Alchemical Transformation

The Aim of Spiritual Exercises is Depth

With this claim, we are winding down the meditation on the Emperor. But what is Depth? First of all, Tomberg is eliminating other aims. For example, the aim of spiritual exercises is not to gain special powers, nor secret knowledge, nor inspiring visions, nor blissful experiences, among other things that people may be seeking. Perhaps, they may be side effects, but not the primary motive.

This has consequences. For example, different Hermetists may not necessarily share the same knowledge, or one Hermetist may have the power of healing while another does not. So what unites them is that that have all achieved “depth”, i.e., a certain level of consciousness. That is how they recognize each other.

Knowledge is of Facts

Here is the first indication of depth: The Hermetist’s knowledge is of facts, not theories. The temptation of those who are not Hermetists is to spout off about various theories, as though that were the most important thing. On the contrary, the Hermetist knows facts, spiritual facts, to be precise. Depending, therefore, on his interests and experience, one man’s factual knowledge may very well be different from another. Yet these Hermitists recognize each other in their depth.

Asking, Seeking, Knocking

The sort of factual knowledge that the Hermetist acquires comes from spiritual exercises, which are really the Arcana. The spiritual exercises give the Hermetist the aptitude so that he is suited to acquire that knowledge of facts.

Initiation, then, is the capacity of orienting oneself to attain the knowledge of relevant facts. To give a non-esoteric example: A chemist is “initiated” into the field of chemistry. He will know how to perform experiments (exercises) to expose chemical facts. He will know what to look for, and this capacity is lacking in the non-chemist.

Analogously, the Hermetist needs to be orientated in the particular domain that interests him. Theoretical knowledge alone will not help him, nor will reading books or attending conferences and seminars. Only doing the spiritual exercises (the equivalent of an experiment) will reveal spiritual facts to him. So the first step is to know how to

  • Ask, seek, and knock

The result will be knowledge because the Hermetist has

  • Received, found, and gained access

Knowing How to Know

The Hermetist “knows how to know,” and that is not theoretical knowledge. Tomberg gives the most important example. The Hermetist does not know concepts about God, but is rather oriented towards the living God, i.e., the spiritual concrete fact of God. This is the difference between thought and being.

There is the false belief among certain “sophisticates”, that belief in beings is childish and needs to be replaced with abstract principles or laws. Just the opposite is the case. Rather, laws and principles are manifestations of spiritual beings.  In other words, thoughts and ideas are really the activities of spiritual beings, and through them we experience concrete spiritual realities.

God is Concrete and Real

Hence, the Hermetic knowledge of God is that of the most concrete and the most real, since He is absolute. All created things are only relatively real and concrete.

In a profound way, the Hermetist if usually closer to simple believers in their exoteric faith, because the latter are not led astray but pseudo-sophisticated theories. The only difference is that the Hermetist knows what the faithful believe. The Hermetist knows the angels. He esteems his Tradition.

The Man of Authority

So Hermetic philosophy has the ideal of realizing the man of authority. That is, that man is more human than all other men. In other words, he has more being, and has manifested all human possibilities. He is fully human.

The Image and Likeness of God

Paradoxically, the more human a person becomes, the more he manifests divine qualities. That is because the “image and likeness of God” is the divine element underlying human nature. Thus, all the baser elements of human nature can be alchemically transformed into silver and gold.

This transformation requires the operation of sublimation, which is the “crucifixion” of the baser elements, so their true essence can blossom. Specifically, this involves the renunciation of the four arbitrary liberties of human nature, which was discussed earlier in Letter IV.