Home ~ Alchemy Index
Mary Anne ATWOOD
Hermetic Philosophy & Alchemy:
A Suggestive Inquiry into the Hermetic Mystery
An Exoteric View of the Progress and Theory of Alchemy
Chapter I ~ A Preliminary Account of the Hermetic Philosophy, with the more Salient Points of its Public History
Chapter II ~ Of the Theory of Transmutation in General, and of the First Matter
Chapter III ~ The Golden Treatise of Hermes Trismegistus Concerning the Physical Secret of the Philosophers’ Stone, in Seven Sections
A More Esoteric Consideration of the Hermetic Art and its Mysteries
Chapter I ~ Of the True Subject of the Hermetic Art and its Concealed Root.
Chapter II ~ Of the Mysteries
Chapter III ~ The Mysteries Continued
Chapter IV ~ The Mysteries Concluded
Concerning the Laws and Vital Conditions of the Hermetic Experiment
Chapter I ~ Of the Experimental Method and Fermentations of the Philosophic Subject According to the Paracelsian Alchemists and Some Others
Chapter II ~ A Further Analysis of the Initial Principle and Its Education into Light
Chapter III ~ Of the Manifestations of the Philosophic Matter
Chapter IV ~ Of the Mental Requisites and Impediments Incidental to Individuals, Either as Masters or Students, in the Hermetic Art
The Hermetic Practice
Chapter I ~ Of the Vital Purification, Commonly Called the Gross Work
Chapter II ~ Of the Philosophic or Subtle Work
Chapter III ~ The Six Keys of Eudoxus
Chapter IV ~ The Conclusion
A More Esoteric Consideration of the Hermetic Art & Its Mysteries
Of the Mysteries
The Path by which to Deity we climb
Is arduous, rough, ineffable, sublime;
And the strong massy gates thro’ which we pass,
In our first course, are bound with chains of brass;
Those men, the first who of Egyptian birth,
Drank the fair water of Nilotic earth,
Disclosed by actions infinite this road.
And many paths to God Phoenicians showed;
This road the Assyrians pointed out to view,
And this the Lydians and Chaldeans knew.
Oracle of Apollo, from Eusebius
We have shown in our history that the Greeks were not ignorant of the Hermetic Art, which they borrowed with their metaphysics so far indeed as such things may be borrowed which pertain to reason) from the Egyptians and Persians, whose temples were visited by nearly every philosopher of note.
Now the Egyptians, that is the Hermetic Art, or Art of Divine works, was by the Greeks called Theurgy; and was extensively practiced at Eleusis, and more or less in other temples of their Gods. On no subject has more difference of opinion arisen amongst the learned: the high veneration in which the Mysteries were held, the intellectual enthusiasm with which the Alexandrians speak of them, the philosophic explanations given in detail by Iamblichus and others, concerning the motive and divine nature of the initiatory rites and the spectacles they procured, have puzzled many inquirers who, unable in latter times to account rationally, have disposed of the greater past as a pantomimic show, sanctified by priestly artifice and exaggerated by a wild imagination, natural as it has been supposed to those Ethnic souls. But then the Fathers of our Church, what frenzy should have possessed them, that St Augustine, Cyrillus, Synesius and the rest, should imitate their follies, transferring the very language, disciplines and rites of those "odious mysteries", to their own ceremonial worship as Christians, and that Clemens Alexandrinus should call them "blessed"? This has seemed extraordinary, and the authorities have been quoted and requited and turned in many ways by modern writers each to the support of his own peculiar view or modification, often, as may be recognized, at variance with the original sense in context.
Warburton’s bias is negative and singularly misleading: he regarded the whole scheme of the Mysteries as a political fraud, came to the conclusion that the gods were dead men deified, and that the greater mysteries were instituted solely with a view to nullify the lesser (1). But, as is natural, hw who so shamelessly charged others to be respected as an authority himself, quickly ceased to be respected as an authority himself, and his notions are accordingly quite obsolete. Sainte Croix, whose researches are otherwise the most complete, sets al in an astronomical and eminently superficial aspect (2). Gebelin and La Pluche see all with vacant agricultural eyes (3); whilst the author of Antiquity Unveiled, notwithstanding so much learning to his aid, has found out only the foolishness of the ancients, and thinks that the mysteries should be regarded as a depository of the religious melancholy of the first men (4). Every trifling interpretation in short has been given, and everything imputed to the Mysteries except a discovery of the Wisdom which they professed. For although some with superior mind, as Thomas Taylor for example, have examined philosophically; yet from lack of evidence, and being without a guide from anything analogous in modern times they too dispose of them as immaterial ceremonies, representations at best of abstract philosophic truths (5).
Now this and all such, as the foregoing opinions, are discordant to our apprehension, and injurious to the spirit of Antiquity, which not alone upholds philosophy, that is to say, Ontological Wisdom, as the true object of initiation, but represents the rites themselves as really efficacious to procure it. As the Platonist and Psellus, before cited to the point, distinctly declare, and Cicero, they were truly called Initia, for they were the beginning of a life of reason and virtue; whence men not only derived a better subsistence here, as being drawn from an irrational and brutal life, but were led on to hope and aspire for a more blessed immortality hereafter (6).
Nor did the ancients promise this indiscriminately, but to those who were initiated in the Greater Mysteries only, as the Pythagoreans and Plato in Phaedo assert that by such means an assimilation was induced, and final contact with the object of rational inquiry, which is that identity whence, as a principle, we make our first descent. But Iamblicus more particularly explains that it was by arts divinely potent, and not by theoretic contemplation only or by mere doctrinal faith or representations either of reality; but by certain ineffable and sublime media that Theurgists became cognizant partakers in the Wisdom of true Being (7). Heraclitus calls these medicines, as being the help and remedy of imperfect souls; they possessed a power of healing the body likewise, which was extensively practiced in the temples of Esculapius with various minor physico-magical arts, But philosophy, according to Strabo, was the object of the Eleusian rites, and without the initiations of Bacchus and Ceres, he considers the most important branch of human knowledge would never have been attained. Servius, commenting on Virgil, observes that the sacred rites of Bacchus pertained to the purification of souls. Libris patris sacra ad purgationem animarum pertinebant; and again, Animae aere ventilatur, quod erat in sacris Liberi purgationis genus. --- The Greeks conceived that the welfare of the states was moreover secured by these celebrations, and the records refer to them as bestowing that on which human nature stands principally in need, viz., moral enlightenment and purification of life; without the revelation and support afforded by them, indeed, existence was esteemed no better than a living death; the tragedians echoing the sense of the people made the chief felicity to consist therein, as Euripides, by Hercules says, --- I was blessed when I got a sight of the mysteries: --- and in Bacchis, O blessed and happy he who knowing the mysteries of the gods, sanctifies his life, celebrating orgies in the mountains with holy purifications. And Sophocles, to the same purport, --- Life only is to be had there, all other places are full of misery and evil (8). The doctrine of the Greater Mysteries, says Clemens Alexandrinus, related to the whole universe; here all instruction ended; nature and all things she contains were unveiled; --- O mysteries truly sacred, O pure light! At the light of torches the veil that covers deity and heaven falls off. I am holy now that I am initiated; it is the Lord himself who is the hierophant; he sets his seal upon the adept whom he illuminates with his beams; and whom, as a recompense for his faith, he will recommend to the eternal love of the Father. These are the orgies of the Mysteries, concludes the bishop, in pious transport, come ye and be initiated. But the usage of the church as not to discover its mysteries to the profane, especially those that relate to the final apotheosis. It is even unwilling to speak of them to the Catechumens, says St Cyrillus, except in obscure terms, in such a manner, however, as that the faithful who are initiated may comprehend, and the rest be discouraged. For by these enigmas the Dagon is overthrown (9).
There was undoubtedly a secret, hanging about these celebrations, both Ethnic and Christian, which no record has divulged or common sense literally succeeded to explain away; the belief in providence and a future state were freely promulgated, and ordinary worship apart from these mysteries with which they ought not by any means to be confounded; since that might indeed be perpetuated anywhere, and has been without essentially, changing the state of life.
Previous, however, to more fully entering, we are desirous to observe that a few writers on Animal Magnetism, having within these few years become enlightened by that singular discovery, suggest their Trance and its phenomena as a revelation of the temple mysteries and various religious rites. But no one, that we are aware, has developed his suggestion of carried the idea sufficiently above the therapeutic sphere; they appear to have taken a broad view, without particular inquiry into the nature of their rites from the ancients themselves. Had they done this (we speak of the more advanced minds), we are persuaded that with that key in hand, their attention would have been drawn in new directions, and their satisfaction about the modern use of it become much modified by observing the far superior results which, through their Theurgic disciplines, the ancients aspired after, different too, as they were superior to any that we are accustomed to imagine even at the present day.
The ordinary effects of Animal Magnetism, or Mesmerism, or Vital Magnetism, or by whatever other term the unknown agency is better expressed, are now so familiarly known in practice that it will be unnecessary to describe them; they have attracted the attention of the best and leading minds of the present age, who have hailed with admiration a discovery which enables man to alleviate pain and maladies insurmountable by other means, and by benevolent disposition of is proper vitality, acting in accord, to restore health and equilibriate repose to his suffering fellow creatures. And thus it is true we can lull the senses, cure the sick, sometimes to restore the blind and deaf to hearing, sight and utterance; and it is a glorious step in progress, cheering and hopeful, a blessing on our mortal suffering state (10). But are we to halt here always, or how long? The ordinary phenomena of lucidity, prevision, community of sense, will, and thought, have long been familiar and might have instigated to more important discovery; but years have passed, and the science has not grown, but retrograded rather in interest and power, since De Mainaduc, Puysegur, Colquhoun, Elliotson, Townshend, Dupotet and the rest, faithful spirits, first set their fellow men on the road of inquiry.
But the best effects of Mesmerism, if we connect it with the ancients’ Sacred Art, appear as trifles in comparison; the Supreme Wisdom they investigated, the Self-Knowledge and perfection of life and immortality promised and said to be bestowed on those initiated in the higher Mysteries! What has mesmerism t do with these things? What wisdom does it unfold? What is its philosophy, or has it yet made an attempt even to investigate the subject-being, the cause of its own effects? In common arts, the ingenuity is set to work how it may advance and adapt them to the best advantage; now capabilities are discovered which, put in action, often prove the fruitful source of more; whereas Mesmerism, dwelling together altogether in the practice (the same which, from the first, unfolded nature as far as it was able), continues to run on with her in the same commonplace round. Our sleepwalkers are little better than dreamers, for the most part, or resemble children born into a new world, without a guide, unable of themselves to educate their latent talents, or discriminate truth from falsehood in their revelations. And, as respects the Universal Medium, they even, who believe in such a thing, take it as it presents itself naturally, having no knowledge of the capabilities or means of improvement, whither it is able to ascend or descend, or what is its right determination. The few experimental tests that have been instituted hitherto prove nothing but to identify the same Imponderable through all; and if we make trial of the Spirit’s instincts, asking for revelations of prophecy and distant scenes or journeyings through the air --- and they follow us, those patients of our will, we then go out from them to philosophize, or wonder, or to think no more about it, as the case may be; repeating the same mechanical operations, and witnessing similar effects continually over and over again, until at length the enthusiasm which early characterized the novelty and raised expectation about it, has very generally and naturally died away.
Now this, according to our gatherings, was not the sort of investigation that the ancients followed in their Mysteries; although working in the same material and with similar instruments, on the same ground, yet their practice was different; for it was conducted upon established principles and with a truly philosophic as well as benevolent aim. Theurgists, indeed, condemn the Spirit of the natural life as degraded and incapable of true intelligence, nor did they therefore value the revelations of its first included sphere; but proceeded at once, passing these, as it appears, in the Lesser Mysteries, to dissolve the medium more entirely; and, as they knew how, to segregate the Vital Spirit away from those defilements and imaginative impressures which, by the birth into sense, had become implanted there, obscuring the intelligence and that divine eye which, as Plato says, is better worth than 10,000 corporeal eyes; for by looking through this alone, when it is purified and strengthened by appropriate aids, the truth pertaining to all beings is perceived.
The Neoplatonists wrote largely of the Theurgical art; many books are quoted by St Augustine and is contemporaries which are not transmitted, but were destroyed probably through the sectarian malice and shortsighted policy of the later Roman government, which tolerated nothing but luxury and arms. Yet sufficient remains to evince the nature of the Mysteries since, besides those before named --- Plotinus, Proclus, Porphyry, Synesius, and Iamblicus especially --- all refer to them, declaring also the objects and revelations. And in what the disease of the Spirit consists, and from what cause it falsifies and is dulled, and how it becomes clarified and defecated, and restored to its innate simplicity, may be learned in part from their philosophy; for by the lustrations in the Mysteries, as they describe, the soul becomes liberated and passes into a divine condition of being.
Synesius writes appositely on the early disciplines, showing the phantastical condition also of the natural understanding essence, before it is purified by art and exalted. This Etherial Spirit, he says, is situated on the confines of the rational and brutal life, and is of a corporeal and incorporeal degree; and it is the medium which conjoins divine natures with the lowest of all. And nature extends the latitude of a phantastic essence through every condition of things; it descends to animals in whom intellect is not present; in this case, however, it is not the understanding of a divine part (as in man it ought to be) but becomes the reason of the animal with which it is connected, and is the occasion of its acting with much wisdom and propriety. And it is obvious, he continues, that many of the energies of the human life consist from this nature, or if from something else, (i.e., to say, from reason), yet this prevails most; for we are not accustomed to cogitate without imagination, unless, indeed, some one should on a sudden be enabled to pass into contact with an intelligible essence (11).
That is into the identical apperception of true being; which is not possible under the ordinary conditions of thought in this life; but reason is always more or less debilitated in its energies by the habitual dependence on sense for data and objective proof, and by that modal consciousness which prevents from transcending it. Nor is this the only barrier, since when freed from the encumbrance of the senses temporarily, when in a state of trance they are quiescent, their impressure yet remains, and, as Synesius says, a false imagination, which it is requisite to destroy, as well as to banish all influxions from without, before the understanding spirit can superinduce Divinity.
It is well known that Pythagoras instituted long preparations and ordeals to train the minds of his disciples, previously to admitting them into the deeper mysteries of his school; and his biographer relates how, by divine arts and media, he healed and purified the souls of his followers, and that by constantly holding them allied to a certain precedential good, their lives were preserved in continual harmony and converse with the highest causes. But dense thickets, which are full of briars, says Iamblicus, surround the intellect and heart of those who have not been purely initiated, and obscure the mild and tranquil reasoning power, and openly impede the intellective part from becoming increased and elevated: and again, --- It may be well to consider the length of time that we consumed in wiping away the stains which had insinuated themselves into our breasts, till, after the lapse of some years, we became fit recipients for the doctrines of Pythagoras; for as dyers previously purify garments, and then fix in the colors with which they wish them to be imbued in order that the dye may not be evanescent, after the same manner also that divine man prepared the souls of those that are lovers of Wisdom. For he did not impart specious doctrines or a snare, but he possessed a scientific knowledge of things divine and divine (12).
The Egyptian Olympiodorus also speaks of the natural imperfection of the human understanding, and how far its conceptions are adverse to divine illumination. The phantasy, says he, is an impediment to our intellectual conception; hence, when we are agitated by the inspiring influence of divinity, and the phantasy intervenes, the enthusiastic energy ceases; for enthusiasm and the phantasy are contrary to each other. Should it be asked whether the soul is able to energize without the phantasy, we reply, that the perception of Universals proves that it is able (13).
As a rational promise to this life of a higher reality, the subsistence of these Universals cannot be too often or too distinctly brought to mind; for not only do they reveal in us a necessity of Being beyond present experience, but, adumbrating, as it were, their antecedent light, assist much, if perspicaciously beheld, to introduce the Idea of that consummate Wisdom, wherein this reason, becoming passive, receives the substance of her Whole. And the ancients glowingly describe the truth so conceived as an unquestionable experience; one and the same in all, where difference is merged in objective union. And Iamblicus moreover asserts, that Theurgic rites conspiring to this end were scientifically disposed and early defined by intellectual canons; neither is it lawful to consider these canons as mutable, since they are the natural faith of life, and alone of all creeds catholic and independent.
But to transcend the sensible life in rational energy permanently apart is described as not less difficult than fortunate to attain; hence Plato appropriates the possession of Wisdom to old age, signifying by this Intellect diving intuitively without imaginative error; a Wisdom such as is not worldly, since it by no means belongs to the common life of man, nor is to be hoped for at all either in the early awakening of the life within, but by a transition gradually effected by Art away from the profound strains of a baser affection, it is carried up through the love of truth by faith into vivid contact with its Whole.
And the extremity of all evil in this life consists, according to the ancients, in not perceiving the present evil and how much human nature stands in need of amelioration; and this is a part of that two-fold ignorance which Plato execrates, which being ignorant that it is ignorant has no desire to emerge, but may be compared to a body all over indurated by diseases, which, being no longer tormented with pain, is neither anxious to be cured. But he who lives in the consciousness of something better will meditate improvement , and desire is the first requisite; indeed, without desire on our part, art will labor for us in vain, since Will is the greatest part of purgation. And through the means of this, says Synesius, both our deeds and discourses extend their hands to assist us in our assent; but this being taken away the soul is deprived of every purifying machine because destitute of assent, which is the greatest pledge of reconciliation. Hence disciplines willingly endured become of far greater utility, while they oppose vexation of evil and banish the love of stupid pleasure from the soul.
But the phantastic Spirit may be purified, even in brutes, continues this author, so tht something better may be induced: how much will not the regression of the rational soul be therefore base, if she neglects to restore that which is foreign to her nature, and leaves lingering upon earth that which rightly belongs on high? Since it is possible, by labor and a transition into other lives, for the imaginative soul to be purified and to emerge from this dark abode. And this restoration indeed one or two may obtain as a gift of divinity and initiation. Then, indeed, the soul acquires fortitude with divine assistance, but it is no trifling contest to abrogate the confession and compact which she has made with sense. And in this case force will be employed, for the material inflictors will then be roused to vengeance, by the decrees of fate, against the rebels of her laws; and this is what the Sacred Discourse testifies by the labors of Hercules, and the dangers which he was required to endure, and which every one must experience who bravely contends for liberty, till the Understanding Spirit rises superior to the dominion of nature and is palced beyond the reach of her hands (14).
Hence, and from the foregoing evidence, it may have become probable that modern art has hitherto unfolded but a small and inferior part only of the Spirit’s life; nor has experience yet opened into those temptations and trials which the consciousness must necessarily pass through, all the while regressive, before it reaches into the central illumination of truth. Nor does anything occur to us more beautifully suggestive than the whole the passage, from which we here gather, wherein Synesius describes not only the life that is operated upon and, in graceful terms, the artifice, but shows the conditions of desire and will, so indispensable for advancement, the labors and dangers likewise which attend those who aspire to the upper grades of Intellectual Science. And is it not true, as he remarks so far, we do lead for the most part a phantastic life? Nor least they who least suspect it, for it is the shining of truth that makes this visible, as a cloud before her face. Are we not filled too with conceits and roving imaginations and idols, which we are evermore mistaking for the real good? Do we not abound in sects and dissensions, heresies and doubts, so that scarcely two are to be found agreeing on all points? And the causes are obvious; without a standard and sure foundation to build on, we judge, as we are only able, with the rudimentary faculties and senses that are born in us, and of all nature, as through a glass darkly. If, therefore, with this same misunderstanding and infected Spirit, we enter in for the discovery and contemplation of ourselves, it will be useless; we shall not there discern the true hypostasis, but err amongst the turbulent and shadowy impressures of this of this life’s birth and sphere of accidents. Thus mingling with the soul of the universe, without purification or any distinction of its light, our vehicle disports herself oftentimes in many mingling forms; as it is with those who dream or make to themselves a fool’s paradise with the druggist’s gas; since this, even impure as it is and full of folly, being if like nature with our life, coalesces; and would, if allowed to persist, consume its rationality. And on this account we observe the ancients more particularly warn about the treatment of their Spirit, which, though of a higher birth and instinct (as we may observe in the comparison of mesmerized patients and those under the influence of chloroform or common ether), and capable of so much higher, even as they say of the highest intelligence, yet in proportion may suffer also the most fearful degradation. Accordingly if the will incline downwards, persisting to grovel, or evil agencies intervene, then, as the Sacred Discourse has it, the Spirit grows heavy and sinks into profound Hades. It is necessary that the mind, once seated in this Spirit, should either follow or draw or be drawn by it. Hence, if growing predominant in folly, she should cease to aspire, the whole identity, being submerged together, would be converted to her life.
For is she not that very Sphinx of the Labyrinth, the devourer of strangers and all who have not the wit to unriddle her and know themselves? At all events, such is said to be the nature of the Phantastic Spirit before it is mundified, that he who enters so far as to be profoundly conscious in her essence, will be lost in irrational confusion, if he assume not quickly his intellectual energies and solve, that is comprehend, it on its own ground. For, if reason remains passive, this nature at length prevailing, will ravage and devastate and take possession of the whole mind, destroying its active energies and converting them to herself. Thus Iamblicus, speaking of this mundane spirit, says --- it grows upon and fashions all the powers the soul, exciting in opinion the illuminations from the senses, and fixes in that life the impressions which descend from intellect. And Proclus, concerning the same nature, declares that --- it folds itself about the indivisibility of true intellect (which is in its center), conforms itself to all formless species, and becomes perfectly everything from which dianoia and our individual reason consist. And, as it is commonly observed to be a vain labor to infuse doctrine into a perplexed and turbid brain, or for a merely practical unspeculative soul to judge of abstract propositions; just so, no doubt, the best constituted minds would be inadequate to self-inspection on their first entrance into life. For the Spirit understand the affections of the mind, and reflects its image as it is, whether good or evil. But the primary and proper vehicle of the mind, when it is in a wise and purified condition, is attenuated and clear seeing; when however the mind is sensually affected, then this vehicle is dulled and becomes terrene; the instincts are said to be imperfect just in proportion as the perceptive medium is impure, and therefore it needs alternation and solution, as the oracles teach, for the discernment of good and evil, and the proper choice of life.
It is therefore that the Alchemists so much declaim against the vulgar Matter as it is at first made known, full of heterogeneous qualities and notions, as a subject fallen from its sphere and defiled. Hence all those preparations, solutions, calcinations, etc. before it becomes to be the Mercury of the Philosophers --- pure, agile, intelligent, living --- as they say, in her own sphere, as a queen upon her throne. Take, says Albertus Mangus, the occult Arcanum, which is our brass, and wash it that it may be pure and clean. The first rule of the work is a perfect solution (15).
All which we understand with reference to the universal Mundane Spirit, as it is at first consciously revealed in the recipient life of humanity; which Aristotle, in his Metaphysics, calls passive intellect, because capable of receiving and being converted to all --- the best pr worst inclination, the highest truth or the most delusive imaginings --- of manifesting motives in vital effects, and within certain limits of organizing even and transporting them.
And this we take to be the identical agent which is spread abroad in the present day mesmerizing, the photogenic medium, our New Imponderable, for it is the Common Soul; also the subject-matter of the Alchemists aforesaid, when they call it a thing indifferent, abject, and exposed in all hands, moving here below in shadowy manifestation, invisibly and unconsciously converted to every will and various use. It is what the world cares not for, as the adept says, but disesteems it; it hath it in its sight, carries it in its hands, yet is ignorant thereof; for it passeth away with a sudden pace without being known; yet these treasures are the chiefest, and he that knows the Art, and the expressions, and hath the medium, will be richer than any other (16). But, in its natural state, the microcosmic life is not dissimilar from the vitality of the greater world, which is included by respiration in the blood of all creatures, maintaining its perpetual pulsation, as of the wind and waves, their flux and reflux; supplying to all existence the food of life. And how much such a life is in need of melioration, how much it suffers and desires, and how far its beneficience falls short of human hope and capability, may be apparent, and that in her Door-keeper, Isis is not revealed.
But so far we have yet advanced only to the gate of the great Labyrinth, where the Sphinx is even now present, rapidly propounding her dark riddles in the world, images of the obscure and intricate nature of the human spirit; which, by the devious windings, delusive attractions and similitudes of its own included sphere, leads imperceptibly, as it were, by an alluring grace, into that Hermetic wilderness and wild of Magic in which so many adventurers have gone astray. This is the Monster and the Eternal Riddle explained to common sense as suits it, but misunderstood to this day; that Compound Simple and ground of the magians’ elements --- a thing so perplexedly treated of by them, and having about it such a latitude for sophistication, that it is almost impossible to collect or unravel what has been said of it. Or how should reason attempt to define an essence all comprehending, yet separated in each particular, by so great an interval from itself? But this is that Augean Stable that was to be cleansed, that most famous labor of the philosophic Hercules; nor the least of labors, to turn the current of life into another channel, and purify the natural source.
Close upon the revealment of the Medial Life then, as we take it, in order of the Mysteries followed the Purificative Rites, which were designed also to restore the monarchy of reason in the soul, and this not either as an end so much, but as preparatory to undergoing the final initiations. We are induced, however, to dwell longer on this first step, and on the necessity of intellectual preparation and auxiliaries; because it may be objected, as we proceed to unfold the ultimate tradition of this Wisdom, that we have no valid witness to our side; that any individual may declare according to the revelations of his mind, and introduce a various imagination to the idea of truth; that even supposing the mind included for a while and entirely free from outward impressions, still, retaining as it must the original bias, not only of sense but of birth and education, its experience will be neither trustworthy nor important to this life: and then nothing of a universal character, such as the ancients speak of, has been observed; or if asserted, how should it be scarcely proven? Reason in these days is not content with affirmation; it will have objective response to its faith; all pretensions, therefore, to internal lights and revelations have ceased to attract the attention of mankind. And again, it may be inquired why, if true Being is everywhere totally present, it is not so perceived; and why all things partaking do not enjoy the light of the so-called superstantial world?
In reply to this last objection, we would ask if it be not because that very light is drawn outwardly, and enchanted by sense that it is internally unconscious and oblivious everywhere of the great Identity whence it springs? If that were applied inwardly which now looks out, and every natural impediment removed, experience might then reveal to us the antecedent life. But the former objections recur here: there are impediments; and it behooves us to consider scrupulously, but without prejudice, the possibility and tests of such an experience; for if by this traditionary fall and outbirth, the understanding is so polluted as to be no more able, as Lord Bacon supposes (17), to reflect the total reason to itself, introspection will be useless, and the central mystery remains, as respects humanity, a hopeless problem after all.
None better than the ancients (who profess to have enjoyed the rational life in its most intimate spheres, and to have reaped its most real and lasting advantages), describe the folly and fatal allurements to which they are subjected who trust themselves to remain passively dreaming in the region of the phantasy, with its notions and instincts, often more false, fleeting, and evil that the corporeal images with which sense is conversant. It is for this cause they insist so much that, before any one betakes himself to the inner life of contemplation --- before he hopes, we mean, to pass into its Reason --- that all else be effectually obliterated, and the mental atmosphere made clear and passive before its objective light. Without this, they promise nothing; with it, all. And on this possibility, namely, of purifying the human Understanding Essence, and developing to consciousness its occult Causality, the transcendental philosophy of the mystics may be observed to hinge entirely and exceed every other.
For that there is a foundation of truth in existence, is as necessary for us to admit as that we are ignorant of it; and the doubt rather remains also about the discovery of means, than the possibility of self-knowledge.
To continue then, partly on the authority of the Greek philosophers and partly on some mother grounds hereafter to be disposed of, we are led to infer that the Hermetic purifications and Mysteries, celebrated in the Eastern temples and by the priests at Eleusis, were real and efficacious for the highest ends that philosophy can propose to itself, namely, the purification and perfection of human life; and that inasmuch as the object was different and immeasurably superior to those proposed by modern Mesmerism, or any other art or science of the present day, so also were the means employed (the particulars of which are further discussed under the Practice), and the administration in proportion purer, holier, and entirely scientific. For does not all our experimentalism and philosophy end in fact where the ancients began, purifying the Vital Spirit in its proper Light?
Or if any one think we have been discussing all the while a mere nothing, and developing a vain imagination, we admit it; suggesting only that, That which is, in his mind, so mere a nothing, become sin that of a philosopher to be the All in all. But who will now conceive the full latitude and substantiality of this principle, or the true metaphysical use thereof? Few, very few, Philalethes said, there were in his day; and who will even inquire now, or believe that it is the very same which solved and resolved, and wisely manipulated, becomes to be the concrete Stone of philosophers; in its pure, passive expanse, a mirror of the catholic reason of nature, and the medium of that holy and sublime experience granted to man alone in the divine alliance --- Ex natura et divino factum est, as Reuchlin, in The Mirific Word, expresses it --- Divinum enim quia cum divinitate conjunctum divinas substantias facit.
Take that which is least, and draw it by artifice into the true ferment of philosophers; although our metal is exteriorly dead, yet it has life within, and wants nothing more than that That which in the eyes of a philosopher is the most precious should be collected, and that That which the many set more value on be rejected; and these words are manifest without envy, says the Greek Aristhenes. O, how wonderful different and detract nothing, only in the preparation removing superfluities (18).
From that which is perfect nothing more can be made; for a perfect species is not changed in its nature, neither from an utterly imperfect thing can art produce perfection; but this Universal Spirit is described as a middle substance --- passive, undetermined, susceptible of conversion and all extremes. And such accordingly we understand to be the one thing requisite, purifying and to be purified itself by itself, in turn agent and patient, which are the Hermetic luminaries; in their full representative advancement, the Sun and Moon philosophical, passing through many phases from imperfection to perfection in the true magistery.
And the hermetic art would seem to consist simply in the right disposition and manipulation of this our Undetermined Subject, taking her where nature leaves, and by divers operations, to be hereafter noted, as of amalgamation, distillation, filtration, digestion, and lastly by sublimation to the Head of an appropriate Vessel, establishing her in a new and concentric Form of Light.
Nor may this seem a fable to the wise,
Since all things live according to their kinds;
Their life is light which in them hidden lies,
Discerned by the eyes of soaring minds,
To them discovered is true nature’s map,
By whom produced nothing is by hap:
For she her secret agent doth possess,
Which in the universe is only one,
But is distinct thro’ species numberless,
According to their seeds, which God alone
In the beginning did produce, and then
Set them their law, found out by mental men (19).
But a long interval is between, and all the labors of that Heroic Intellect to be passed through before the rejected Keystone regains her Head place. None but a philosopher ever achieved the work, or for reasons that are imperative, ever will. The idle and vicious are totally excluded, nor are the rewards of Wisdom to be won by fools wanting the very principles of melioration in themselves. --- Nemo enim dat id, quod non habet. --- He only that hath it can impart --- and he only has it who has labored rationally in the pursuit. As is exemplified in that saying of Esdras --- The earth giveth much mould, whereof earthen vessels are made, but little dust that gold cometh of (20).
Non levis adscensus, si quis petat ardua, sudor
Plurimus hunc tollit, nocturna insomnis olivae
Immoritur, delet quod mox laudaverit in se,
Qui cupit aeternae donari frondis honore.
1. See Divine Legation, vol. 1
2. St Croix des Mysteres, 2 vols, 8 vo.
3. Gebelin, Monde Primitif. La Pluche des Cieux
4. L’Antiquitie devoilee par ses Usages, etc.
5. Dissertation on the Eleusinian and Bacchic Mysteries
6. DeLegibus, lib. 2, cap. 14
7. Iamblicus on the Mysteries; Taylor, p. 109
8. See Praetextus, Hist. Nov. lib. 4; Divine Legation, vol. 1; Des Septchenes, Chap. 2
9. See the extracts rendered by De Septchenes, in his Religion of the Greeks, chap. 2
10. See Zoist, passim.
11. See Taylor’s Proclus on Euclid, the extract from Synesius, vol. 2
12. Iamblicus, Life of Pythagorus, chap, 16, 17
13. See Porphyry’s Aid to Intelligibles, Taylor
14. See Taylor’s History of the Restoration of the Platonic Philosophy in vol. 2 of his Proclus on Euclid.
15. Secret. Tact. Alberti, in fine; Artis Auriferae
16. Aquarium Sapientum, part 2, in fine; Vaughan’s Coelum Terrae
17. See his Instaruration of the Sciences, sub init.
18. Aristiteles in Roasrio, and in the Lucerna Salis
19. Eirenaeus’ Marrow of Alchemy, book 1
20. Esdras, cap. 3, Book 1
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