Possession by Evil Spirits

In discussing the arcanum of the Empress, Tomberg brings up the idea of possession by evil spirits. Unlike what you see in Hollywood movies, this is not the result of an invasion by evil spirits; to the contrary, these spirits must be invited in. Once entrenched in consciousness, the can come to dominate the mind to their own ends. He writes:

The objective of scared Magic is more than healing, pure and simple. It is the restoration of freedom, including freedom from the stranglehold of doubt, fear, hate, apathy and despair. The “evil spirits” that deprive man of his freedom are not at all those of the so-called hierarchies of evil or fallen hierarchies. Neither Satan, nor Belial, nor Lucifer, nor Mephistopheles has ever deprived anyone of his freedom. Temptation is their only weapon and it presupposes the free will of the one tempted. But possession by an “evil spirit” has nothing to do with temptation. It is the same thing as with Frankenstein’s monster. A man engenders an elemental and becomes thereby the slave of his own creation. The demons or evil spirits of the New Testament are today called in psychotherapy obsessive compulsive disorders, phobias, fixed ideas, and so on. They were discovered by contemporary psychiatrists and recognized as real, that is to say, parasitic psychic organisms independent of conscious human will and tending to control it.

But the Devil is not involved with that, at least as far as direct participation goes. He observes and never violates the law which safeguards human freedom and is the convention of both the hierarchies of the left and right. May you not fear the devil, but rather the perverse inclinations in yourself! For these perverse human inclinations can deprive us of our freedom and control us. Even worse, they can make use of our imagination and inventive capabilities and lead us to creations that can become the scourge of mankind.

Hence, possession is the consequence of engendering elemental beings and then being enslaved by one’s own creations. In our day, we would explain possession in psychological terms: obsessive/compulsive disorders, phobias, fixed ideas, for example. In a sense these neuroses become real and have an independent existence from the person who engendered them.

The elemental beings correspond to air, water, earth, fire, so each one would have a different effect on the mind. The elementals do not have independent conscious existence. They are more like a virus and only get “life” by taking over the soul or mind, actually by being “engendered”. Being possessed by elementals is not a sign of spirituality; on the contrary, it is a serious impediment.

The way to overcome the elementals is to never yield to their characteristic defects. Instead, adopt their corresponding strengths. E.g., be prompt and active like the Sylphs, energetic and strong like the Salamanders, and so on.

The elementals are spirits in bondage to the elements. As such, they are not free and cannot have the use of reason; the can only manifest in subhuman forms as animals. Nevertheless, as Tomberg points out, they can become invited into a human consciousness, thus effectively dominating it, creating “vicious and imperfect men” (Eliphas Levi). Levi writes:

Elementary spirits are like children: they torment chiefly whose who trouble about them … [they] frequently occasion our bizarre or disturbing dreams and produce [psychic phenomena]. They can manifest no thought other than our own and when we are not thinking they speak to us with the incoherence of dreams. They reproduce good and evil indifferently, for they are without free will and are hence irresponsible… Such creatures are neither damned nor guilty; they are curious and innocent.

That is what makes them so tempting: they are innocent and can appear to be beautiful as do the sylphs and undines. Their child-like and animal-like qualities make them endearing. The myths and legends of these spirits typically use trickery or enticement to invade one’s consciousness.

The following chart, adapted from Transcendental Magic, lists the qualities of the four elemental spirits.

Element Elemental Temperament Defect Strength
Fire Salamander Sanguine Passionate Energetic and strong
Air Sylph Bilious Shallow and capricious Prompt and active
Water Undine Phlegmatic Irresolute, cold and fickle Pliant and attentive to images
Earth Gnome Melancholy Avaricious and greedy Laborious and patient

Advancing into the future

Flung into existence, we are forced to advance into a future which terrifies us by its novelty and disheartens us by the “chance” that seems to govern its development. We suffer equally from the determinist processes that involve us in their various phases, and from the forbidding indeterminism of chances whose multiplicity and slenderness make it impossible for us to control them.

Following upon that, I shall put forward a particular concept of faith. If the future seems to us so uncontrollable – both in its causal sequences and its capriciousness – it is because we are afraid to plunge with it. Once we have faith (in the vigour of our spirit and in the powerful goodness of God) then the future will submit to control, and lose its terror. First of all, “chances” will give way to our personal effectiveness; and then there will emerge, from the strengths developed from our own faculties, a freedom we have never dreamed of. The creative power somehow needs our faith on which to rest its advances. The world will achieve its fulfillment only to the extent to which we commit ourselves more confidently in the direction of what has not yet taken shape – confidence forces the barriers of determinism and brings order to chance.

It is in the supernatural sphere that the world is now being created. And it is therefore above all to an achievement of sanctity that the sum total of chances that punctuate the whole course of a believer’s life will directly co-operate. … faith has an even wider function than to triumph over chance: it really enables the soul to achieve new stages of being. It doesn’t simply “order”; it creates new powers.

The more one changes, the more one dies. Trust in God does not do away with death, but it makes death such that it opens the way to greater fullness of life. There are, of course, as many deaths as lives: the greater the faith with which one allows death to carry one off, the more will death introduce one to some individually heightened form of existence.

In short, we may say that the more we believe in life, the bolder we are, the more the Universe is able to build itself around us in its mystical reality, of which all that has already taken shape makes itself manifest then to our vision in faith, inseparable from our action in faith.

~ Pierre Teilhard de Chardin The Making of a Mind

The Word is made Flesh

La Papesse

The Spirit blows wherever He wants, and you hear His voice, but you do not know where He is coming from nor where He is going; so it is with everyone born of the Spirit. ~ John 3:8

The breath of the Spirit is the pure act of intelligence, arising from the Silence. So how do you hear his voice? We read in Meditations on the Tarot:

The pure act is unknowable in itself; it is only its reflection which makes it perceptible, comparable, and comprehensible; in other words, it is thanks to its reflection that we become conscious of it.

The Spirit is active principle and the Virgin is the passive, reflecting principle, like the calm surface of a body of water. It takes the two conditions for the conscious experience of the Holy Spirit, or Kingdom of God. As Jesus tells Nicodemus in his nocturnal visit:

Amen, amen, I say to you that a man cannot enter the Kingdom of God without being born of Water and the Spirit. ~ John, 3:5

The Water represents consciousness. The reflection of the pure activity of the Holy Spirit will be distorted unless that consciousness is itself pure. Two qualities are necessary, one pertaining to the Mind, the other to the Will: it must be

free of false ideologies, beliefs, and dogmas
free of the cloudiness of the imagination, passions, and personal desires

Reintegrated consciousness, the Kingdom of God, or the Primordial state requires a rebirth in the Spirit and Water, to be able to hear the Spirit and reflect it accurately. This is how the Word expresses the Silence.

The Word is made flesh by the Holy Spirit through the Virgin Mary.

The Church of John

John IconAt the end of his Gospel, John mentions that Peter was questioning Jesus’ relation with John. Jesus replied bluntly, “What’s it to you?”

In Meditations on the Tarot, Tomberg brings up the often-made distinction between the Church of Peter and the Church of John, the former structured and hierarchical, the latter free and mystical. Someone asked me the question: “Does the Roman Catholic Church need Hermetism?” To answer properly, the question needs to be adjusted: “Does the Church of Peter need Hermetism?” and the answer to this question is “certainly not”.

The real question is really about the Church of John, and there are several questions: “Does it even exist, has it existed continuously, is its core Hermetism?”

According to the theologian Hans Ur von Balthazar, it does exist (The von Balthazar Reader, #66), although he calls the two churches “Official Church” and “Church of Love”, and its source can be found in the Gospel of John. He says there is a two-peaked church in harmonious tension, although the Church of John respectfully gives precedence to the Church of Peter. There are no clear boundaries between the two. This interesting discussion concludes with this:

Between these two impossible ecclesiologies, the Gospel of John leaves and dismisses us in a suspended middle point whose foundation lies solely with the Lord. The last thing said to the servant Peter, the last word of the Lord in the gospel, is the admonition (for the church and theology of all times), “What’s it to you?”

So the Church of John exists and has existed continuously. The next question is about Hermetism. There have been many clues about this. Dionysius, Clement of Alexandria, Origen are close to Hermetism. There were the alchemists, Ramon Lull, Ficino, Louis-Claude de Saint-Martin … all clues that Hermetism has always existed in the Church and only occasionally makes a public appearance.

Rene Guenon claims that the Church used to have an esoteric teaching which he claims was Hermetism. He points to Dante as a member of an esoteric order, and even Thomas Aquinas. The Templars, the Grail Legend, the story of the Magi, Medieval Romances, St Bernard, Ramon Lull, Michael Scott, and so on, all point to the existence of a Christian esoterism. In Perspectives on Initiation, Guenon writes in a similar vein about a dual church:

Within a single organization, a kind of double hierarchy can exist, especially when the apparent leaders are themselves unaware of any link to a spiritual center. In such cases there may exist beside the visible hierarchy made up by those apparent leaders, an invisible hierarchy of which the members may not fulfill any ‘official’ function but who, by their presence alone, nonetheless assure an effective liaison with this center. In the more exterior organizations these representatives of the spiritual centers obviously need not reveal themselves as such …

Tomberg and van Balthazar agree on the Church of John. It is not separate from the Church of Peter on which it depends for structure and support. Rather it is a less formal entity, in parallel with, yet not opposed to, the official church. Historically, there have been times they got along, and other times in opposition. With the destruction of the Templars, came the Rosicrusians who found themselves opposed to the Church. Then other Hermetists, such as Cagliostro, Giordano Bruno, or Thomas Campanella were imprisoned and even executed.

Yet to create a visible Church of John with its own separate structure, clergy, doctrine, and so on is, in my opinion, a mistake; actually I believe it to be impossible. That is because it will eventually degenerate into a vacuous, undifferentiated and amorphous entity, not holding firm to anything in particular. As a witness to that, we need only point to the various so-called New Age and occult movements active today.

The Church of John is in your heart and mind, especially when you are joined with 2 or 3 others. So to any self-appointed guardians of orthodoxy, I ask “What’s it to you?”

The Word is Silence Expressed

Major Arcanum 1

The Multiple States of the Being is Rene Guenon‘s fundamental work on metaphysics. In it he explains that “just as Unity (Being) is nothing but the metaphysical Zero (Non-Being) affirmed, the word is silence expressed.” That is, Silence contains within itself the possibility of the Word.

But the Silence is more than the word. The latter is silence expressed, but Silence must needs include as well the inexpressible. Hence, Silence is related to mystery, which refers to something inexpressible, not incomprehensible (which is a common misconception). The implication here is that the understanding of a mystery requires intuition, a direct knowing of the inexpressible; what can be expressed can, on the other hand, be known through discursive thought.

Guenon makes some interesting etymological connections. The Greek mysterion derives from myein which means “to be silent”. The same root mu in Latin is used in mutus, “mute”, but more significantly in the word mythos, “myth”. So a myth refers to that which is inexpressible, that is, something that can only be expressed indirectly by means of symbolic representations.

In Meditations on the Tarot, this Silence is related to concentration without effort. To know this Silence is to be this Silence. That is, the discursive mind is quieted of its thoughts, images, desires. This is a concentration, not of something, but the effortless concentration of the Silence. We read there:

Concentration without effort, which means there is nothing to suppress and where contemplation becomes as natural as breathing and the beating of the heart, is the state of consciousness — of the intellect, the imagination, the feelings, and the will — a state of perfect calm, accompanied by the complete relaxation of the nerves and muscles of the body. It is the deep silence of desires, concerns, imagination, memory, and discursive thought. We would say that the entire being has become like the surface of calm waters reflecting the immense presence of the starry sky and its inexpressible harmony. And the waters are deep, oh how deep! And the silence increases, always increasing, what SILENCE! Its growth takes place in regular waves which pass, one after the other, through your being: one wave of silence followed by another wave of deeper silence, then yet another wave of even deeper silence … Have you ever drunk the silence. If so, you know what concentration without effort it.

Enriching the Hermetic Tradition

Although we know who the author was, the book Meditations on the Tarot was published anonymously and posthumously. Valentin Tomberg explains why he wrote his meditations on the major arcana of the Tarot in French:

These letters were written in French, which is not the mother tongue of the author, because it is in France, and in France only, that a living literature on the Tarot has been perpetuated since the 18th century. Furthermore, there exists as well a continuous tradition of Hermetism, which unites a spirit of free research with respect for the Tradition. These letters, by virtue of their contents, will therefore be able to become an integral part of the Tradition while enriching it. [my translation]

This attests to the continuous existence of the Hermetic tradition. Having been driven underground following the destruction of the Templars, it re-emerged in France. From there it was preserved in Russia, as we can infer from the life of Joseph de Maistre.

For our Meditations on the Tarot, we adhere to the following hermeneutic principles:

  1. It is self-contained. Everything essential to understanding the text is in the book, so there is no necessity to appeal to authorities, ideas, or hearsay not explicitly mentioned in the book.
  2. We take the author to be an honest and sober man. That means we accept that his intent is to enrich and be an integral part of the Hermetic Tradition. We don’t assume some other ulterior or hidden motive.
  3. The text is its own authority. The book is useful insofar as the Meditations are fruitful to the reader. We don’t accept the book based on some assumed authority of the author. In particular, we don’t assume that the author was a bodhisattva, savior, or the incarnation of some other high being.
  4. We don’t claim any authority to ourselves. Our intention with this blog is to elucidate and expand upon ideas and concepts in the Meditations. We haven’t been visited by Tomberg; he hasn’t dropped books in our lap. in short, a “Tomberg sighting” does not make anyone a Hermetist, no more so than an “Elvis sighting” makes anyone a pop singer.
  5. As Rene Guenon (who also was quite familiar with the French Hermetic tradition) points out, Hermetism is a cosmological system, not a complete tradition. It presumes a metaphysical doctrine, even if not always made explicit, without which certain ideas in it cannot be understood. Therefore, we will supply the metaphysical foundation whenever necessary.