Safeguarding the Mysteries

Klein Bottle
Spiritual questions, or debates over the superiority this of that tradition, can be resolved neither by personal predilections nor by empirical and historical considerations. These issues can only be addressed from the understanding of metaphysical principles. It is curious, though symptomatic of the contemporary human situation, that everyone feels competent to opine on spiritual and political matters, although they would not dare to say anything at all about quantum physics or algebraic topology, topics much simpler to understand.

One such principle is that knowledge is being, “to know is to be”. In order to know something of spiritual depth, one must become deep oneself. Frithjof Schuon wrote a book titled The Transcendent Unity of Religions, the point of which is that although on the human plane, different religions may diverge widely, at the level of principle, they must needs converge. Thus, for example, the Catholic monk Thomas Merton can rightly claim that he has more in common with a Zen monk than he does with the average Catholic in the pew.

Hence, the importance of spiritual practice is more important than just knowing doctrines or philosophies. This is what separates the Metaphysician and the Hermetist from the ordinary philosopher. The great Hermetist of the 20th century, Valentin Tomberg, in the Meditations on the 22 Major Arcana of the Tarot makes this clear in the following passage: (p 122, my translation)

The goal of spiritual exercises is depth. It is necessary to become deep in order to be able to achieve the experience and knowledge of deep things. And it is symbolism which is the language of depth — so that these are the arcana expressed by the symbols that are the means and the goal of spiritual exercises, from which the living Tradition of Hermetic Philosophy is composed.

Common spiritual exercises create the common link which unites Hermetists. It is not common knowledge which unites them but rather spiritual exercises and the experiences they entail. If three people from different countries who had used Moses’ Genesis, John’s Gospel, and Ezekiel’s Vision as the subjects of spiritual exercises for several years were to meet, they would do so as brothers even though one knew the history of humanity, the other had the science of healing, and the third was a deep cabbalist.

What they know is the result of personal experience and direction, whereas the depth, the level that they have reached — without regard to the aspect and extent of the knowledge that has been gained — is what they have in common. Hermetism, the Hermetic Tradition, is first and foremost, a certain degree of depth, a certain level of consciousness. And it is spiritual exercises that safeguard it.

Salvation and Evolution

At the conclusion to the Meditation on the Arcanum of the Star, Valentin Tomberg makes the following appeal:

In our time, therefore, it is a matter of the task of effecting the third step of the evolutionary spiral of the Hermetic tradition — the third “recovery” of the subject of the Emerald Tablet. Our time makes an appeal to the collective efforts of Hermetists of today to make a third summary, which will be for our time what the Tarot was for the Middle Ages and what the Emerald Tablet was for antiquity… This is why a new, modern summary is required, which will be as viable as the Emerald Tablet and as the Major Arcana of the Tarot.

With this, Tomberg exhorts us to move past the Tarot and to reformulate Hermetic wisdom in a contemporary way. Nay, it is not he but our Mother who exhorts us to our duty to the future. That is the message of the woman in the Star:

It is she who is the Mother of the Future, and this is why her message confronts us with duty towards the future—the duty of the river of the unbroken Tradition. It is necessary for us to make efforts to comply with this!

In this Letter Tomberg relates Salvation to Evolution. Salvation is from the Father and tells us “what”: the Mystery of Salvation through the Son. The Mysteries of the Mother tells us “how”: through biological and spiritual evolution. That is, salvation comes from above, the eternal, the timeless, while evolution is the projection of salvation onto the dimension of time. In the following passage, Tomberg gives us a number of predecessors whose collected efforts teach us the synthesis of Salvation and Evolution.

But let us not forget that this synthesis of today has had its history, and that this is due also to “labor pains”. It was born after a long series of continuous efforts from century to century:

  • the effort of Heraclitus, the philosopher of the perpetual change of matter;
  • that of the Gnostics, who made the drama of the fall and return of Sophia Achamoth resound in human history;
  • that of St. Augustine, the father of the philosophy of history, who brought to light the twofold current in mankind’s history—the “City of Man” and the “City of God”;
  • that of the alchemising Hermetic thinkers who affirmed and re-affirmed untiringly the principle of the transformability of the base into the noble;
  • that of Martinez de Pasqually, who wrote his Traité de la reintegration des êtres (“Treatise on the Reintegration of Beings”);
  • that of Fabre d’Olivet, the author of L’histoire philosophique du genre humain (“Philosophical History of the Human Race”), showing the dynamic operation of the triangle destiny-freedom-providence in mankind’s history;
  • that of H. P. Blavatsky, who added and opposed to Charles Darwin’s materialistic evolution a breath-taking vision of the spiritual evolution of the universe;
  • that of Rudolf Steiner, who emphasized that the center of gravity of spiritual-cosmic evolution – to know Jesus Christ – is also not far from Teilhard de Chardin‘s “Omega point”);

All these efforts have contributed —in a visible or invisible manner —to the synthesis of today. They live, all together, in the contemporary synthesis of evolution and salvation, which is the fruit of this collective effort from century to century. ~ Valentin Tomberg, Letter XVII: The Star [corrected translation]

The Philosophical History of the Human Race

The temptation is to get “stuck” on the Tarot, collecting different versions, and so on, whereas our real task is to understand, develop, explain, and expound on the contents of the Letters. To that end, this post will focus on Fabre d’Olivet’s contribution to the synthesis in his Philosophical History of the Human Race. Need I repeat here that Tomberg regarded this history as the most lucid he had encountered?

Note that his is a “philosophical” history, not an exact sequential reproduction as profane historians try to write. Instead, he relies on his powers of Creative Imagination, which Tomberg describes as reading the Akashic record. There are many theories of history, e.g., the Marxist, the Freudian, racial, materialistic, and so on, but Fabre relies instead of his precise understanding of the three Forces that actually motivate the world process, which we previously described in Providence, Will, Destiny.

  • Destiny
  • Will
  • Providence

Corresponding to those macrocosmic forces, there are these three spheres of life:

  • Instinctive (necessities): sensation, instinct, common sense
  • Animistic (passions): sentiment, understanding, reason
  • Intellectual (inspirations): assent, intelligence, sagacity

These spheres are not fully developed in all human beings. Fabre describes the evolution of man as the progress from the instinctive life based on sensation and motivated by attraction or fear, through the animistic life, and finally to the fully human life of the Intellect or Intuition. Of course, that is not the same as discursive thought which is still in the animistic sphere.

However, the development of the intellect cannot happen automatically, mechanistically, or deterministically. Fabre d’Olivet explains:

Nothing was made in advance with him, although everything was determined there in principle. Providence, whose work he was, willed that he should develop himself freely and that nothing should be forced in him.

The Coming Deluge

With this esoteric key, Fabre explains the development of Marriage, social and political structures, commerce, justice, and so on. In an upcoming post, we will summarize his main points. The Deluge is coming. This is the loss of Tradition and the forgetfulness of esoteric or Hermetic knowledge, which is leading us backwards toward our animal and instinctive natures. The collective ignorance of the human race regards that as “progress”, the liberation from social and religious structures that have sustained the human race, bringing Salvation to many.

Signs of the Deluge: Instead of justice, right is established by force. In place of impartial knowledge, there is a battle of opinions, each held with passionate intensity. The Emerald Tablet saved the essence of ancient Wisdom, and the Tarot saved the essence of Medieval Wisdom. The task of preserving modern wisdom requires a new “Noah’s Ark”, whose form is yet to be determined.