion. at the end of the story. Taverner certainly falls under the category of ‘occult fiction. one will recall. But there are other sorts of magical initiations in Fortune’s fiction as well. for. Characteristic of this strategy is one of Fortune’s earliest and best-known works. a fellow named Fouldes. and many others. (a kind of Watson to Taverner’s Holmes). the ordinary observer of the magus Taverner.” which is about an English nobleman whose family seeks to have him certified mad in order to take over his estate. 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. Marius. a young woman named Ursula .” 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. Taverner is patterned after Holmes. As a character. Taverner. is concerned with practical magic and phenomena like astral projection. 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. “for to me they had suddenly become alive. I was no longer alone.” an expression characteristic of the way she clearly lays out in her fiction to reflect the way her magical practice is experienced. “in all things there was a profound difference. in particular that of Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes.” to pass “an invisible barrier” of consciousness. Taverner gets to the bottom of the case immediately. The Secrets of Dr. she is interested in “putting her cards on the table. Among the more interesting of these stories is “A Son of the Night. but I shared in their life.” Rhodes remarks at the story’s conclusion. to “enter the Unseen. an unsavory magician named Hugo Astley—with some similarities to Aleister Crowley—and his protegé. . Holmes. Fortune’s account here is closer to journalism. . like Taverner. and here too there are correspondences with what we have seen in That Hideous Strength. for I was one with them . but perhaps most interestingly.”85 And so the book concludes. with the addition of Taverner’s great experience in magical or occult events. set loose a magical attack on the protagonists.
they are without morality.’ said Brangwyn. they were getting it in the neck. but also logically. These characters represent sheer malevolence against humanity. and her half-brother. represent evil on another scale entirely from that which one usually sees depicted in modern fiction.86 At first it appeared that Murchison and Ursula were to be lost in the force of this magical attack. and. like Astley in The Winged Bull. running in every direction like spilled quicksilver. who have developed a means for communication with what they call “Macrobes” (in fact another name for demons). Then. Frost and Wither are without mercy. suddenly. Fortune continues: Then Brangwyn also caught it. banked and double-banked. among them men named Frost and Wither.’ ‘Yes. . ‘That is very much that. but one can certainly see some parallels between it and Lewis’s That Hideous Strength. evil power that had been pouring in as steadily as waves beating into a bay. a bear of a man. of course Lewis’s is far the greater both in literary skill and in significance. In That Hideous Strength. dropping into a chair as if exhausted. there are also depraved black magicians. and felt the waves of evil influence come rolling in.’ Brangwyn concluded. . The girl he could do nothing for. but then Murchison. .126 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Brangwyn. cold and merciless. such characters are necessary not only dramatically.’87 The writing here feels a bit more awkward than in some of Fortune’s other novels. It was best to leave Murchison to his unaided wits. The three protagonists were just about to go to bed when Murchison cocked his head and stared into space over Ursula’s head. But there was nothing he could do for the other two . ‘so that’s that. and in another moment the room was empty . Of the two books. The strange. . but clearly in both depravity is necessary on one side in order that there can be noble transcendence on the other. and the waves divided and swept past him like the tide round a pier. ‘Well. He was experienced in dealing with such things. became furious and the force of his fury came back over the ‘telepathic wire’ to Fouldes and Astley. . breaking the embarrassing silence. Yet paradoxically. ‘If Fouldes and Astley were en rapport at the other end of the telepathic wire.’ replied Murchison. pure selfishness. in order to generate the greater polarity necessary for what we might call the metaphysical battles that take place in both books. a change came over the atmosphere of the room. She had passed out of his reach on the tides of the force as if water had whirled her away. an experienced magician. broke and starred like a smashed mirror.
Lewis. In all of the fiction we are considering here. either alone. to living Nature (theosophy lato sensu). .90 . and in particular how the individual on an esoteric path follows a process of awakening. also reflect at least some initiatory knowledge in their writings. initially called the Christian Mystic Lodge of the Theosophical Society. powers both good and evil. thanks to a process that lets us reappropriate the knowing we have lost . which represent profoundly divergent ways of relating to the cosmos.89 While the works of these authors are more artistic than Fortune’s. he is in fact being initiated into the existence of forces invisible to the vast majority of people.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.85 In the works of Fortune we are unquestionably seeing the reflection of her own extensive experience in magical initiation. and finally the Society of the Inner Light. he has to access a knowing—or a form of nonknowing— transmittable by the word. S. Whether or not a disciple has a master. at the end of The Secrets of Dr. In “Approaches to Western Esoteric Currents. but later called the Community of the Inner Light. there are two kinds of magic— black and white—and the dramatic power of these novels emerges from the reader’s initiation into the existence of both. which hide the mysteries while revealing their keys. while more circumspect about their own knowledge and at least in Williams’s case. they also carry the reader along on an initiatory course. Taverner. in this kind of fiction. and thanks to that. When the reader enters into the magical fiction of Lewis. The phrase magical initiation is perhaps most suitable here for the works of Fortune. helped by appropriate texts. or with the help of an initatory. rising to insight into the metaphysical underpinnings of human life.” Antoine Faivre discusses the nature of initiation. 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. whose novels without any question reflect the fact that she was herself the founder of an initiatory order. and Fortune. Williams. who can be an isolated master or a member of an initiatory school. But Charles Williams and even C. to advance in the knowledge of the connections uniting the disciple to higher entities (theosophy strictu sensu) and to cosmic forces. a series of magical initiations that begin with something like Rhodes’s entry into the Unseen. The initiation serves to regenerate our consciousness. Faivre writes that We follow this path by committing ourselves to it. but that also go beyond seeing into nature. There is. experience of magic. . This provides the profound tension that drives these works and that creates the ‘space’ within which the magical workings take place. thanks to which we refashion the experience of our relationships to the sacred and the universe.
he calls ‘active imagination’ “the essential component of esotericism. For magical fiction is in fact remarkably suited to. In fact. then.” putting us in contact with the mundus imaginalis or imaginal world that “is the space of intermediary beings. in literary form. from this brief foray into the realm of magical fiction? First. moving from initiation into elemental or natural magic (represented by Lewis’s character Merlin. which manifests a deeper conflict between destructive and constructive powers in the cosmos as a whole. But this passage as a whole clearly can be read as referring to initiation “transmittable by the word. ‘behind the scenes’ of the drama of ordinary human life. active imagination is essential.128 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E I would suggest that the order of these final points be reversed. we have seen that often central to this magical initiation is a kind of magical battle between evil and good magicians. thoroughly real. initiating readers into “the space of intermediary beings. to the age-old relationship between the initiate and the initiator. 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. Finally.” What conclusions can we draw. and from the rule-free extravagances of fantasy or sentimentality. Third. as one reads a novel like Dion Fortune’s The Sea Priestess. and Fortune were up to in their fictional works. Williams.”92 This special kind of imagination allows one to “escape both from the sterility of a purely discursive logic. even though the ultimate source of the reader’s magical initiation in fiction is the author. if we may so put it. for instance) to initiation into encounters with transcendent beings the Oyéresu in Lewis’s That Hideous Strength. 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.”93 Faivre’s observations here are particularly important because they help us to understand in a different light what Lewis. a mesocosm possessing its own geography. and a realm in which one may encounter and work with nonphysical beings and powers. 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. perceptible to each of us as a function of our respective cultural imagery. Second. since in the fiction we have been discussing. initiation into living Nature tends to precede initiation into the powers of higher entities. .91 Faivre goes on to remark that to succeed in this process of regeneration or initiatic awakening. we have seen that magical fiction in general represents to the reader a series of stages or grades. Such a tension corresponds.” and thus to written works like novels. a mesocosm possessing its own geography. or such as Isis in Fortune’s The Sea Priestess.
visionary style that may best be described as glimpses into another. held in London’s Tate Gallery. This was an exhibition that I was fortunate enough to attend. which is why I have chosen to study them together. the sense that the artist belonged to the same tradition as A. and I recall the otherworldliness of the images. but also in Böhmean theosophy. Something of the same relationship between word and image exists in the works of Cecil Collins (1908–1989).. where images accompany the written word and yet represent a separate set of works on their own. if I may be permitted a single conclusion. Esoteric Transmission in the Art of Cecil Collins Although this book is primarily about literary transmission. Theosophic illustrations in particular.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. Thus. 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. this is not the only means of esoteric transmission in twentieth-century works. E. Collins is best known as an artist whose works manifest an ethereal. angelic realm. images played an important role not only in alchemical works and later in Rosicrucianism. While Fortune was certainly a practicing magician. and his writings reveal in detail his . not merely viewing paintings but through them being shown new ways of understanding humanity and the transcendent. in the sense of Rilke. such as those accompanying the original German and English editions of Böhme’s complete works. indirectly or directly. Collins was a gifted aphorist. higher aspects of nature and humanity. It was not until 1994 that Brian Keeble brought out an edited book of Collins’s writings under the title The Vision of the Fool. One felt as though one were in some sense being initiated into a way of seeing. it is this: there is undoubtedly art in magic. Collins’s paintings were exhibited in a major retrospective in 1989. one could understand much more clearly the nature of Collins’s paintings. an important and genuinely original British painter. 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. but the most magical works of all may well be found in literary art. Collins revealed in his work insights into the hidden. and that like his contemporary poet. Still. and were engaged at least to some degree in similar enterprises. her novels have a workmanlike quality: they do depict magical rituals and do offer insights into the nature of magic. is linked to the world in which we live and that offers us profound insights into the cosmos and into humanity. As we have already seen. transcendent and perhaps. there remain fundamental differences. but with the publication of this book.
The aphorism is in many respects the most poetic form of prose. the contemplative. the aphorism by its nature stands on its own surrounded by the white space of the page. 1945.” or again. for he must ‘leap the gaps. to show us the hieroedietic beauty of life through art. If Collins loved solitude and nature on the one hand. and I know nothing.130 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E worldview. of “The long eternal afternoons robed in blue. I know of your existence.” consisting in excerpts from Collins’s journals during the Second World War. I remember you. we are all exiles. [14 January. Devonshire]94 He writes beautifully also of his life in nature. But you exist. and most holy are you O beautiful servants. denies all who have inward fruit. Denies the artist. 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. But deep underneath flows the secret stream.” Ordinary life in the natural world.” 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. of his solitary walks in the countryside. I long for my race. It is this official denial of life that confronts us in everything. is imbued always with spiritual significance. even as they transmit that worldview to the reader. Collins gave a public lecture titled “The Artist in the New Age. By reading Collins’s aphorisms. the human being. The coldness of the vanity of the intellect on one side. and the task of the artist is to remind us of this. Our time denies. for Collins. so that the reader has a greater task than in prose works. I long for my kingdom. on the other his works are infused with profound criticisms of the “insect-life” of modern industrial society. with the white compassionate temples of the clouds floating in wise happiness and detached love. But here I wander. one is placed in contact with another reality through them. A frustration of all that which is growing. A winter of the spirit is over all society. when in fact it is quite clear that we are ruled today by the elite of scientific technocrats and politicians . In “Hymn of Life. to come to fruition. he writes: O holy ones I long for you. and cheap vulgarity of attitude towards life on the other side.95 In 1965. and my life with you. Totnes. of all that which desires to give. of how “The tasting of these things in our days and nights is the partaking of the sacrament of existence. and this from a comparatively early period in his work.’ must make intellectual connections individually.
” but to offer what Collins calls “rapport” with the transcendent. the meaning. to make pretty that “empty and mechanical desert we call modern civilization. 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 thus ultimately nothing less than a transformation of our consciousness. and the making of money. by measurement or analysis. awaken this inner rapport in us. In his essay “Art and Modern Man. . They represent a low level of awareness and consciousness. rapport. . they offer avenues into direct inner spiritual realization. whereas “‘why’ knowledge is concerned with the significance of things. they have no philosophy of life other than the exploitation of nature and of man. in Collins’s view.” Collins distinguishes between “how” knowledge and “why” knowledge.97 Works of art.” “How” knowledge is merely instrumental. Collins calls us out of this stupor of the insectoid hive-life in industrial society through his art.96 It is remarkable how timely Collins’s critique of industrial society has remained. In “Art and Modern Man” he continues to discuss what art is capable of achieving: Art is a realization of what is and not of what appears to be[. This is the same thing actually. . For like answers to like and creates actualization . they cannot be reached by knowledge of them.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. and sensitivity to the vibrations and rays of that livingness which is at the heart of things. and central to our awakening is a change in consciousness. how apt his descriptions still are of the moribund vacuity characterizing so much of modern life. The value of the artist is not to decorate. by description. whereas a great deal of ‘why’ knowledge is known only through nuance of consciousness. The higher worlds are inaccessible to the insensitive. another way of expressing what he calls “why” knowledge.] art is therefore an instrument of man’s inner nature and it enables him to manifest in the phenomena of matter the nuance and living quality of his inner life so that his environment is no longer neutral or alien: a rapport is established. It can only be known by inner nuance. but only by rapport with those worlds. Transformation of consciousness cannot be known or be brought about by thinking. “How” knowledge refers to mere process and manipulation of apparently dead objects.
the elements. in Collins’s view. the opening of man’s inner nature. .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[. and transmuted. in Collins’s view. that the canonic cultures of the past are decaying and dying. We are all apt to fall asleep.98 The work of art. is thus more than a portal into the transcendent. he writes. he writes that This is the time of unveiling.” 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. a mere turning of the wheel of existence. widened. Art enables us to experience what the French poet René Char calls ‘the friendship of created things. we have no canonic culture of our own. If the eye of the heart is closed then the whole of the universe is dead. living art is initiation into the realization that all is holy and that our true relationship to nature and to one another is sacramental. we have communion with it[. We live. but through a lyrical contact with the archetypal world. Collins holds that “a new period of art will come not through this decaying. in a “time of the apocalypse. of mere desires. But there is something else that has to be opened. Collins concludes his lecture by reaffirming the initiatory nature of art. Creative art has always been concerned to touch and open the eye of the heart. and the word ‘apocalypse’ means to unveil. In the past. We must have sacrament everywhere: as Blake says. rocks. in the great canonic formality of traditional civilizations there was of necessity a ‘closed’ consciousness in order to focus upon the sacred . and that is the eye of the heart. the unveiling of the atom. it becomes qualitative. with the transformation of consciousness our experience of matter undergoes a change. canonic language. religious. the answer comes back to us from within them. He writes in “The Artist in the New Age” that in the modern era.’ if only the doors of perception would be cleansed. canonical religions and ritual. it is also a means by which human consciousness is awakened.] it is consecrated and is now sacramental. and what is more. it is a means of initiation and spiritual transmission. Collins sees this artistic transmission as taking the place of older. his inner world. spiritu- .” In his final remarks. ‘Everything that lives is holy.’ In other words. trees. . But we have to learn how to concentrate on the sacramental without the use of this ‘closed’ formality.] we have a deeper rapport with the earth. And this brings us to the big problem Within this new open consciousness we need to recover a sacramental sense.99 This awakening of the sense of the sacramental is the task of art.
landscape. Many of these images have a strange. it refers to the inner visionary spiritual capacity of the individual. Here. reminding us of the innate spiritual awareness that we can awaken if we wish to do so. as if to reflect Collins’s own opened sense of inner vision interconnected with the exterior world. and vibrant color. What we are asked to do in the new age is to understand what the function of art is and to give our support and collaboration to the artist. revealed as clearly as anywhere in “The Music of Dawn” (1988). landscape is transformed as well. the one with the sword. the figures’ eyes are opened. Such paintings are mysterious in their capacity to evoke in us a sense. while above it sweep golden spirals and a red sun. an active support. Often. by patterns on the limbs and torso. “The Invocation” reveals a paradisal relationship between the invoking angelic human figure. to the left the orb of the sun. like “Angels” (1948). In all of them the human form and/or landscape is present but stylized.100 The phrase “eye of the heart” is found in Christian theosophy. and here it seems an appropriate way for Collins to conclude. To gaze at this painting is to . its features smooth and surrounded by a mane of hair. In many of his later paintings. too. Collins’s paintings are ecstatic. her hand outstretched over the land in benediction. a rapport with something that we cannot quite articulate. such as “The Invocation” (1944). that we may share each other’s creative response to life. her head bent back and contemplative. in its hand a staff topped by an orb. their faces closed in rapt contemplation as they seem but a moment from ascending. The figure looks out with a far-off gaze. 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. and in this it captures (in 1944!) precisely the sacramental relationship with nature that Collins discussed in his lectures so many years later. hieratic quality. a union of figure. and the eye of the heart is opened by these two artists. Here the entire image is awash in golden light. Human forms are elongated and have a geometric quality that’s intensified in some. around them a halo of golden-yellow light. as in many of his visionary paintings. but that is uplifting and paradisal. in “The Invocation. Here the landscape below seems to be swelling up and rising with energy like an ocean swell. dreamlike. not afraid to wound the heart. or to show to us how interwoven is our own consciousness with that which he is revealing through the paintings.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 133 ally. make it bleed. Collins’s paintings reflect an uncanny unity from the earliest to the last. and the other with the light. to the left the sweeping forms of two intertwined angels whose colors partake of the earth’s brown and of white.” 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.
Here. Indeed. he is like very few other painters. instruments for transmitting a reality higher than ourselves.’ sacred images. In all of these works. Divine Reality. Lost paradise and . from his writing on a “new age” of the spirit. and poems that illuminate his paintings. In another book. Collins wrote in this book. . he saw himself addressing a future audience that would be receptive to primordial ways of seeing humanity and nature. of kinds of consciousness that transcend the subject-object divisions characteristic of modernity. even if in writing he offers the context for viewing and understanding those images. dawn of a more spiritual humanity gazing on mysteries with serene contemplation. chair. they are nothing less than (to cite Collins on the nature of symbols) “transmissions of the nature of reality. D. not least because his work includes not only images. like an electrical transformer. of their work as a transmission through a confused and destructive era into a paradisal future.101 The living work of art is a reminder and a means of exactly this transmission. but central. Meditations.. we then have ‘sacred space. and it is the archetypal that we see in the hieratic figures and landscapes of his paintings. in the works of Lewis and Williams as well. so that God becomes a table.. But Collins offers these through visual images.” Cecil Collins represents the archetypal figure of the twentieth-century esoteric artist. And it is also clear. to achieve precisely what he wrote about so eloquently.134 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E sense anew Collins’s expectation of a new era. an esoteric transmission of new ways of seeing humanity and the world is not merely decorative. and Collins—is this sense of a future audience. that like Milosz. is so powerful that we cannot look on it and live—therefore we need a buffer. This buffer world is called the archetypal world. in Collins’s view. or altar. but also essays. by which we make contact with reality through images . Collins also wrote about the critical importance of awakening to an awareness of the archetypal. a world between us and it. to take the impact and transform it to our dimension. as in the works of Milosz and H. one that partakes as much of humanity’s Edenic past as of its potentially paradisal future. I offer these paintings as indicative of Collins’s extraordinary ability to reveal through the image something that transcends image. If this participation in reality through images is brought down into our environment. In this respect. H. he offers through his paintings. Pages from a Sketchbook (1997). we see intimations of a future paradisal existence. and his written work the clear sense that his work represents portals into other dimensions of consciousness beyond the merely quotidian. . aphorisms. and indeed. D. his drawings. implicit in the works of all three of our main authors and artists here—Milosz. Poems.
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. and awakening gnosis. particularly that of alphanumeric gnosis. the hidden themes perhaps of our entire era. we may say that Western esotericism is fundamentally literary in expression. or way of negation. are in fact essentially gnostic: that is. First. But the term literary here refers to an interdisciplinary nexus. but rather. but nonetheless in practice these two ways do differ. as Dionysius himself points out. Here ‘literature’ takes on new meanings. Thus our third point: that . or mere entertainment. for in Western esotericism it is generally regarded as a vehicle. these are the themes of these great artists. they are charged with visionary or spiritual experiences.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 135 the restoration of paradise. Strictly speaking. there have emerged common characteristics on which we may be able to shed some light by summarizing them and considering them as a whole. and the via negativa. This brings us to our second point: that in Western esotericism. the way of images and forms and transformations. made visible in the mysterious archetypal images of Collins. For in our overview of Western esotericism. although they may contain an element of play. for instance. despite the dazzling wealth of diversity in its means of expression. or way of affirmation. The words and images of Western esoteric traditions are by no means diversions. literature (in which we include images and numbers) is generally conceived as a means of transmuting consciousness. of course. science. And it is on this paradox that we must concentrate in addressing the relationships of Western esotericism to consciousness. and it is undoubtedly better to consider individual traditions. what we find is in fact the via negativa. as a means of transmitting knowledge. and the arts in written form. But this we have already done in our historical overview of Western esoteric currents. and now it is time for us to consider the broader implications of Western esoteric traditions in relation to consciousness. and are meant to lead their reader toward those experiences. rather than to the ascent to absolute transcendence of all forms that we find in. sheer transcendence of all subject-object divisions. And most of the Western esoteric traditions correspond to the via positiva. we can characterize it as falling into two general categories that go back at least to Dionysius the Areopagite: the via positiva. to the conjunction of spirituality. Yet when we penetrate entirely through the via positiva. somewhat too general to speak in the abstract about Western esotericism as a whole. the work of Meister Eckhart or of Johannes Tauler. It is.
but to understand why this is so requires some further explanation. gathers means of technical power over the cosmos. Within this fundamentally different way of understanding nature and humanity is also a profoundly different way of understanding literature and art. history.’ the divine. ‘third element. Alchemical work consists in raising up or redeeming both humanity and nature. Ideas. in achieving what one might call as well a restoration of paradise or a golden age—as we have already seen. but never overcomes and rarely is even aware of this great gulf between self and other. or minerals—but that work is not merely manipulating chemicals or substances. between humanity and the cosmos. and the divine. geology. the divine. that transcends and links both humanity and the cosmos. Here is the essential division between a modern. one finds the ternary predominating: humanity. And Western esoteric literature. sometimes called by Böhme the .’ quantifiable knowledge. there is only the division between self and other. All of these aspects of Western esoteric literature may seem foreign to contemporary eyes. Under this broad rubric of ‘the divine. on the other hand. materialist worldview and what we find in Western esotericism. psychology. where alchemical work consists in the transmutation of both self and other at once. Western esoteric traditions—and this is true of all of them—are founded on the existence of this mysterious. D. This other view is particularly acute in alchemy. an explicit goal of such modern poets as Milosz and H. gnostic experience is the crown and purpose of human life. All of these disciplines are expressions of the same general theory of ‘objective.’ Hence we find the basis of all the various disciplines: biology. we are taught from childhood that ‘I’ am separate from ‘the other. The alchemist works with natural substances—for example. Rather. schooled as we are in the division between subject and object. or Symbols. and implicit in them all is that there is an ‘I’ that is separate from and learns about the cosmos. and so on. alchemical work is based on a fundamental correspondence between self and other. works only by reference to this third element. hidden. sociology. chemistry. between the human and natural realms. plant extracts. For the correspondence between humanity and the cosmos can take place only by means of a third: the divine. which often enough becomes humanity pitted against the cosmos. and there is sheer transcendence.136 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E in the Western esoteric traditions. theosophic or Kabbalistic or magical. are founded in a totally different way of seeing the individual in relation to the cosmos.’ we can discern two general levels: there is the archetypal realm of Forms. But in Western esoteric traditions. the cosmos. be it Rosicrucian or alchemical. In a modern worldview. Western esoteric traditions. whose fundamental nature is to join together self and other. In modern education.’ and that knowledge consists in learning about the various divisions or aspects of the ‘I’ and of ‘the other.
must see into the archetypal realm that is above the limitations of time and space. Milosz calls this awakening power “Memoria” and insists that it is the essence of our consciousness. we find a divine art and a divine science. The eighteenth-century alchemist is often at once a poet and a historian. and his fall from paradise.’ who partakes in a particular kind of hieroeidetic knowledge. in turn created clearly prophetic works meant to foretell a future that they also invoked. an artist. or Fullness. for all three of these poets. was tempted to look outside itself for knowledge. and a chemist. Thus the artist.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 137 Ungrund. this latent memory of higher consciousness waiting to be awakened. the Platonic realm of Forms or Ideas. and by others the Nothing. a divine mathematics. suffused by their deep study of Western esoteric traditions. There is in the universalist aims of these poets a definite indebtedness to the inherent universalism of Western esoteric traditions. to awaken the reader’s consciousness of this archetypal realm. and so there is in all true art a timeless and universal quality. a theologian. what transpired before history goes something like this: Primordial humanity. Adam. These two aspects of the divine—but especially the lower. Hence we may view the “Prophecies” of William Blake. perhaps denoted by some ancient Gnostics under the term Pleroma. a mythologist. The aim of the esoteric . In all of these traditions. which in turn is meant to guide or awaken the reader to its archetypal or symbolic reality. Rosicrucianism. symbolic realm of images contacted by the imagination from which in turn appears the panoply of the arts. theosophy. the “Vision” of William Butler Yeats. but instead ranges freely across all of what we today call separate disciplines or fields. archetypal realm—are critical to understanding Western esoteric literature. in order to create. and in returning has written or illustrated a work. The author has presumably already journeyed to this realm. biology. For the purpose of such literature is. This myth—although it appears in numerous variants—is always tied to the Ur-Mensch. but nothing. For this sphere of archetypes is the infinite hieratic. the absolute unity of subject and object. One cannot separate any of these roles because they are all intimately bound up with the enormous range covered by the rubric alchemist. In brief. is the origin of both nature and humanity—and of art. That is: whether we look at Kabbalah. what we find in fact is not limited to the sphere of religion alone. and the poetic prophecies of Oscar Milosz in perhaps a different way. meaning by that not absence. first. The artist. by definition a ‘seer. This archetypal realm. or any of the other major esoteric currents. a biologist and geologist and a priestly hierophant. is in fact prophetic. in this worldview. and in this externalization was the separation or fall from paradise into the increasing objectivization of history. Underlying all of these Western esoteric traditions is also a universalism in the myth of the fall and of restoration. and literary expression. alchemy. often seen as androgynous. cosmology.
whether a Kabbalist. for instance. often with Hebrew as the celestial language of choice. author of The Magus. Underlying these alphanumeric permutations is the understanding that in fact one is working with the very language of creation. a theosopher. These in turn are related to Hebrew letters.’”102 Likewise. even from a single letter. and every flexure and curvature of every letter. which is to say. Jewish Kabbalah of course maintains a long tradition of Hebrew exegesis. magical. theosophic. or a pansoph. but as humanity fell away from it in the long descent that is human history. In this perspective. . . We see this idea of a celestial or universal language appearing in various forms throughout Western esotericism. The myth of a primordial humanity entails a primordial language. is nothing less than the restoration of paradise. the language of creation itself. and of intricate maneuvers with letters and numbers in gematria. but instead a further means for our separation from and objectification of the world.138 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E practitioner.’ not the means of celestial union with all that surrounds us. the entire cosmos represents a kind of celestial writing. Hence. William Blake in some of his illustrations used “Hebrew characters on some of his designs. language too became externalized and ‘hardened’ outside us into mutually incomprehensible ‘tongues. Primordial humanity knows this celestial language. almost always denoting divinity. temurah. and within every living thing is its transcendent or archetypal signature or word. and this view is found throughout other Western esoteric traditions. 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 . A typical manifestation of this tradition is found around the turn of the nineteenth century. the restoration of unity between humanity and nature by way of the divine. and Masonic illustrations. where it arguably sparked the entire .”103 And we find this insistence on the importance of magical language in many unexpected places—for instance. which show that he had learned the unfamiliar way of writing then known to some occult students as the ‘Celestial Alphabet. 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. in the Russian symbolist poetry and prose near the beginning of the twentieth century. pansophic. 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. an alchemist. Rosicrucian. But it is certain that Barrett proposed a “magical alphabet” closely resembling the “Mason’s marks” or Masonic hieroglyphs. and notarikon. drawing a virtually infinite range of connotations from a single verse. contains some secret of wisdom. one finds Hebrew letters inscribed in alchemical. in a group of London Rosicrucians associated with Francis Barrett (1765–1825).
But only to trace influences assumes that everything in Western esotericism can be attributed to questions of ‘influence.’ and this is not necessarily so. generally speaking . it is to suggest that there are governing images and currents of Western esotericism. It is theoretically possible to trace these ideas of a celestial alphabet throughout Western history. it may be the “Book of Nature. and that these are consistently linked with an alphanumeric mysticism of language. This is not to say that there is a universal esotericism—for here we are not venturing beyond fundamentally European traditions—but rather.” or the “Book of Revelation. and especially of written language and of the book. 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. seeing where they emerge also into the world of letters or poetry. magic. 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. we cannot here pursue further this fascinating theme of how magical views of language pervaded Russian and even early Soviet literature. following the various currents through Kabbalism. which they conceptualized as the time when human beings spoke a language in which the signifier and the signified existed in complete organic unity. This is in fact precisely the argument of several contemporary scholars of Russian literature. The book may be the cryptic “Liber M” of the Rosicrucians. Social Realism. certainly it may be the Christian .M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 139 symbolist movement and.” Irina Gutkin summarizes this argument as follows: However diverse Russian modernists’ language theories and related visions of the future may have been. In her article “The Magic of Words: Symbolism. when surveying the various esoteric currents. For it well may be that there is a general paradigm recurring thoughout the various currents of Western esotericism. Futurism. They shared a utopian dream of a new perfectly ‘transparent’ language. .104 Obviously. of which these various currents are particular manifestations filtered through the conditions of an era and religious tradition. in their cosmogonic mythologies the genesis of a new world was conceived principally as a glottogenetic process: the creation of new language obtained the paramount role in the realization of a new ideal world of the future. in that their theories implied restoration of the world’s original Edenic state. . influenced much of modern Russian literature. Sacerdotal or magical language provided a model for the new language each of these movements was striving to create. Some of this work we have already done earlier in this discussion. and Masonry. consequently. theosophy.” or the “Book of Life”.
who were in turn taught by a spiritual master. much less in Christianity specifically. Certainly there were such nascent initiatory lineages early in the Christian era among gnostic circles. and in Judaism with Kabbalah. Thus we are left with the enigma of Western esotericism. but there is no evidence that any of these continued even into the medieval period. and indeed even farther back. In Hinduism or Buddhism. But what about Western esotericism in the Christian world? Why are there virtually no verifiable traditional initiatory lineages like those we find in other traditions? There are of course exceptions—one thinks in particular of Freemasonry and its claims to a continuous lineage going back at least to the time of the Knights Templar. where the tradition . interrupted. where initiatory lineages seem largely broken. and Christianity—have a specific reverence for the sacred book. or nonexistent. but rather relied upon the written word. for instance. but it is a peculiar fact that the three major monotheist traditions— Judaism. However. But perhaps there is a solution to this general absence of initiatory lineages. and it may also be the visionary Mysterium Magnum of Jacob Böhme or an alchemical manuscript. rely upon the written word not only as a focus for oral communication or transmission. It certainly fits well with Kabbalistic mysticism. Even in the case of alchemy. other than occasional fragmentary lists and the perfunctory listing of such figures as Plato. or masters. But in all cases the mode of transmission is in some sense a book. 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. where it is traditionally said that one must be initiated by an alchemist in order to work the magistery. Indeed. or in Buddhism. but it is quite another for the writing itself to become so primary as the sacred writings of the three monotheistic traditions. the traditions are largely continued by means of initiatory lineages of teachers. and Geber. it seems entirely possible that Christianity and Western esoteric traditions more generally. It is true that many of the world’s religious traditions include sacred writings. regard the book itself as a primary means of transmitting the tradition. it is rather difficult to find any cases of such initiatory lineages even within the broad sphere of Western esotericism. Islam. Such initiatory continuity is found also in Islam with Sufism. which indeed still finds them audiences today. there are virtually no available records on any such actual initiatory lines in Western European literature. and what is more. and so on back into antiquity. Hermes. gurus. This would certainly explain why figures like Meister Eckhart or Johannes Tauler did not found initiatory lineages of disciples. but also as a primary means of spiritual transmission.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. 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. Given our overview.
the divine is seen to inhere in language generally. of course. may think of his poetry. V Milosz. Milosz’s future reader would have to become Milosz’s initiated successor by way of Milosz’s writing alone. but also on writing as an actual means of spiritual illumination. and his method of “writing the names” until one enters ecstasy. particularly the works of Böhme. whatever one .’ or ‘data’. who. 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. it is a means of horizontal communication between two discrete people. hieratic. but also because he quite clearly saw himself as an illuminant who by writing was also transmitting this illumination into the future. By contrast.” had no prospect of actually meeting or initiating him directly—his poetry and prose had to serve that function. but . and insists that the word can only mean direct contact between two living people. dreamlike language and imagery. it seems obvious that the poetry is intended not only to describe but also to evoke the kinds of consciousness it represents. And one recalls the Rosicrucians. whether it be in Kabbalah or alchemy or theosophy. Such a view of the written word is. to write in all of these traditions means something quite different. to some future initiate in a far century. then of course writing could not be initiatory in itself. These illustrations. Is it possible for writing alone to serve as means of initiation? Naturally. But if the word initiation is taken to refer to an awakening of higher degrees of consciousness. Thus we can conclude that the writing itself is meant to have an initiatory function. rather far indeed from most contemporary perspectives. have been adorned with copious illustrations. for in all cases. and specifically in revealed or illuminated writing. for it above all has what we may call a ‘vertical’ aspect. If by this word one is referring to some kind of ceremony or ritual involving a group of people.’ a means of conveying ‘information. in addressing this far-off “son. when we look at the writing of Milosz. of Abraham Abulafia. I believe. Indeed. for example the famous ones accompanying Gichtel’s well-known edition of Böhme’s works. the writing of someone who has actually realized the tradition’s aim of spiritual illumination. often strikingly beautiful. initiatory. We see exactly such a view in the figure of O. Such evocation is. Christian theosophic literature. writing is essentially a ‘collection of signs. who never revealed themselves publicly at all. is unquestionably an exemplary figure not least because he consciously represented in his work virtually the entire range of Western esoteric traditions.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. then it is indeed possible for the written word to serve this function. it assumes that writing has a sacred origin and purpose. Milosz. the answer to this question depends upon what one means by initiation. One thinks here. but who rather offered the world only written works. Let us take another example. naturally. and in particular at its strange. In modern parlance. are not simply decorations. Somehow. That is to say.
Such an illustration is not merely allegorical. Taken together. for instance. one is in effect partaking in and absorbing what it represents. so there is no need here to repeat myself. through the turbulence of earthly life. clearly understandable form the nature of theosophy as a growth in consciousness from the constraints of darkness and wrath or separation. If a book is to serve an initiatic function. It is at once a natural and a spiritual image. it represents for the neophyte reader in simple. and Rosicrucian esoteric currents (to name only the most obvious) is to emphasize and amplify the hieratic nature of these traditions. it actually reveals (hiera-) the nature of its subject. which refers to .” or Wisdom. pansophic. Rather. I use the term ahistorical continuity. the lightworld of paradise. This metaphor—of sowing. But we can take a single such illustration here and demonstrate how it can function in an initiatory way.142 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E reveal in condensed visual form essential aspects of the theosophic tradition. the words and images can evoke in the reader the seeds of the experiences visible through the work. it can better do so if it reveals its subject in words and images both. the dark-world of hell. A good example of an initiatory illustration is one accompanying Thomas Bromley’s book The Way to the Sabbath of Rest. In the midst of the dark-world we see a seed whose green stem grows upward through the spatio-temporal cosmos. in other words. the prevalence of accompanying illustrations in alchemical. represented by a cross. theosophic. reaping. the illustration is a condensed image of the theosophic path. that is. In my view. and conveys in a single organic form the outlines of theosophic illumination. certainly by the seventh century—yet one finds striking parallels in seventeenth-century Christian theosophy without any historical link. and flower in the reader too. This visual absorption is of a different kind from that of reading the accompanying text. marked also “Sophia. does have an initiatic function—that is. tending. Obviously. meaning that some image in it ‘equals’ some moral quality.106 To explain this phenomenon. and becomes a seedhead in the light-world above. the Western esoteric traditions are often discontinuous historically. by gazing at such an image. ancient Gnosticism as such ceased to exist by the early medieval period.105 This illustration shows the theosophic three principles or three realms. grow. Such an illustration. For instance. In this way. it is more immediate and visceral. I have discussed this theosophic iconography at length in my book Wisdom’s Children. into the serenity and illumination of transcendence. and sowing again—is not merely a literary figure. and the intermediate realm of nature between them. but expresses how a book can indeed serve as an initiatic medium irrespective of whether there is any historical contact between author and reader. Bromley’s narrated overview of the theosophic spiritual journey. What is more. and over time those seeds can take root. the book becomes hieroglyphic—it is not merely an abstract discussion about some topic. of spiritual growth and illumination in the figure of a growing plant.
Here. leave untouched the precious Names of God . and so the reader too becomes a kind of channel or conduit. They will experience both the words that are in it and the source that . Such a reader joins with the author. 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. After all. if you wish to use this little book aright. who in turn is in touch with an archetypal or primary stream within a given esoteric tradition. for example. as in this example from his book Christosophia (1624): “God-loving reader.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. Let us take an example from the works of Jacob Böhme. or a biology textbook. the written word itself can have an initiatory function. for one is not to misuse God’s holy Names. you truly will know its worth. so that they do not ignite the wrath of God in your soul. and who have a desire to begin. the word initiation is being used in several ways—as meaning a beginning on the spiritual path. 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. this function must be a change in consciousness. . But for the reader who is in sympathy with a particular esoteric perspective. but they may well change a reader’s consciousness in profound ways and even in some respects prepare one for such inward vision.’ a becoming familiar and even intimate with his language and vision until his unusual terminology and ways of expression become part of one’s inner landscape and view of the world. If. forging a link to others with similar esoteric aspirations. . Perhaps. and in fact many of his works feature dire warnings to those who approach Böhme’s writings in the wrong fashion. But I must warn you that if you are not in earnest. Such a paradigm can be reawakened. instead. Thus. Böhme’s works require a kind of ‘steeping. one might even say impossible. it is possible for reading and rereading a given work to effect lasting changes in that reader’s consciousness. Naturally. although there may be an initiatory lineage in a given Western esoteric tradition. There can be no doubt that Böhme regarded his books as spiritually charged. To read Böhme’s works and attempt to categorize or analyze them logically is notoriously difficult. and are in earnest. it exists as a nascent possibility within the tradition and even if it is eliminated by force or attrition in one historical period. This little book belongs only to those who eagerly wish to repent. the daily news. as I am suggesting. This is not to say that Böhme’s works necessarily in themselves inspire visionary insight. and as the entry of one’s consciousness into a larger current. without doubt one of the most influential authors in the Western esoteric traditions. But perhaps those countless people influenced by Böhme’s writing did or do not read it in the way that we read. it can reëmerge in another. I am not using the word initiation to refer to rites.
But the word awareness does not entail a subject-object duality.” It must remain “in resigned humility just as a fountain depends on its source. which it sees as divine. in his “Warning to the Reader. Here Böhme is plainly saying that his writing is charged and has initiatory power— one can move through his work toward the divine. . that it encourages a change in consciousness that permeates one’s whole life.144 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E gave rise to them. is only the external constellation that intoxicates it as soon as it grasps at it. one automatically is caught in delusion.” “Be rightly warned.” If on the one hand. that it encourages one to begin the spiritual path. Then it walks in error until it again gives itself completely into resignation. So long as the divine remains objectified outside oneself. and so on for the entire week. so that consciousness shifts to awareness. 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. a prayer for washing and dressing. it cannot become authentically a part of one’s direct awareness. the source from which they emerge.” for they will experience not only the words he has written. and for when one rises. or they will be the “judgement of God in you. Böhme insists that the reader must overcome this self-other division.108 Clearly this work is initiatic in at least two ways: first. he tells us. When one is caught in the self-other or subject-object division. not by merely mouthing the words.” Böhme tells us that if we are not in earnest on our way to the new birth. Hence Böhme includes in Christosophia prayers for one’s entire daily life—a prayer for when one awakens on Monday morning. Böhme’s works require stern admonitions to those who might not approach them properly. and in fact much of what we term divine is in fact nothing more than a projection. a prayer for one’s daily work. we should leave unsaid the words in the prayers he gives us. this objectifying delusion. judgemental consciousness. so that even what is apparently divine is in truth merely another facet of the “outward constellation. and experience the divine directly. This passage is particularly useful for us because it neatly encapsulates the shift in consciousness toward which Böhme is guiding his reader. a prayer for the evening.” or objectified realm.”110 And only if it does this will the soul awaken into its divine inheritance and true purpose. but the “instrument of God.”109 The individual soul must ceaselessly sink down into the divine Nothing. it walks in its own delusion. The word consciousness implies always a duality—one is con-scious. but by internalizing and becoming what one reads. In Christosophia he writes that “as soon as the soul eats of self and lives in reason’s light. and whatever one perceives as divine is in fact tainted by this constant separation. and a prayer before sleep. a prayer for noon.”107 Or again. on the other hand his writing is addressed to those who “have a desire to begin. and become not its own possession. Then that thing. to become a channel for the divine current. or has knowledge-of. but. and second.
between the divine and the natural. the yes and the no. at the far limit of what we can express in language. or the divine eye that sees itself. in other words. Above. conversely. of course. but of the cosmos itself. 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. then language must reflect this division. Language is the means by which this process of mediation or reconciliation is effected: it is. as we have seen. and at its most sublime when it expresses or manifests this transcendent divinity. in Western esotericism generally. If humanity and the cosmos itself are fallen. Divine Unity—the No-thing * Duality: The Yes and the No. the origin not only of language. divine in its origin. the light and the dark. in the archetypal realm there is . intermediate between nature below and the divine above. Thus language belongs also to the intermediate human realm. This divine self-awareness Böhme sometimes alludes to as the divine eye turned inward. There is simply awareness. and might from this point recapitulate by way of a diagram a schematic overview of how language may be understood in this context. where they are incarnated or manifested in the everchanging panoply of history. or divided from the divine. but the observer in another sense is no longer separate from the divine that is observed. as are nature and humanity. love and wrath. although there are divisions between archetypes. there is no sense of separation between self and other. in that there remains an observer. just as. Here we are. In other words. or subject and object. or perceiver and what is perceived. 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. a path beyond this separation and suffering must go through language.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. For language is in its innermost nature divine. From these archetypes then emerge the natural and human realms. language is said to inhere in the entire cosmos. and it is at this point that paradox and enigmatic expression become necessary. There emerges a spacious or open quality. This transcendent point gives birth to duality. for it is only humanity that can mediate between sky and earth. Love and Wrath ** The Archetypal Realm of the Imagination: Divine Language *** The Manifested or Elemental World **** Language belongs above all to the archetypal realm. the self in one sense continues to exist. where. Indeed. we have the point of origin.
These archetypal forces do not belong to the poet. From the eighteenth through the twentieth centuries. language as merely a collection of signs functioning as more or less arbitrary designators. it is a vehicle not of separation but of union between humanity. For Western esotericism. suppression. or manifest more indirectly in literature. and objectifying worldview and the perspectives that characterize Western esotericism? Perhaps not. in modern literary theory or theories of language. and so forth. During this . 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. There is such a gulf between these two views as to seem almost unbridgeable. in vogue instead are theories of causality that refer to a world devoid of the divine. in these esoteric traditions. for after all. consumerist state was built from a materialist. Language. Ownership belongs to the fallen realm of separation and objectification—I own this as opposed to that—and therefore belongs also to fallen language. of sign and object and manipulation of one or the other. there are only the archetypal powers or forms that the poet or visionary may experience directly in vision. they may be glimpsed and even imperfectly expressed. and the participatory.146 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E still no possession or ownership. yet this expresses a very prevalent supposition underlying much contemporary literary theory. Is it possible to build a bridge between a modern. 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. alternatives to the technoconsumerist machine became more commonplace—ecosocial criticism began to emerge. transformative. or ignoring of most of these esoteric currents. language is in its very nature bound up with the divine. Undoubtedly. restoring to humanity its proper relation to nature and to the divine. By contrast. the secular modern world emerged through the jettisoning. Nothing could be further from the various viewpoints of Western esotericism than the fallen language of mere designation. and the divine. esotericism remained mostly underground— alchemy was denigrated as nothing more than a primitive precursor of chemistry. including harsh critiques of technology’s effects on the natural world. any objectifying perspective divorced from the divine origin and purpose of language automatically will be barren or sterile. secular. and gnostic perspectives characterizing Western esotericism seem far removed from and incompatible with that machine. But by the late twentieth century. the divine is perforce unmentionable. The massive machine of the modern technological. but never owned. is transformed from objectifying to unifying. secular. pansophy and theosophy were relegated to movements of merely historical interest. nature. or separation into self and other. and objectified worldview. which is rife with the language of objectification.
magic or theosophy. and in the countless literary works that express the discoveries of those who have gone before us. imaged in alchemical manuscripts and in Kabbalistic treatises. that inherent in the Western esoteric traditions is what we have called a libric or alphanumeric gnosis. But to begin to explore this new. Western esotericism is inherently transdisciplinary by nature. L I T E R AT U R E . Be it Kabbalism or alchemy. 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. A R T. then the ways of exploration are already marked out for us. which is to say. which has ramifications not only for the nature of knowledge. to name only a few. As we have seen throughout this study. and the divine. inner territory. nature. and of restoring a paradisal union between them. began to have profound effect on many people in the formerly Judeo-Christian world. psychology. in particular. pansophy or esoteric Rosicrucianism or Freemasonry. Joining all of these disparate disciplines is a focus on the transmutation of consciousness. even while the bulk of society industriously tried to avoid recognizing those limits. To this we now turn. and the arts. Here we are discussing not merely the obvious fact that such traditions are represented in written works. and for a reëvaluation of all the various disciplines in that light. we must begin by coming to see literature and the meaning of the word in new ways. including elements of the sciences. Given these tendencies—on the one hand criticism of technoconsumerism. too. troubadours and chivalry. at least for some. If so.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 147 time. inspiring more than a few to also rediscover overlooked Jewish and Christian mystical traditions. the various currents of Western esotericism with all their diversity share a common thread: the transmutation of consciousness through hieroeidetic knowledge. religion. and widespread acculturation of Asian religious and medicinal traditions. Buddhism. the Lullian art. but rather the idea that these literary works themselves are . to an exploration of the inner cosmos and of how we perceive the world. in theosophic works. scientific or otherwise. but also for society itself. after all that we have surveyed. one found a growing awareness of the limits that the natural world imposes on consumerist expansion. It may well be that we have reached a time when the ceaseless and ever more minute exploration of the cosmos may give way. of awakening latent. with the intense focus of many of its practitioners on meditation practices. one finds a consistently recurrent theme of transmuting consciousness. profound connections between humanity. One also found increasing interest in alternative approaches to medicine and to spirituality. A N D C O N S C I O U S N E S S It is evident.
in order to consider more carefully how a poet may view what we are discussing here. 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 write presupposes already having seen. as the seers tell us. full of imagination’s power and exhiliration. The poet or prophet sees and enters into the celestial realm. fundamental to the awakening of a paradisal union between humanity.’s subsequent meditation on how he created this poem is well worth investigating. (George William Russell.”111 Unconscious of creation. rejoicings. The poet and the seer both engage in the ascent of consciousness from multiplicity toward union. A. But A. E. Indeed. from the Kabbalistic Sepher Yezirah or Bahir or Zohar to the works of Jacob Böhme and the Rosicrucian manifestos. . this view of the poet invests in him far more authority and power than do contemporary views. at this juncture. To use Plato’s metaphor. visible in Greek tradition in such figures as Pythagoras and Plato. he tells us. ascends to “that high state where. wrote at length about how he came to write poetry. here is what we may call a spirituality of literature as much as a literature of spirituality. . of charged and living images once associated with the gods. as we have seen.148 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E vehicles of spiritual praxis. E. one must already have left the imprisoning cave and seen the actual sun and the true landscape to which we belong. A. . In his book Song and Its Fountains. It may be of use. Only then can one return and tell others where authentic life lies. a friend of Yeats. This intricate geometry of meaning can be glimpsed in the forms of nature. Such an understanding of literature is very ancient indeed. but of reality. The poet’s psyche. but rarely any longer is recognized as having its origin in the inner springs or fountains of life. beyond history. E. 1867–1935). And only then will one’s written work be of enduring value for others. and the divine. he simply began to murmur line after line. Remarking on how a poem emerged unbidden one evening while he was sitting on some rocks. The verses came to me almost as swift as thought. where poetry might be seen by some as offering beauty or insight. but is seen even more clearly in the archetypal realm of the imagination. 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 . Naturally. Here the book is a means of spiritual transmutation. to turn to a poet. and indeed. the ‘book of life’ out of which history itself emerges. and how his poetry was inseparable from his visionary experiences. the gold-gleaming genius makes beauty. not the life of shadows. E. and music is the intricate geometry of meaning that permeates creation. found throughout Western history. the cosmos itself is a kind of book—the structure of words. and in this ascent enter into the imaginal realm of archetypes. images. joys. nature. for in its structure will be the creative power of life itself. In this view. A. In this esoteric view of literature.
”116 Still.”117 For this reason.” he wrote. A. perhaps surprisingly. E. even if unaware of precisely how or why. It is the light of spirit that transcends the psyche as the psyche in its own world transcends the terrestrial ego.”113 This movement of consciousness A. A. E. recognized his limits. and remarks that “almost the only oracles which have been delivered to humanity for centuries have come through the poets.”114 A far exile from that glory. and song. A. somehow comes in touch with this sheer transcendence. was later translated into words. “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. of nature become so ethereal that it was the perfect mirror of deity. for its subtlety and universality make it ungraspable: “It cannot be constrained.”112 Yet “what comes back to us from that high sphere loses beauty in its descent. still recognized “that greater light shines behind and through the psyche. he found himself “dragged down” toward waking consciousness. E. Yet A. and not to the sublimity of the spirit. E. and the withdrawal of the universe into the Pleroma—all that was wrought in some secret laboratory within the psyche. “I have. A. as Ishtar in the Chaldean myth had crown and scepter and the royalty of her robes taken from her when descending from heaven to earth. the creation of poetry in A. The Mount is a symbol for that peak of soul when. “never had the high vision of those who have gone into the deeps of being and who have returned rapture-blinded by the glory. writes that “all true poetry was conceived on the Mount of Transfiguration.” “Whatever went to making an intricate harmony of color and sound.”115 He understood something of the psyche. from a descent after an ascent. it draws nigh to its own divine root. looks upon the poet as a prophet. But there are enchanted hours when it seems to be nigh us. gone inward into itself. nigher to us than the most exquisite sweetness in our transitory lives. and memory and imagination are shot through and through with the radiance of another nature. B. analyzes the movement of consciousness. “—the imagination of the ending of the long tale of time. And still being drawn down there came a third state in which was originally deep own-being. Yeats.” Although he struggled to remain in this state.” Thus. but all was a motion in deep being.’s view actually emerges from a dimunition of spiritual vision. focusing on his experience emerging from a deep sleep. There was neither sight nor sound. E. and it changes the dry dust of logic into color and music and a rapture of prophecy. and after that images. but of the universal spirit he understood little. who said that he had experienced precisely the same descent into words. and cried out in a divine intoxication to the Light of Lights. the poet. E. though too often they have not kept faith . and there is revelation in it and the mingling of heaven and earth. when once he became conscious while “in some profundity of being. that his experience belonged to the psyche or soul.” he wrote. E. later discussed with W.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 149 dance.
may. In this exaltation or transcendent creativity.”118 The poets and musicians offer us “the sense of a glory transmitted from another nature. goes on to remark that he often thought the great literary masters like Shakespeare or Balzac “endowed more generously with a rich humanity. tells the story of how he once in his office went into a reverie and saw a host of images—a redhaired watchful girl. the poet or seer enters into a realm where conventional notions of self begin to vanish. which could also be expressed as the ending of objectification. feel a mutual Indwelling in the pure Tincture and Life of each other: and so. E. . expresses here is not far from what we see in the work of an exemplary and influential esoteric figure like Jacob Böhme. 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. through love and sympathy may come to know “that the whole of life can be reflected in the individual. And A.”120 Thus “when we sink within ourselves. when we seem most alone. and our thoughts may become throngs of living souls. when it becomes truly self-conscious. and they wove into drama or fiction.” And there is more. into the nature of poetic vision or imagination.”121 These insights of A. . without knowing it. But at times they still receive the oracles. we find numerous accounts of the spiritual path as exactly such a movement beyond ordinary distinctions of self and other. or division into self and other. A. though they do not take place in the explicit context of Western esotericism properly speaking. in that solitude we may meet multitude. 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. have made their hearts a place where the secrets of many hearts could be told. they come “trailing clouds of glory. E. In essence.150 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E with the invisible .” The psyche. for in both cases one sees a visionary who penetrates deeper than ordinary people into the mysteries inherent in creation. we have seen Western esoteric traditions as including the restoration of paradise. for instance. a cobblestone street—and to his astonishment later discovered that these images belonged to the actual world of his office companion. thinking all the while that it was imagination or art of their own. and imbued with this new visionary understanding. the view of literary creation that A. still conform strikingly to the model we have begun to develop as characteristic of the Western esoteric traditions. .”119 Through them the immortals utter their divine speech. 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. the further we come out of the animal Nature. wrote of how “they that are in this near Union. Thomas Bromley. Throughout our investigations. In Christian theosophy. These written works express and indeed embody some of the secret structure inherent in the cosmos. in his The Way to the Sabbath of Rest (1650). and as we mingle our imagination with theirs we are exalted and have the heartache of infinite desire. as did the sybils of old. E. E.
takes place on a field midway between audience and author. become part of us and indivisible from our inner lives. there are differences between what Bromley is describing—a kind of mutual communion among those in a spiritual group. and the further instrumentally to convey the pure Streams of the heavenly Life to each other. This movement goes through an archetypal realm in which they experience figures vaster. in the latter case. symbols. events. more powerful. or drama. Reading. and to one another in the Internal. Thus we can see that the experience of reading itself corresponds in some respects to a visionary encounter like those described. and nearer both to Heaven. and so requires our sympathetic participation. which later emerge in poetry. at least temporarily. does not participate in it along with the characters? Its characters enter into our consciousness. One becomes what one sees. or of Captain Ahab. he may encounter unfamiliar figures. on the one hand an exemplar of Western theosophic esotericism. Underlying both of them is a clear movement beyond objectification. in A. and we must. Likewise. and later forge them into a written work of uncommon power. In this realm. for instance.”122 As the soul ascends toward paradise by way of spiritual praxis. and between the models that they represent. We are carried along on the words of the author. like theater. E. there are unquestionably parallels between these two examples. But nonetheless. And so it is possible for us to speak of the great Gatsby. by A. One experiences great bliss. and the world is shot through with light. one finds spiritual seekers who actively pursue inner vision. E. and taken on a kind of life of its own. a novel. where. say. irrespective of time or distance—and A. and experiences. although there is still an observer and what is observed. it increasingly enters a paradisal union with those on the same path. fiction. which no earthly Distance can hinder. the book or work has been separated from its writer. and its relationship to nature also becomes paradisal or unified. In order for a book to ‘reach us’ it has to resonate within us. he is discussing how the poet may unwittingly enter into an archetypal realm of the imagination. in between both author and reader. the author also is not directly present. but must enter into the work by an act of imaginative participation. and stranger than any experienced in ordinary life. For who. the poet is more like a receiver. or beyond a rigid self-other distinction. one is looking at people consciously engaged in a spiritual path together. on the other a visionary poet. set aside a space within our consciousness where the characters or .’s case. there also is participation in what is observed. In the first case.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 151 the more universal we are. In Bromley’s case. as if we knew them as neighbors. absorbed completely in a book. as if by happenstance. Such experiences are not very far at all in turn from our own ordinary reading of. Of course. passive. E.’s discussion of how the poet may unknowingly absorb or participate in other people’s lives or personalities.
the history of Western esotericism is filled with such insistence on the actual nature of what is being discussed—alchemy is real. whereas the esotericist is. Literature is playing the game with no stakes. The difference. The visionary encounter is similar in that here too. but emerge in our consciousness if we are open to them. Ordinary. and suggest that literature and art in their highest forms are an attenuated kind of visionary encounter. merely ‘imaginary’ in the dismissive sense of the word. habitual self is gone. drama. fiction. magic is real. we might reverse the terms. who himself was certainly influenced by the Western esoteric traditions. 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. one could argue that what is ‘other’ in visionary experiences like those alluded to by Bromley is in fact merely a psychological projection of the ego. Of course. the visions of the theosophers are real. We see this in the Book of Revelation. By contrast. the consciousness is not caught up in its humdrum of daily affairs. 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. our authors tell us. but eventually puts the book down. Kabbalistic cosmology is real. took great pains to point out that the visionary realm he had experienced was not imaginary but real. This schema is based on the idea of self-transcendence. or to have it stricken. symbolizes eternal conditions. and art can be understood in light of the Western esoteric traditions and their continuing themes of spiritual reading. in alchemical work. 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. rather than diminishing the visionary encounter to mere fantasy. presumably. precisely what is at work also in the visionary encounter. Here we are beginning to develop a schema to see how poetry. playing for keeps. emphasized exactly this point about ideas—that they are not our individual property. of course. and one enters into the new birth. existing in a supraphysical dimension. where the cosmos can be ‘read’ in new ways. and books. or make of one a laughingstock and utter failure.152 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E insights it expresses can exist. . But in fact Bromley’s friend John Pordage. and one has entered a new world. For when a reader engages in a literary work. essays. one turns away from the painting. And we see it in the assertion of the alchemists that alchemical work can bring one to the pinnacle of human possibility. The barriers between self and other become at least a little permeable. writing. but in a ‘space’ within itself leaves room for self and other to meet on the stage of the imagination. Perhaps. these esoteric traditions in general aim for enduring changes in consciousness. And in fact Ralph Waldo Emerson. for example. where to have one’s name in the Book of Life. and in Kabbalistic practice. And indeed.
and may even connect profoundly with each other. For literary immortality is in some respects a ‘second birth’—the author may have long ago died. and other forms of literature are to be found in Western esotericism and its pervasive theme of reading and writing the world. Certainly modern Western literature owes a great. 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 fundamental questions remain. what is the motivation of the author? It was J. the literary work. in the process of creating a fictional world. Such a trajectory is intensified in the case of esotericism. gnostics. Milosz’s insistence that he wrote for a single reader not yet born is perhaps an extreme example. that through this work one attains a kind of immortality. One reads and rereads one’s predecessors’ works until the authors become like old friends. Thus the essential trajectory of both author and reader or artist and audience is toward communion and union. the gnostic. the divine creativity that brought the cosmos into being. Ramon Lull. Jacob Böhme. largely hidden debt to the Western esoteric traditions and to their common theme of the mysticism of the word. Johannes Tauler. perhaps the literary impulse may be seen as a secular reflection of this goal. Yet at the same time. Jane Leade. but reveals an underlying motivation of literary creation—that through this work one will connect profoundly with the consciousness of another. but there is much more to be done. And it may very well be that the origins of modern poetry. Through the medium of the written word or the painting. so too is the author. And one joins the literary community of the ages the way one joins the community of alchemists. John Pordage. the Kabbalist. the Kabbalist. lives on. But regardless of whether one subscribes to a theistic perspective or not. Tolkien who suggested that a poet or author is a kind of “co-creator” reflecting. or Kabbalists—by self-election. the sympathetic reader and the author may meet. Meister Eckhart. If the movement of a given reader ideally is toward self-transcendence. but what came into existence through him. for if the reader is ideally moving toward a momentary union of subject and object.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. And here too is a profound parallel with Western esotericism. where communion and union are an underlying expectation of both author and reader. is to attain paradisal immortality. The deeper we investigate into the origins of modern literature. Secret Societies. Thomas Bromley. the alchemist. If a primary aim of the alchemist. Abraham Abulafia. fiction. R. Works such as Marsha Keith Schuchard’s landmark dissertation Freemasonry. and the gnostic themselves live on for us their readers precisely the same way as does Shakespeare or Dante or Emerson—through written works. one can still find a correspondence between reading and writing. R. their works like second nature. Nicholas . the more we uncover links between major literary figures and various currents of Western esotericism.
emerge from a pervasive human need to discern or restore the hidden unity of all things by reading and writing the world anew. and publicly identified himself as a Christian theosopher in the line of Dionysius the Areopagite and Jacob Böhme. therefore. and consciousness.123 But Berdyaev was also a philosopher. moreover. being Russian and deeply influenced by Eastern Orthodoxy rather than Western European Christianity. esoteric or not. 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. And the reader from his side is seeking to comprehend. In being. taken together. One should not be too surprised at the introduction of Berdyaev’s work here. to be guided by the author. and indeed even God himself. but that also includes those who insist on far higher stakes and greater rewards. that Western esoteric and Western literary and artistic traditions are far more mutually illuminating than we could have guessed. These authors are important for us because their religio-philosophical perspectives. and explicitly seeking to guide the reader toward new and intensified kinds of consciousness. but in every case. 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). which belongs to history and to the constraints of time and space. his work formed a kind of bridge between Eastern and Western Christianities and worldviews. the author is reaching out. 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. and intimately familiar with the history of modern philosophy. where everything in the cosmos is seen as bearing its divine signature. there is no true freedom—true freedom is to be found only in the Ungrund. in the . They exist on a continuum that includes reading or viewing art for diversion or pleasure. Perhaps the symbolism of a novel is an attenuated form of what we find made even more explicit in these esoteric traditions. help explain what I am arguing about the various currents of Western esotericism. to vicariously participate in the author’s understanding. literature. a means for nothing less than the restoration of paradise. Berdyaev tells us.124 The Ungrund.” It may well be. for whom literature and art are the expression and vehicle of spiritual illumination and of the transfiguration of the world. And perhaps all forms of Western literature. for as I have discussed elsewhere. Berdyaev was himself definitely part of Western esotericism. precedes all being. Here we have neither space nor need to survey Berdyaev’s life and work. and how they correspond to what we have learned about Western esotericism. “add it to his own arsenal of power. to in Emerson’s words. but instead will look at his philosophical contributions.154 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Flamel—the list can be extended indefinitely. and place them in a world religious and philosophical context.
to which our categories of thought are not applicable. Nishitani Keiji. and its expression in human creativity. of creativity. the artist. “it is an end of this world. at the center of which is precisely this problem of whether self-other ultimately dissolves into unity. or essayistic creation—one is on the frontier. and what he writes about creativity is revealing when considered in light of the continuous renewal and creative transformations of the Western esoteric traditions. Berdyaev is a philosopher of creativity. and therefore of division. as well as the close ties between those traditions and the arts. particularly the arts of literature. By drawing on the Buddhist tradition. or to put it another way.” he writes. Coming from a Buddhist perspective.” and “is the beginning of a different world. the poet (and the esotericist) all often find themselves marginalized or shunned by their contemporary society because they represent the emergence of newness. For if meontic freedom has its origin in the divine Nichts of absolute transcendence. which extends the division between subject and object beyond death. then how could the indefinite extension of personality.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 155 divine Nothingness prior to existence itself.”125 This assertion of a different order of knowledge certainly describes what we see in the Western esoteric traditions.” Here Berdyaev puts his finger on a fundamental link between esotericism and the creator. or the poet: all are concerned with beginning or entering a new world. “Creative activity. at the point where ontic dissolves into meontic. As Berdyaev points out. Meontic freedom has its origin in sheer transcendence. and especially on the . where one moves from the realm of social necessity or determinism or law into the realm of mystery and freedom. and runs counter to his own recognition of the central importance of Jacob Böhme’s Ungrund in Western philosophical-religious history. Nishitani is certainly familiar with but not limited to the problems inherent in Christian theological paradigms. the artist. but deeply learned in Western and especially German philosophical tradition up to Heidegger. In both cases—in esotericism and in poetic. or whether this division persists into eternity so that the soul is always in some sense separate from God. issues from existential eternity. It is knowledge. To enter into union with mystery is not only the frontier of knowledge. fictional. a different sort of knowledge. of direct contact with the springs of inspiration and human awakening. in contradistinction to the deterministic and merely ontic realm where there can be no real freedom. This true freedom Berdyaev calls meontic. 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. He insists on the importance of an eternal personality. But Berdyaev does not follow his own premises to their logical conclusions. Berdyaev writes that “the creative imagination which demands what is new. And at this point we turn to our second religious philosopher. begins with dissatisfaction with ordinary life.
156 R E S T O R I N G PA R A D I S E Buddhist understanding of shunyata. in which there is nothing to grasp or rely upon.”126 This self-centeredness is the ordinary human condition. . what is the same thing. or rather in unison. “unless the thoughts and deeds of man one and all be located on such a field. egoistic mode of being. “an equality in love. emerges authentic freedom. in which the self-other dichotomy is resolved. and has the effect not of separating. in other words. or perhaps better still. we can see how these apparently disparate views in fact correspond. self-nature as true self-awareness—and the selfness of each and every thing in the form of its suchness come about simultaneously. It is the field on which the awareness of our true selfnature—or. Authentic freedom is beyond merely subjective freedom. Out of this transcendence alone. While this is our own act. and us from them. self-identically. and indeed. self-centered consciousness. it is not something we are free to do as we please .” Authentic freedom is. there is in Western esotericism in all its myriad forms a pervading theme of alphanumeric gnosis. it is the absolute transcendence of self-object divisions belonging to ordinary. that is. In Nishitani’s work. so that “self and other stand simultaneously in the position of absolute master and absolute servant with regard to one another. it is instead absolute autonomy that is at the same time absolute service to all things.”129 Only in the field of shunyata is such mutually affirming freedom possible.”128 True emptiness. and our personality grasps itself from within the personality itself .”127 He defines shunyata as “nothing less than what reaches awareness in all of us as our own absolute self-nature . we see the emergence of a genuine world-philosophical standpoint that allows us to understand more deeply the significance of Western esoteric traditions. we grasp ourselves and thereby get caught by our own reason or personality. Yet there is another field that is not nihility. As we have seen throughout this study. Nishitani affirms. begins where we all are: with our ordinary.” an “absolute openness. This is the field of shunyata. or the emptiness of all things. the sorts of problems that beset humanity have no chance of ever really being solved. or “true emptiness. is beyond definition. . . the choices of the will. One goes through language—the means of human differentiation between self and other—toward the union of self and other.”130 When we turn to the literature of the Western esoteric traditions with Nishitani’s Zen Buddhist-influenced perspective in mind. The force of destiny is at work here. but in modern life we are faced also with nihility. This intensifies our narcissism. . This mode of being is fundamentally self-centered: “our reason grasps itself from the posture of reason. Nishitani is able to point toward the resolution or transcendence of the fundamental dilemmas that face us today. What . Nishitani. but of intimately uniting us with existence at its most essential. of course. with an underlying breach among all things that fundamentally seems to separate them from one another. for faced with nihility. As rational or personal beings. . . one retreats into self even further.
there can be no doubt that the Western esoteric traditions. in the meeting and reading and writing of all the infinite forms that consciousness can take. have at their center this mystery of the word. from a ‘thrown’ or ‘fallen’ condition of divided. that mysterious point out of which the geometry of language emerges. encompassing all manner of hieroglyphs. our authentic self is confirmed: in this is the mystery of literature and ultimately of the union of self and other in consciousness.’ but embodies different orders of knowledge at once. including paintings.M O D E R N I M P L I C AT I O N S 157 appears to be other—the cosmos and the divine—turns out in this process of revealing the fundamental self-other unity to be in fact indivisible from our inner nature. . where to be truly master means to serve in loving compassion. Thus we can see that insofar as it emerges from and draws us toward its own and our own transcendence. write and are written. as the sense of self and other diminishes. for here literature is not merely a collection of ‘signs’ or ‘signifiers. or even linguistic construction. language is indeed divine. alienated consciousness toward a mutuality of awareness that takes place on the infinitely plastic field of the imagination. anything that can be read or written. Such a view of the word is far indeed from seeing literature as merely a social. political. But in any case. The Western esoteric traditions. We read and are read. Hidden within literature truly worth reading and within all great art is a nostalgia for paradise. joined together with one another. for all their diversity. with nature. so Western esotericism suggests. seen as a whole. And the means of conjoining self and other turns out to be precisely what at first seems the principle of separation: language itself. It can lead us. and with the divine in the field of authentic freedom. a calling toward what we are meant to be. take their place among the world’s philosophic and religious traditions as uniquely literary paths toward paradise. Here the word language takes on more than the usual valence. Paradoxically.” And from such knowledge we may pass to what entirely transcends consciousness. This meeting on the field of the imagination I have called “hieroeidetic knowledge.
in this field. Access to Western Esotericism (Albany: State University of New York Press. including Wouter Hanegraaff. 1996) reveals the underlying connections between new religious movements today and their Western esoteric antecedents. which belongs more to the Renaissance and after. who held a chair at the Sorbonne in Western esoteric currents of thought.” Esoterica V (2003): 175–210. whose encyclopedic book New Age Religion and Western Culture: Esotericism in the Mirror of Secular Thought (Leiden: Brill. and readers would do well to become familiar with it. 1994). I also retain the distinction maintained by Antoine Faivre between Hermetism (the current associated with Hermes belonging to late antiquity) and Hermeticism. 3. Mysticism and Language (New York: Oxford University Press.aseweb. published a large body of work outlining and detailing numerous aspects of esotericism. 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. mostly by North American scholars.edu. 159 .org.edu ] for articles. See Hanegraaff.Notes INTRODUCTION 1. “Methods in the Study of Esotericism.msu. ibid. There are a number of other scholars now working in this field as well. For an overview of Western esotericism.esoteric.. see Antoine Faivre. See Steven Katz. 4. 1992). Faivre.esoteric.” Esoterica IV (2002): 1–15 and “Methods in the Study of Esotericism Part II.msu. 2. 5. See also the journal Esoterica [www. See the definition of the Association for the Study of Esotericism [ASE] and more information on this growing field at www. the official Web site of the ASE. ed. a Dutch scholar. The State University of New York Press series of books in Western esotericism edited by David Applebaum also represents an important contribution to this field. See Arthur Versluis. See www. much of it in French.
Paul: Paragon House. 1965). 5. CHAPTER ONE 1. See Versluis. See my discussion in Gnosis and Literature (St. CHAPTER TWO 1. 2000). 76–106. 2. 3. See Arthur Versluis. 145. 11. 37 ff. 248. 180.” Studies in Spirituality 7(1997): 228–241. pp. trs. 2000).160 NOTES TO CHAPTER ONE 6. 12. p. 1999). 111. 4. 1974). 223.. See Gershom Scholem. The Bestiary of Christ (New York: Parabola. Jean La Fontaine. p. Peers. p. 140. 1996) of Piers Ploughman. 10. p. Victor Sogen Hori. 4. Pordage writes that the invisible paradisal earth of Sophia is hidden from ratiocination and even scoffed at by those limited to reasoning alone. See. See Faivre. 5. Nag Hammadi Library. pp. 219–233. see also Wisdom’s Children: A Christian Esoteric Tradition (Albany: State University of New York Press. Theosophic Correspondence (Exeter: Roberts. 13. Ramon Lull. but they like everyone have access to this inward realm all the same. The Book of the Lover and the Beloved. 1986).. pp. Paul. for an explicit example of this inward sojourn and perception. 7. The Koan: Texts and Context in Zen Buddhism (New York: Oxford University Press.. Wisdom’s Book: The Sophia Anthology (St. Initiation (Manchester: Manchester University Press. 8. Myths. p. See ibid.. pp. Lyrics of the Troubadours and Trouvères (New York: Anchor. 10–15. 51–89. p. pp. 307. p.. All of this is to be found in the ninth chapter of Parzival. see also Scholem. see also Dionysius the Areopagite on like and unlike images. and Mysteries (New York: Harper. “Christian Theosophy and Ancient Gnosticism.. 1991). see also Faivre L’Ésotérisme (Presses Universitaries de France. ed. Sophia. “Koan and Kensho in the Rinzai Zen Curriculum” in Stephen Heine and Dale Wright. 2000). On the Kabbalah and Its Symbolism (New York: Schocken. 151. See Versluis. 1996). (London: Sheldon. Ibid. 309. pp. Paragon House. Dreams. 6. See Frederick Goldin. p. Kabbalah (Jerusalem: Keter. pp. 1863). 18 ff. Wisdom’s Book: The Sophia Anthology (St. 9. Paul: Grail. E. 3. whether they know it or not. cit. p. Mircea Eliade. eds. 2. Gnosis and Literature (St. . Louis-Claude de Saint-Martin. 1973). op. in Arthur Versluis. Nag Hammadi Library. pp. Translation is mine. 1992). 14–21. 14. See Charbonneau. 1975). 97. pp. 1978). 83 ff. John Pordage. See the fifteenth chapter of Parzival. Paul: Grail.
31. Ibid. op. 57. 1969). 33. p. p. vom Stein der Weisen (Berlin: Christian Ulrich Ringmacher. 26. Simon. op. 16. 1987). 14. eds.77. pp.. Twersky. 278. .. 34. p. 22. see also Moshe Idel.76. p. p. as well as Antoine Faivre and F. Dan. cit. 394. 8.. Opera omnia.312. C. 32. Gershom Scholem. 7. 49–50. Ibid. p.80 ff. The Christian Interpretation of the Cabala in the Renaissance (Port Washington: Kennikat. 57. See Moshe Idel. Bonner. See Scholem. p. Ibid. See. Ibid.205b–206a. 1986). 280. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.. 1953) I. p. See Arthur Edward Waite.. 15. Joseph Blau. 21. See A. A translation of Ars Brevis is to be found in Ramon Lull. trs. Ibid. 12. 18.. Origins of the Kabbalah (Princeton: Princeton University Press. The Early Kabbalah (Paulist Press. 1979). See “Oration on the Dignity of Man” in E. op. ed. 1983). 30.. I. The Books of Contemplation (Albany: State University of New York Press. 36. 250. I. p.205b. Ibid. Ibid. 29. See Verman.. I. 24.314.. 101–102. 59.. 20. and Françoise Secret. 13. 270. 29.. 28. 11. 61. 17... 27.. p. 23. Ibid. 197.. for instance.. et al. I. See Pico della Mirandola.. (Princeton: Princeton University Press. Origins. 1992). 38. Ibid.. 197. p. cit. p. I. 51. Cassirer. ed. 1984). 25. 1964). 52. pp.. trs. See J. II. Doctor Illuminatus.. 1985). A. 1965). see also Scholem. 1988). Ibid. 1779). p.. ed. cit. See Verman. Scholem. Ibid. The Renaissance Philosophy of Man (Chicago: University of Chicago Press.C. I. Ibid. Ibid. Vasoli. II. 9. 246.351. Les Kabbalistes chrétiens de la Renaissance (Paris: Dunod. Origins. 35. IV . Cassirer. Tristan. Ibid.325. 19.NOTES TO CHAPTER TWO 161 6.. in The Zohar. 37.71.320–323. 66. Rabbi Moses Nahmanides: Explorations. 10. (Hildesheim: Olms. 298 ff. ed.B. ed. Kabbalistes chrétiens (Paris: Albin Michel. 1961). The Hermetic Museum (London: Watkins. Ibid. p. II. M. I.75. (London: Soncino. See Mark Verman. II.331. Origins. p. p. p. Kabbalah: New Perspectives (New Haven: Yale University Press. Zohar IV .
See Josten. Ibid. Confessio.M. 77. 61.. See Versluis. p. 253... William Huffman.O. See Versluis. 1784). II. 50. I have translated this work of Pordage. The texts of the Fama and Confessio in English are most easily found as appendices to Yates. p. Ashmole. I. p. Yates. a musician. 49.. M. “Christian Theosophy and Ancient Gnosticism” in Studies in Spirituality (Fall. University of Texas at Austin. Ibid.. Ibid. Fama. (Cassel: Wessel. Josten. 1615). 55. Ibid.. 252. p. 1971). 242. Hall. for text. Frances Yates. . The Tessera of Antilia: Utopian Brotherhoods and Secret Societies in the Early Seventeenth Century (Leiden: Brill. 238. 59. ed. Ibid. Ibid. for the reader’s convenience. Robert Fludd and the End of the Renaissance (London: Routledge. 57. See.. 54. and others. p.102–104. Confessio. p.. 42. 1997). 41. p. . table of contents. p. p.P. 48. 129. The original (short) titles of Fama and Confessio were Allgemeine und General Reformation. See. a theologian. Wisdom’s Children: A Christian Esoteric Tradition (State University of New York Press. The first English translation was published by Thomas Vaughan in 1652. The following page references are to Yates. This commentary was shared with people from diverse walks. 221. 220. C. ms. 53.O. 51. Fama. a cosmologist. in a group called the Round Table.. cit. I. and even chart them astrologically. 47. 1966). Ibid.162 NOTES TO CHAPTER TWO 39. For an excellent survey of the scholarship since Yates. 1998). 1614) and Secretioris Philosophiae Considertio brevis . 49. 1988).A. Elias Ashmole (Oxford: Clarendon.. From von Welling.77. 1972). 1999). Confessio. 62. 255. 246. D.. Ibid. (Los Angeles: Philosophical Research. 60. Freemasonry. especially on Gichtel’s and other theosophers’ tendency to carefully date their revelations.D. Ibid.: A Rare and Curious Manuscript of Rosicrucian Interest. 43. Opus Mago-Cabbalisticum et Theosophicum (Frankfurt: Fleischerischum. Ibid. 1975).A. See Codex Rosae Crucis D. p. see Donald Dickson. and also written an extensive commentary on it. 371. 56. 260. p. Ibid. diss.. Confessio. p.681. See Frances Yates. 241. 40. p. 44. op. and The Rosicrucian Enlightenment. ed.. p. including two physicists. See Versluis. Fama. p. Ashmole... Ibid. The Alchemy of Art. for background. p. . . Theatre of the World. Resicrucian Enlightenment. 46.. 58. 257.. and the Continuity of the Occult in English Literature (Ph. See also Marsha Schuchard. der gantzen weiten welt . 251. forthcoming. p. . p. The Rosicrucian Enlightenment (London: Routledge. Ibid. Fama. 37. H. p. (Cassel: Wessel. 67. 52. 63.M. 45. 22. Secret Societies.
. pp. 417. (New York: Crossroad. 5. p. Ibid. 247–249. 71. 65. 66. ed. 1680–1800 (Boston: Little. 10. S. Ibid. 256. 69. p. . Paul: Grail. pp. the Reformation. 7. 11.. 1734). The Occult in Soviet and Russian Culture (Ithaca: Cornell University Press. as is in fact suggested in Bernice Rosenthal. Max Ernst and Alchemy (Austin: University of Texas Press. Chavalier Ramsey (London: Nelson.” 99–134. . CHAPTER THREE 1. 162–168. 1992). 170–171. especially in Kristi Groberg’s “‘The Shade of Lucifer’s Dark Wing’: Satanism in Silver Age Russia. 4. It may well be that a closer investigation of symbolist and surrealist poetry and art would further reveal its affinities to Satanism. p. ed. 1985). pp. See “Le manuscrit graham” in La franc-maçonnerie: documents.. 1997). A. See Marsha Keith Schuchard. 68. 240. p. The Hermetic Book of Nature (St. 66–67. 2001). See also Schuchard.. V de L.NOTES TO CHAPTER THREE 163 64. M. D. 654. 172–173. p. Milton and Jacob Boehme (New York: Oxford: 1914). 268. Ibid. Certainly surrealism and related movements such as symbolism provide much more complicated examples than we can deal with here. Beyond Painting and Other Writings by the Artist and His Friends (New York: Wittenborn.. pp. 1967). pp. and Social Change (London: Macmillan. and without doubt there are bizarre and even deliberately inverted elements in much of surrealism. On Emerson and Hermeticism. Faivre. p. Ibid. Brown. “Freemasonry and Esotericism. 70. see Versluis. See Edmond Mazet. 414. 6. M. p. 67.. Ibid. . 1997). p. Franklin. O. H. 253. 39. The Constitutions of the Free-masons: Containing the history. Un aventurier religieux au XVIIe siècle (Paris: Perrin. changes. pp. Ibid.” in Modern Esoteric Spirituality. Revolution and Freemasonry. op. p. 409. Sloane. . Restoring the Temple of Vision: Cabalistc Freemasonry and Stuart Culture (Leiden: Brill. 257–272. 9. see also Max Ernst. 110. Religion. Milosz. believed that surrealism drew on esoteric currents in a confused way. fondateurs (Paris: l’Herne. (London [Philadelphia]: B. citing B. The Noble Traveller (West Stockbridge: Lindisfarne. E.. cit. 3. See Dickson. See M. and Margaret Bailey. regulations . 1992). Ibid. 1935). 1948). Warlick. Freemasonry.. Hugh Trevor-Roper. Charge I. 2. 2002). Ibid. p. and Albert Cherél. 1952). 170–171. 8. See George David Henderson. See also Bernard Fay. pp. 1926). Mazet. 191. See James Anderson.
27. Ibid. 19. in her search to translate the inner meaning of material reality” (p. pp. p.. 300. pp. Hermetica (Boston: Shambhala. for a translation of Hymns to the Night. Ibid. 24. p. For the poet of the modernist era. 204–205.. p. 226–227. D. 8–9. Friedman writes that “From her [H. pp. Ibid. trs. . See Versluis. p. 48–52. Milosz. 41. 30. 465. The question... 37. For a more extensive study. 22. pp. 29. Ibid. p. 299. 16. is into what did she translate this inner meaning. cit. For a discussion of Postel in relation to Christian theosophy. Susan Friedman. 1994). pp. Lib. 182–183.’s] perspective. 180–181. 2001). Ibid. 296. Ibid. 35. see Versluis. of course. Ibid. see Steven Bullock. p. 31. Ibid. 33. Milosz.. The ‘true-rune and right spell’ of esoteric tradition contained the code for H. 23. See W.164 NOTES TO CHAPTER THREE 12. 13. See Versluis.. 157–206. 206–207. Ibid. 1982). 25. ed. 277. Ibid.. 1996). pp. Ibid. 178–179. Ibid. .. and to what end? One might hope that critics would eventually cease to assume that there is always only a single thing called “esoteric tradition. 39. 1981). Psyche Reborn (Bloomington: Indiana University Press. 32. D.” synonymous with “hermetic tradition. p... ranging from entirely cosmological ones such as astrology or the Tarot to more metaphysical or gnostic ones.. . I. 158). 26. 38. Ibid. pp. Theosophia: Hidden Dimensions of Christianity (Hudson: Lindisfarne. 299–300. Ibid. Ibid. cit. pp.. 248. 464. H..” when in fact there are numerous different esoteric currents of a wide variety. 18... I. D. pp.. Notes on Thought and Vision (San Francisco: New Directions. 210–211. 303.. 174–175. pp. 40. p. the harsh world of necessity that Freud described is itself the “rune” that must be deciphered.1 ff. op. pp. 224–225. 469. hermetic tradition offered a pattern of meaning in coded form to the initiate . 455. pp.115. Ibid. 15. op. Milosz. introduction by Albert Gelpi. Ibid. 297–298.. p. Revolutionary Brotherhood: Freemasonry and the Transformation of the American Social Order (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press. Ibid. Milosz. 21. 1989). op. 36. cit. pp. 20. 17.. 1985). Ibid. The Esoteric Origins of the American Renaissance (New York: Oxford University Press. 34. p.... 14. Ibid. pp. 28. Scott. Pollen and Fragments: Selected Poetry and Prose of Novalis (Grand Rapids: Phanes.
NOTES TO CHAPTER THREE 165 42. 70. 21. 39. 18. 23. and in particular his novel Angel at the Western Window [Der Engel . 43. 225–246.” pp. See M. 50–51. Ibid.. 66. The Gift (Gainesville: University Press Florida.. Kathleen Raine. 154–155. Ibid. 29..” 1. rpt.. Selected Poems (Hudson: Lindisfarne. Georg Heinrich Loskiel. 69. p.. 72. Geschichte der Mission der Evangelischen Brüder unter den Indianern in Nordamerika (rpt: Hildesheim: Olms. 1989)..” 17. 9. 54. 102. 75. p.. 223. p. Gutkin’s article strongly supports the fundamental thesis we are here exploring. 52. Vale Ave in New Directions in Prose and Poetry (New York: 1950.. 59. 68. H. 222. 13. 74. hereafter cited as TG. 57. 1.. Ibid. 49. See H. 46. 259. The Gift.. ed. Ibid. Ibid.. See Jane Augustine. 55. Rimius.. 73. Ibid. 1997). H. Ibid. in her “Zinzendorf Notes. See. for documentation. see also.. Ibid. on alchemy and ‘the occult’ in earlytwentieth-century Russia..” 30–31. Ibid. D. 168. 61. 156–159. 17–19. Futurism. p. Ibid.. pp. 32. chief among them Gustav Meyrink. The Gift.. 60. 45. Kraus. 53. 165. p. 71. 1998). of course.. Irina Gutkin. and I certainly recommend her article. Warlick. A Candid Narrative (London: 1753). Ibid. as well as this entire collection of articles. There are. 50.. D. Ibid. D. 33. Ibid. “Notes. Ibid. Ibid.. 58.. D. D. Social Realism” in B.. 63. Ibid. 35. p. “Walls. The Occult in Russian and Soviet Culture (Ithaca: Cornell University Press. 70...” on which see TG. p. 67. 19. “The Magic of Words: Symbolism. 66.. p.. 24. Rosenthal. Ibid.. 157. See H. pp. pp. other authors we could consider here.. D. 271–272. Ibid. 48. Ibid. 62.. 21. 284–285. p. These passages were transcribed by H. 64. 65. 1988). 44. 56. 67. Ibid. E. H. 51. 20. Max Ernst and Alchemy: A Magician in Search of a Myth (Austin: University of Texas Press. 169. 20. 47. ed. p. pp. H. p. Ibid. 1967). Ibid. 50... “The Walls Do Not Fall. p. D. “Tribute to the Angels. 2001).
76. Fortune. But Meyrink’s works are complex enough to deserve a study in themselves.. p. p. Ibid. 100. Ibid. Access to Western Esotericism (State University of New York Press. 322. 95. 80. See Collins. 101. pp. op.. The Vision of the Fool and Other Writings (Ipswich: Golgonooza. Yeats. See for instance. 239.. I. That Hideous Strength (Macmillan: 1965 ed. p. B. Taverner (Columbus: Ariel.. The Magical World of the Inklings. 82–83. 1990). p. 81. Collins. 320. 102. 101. p. E. 115. Ibid. pp. The Magical World of the Inklings (Shaftesbury: Element. Ibid. p. retained his magical regalia in his office. p. Dion Fortune. maintaining our focus on the Inklings.d. S. 1994). n. Pages from a Sketchbook (Ipswich: Golgonooza. p. 382. p. (London: Quaritch.. Lewis. Ibid. Dion Fortune. 94. noted hereafter as Vision. including Fortune’s. p. 96. 82.. 99. 84. 88. 154. 124–125. 127. 70–71. Ibid. . Southey. 95. op. 1988) p. 21. 91. Letters from England (London: Longman. so I have decided not to include them here. p.. in The Sea Priestess (York Beach: Weiser ed. The Secrets of Dr. hereafter noted as Meditations. C. pp. pp. and Meditations. 291. Faivre.. 1893). p. Faivre. 1993). See Antoine Faivre. See on this point. Ellis and W.. 103. ed. 3 vols. 77. and his intensifying “strange awareness” as a function of his magical apprenticeship with Vivien Le Fay Morgan. 86. Meditations. 1997).. C. op. 323. Lewis. 78. Ibid.. Ibid. p. p. p. p. 90. The Winged Bull (York Beach: Weiser ed. 43. cit. 20–21. 197. Collins. Ibid. 93. 79. 92..). 89. 88. Essays Presented to Charles Williams (Oxford University Press: 1947)... p. 91. Ibid. Gareth Knight. 87. Poems. 104–104. Subsequent references are to Cecil Collins. p. 83. Vision. 1994). cit. Maxwell’s account of his growing understanding of the elemental forces like wind and fire.25. 40. Ibid. and while his experience in magical ritual has been downplayed by some literary critics. Williams was a member of Arthur Edward Waite’s magical fraternity.. 112. 87. Vision.). p. 1814). for a discussion of contemporary esoteric magical groups. without doubt had direct experience in magical initiation that was reflected in his fiction. Moon Magic (York Beach: Weiser. 102... Ibid. 40. and their circles in mid-twentieth-century England. Gareth Knight. 97. 10. 1994) p. Ibid. Dion Fortune. The Works of William Blake. 85. S. 98. pp.166 NOTES TO CHAPTER THREE vom westlichen Fenster] (1927). cit..
113. p. 25 ff. Theosophia: Hidden Dimensions of Christianity (Hudson: Lindisfarne. Ibid. 123. Ibid. 1997) p. Ibid. Ibid.. 115. Ibid. Song and Its Fountains (Burdett: Larson. 118. “Vorrede. Ibid. 62. 130. IV . See Berdyaev’s introduction to Jacob Böhme’s Six Theosophic Points (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan. See also The Destiny of Man. “Warnung an den Leser. Ibid. The Beginning and the End (New York: Harper. 199. See. p. from “The Magic of Words: Symbolism. 114. 95. 106.NOTES TO CHAPTER THREE 167 104. Ibid. p. 111. 128.. 108 ff. Futurism. Ibid.” in B. 122. Nicolas Berdyaev: Theologian of Prophetic Gnosticism (Th. 94.29–30. 112. Nicholas Berdyaev. 126. 170. p. p. The Way to Christ (New York: Paulist Press. 127. 107. 71 ff. 1980).. p.” and I. 117. pp. p. p. 275 ff. p. Christosophia IV . See Charles C.. 109. E. 121. 129. 63. Christosophia... 40. p. See my overview of Christian theosophy in Magic and Mysticism. 125. Ibid. 105.. pp. “Ancient Gnosticism and Christian Theosophy” in Studies in Spirituality (Fall 1997). 1957). p. Ibid. Ibid.” 108.31. 1994).. for example. See Versluis.. Peter Erb. II. Versluis. 106. 285. 103.. pp.. . 1958). 39. Knapp. Ibid. The Occult in Russian and Soviet Culture (Ithaca: Cornell University Press. forthcoming. Irina Gutkin. Bromley’s is the image on the cover of my book Theosophia (1994).1 ff. 116.31.. Rosenthal. Freedom and the Spirit. Socialist Realism. 110. Ibid. Nishitani Keiji.D. 93. 120... p.. A. 225. 124. 1991).. ed.. 194 ff. Diss. I. p. 78. p. Ibid. Religion and Nothingness (Berkeley: University of California Press. p. 62–63.. 74. pp. 119. trs. Ibid. 40 and pp.1. 1978). p. pp... Toronto: 1948). 105. I added the colors.
31 Basilius Valentinus. 25 Apocalypse of Ezra. 18 Arnold of Villanova. Franz von. 99 Dickinson. Moses. 97. 56 Amor Proximi. 140. 52. 46 Christ. 82–83 169 . 25 Ashmole. 56 Bahir. 10. 59. 5. 64. 80. John. 81–82 Dee. 24. James. Heinrich Cornelius. 4. 139. 28. 129–135 Comenius. Al-Rhazi [Rhazes]. Abraham. 93. 152 Brahe. Henry. 80 Böhme. 2. William. 72 Consciousness. Tibetan. 83 Apocalypse of Baruch. 105 Christianity [origins of]. 56 Art. 28. 53 A. 79 Backhouse. Francis. initiatory nature of. 148 Barrett. 141 Agrippa. Elias. 56 Baader. 53. Thomas. 59 Dante. 5. 154–155 Bernart de Ventadorn. 35–43. 141–142. 55–67. 20. Emily. 45 Chaucer. 76 Buddhism. 129. 40–41. 48 Corpus Hermeticum. Jacob. 63. 57. 47. 68–71. 138 Basilides. Sir Thomas. 1 Collins. Cecil. 93. 97 Cremer. 53. ix. Arthur. 77 Bromley. 2 Aurea Catena. 81 Bruno. 80–82 Astrology. 78. 82–83 Confessio Fraternitatis. 42–43 Chemical Wedding of Christian Rosencreutz. 1. 51. 17–19 Clement of Alexandria. 148–150 Alchemy. 31. 30. 154 Book of Life. Roger. 96 Berdyaev. 42. Geoffrey. 147 Buddhism. 89. 63 Anderson. 68. 82 Bacon. 66 Corbin. 14. 81. Giordano. Tycho.INDEX Abulafia. William. 102. Nicholas. 129. 96 Dee. 27–28. 18. Abbot. 17 Blake. John. John. 143–144. 28–29. 31 Cloud of Unknowing. 81–82 Descartes.E. 142. 150 Browne. 95. René. 25 Apuleius. 24. 11 Dury. 94. 28. 57 Beatrice. 40 Bible.. 22 Cordovero. 75 Chivalry. 5. 137 Boethius. 94. 61–62. 154 Dogen. 90. 130–133 Ascension of Isaiah. 75. 78. 104 Dionysius the Areopagite.
129 Kelley. Samuel. 78 Gnosis. Christian. 46. Robert. 84. 29 Mazet. Ramon. 103 Fuller. 83. Albert.. 29 Hiram. 122 Koan. 106 Eschenbach. Johann Wolfgang. 100 Hirst. 89–103 Hermetism. 72–73 Faust. 43–45. 1 Keeble. Victor Sogen. 42. Mircea. 120–122. 103. 21 Heydon. 9. 2. 100 Marcus. 120. 22. 140 La Fontaine. 90. 72 Jabir ibn Hayyan [Geber]. 89. 97. 56 Fludd. Edward. 31 Melville. 107. 12–15. 88-89. 104 Gichtel. 26–31. 101 Freemasonry. 79 Hieroedetic knowledge. 56 Jerusalem. Joseph de. 50. 153 Homer. 77 Gelpi. ix. 77 Flamel. 5. 25 Hinduism. 102 Lee. 127 Frankenberg. 7–8. ix. 50. 151 Merswin. 80–81 Fortune. 57 Eleazar of Worms. Abraham von. Gareth. 140 Eirenaeus Philalethes. 1. Nicholas. 105 Eliade. 76 Maistre. Herman. Book of. Jewish. 2. 37 Esoteric Origins of the American Renaissance. 137 Goethe. 25 John. Joseph Edward. 35. 104. 52–54 Kabbalah. 56 Maier. 2. 19. 10–12. Jewish. Georg Heinrich. Jane. Meister. 111 Geheime Figuren. 5 Hori. Rulman. Désirée. 8–9 Isaac the Blind. 104. 69 Franklin. Francis. 155 Hermes [Trismegistus]. 8.S. 109 Hermeticism. Johannes. 101–102 Frey. Irina. 65. 111 Esotericism [defined]. 84 Lewis. 19.. 2. 103–119 Hardenberg. 18–21.. 19–21. 109. 21–22 Hermetica. T. 123–126. 51 Eleusinian Mysteries. 79–86. C. 102 Ernst. 57–59. 68. 112 Friedman. 102 Leade. Benjamin. 54. Andreas. John. 7–8 Esotericism. 27–28 Gnosticism. Wolfram von. 9 Eliot. 127–128 Fama Fraternitatis. 123. Michael. 82 Knight. Edmond. Johann Georg. 89. 112 Lull. 111 Emerson. 82–83 Heidegger. 28. 51 Islam. Carlos. 19 Faivre. Jean.D. Steven. Friedrich von [Novalis]. 53. 100. 22–24 Initiation. 8–9 Larronde. 46–52. 56. 21. Ralph Waldo. 95 Hartlib. 76. Margaret. 99 Grail cycle. 36–39 Gutkin. Susan. John Scotus. 85 Merkabah mysticism. 4. 75. Dion. 11 Hutton. 139 H. 40 . 63. 153–154 Eriugena. 138 Katz. 19 Kabbalah [or Cabala]. Brian. 126. 105. 140 Hippolytus. 55 Koran. 112 Imagination. Max. Antoine. 127 Loskiel.170 INDEX Eckhart.S. 30. Martin. 44. 104. 89.
89–103. 56. 21. 105. 2 Postel. 68. 53 Rilke. Gershom. 76 Parzival. 152 Richter. 115 Pythagoras. 64. 5 Minotaur. 64 Roberts. 43 Synesius. 59. 9. 99 Philip. 140 Templars. 8 Rosicrucianism. 30–31 Pico della Mirandola. 57. 148 Seidel. 56 Origen. 51. Johannes. 5. 69. 63. Gillaume. Samuel. Emanuel. 2. ix. 4 Shakespeare. 99. 8 Nishitani Keiji. 50 Schuchard. 13. 53. Gustav. 11 Russian literature. Marguerite. Milton. 56 Swedenborg. 21 Poiret. 5. 17. 92. 26–27 Moravians. 39–40 Solovyov. 108. Henry. 52 Pansophy. 46. 103. Christian. 116 Self. 48 Mysticism. 152 . 140 Tauler. Martinez de. 120. 32 Plato. 67–69. 25. 87–88. 63 Rici. Louis-Claude de. Book of. Andrew Michael. 113. 18.R. 52 Piers Ploughman. 114–115 Thenaud. 89. Joseph. 79.. 90 Porete. 53 Theosophy. Sir Walter. 105.INDEX 171 Meyrink. 140 Tao te ching. 103 Pyrlaeus. 99. 90. 138 Stellatus. 18.R. 112 Ripley. Johannes. 92. 53 Theseus. 69. 90 Milosz. 139 Saint Martin. 112–113 Morienus. Bernadette. 4 Reuchlin. 102 Sophia [Wisdom]. 14–15. 110 Southey. 3 Raimbaut d’Orange. 119 Raleigh. 116 Nature [concept of]. 103. 23–26. 108 Rimius. 32. J. 84 Reading. 70. 115. Jean. 90 Talmud. 153 Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. 19. 153 Schwaller de Lubicz. Robert. 73. 75–78 Paracelsus. 47–48. 85. René. 109. Johann Christoph. Pierre. 66 New Age. Paulus. Czeslaw. 14. 154–156 Norton. George. 71–76 Rousseau. 56 Moses de Leon. 76 Sufism. 37–38 Pascal. sacred. Thomas. 150. 148 Platonic archetypes. 141 . 2 Nag Hammadi Library. 84 Pordage. William. Rainer Marie. Vladimir. 99 Prospero. Blaise.. 2. 123 Poimandres. 118 Ramsay. 136 Science and objectification. 58 Numbers. 29 Pre-Socratics. 79. 46. 101 Prajnaparamita Sutra. 25 Native Americans (and Moravians). 137. 26 Tolkien. 87–88. 74. 94. 36. 6 Sefer Yezirah. Gospel of. 92. Marsha Keith. 60. Kathleen. 19. 52–53 Revelation. 29–30 Olympiadorus. John. 99 Pasqually. 40 Raine. Jean. O. 47. 99 Scholem. 102 Science [and the sciences].V ix. 115. 40 Milosz. 148 Radical ecology. John.
George. 111. Arthur. 110. 55. 104. 67–69 Upanishads. 53 Versluis. Adam. 35–43 Ungrund. M. 148 Zen Buddhism. 63.172 INDEX Trevor-Roper. Jean-Baptiste. 103.E. 82 Troubadours.B. W. 64. Georg von. 31 Viterbo. 103. 137. 9. 106 Washington. 112–113 Zohar. Hugh. 84 Williams. Egidio Cardinal. 89. 48. 156 Zinzendorf. Frances. 116 Yates. 120. 140 Valentinus. ix. 10. 79 Willermoz. 10.. 69–70 Universalism [esoteric]. 103. ix. 111 Warlick. 86 Welling. 56 . 88. 75 Yeats. David. Charles. 10. 2.. Nicholas. 101 Weishaupt. 122–123 Williamson. 148 Zosimos.
org.msu. 1998). Tradition (Albany: State University of New York Press. readers will find many further avenues of research by a wide variety of contributing scholars. 1967) and Pansophie (Berlin: Erich Schmidt. notably Gabalia (Berlin: Erich Schmidt. Important anthologies of scholarship in the field include Antoine Faivre and Jacob Needleman.. (Graz: Akademische. as well as the series by Karl Frick titled Die Erleuchteten (Graz: Akademische.edu) and to visit the Web site of the Association for the Study of Esotericism [ASE] at www. and Antoine Faivre and Wouter Hanegraaff.Suggestions for Further Study A standard reference for scholars and a general introduction to Western esotericism as a field of study is Antoine Faivre. 2 vols. 1973) and Licht und Finsternis. 1992). Imagination. I should note that the two volumes by Cecil Collins cited in Restoring Paradise have subsequently been 173 . (Leuven: Peeters. A useful historical overview is Jean-Paul Corsetti’s Histoire de l’ésotérisme et des sciences occultes (Paris: Larousse. along with its companion book. 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. In the voluminous Ésotérisme. 1975). Modern Esoteric Spirituality (New York: Crossroad. Access to Western Esotericism (Albany: State University of New York Press. 1992). Earlier. 1998). 2000). Theosophy. Gnoses. and Imaginaire Symbolique: Mélange offerts á Antoine Faivre edited by Joscelyn Godwin et al. Western Esotericism and the Science of Religion (Leuven: Peeters. Gnosis and Hermeticism: From Antiquity to Modern Times (Albany: State University of New York Press. important if sometimes a bit uneven background works in the field include the books of Will-Erich Peuckert. 1994). 2001).aseweb. as well as Roelof van den Broek and Wouter Hanegraaff. Readers may also wish to consult the journals ARIES and Esoterica (www. 1998). eds.esoteric. 1956).
2000). enlarged edition (Ipswich: Golgonooza. Paul: Grail. 1996). Wisdom’s Book: A Sophia Anthology (St. 1994). Many of my own previous and forthcoming books also deal with themes and subjects touched on in Restoring Paradise—in particular.174 SUGGESTIONS FOR FURTHER STUDY combined into a single volume entitled The Vision of the Fool and Other Writings. Wisdom’s Children: A Christian Esoteric Tradition (Albany: State University of New York Press. 1999). as well as The Mysteries of Love: Eros and Spirituality (St. Paul: Grail. 2001). and The Esoteric Origins of the American Renaissance (New York: Oxford University Press. edited by Brian Keeble. Paul: Paragon House. 1996). This is a beautifully produced book and highly recommended. Gnosis and Literature (St. and Theosophia: Hidden Dimensions of Christianity (Hudson: Lindisfarne. 2002). .
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