The Star of the Magi

Hope has two beautiful daughters; their names are Anger and Courage. Anger at the way things are, and Courage to see that they do not remain as they are. ~ St. Augustine of Hippo

As was mentioned in Salvation and Evolution last month, it is worthwhile to repeat this:

Our time makes an appeal to the collective endeavour 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. Thus, just as the Emerald Tablet saved the essence of ancient wisdom, and just as the Tarot saved the essence of medieval wisdom, across the deluges which occurred in the time that separates us from them, may the essence of modern wisdom be saved in a spiritual “Noah’s ark” from the deluge which is going to come, and may it thereby be transmitted to the future, just as the essence of ancient wisdom and that of medieval wisdom has been transmitted to us by means of the Emerald Tablet and the Major Arcana of the Tarot. The tradition of Hermetism blossomed in the past and must live in the future. 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.

It is all too easy to forget that the intention of the Tarot is to preserve Hermetic wisdom. It is an example of objective art, since its symbolism will open itself up to those with the developed intuition to grasp its deeper meaning. Without that, the cards become subjective and arbitrary. So in “our time”, we see a multitude of variously themed decks of cards that have no connection at all to Hermetic teachings, but merely reflect the personal judgments of the artist.

In the Letter on the Fool, Valentin Tomberg reveals his experiences in 1920 with the group who had studied the Tarot with the Russian esoterist Gregory Ottonovitch Mebes. Although his claim to have surpassed their understanding of the Tarot is certainly true, the echoes of that original impulse can still be heard in the meditations.

The Spiritual Battle

Mouni Sadhu had also encountered some members of Mebes’ groups and even hinted at an initiation into the Martinist Order. His book on the Tarot is strongly based on the notes he had from that group. As such, that book is interesting as a framework for the Meditations. Sadhu’s book is analogous to the chord progression and the Meditations are like jazz riffs over those chords.
Star of the Magi
Each Arcanum in the Mebes Tarot deck has three levels of interpretation: archetype, human, nature. It also has a scientific name as well as a common name. For example, the full name of Arcanum 17 is the Star of the Magi. The Magi come up in passing in the Meditations through their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.

The three levels of this Arcanum are:

  • Hope
  • Intuition
  • Natural Divination

Each of these levels corresponds to the knowledge of the three cosmic forces explained by Fabre d’Olivet:

  • Providence. Supernatural Hope is the knowledge of God’s promises.
  • Will. Intuition is knowledge without thinking.
  • Destiny. Also Fate or Karma. Natural Divination is our knowledge of the physical world.

This is how Sadhu describes this Arcanum:

It is not sufficient to be logically convinced under all circumstances, often Hope is necessary. It is not enough to enforce our will astrally, we should also have tact and intuition. It is not enough to know that Fate is pitiless on the physical plane, but it may be useful to know how to foresee its forms by the use of divinatory methods.

Alfred North Whitehead in Process and Reality describes how those forces interact to create new experiences. At each moment, the accumulation of the past exercises a strong influence to prevent change. God’s influence is also present as a creative, but not coercive, lure. Finally, the human Will acts on those possibilities of manifestation at each occasion.

Our knowledge of the physical world is through science and discursive thinking. However, intuition is our knowledge of higher things. That is why the Arcanum of the Star is about intuition, as it reveals aspects of Reality unknown to science. Sadhu explains:

Providence illuminates the present with its Light. … Hope acts and radiates its rays throughout the darkest corners of our consciousness.

Tomberg identifies this light with Hope:

The light-force which emanates from the star … is hope. … Hope is not something subjective. It is a light-force that radiates objectively and directs creative evolution towards the world’s future.

However, it does not act alone but requires humanity’s cooperation. Sadhu, too, recognizes human evolution, but only:

If humanity’s will is allied with the enlightening influence of Destiny, then it is stronger than Fate. In such cases, the history of humanity has an evolutionary character.

That is the only valid path. Unfortunately, there are false paths that lead to destruction: viz., denying the influence of Destiny, denying the voice of Providence, or even succumbing to Fate.

The latter keeps the will asleep, leading to resignation, routine, quietism, or fatalism. Dualism, on the other hand, awakens the will. Specifically, there must be a Yes and a No, the Will is forced to choose. Without the awareness of a spiritual battle, the Will remains asleep. Johann Fichte’s recognized this very clearly. Bryan Magee summarizes Fichte’s insight:

For morality to be possible there must be a choice, and for choice to be a possibility for me it is necessary that something should exist other than my self. Similarly, for moral action to be a possibility for me, there needs to be some challenge, something that exists in opposition to my self, or at least something that is a potential obstruction to my activity. So if I am to be a moral being at all it is necessary that there should be a world which is not me, a world of objects which can obstruct me. On the basis of this central argument Fichte evolved a philosophy according to which what is primal and original is the noumenal moral will, and this will begins into existence the phenomenal world as the requisite field for the self-objectification of moral activity.

This is represented by the two vases, which are poured into the same stream. Tomberg laments:

Here is the tragedy of human life and mankind’s history and cosmic evolution. The flow of continuity in heredity, tradition and lastly evolution bears not only all that which is healthy, noble, holy and divine of the past, but also all that which was infectious, vile, blasphemous and diabolical. All is borne pell-mell, never ending, towards the future.

There must be righteous Anger against the latter qualities, as well as the Courage to choose the former. Together, those are the daughters of Hope, which “transforms the future into promise.” That promise ultimately is the City of God, the state of Reintegration prior to the duality exposed by the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.

The Light of Hope

To live in the light of Hope is to reject the sleep of Fate. Fate is the Eternal Return, in which nothing is new, but is merely the Past repeating itself indefinitely. On the contrary, Tomberg reminds us:

Each day is a unique event and revelation which will never be repeated.

This is compatible with Rene Guenon’s claim that the same state of existence cannot be repeated, as that would be tantamount to the denial of God’s Infinitude.

Fortune Telling

The Patzer’s of Hermetism remain mired in the residues such as the various forms of Divination or the material tasks of the Alchemists. Mouni Sadhu acknowledges that “Everything in the Universe is mutually connected and bound together or interwoven.” Hope, Intuition, and Destiny – as we pointed out – occur at every moment. Regarding Fate or Karma, Sadhu acknowledges:

Karma reveals its mysteries and secrets to us every hour, every minute, and every second. For every one of us these mysteries are written in the starry sky (astrology), on our skulls (phrenology), on our faces (physiognomy) and on our hands (chiromancy). Karma unveils itself in every one of our movements, in the smallest of realisations (graphology, cartomancy) and so on.

The practice of these techniques requires an intuition to experience images. Although many may have such experiences, Sadhu points out that the main difficulty is not the obtaining of such visions, but rather the art of interpreting them. This is only possible through the full domination of the mind which requires the power of concentration. This is a rare quality.

Recently, I read a comment that claimed that someone with such divinatory powers would become wealthy. That shows an ignorance of the methods of the esoteric sciences, as she can conceive them only in the manner of the secular sciences, which are open to anyone. On the other hand, the mastery of the esoteric sciences requires the moral purification of the will. If such powers are used for egotistical motives or monetary gains, they are likely to be lost. Hence, the charging of money for Tarot card readings should be suspect.

Ultimately, Sadhu rejects such divinatory practices, because they are restricted to the level of Fate or Destiny. They leave out both the person’s free will and God’s Providence from the vision of the future.

The Synthesis of Science and Religion

Tomberg asserts that the synthesis of science and religion if the task and mission of Hermetism. Those who like to play at Hermetism remain obsessed with the early material tasks of the Alchemists: the philosopher’s stone, the elixir of life, the panacea, the transmutation of metals, all in their private laboratory. Tomberg offers an alternative.

It is the world which has become the alchemical laboratory, just as it has become the mystical oratory.

This is not the failure of alchemy, but rather its triumph. This new alchemy is the synthesis of salvation and evolution, which is expressed in three ways:

The work of all those who taught a way —

  • the mystical and spiritual way of purification, illumination and union, or
  • the historical and social way of the progress of civilisation through social and moral justice, or
  • the biological way of evolution from the sphere of chemical elements to the sphere of living organisms and from the sphere of living organisms to that of beings endowed with thought and word

— the work of all these, I say, which teaches us a way of individual and collective perfection, is now resplendent in the rainbow of the synthesis of salvation and evolution, the rainbow of mankind’s hope.

Advent Meditation: Purity of Thought

The distinguishing mark of the Hermetic path is that it seeks to make dogmas and teachings “real” in consciousness. As Tomberg insists, this does not make it “better” than the exoteric teaching, but that it is a path that some are called to follow.

In this spirit, we can meditate on what Christmas means.

  • The birth in the past of Christ the Redeemer.
  • The expectation of Christ the Judge at the end of time.
  • The birth of Christ in the soul eternally, now.

Redemption is the reversal of the effects of the Fall. The Hermetic Tradition calls this process “regeneration” as we seek to make that real in consciousness. The undoing of the Fall requires the second birth of Christ/Logos in the soul. That is, the soul, as the passive element, reflects the activity of the Spirit. Disturbances in the soul — passions, images, desires, thoughts — will distort the spirit, just as disturbances on a pond distort its reflection of the surrounding forest.

It is this personal, subjective element that is at the root of such disturbances. Thus, the solution is to become more objective about oneself. That is to take the standpoint of Christ the Judge. Justice is possible only when the Judge is totally objective, not influenced by ignorance, opinion, personal preferences, or subjective passions. Valentin Tomberg writes in this regard:

The vow of obedience is the practice of silencing personal desires, emotions and imagination in the face of reason and conscience; it is the primacy of the ideal as opposed to the apparent, the nation as opposed to the personal, humanity as opposed to the nation, and God as opposed to humanity. It is the life of cosmic and human hierarchical ordering; it is the meaning and justification of the fact that there are Seraphim, Cherubim, Thrones; Dominions, Virtues, Powers; Principalities, Archangels, Angels; Priests, Knights and Commoners. Obedience is order: it is international law; it is the state; it is the Church; it is universal peace. True obedience is the very opposite of tyranny and slavery, since its root is the love which issues from faith and confidence. That which is above serves that which is below and that which is below obeys that which is above. Obedience is the practical conclusion to that which one recognises as the existence of something higher than oneself. Whosoever recognises God, obeys.

Yet that does not address the question of “how” to obey. We cannot obey as long as the subjective element has its grip on us; these are impure elements that disturb the soul. Tomberg discusses the idea of purity in the context of the five wounds and three vows. We can summarize these in two stages—purity of thought and purity of will. These correspond to the head and the heart respectively.

Purity of thought is the “crown of thorns”. The following passages explain that symbol:

Thus every crown is essentially a crown of thorns. Not only is it heavy, but also it calls for a painful restraint with regard to the thought and free or arbitrary imagination of the personality.

Here true thought receives confirmation and subsequent illumination; false or irrelevant thought is riveted and reduced to impotence. The crown of the Emperor signifies the renunciation of freedom of intellectual movement, just as his arms and legs signify his renunciation of freedom of action and movement. He is deprived of the three so-called “natural” liberties of the human being — those of opinion, word, and movement.

The “crown of thorns” is borne, in principle, by every person capable of objective thought — the “crown of thorns” being given to the human being since the beginning of human history.

The lack of concentration allows arbitrary, free, or irrelevant thoughts and images to flourish in our consciousness. We need to renounce them so they can be replaced by true thoughts; the art of concentration will help in that regard.

Nicholas Cabasilas writes this in his commentary on the beatitude of “purity of heart”.

To cleanse one’s heart and to exercise one’s soul for sanctification—what striving or effort or exertion would effect this more than these thoughts and meditations? Yet, if one examines this carefully, one would not call it the effect of meditation on Christ, but rather of the meditation itself.

To be occupied with the noblest of thoughts means to abandon evil thoughts; but this is to be pure in heart. Our life and our birth are twofold, both spiritual and fleshly. By its desires, the spirit fights against the body and the body resists the spirit. Since it is impossible for contraries to be at peace and to join together, it is quite evident that one or other of the desires will by means of memory, gain control over the thoughts and cast the other out. The memory of the life and birth which are according to the flesh and concentration on such matters produce the most depraved desires and the uncleanness to which it leads. So likewise, when the soul by constant remembrance holds fast the birth of the baptismal washing, the divine Food which is appropriate to this birth, and the other things which belong to the new life, it is likely to lead desires from the earth to heaven itself.

We can extract these main points:

  • There is our fleshly birth in the body and a second spiritual birth.
  • There is an inner spiritual battle between lower (personal, subjective) thoughts and higher (spiritual, objective) thoughts
  • “Constant remembrance” is necessary. In our terms, this is constant awareness, “concentration without effort”

Hermetically, this movement from fleshly to spiritual thoughts is a mystical evolution. This is the regeneration of the inner life from the Instincts to fully human life of the Intellect and Intuition.

For more on this, you could start with Salvation and Evolution.

As for the idea of regeneration, it is necessary to understand what the Fall entailed. Given Tomberg’s high opinion of Jacob Boehme, this summary of Boehme’s teaching may be helpful, especially the sections on the Fall of Lucifer and Adam’s Fall: Christian Gnosis: Jacob Boehme

Have You Ever Drunk the Silence?

Concentration without effort … is your life tossed to and fro by random events, thoughts, feelings? Or do you live life consciously? It begins with Silence …

Le Bateleur

Rene Guenon claimed that at times when the authorities had lost the inner meaning of things, initiates would pose as jugglers or horse traders. That way, they could travel from village to village, under cover as it were, to meet with other initiates. One can imagine them carrying Tarot cards as a teaching tool, since they appear to be a harmless game, and are much more compact than transporting a library. That is how I see the first card, Le Bateleur (the Juggler or Magician), as an itinerant initiate. The name of the card is a French pun on “the low deceives you” (“le bas te leurre”), but the initiates are not deceived.

Valentin Tomberg relates this card to “concentration without effort”, reminiscent of Taoism, which is the necessary first step on the journey through the deck. Our Friend writes:

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.

Practical Monism

It is risky to attribute the views of the Anthroposophic Tomberg to the Catholic Tomberg since the Meditations are the best way to know the author. He himself wrote:

“No matter what other source he might have, he will know the author better through the Letters themselves.”

Nevertheless, his conversion was never a complete rejection of his past, since his earlier thinking permeates the meditations. So concepts and ideas from the early writings that are recapitulated in the Meditations are well worth exploring. In the article titled H.P. Blavatsky’s “Secret Doctrine” and Rudolf Steiner’s “Outline of Esoteric Science”, Tomberg explains the concept of Practical Monism.

First he points out the principle that the Will follows the Intellect. That is why sound doctrine and knowledge are so important. Eventually, he writes, “all thinking sooner or later becomes willing”. Doctrines that force a one-sided choice, particularly if it is contradictory to one’s disposition, offer no viable path. As an example, he points to the Secret Doctrine as forcing the choice between spirit or matter.  Tomberg explains:

The practical consequences of this choice are contradictory to the disposition of European people, for they do not actually have a tendency toward one-sidedness… For this reason the Secret Doctrine contains no description of a path of initiation intended to be put into practice. And Madame Blavatsky, in other places on this subject, tries to show the European reader how it is actually hopeless for him to take up the path of Eastern occultism. For that, he would, as a first step, have to give up his whole European nature, because it is, as such, a hindrance.

He then defines Practical Monism: the practice of the monistic “not only — but also” instead of the dualistic “either — or“. Practical monism is actually a threefoldness rather than a duality. Thus it joins two opposites into a third element. He writes:

Knowledge and action are joined together by the cosmic love principle — making possible the transformation of knowledge into action.

In the Letter on Justice, Tomberg reiterates this point:

And the love of God? It is this third, essentially Christian, principle which has held the balance through the course of centuries … Insofar as there is peace at the heart of Christianity, it is due only to the principle of the supremacy of love.

There are many applications of the Principle of Practical Monism in the Meditations. For example, there is the reconciliation of realism and nominalism. In the Letter on the Hermit, he adds the duality of idealism and realism, as well as faith and empirical science. Hermetism, then, is the “threefold synthesis” of these antinomies. Of course, there is the reconciliation of pagan intellectuality and Jewish prophetic spirituality through the crucified Christ.

In his essay, Tomberg explains that a spiritual path intended only for those of particular tendencies would be senseless. The path of Practical Monism:

can be trodden by anyone. It appeals to that in a man which strives after the transformation of the ‘lower’, the darkness, into the ‘higher’, the light filled. On this path both poles of human nature are taken into account: what is still to be transformed is here just as valuable as what is already transformed.

In the original essay, Tomberg contrasts Rudolf Steiner’s book Esoteric Science to the Secret Doctrine. The former book, he says, it suitable for European man because it recognizes the Christ impulse that synthesizes the matter-spirit duality in the latter book.

Tomberg concludes the essay with an important principle. In any doctrine, he explains,

we must ask not only about the truth told therein, but also about the completeness of that truth. For incomplete truths can lead the whole practical striving of a person down a blind alley. Therefore, when considering occult writings we must ask: What follows from this for life?

All too often, in perpetual debates that never get resolved, that question is overlooked: what difference does it make for life? Tomberg concluded that Esoteric Science was superior to the Secret Doctrine. We can surmise that at some point, Tomberg came to the realization that Anthroposophy was still an incomplete answer to the question for life. Hence, he must have seen that the Roman religion was a better answer. In other words, with his conversion, life goals opened up for him.

Meditation on the Immaculate Conception

Immaculate Conception

One can also say that the incarnated human being is the product of two heredities—horizontal heredity and vertical heredity, the latter being the imprint of the individuality form above and the former being the imprint of the ancestors here below. This seeks to express that he is the product of two imitations—horizontal and vertical, i.e., that in order to become what he is he owes it to imitation of his ancestors from the past and to that of himself above. In the last analysis, therefore, it is a matter on the one hand of horizontal heredity going back to the archetype or terrestrial heredity, i.e. Adam, and on the other hand of vertical heredity rising up to the Father who is heaven, i.e. God. This is why it is so important to allow light from the dogma of the immaculate conception to convince us of its truth, for what is at stake is the line of vertical heredity—“God-man heredity”. ~ Valentin Tomberg

The Father gave her his Son, the Son came down into her virginal womb to become her child; in her the Holy Spirit miraculously fashioned the body of Jesus and made her soul his own dwelling place, penetrating her whole being such an ineffable manner that the expression “Spouse of the Holy Spirit” is far from adequate to express the life of the Spirit in her and through her. In Jesus there are two natures, divine and human, but one single Person who is God; here on the contrary we have two natures and two persons, the Holy Spirit and the Immaculata, but united in a union that defies all human expression. ~ St Maximilian Kolbe

For the Word generated by the Father is understood by the one in whom it is received perfectly – by that person who is the Immaculate Conception. ~ St Maximilian Kolbe

By the power of the Holy Spirit the Word became incarnate from the Virgin Mary. ~ Nicene Creed

Just as Eve was the genetic equivalent to Adam, apart from the X chromosome, so likewise is the New Adam the genetic equivalent to the New Eve. In our time, given our knowledge of biology and genetics, the possibility of a virginal conception is no longer inconceivable.

So Jesus, the New Adam, is the genetic image of his Mother, Mary, the New Eve. Moreover, while the body of Jesus was in Mary’s womb, her soul was, in Kolbe’s words, the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit. As we saw in Letter II on the High Priestess, the Holy Spirit can be reflected only in the completely unperturbed soul, a soul protected from sin. That is Mary, who understood the Spirit perfectly.

As Tomberg points out, we are under the law of horizontal heredity, in imitation of his ancestors, going back to Adam. This prepares the biological and social environment in which the individuality can incarnate. Hence, Jesus appears at a specific time and place, to the mother prepared to receive him.

While Mary was “full of grace” from the beginning, we are likewise called to be full of grace; this is theosis. The is confirmed in Mary as the Queen of Heaven. For us, it is something to be achieved. For that she is our model.

Jesus has two natures, divine and human, in one Person. We, through theosis, can have a divine as well as a human nature. However, we retain our own Person, so this union of the human with the divine requires two persons. By purifying our own soul, the Holy Spirit can become better and better reflected in our own consciousness. Then the Logos is born in us, too, and we put on our true Self:

And I live, now not I; but Christ liveth in me. And that I live now in the flesh: I live in the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and delivered
himself for me. ~ Galations 2:20

Secret Movements of the Heart of Man

Translated from Letter to a Friend, or Political, philosophical, and religious considerations on the French Revolution by Louis Claude de Saint-Martin. (French title: Lettre à un ami ou Considérations politiques, philosophiques et religieuses sur la Révolution française.

Here he points out that the Truth must be first found in the spirit and heart of man, by introspection; this Truth is anterior to the traditions, and confirms what he is taught in Tradition. This comes without effort.

[25] So the elements, air, sound, time, weather, languages, math, the close alliance which is found among the good and base customs of natural and civil society, the political institutions whose invention belongs to us less that we believe, since we can create nothing, history of the human race, the same scene of his prejudices and his universal errors in which one would have probably found a fixed residue, if one gave himself the necessary time and attention to let its volatile and the heterogeneous parts evaporate, the inexpressible and secret movements of the heart of man, especially that type of holy veneration by which he is seized when he contemplates his own grandeur, and which, in spite of his crimes, darkness, and deviations, reveals it to himself like a naked God, (allow me the term) like a God ashamed, who blushes to find himself exiled on the earth, who weeps from the inability to show himself in it in his true and sublime form, and who is more reserved and more embarrassed again in the face of virtue. Here are the paths in which the thought of man had been able to find as many religions, that is, as many of the means to unite to himself his intelligence, his spirit, and his heart as the only source from which he descends, and without which there is no peace for him; because while carefully roaming over these paths, he could not fail to meet the one who belongs to him, and who would have led him infallibly to his end.

[26] I warn you, my friend, that with so many gifts which are offered to the observers to support their religious principles, I am pained by never seeing them employ any of them, and abandon them all to resort to books and miracles. The sacred books that they quote to us, are naturally at such a distance from the belief and thought of man, that it is not astonishing to see them miss their target with identical weapons. The verities which he is concerned about are anterior to all books: if one does not begin by teaching man to read these verities in his being, in his mysterious circumstances in opposition to the thirst of his heart for the light, finally in the movement and the play of his own faculties, he grasped them poorly in his books: instead that if, by the active inspection of his own nature, he already saw himself as what he is, and foresaw what he can be, he receives without effort the confirmations that he can find of them in the traditions, and which serves only as the support of an already existing fact and recognized by him.

[27] All the more, it is also like that with miracles: I believe that it is a word that one would never have pronounced before man without having previously begun to attempt to discover the key to his being. One can never repeat it too much, it is in him, and in him alone, that man can find the understanding of all miracles; because if he had once glimpsed the miracle of his own nature, there would no longer have been anything about them which can surprise him.

The Tableau of God

Translated from Letter to a Friend, or Political, philosophical, and religious considerations on the French Revolution by Louis Claude de Saint-Martin. (French title: Lettre à un ami ou Considérations politiques, philosophiques et religieuses sur la Révolution française

In a wide ranging discussion of the French Revolution written in the form of a letter to a friend, Louis Claude de Saint-Martin turns, in these passages to the question of demonstrating the existence of God. Moving beyond the philosophical arguments, Saint-Martin is intent on demonstrating the God who is active in the soul and in the world.

The atheist is unable to see that God is reflected in the human soul. In denying that, the atheist is veiling the very thing that brings attention to his existence, replacing it with the darkness of nothingness. Unlike the Gnostics or the Platonists, Saint-Martin does not see the material world as a prison, since it, too, passively reveals the creative power of God.

An important point he makes is that there must be some common essence between God and man as the basis any possible communication. Ultimately, this can only be recognized and cannot be demonstrated to everyone’s satisfaction. The translation follows.

[12] The true atheist, if there is one, and consequently the truly impious man, is the one who, turning his gaze on the human soul, is unaware of its grandeur and disputes its spiritual immortality, since it is only in the character and the immensity of the gifts and virtues, of which the soul of man is susceptible, that we can see reflected, as in a mirror, all the pure and sacred rays, of which the tableau of God must be composed: thus, to extinguish the human soul is to cover the Divinity with a lugubrious veil that this soul alone has the power to bring to attention in all worlds; it is to extinguish that eternal sun whence everything originates, and to immerse it, with the universality of things, in the mourning and the obscurity of nothingness.

[13] The only means that we would therefore have of proving the true God, the God ruling over free beings, finally the loving God and source of a joy that can be communicated to other beings, would be without doubt to demonstrate in his creature the existence of some base or some essence similar to his, and even to obtain and to feel this joy of which He is the principle; finally, it would be to demonstrate the spiritual and immortal existence of the human soul which, in its radical and integral nature, is fully desire and fully love, finding itself to be then the active witness of the holy and loving God, as physical nature is the passive witness of the powerful and creator God, we would have placed thereby all the foundations of the building, and it would only be a question of working on its construction: for it is very much without doubt that the immortal existence of the human soul has been recognized, as several good spirits have done on earth; but to recognize a thing, is not always to demonstrate it.

Enriching the Tradition

What follows is my translation of the preface from the French edition of Meditations on the Tarot, which differs in subtle ways from the authorized English translation. Since the letters were written in French for a definite reason, it is not unimportant to refer to that text. Understanding this preface will make clear the aim and method of the meditations and we should take what Tomberg says here with great seriousness.

First of all, the reader will come to know what Christian Hermetism really is, but only after meditating, not just reading, the letters. The meditations also reveal much about the author; hence, one should be way about relying on rumours, speculations, or third party reports that would contradict or add to anything in the letters themselves.

So the letters constitute a work about Christian Hermetism and the intent is to draw others into that stream, thereby enriching the Tradition. Note that, although the author lived in England, he chose the French current of Hermetism over the British. The British version of Hermetism, transmitted particularly through the Golden Dawn order and its many offshoots, is pagan, whereas the French version is Christian.

Finally, Christian Hermetism is not a set of static dogmas, but a living current of Tradition that depends on like-minded spirits for its continuation. The manner in which Tomberg proposes to “enrich” that Tradition is explained in the letters, but it has to do with reuniting the Church of Peter with the Church of John.


These meditations on the major arcana of the Tarot take the form of letters addressed to the unknown friend. This unknown friend is everyone who will read them, and after meditated on them, he will know with certainty what Christian Hermetism is. He will see that through these letters the author says more about himself than he could have in any other way, and he will know him better, thanks to them, than from any other source.

These letters were written in French—which is not the mother tongue of the author—because it is in France, and in France alone, that a living literature on the tarot has continued since the 18th century. Moreover, there exists there as well a continuous tradition of Hermetism, which joins the spirit of free research with respect for the Tradition. These letters, throughout their contents, will thus be able to become an integral part of the Tradition, as well as enriching it.

In the capacity of support of and contribution to the Hermetic tradition, whose origin is lost in the night of time that has become mythical, the epoch of Hermes Trismegistus, these letters are the concrete expression of an ancient current of thought, effort, and revelation. Their goal is to make the Tradition come alive again in the 20th century, but also, and especially, to enable the reader, the unknown friend, to immerse himself in this current, perhaps in a definitive way. That is why the numerous citations of ancient and modern authors that you will find in these texts are due neither to literary considerations, nor to a concern for erudition. They intend only to evoke the masters of the Tradition, so that they may be present, with their aspirations and the light of their thought, in the current of meditation that these letters illustrate, these twenty two spiritual exercises that will enable you, dear unknown friend, to immerse yourself in the current of the living Tradition and to penetrate to the heart of the community of spirits who have served it and are serving it. The citations are there only to point out this community. For the links of the chain of the Tradition are not made of thoughts and efforts alone, but, above all, of living beings who are at the origin of these thoughts or efforts. The essence of the Tradition is not a doctrine, but a community of spirits that endures from age to age.

From beyond the grave, your friend greets you, dear unknown friend.

The Future of Prophecy

Ezekiels Vision
Among the biblical books containing magical formulas, Valentin Tomberg lists the Book of Ezekiel. Moreover, a Hermetist who made Ezekiel’s vision the object of spiritual exercises, would likely become a “profound Cabbalist”. If that is true, then we can regard Pope St Gregory the Great as perhaps the first Cabbalist in the Church. Gregory’s meditations on Ezekiel run to nearly 500 pages in the English translation, yet he only manages to cover about 5 chapters or so.

Under the inspiration of Almighty God, Gregory begins by first explaining the three tenses of prophecy: future, present, past, although we typically consider prophecy applying to the future only. He gives some examples of each:

  • Future: “Behold, a Virgin shall conceive and bear a Son.” (Matthew 1:23)
  • Present: “The secrets of his heart are made manifest.” (1 Corinthians 14:25)
  • Past: “In the beginning, God created Heaven and earth.” (Genesis 1:1)

Gregory explains that prophecy is not a matter of prediction, but rather of revelation. That is why there can be a prophecy of the past and the present; prophecy uncovers hidden truths, truths concealed by time or by present circumstances. He writes: “Prophecy is present when something is concealed, not by the spirit, but by the absent Word, which however is laid bare by the Spirit.”

So there is no prophecy when the Word is absent, until laid bare by the Spirit. Fundamental to Tomberg’s work, is the prophecy in Matthew, since the Word becomes present through the action of the Spirit on the Virgin. As this played out historically, it likewise plays out in consciousness.

Schopenhauer, in the introduction to the World as Will and Idea, criticized the scientist for leaving himself out of his theory. Where is the scientist during the “Big Bang”, the formation of the stars, the beginning of life, the birth of thought? The scientist claims to be taking God’s view, sub specie aeternitatis, the prophet of the past, yet his theory does not even account for himself.

We can ask the analogous question not only about the external world of the scientist, but also of the internal world of the Hermetist. Where is the Hermetist himself in his theories? In Hermetism, the goal of the alchemical marriage is the proposed an exercise to try to remember this true Self, or the “I”, at the first moment one has become aware of it. Some have discovered it at an early age, others later, and many simply don’t understand the question. Yet even if you are able to remember, where was the Self before that first moment? For that, a prophecy of the past is necessary.

We were known by God before our births as ideas in the Divine Mind. “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart” (Jer 1:4,5) We were predestined and foreordained and that is what we must remember through the prophecy of the Spirit. We find ourselves thrown into a world, into a family, among a given people, with certain tasks that are presented to us, seemingly against our will. But the rememberer, the thinker, the feeler, the willer turn out to be the same self. Until we can remember, we will always be as strangers and foreigners in the world.

We can be passive and wait, or we can active in the process of remembering the Self. Jung explains the difference in this way:

The difference between the natural individuation process, which runs its course unconsciously, and the one which is consciously realized, is tremendous. In the first case consciousness nowhere intervenes; the end remains as dark as the beginning. In the second case so much darkness comes to light that the personality is permeated with light, and consciousness necessarily gains in scope and insight. The encounter between conscious and unconscious has to ensure that the light which shines in the darkness is not only comprehended by the darkness, but comprehends it.

Mind Fasting and the Immaculate Conception

In the advent season, many are making sacrifices such as giving up cupcakes or even añejo tequila. While there is a benefit to intentional suffering, it cannot happen in a mechanical way. Too often, it is thought of as the function of “will power”, that is the opposition of one desire (cupcakes) against another (sacrifice). What is really needed is to understand the relationship between personal effort and spiritual reality as we learn in the first Arcanum. This is essential because if one does not understand it (i.e. take hold of it in cognitive and actual practice), one would not know what to do with all the other Arcana. Tomberg reveals the first and fundamental principle of esoterism:

Learn at first concentration without effort; transform work into play; make every yoke that you have accepted easy and every burden that you carry light!

This is also the key to Yoga as Pantajali tells us:

Yoga is the suppression of the oscillations of the mental substance.

These oscillations are automatic and mechanical: they arise from sensory impressions, inner desires, negative emotions, and thoughts that run on their own and usually have origins from unsuspected sources. Concentration is a free act and must be distinguished from obsession, which mimics concentration, but is not free.

Intentional sacrifice then is training for concentration: we learn to distinguish the state of calm and freedom from the disorder of “desires, the imagination and discursive thought”. To be effortless, the will cannot oppose directly the sources of these disorders. Instead, we need to learn to detach from them, to observe them from a point of silence. Only then will they dissipate. This is the rational order of things, where the intellect is higher than, and dominates, thought and desire.

Advent is also the time of preparation for the incarnation of the Logos. Every physical event is the reflection of a spiritual reality and, since spiritual reality is timeless, it returns eternally. Hence, we can revisit the meditation on the second Arcanum as the Word is made Flesh.

There we see that the Logos is made incarnate by the Holy Spirit through the Holy Soul. As we are, the waters of our souls are full of perturbations. An event may create anger or anxiety, resulting in whirlpools that are hard to climb out from. There are tides coming in and out, so one day we say, believe, or vow one thing, and then the next day, just the opposite. Storms blow across the waters leaving them rough and choppy. In an unperturbed soul, the surface of the water is smooth line a pane of glass. Only in that condition will the Spirit be reflected clearly in the Soul. Otherwise, it gets mixed up with our fantasies and desires, which we too often take to be real expressions of the Spirit.

On the Feast of the Immaculate Conception we are reminded that only the Soul without sin can fully accept the Spirit. That Soul is totally free from perturbations. Can we even imagine what that is like? The exercise is worth the effort.

So either instead of, or in addition to, a physical fast, there is a Taoist exercise called mind fasting. If anyone has bothered to observe his thoughts, he will find abundant material to fast from. Perhaps there is a vulgar fantasy he indulges in. Perhaps he replays an event or conversations over and over in his mind. Perhaps he has a persistent anxiety or a worry. Maybe he has some daydream of success or power. Choose one and give it up. But give it up without effort.