Part 1 of 2 (Chapters I-VII) [Part 2]
A Treatise on Spiritual Alchemy
By E. J. LANGFORD GARSTIN
This copy was scanned by hermetics.org. from the original 1930 copy.
Edward John Langford Garstin was a prominent member of the Alpha and Omega (A:.O:.), a later development of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. He was the author of two published works primarily on Spiritual Alchemy. The other being "The Secret Fire" (1932), which is published on our website.
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The Title selected for this short treatise may at first sight appear to be either very ambitious or presumptuous or even both. Alternatively it may be held to be misleading on the ground that this is not really a practical textbook.
It would therefore appear advisable, from the very start, to warn the intending reader that no claim is made herein to any special knowledge of the Art other than that which can be gleaned from the careful study of the published works of the Alchemical writers, and the use of such powers of insight and intuition regarding their admittedly involved and cryptic phraseology as the author may possess.
Of necessity various subjects usually classed under the general heading of Occultism will have to be considered, and some preliminary remarks under this head may not be inappropriate.
Many people fight shy of Occultism because of its undesirable associations in their minds with credulity and superstition, neurotics and hysteria, charlatanry and fraud, and because they are accustomed to regard what genuine residuum there may be left as consisting in undesirable and dangerous practices.
On reflection, however, it will be found that the same impression is prevalent in toto among many regarding Spiritualism, and in part regarding Mysticism, while the Orthodox Religions do not escape altogether scatheless.
It is not intended herein to indulge in apologetics on behalf of Occultism, which, divested of the illusions held about it, is quite capable of speaking for itself as it were, and requires no defence. It is merely proposed to discuss what is termed Theurgia, which is the practical part of Spiritual Alchemy, as far as the limits of space and the avoidance of undue technicalities will permit.
Theurgy, denned a little more carefully, means "The Science or Art of Divine Works," and it is the same as the Telestic or Perfecting Work. In Alchemy it is called the "Great Work," which is the purification and exaltation of the lower nature by the proper application of scientific principles, so that it may become united with its higher counterparts, whereby the individual may attain to Spiritual, and ultimately Divine, Consciousness.
By scientific principles are to be understood "known principles," though the fact that these are not generally known is the origin of the term "occult," which merely means, according to the dictionary, "escaping observation, not discovered without test or experiment," which definitions apply with equal force to any department of scientific research.
Were this definition more commonly recognised, it is possible that there would be less misleading talk and less misunderstanding on the part of the opponents of the Arcane Sciences than there are at present, and that there would not be so much condemnation where there has been no previous careful investigation.
We would also say a word by way of apology to the reader who may feel that we have made too lavish a use of quotations. Our object is twofold. Firstly, that no one may imagine that they have to rely merely upon the speculations of some dilettante dabbler in the Occult Sciences, but that they may see for themselves the sources from which our conclusions are drawn. Secondly, because we feel unable to improve upon the sayings of these writers, save only by bringing together the references that are not merely scattered through their various works, but also, on their own confession, placed very often out of their proper sequence and
relationship even in their individual books. Passages thus correlated often assume fresh importance, and from them, sometimes, the unexpected truth emerges. If we have to any extent succeeded in thus throwing light upon the sayings of the sages, however little it may be, we shall have more than achieved our object.
Theurgy or the Telestic Work, was the very essence of the teaching of the Mystery Schools of Egypt, of Samothrace and of Eleusis; of Zoroaster, of Mithra and of Orpheus. And in Egypt, the cradle of them all, were initiated many of the outstanding men of their day, such as Pythagoras, Plato, Demokritos, Eudoxus, Archimedes, Chrysippos, Euripides, Proklos, Thales and many others.
In addition many of the Fathers of the Church, such as Clement of Alexandria, Cyrillus and Synesius, were also initiated into the Mysteries and regarded them as sacred and efficacious, transferring in part the very la.nguage, rites and disciplines of them to their own forms of worship, as is even to-day apparent.
Proklos tells us that "The Perfective Rite leads the way as the muesis or mystic initiation, and after that is the epopteia or beholding."
Plato calls Zoroastrian Magic "The Service of the Gods," and Psellus affirms that "Its function is to initiate or perfect the human soul by the power of materials here on earth, for the supreme faculty of the soul cannot by its own guidance aspire to the sublimest intuitions, and to the comprehension of Divinity."
Clement of Alexandria alludes to the Mysteries as Blessed and says: "0 Mysteries truly Sacred! 0 pure light! At the light of the torches the veil that covers Deity and Heaven falls off. I am Holy now that I am initiated." While Synesius, speaking in alchemical terms, declares that "the Quintessence is no other than our viscous, celestial and glorious soul, drawn from its minera by our magistery."
Nor are the later students and masters of the art less well known, for included among their number were such men as Appollonius of Tyana, Albertus Magnus, Roger Bacon, Paracelsus, Arnold de Villa Nova, Picus di Mirandola, Trithemius, Boehme, Cornelius Agrippa and many others.
But to leave the historical aspect, which, however interesting, is relatively unimportant, and to come to our subject. Theurgy is inextricably associated with Religion; is, in fact, its very kernel; for on investigation we find that beneath the exoteric and allegorical forms of all ancient doctrines, and hidden carefully within all their sacred writings, there is an underlying principle which is in every case the same, but is yet invariably concealed in one way or another.
This central teaching deals with rebirth, or birth from above, and, if we are to believe the records of antiquity, there is, and always has been, a definite body of scientific teaching on this subject, the knowledge of which, though jealously guarded, was never denied to the genuine and earnest seeker.
Unfortunately the mental and spiritual limitations of the vast bulk of mankind throughout the ages have aIways prevented the public teaching of this science, and necessitated the maintenance of the strictest secrecy, the knowledge being invariably given in the involved, complicated and envious language of symbol and allegory.
This is, of course, a constant source of annoyance to many people today, who declare themselves as being opposed on principle to what they term "artificial secrecy" in any shape or form; and to an even larger number, who, being without any particular principles, are decidedly averse from undertaking the necessary labour, but desire a clear exposition in "popular" form.
As Mrs. Atwood, in her Suggestive Enquiry, very succinctly puts it: "No such alluring baits to idleness are to be found on the title pages of the middle age school of philosophy; no such simplifications of science as we now hear of are belonging to Alchemy. It is true, there are Revelations, Open Entrances, New Lights and True Lights, Sunshine and Moonshine, with other Auroras and pictured Dawns; Manuals, Introductory Lexicons of obscure terms, with meanings no less obscured; Triumphal Chariots also. Banners, Gates, Keys and Guides, too, without number, all directing on the same Royal Road when this is found; but useless to most wayfarers; nothing that we observe at all suited to the means or taste of the millionaire class of readers, whose understanding, like that of pampered children, has grown flaccid; and by excess of object-teaching, has forgotten how to think."
As for the complaint of the others, it is difficult to understand what is meant by "artificial secrecy " unless it means making a secret out of nothing, or pretending to have some secret information, when in point of fact one has none—a charge which has for long been unjustly laid against the Alchemists. If this be the meaning of the phrase we cannot but be heartily in agreement with it, but if it means the deliberate withholding of certain knowledge from the masses, then it entirely depends on the reasons that can be given for the secrecy as to whether the term "artificial " is justifiable.
Now if the object of Theurgy and Spiritual Alchemy be solely the purification and exaltation of the Soul, it may be argued that such knowledge ought to be broadcasted and not obscured; that it is obviously for the good of mankind, and that to conceal it is virtually criminal.
But it must be remembered that what is proposed is a method of accelerated Soul development by a astern of intensive culture, as is in many places asserted; and it would appear that there is every reason why those who were in possession of the requisite knowledge were chary of passing it on. And these reasons, when we examine them, must apply equally forcibly today for those, if such there be, who are the guardians of the secret.
For the practice of this art opens up very dangerous possibilities, involving, as it is said to do, an understanding of the working and application of certain arcane forces of nature, commonly called magic.
Now magic is a purely relative term, the magic of antiquity, or some of it, being the common knowledge of today. But knowledge is power, and power can always be used in two ways, for good or for evil. We have only to look around us to see the appalling results of an unwise dissemination of knowledge, seeing that man is almost invariably tempted, and almost as invariably succumbs to the temptation to use his knowledge for purely personal and material ends, and very often for destruction. For which reason it may well be submitted that there is at least an excellent prima facie case for secrecy.
This at any rate was the conviction of the Alchemists, as witness that saying of Raymund Lully, "I swear to thee upon my soul that thou art damned if thou shouldst reveal these things. For every good thing proceeds from God and to Him only is due. Wherefore thou shalt reserve and keep secret that which God only should reveal, and thou shalt affirm thou dost justly keep back those things whose revelation is to His honour. For if thou shouldst reveal that in a few words which God hath been forming a long time, thou shouldst be condemned in the great day of judgement as a traitor to the majesty of God, neither should thy treason be forgiven thee. For the revelation of such things belongs to God and not to man."
Justified or not, however, the secrecy exists, and it may well be asked where clues may best be sought, which may be followed in the search for this jealously guarded wisdom.
The answer would appear to be that such clues are to be found almost anywhere in the religious, philosophical and mystical writings of either the East or the West, but that it will probably come more easily to the majority of Westerners to take the Egyptian, Semitic and Greek and not the Eastern systems. For this reason, therefore, a study of certain books of the Bible, notably the Pentateuch, Solomon, Job, Ezekiel, the Gospels, the Epistles of St. Paul and the Revelation of St. John, will be found profitable, especially if the student be aided by some knowledge of the Qabalah, which is the great key to their understanding. Among the un-canonical books Enoch and Wisdom are helpful, and apart from these Semitic writings, the so-called Egyptian Book of the Dead, the works of many of the Greek Philosophers, the Gnostic and Hermetic fragments, expositions of the Mysteries, especially lamblichos, and almost all the Alchemical writers, are full of illumination.
Of the three sources mentioned above, Egyptian, Semitic and Greek, the first is unquestionably the most ancient, but Egypt has left but few traces for us. The Jews derived their knowledge primarily from her through Moses, whatever they may have adopted subsequently from Chaldean, Babylonian and other sources, while even the Greeks obtained much of their inspiration and actual knowledge from her Mystery Schools.
Thus, therefore, is it that the Qabalah, the Jewish Mystical tradition, which was handed on orally for centuries, and was not written down till some as yet undetermined date in our era, forms one of the principal keys, not merely to the Jewish and Christian Scriptures, but to all the other sources we have mentioned; for the language of symbol and allegory is an universal language, and the student will observe for himself that many of the Alchemical writers were avowed Qabalists.
As, however, the Qabalah is a highly technical subject, and as it is proposed to avoid technicalities as far as may be, direct allusions to it will be as few as possible in the pages which follow.
With all the mass of clues which surround us everywhere when we begin seriously to look for them, it is difficult to know where to make a start, for to review them all would take volumes. Still, as the science of the ancients was a causal science and reasoned from universals to particulars, it will be best to pick on some symbol of the Universe, and then to seek its counterpart in ourselves, whereby we may glean some idea of what was to be achieved, and afterwards to take some other clue, which may lead us to an understanding of how it was to be done.
Nevertheless, as our quest is concerned primarily with the Soul, we will first of all devote ourselves to a consideration of some of the views held by the ancients regarding it.
Wherever we direct our attention in the physical or spiritual worlds, we are likely to encounter an apparent paradox, and it should, therefore, cause us no surprise that in considering the Soul we immediately find such a state of affairs existing.
We are accustomed to the idea that man is not a simple being; that he is composed of body and soul, or even of body, soul and spirit, though there appears to be considerable looseness in the way these two latter terms are used.
We also admit that the soul is the principal part of man; is, in fact, the man himself, leaving on one side for the moment the differentiation between soul and spirit. But we find it difficult to grasp that the soul is at once indivisible and divisible; that it is both one and yet possessing parts.
Nevertheless this hypothesis underlies the teaching of the Egyptians, Hebrews and Greeks, whom we are principally considering, and we are compelled to form some coherent view of the divisions of the soul if we are to follow the writings wherein we propose to look for our clues.
It will perhaps be simpler to consider first some of the Qabalistic ideas concerning the Soul, for they possess a quite definite terminology which is missing in many of the others. This will furnish us with a standard of comparison and of correspondence that should be distinctly useful.
According to the Zohar, the Soul was divided into three parts, of which the highest was termed Neshamah, corresponding to the intellectual world; the second Ruach, the seat of good and evil, corresponding to the moral world ; and the third, Nephesch, the animal life and desires, corresponding to the material world of sense.
Now Neshamah was itself divided into three parts, for, as the highest part of the soul, it represented what was termed the Supernal Triad, composed of the first three Sephiroth or Emanations.
It is here necessary to digress for a moment to explain that the system of the Qabalah postulates the existence of ten Sephiroth—which may be regarded either as Emanations from, or the Highest Abstract Ideas of. God—conformed into four Worlds called Atziluth, Briah, Yetzirah and Assiah, which are respectively Archetypal or pure Deity, Creative, Formative and Material. The first Sephira comprises the first World, that of Atziluth, the next two that of Briah, the next six that of Yetzirah, and the last that of Assiah.
The Supernal Triad, therefore, mentioned above, being composed of the first three Sephiroth, embraces the first two Worlds, and the three divisions of Neshamah, which are called Yechidah, Chiah and Neshamah respectively, are referred, the first to Atziluth and the next two to Briah.
The first of these conveys, therefore, the illimitable and transcendental idea of the Great Absolute and Incomprehensible One in the Soul. This is linked by Chiah, which suggests the idea of Essential Being, with Neshamah, and these two represent together Wisdom and Understanding, the higher governing, creative idea, the aspiration to the Ineffable One in the Soul.
Neshamah in turn links these Supernals with the Ruach, a word which means Spirit, and is here the Mind, the Reasoning Power, that which possesses the knowledge of good and of evil. It is to be noted carefully that this is the rational or discursive mind, and not the higher mind, which is represented by Neshamah.
Lastly we have the Nephesch, which is that power in the Soul which represents the passions and physical appetites.
The Zohar, Part II, fol. 94b, tells us that at birth man receives the Animal Soul (Nephesch), and if he is worthy, the Ruach or Intellectual Spirit. Lastly, if he is still more worthy, Neshamah, the Soul emanating from the Celestial Throne (by which is meant the Briatic World). We need not, however, enter into a consideration of the possibility of man without the Ruach, or his nature, but will make the justifiable assumption that for all practical purposes man, according to the Qabalah, consists of Body, Nephesch and Ruach, that is Body, Soul and Spirit.
Among the Greeks Plato also makes a triple division, as does Plotinus, though others, as for example the Pythagorean Philolaus, give four.
We will take the Platonic system as being, probably, the most widely known and most often quoted. He gives the Nous or higher mind; the phren or thumos, the lower mind, including, according to some, the psychic nature; and the epithumia, comprising the emotional nature and the animal desires, appetites and passions. The faculties of the lower and higher minds he sub-divides into four, two to each. To the lower he allots Eikasia, the perception of images, and Pistis, faith and a sort of psychic groping after truth. To the higher he refers Dianoia, or philosophic reasoning, and Noesis, or direct cognition. The first two are amalgamated under the heading of Doxa, opinion or mostly illusory knowledge, while the other two are classed as Gnosis or Episteme, wisdom or true
The first of the two sub-divisions of Doxa includes the whole of that body of knowledge which we term the inductive, physical sciences, these being concerned exclusively with the observation and investigation of the phenomena of the material universe. The second embraces the numerous forms of dogmatic creeds and beliefs summed up as a rule as exoteric religion.
Of the two grades of Gnosis, the first refers to those more speculative aspects of philosophy, wherein an attempt is made to arrive at a knowledge of first principles by means of pure reasoning, while the second grade implies the power of the mind directly to apprehend the truth without going through any intermediate process of reasoning.
Comparing this system with that of the Qabalah, we observe that the Nous corresponds with the Neshamah, the Phren with the Ruach and the Epithumia with the Nephesch.
Regarding the allocation of the four faculties of the lower and higher minds, the reader may feel a little doubtful as to the allocation of the philosophical reason to the higher mind or Nous, which, from its very name, is definitely associated with the noetic or epistemonic faculty of direct perception of the truth; but such questions are, after all, of relatively small importance.
Similar to the ideas we have outlined above are the following passages from Abammon's reply to Porphyry (lamblichos de Mysteriis) when alluding to the Hermetic concepts. He says: "For man, as these writings affirm, has two souls. The one is from the First Intelligence, and is participant of the power of the Creator, but the other is given from the revolutions of the worlds of the sky, to which the God-beholding soul returns. . . . But the Soul that is in its higher mental quality from the world of Intelligence, is superior to the movement of the world of generated existence, and through this there takes place both the unbinding of fate and the upward progress to the gods of the World of Mind.
"The Theurgic discipline, so far as it conducts upward to the Unbegotten, is made complete by a life of this kind. . . . For the soul has a principle of its own leading around to the realm of Intelligence, and not only standing aloof from things of the world of generated existence, but also joining it to that which is, even to the divine nature . . . (and) there is another principle of the soul which is superior to the whole realm of nature and generated existence. By it we can be united to the gods, rise above the established order of the world, and likewise participate in the life eternal and in the energy of the gods of the highest heaven. Through this principle we are able to set ourselves free."
Here, however, to make comparison with the Qabalistic ideas, we find allusion to the Ruach, to the Neshamah, and to a higher principle still, presumably the Yechidah. For the Ruach, as we have seen, corresponds to the Yetziratic or formative World, here alluded to as the "worlds of the sky," while Neshamah is the idea of wisdom and understanding, which, in our quotation, is "the higher mental quality from the world of Intelligence." But Abammon goes on to say that there is another principle beyond this, by which we participate in the eternal life and energy of the gods.
In conclusion, and as further illustrating the enormous importance attaching to the higher portion of the soul, the Neshamah, the Nous or the Mind, the following extracts are of interest, and it would perhaps be as well to point out here and now that none of these quotations is chosen merely to illustrate the point immediately under consideration, but all have their bearing on the telestic work.
The Zohar, Part I, fol. 246 (La Kabbale, Franck) says: "Come and see. Thought is the principle of all that is; but it is at first Unknown and shut up in itself. When the Thought begins to develop itself forth, it arrives at that degree where it becomes Spirit. Arrived at this estate it takes the name of Intelligence, and is no longer as before it was, shut up in itself. The Spirit, in its turn, develops itself in the bosom of the mystery with which it is surrounded; and there proceeds a voice which is the reunion of the celestial choirs, a voice that rolls forth in distinct utterance articulate, for It comes from the Mind."
In the Divine Poemander of Hermes Trismegistus, Book II, we find the following: "My thoughts beingonce seriously busied about the things that be, and my understanding lifted up—all my bodily senses being utterly holden back; methought I saw one of an exceedingly great stature and infinite greatness call me by name, and say to me. What wouldst thou understand to learn and know? Then said I, Who art thou? I am, quoth he, Poemander, the Mind of the Great Lord, the most mighty and absolute Emperor. I know what thou wouldst have, and I am always present with thee . . . I am that Light, the Mind, thy God, who am before the moist nature that appeareth out of the darkness, and that bright and lightful Word from the Mind is the Son of God. How is that? quoth I. Thus, replied he, understand it. That which, in thee, seeth and heareth the Word of the Lord, and the Mind, the Father, God, differ not from one another, and the union of these is life . . . I, the mind, come into men that are holy and good and pure and merciful, and that live piously and religiously, and my presence is a help unto them ; and forthwith they know all things."
Now at the end of Chapter I we proposed to select some symbol wherein we might look for a clue as to what was to be achieved, and in order that we may take some type that will be almost universally familiar, and at the same time find its parallel in Alchemical literature, we can hardly do better than choose one of the most ancient of all, the Serpent.
This symbol can be traced right back into the most remote ages, just as can Phallism, with which it is usually associated and allied. But it must not be thought for one moment that the latter was ever an integral part of the belief of the enlightened, or that they at any time worshipped serpents, though this accusation is quite frequently made against them. The fact is that Serpent Symbolism began to be misunderstood by the ignorant at a very early stage, the people having mistaken the symbol for the fact in a manner that has been emulated by their successors in the various religions of the world ever since. What, then, is at the back of the Serpent Myths? It is generally admitted that the Serpent was much used as a symbol for Wisdom, Creation, Generation and Regeneration or Rebirth, and we shall do well to consider and correlate some of these ideas in order to see whether we may not, by such a study, discover the clue we are seeking. We will therefore take these four ideas seriatim, beginning with Wisdom.
Serpents have always been associated with Wisdom from the very earliest times, though side by side with them there have been "wicked serpents" and "crooked serpents" as their evil antitheses. To go no further than the Bible, we have Christ's injunction to the Apostles (Matt. x. 16), "Be ye therefore wise as serpents," which can mean no evil sort of knowledge; over against which we have the first serpent mentioned in the Scriptures, the Serpent of the Fall, who was "more subtle than any beast of the field that the Lord God had made."
Then there were, on the one hand, the fiery serpents that afflicted the Children of Israel in the Wilderness, and on the other, the Brazen Serpent which Moses set upon a pole that the people might be perfectly healed. This latter is the Qabalistical Serpent of Wisdom, the Serpent Nogah, twined about the Central Pillar of the Sephirotic Tree (for the ten Sephiroth which we mentioned in Chapter II were arranged by the Qabalists in three Columns or Pillars, which arrangement was designated by them the Tree of Life), and is interpreted rightly or wrongly in Christian Symbolism as a type of Christ Crucified.
The bearing of this example on our subject is well illustrated by the following example of scriptural exegesis ascribed by Hippolytus to the Peratae, an otherwise unknown Gnostic School. It is admirably summarised by G. R. S. Mead, in his Fragments of a Faith Forgotten. He says:
"Thus then they explained the Exodus-myth. Egypt is the body ; all those who identify themselves with the body are the ignorant, the Egyptians. To 'come forth' out of Egypt is to leave the body; and to pass through the Red Sea is to cross over the ocean of generation, the animal and sensual nature, which is hidden in the blood. Yet even then they are not safe ; crossing the Red Sea they enter the Desert, the intermediate state of the doubting lower mind. There they are attacked by the 'gods of destruction,' which Moses called the 'serpents of the desert,' and which plague those who seek to escape from the 'gods of generation.' To them Moses, the teacher, shows the true serpent crucified on the cross of matter, and by its means they escape from the Desert and enter the promised land, the realm of the spiritual mind, where is the Heavenly Jordan, the World-Soul. When the Waters of Jordan flow downwards, then is the generation of men ; but when they flow upwards, then is the creation of Gods."
Leaving the Bible we have the Winged Globe of Egypt, on many examples of which we may see the twin serpents, leading us to the not unnatural inference that it was the prototype of the Caduceus of Hermes (who was, of course, the Egyptian Thoth), another form of the idea portrayed as the Tree of Life of the Qabalah.
Lest it be thought that we are getting away from the idea of Wisdom, it must be pointed out that the study and understanding of this Tree was the discovery of the True Wisdom, typified in the mystical Fifty Gates of Understanding of Binah, the third Sephira, the Mother Supernal, whose name signifies Understanding.
But as this point, Wisdom, will have to be stressed in two of the following sections, Creation and Regeneration or Rebirth, we will not pursue it further for the moment.
In the Creation Myth the evolution of the universe, according to some schools, followed the physical analogy of the generation of man in the womb from a "serpent" and an "egg." But the Cosmic serpent was variously described as the Great Power, the Illimitable Vortex, the Mighty Whirlwind, while the Egg figured as the Envelope embracing the All of the world system, as the primordial " fire-mist " which is still so familiar in modern theorisings. Taken thus, the Serpent was a type of the Will of God, Divine Intelligence, the Mind of the Father, the Word or Logos. The Egg represented the Primordial Idea, the Great Mother Supernal. The embryonic universe was therefore portrayed as a circle, the Egg, with a serpent either twined round it or placed diameter-wise across it, representing the former of the Cosmos and of Man. It was Man's Creator, but nevertheless it was supposed that man could utilise the serpent force himself and create by it; but first he must cease from generation and free himself from its toils.
Before leaving this particular myth, let us see what Thomas Vaughan in his Magia Adamica, when dealing with the Egyptian Emepht, as he terms it—called Emeph by lamblichos—can tell us. Speaking of Egyptian Theology he says:
"Their Catholic Doctrine, and wherein I find them all to agree is this. Emepht, whereby they express their Supreme God—and verily they mind the true One—signifies properly an Intelligence or Spirit converting all things into Himself and Himself into all things. This is very sound Divinity and philosophy if it be rightly understood. Now—say they—Emepht produced an egg out of his mouth, which Kircher expounds imperfectly, and withal erroneously. In the production of this egg was manifested another Deity, which they call Ptha, and out of some other natures and substances enclosed in the egg, this Ptha formed all things. But to deal a little more openly we will describe unto you their hieroglyphic, wherein they have very handsomely but obscurely discovered most of their mysteries. First of all then, they draw a circle, in the circle a serpent—not folded, but diameter-wise and at length. Her head resembles that of a hawk, the tail is tied in a small knot, and a little below the head her wings are volant. The circle points at Emepht, or God the Father, being infinite—without beginning, without end. Moreover, it comprehends or contains in itself the second Deity Ptha and the egg or chaos out of which all things were made.
"The Hawk in the Egyptian Symbols signifies light and spirit ; his head annexed here to the serpent represents Ptha, or the Second Person, who is the First Light—as we have told you in our Anthroposophia. He is said to form all things out of the egg, because in Him—as it were in a glass—are certain types or images, namely, distinct conceptions of the Paternal Deity, according to which—by co-operation of the Spirit, namely, the Holy Ghost—the creatures are formed. The inferior part of the figure signifies the matter or chaos, which they call the egg of Emepht."
We must make a pause here before continuing with Thomas Vaughan, which we shall do a little further on, and consider briefly this name Emepht. According to lamblichos it should be Emeph, and Wilder tells us that many have conjectured that this name should have been Kneph. This was the name of the Creator in Nubia and Elephantina, and He was considered to be the same as Amun, the Supreme God at Thebes. The name Kneph or Neph, he continues, almost identical with the Semitic term Nephesch or Soul, reminds us that this God was considered as the Soul of the World. Mariette-Bey considered him as the same as Thoth or Hermes, the God of learning. The Greeks, however, identified him with Asclepius, and the Orientals with Esmun of the Kabirian Rites.
Let us, however, hear lamblichos himself on the subject.
"According to another arrangement," he says, "Hermes places the God Emeph as leader of the celestial Divinities, and declares that He is the Mind itself, perceptive of itself, and converting the perceptions into His own substance. But he places as prior to this divinity the One without specific parts, whom he affirms to be the first exemplar and whom he names Eikton. In him are the First Mind and the First Intelligence, and he is worshipped by Silence alone. Besides these, however, there are other leaders that preside over the creation of visible things. For the Creative Mind, guardian of Truth and Wisdom, coming to the realm of objective existence, and bringing the invisible power of occult words into light is called in the Egyptian language amon (the Arcane): but as completing everything in a genuine manner without deceit and with skill, Phtha. The Greeks, however, assume Phtha to be the same as Hephaestos, giving their attention to the Creative art alone. But as the dispenser of benefits, he is called Osiris; and by reason of his other powers and energies he has likewise other appellations."
Coming to our next section, Generation, we shall, if we are not careful, find ourselves wallowing in a morass of Phallism, for following the Hermetic Maxim, "As Above, so Below," the Serpent is used to illustrate both birth and rebirth by means of physical analogies with the material methods of reproduction.
The forces of sex, employed for their legitimate purpose, procreation, are manifestations on a lower plane of the great outpouring and energising of the creative Deity and the evolutionary processes of the cosmos. It need hardly be emphasised, however, that they are poles apart—as far removed from one another as is animal-human passion from Divine Will.
And the mysteries underlying these sex forces formed part of the curriculum laid down for the Aspirants of old, but the study of them was not lightly to be undertaken. They were rightly considered to be highly dangerous, for though an understanding of them might tend to a life of self-control and asceticism, a mere idle curiosity was likely to lead to the depths of depravity.
In this and what follows it may be as well to make it perfectly clear that nowhere in the truly sacred mysteries—at any rate of the West—was any teaching given involving any physical sex practices, such as attempted introversions of sexual forces, endeavouring to draw these up the spine and into the brain. In such directions lie disease, madness and death, and we cannot too strongly discourage anyone from being deluded enough to dabble with any such spurious and positively evil teachings, which, it is to be regretted, are current in many places to-day.
With this emphatic denial and warning we will continue.
For the purified in mind and body the reward was seership, illumination and direct or noetic knowledge, but for the impure there yawned that " precipice beneath the earth " of which the Oracle speaks.
Thus, almost invariably, we find in the history of such movements that the good and evil sides are found in close proximity, for the study of the mysteries of the self and of the cosmos leads naturally to a certain intensification of the whole nature, and if the animal and passional predominate it becomes even more uncontrollable. Whence many of the followers of the Mystery Schools were led away into both practical and technical error, so that writers of subsequent centuries were able to seize upon such lapses and magnify them into a general charge against those whom they regarded as heretics, completely ignoring the fact that the true students of the arcane sciences themselves were most emphatic in their condemnation of all such abuses.
One need hardly add that the explanations given to the Aspirant of the Mysteries dealt principally with the central object of all such schools, regeneration and rebirth, and not with generation, so that, accurately speaking, the conversion of the sacred symbols to this lower form of expression ought to be ignored from our present point of view, leaving us, therefore, only three real modes of interpreting them, which modes are, in the ultimate, one only.
We come thus to the most important aspect of our subject, the Serpent in relation to the upward path of the candidate in particular and of mankind in general. And this inevitably brings us into definite contact with our main subject, Spiritual Alchemy, Theurgy, the Therapeutics of the Soul and so forth, where all the symbols with which we have dealt will appear again, but invested with a new meaning as will be seen in the Chapter that follows.
Man, we are told, is the Microcosm or Little World, the Universe in Miniature, containing in himself the counterpart of all that is in the Great World or Macrocosm, whence the injunction "Gnothi Seauthon," " Know Thyself," inscribed over the portals of the Schools of the Mysteries.
We are also informed in the New Testament that man has three bodies, analogous to the three worlds, and more or less parallel with the three principal divisions of the soul according to the Qabalah and the Platonists. That is to say he possessed a spiritual, a psychic and a physical body, corresponding to the Archetypal, Psychic or Formative, and Material Worlds. These are also found in the Upanishads, where they are called the Causal, Subtile and Gross bodies, and their analogues may also be found in the Egyptian ideas on this subject.
The Causal, otherwise Spiritual, Pneumatic or Neshamah body, is really but ill-described as a body at all, for it is of the World of Briah, the Archangelic, Creative and truly formless World. From it, however, the other bodies may be considered as being derived, and its manifestation to the eyes of the true seer—by which we do not mean the ordinary psychic or clairvoyant—would usually take the form of an oviform radiance or light, playing around the other, lower bodies, within which is the paraklete of the New Testament, which, in the symbolism which we are at present studying, is the Serpent, while the radiance or light is the ovum or egg. In the Greek this is called Speirema, the serpent coil, and in Sanskrit it is Kundalini, the annular force, which, in the Upanishads, is said to lie coiled up like a slumbering serpent. It is also the Dragon of the Alchemists and their internal fire.
So much nonsense has been written about Kundalini, relating it with physical sex currents, and indicating the most dangerous practices for arousing it, that we mention it with diffidence, at the same time reiterating the warning we gave in the previous Chapter.
This serpent is the good serpent, yet owing to the danger of it if quickened in the unpurified man, the Alchemists called it a poisonous dragon and many other kindred names, such as Typhon, Apophis, Fire-drake, Satan, Aquafoetida, Ignis Gehennæ, Mortis Immundities, Venomous Black Toad and so forth, though this latter term is usually only used during the mortification.
The rousing of this force, and the preliminary preparations therefor, are said to be symbolised by the Caduceus of Hermes, for the positive and negative currents represented by the two serpents must, it is alleged, be set in motion and equilibrated first before the Speirema can be stimulated, it being typified by the central rod. And this is further the Seed or Sperm or Ferment of the Alchemists, of the former of which it is said in the New Testament (I Cor. xv. 36) "That which thou sowest is not quickened except it die." Unless it die, that is to say, to the material world of the senses, desires and passions, it cannot be truly quickened.
The symbol of the Spirit is Fire, which reappears here as the Serpent or Dragon, and elsewhere in Alchemy as one of their various Lions, Green, Red or Black according to the stage of the work. For in Astrology the sign Leo is the Kerubic Emblem of Fire, while the form of the sign is the glyph of a serpent, and the Hebrew Letter Teth, to which it is referred in the Sepher Yetzirah or Book of Formation (probably the oldest book of the Qabalah), means a serpent and is also a glyph of one. It is also well worth noting that the Speirema is a Solar Force, and that Leo is the Astrological House of the Sun.
Thomas Vaughan, dilating further upon the symbol of the Serpent placed diametrically across the circle, which we considered in the previous Chapter, explains that the Serpent is the Fiery nature, Alchemically Solar, which, of course, is Spirit—though he does not say this—while the wings, he adds, indicate the volatile airy nature, which, as Ruach and Pneuma both mean breath, is also Spirit. "Lastly," he says, "the knot in the tail tells you this matter is of a most strong composition, and that the elements are fast bound in it."
Now all of this is rather similar to the example of scriptural exegesis regarding the Exodus, which we gave in the previous Chapter, for the word used for fiery serpents is Seraphim, and Moses was instructed to make the brazen serpent in the form of a Seraph, and to set it upon a pole, which, as we have already seen, was the central Pillar of the Sephiroth, the Pillar of Mildness or Equilibrium.
The name of this serpent, which, as we have previously stated, is Nogah, is also significant, for this is also the name of the Sphere of the Planet Venus, a fact which has confirmed many in their Phallic errors; nevertheless a very small acquaintance with the literature dealing with that aspect of things will serve to demonstrate that its devotees see Phallic symbols everywhere. Mercifully in the great bulk of Alchemical writings we do not come across it, Venus, even in her most fiery aspect, bearing quite another significance.
The connection between the serpent and Venus, which we have noted above, is not uncommon among the allusions of the alchemists, a sample of it occurring, for example, in the third key of Eudoxus, where he says: "So in the Art you can have no success if you do not in the first work purify the Serpent, born of the Slime of the Earth; if you do not whiten these foul and black foeces, to separate from thence the white sulphur, which is the Sal Ammoniac of the Wise, and their Chaste Diana, who washes herself in the bath; and all this mystery is but the extraction of the fixed salt of our compound, in which the whole energy of our Mercury consists."
In the following passage from Lumen de Lumine bv Thomas Vaughan, which is quite a good sample of Alchemical terminology, all these reappear, the twin serpents and the Dragon in his various metamorphoses; the fire, the love and the mind, or wisdom and understanding. He says:
"Take our two Serpents, which are to be found everywhere on the face of the earth. They are a living male and a living female. Tie them both in a love-knot and shut them up in the Arabian Caraha. This is thy first labour, but thy next is more difficult. Thou must encamp against them with the fire of Nature, and be sure thou dost draw thy line round about. Circle them in and stop all avenues, that they find no relief. Continue this siege patiently; and they will turn to an ugly, shabby, venomous, black toad, which will be transformed to a horrible, devouring Dragon—creeping and weltering in the bottom of her cave, without wings. Touch her not by any means, not so much as with thy hands, for there is not upon earth such a mother; for the first is meat and the second is drink, and without this last he attains not to his full glory. Be sure to understand this secret, for fire feeds not well unless it first be fed. It is of itself dry and choleric; but a proper moisture tempers it, gives it a heavenly complexion and brings it to the desired exaltation. Feed thy bird then as I have told thee, and he will move in his nest and rise like a star in the firmament. Do this and thou hast placed Nature' within the horizon of eternity.' Thou hast performed that command of the Qabalist : 'Unite the end to the beginning, like a flame to a coal; for God ' saith he, 'is superlatively one and He hath no second.' " (Sepher Yetzirah, Cap. i, sect. 7.) "Consider then what you seek: you seek an indissoluble, miraculous, transmuting, uniting union; but such a tie cannot be without the First Unity. 'To create,' saith one, 'and transmute essentially and naturally, or without any violence, is the only proper office of the First Power, the First Wisdom and the First Love.' Without this the elements will never be married; they will never inwardly and essentially unite, which is the end and perfection of magic. Study then to understand this, and when thou hast performed I will allow thee that test of the Mekkubalim ; ' Thou hast understood in wisdom, and thou hast been wise in understanding; thou hast established this subject upon the pure elements thereof, and thou hast posited the Creator on His throne.' " (Sepher Yetzirah, Cap. i, sect. 4.)
It is to be hoped that the above extract will not prove to be too disconcerting to the student, and we shall endeavour in subsequent Chapters to put forward one or two suggestions regarding the work that will, to some extent at least, throw light upon it. For the moment it will suffice to draw such parallels with what has gone before as may be seen between the toad and the passional nature ; the dragon and the self-willed life; the cave, which, as the habitat of both these, is the body; and finally the star, into which the other natures are finally transmuted, rising above the limitations of the material.
Before passing on to the next stage of our inquiry, it would be as well to draw the attention to two versions of the same idea which we have already several times encountered, namely, the necessity for dying to the material world, and leaving the world of sense, for we shall have to revert to them later.
And lest anyone should be disappointed at such an apparently trite outcome of all that has gone before, and retort "This much at least we knew in advance," we would reply that, as we shall hope to show later, our meaning is to be taken not merely as indicating the preliminaries, but also, in some measure, the mean; to our end.
We have now to begin to ask ourselves where all this is leading us, and our answer is to be found in a consideration of such records as have come down to us of the schools or societies that were professedly devoted to the study of the Sacred Mysteries.
For this purpose we may well take that historically somewhat mysterious sect called the Therapeutæ. Our main source of information concerning them is the De Vita Contemplativa of Philo Judæus, but we may glean a good deal of additional light on our subject by comparing his statements with similar assertions by writers representing other schools and cults.
We must remember that although Philo gives us quite a good picture of the Wisdom Lovers, as he calls them, allowance must be made for the fact that he was but a lay brother, and, apart from any restrictions imposed upon him, would have only a limited knowledge of the more recondite teachings of the fraternity or of their practices.
As a preliminary we may take it that the Therapeuts were not Christians, unless in the broad sense of St. Augustine, who remarked that there never had been but one religion since the world began, and that this commenced to be called Christian in Apostolic times. Nor can we assign to them any particular form of exoteric religion, despite Philo's attempt to claim that they were in the main Jews. On the contrary, it would appear probable that they were communities of Gnostic Ascetics, devoted to the Holy Life and Sacred Science.
Dealing with this point, G. R. S. Mead, in his Fragments of a Faith Forgotten, says: " Philo's . . . particular community . . . was mainly Jewish, though not orthodoxly so. ... Others may have been tinged as strongly with Egyptian, Chaldean, Zoroastrian or Orphic elements. ... It is further not incredible that there were truly eclectic communities among them who combined and synthesised the various traditions and initiations handed down by the doctrinally more exclusive communities, and it is in this direction, therefore, that we must look for light on the origins of Gnosticism, and for the occult background of Christianity. ... I also think that . . . whatever works they may have put forward for or by lay-pupils were only a small part of their literature, and for those within there were those most highly mystical and abstruse treatises which none but the trained mystics could possibly understand."
Such a thesis is one with which we heartily agree, and a perusal of Philo's writings clearly indicates that the non-eclectic communities tended to rely each upon the sacred writings of its own religion, knowing full well that all religions were but expressions of one, true, underlying religion, diversified only according to the various characteristics, racial and otherwise, of its propagators, but always couched in the same universal language of symbol and allegory. Each also knew that its scriptures were meant to be interpreted with understanding, and not to be treated merely as historical or even ethical.
Philo, of course, was a Jew, and appears to have been a lay brother of the Mareotic Jewish community south of Alexandria ; and it is interesting to note that, as we should have expected, they relied upon this interpretation of the scriptures. The term Qabalah, however, was not then in use, as the Oral Tradition had not at that time been committed to paper, as it has subsequently—though it is said that this is so only in part.
He tells us that "The Interpretation of the sacred scriptures is based upon certain undermeanings in the allegorical narratives; for these men look upon the whole of their law-code as being like a living thing, having for body the spoken commands, and for soul the unseen thought stored up in the words (in which the rational soul begins to contemplate things native to its own nature more than anything else)—the interpretation, as it were, in the mirror of the names, catching sight of the extraordinary beauties of the ideas contained in them, and bringing to light the naked inner meanings."
Compare this with the following extracts from the Zohar III, fols. 149 and 152 (La Kabbale, Franck):
"If the Law was but composed of ordinary words and narratives, such as the words of Esau, of Hagar and of Laban, such as those uttered by Balaam's Ass and by Balaam himself, why should it be called the law of truth, the perfect law, and the faithful witness of God? Why should the wise man value it as more precious than gold or than pearls ? But it is not so; in each word of the Law is hidden a more recondite meaning: each narrative teaches us something other than the mere events that it appears to chronicle. And this superior Law is more Holy, it is the True Law."
"Woe to the man who sees in the Law but simple narratives and words! For if in truth it contained but these, we should be able, even to-day, to compose for ourselves a law which should be even more worthy of admiration. For mere words we should but have to turn to the legislators of the world, among whom is often to be found somewhat of greater grandeur. It would suffice for us to compose a law in their style and words. But it is not thus. Each word of the Law contains a recondite and sublime mystery."
"The narratives of the Law are but the vestment of the Law. Woe unto him who takes the vestment for the Law itself! It is in this sense that David said: ' My God, open my eyes that I may see the marvels of Thy Law.' David spoke of that which is concealed beneath the vestment of the Law. There are those who are foolish enough, when they see a man clad in a beautiful garment, to look no further, nevertheless that which lends value to the garment is the body, and that which is still more precious is the soul. The Law has also its body. There are those commandments which may be called the body of the Law. The ordinary narratives which are intermingled therewith are the garments with which that body is clothed. The simple attend but to the outer garments or to the narratives of the Law ; they know nothing else; they see not that which is concealed beneath the garment. The more instructed among men pay no attention to the garment, but only to the body which it covers. Finally the wise, the servants of the Supreme King, those who dwell upon the heights of Sinai, attend only to the soul, which is the basis of all the rest, which is the Law itself ; and in a time to come they will be prepared to contemplate the soul of this soul which breathes in the Law."
Dionysius (Epistle ix, Tito Episcopo.) says: "To know this is notwithstanding the crown of the work—that there is a two-fold tradition of the theologians, the one secret and mystical, the other evident and better known."
Again, the Church Father Origen on the same subject is worthy of note. In Homil. vii. in Levit., he says: "If it were necessary to lay emphasis on the letter of the Law and to understand what is written therein after the manner of the people, I should blush to say aloud that it is God Who has given us such Laws, and I should find more grandeur in human legislation, as for example in that of the Romans, Athenians or Lacedemonians." And in Homil. v. in Levit., he admits frankly the distinction between the historical moral and inner meanings, comparing them respectively to the body, soul and spirit.
Many more such statements could be quoted, but we must return to Philo, who intimates that the name Therapeutæ indicates "that they professed an art of healing superior to that used in the cities, for that only heals bodies, whereas this heals souls." Also, he adds, "Because they have been schooled by nature and the sacred laws to serve That which is better than the Good, and purer than the One and more ancient than the Monad."
This takes us to heights of sublimity where the mind finds it difficult to follow him, so let us see what light that great practical mystic, the author of the Book of the Holy Hierotheos, can throw on these ideas. This book, from which we take the extracts that follow, is presumed upon quite strong evidence to have been originally written by Proklos, who was initiated into the Mysteries, but to have been subsequently translated and overwritten by a Christian, who grafted upon it a Christian terminology and a large number of quotations from the Bible foreign to the original. Making due allowance, however, for these differences, it does not seem that the sense is in any way altered or the logical sequence of the book destroyed. Our author says:
"For when the Mind is accounted worthy of these things, it will not see by vision nor by form ... for it is henceforth exalted in glorious and divine mystery to become above sight and form. . . . And henceforth it abandons even the name of Christ . . . and so neither loves nor desires to be brought near (the Father). . . . For lo, the very name of Love is a sign "-if distinction, for Love is not established by one but by two. . . . And then we will marvel at the mystery and say, 0 the depth and the riches and the wisdom and the intellect, far above the designation of Godhead, of the Perfect Mind that has been fulfilled . . .' Let us then put away Unification and speak of Commingling . . . (for) the designation of Commingling is proper for Minds that have become 'above Unification. . . .' We cannot see the distinctions of Minds when they have Commingling with the Good . . .for) Mind is no longer Mind when it is commingled. . . Everything becomes One Thing; for even God shall pass, and Christ shall be done away, and the Spirit shall no more be called the Spirit. . . . This is the limit of All and the end of Everything. . . . All from One and One from All. . . . Before the first Beginning God was not God, and again, after the consummation of All He is not God."
Very similar is the fragment from the "Great Announcement " quoted by Hippolytus, and attributed by him to Simon Magus, translated as follows by G. R. S. Mead:
"To you, therefore, I say what I say, and write what I write. And the writing is this:
"Of the universal Aeons there are two growths, without beginning or end, springing from one Root, which is the Power Silence, invisible, inapprehensible. Of these one appears from above, which is the Great Power, the Universal Mind, ordering all things, male; and the other, from below, the Great Thought (or conception), female, producing all things.
"Hence matching each other, they unite and manifest in the Middle Space, incomprehensible Air (Spirit) without beginning or end. In this (Air) is the (second) Father who sustains and nourishes all things which have beginning and end.
"This (Father) is He who has stood, stands and will stand, a male-female power, like the pre-existing Boundless Power, which has neither beginning nor end, existing in oneness. It was from this Boundless Power that Thought, which had previously been hidden in oneness, first proceeded and became twain.
"He (the Boundless) was one; having her in Himself, He was alone. Yet was He not ' first' though 'pre-existing,' for it was only when He was manifested to Himself from Himself that there was a 'second.' Nor was He called Father before (Thought) called Him Father.
"As, therefore, producing Himself by Himself, He manifested to Himself His own Thought, so also His manifested Thought did not make the (manifested—the second) Father, but contemplating Him hid Him—that is. His power—in herself and is male-female, Power and Thought.
"Hence they match each other, being one; for there is no difference between Power and Thought. From the things above is discovered Power, and from those below Thought.
"Thus it comes to pass that that which is manifested from them, though one, is found to be two, male-female, having the female in itself. Equally so is Mind in Thought; they are really one, but when separated from each other they appear as two."
But to return to our Therapeutæ, Philo states that their aim was to arouse in themselves what he terms "that most indispensable of the senses. I mean not bodily sight, but that of the Soul, whereby truth and falsity are distinguished. . . . Let the race of Therapeutæ, being continualiy taught to see, aim at the vision of Reality, and pass by the Sun visible to sense."
In the attempt to attain to these heights they gave up all worldly possessions, and dwelt in communities, living in the simplest of dwellings. And in each dwelling, as Philo says, "is a sacred place called a shrine or monastery, in which in solitude they performed the mysteries of the holy life, whereby knowledge and devotion grow together and are perfected." He adds that at dawn and at even they were accustomed to offer up prayers, while the " whole interval from dawn to sunset they devote to their exercises."
We need hardiy emphasise these two words "mysteries" and "exercises," which in the original are in sufficiently close proximity to attract one's attention, but this is a point with which we shall have to deal later.
Philo continues: "Taking the Sacred Writings, they spend their time in study, interpreting their ancestral code allegorically, for they think that the words of the literal meaning are symbols of a hidden nature, which is made plain only by the undermeaning." But with this point we have already dealt at sufficient length.
These and other such devotees carried on the tradition of the Mystery Schools of greater antiquity over against the Neo-Platonic teachings later inculcated by Plotinus and Porphyry, who taught a system analogous to the later Persian scheme, teaching that the Overmind, the Universal Soul and Nature proceeded by emanation from the Absolute One, and that to this Absolute there might be attained, for brief periods, by philosophic discipline, contemplation and ecstasy, as Wilder puts it, the gnosis or intimate union.
This is the great difference between Mysticism as such and the Theurgic or so-called Magical School, for the former was a system of impassiveness, and was discarded by the Hierophants, who laid it down that by practice of the Theurgic Rites the Soul exalts itself over the Over-Mind and becomes at one with the Absolute, that it can even become permanently at one.
Of these practices lamblichos says in his De Mysteries: "It is not the concept that unites the theurgic priests to the Gods; else what is there to hinder those who pursue philosophic speculation contemplatively from having theurgic union to the Gods? Now . . . this is not the case. ... It is the complete fulfilling of the Arcane performances, the carrying of them through in a manner worthy of the Gods and surpassing all conception, and likewise the power of the voiceless symbols which are perceived by the Gods alone, that establishes the Theurgic Union. Hence we do not effect these things by thinking."
We have previously quoted Clemens Alexandrinus, one of the most celebrated of the Fathers of the early Church. The first three books of his lost work, The Outlines, bear a strong resemblance to the three stages of the Platonists—Purification, Initiation and Direct Vision, or, as lamblichos classifies them, Coming to the Divinity, Assimilation into the likeness of the Divinity and Perfection.
This latter authority, speaking of what the invocations accomplish, tells us that "By such a purpose, therefore, the Gods being gracious and propitious, give forth light abundantly to the Theurgists, both calling their souls upward into themselves . . . and accustoming them while they are yet in the body, to hold themselves aloof from corporeal things, and likewise to be led up to their own eternal and noetic First Cause. . . . From these performances . . . the soul reciprocates another life, is linked with another energy, and rightly reviewing the matter, it seems to be not even a human energy, but the most blessed energy of the Gods. . . . The upward way through the invocations effects for the priests a purifying of the passions, a release from the conditions of generated life and likewise a union to the Divine Cause. . . . (They) by no means, as the term seems to imply, (involve) an inclining of the mind of the Gods to human beings, but on the contrary, as the truth itself will teach, the adapting of the human intelligence to the participating of the Gods, leading it upward to them and bringing it into accord. . . . (So that) the Rites performed by the Adepts in superior knowledge bring them to the superior races, and attach them together by becoming assimilated."
And this leads to the beholding or epopteia in its highest sense, of which Hierotheos says that " To the Pure Mind belongs the power of seeing above and below . . . for the full account of the secret of the Pure Mind (is) without limit and embraces everything." And he adds that he is speaking of things that he has seen.
At this point, perhaps, it should be made clear that when we speak of Gods, as we have done and shall do still further, especially in quotations, it should not be thought that we are getting away from the fundamental idea of an essential monotheism. Nor was any such idea in the minds of the leaders of the Mysteries, whether in Egypt or elsewhere. The term Gods or Divinities was a technical term denoting certain high orders of Spiritual Beings, who, as compared with us, were best described as Gods. Such were, for example, the Gnostic Aeons, the Elohim of Genesis, some of the Greek Daimones, many of the Egyptian Deities and so forth.
Before all these ; before manifestation ; before the things that really are; before even the first principles of all things; prior to the Good ; prior to the One ; prior even to Being or Thinking, there is That which is shut out from all mortal comprehension.
As the ancient Oracle said: "In Him is an illimitable abyss of glory, and from it there goeth forth one little spark, which maketh all the glory of the Sun and of the Moon and of the Stars. Mortal, behold how little I know of God ; seek not to know more of Him, for this is far beyond thy comprehension, however wise thou art; as for us, who are His ministers, how small a part are we of Him!"
But to resume. Everywhere, so far, we have been met by the idea of Rites and Ceremonies, Exercises, Magic and so forth, and it would perhaps be as well to examine a little more carefully what these people meant by Magic. In the minds of many it is associated with the Grimoires and such-like literature; with Necromancy and other unpleasant arts, such as the making of wax images and sticking pins in them and so forth. It is, however, on the contrary, claimed by the Theurgists that it is the Wisdom and Philosophy of Nature and a effects. A Magus is therefore a Contemplator of Heavenly and Divine things; a wise man and a priest, who, to paraphrase Picus di Mirandola, by the connection of natural agents and patients, answerable each to the other, may bring forth such effects as are wonderful to those that know not their causes.
Paracelsus, in his Occult Philosophy, Cap. II, says: "It is a most secret and hidden Science of supernatural things in the Earth, that whatsoever is impossible to be found out by man's reason may by this Art, that is most pure and not denied." While Cornelius Agrippa, who also wrote three books on Occult Philosophy, says (Book I, Cap. 2): "Magic contains the profoundest contemplation of the most secret things, together with the nature, power, quality, substance and virtues thereof, as also the knowledge of whole nature."
Elias Ashmole, who published the Theatrum Chemicum Britannicum (1652), summarises the position in his notes to Norton's Ordinall of Alchimy, by saying: "The Magic here intended is Divine, True, of the wisdom of nature, and indeed comprehendeth the whole Philosophy of Nature, being a perfect knowledge of the works of God and their effects. It is that which reduces all natural philosophy from variety of speculation to the magnitude of works, and whose mysteries are far greater than all natural philosophy now in use and reputation will reach unto." Which statement, we are of opinion—without wishing to offend—is as true to-day as the day it was made.
This involves the theory of Agrippa that the order and symmetry of the Universe is so regulated that the lowest things, belonging to the sub-celestial or elementary region are immediately subservient to the middle or celestial, and these in turn to the super-celestial or intelligible, while these last obey the Supreme. That further there is an analogical bond between them by which the spiritual essences may be drawn down, or, rather, a particular spirit may be united to the Universal, the simple and pure human mind being converted and laid asleep from its present life so utterly as to be brought into its divine nature and become enlightened with the divine light.
And this is in harmony with the Egyptian Theurgists, who said that the Gods were Spiritual Essences, and were partaken of as light, leaving the light unaffected, while the partaker was filled, receiving every excellent quality of mind, being purified and set free from all passions and irregular impulses. To the quest of this light it was necessary that everyone should give himself wholly, for by its means is obtained both truth and perfect excellence in souls, by the aid of both of which the Theurgist winged his way upwards to the Intellectual Fire which is the end of all knowledge and of all Theurgic practice.
This is the Fire spoken of by the Oracle. "And when, after all the phantoms, thou shalt see that Holy and Formless Fire ; that Fire that darts and flashes through the hidden depths of the Universe, hear thou the Voice of Fire."
But the Oracle also says, "So therefore, first the Priest who governeth the works of Fire, must sprinkle with the Water of the loud-resounding Sea." So that the first preliminary must be purification, without which nothing may be attempted of a more profound order, for according to another saying of the same Oracle : "Thou shalt not invoke the self-conspicuous Image of Nature, ere thy body has been purged by the Sacred Rites, since ever seeking to drag down the Soul, from the confines of matter leap forth the terrestrial demons, showing no true sign unto mortal man."
This magic, therefore, these rites, ceremonies and exercises, were in the first stages directed to a purging and purification of the lower nature, uniting it thereafter to its various higher counterparts until, having gathered itself together, as it were, having achieved a state of unification of itself, it might attempt the supreme and final operation of at-one-ment or commingling, uniting itself indissolubly with that which is beyond all idea of selfhood. But this latter stage is entirely removed from all human comprehension, even the preceding stage taking place, as we are not surprised to learn, at a very late period, and then only with the exceeding few.
But we are plainly told that there is "but one linear way throughout " from the purifications upwards, so that we may well make our start here, nearer to earth.
We may, of course, take it as a sine qua non that the aspirant must lead a life as far as possible virtuous and unselfish, but this is merely a necessary condition, for without some assistance the mere abstaining from evil is sufficiently difficult and far from being all that is required. The very desire to do evil must cease to exist; temptations must cease to be temptations if we are to achieve our end. And this is not to be attained by the stern repression of all emotions and feelings, the " rooting out " that is so much spoken of and so much mistaken ; for the emotions are the driving force, without which nothing can be accomplished, and the destruction of them is not for one moment to be contemplated.
Transmutation is what is required, and here we should note that as Friar Bacon—and with him all the others agree—tells us, "Species are not transmuted, but their subject matter rather, therefore the first work is to reduce the body into water, that is into mercury, and this is called Solution, which is the foundation of the whole art."
This is so plain and definite a statement, and one that is so often expressed by all the authorities in almost identical terms, that we cannot afford to overlook it, and it would be as well, therefore, to try and ascertain what was meant by this before endeavouring to discover any clue to how it was to be done.
In the Triumphal Chariot of Antimony, Basil Valentine, dealing with the necessity for depriving Antimony of its poisonous nature so that it can never return to it, throws considerable light on the subject. To avoid undue prolixity we shall quote principally from the somewhat abridged translation of A. E. Waite, condensing even this so as to present essentials only. And lest his illustration appear to be too " rustic "—to use his own terms—we will first give the reader the remarks of his commentator, Kirchringius, on the passage in question. He says:
"This first key is the principal part of the whole Art ; this opens the first gate, this will also unlock the last, which leads into the palace of the king. Believe not only, but consider and observe. Here you stand in the entrance ; if you miss the door, all your course will be error ; all your haste ruin ; and all your wisdom foolishness. He who obtains this key, and knows the method by which to use it, and hath strength to turn the same, will acquire riches, and an open passage into the mysteries of alchemy. Do not despise these remarks. There may be apparent repetition here, but there is nothing superfluous. Return often mentally to them; read, mark, learn and inwardly digest all that is said. It may be that in this turbid water, which looks so unlikely, you may after all catch your fish. If the excess of light which prevails here should not enable you to see, no amount of obscure alchemistic reading will disperse your inward darkness."
This is at least encouraging. It is to be hoped that the reader will not find the remarks of Valentine himself the reverse. He says: "Here lies the master key of our whole Art. Antimony, which contains within itself its own vinegar, should be so prepared as to entirely remove its poisonous nature. The preparation of Antimony or the Key of Antimony, is that by which it is dissolved, opened, divided and separated. In extracting its essence, in vitalizing its Mercury, the process is continued and this Mercury must afterwards be precipitated in the form of a fixed powder.
"The same process may be observed for instance in the brewing of beer; barley, wheat or other grain must undergo all these processes before it becomes a palatable beverage. It must first be mashed and dissolved in water. This is Putrefaction or Corruption. Then the water is poured off and the moist grain is left in a warm place till it germinates and sticks together. This is Digestion. Thereupon the grains are once more separated from each other, and dried, either in the sun or before the fire. This is Reverberation or Coagulation
"The prepared germ is then ground in the mill. This is vegetable calcination. It is afterwards cooked over the fire, and its nobler spirit is mingled with the water in a way which would not have been possible before it was so prepared. This we may call distillation. This method of converting water into a fermented beverage by the extraction of the spirit of the grain is unknown to (many and) I have only found a few who understand such Art.
"Afterwards a new separation takes place by means of Clarification. A little yeast is added, which stirs up its internal heat and motion, and thus in time the gross is separated from the subtle and the pure from the impure. The beer thereby becomes of great efficacy; before this clarification this would not be because such operative spirit was clogged and hindered by its own uncleanness from fulfilling its objects.
"After this we may bring about another separation by means of Vegetable Sublimation. The spirit, by this process, and by Distillation, is separated in the form of another beverage, or ardent spirits. Here the operative virtue is separated from its body; the spirit is extracted by means of fire, and has deserted its inert and lifeless habitation in which before it was domiciled.
"If such ardent spirit be rectified, you have Exaltation. When this is done and the spirit is several times distilled, it becomes, by being purified from all phlegm and wateriness, twenty times more effective than before, and is volatile and subtle and penetrating.
"Know that these illustrations set forth a grand truth of the highest moment, which I have set forth lest you might be in danger of losing your route at the very outset. (For) Antimony is also likened to a bird which is borne through the air on the wings of the wind, and turns whither it will. The wind or the air here represents the Artist, who can move and impel Antimony whither it pleases him, and place it wherever he likes."
At the end of the Triumphal Chariot in the section on the " Fire Stone " he gives us a brief but plain statement regarding this solution or separation, which, causes his commentator, Kirchringius, to exclaim: "Are you in your right mind, Basilius, so to prostitute the Stone, which has hitherto been so carefully kept a secret by all the Sages ? You have here let out the whole secret."
The reader may not exactly share Kirchringius' anxiety—though we cannot but hope that he will—nevertheless here is what Valentine says: "But no substance can be of any use in the generation of our Stone without fermentation. From the tangible and formal body we must elicit the spiritual and celestial entity (I hardly know what expression to use in describing it). But to what purpose do I speak, and what do I say? I speak as one who has temporarily lost control over his organs of speech. If an atom of judgment still remained to me, I should not have opened my mouth so wide, and I should have stayed my hand even at the last moment."
Equally to the point is Lucas in the sixty-seventh Dictum of the Turbo. Philosophorum when he says: "I testify that the definition of this Art is the liquefaction of the body and the separation of the soul from the body which it penetrates." And Synesius, when he tells us that " The Quintessence is none other than our viscous, celestial and glorious soul, drawn from its minera by our magistery."
If we might ourselves offer any commentary, we would say that the secret is safe enough as far as the vast majority is concerned, for though something may be tolerably obvious by now of what has to be done in this first part of the work, yet it is only, as it were, the first half of the first part, and that without any details and without any clue as to how this separation is to be brought about.
The first omission may easily be rectified, for everywhere in the literature of this subject we encounter variants on the ancient theme " Solve et Coagula," dissolve and coagulate, volatilise and fix. And these two are but complementary portions of one operation, and are therefore frequently treated of as being one. Indeed, at least in Spiritual Alchemy, the great variety of terms we encounter, such as reverberation, circulation, cohobation, mollification, decension, putrefaction, etc., is merely a repetition of these two processes separately or combined.
This we may see from that saying of the Philosophers quoted by Solomon Trismosin, the reputed teacher of Paracelsus, in his Splendor Solis, where he says in his second treatise, " Dissolve the thing and sublimate it, and then distil it, coagulate it, make it ascend, make it descend, soak it, dry it, and ever up to an indefinite number of operations, all of which take place at the same time and in the same vessel."
Compare this with Albertus Magnus, who says: "Take the occult nature, which is our Brass, and wash it that it may be pure and clean ; dissolve, distil, sublime, incerate, calcine and fix it; the whole of which is nothing else than a successive dissolution and coagulation to make the fixed volatile and the volatile fixed. The beginning of the whole work is a perfect solution." And Synesius, who takes us at the same time a stage further in his description, saying: "Note that to dissolve, to calcine, to tinge, to whiten, to renew, to bathe, to wash, to coagulate, to imbibe, to decoct, to fix, to grind, to dry, and to distil are all one and signify no more than to decoct nature until such time as she be perfected. Note further that to extract the soul or the spirit ... is nothing else than the aforesaid calcinations. ... It is through the fire of the extraction of the soul that the spirit comes forth gently; understand me, the same may be said of the extraction of the soul out of the body, and the reduction of it afterwards upon the same body until. . . that which is below, being like unto that which is above, there are made manifest two luminaries, the one fixed, the other not . . . (And when ultimately) that which is below rises upon that which is above (then) all being substantiated, there issues forth an incomparable Luminary."
We may therefore, it would seem, conclude this part of our investigation by thus amplifying the deduction made at the end of our fourth chapter. Not merely have we to purify as far as possible the humanspirit, but to make an extraction of it, so that it may, in a measure, literally leave the world of sense, and become that flying volatile of which Hermes speaks. After which we must bring it again into its body, which is to be tinged thereby. But the general consensus of opinion among our authors is that this cannot be in any way effected without prayer, so that it would be as well to see what they have to tell us regarding this before proceeding further.
Continued in Part 2 (Chapters VIII-XIV)