Blavatsky and Steiner

H.P. Blavatsky’s “Secret Doctrine” and Rudolf Steiner’s “Occult Science”

by Valentin Tomberg

Two comprehensive works which deal with the whole occult world conception have appeared in modern times within occidental culture: the Secret Doctrine by H.P. Blavatsky and An Outline of Occult Science by Dr. Rudolf Steiner. These are the only two works containing communications of a cosmological nature which are of value for their true revelations. These two works—in the midst of a large number of writings with symbolic content containing half-obscure half-truths (either theoretical cabbalistic expositions or mystic-lyrical effusions) —contain more or less complete pictures of a world conception entirely unknown to the public. The truth of the matter, one would have to admit, is that not one of the well-known theosophical or cabbalistic writings can be compared in objective value with them; for not one of the works of occult literature offer the reader so much as they do.

If fundamental significance has to be conceded to these two writings, the question then arises: How do the two relate to each other? Is there a difference—or even contradiction—between them in principle; or can Occult Science be regarded merely as a supplement to or completion of the earlier Secret Doctrine?

Let us consider first the Secret Doctrine. This is a two volume work (the third volume appeared after the author’s death) which describes the coming into existence of the world and mankind, and discusses the prevailing philosophical, religious, and scientific theories on the subject. It contains a wealth of insights into the secrets of creation and the primal history of mankind. And although these insights are described in an erratic and chaotic style, still their content has value. The coming into being of the cosmos is pictured there as a breathing process of the primal Being. Inbreathing and outbreathing of Beings—these are the two fundamental tendencies present in all cosmic events. In the outbreathing arises matter; in the inbreathing the spirit reveals itself.

Accordingly, there also exists a twofold cosmic “ideology”: that of the Creators who affirm cosmic evolution, and that of the beings who reject the material creation. The battle of these “ideologies” takes place as much on earth, as in heaven. In heaven it is the battle between the affirming and denying gods; on earth, the battle between souls following “the path of the Moon”, (Chandravansha) and souls following “the path of the Sun” (Suryavansha). The Moon is the cosmic “headquarters” of the materializing world stream; the Sun that of the spiritualizing stream. Now, it became necessary for these two streams to unite at a particular point of cosmic evolution. This event, its causes and effects, form a profound mystery. And the whole work of H.P. Blavatsky is orientated toward this mystery. Everything which is communicated in detail in the Secret Doctrine has, in the last analysis, the purpose of shedding light on the Mystery of the Fall into Sin. The Secret Doctrine, in spite of having an unclear style and erratic train of thought, is a strongly centered work. It is oriented toward one point: the event of human incarnation and division of the sexes, which took place in the middle of the Lemurian period. Through this event, the opposition of Sun and Moon was incorporated into mankind. On the one hand, therewith arose man’s intellectuality, the Sun nature in him; on the other hand, man thereby became subject to the curse of sex, the Moon nature in him. Recognition of this fact leads to the practical conclusion: the purpose of human existence is to achieve victory of the Sun over the Moon nature. The physical procreation of man must cease. Mankind must return again to a spiritualized state, such as was his condition before the Fall—preserving, however, the intellect which was achieved through the Fall.

Thus the attitude of soul which follows from the world picture presented in the Secret Doctrine is single poled. A man recognizes a duality in the cosmos and in himself, and places himself decisively on one side of the recognized polarity. The whole inner attitude of the author herself is also of this nature. For her, not only is sex something which has to be fought by the spirit, but also the West is the lower pole of human culture which has to be fought by the East. For when there are only two tendencies—upward to the spirit and downward to matter—then the West is where the darkening stream prevails, and the East where the light filled stream predominates. And the significance of cultural evolution is that Western darkness is to be overcome by the Eastern light—preserving in the process, however, the Western intellectuality.

From this one-sidedness there follows a quite definite moral attitude. Because the Secret Doctrine discerns only the opposition between above and below, the concepts of good (what is worthy of pursuit) and evil (what is to be fought against) become synonymous with the concepts of spiritual striving and earthly striving respectively. That which frees man from earth is to be striven after, that which binds him to earth is to be combated. But the moral questions: Can there be an element of evil in spiritual striving, or can there be some good in earthly striving? is an attitude foreign to the Secret Doctrine. And so it is, indeed, understandable that the Secret Doctrine regards Lucifer as a leader of mankind and Jehovah, the Moon God, as the dark power of the drive to procreate. The Secret Doctrine sees only the antithesis of Lucifer and Ahriman.

The author definitely adopts the standpoint of the Luciferic principle, while combating with all her passionate energy the Ahrimanic. Yet the traditional ideas of Jehovah, on the one side, and Christ, on the other, hardly fit into this polarity. Jehovah would have to be viewed as an Ahrimanic being and Christ as Luciferic. But thereby the Mystery of the Blood, the central mystery of the Old Testament, remains uncomprehended. Also the Mystery of Golgotha, the central Mystery of the New Testament, has remained beyond the comprehension of Madame Blavatsky. For the love principle, working out of human sub-consciousness and combating individual egoism through the love for one’s parents, children, and brothers, cannot be explained by the idea of an Ahrimanic Jehovah. Nor can the depths of the Mystery of Golgotha as earthly mystery be fathomed when the Christ Being is envisioned as Luciferic. If one comprehends Christ Jesus merely as a witness and proclaimer of a higher world, one cannot from that standpoint understand the mystery of the bringing down of spiritual life into earth existence. The magic significance—the most vitally important aspect—of the Mystery of Golgotha remains hidden to this manner of comprehension. Madame Blavatsky sees the Christ only as an upward bearer; that he is as well the greatest of downward bearers remains hidden to her. She has no understanding for what is essential in Christianity. She does indeed speak of Christian esotericism, but only about the old esotericism which exists in it. About that in it which is new, which came into the world through Christianity “as mystical fact”, the Secret Doctrine has nothing to relate. And that which is new as a cosmic event stands as the central point in Rudolf Steiner’s Occult Science. For just as the Secret Doctrine is oriented toward one central point, namely, the “Fall into Sin”, so does Occult Science have the Mystery of Golgotha as its central point toward which all is oriented. The Secret Doctrine aims to be an instrument through which people can learn about the event of the separation of the sexes (in the middle of the Lemurian Epoch) and what followed after it, and then draw certain conclusions from that knowledge. Occult Science has the task of being a similar instrument in relation to the Mystery of Golgotha, which took place in the middle of the fifth Epoch.

From this fact follows something quite significant: The effect of Occult Science, first on the thinking and then on the will of the reader (for all thinking becomes sooner or later willing), is very different from the effect of the Secret Doctrine. The latter places the reader before the choice: either spirit or matter. 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. Madam Blavatsky knows this. She warns on various occasions against practical occultism. For the European the theory must suffice, because he is little disposed to what she views as true practical occultism, that is, to an occultism consistent with the theory of the Secret Doctrine. Only in Asia would it be possible to put into practice the above-mentioned “either/or” to a satisfactory extent.

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.

Because the Secret Doctrine contains beside a theoretical Monism, a practical Dualism, it cannot offer a path to Europeans. Occult Science, however, contains not only a theoretical, but also a practical Monism. Therefore its practical consequences can be realized by European people. The book contains a detailed description of the conditions, means, and trials of Initiation. This path can be followed by anyone of good will, for it is suited to the nature of European people.

“Practical Monism”—the practice of the monistic “not only/but also” instead of the dualistic “either/or”—is actually the Christ impulse, the central significance of Occult Science. To bring the cosmic working of the Christ impulse before and after the Mystery of Golgotha to the comprehension of the present time—that is the chief task of this book. In Occult Science the reader is not confronted with a duality, but with a threefoldness. He gradually learns to understand that, apart from the Mystery of Light and the Mystery of Death, there exists a third and greater Mystery—the Mystery of the Life of that Light who passed through Death. And he learns, too, to understand that just as striving for the spirit can be egoistic, so also can a descent into the earthly realm be selfless. He learns to see not only evil below and good above, but also evil above and good below. He learns to distinguish within the light the fullness of the Elohim from the brilliance of Lucifer, in the darkness to distinguish the cold, deadly breath of Ahriman from the silvery glow of Jehovah. And, like a rainbow, the seven-colored, radiant Christ impulse bridges over the abyss between light and darkness.

This “seven-colored rainbow” is the impulse and the possibility for that standpoint which we have designated as “practical Monism”. It joins the two opposites of light and darkness together into a third element. Knowledge and action are joined together by the cosmic love principle—making possible the transformation of knowledge into action. Through this, the publication of the description of the path of Initiation in Occult Science becomes understandable. If in Occult Science the central place had not been conceded to the Christ impulse, then the book could not offer people of modern culture a practicable path. It would have to, like the Secret Doctrine, contain only aspects of a world conception. For it would be senseless to offer the public a path that could only be taken by individuals with particular tendencies: people as one-sidedly gifted for the spiritual life as, say, a wholesale tradesman is gifted for material life. However, the path described in Occult Science can be trodden by anyone; for it appeals to that in a man which strives after the transformation of the ‘lower’, the darkness, into the ‘high’, 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.

So we see that this path, the Rosicrucian Path of Transformation, is a direct result of knowledge about the cosmic working of the Christ impulse, whereas the absence of knowledge of the Christ impulse in an occult scream—however holy and ancient—makes it impossible for European people to take a practical path, a path which could lead to real progress.

In occult writings, such as the two which we have here compared, 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 man down a blind alley. Therefore, when considering occult writings we must ask: What follows from this for life? Asking this question, one reaches certain answers with regard to the books just considered: namely, that a European can only to a small degree bring the Secret Doctrine into his life, while through Occult Science, life goals open up for him.

Bodhisattva Notes 1

Meeting Notes from 9 January 2017
We read from the bottom of page 607 to page 611.

The mission of Hermetism – both in the past and to come – is the union of spirituality and intellectuality.

However, not everyone who has contributed to that work is explicitly a Hermetist. Tomberg provides a short list of such thinkers. It is obviously helpful to study one or more of them, although their spiritual paths differed and the intellectual interests were quite disparate.

  • Vladimir Solovyov: In “Lectures on Divine Humanity”, Solovyov offered an intellectual understanding of the dogmas of Chrisitianity, e.g., the Trinity or the Incarnation. He incorporated ideas from the Kabbalah, Neoplatonism, Boehme, Swedenborg, and the German philosopher Friedrich Schelling. In his lectures, he mentioned the connection between Alexandrian theosophy and Christian doctrine. Spiritually, he was highly influenced by the Divine Sophia, having had several experiences of her presence. Those writings are collected in a book in English titled “Divine Sophia”. Solovyov was highly influential on Tomberg.
  • Nicolas Berdyaev: Berdyaev was another Russian who reconciled his intellectual interests in philosophy with a deep spirituality based on the creativity and freedom of the human spirit.
  • Pierre Teilhard de Chardin: Teilhard was a French Jesuit and paleontologist. In “The Phenomenon of Man”, he created a sweeping vision of evolution of higher and higher layers; from life to thought to the centrality of Christ. He looked for the eventual culmination in God.
  • Carl Jung: Jung was a Swiss psychiatrist, who combined the scientific method of his profession with a gnostic spirituality. His discovery of the archetypes was expanded on by Tomberg.

The guardians of the Hermetic tradition have two tasks:

  • The study and practical application of the heritage of the past
  • Continuous creative effort aiming at the advancement of the work

This spiritual work, on the historical plane, reconciles two opposing notions, described in several ways

  • One source is from above, the other from below
  • The action of continuous revelation and the effort of human consciousness
  • Revelation and humanism
  • Avatars and Buddhas
  • Saints and the righteous

Job, Socrates, and Immanuel Kant are examples of righteous men. Kant, with the discovery and description of the categorical imperative (which Tomberg equates with the notion of Dharma), leads to faith in the nobility of human nature. Tomberg gives us a deeper understanding of the God-Man Jesus Christ. Since He is completely both natures, faith in Jesus Christ should unite both faith in God and faith in man, and love for Jesus Christ unites love of God and love of neighbor.

Jesus Christ, then, unites the Avatar and the Buddha. The corollary of this is that the simplistic notion — popular in some circles — that all “spiritual teachers” including Krishna, Buddha, and Jesus Christ somehow “taught the same thing”. Tomberg, on the other hand, brings out their distinctiveness, while also uniting them.

We discussed the idea of the Avatar and Buddha, particularly why Tomberg chose them as exemplars. The conclusion was that they are not mere ciphers, or placeholders, for his argument. Rather, they bring real revelations to the Hermetist. Hence, we will be making efforts to understand precisely what Krishna (in the Bhagavad Gita) and Buddha taught. And not simply in an intellectual way, but in terms of states of consciousness.

Our task is to be sure to make meditation and prayer part of our daily schedule. Avoid meditations that are based solely on sounds of untranslatable mantras, or those that concentrate on nothing or perhaps just the awareness of breath. Prayer should include both vocal and mental prayer. Also during the day, be sure to awaken yourself several times and observe what you were considering.  In mental prayer we are considering God. Dom Lehodey describes it this way:

The considerations are not a mere speculative study; they are not made in order to learn or to know, but to inflame the heart, and set the will in motion. The mind’s eye is fixed

  • upon some truth in order to believe it
  • upon some virtue in order to love and seek it
  • upon some duty to fulfill it
  • up moral evil to detest and fly from it
  • upon some danger to avoid it

The fruits of mental prayer are these:

Little by little, mental prayer well made

  • will render our faith more lively
  • will strengthen our conviction
  • will penetrate us deeply with the things of God
  • will keep the supernatural always present to our mind.

Then there will be no more forgetfulness, no more sleep

Upcoming schedule: In addition to the text on Bodhisattva, we will bring in supplementary material:

After that, we will do for Lent a series of seven meditation on the Passion of Jesus Christ as described by Tomberg.

The Bodhisattva in Consciousness

In Letter XXI, the Fool, Valentin Tomberg describes the characteristics of the Bodhisattva to come:

He will not simply explain the profound meaning of revelation, but he will bring human beings themselves to attain to the illuminating experience of revelation, of a kind that it will not be he who will win authority, but rather He who is “the true light that enlightens every man coming into the world” (John 1:9)—Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh, who is the way, the truth and the life.

Not very long ago, a Jain was explaining that his people were expecting the coming of the next avatar. I asked him how he would recognize the avatar when he appeared. He was flummoxed by the question and told me he would get back to me after consulting with his guru in India. Needless to say, he never got back to me.

So how would we, in the West in our time, recognize the Bodhisattva when he comes? Does he arrive with a certificate of authenticity, a diploma, a letter of introduction? Perhaps he will appear on TV or even perform an occasional miracle? Rudolf Steiner made the same point this way:

It is certainly true that in our time there is a rooted disinclination to recognise genius in human beings. But on the other hand, mental laziness is very prevalent, with the result that people are only too ready to acknowledge some individual as a great soul, merely on authority.

The disinclination is the lack of the ability to recognize a higher teaching, or even the denial that such a teaching is possible. Although Tomberg warned about this, the personal and subjective elements are much more attractive than pure intellectuality. Mental laziness is tied to the “bandwagon effect”, so that a “great soul” is confounded with a “greatly popular soul”. Tomberg then gives us a clue:

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.

We see that we will not recognize the Bodhisattva not through anything external, but rather by re-experiencing firsthand what the Bodhisattva experienced. Before considering Tomberg’s description of that experience, a short detour is necessary.

The Right Track

The teaching of moral development is not the same as the impulse for such development. ~ Rudolf Steiner

For the kingdom of God is not in word, but in power. 1 Corinthians 4:20

Tomberg claimed that Rudolf Steiner was “on the right track” in his understanding of the coming Bodhisattva. Now there are several areas of incompatibility between Steiner and Tomberg, so we will focus solely on what may have been on the right track. In 1911, Steiner delivered a lecture in Milan titled Buddha and Christ: The Sphere of the Bodhisattvas. There he expanded on a legend from the Middle Ages about the Bodhisattva:

Consciousness of this truth was demonstrated in a beautiful legend written down by John of Damascus in the eighth century and well known throughout Europe in the Middle Ages. It is the legend of Barlaam and Joshaphat, which relates how he who had become the successor of Buddha (Joshaphat is a phonetic variation of ‘Bodhisattva’) received teaching from Barlaam about the Christ Impulse. The legend, which was subsequently forgotten, tells us that the Bodhisattva who succeeded Gautama Buddha was instructed by Barlaam and his soul was fired by the Christian Impulse. This was the second impulse which, in addition to that of Buddha, continues to work in the evolution of humanity. It is the Christ Impulse and is connected with the future ascent of humanity to Morality. Although Buddha’s teaching is in a particular sense moral teaching, the Christ Impulse is not teaching but actual power which works as such and to an increasing degree imbues mankind with moral strength.

That passage makes the important distinction between a moral teaching (as an intellectual exercise) and the power to act on that teaching.

The Two Streams

In our period of evolution, two streams of spiritual life are at work; one of them is the stream of Wisdom, or the Buddha-stream, containing the most sublime teaching of wisdom, goodness of heart and peace on Earth. To enable this teaching of Buddha to permeate the hearts of all men, the Christ Impulse is indispensable. The second stream is the Christ-stream itself which will lead humanity from intellectuality, by way of aesthetic feeling and insight, to morality. ~ Rudolf Steiner

Tomberg sees the two streams in a slightly different way. He recognizes the Buddha-stream like Steiner, but he attributes the second stream to the coming of the Kalki Avatar as taught in Hinduism. The first stream represents spiritual humanism, i.e., the realization of all human possibilities on the natural plane. The second stream represents spiritual religion, or the realization of supernatural possibilities.

The two activities that will activate these possibilities are respectively meditation and prayer.

Spirituality and Intellectuality

Even if the Bodhisattva arrives on the historical plane, we will recognize him by his inner teaching. Specifically, we need to re-enact the spiritual alchemy in our own consciousness; only then we will recognize the Bodhisattva. There are three stages:

  • the experience of the separation and opposition of the spiritual and intellectual elements within one’s soul
  • advancement to parallelism, i.e. a kind of “peaceful coexistence” of these two elements
  • cooperation between spirituality and intellectuality which, proving to be fruitful, eventually becomes the complete fusion of these two elements in a third element —the “philosopher’s stone” of the spiritual alchemy of Hermetism.

The third stage is reached when the intellectual life if no longer dominated by formal logic, but passes through organic logic and finally to moral logic. The urge to dispute, argue, analyze, and judge is the fruit of formal logic. This stage is dominated by the reign of quantity.

Organic logic deals with qualities rather than quantities. It sees the whole, while formal logic focuses on the parts. The former synthesizes, the latter analyzies.

Finally, moral logic deals with values. This manner of thinking is invisible to those on the first stage of formal logic. Using Tomberg’s example, the world, in terms of formal logic, operates by logical and natural necessity. However, according to moral logic, the world is created in an act of love. “Hate and indifference are not creative,” only love is. Vatican I made the dogmatic declaration that Christian faith could not be compelled by natural or formal logic. Otherwise, androids would all become Christians.

So Tomberg can assert that the essential articles of faith are established by moral logic. Hence, God is Love or else there would have been no creation. A big bang has no desire to create a universe. The soul is immortal, or else morality would make no sense. Man is free, otherwise he could not even be moral. Moral logic is the language of the spiritual world, so we should be sure to make it part of our prayer life.

Prayer and Meditation

Moral logic is, as Tomberg asserts, the logic of the head and heart united. It unites meditation and prayer. He describes prayer in these words:

Prayer—which asks, thanks, worships and blesses —is the radiation, the breath and the warmth of the awakened heart: expressed in formulae of the articulated word, in the wordless inner sighing of the soul and, lastly, in the silence, both outward and inward, of the breathing of the soul immersed in the element of divine respiration and breathing in unison with it.

Prayer has three aspects:

  • Magical aspect: formulaic and liturgical prayer
  • Gnostic aspect: an inexpressible inner sighing
  • Mystical aspect: the silence of union with the Divine

Meditation, which is the gradual deepening of thought, also has three stages:

  • Pure and simple concentration on a subject
  • Understanding the subject within the totality of relationships that is has with reality
  • Intuitive penetration into the very essence of the subject

Tomberg repeats Rene Guenon’s writings on this topic, and it is worth repeating here:

Metaphysics is not human knowledge. Thus, it is not in so far as he is man that man can attain it; it is the grasping in effective consciousness of supra-individual states. The very principle of metaphysical realisation is identification through knowledge—according to Aristotle’s axiom: a being is all that he knows.

The most important means is concentration. Realisation consists initially in the unlimited development of all possibilities contained virtually in the individual, then in finally going beyond the world of forms to a degree of universality which is that of pure being.

The final aim of metaphysical realisation is the absolutely unconditioned state, free from all limitation. The liberated being is then truly in possession of the fullness of his possibilities. This is union with the supreme Principle.

Christian Meditation

Guenon’s teaching is correct as far as it goes. Nevertheless, Christian meditation seeks to go beyond even that. God is revealed both through Scriptures and Creation. Christian meditation therefore seeks a more complete consciousness and appreciation of Christ’s work of redemption. Hence, the subject of mediation will be the seven stages of the Passion, for example. There are further subjects for mediation which will be covered at a different time. But the goal is to return to the state of primordial purity before the Fall.

By the alchemical marriage of prayer and meditation, we may recognize the Bodhisattva.

Incarnation of the Logos

The tendency is certainly accentuated, if not prevalent, amongst contemporary Hermeticists to occupy themselves more with the “Cosmic Christ” or the “Logos” than with the human person of the “Son of Man”, Jesus of Nazareth. More importance is attributed to the divine and abstract aspect of the God-Man than to his human and concrete aspect.

It was contact with the person of Jesus Christ which opened up the current of miracles and conversions. And it is the same even today. ~ Valentin Tomberg, Letter VIII: Justice

With these words, Tomberg is warning us not to forget about the first coming of Jesus in the flesh, regarded as somehow inferior to an esoteric interpretation. A fortiori, the Hermetist’s goal is not to create an alternative or “better” religion. Nevertheless, there is always a stream of “New Age” gurus who claim something similar. For example, one such popular guru claims to have discovered the real meaning of all the religions, viz., what the Buddha “really” taught or what Christ “really” taught. He then claims that the religions have distorted those teachings and offer no authentic path. Although he came to that realization spontaneously, he will teach you certain “modalities” for a hefty price to reach the same realization. This is the sin of simony, the notion that spiritual enlightenment is a commodity that can be bought and sold.

The idea of the Logos was not unknown to pagan philosophers and Hermetists prior to the first Christmas. However, it is the fact of the Incarnation that matters most, as St John pointed out in the remarkable claim that the Logos became flesh. So Jesus is not only the fulfillment of the Mosaic law, He is also the fulfillment of the natural law. This is made clear by the visit of the Magi.

Tomberg makes us wrestle with a philosophical conundrum. The thinking mind, restricted to dianoia, knows essences, and the Logos is “the fundamental universal [or essence] of the world”. And Jesus Christ is then the “particular of particulars”. Some minds, like that of the new age guru, see that a representing a limitation on their thought; hence they resort to a sort of Docetism which denies the need for the physical, including a birth, visible church, sacraments and so on. It is a small step, then, to reach the conclusion that there is no need for the purification of the head and the heart in order to reach higher states.

Since for God, essence and existence are One, to know God is to know both his essence and existence. Tomberg explains that

Christian Hermeticism itself can only be knowledge of the universal which is revealed in the particular.

Hence, the Christian Hermetist “aspires to mystical experience of the communion of beings through love”. Thus he seeks spiritual friendships in the particular.

Yet, not unlike the pagan Hermetists—his precursors—or even the new ager perhaps, he also seeks the mystical experience of communion with the Logos, i.e., the knowledge of the universal.

Spiritual Beings

Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange tells us that the angels know intuitively, not rationally. Each higher level of angel understands more through the knowledge of ever more encompassing principles. Tomberg asserts:

For Hermeticism there are no “principles”, “laws” and “ideas” which exist outside of individual beings, not as structural traits of their nature, but as entities separated and independent from it.

This makes perfect sense, since knowing and being are one. If an angel, then, “knows” a certain principle, it is ipso fact the embodiment of that principle. Ideas have no power on their own, they are purely passive. An idea has effects only when it is immanent in a being. We can choose to understand our environment as an abstraction, the mere interplay of impersonal forces. Or else, we can choose to understand it as a great drama of personal forces.

A recent episode of the Vikings series on the History Channel had an interesting scene. Rollo was a Viking warrior who converted to Catholicism and was rewarded with the Duchy of Normandy. Unable to totally forget his pagan past, he explained to his wife, “When you hear thunder, it is only thunder. But when I hear thunder, I hear the sound of Thor.”

Tomberg tells us we must “love our pagan past”, so perhaps we can learn something from Rollo. Now this is not a new teaching, but actually something we forgot. So perhaps we can try to remember. The mystic visionary, Catherine Emmerich, saw that the world was populated with angels: each country, city, diocese, and parish has its own guardian angel. Fr. Ripperger, in a youtube video, reminds us furthermore that each generation has “generational spirits”, not all benign, as a sort of Zeitgeist.

If we can overcome the Zeitgeist of scientism, we can meditate on our role in the cosmic hierarchy. See yourself in relation to your family, parish or other community, nation, Church, then ascending through the angelic hierarchy. And when you get to the Logos, see also the Baby in the manger.

Advent Meditation: Purity of Will

It is futile to attempt to be concentrated if the Will is passionate about other things. The oscillations of the mind will never be able to achieve silence unless the the Will itself infuses it with silence. Only the still Will can render the imagination and the intellect silent in concentration.

St. John of the Cross and St. Theresa d’Avila never tire of repeating that the concentration necessary for spiritual prayer is the fruit of the moral purification of the Will. ~ Valentin Tomberg, Meditations on the Tarot

Concentration can be applied on three planes:

  • Mental
  • Astral
  • Physical

We began with learning concentration on the physical plane. Then we transferred that knowledge to our thoughts or mental plane. Finally, we will do the same to our emotional life for the purification of the soul.

Note that there are many more levels beyond these. In the Letter on the Star, Tomberg explains:

There are twelve degrees higher than that of the consciousness of the human transcendental Self. It is necessary, therefore, in order to attain to the ONE God, to elevate oneself successively to degrees of consciousness of the nine spiritual hierarchies and the Holy Trinity.

The Mental, Astral, and Physical correspond to the spirit, soul, and body. In the Letter on Judgment, Tomberg relates them to the Trinity. The undivided self, then, corresponds to the Unity of God.

Image and Likeness

The idea of man being the “image and likeness” of God is a recurrent theme throughout Meditations on the Tarot. Although people today often like to repeat that we are all born in the “image and likeness” of God, that is not at all the Traditional teaching: rather, because of the Fall, we have lost the full likeness and it is the task of the Hermetist to restore it. Tomberg explains:

The ideal of alchemical transformation of Hermetism offers to human beings the way to the realisation of true human nature, which is the image and likeness of God. Hermetism is the re-humanisation of all elements of human nature; it is their return to their true essence. Just as all base metal can be transformed into silver and into gold, so are all the forces of human nature susceptible to transformation into “silver” or “gold”, i.e. into what they are when they share in the image and likeness of God.

If we are already in the “image and likeness of God”, then our level of being as such right now is perfect: i.e., there is no need for transformation, redemption, or regeneration.

The image of God, according to St. Bernard, is our “essential” being. In that case it must be our intellectual soul, which distinguishes humans from animals. It is unsullied, it has no negative part, it is free, it is the source of the “spark of God”, and so is perfect. However, we rarely live at that level of awareness. It is as though we own a penthouse suite, yet choose to live in the basement.

The likeness, on the other hand, is our soul life which reflects the image. This is—because of the various perturbations—what must be purified.

Emotions

As was mentioned last time, personal emotions need to be silenced to make the soul capable of “receiving from above the revelation of the word, the life and the light.”

Now, the emotional center of our being, or the “astral” plane, has its own way of knowing. This is called the “cognitive power of the emotions”. This manner of knowing is quite different from that of the thinking center or mental plane. This knowing is episteme, the knowledge of the heart, beyond the dianoia of mental knowing. There is a higher emotional component concomitant with its knowing.

Our age is dominated by thinking, arguing, and so on. This dualistic thinking distorts the emotional center. Tomberg writes this about the relationship between the will and thinking:

Thus, it is not thought as such which allows the desire for personal greatness or the tendency towards megalomania, but rather the will which makes use of the head and which can take hold of thought and reduce it to the role of its instrument.

organic humility, replacing the current of the will-to-greatness is not found in the head, but rather in the heart, i.e. it reaches the heart, penetrating from the right-hand side. Because it is there that the will-to-greatness has its origin and it is there from whence it takes hold of the head and makes it its instrument. This is why many thinkers and scientists want to think “without the heart” in order to be objective, which is an illusion, because one can in no way think without the heart, the heart being the activating principle of thought; what one can do is to think with a humble and warm heart instead of with a pretentious and cold heart.

When functioning well, the heart and the head cooperate. In the example of megalomania, on the other hand, we see that the will can take hold of the head, making it the servant of a disordered emotion. Common knowledge warns us about making decisions when in a negative emotional state, but that is often ignored. Moreover, it is even celebrated, since an opinion stated with strong negative emotions is falsely given a higher value.

The other distortion is when the head tries to think without the heart under the guise of objectivity. This leaves our emotional range limited and underdeveloped.

Purity of Heart is to Will One Thing

The inner life of the soul, in our present condition, does not present a unity. Rather, our desires, aspirations, passions, and so on, are in conflict with each other. First one dominates, then another, as though there were multiple separate “I’s” inhabiting, and even fighting for control over, the soul. Tomberg calls these “lost sheep” alluding to the Gospel story. He explains:

The soul’s faults and vices are not, fundamentally, monsters but rather, lost sheep. … As it is the same with all the soul’s faults and vices, we all have the mission of finding and bringing back to the flock (i.e. to the soul’s choral harmony) the lost sheep in ourselves. We are missionaries in the subjective domain of our own soul, charged with the task of the conversion of our desires, ambitions, etc. We have to persuade them that they are seeking the realisation of their dreams in a false way by showing them the true way. It is not a matter of commandment, but rather of the alchemy of the cross, i.e. making present an alternative way for our desires, ambitions, passions, etc. It is a matter, moreover, of the alchemical “marriage of opposites”.

Our alchemical task, then, is the transmutation of these multiple selves into a single I.

Meeting Notes for Advent Meditation 2

The task for this week is to work on the purity of thought.

Whenever we catch ourselves harboring negative or hateful thoughts about others, envious thoughts, inappropriate erotic thoughts, inter alia, even negative thoughts, perhaps especially, about ourselves, we are to do the concentration exercise.

Bring attention to your selected body area and while you maintain that awareness, observe those thoughts while striving – without effort – and see what happens.

We need to be gatekeeper’s of our thoughts, like an esoteric version of Maxwell’s Demon.

Most of you did not choose to speak last night, so I have to assume that you found it difficult to remember to do the concentration exercise. Nevertheless, the effort is worthwhile and it is important to notice the difference from our “normal” waking state.

There is a small tension in the birth of Christ in the soul. On the one hand, we are to judge our thoughts objectively and impartially, like Christ the Judge. We shouldn’t want to be burdened by negativity.

On the other hand, Christ the Redeemer, will forgive (under the appropriate circumstances) these negative thoughts. There is the tendency in the modern world, under the influence of Freud and the “masters of suspicion” to consider negativity as representing “what we really are” or “our true feelings”. Quite the contrary … they are usually temptations from lower forces, not what we are meant to be.

Fortuitously, I just found out about this talk that may be of interest, at least the first half of it: The Psychological & Spiritual Effects of Being Negative

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

Meeting notes for Advent Meditation I

We focused on the idea of “concentration without effort”, beginning on page 8 of MoTT. This is the first thing to learn.

So we learned an effortless concentration exercise that can be done at any time. During the week, we are to try this exercise whenever we pass through a doorway of any type. During those moments, we can observe the automatic movements of thoughts, images, passions, personal desires, and other mental perturbations. The idea is to develop the ability to consciously direct attention, rather than to allow our attention to be randomly attracted.

We can observe, then, what happens to mental perturbations while we are directing attention. Is there Silence where there was previously “noise”? We can learn to maintain this concentration for longer periods, as described on page 11:

To begin with there are moments, subsequently minutes, then “quarters of an hourfor which complete silence or “concentration without effort” lasts. With time, the silence or concentration without effort becomes a fundamental element always present in the life of the soul.

This concentration exercise is always available to us whenever we remember to try it.

We touched on higher forms of concentration, as outlined by Mary of Agreda in The Mystical City of God

Man’s mind is rapt by God to the contemplation of the divine truth in three ways:

  1. He contemplates it through certain imaginary pictures.
  2. He contemplates the divine truth through its intelligible effects.
  3. He contemplates it in its essence.

Now when man’s intellect is uplifted to the sublime vision of God’s essence, it is necessary that his mind’s whole attention should be summoned to that purpose in such a way that he understands nothing else by phantasms, and is absorbed entirely in God.

These are related to the stages of prayer: vocal prayer, mental prayer, and unceasing prayer.

Concentration on mental images or thoughts are forms of meditation.
Concentration that is beyond images and thoughts is contemplation.

Advent Meditation 1

Valentin Tomberg, in Letter II, refers to the “second birth” as Christian Yoga. Hence, the elements of Christian Yoga are analogous to the stages of yoga described by Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras. In Letter XVI, The Tower of Destruction, these stages are related to the three stages of the spiritual life described by St. John of the Cross. Hence, we have this schema relating the yoga stages in three languages:

Stages of Christian Yoga
Sanskrit Greek English Spiritual Life
Dharana Catharsis Concentration Purification
Dhyana Theoria Meditation Illumination
Samadhi Theosis Contemplation Mystical Union

Tomberg contrasts the Vedantic ideal with the Christian goal. The former, he says, leads to the extinction of consciousness, whereas the Christian goal is the “unity of two”. For more on the differences between Yoga and Christianity, see Studies in the Psychology of the Mystics by Joseph Marechal, S.J, so we needn’t be concerned about that topic at this point.

The Greek Mystic Nicholas Cabasilas in The Life in Christ explains that there are three obstacles to theosis. These are:

  1. Nature. The Divine nature is different from human nature.
  2. Sin. A will corrupted by evil separate us from God.
  3. Death. In the mortal body, we can see only the dim reflection in the mirror; in this state our bodies are dominated by sense life.

These obstacles are overcome by the following historical events respectively:

  1. Incarnation. This unites the human and divine natures in one person.
  2. Crucifixion. The leads to the forgiveness of sins.
  3. Resurrection. This overcomes death and the attraction to sense life.

Cabasilas relates these ideas to the effects of the sacraments, or mysteries, with the aim of salvation. The esoteric path aims beyond this to liberation. That aim is union while still in the mortal body:

  1. Purify our soul so it becomes the perfect reflector of the Holy Spirit.
  2. Expose our false sense of I, replaced with the mind of Christ.
  3. Move from a life of instinct to a life of intelligence and love.

Hence, we begin the process of purification by learning to concentrate.

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.