The sephirah Binah is the rational part of the intellectual centre, corresponding to the Latin ratio. Its concerns are debate, argument, and definitions. It is limited to formal logic, and tends to be impressed with “streams of simple mental associations” as Valentin Tomberg puts it. It is more intent with discovering a secret than in dealing with mystery and arcana. There is precious little of this form of thinking in Meditations on the Tarot, i.e., it does not try to convince by means of logical or rational argument.
Chokmah is intuition in the sense that it is a direct experience unmediated by words or rational arguments. Of course, there are different levels of experience: sensory experience, psychical experience, mystical experience, for example. Binah, or ratio, has no starting point, it cannot lift itself up by its own bootstraps. Hence, it requires basic axioms or postulates to even begin. Or else, in our scientific age, it starts with sensory experience (positivism is the school of thought that limits reality to what can be experienced through the senses), then formulate more general laws and principles from the data furnished by the senses.
However, if its starting point is Binah, the results are quite different: it is a matter of descent rather than assent. In the second meditation on the High Priestess, we read the stages of this descent, from the highest intuition to a formulation comprehensible to the rational part of the mind:
this transformation of mystical experience into knowledge takes place in stages.
- The first is the pure reflection or a kind of imaginative repetition of the experience.
- The second stage is its entrance into memory.
- The third stage is its assimilation in thought and feeling, in a manner where it becomes a “message” or inner
- The fourth stage, lastly, is reached when it becomes a communicable symbol or “writing”, or “book”—i.e. when it is formulated.
Sensory experience is clear enough, but how about psychical and mystical experience? The latter require training. Careful self-observation will reveal a detailed understanding of one’s psyche. Prayer and meditation may lead to genuine mystical experience. And I certainly don’t mean meditation in the modern sense, which is pursued solely for its instrumental value in relaxing, lowering blood pressure, and the like. Moreover, some things will never be understood without efforts made in the moral purification of the will. Rational thought strives to be “objective” independent of the subjective element or the character of the knower. For intuition, the subjective element is the point, so gnosis can fall only on a purified soul.
Without those practices inspiration will be lacking. And it is inspiration that constitutes the Hermetic community. (Letter XIV Temperance) There needs to be shared inspiration to create our on-line community of Hermetists, or else there is only idle chatter. The thought process of intuition is quite different from the rational, discursive mind. Depth is one characteristic of the language of inspiration. Here are some others – and they are all baffling to discursive thought:
- dimension of depth
- analogy of being
- the marriage of opposites
- moral logic
Dimension of Depth
A worthy goal of the rational intellect is “clarity and breadth of knowledge”, but without the “dimension of depth” it can become a mere display of erudition, quite far from Hermetic inspiration. Tomberg explains this dimension:
Discursive thought is satisfied when it arrives at a well-founded conclusion. Now, this conclusion is the point of departure for contemplation. It fathoms the profundity of this conclusion at which discursive thought arrives. Contemplation discovers a world within that which discursive thought simply verifies as “true”. The gnostic sense begins to operate when it is a matter of a new dimension in the act of knowledge, namely that of depth. It becomes active when it is a question of something deeper than the question: Is it true or false? It perceives more the significance of the truth discovered by discursive thought and also “why this truth is true in itself, i.e. it reaches to the mystical or essential source of this truth. How does it arrive at this? By listening in silence.
That is the point: the focusing of concentration is contemplation. It begins when the rational mind takes leave. The latter seeks to fill up the mind with ideas, the former seeks to clear the mind to experience the silence. Tomberg confirms this:
Contemplation—which follows on from concentration and meditation—commences the very moment that discursive and logical thought is suspended.
In short, we can say that the intellectus is awakened, not by knowing its definition, but rather by experiencing it directly in the depths of one’s being.
Marriage of Opposites
The marriage of opposites, as mentioned in Letter X The Wheel of Fortune is “the essence of the practice of the law of the Cross.” Hence, it is not something optional, but rather necessary, although senseless to one of the axioms of formal logic: A v ~A (either A or not-A). Letter XXI The Fool mentions the necessity of sacrificing the intellect to spirituality. But ultimately, the goal is the marriage of “discursive intellectuality and illuminative spirituality.”
The marriage of opposites was also discussed in The Middle Pillar in relation to the rational mind and intuitive mind. Their alchemical marriage results in the “intellect illuminated by grace” (intellectus gratia illuminatus).
Anamnesis or remembering is another means of direct knowledge. Henri Bergson writes, in regard to horizontal memory:
pure memory is a spiritual manifestation. With memory we are in very truth in the domain of the spirit
Plato goes further:
research and learning are wholly recollection.
Analogy of Being
“As above, so below” is the fundamental principle of Hermetism. Its basis follows from the idea of the One and the multitude. Unity is found at the root of the diversity of phenomena, which are simultaneously different, yet one. Therefore, they are analogous, but not identical nor heterogeneous. (Letter I Magician) Tomberg mentions that one either “sees” or else fails to see analogous correspondences. It is not a matter for debate or argument.
Intuition envisions the whole in a synthesis while the rational mind analyses things into their constituent parts. An example in Letter II concerns the doctrine of creation ex nihilo, a magical act. The rational mind rejects magical acts, and prefers theories instead. Hermetism shows us that there are multiple planes of existence, in particular the four worlds of the Cabala. Here are four theories of creation and the world they correspond to:
- Pantheism: World of Emanation
- Emanationism: World of Creation
- Demiurgism: World of Formation
- Naturalism: World of Action
The rational mind can only conceive that only one of those theories can be true. The intuitive mind, on the other hand, through synthesis sees how they all can seem true in the proper context.
Another example is Pico della Mirandola’s synthesis of the doctrines of Plato and Aristotle. Although Pico is never mentioned in the Meditations, he was a forerunner in bringing to light the Christian Hermetic Tradition.
Typology follows from the analogy of being. There are prototypes above and their manifestations below. Archetypes are patterns that repeat themselves in history or in life. Typology used to be commonly employed in understanding the Bible, but less so mind. In an era dominated by the rational mind, both fundamentalists and liberals focus primarily on the literal meaning of texts.
Moral logic has previously been discussed, so there is no need to repeat it.
The Guardian of the Threshold
The point is that talking about Hermetism is not the same as being a Hermetist, and knowing the definition of something is not the same as knowing the thing defined. Gnosis cannot be demonstrated on a multiple choice test. When asked, the rational mind can recite the three counsels of the first Arcanum:
- Learn concentration without effort
- Transform work into play
- Make every yoke easy and every burden light
There are also warnings associated with these counsels:
- Do not confuse lack of concentration with concentration without effort
- Do not confuse mental associations with correspondences by analogy
At the end of Letter I we are left with a brief meditation that every would-be Magician should recite every day. There is a lot to it, and each sentence could merit a long meditation. The Magician recites it every day, so try it for 7 days or 30 days and let’s see what happens.
To perceive and to know, to try and to be able to, are all different things. There are mirages above, as there are mirages below; you only know that which is verified by the agreement of all forms of experience in its totality—experience of the senses, moral experience, psychic experience, the collective experience of other seekers for the truth, and finally the experience of those whose knowing merits the title of wisdom and whose striving has been crowned by the title of saint. Academia and the Church stipulate methodical and moral conditions for one who desires to progress. Carry them out strictly, before and after each flight into the region beyond the domain of work and effort. If you do this, you will be a sage and a mage. If you do not do this — you will be only a charlatan!