The Middle Pillar

The Three Pillars

The three pillars of the Cabala Tree of Life represent the process of manifestation from God to the World, and also the path back. On the principle that the microcosm reflects the macrocosm, the Tree of Life also refers to our inner structure.

The right pillar is masculine and the left pillar is feminine. The middle pillar, then, is the reconciling force, as it synthesizes the right and left paths. In the Meditations on the Tarot, Valentin Tomberg refers to four syntheses, represented by the Sephiroth on the Middle Pillar:

  • Malkuth is the synthesis the entire paths in the world of action
  • Yesod is the synthesis of romantic love between the sexes
  • Tiphareth is the synthesis revealed through artistic creativity
  • Daath is the synthesis of Intelligence and Wisdom in the act of knowledge, or gnosis

Daath and Kether

Daath is a crypto-sephirah, that is, it is not one of the 10 sephiroth. That is because it is not given to us by natural birth, but is something that must be created in a second birth. It arises via the synthesis of Intelligence and Wisdom. Tomberg defines it this way:

Daath is therefore the state of consciousness where intelligence and wisdom — acquired and acquirable knowledge, on the one hand, and latent and actualisable knowledge, on the other hand — become one.

Daath Chokmah Binah
Since Daath is the image of Kether, they should not both be represented in the Tree together. Either one or the other is shown. This means that the Sephiroth of Binah and Chokmah, when Kether is omitted, both derive from Daath, as shown in this diagram.

Intelligence

Intelligence is knowledge we acquire about the world. That is why it is feminine, or lunar. It does not provide its own light, but can only reflect on things. Regarding the higher things, it is capable of understanding God as the Absolute and the Infinite, even if those terms are commonly misunderstood. For example, the Infinity of God is often interpreted in mathematical terms, which leads to incorrect ideas.

Through natural intelligence, God can also be known as the First Cause, Unmoved Mover, etc. However, God cannot be known as Spirit, as an “I”. For that, it must be illumined through a spiritual marriage with Wisdom. Our feminine age is overly intellectual and rejects the other ways of knowing that are revealed in the Cabala.

Wisdom

Wisdom represents knowledge that is latent or virtual, and it must be actualized. Man is not a tabula rasa, and is not as malleable as those on the left hand path would like. There is instinctual knowledge, as Henri Bergson points out, that needs to rise to the level of intelligence. There is a nagging forgetfulness, both horizontal and vertical, that must be brought up into the light of consciousness. This vague memory of a different world is what drives the religious impulse. Whatever might seem absurd to natural Intelligence, is actually a natural challenge to the presumed and hubristic superiority of Intelligence. In The Two Sources of Morality and Religion, Bergson explains:

Since instinct no longer exists except as a mere vestige or virtuality, since it is not strong enough to incite to action or prevent it, it must arouse an illusory perception, or at least a counterfeit of recollection so clear and striking that intelligence will come to a decision accordingly. … religion is then a defensive reaction of nature against the dissolvent power of intelligence.

At its best, religion will force the Intelligence out of its box in order to confront something higher. In the synthesis with Wisdom, Tomberg says:

the intelligence unites with and understands things that it would never have understood from within itself. It is therefore “illumined”.

At its worst, this defensive reaction of the instincts may devolve into superstitions and illusions. Practices arise with the aim of producing mere sensory phenomena, which are then misconstrued as spiritual enlightenment. Of course, certain phenomena may arise as side effects, as we see in some saints, but they should never be the primary aim. Tomberg points out that breathing exercises, postures, etc. cannot, on their own, lead to inspiration.

Direction of the Middle Pillar

The directions of the paths of the left and right pillars of the Cabala are downward, whereas that of the middle pillar is upward. The left and right pillars bring divine governance down to the world. Then the synthesis of the two paths results on Malkuth, or the Kingdom. Between the sephiroth of Kether (the Crown) and Malkuth (the Kingdom), there are three levels that represent the soul activities of thinking, feeling, and willing. In the Letter on the Hanged Man, we read:

the normal relationship between thought, feeling and the will for a civilised and educated man is such that his thought awakens feeling and directs the will. Thought plays a stimulating role, by means of imagination, towards feeling, and an educative role, by means of imagination and feeling, towards the will. Having to act. one thinks, one imagines, one feels, and —lastly—one desires and acts.

So, on the left pillar, the organ of thought is the Intellect and on the right, the organ of thought is Revelation. However, looking at the Middle pillar, the place that thought should occupy – namely Daath – is missing. Hence, it cannot be the beginning of the path, but rather the terminus. This is represented by the Hanged Man, where we read this explanation:

For [the “spiritual man”] it is the will which plays the stimulating and educative role towards feeling and thought. He acts first, then he desires, then he feels the worth of his action, and lastly he understands.

This means that on the Middle Path, the return to God, the spiritual man must act first before he fully understands. On the upward path, Will changes from “my will” to “thy will” be done. The will begins in obedience. Ultimately, the path leads to Daath, intuition, gnosis. Here we see the truth of St Augustine’s saying:

crede, ut intelligas

Prophets of Electrum

Consciousness in man is pre-eminently intellect. It might have been, it ought, so it seems, to have been also intuition. Intuition and intellect represent two opposite directions of the work of consciousness: intuition goes in the very direction of life, intellect goes in the inverse direction, and thus finds itself naturally in accordance with the movement of matter. A complete and perfect humanity would be that in which these two forms of conscious activity should attain their full development. ~ Henri Bergson, Creative Evolution

Here is the difference between the nature of intelligence and that of intuition of faith, between the principle of autumn and that of spring. The former is understanding of that which is; the latter is participation in the becoming of that which is to be. ~ Meditations on the Tarot, Letter XVIII The Moon

[There is] a centre from which worlds shoot out like rockets in a fireworks display—provided, however, that I do not present this centre as a thing, but as a continuity of shooting out. God thus defined, has nothing of the already made; He is unceasing life, action, freedom. Creation, so conceived, is not a mystery; we experience it in ourselves when we act freely. ~ Henri Bergson, Creative Evolution

According to Valentin Tomberg, one of the tasks of Hermetism is to accomplish the alliance of intelligence and the intuition of faith—the alchemical marriage of the moon and the sun. Another way to put it is to obtain the alloy of silver and gold, which is called Electrum. Although some have come close to this ideal, it is a task still incomplete. Tomberg mentions several thinkers who have come close; these we will call the Prophets of Electrum.

At the top of those prophets is St. Thomas Aquinas whose thought is silvered gold. More common is gilded silver as expressed by Origen, Dionysius the Areopagite, Jacob Boehme, Louis Claude de Saint-Martin, Vladimir Solovyov, Nicolas Berdyaev, Henri Bergson and Pierre Teilhard de Chardin.

The importance of Thomas Aquinas cannot be overestimated, even for Hermetists. The raison d’être of scholasticism is the union of faith and intelligence. Following his conversion to Catholicism, Tomberg wrote his graduate thesis on International Law from a Thomist perspective, so he is quite familiar with his work. Tomberg offers this insight, describing Thomism as the combustible that, when enflamed, gives rise to contemplation (given the influence of John of the Cross, we can assume this is the fruition of personal experience):

St. Thomas Aquinas was not the only one. Just as he arrived at contemplation through scholastic reasoning, so did the peak of the scholastic wave reach gnosis [mystique], that is to say, intuition or the state of union of faith and intelligence, which is the aim of scholasticism. A Meister Eckhart, a Ruysbroeck, the Admirable Doctor, a St. John of the Cross are in fact spirits amongst whom you will search in vain for a spirit of opposition to scholasticism. For them also it was true that scholasticism was “like straw”, but they knew at the same time from their own experience that this straw is an excellent combustible. They certainly surpassed scholasticism, but after having attained its aim. For the aim of scholastic effort is contemplation, and it is gnosis [mystique] which is the fruit of the scholastic tree. ~ Valentin TombergLetter XIX The Sun

I have written about Nicolas Berdyaev here. For a brief summary of Louis Claude de Saint-Martin, see The Hidden Tradition. For Jacob Boehme, see Christian Gnosis: Jacob Boehme. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin is the scientist who approaches the ideal. He restored the subjective element to scientific objectivity, in his claim that there is an “inside” as well as an “outside” to everything. Any complete understanding of the world process needs to take that into account. I was astounded by the novelty and originality of The Phenomenon of Man when I read it several decades ago; I wish I could recapture that experience.

Although Tomberg writes extensively about Henri Bergson, I’d like to add a little more background. Finally, I’ll conclude with the influence of Vladimir Solovyov which, I believe, provides a view into Tomberg’s motivation.

Henri Bergson

Henri Bergson’s philosophy was born in the atmosphere of French spiritualism, a form of idealism prominent in Italy and France at the time. One influence, for example, was Emile Boutroux who in the Contingency of Physical Laws, claimed that life, feeling, and freewill need to be part of any understanding of Physical Laws. He rejected determinism, and instead claimed that natural laws as a sort of “habit” of things: what originally was also able to be a free act, in repeating itself, automatizes, and mechanizes itself and ends up appearing to be a necessity. A fortiori, this applies to human beings, who cannot be determined by environment, race, etc.

Bergson married a cousin of Marcel Proust and his brother-in-law was Samuel Liddell MacGregor Mathers, a founder of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. Although born Jewish, Bergson felt closer to Catholicism, which he regarded as the fulfillment of Judaism. He never officially converted, however, because of the rise of National Socialism.

Although from a strictly logical point of view, his philosophical system can be refuted. The Church even banned his books. Rene Guenon, too, was critical of Bergson. However, that is not the Hermetic reading of Bergson, which is more concerned with Bergson’s insights than its logical presentation. Any useful critique of his thought would have to advance the alliance of intelligence and intuition. The standard critiques remain on one or the other side of that alliance, and therefore fall short of what is necessary.

In Bergson’s view, the intellect treats matter as inert, and is unable to discern the life that animates it. It chops Being up into pieces, so that “whatever is fluid in the real will escape it”. We see this starkly in the abortion debate: science cannot determine when “life begins in the womb”. The intelligent course of action in this case would be to admit that shortcoming of “science” and rely on one’s intuition. That seldom happens, so the modern world loves death and sterility.

Solovyov and Egyptian Theosophy

In a footnote to Lecture Six of Divine Humanity, Vladimir Solovyov informs us:

Although the close inner connection between Alexandrian theosophy and the Christian doctrine is one of the firmly established theses of Western scholarship, for one reason or another, this perfectly correct thesis does not enjoy common acknowledgement in our theological literature. Therefore, I consider it necessary to devote to this question a special appendix at the end of these lectures, where I will touch upon the significance of the native Egyptian theosophy (the revelations of Thoth or Hermes Trismegistus) in its relation to both the doctrines mentioned.

Unfortunately, this pregnant quotation is the theological equivalent of Fermat’s Last Theorem, since the promised appendix was never published. This section will try to begin the proof. First of all, the two doctrines in question are the dogmas of the Logos and the Trinity. These doctrines were developed metaphysically by Egyptian Neoplatonists from Philo to Plotinus independent of Christian revelation. What Christianity brought was the revelation that this divine life appeared as a fact, as an historical reality. Only later was this fact connected to Neoplatonic metaphysics. Now we see how Solovyov became a prophet of Electrum, uniting the intuition of faith with the intelligence of metaphysics.

So, how does this relate to Valentin Tomberg? In a lecture Inner Impulses of Evolution, Rudolf Steiner mentions Solvyov in relation to Ernest Renan and David Strauss. Renan wrote a Life of Christ that presumes that Jesus was simply a man living in Palestine at a certain historical time. Hence, he strips out all supernatural and miraculous elements from the Gospels.

Strauss’ Life of Christ, on the other hand, wrote from the perspective of Jesus’ followers. The miracles, for example, were mythical, i.e., creations of the early Christians to express their developing conception of Jesus. Since Strauss was a Hegelian, he did not deny spiritual reality in itself. Steiner interprets Strauss like this:

As Strauss sees it, in the course of mankind’s earthly development, from the times of the first beginnings of the earth to its final end, mankind has and always will have a higher power in it than the merely external power that develops on the physical plane. A power runs right through mankind that will forever address itself to the super-earthly; this super-earthly finds expression in myths. We know that man bears something super-sensible within him that seeks to find expression in myth since it cannot be expressed in external physical science. Thus, Strauss does not see Jesus in the single individual, but rather the Christ in all men.

Solovyov, on the other hand, focuses on Christ rather than Jesus, but on Christ as a living being, not as a Straussian abstract idea. Steiner describes it this way, perhaps with some exaggeration:

When we come to Soloviev, behold, Jesus is no more, but only the Christ. Nevertheless, it is the Christ conceived as living. Not working in men as an idea, with the consequence that its power is transformed in him into a myth, but rather working as a living Being who has no body, is always and ever present among men, and is, in effect, positively responsible for the external organization of human life, the founder of the social order.

Steiner’s lecture made quite an impression on the young Tomberg, who was inspired to study Solovyov in depth. Tomberg describes that encounter:

A result was the conviction that this author had never encountered a work written before the time of Rudolf Steiner that contained such a profound concept of the nature and mission of Jesus Christ, a view presented against the background of cosmic history.

The obvious question is how did Solovyov arrive at such a deep understanding. This perplexed Tomberg, since Solovyov certainly did not argue himself into his understanding, despite presenting his understanding in a logical way to others. Solovyov does mention three divine experiences of Sophia, including one in the Egyptian desert. We don’t know exactly what he was doing in Egypt, but we do know that Solovyov had become quite familiar with both the Kabbalah and Hermetism. He regarded Paracelsus, Boehme, and Emmanuel Swedenborg as “substantial individuals”. He was also familiar with Johann Gichtel, so he would have known of Gichtel’s correspondence of the chakras with the planets.

So we can read the Letters on the Tarot as the promised appendix to Divine Humanity. Tomberg explains in the foreward:

these Letters are intended only to serve, to sustain, and to support the Hermetic tradition — from its first appearance in the epoch of Hermes Trismegistus, lost in the remoteness of antiquity and become legendary