Stages of Hermetic Meditation

The Aim of Meditation

In the Letter on the Fool, we learn that Christian meditation pursues the aim of deepening the two divine revelations:

  • Holy Scripture
  • Creation

Ultimately, this will awaken a consciousness and appreciation of Christ’s work of Redemption. Hence, our meditation will lead to contemplation of the seven stages of the Passion. That task will be a follow up to this essay.


To understand the Redemption, it is first necessary to start with understanding the cosmic significance of the idea of Sacrifice. In the Letter on the Emperor, we learn of two sacrifices:

  • Creation is a sacrifice: to allow freedom
  • Incarnation is a sacrifice: the fact of freedom

Creation is effected by a divine contraction and by voluntary divine powerlessness, which is akin to crucifixion. Freedom is the key to understanding Providence in history. On the one hand, without freedom, God would be a “divine tyrant”; yet on the other hand, because of man’s freedom, God’s power may be falsely doubted. Tomberg summarizes it:

God is all-powerful in history inasmuch as there is faith; he is crucified insofar as one turns away from him.

The fact of freedom led to the Incarnation. The sacrifice is not limited to the cross, since the Incarnation itself was a sacrifice. Sergius Bulgakov in Sophia: The Wisdom of God describes it this way.

Christ underwent all the limitations and infirmities of human life. He was subject to every human propensity: he experienced hunger and thirst, exhaustion, grief, temptation. … The agony [of the cross] provides clear evidence at once of the reality of his human nature and of the depth of his self-abasement.

Moreover, his understanding of man’s nature was not sugar-coated as it so often is today. Christ was fully aware of the human race living in spiritual darkness with stupidity, weakness, sloth, lust, injustice, disease … in short, sin. This was accompanied by the awareness of God’s wrath. Bulgakov concludes:

in his human nature the representative human feels the force of the sin of the whole world pressing upon him, the horror, for the one sinless being, of contact with sin, and of the justice of God outraged thereby.

Stages of Meditation

Tomberg describes three stages of meditation, above our ordinary waking consciousness. These stages, in a sense, correspond to the four levels of interpretation of sacred writings. These are summarized in the following table:

Stage Object Experience Interpretation
Objective Consciousness External images and sounds Sensory phenomena Literal
Imagination Concentration on an inner image Perception of spiritual phenomena Allegorical
Inspiration Inner silence, listening Spiritual communications Moral
Intuition Beyond words and thoughts Spiritual identification Anagogical

In our ordinary state of objective consciousness, we learn the faith through sensory images and hearing. Exoteric faith is learned through images such as icons, statues, stained glass, art work, and the like. It is also taught by an authority.


The beginning of meditation is our imagination (which Tomberg also calls “vision”) by which we try to concentrate on interior images. We try to visualize the events, perhaps even placing ourselves in them. Tomberg describes this as augmenting our experience. Objective consciousness is passive in respect to experiences, but the imagination is active. This may lead to the perception of spiritual phenomena, as described by several saints and venerables. Anne Catherine Emmerich and  Maria d’Agreda have been such visionaries.

St. Francis de Sales describes this stage as the mind meditating on a subject with the aid of the imagination and discourse or reasoning.


In inspiration, we try to quiet the mind, listening silently. Whereas imagination requires effort, this stage is the beginning of concentration without effort. In silence, the gifts of understanding or wisdom may be received. Ideas or dogmas that seemed to be difficult to understand begin to make sense. Sometimes, issues in your own life will be cleared up. You may find that things “just happen” favourably. Not necessarily in your material life, but more so in your spiritual life, as one depends more and more on this for moral guidance.


At the stage of ordinary consciousness, the source of knowledge or faith is from beyond one’s own being. Even at the stage of imagination, the images are still in a sense external, as something the I actively creates and envisions. There is still some of that in inspiration, although the process is passive rather than active; the source is beyond the I. In other words, there is the I, or Self, confronting an experience, whether sensory or spiritual.

In the stage of intuition, however, all images, words, and thoughts are relinquished. This may even feel like a “dark night”, a time of abandonment.  The consolations of spiritual visions and communications seem to disappear. That is because the I itself must go. It is not a matter of a new and elevated experience, but rather a transformation of one’s very being.

Tomberg gives us the example of St Paul on the road to Damascus, to illustrate the three stages of vision, inspiration, and imagination:

  • Vision: He had the vision of Christ
  • Inspiration: He received communication
  • Intuition: No longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me

Purgation of the Senses and the Spirit

Given the importance of St. John of the Cross in the Meditations, it is worthwhile to learn from him. On the path to the Unitive Way, two conversions are necessary based on the purgation of the senses and the purgation of the spirit. “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart, and with thy whole soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind.” (Luke 10:27) According to Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange in The Three Conversions of the Spiritual Life, this requires loving God for His own sake, not from self-interest or attachments. To love God with your whole mind means that your love is not affected by the ebb and flow of our experiences. This awareness will counteract the feeling of abandonment on the way to Union.

Hermetically, the path through the stages of mediations involves an alchemical transformation of the spirit, soul, and matter. This transformation is summed up by this pattern:

  • From the state of primordial purity before the Fall
  • To the state after the Fall
  • To Reintegration

Hence, there are a series of meditations suggested by Tomberg, that start by meditating on the state of primordial purity, concluding ultimately on the meditation on the Passion. This is the proposed sequence of meditations:

  • The seven days of creation
  • The seven stages of the Fall
  • The seven miracles of St. John’s Gospel
  • The seven “I am” sayings of Christ
  • The seven last words of Christ
  • The seven stages of the passion

The third stage is reached following the understanding of the Passion and then the Resurrection. Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange summarizes the stages, based on the three conversions of the Apostles:

  • First Conversion: They became disciples of the Master, attracted by the sublime beauty of His teaching.
  • Second Conversion: This came at the end of the Passion, which had enabled them to divine the fecundity of the mystery of the Cross, enlightened by the Resurrection which followed it;
  • Third Conversion: It filled them with the profound conviction of this mystery. This resulted in a complete transformation of their souls.

The events of the Passion that are fruitful for meditation are these:

  1. Washing of the feet
  2. The scourging
  3. Crown of thorns
  4. The way of the cross
  5. The crucifixion
  6. The entombment
  7. The resurrection

A more detailed examination of each of these will follow during the week.

Epilog on Love

The Scripture readings for Quinquagesima Sunday illustrate the first and third conversion. The Gospel was about the blind man by the side of the road (Luke 18:31-43) St. Gregory the Great understood this as an allegory about the human race, which was in a state of darkness following the Fall, but then came into the light.

The other text was from 1 Corinthians 13:1-13, the famous sermon on Love, or actually on Charity. Everyone seems today to know what love is, without realizing how difficult it is, what is worth loving, or even how to go about loving. Charity means “love” in the sense of the commandment to love God and your neighbor as yourself. As such, charity is the goal, not the beginning. The gifts of the Holy Spirit lead to Charity. It requires understanding and wisdom to know what to love. It takes strength to love in the face of adversity. Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange sums it up like this:

It is impossible to have a high degree of charity without having at the same time and in a proportionate degree the gifts of understanding and wisdom, gifts which, together with faith, are the principle of the infused contemplation of revealed mysteries.

Moral Logic

Meeting notes for 13 February 2017.

In Letter XXI The Fool, the idea of moral logic comes up again. In particular, it is contrasted with formal logic and organic logic. Assuming that formal logic starts with the head, or intellectuality, moral logic makes sense primarily for those whose head and heart are united. In an intriguing re-reading of Immanuel Kant, Valentin Tomberg interprets the critiques as a spiritual path to move from formal to moral logic. He explains:

it was not a logical conclusion or an argument of discursive thought which gave Kant certainty of God, freedom and immortality, but rather the real and intimate experience that he had when he practised his transcendental method. This latter evidently proved itself to be an authentic spiritual exercise, which led Kant to arrive at experience of the kernel of his being—just as Descartes arrived there—and from which he drew the threefold certainty: the reality of God, the reality of moral freedom and, lastly, the reality of the soul’s immortality.

The following chart summarizes the three logics.

Logic Matter Critique
Formal Quantity Pure Reason
Organic Function Judgment
Moral Values Practical Reason

Pure Reason

In the Critique of Pure Reason, Kant starts with the premise that knowledge begins with sense experience, which is enhanced with formal logic. The conclusion reached is that this methodology cannot lead to knowledge of the “real” world, but only to knowledge of the appearances of the sensual world. That is, the “noumenal” world that is the substrate to the phenomena is opaque.

In ordinary life, our thinking is directed toward objects, people, circumstances, events, etc., around us. What Kant did was to make thought itself the object, i.e., thinking about thinking. Kant’s method, according to Tomberg, is the philosophical equivalent of the Hermetic method described in the Letter on the Moon, but this is not the place to discuss that.

What Kant discovered is that thought imposes its own a priori categories onto its understanding of the world. Normally, we don’t realize that, since the image of the world arises spontaneously in consciousness. This is how we experience the phenomenal world of nature, beings, artifacts, and all material things.

The situation is exacerbated with regard to the non-material world. When it comes to our relationships to other people, to society, to a political system, or to God, our thought again creates a representation. In analogy to our experience of the phenomenal world, these representations likewise seem to appear spontaneously in consciousness. Hence, we tend to take them as real pictures of others, society, politics, religion, etc. They are actually just points of view, part of samsara. Now there are everywhere lively debates about which worldviews are better, or a higher stage of development, and the like, but these are all relative. The Hermetic task does not give us a “better” point of view. Rather, we try to transcend such points of view. Hence, we do various attention exercises to bring some detachment from our thinking.

In the most consistent and extreme forms of formal logic, there is even the denial of consciousness itself. Mental events are considered to be mere epiphenomena of biochemical processes in the brain. Of course, this would mean the destruction of all human life, so no one really lives as though that were true.


There are two fundamental barriers to higher thought from formal logic:

  1. It is deductive, so that everything must follow from first principles. The conclusion is hidden in the premises, so there is no space for novelty or creativity, beyond discovering new principles to explain “what is”. Deduction does not go anywhere, so the idea of purpose has no meaning.
  2. It is quantitative, not qualitative. Hence, there is the tendency toward the rejection of hierarchy in favor of egalitarianism. Human differences are denied.

Of course, the laws of thought make it difficult to hold such views consistently, but serious thinkers manage to do so. Kant noted four aesthetic judgments: the agreeable, the beautiful, the sublime, the good. The “agreeable” is also known as the infamous facebook “like”, which made Zuckerberg wealthy. It is ubiquitous since most people will make judgments based on whether they “like” something or not, whether it brings pleasure or not. The ability the judge the beautiful, the sublime, and the good accurately is much rarer.

However, for organic logic, teleology is the more appropriate concept. For Kant, there are things (e.g., living beings) “whose parts exist for the sake of the whole and the whole for the sake of the parts.” Formal logic wants to treat the parts as identical and interchangeable.

In the Letter on the Moon, we read about David’s census of the Israelis and again of the census of Caesar Augustus. These enumerations treat human beings as inanimate things. It ignores that people have different functions and roles within a society. That is the predominant view today, since differences in people are held to be merely cosmetic.

It is said that the Kali Yuga will be an era of undifferentiation in which distinctions will be harder to maintain. Organic and objective distinctions are giving way to subjective preferences.

Practical Reason

Two things fill the mind with ever new and increasing admiration and awe, the more often and steadily we reflect upon them: the starry heavens above me and the moral law within me. I do not seek or conjecture either of them as if they were veiled obscurities or extravagances beyond the horizon of my vision; I see them before me and connect them immediately with the consciousness of my existence. ~ Immanuel Kant

If pure reason, as reflecting on thought is lunar, then moral logic is solar; formal logic is cold, moral logic introduces warmth. So when Kant turns his attention away from the external world, and focuses it on his own existence, he is beginning the process of uniting the head and the heart. There he becomes aware of the “categorical imperative”, i.e., the moral law written in his heart.

The categorical imperative is an unconditional moral obligation. Kant’s formulated it in the maxim, “act as though your action should be an universal law.” It also implies that others should never be treated merely as means, but as ends in themselves. Moreover, the categorical imperative is self-imposed, and not imposed by force from the outside.

Tomberg does not regard this as mere theory, since he claims that “moral logic is the human analogy of the Logos that enlightens every man.” Moreover, that means the categorical imperative is the “divine image” in man. This is the same as Dharma in Hinduism.

The spiritual experience of moral logic postulates the existence of God, free will, and the immortality of the soul. This is not a logical or scientific proof. Tomberg explains:

What are initially postulates of moral logic are confirmed, amplified and deepened through spiritual experience, which will not hesitate to come to the aid of thought, when head and heart are equally engaged. Because moral logic is the language of the spiritual world, and to make use of moral logic is to begin a dialogue with the spiritual world. For the latter does not remain mute and indifferent when addressed in its own language.

Ultimately, moral logic is the “logic of faith, i.e., thought which participates in revelation.”

Christianisation of Mankind

We read that the fusion of intellectuality and spirituality is the germination of the Christic seed in human nature and consciousness. This Christianisation of mankind is not merely quantitative, but means the qualitative transformation of human nature and consciousness. This will work itself out in conformity with this law:

Aspiration and general languor—the culmination of success in an individuality—a general diffusion over a number of generations. That is, the climate of general expectation leading to the particular realization, which then becomes general.

This aspiration is not necessarily explicitly Christian, since the Hindus expect the Kalki Avatar and the Buddhists expect Maitreya. In an individual, the realization will require the fusion of prayer and meditation. This Buddha-Avatar will not operate solely on the material plane. Rather, as it was pointed out last night, it must also take place on the etheric and astral planes. Ultimately, the teaching will be for the “I”, the consciousness of one’s own existence as it was for Kant. Yet, it will not be a new or novel teaching or religion. Tomberg explains it this way:

The mission of the Buddha-Avatar to come will therefore not be the foundation of a new religion, but rather that of bringing human beings to firsthand experience of the source itself of all revelation ever received from above by mankind, as also of all essential truth ever conceived of by mankind. It will not be novelty to which he will aspire, but rather the conscious certainty of eternal truth.

The Man of Heart

Being the meeting notes from 6 February 2017.

We discussed our experiences with the prayer of the heart. If it is difficult to bring attention to the heart, then the hands or another external body part can be used. The question arose about the meaning of attention “on” the heart. Patricia suggested that it actually means to bring attention “in” the heart. In other words, the heart becomes the center of awareness, not the object of awareness.

The Law of the Heart

In the Meditation on the Hermit, we come to see that the heart is where “contemplation and will are united, where knowledge becomes will and where will becomes knowledge.” It is important to keep in mind that the “heart”, in this context, does not at all signify the centre of emotions and passions as it does in the popular imagination. Rather, it is the middle centre, or chakra, of man’s psychic and vital constitution. It does signify “love” however, making it the most human of the centers. “Knowledge” is what man knows, “will” is what a man can do, but “heart” is what he is.

The great work of the man of heart is the transmutation of the substance of other chakras into the substance of the heart. It was mentioned in the meeting that Seyyed Nasr wrote that the heart is the only organ that connects the human state to a transcendent state. This notion is confirmed by Valentin Tomberg when he explains that the heart, alone of all the centres, is not attached to the organism. Hence, it can go out of the organism and live.

The Planets and the Chakras

The heart, as the central chakra, is therefore the “sun” of the microcosm. Oscar Hinze, in his book Tantra Vidya, shows that in the ancient esoteric astronomy, the traditional planets correspond to the chakras of Tantra Yoga, in short, the macrocosm corresponds to the microcosm. Moreover, he shows how similar ideas were part of the progress of initiation in Mithraism. But, even more interestingly, Hinze notes that the mystic Johann Gichtel, a student of Jacob Boehme, was aware of the same correspondence as revealed in his book Theosophia Practica. The following table shows the correspondences. The table also includes the “I am” saying associated with the chakra, and the transformation that occurs with its awakening, as described in the Letter on the Hermit.

Chakra and Planetary Correspondences
Chakra Planet Transformation I am
8/1000 petals
Saturn Abstract and transcendent wisdom → Full of warmth like the fire of Pentecost The resurrection and the life
2 petals
Jupiter Intellectual initiative → compassion-filled insight into the world The light of the world
16 petals
Mars Creative word → magical: illumining, consoling, healing The good shepherd
12 Petals
Sun Love → Exteriorisation of love. The bread of life
10 petals
Venus Science → conscience The door
6 petals
Mercury Center of health → holiness, i.e., harmony of spirit, soul, body The way, the truth, and the life
4 petals
Moon Creative force → source of energy and élan The true vine

7 centers of energy
Remarkably, Gichtel claimed to have discovered the subtle centers in the body and their correspondence to the planets through his own contemplations and experience. In the Tantric system, each chakra is represented by a lotus with a unique set of petals. Hinze demonstrates that the number of petals corresponds to the “gestalt number” of each planet. These numbers are derived from the way the ancient astrologers experienced the sky. For example, the gestalt number of the Moon is 4, which represents its phases. Hence, the Muladhara chakra has four petals.

In the chart, the column labeled “Transformation” shows the changes that occur when the chakra is transformed by the heart. The column labeled “I am” shows Jesus’ “I am” saying that is associated with each chakra.

Waking Up

When the chakras are asleep a man becomes dominated by instinctual life, motivated by fear (muladhara), sex (svadhisthana), and hunger (manipura), interspersed with random eruptions from higher chakras. Another way of saying this, following Gichtel’s diagram, is that the human being is under the influence of the planets, hence subjected to sponaneous forces beyond his knowledge and control.

So the obvious question is how to “awaken” the higher chakras. That puts us in a bind, since Hermetism rejects any mechanical process or technique to do so. By analogy, we can look at how you wake up from a night’s sleep. Who is doing the awakening? Commonly, it may be the result of an outside stimulation, or enough it comes about after a “crisis point” in a dream.

So, analogously, we could say that “waking up” into a higher state of consciousness are reaching certain “crises”, as described in the Letter on the Tower of Destruction. Such a crisis may result from either an internal or external event. Example, perhaps, are the boundary situations described by Karl Jaspers, which often arise from chance, traumatic events. Of course, the Hermetist may choose boundary situations deliberately, by meditating on a particular topic. Perhaps, in this case, a meditation on one of the “I am” sayings would be helpful. I think it is a bit of a mystery for the “sleeping” person to try to wake up. All the forces that lead to that, need to be encouraged. Ultimately, it is a matter of grace from above.

The Christianisation of the Chakras

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation (II Corinthians v, 17)

Valentin Tomberg mentions the traditional Tantric method of awakening the chakras through their corresponding mantras: Om, Ham, Yam, and so on. That will awaken the chakras as they are. The Hermetist, however, has a different aim: the Christianisation of the centres, i.e., their transformation in conformity with their divine-human prototype. In other words, the aim is to make of oneself a new creation. The corresponding “I am” saying can be used as a mantra in the process of the Christianisation of the chakras.

The Christianisation of the inner organization is the transformation of the human being into a man of heart. The heart is the third, or neutralizing, force mediating “knowledge” and “will”. This leads to three transformational moments.

Intellectual intuition Feeling for truth Subordinate spontaneous movements of thought as well as the directing intellectual initiative to the heart of thought
Moral intuition Feeling for beauty Subordinate both spontaneous imagination and actively directed imagination to the direction of the heart
Practical intutition Feeling for good Subordinate spontaneous impulses and designs directed from the will to the feeling of practical intution

Note that there are two stages of subordination to the heart:

  • Spontaneous arisings
  • Directed mental activities

We have dealt with spontaneous arisings extensively in the past. We have noticed that, in our normal waking state—which is usually far from fully conscious—thoughts, images, and impulses spontaneous arise, most often in a very negative way. We have used them as “crises” to lead to a moment of awareness, since they need to be brought under conscious control. In the past, we have used the exterior parts of the body, e.g., hands, feet, etc., as our objects of concentration and attention. Perhaps, now, we can begin to bring attention to the heart rather than a body part.

Next, there can be deliberate and consciously directed thoughts, images, and plans. Those are recognizably human activities since they are self-directed and self-willed. However, for them to be Christianised, then they, too, must be subordinated to the heart.

The goal of the Christianisation of the centres is to transform the human being into a man or woman of heart.

Scientific Postscript

Although secular science is not the last word for us, it should not be surprising to learn that the heart has neurons. The HeartMath Solution, by Doc Childre and Howard Martin develops the idea of the heart as the central intelligence of the body. We do not consider this a “proof” for the man of heart, but an effect. Nevertheless, some of you, perhaps in the healing professions, may be interested in such topics. The downside is that, like all new age teachings, it sees the “knowledge of the heart” strictly in instrumental terms, as the means to an end, be it inner calm, physical health, treatment for psychological problems. We, on the other hand, consider becoming a man or woman of the heart is an end it itself.