Projection and Synthesis

Tomberg now summarizes the four stages, in anticipation of the next two arcana, as shown in the following table.

Stage Sense Description
Mysticism Touch To experience the unique essence of Being
Gnosis Hearing To understand the mystical experience
Magic Projection To put mystical experience into practice
Hermetism Synthesis To communicate mystical experience

The mystical sense is analogous (not identical) to the sense of touch, and gnosis to the sense of hearing. The magical sense is “projection”. This is the objectification and exteriorization of one’s inner life. It is analogous to artistic creation on the psychic plane and procreation on the physical plane. Relating creation and procreation in this way is certainly interesting and needs to be explored in depth, perhaps at another time. (Nikolai Berdyaev develops that idea in his Destiny of Man, a book that Tomberg quoted several times.) So magic, art, and giving birth are analogous in that they project the inner life outward, where it takes on a life of its own. They pertain to the domain of the spirit, soul, and body.

The creation of the world ex nihilo is a magical act. In contrast, the alternate theories about creation deny the magical act:

  • Pantheism denies the independent existence of creatures, regarding them as part of the divine life
  • Emanationism attributes an ephemeral existence to the world
  • Demiurgism teaches that there is an independent substance co-eternal with God, which God then moulds into the world.

Note that these three theories are considered more “rational”, i.e., more acceptable to the discursive mind, than creationism, so a certain type of educated person may be attracted to one of them. Creationism, as a magical act, cannot be reduced to such terms. Nevertheless, the sense of Hermetism is synthesis, i.e., it finds a place for seemingly incompatible doctrines provided they are understood on the proper level. Those who do not think hermetically will be convinced that only one of those theories can be true.

Tomberg, relying on the four worlds of the Kabbalah, puts them in their proper place. Recall that Aristotle showed that there are four senses of the word “priority”: time, being, knowing, and goodness. The one we are most familiar with is priority in time, i.e., one thing happens before another. However, Tomberg is using the notions of priority of knowing and being. For example, the idea of a thing is prior to the thing itself; this does not imply a certain period of time. It is difficult to think outside of time, but that is necessary to understand metaphysics and esoterism.

Ain Soph is the Unlimited, i.e., Infinite Possibilities. Infinite is meant in the metaphysical sense of being unbounded, not in the mathematical sense of being too large to count. These possibilities are ideas in the Mind of God, which precede (ontologically, not temporally) creation, or the magical projection of the ideas. The process of formation is then completed through the angelic hierarchies and ultimately by man.

These are summarized in this table:

Kabbalah World Doctrine
Atziluth Emanation Pantheism
Beriah Creation Theism
Yetzirah Formation Demiurgism
Assiah Action/Facts Naturalism

So we see how different worldviews can be reached. Each one is limited to a certain plane, so each insists it is the only correct worldview for all. Hermetism, on the other hand, relies on the sense of synthesis, in that in relates all the separate worldviews and understands them as a whole. Another way to put it is that Hemetism synthesizes in the vertical plane, whereas profane science is limited to a horizontal plane.

This is Tomberg’s preparation for the third Arcanum.

The Gnostic Sense

If the practical teaching of the first Arcanum is “concentration without effort”, the practical teaching of the second Arcanum is the development of the gnostic sense. And like the first, it sounds easy, yet is difficult. Nevertheless, paradoxically we are told it should be like play, effortless. Tomberg explains what he means by the gnostic sense.

The gnostic sense is the same as the contemplative sense. Contemplation follows concentration and meditation; it begins as soon as logical and discursive thought is suspended. Typically, our minds are flooded with thoughts throughout the day, so the discursive and logical mind cannot conceive what it means to suspend itself. Yet, that is what the contemplative sense requires.

Discursive thought wants to reach a conclusion, actually many conclusions. It is satisfied when it has many statements at its disposal, which it can repeat in various situations. It assumes it “knows” something, when it can repeat a conclusion.

The gnostic sense begins at that point. Its method is “depth”, so it seeks to understand the conclusion at a deeper layer, beyond words and thoughts. For example, I may learn the proof that “God exists” in a philosophy class and be convinced; that is at the logical and discursive level. However, I do not yet “know” the God who exists; that is a different “knowing”, or “gnosis”.

While the mystical sense is analogous to the sense of touch, the gnostic sense is analogous to the sense of hearing. A person cannot hear his or her depths if all he can hear is the sound of his own thoughts echoing in consciousness. Hence, the thinking faculty must learn to slow down and even stop; it must do that to leave a “clearing” where the truth can reveal itself in its fullness. In the silence, the conclusion reached by the discursive mind “sinks in”. The gnostic sense connects, in this way, the discursive mind to the mystical sense.

Two Kinds of Memory

Tomberg next makes the interesting point that “knowing” is like “remembering”. I am sure everyone has had the frustrating experience of trying to remember something, or to say something that is “on the tip of the tongue”. There is no way to “try” to remember, no effort that will help. In my experience, the better path is to “let go”, relax, and the memory will appear in consciousness without effort. That is “horizontal memory” in time, which brings the past experience into the present. One then knows that experience again. This is related to archetypes or mythological memory.

Gnosis, on the other hand, is the recall of the vertical, that which is “above” which is then reflected in consciousness. Hence, gnosis is a form of recall, but from the higher to the lower, rather than from the past to the present. Tomberg provides us with the necessary conditions to reflect that which is above; they are related to the Arcanum.

  • It is necessary “to be seated”, i.e., to establish an active-passive state of consciousness or state of soul which listens attentively
  • It is necessary to be “woman”, i.e., to be in the state of silent expectation rather than in chattering activity
  • It is necessary to “cover with a veil” the intermediate planes between the expected reflection and the plane where the reflection is actualized.
  • It is necessary to “wear a three-layered tiara”, i.e., to apply to a problem or question of a gravity that it bears on the three worlds
  • It is necessary to “keep one’s eyes on the open book” in order to objectify one’s result in order to continue and add to the tradition.

It should be perfectly clear at this point that Tomberg is not teaching us conclusions that we can repeat to our friends, nor retelling marvelous stories about some spirit world. On the contrary, he is providing us with practical tools to follow a path that will lead to gnosis. These practices can, and should, be tried at home.

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True Religion

True religion is the intuition of the living God by the living soul, hence mysticism must be the root of any true religion; theology, rituals, rites, and practices then follow from that. The stages of revelation descend from the mystical experience. The following diagram shows the stages and relates them to the letters of the sacred name of God.

Stages in the development of a Tradition
Letter Stage Applies to Description
Y Mysticism Religious   Life To experience the unique essence of Being
H Gnosis Esoteric   theology To understand the mystical experience
V Magic Esoteric   art To put mystical experience into practice
H Hermetism Esoteric   philosophy To communicate mystical experience

This all starts with mystical experience; one cannot hope to make progress by skipping over the beginning. Without the complete process a tradition will decay and die. A stage in isolation, unconnected to the other stages, will result in misunderstanding. Hence, secular philosophy that does not derive from mystical experience, magic, and Hermetism enslaves the human mind. A person stuck in an ideology cannot see the world as it is, but only through the distorting prism of the philosophical system. This is a web of thought that maintains the mind in a trap.

Magic in isolation becomes sorcery, or as Tomberg put it, “a pathological, romantic aestheticism”. I suspect several members of this discussion have been involved with, or know someone who has, with such magical orders. These orders are dark, they try to promote personal power as an end in itself, or engage in activities such as “sex magick” in order to provoke unusual states of consciousness.

Gnosis in isolation is sterile. People stuck in this level often seem to know a lot about religious ideas and symbols, and “talk a good game”, but really have no depth, and “live on the scraps” (as Tomberg put it) of various religious traditions, resulting in some incoherent, syncretism.

Even the mystic is not immune to spiritual pathology. If there is not intellectual effort made to understand the experience, he becomes addicted to the experience itself, a “spiritual drunkard”. We see this in some people who seem to be quite spiritual, but the most common symptom is an extreme “quietism”. That is, the experience alone counts, and there is nothing to do. Or else, the attitude is that “nothing matters”, so mystical experience is allied with libertinism in one’s personal life.

Once again, Tomberg points out the dangers encountered along the path. At every stage along the way, he clearly points out the narrow path, but simultaneously issues a warning of possible deformations. These must be taken seriously, because once one has veered off the path, it is difficult to get back on. This is because such a person is usually in a state of denial, believing his level of understanding is perfectly sound.

The complete human being is a mystic, a gnostic, a magician, and a philosopher, i.e., “he is religious, contemplative, artistic, and intelligent”. At least, this is true virtually in every person, i.e., in potential. Obviously, anyone involved in this work of participating in the Hermetic tradition, wants to actualize all these latent possibilities.

That will be our goal.

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Mystical Experience

Although Tomberg offers many diversions and side trips, we see that there is a single thread, the vertebrae, off of which everything hangs. The Bateleur represents the inspiration of the Spirit and the High Priestess, gnosis. Tomberg now expands on its meaning.

Gnosis, as represented, is unlike science. Gnosis is the part of the process of the descent of revelation to individual facts, while science starts with the facts and tries to determine laws and principles from them.

Gnosis is mysticism that has become conscious of itself. That is, it expresses the essence of the mystical experience. As for the latter, Tomberg explains that the essence of pure mysticism is creative activity. The mystic transcends created things level by level until it reaches the essence of Being, the divine, creative fire. Of course, God, in Tradition, is understood as the essence or principle of Being.

There have been many saints of great sanctity who have been unable to express that experience in a meaningful way. Those are rare who can turn mysticism into higher knowledge, or gnosis. This occurs in four stages.

  1. The first stage is the reflection in consciousness of the mystical experience.
  2. The second stage is its entrance into memory
  3. The third state is its assimilation into thoughts and feelings
  4. In the fourth stage, it is formulated in words or a book

Tomberg here is not giving us a theory, but rather he is describing his own experience of how he came to write this collection of letters. Perhaps some of you have had an experience of the supreme Reality, but just can’t get it into words. Just allow it to happen and maybe it will come out in a contribution to this list. Probably at first, it won’t sound as good in words as it did in your mind; keep in mind that Tomberg spent 40 years writing his book. But first, that experience needs to penetrate into your being so that it is inextricably enmeshed in your memory, thoughts, and feelings. Now you can understand why the mind must be made clear of distracting elements.

Nevertheless, it is better to strive for the creative activity of mysticism even if you can’t fully express it. The worse situation is the man who has a certain knowledge, but lacks the mystical experience that gives it life. Typically, he will get stuck with a fixed idea and will be unable to move beyond it.

Tomberg describes the pure reflection of mystical experience (stage 1) as without image and without word (i.e., thoughts). This is important to keep in mind or else the danger will be that all sorts or images or unsound ideas may be mistaken for the experience itself. He describes it as more like a “touch” than the other senses, since touch does not experience form, color, or sound. Nevertheless, this spiritual experience is as real as any sensory experience. He uses the word “intuition” to describe it, since it is a direct experience not mediated by images or thoughts.

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