My soul magnifies the Lord,
And my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour,
For he has regarded the low estate of his handmaiden.
For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed…
He has scattered those who have proud thoughts in their hearts,
He has put down the mighty from their thrones,
And he has exalted those of low degree.
He has filled the hungry with good things,
And the rich he has sent away empty-handed.
(Luke i, 46-48, 51-53)
He who exalts himself will be abased,
And he who humbles himself will be exalted.
(Luke xiv, 11)
The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed upon the ground, and should sleep and rise night and day, and the seed should sprout and grow, he knows not how.
(Mark iv, 26-27)
Origen has written: “when we indulge (human appetites to excess and offer no resistance, then the hostile power, seizing the opportunity of this first offense, incites us in every way, striving to extend the sins over a larger field; so that while we men supply the occasions and beginnings of our sins, the hostile powers spread them far and wide and if possible endlessly.”
As the fifteenth Arcanum is related to demonic evil, the sixteenth Arcanum is related to human evil, which does not come from outside, but has its origin in the human soul.
The unfortunate misunderstanding locating innate human evil in the body instead of in the soul is due to a tendency towards a materialistic interpretation of the Biblical story of paradise and the Fall.
If paradise is understood as a place on the terrestrial or material plane, and if the Fall is similarly understood as having taken place on this plane, innate human evil cannot be understood otherwise than as biologically hereditary, i.e. that it is the flesh which bears it and transmits the seed of evil from generation to generation. Then it is the flesh which is the enemy of the soul and against which one has to struggle. Hence one “disciplines” it by flagellation, one weakens it by depriving it of food and sleep, and one scorns it and mistreats it in many ways—one is ashamed of one’s body.
Negative asceticism, directed against the body and not for celestial things, is the practical consequence of the materialistic interpretation of paradise and the Fall.
Actually the body is a miracle of wisdom, harmony and stability, which does not merit scorn but rather the admiration of the soul. Can the soul boast of moral principles as stable as the body’s skeleton? Is it as indefatigable and as faithful in its sentiments as, for example, the heart, which beats day and night? Does the soul possess a wisdom comparable to that of the body, which knows how to harmonize such opposing things as water and fire, air and solid matter?
Remember that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, inhabited this flesh and that he honoured it to the point of uniting himself with it in the Incarnation. Similarly, if one is a Buddhist or Brahmanist, one should not forget that Buddha and Krishna, also, inhabited this flesh and that it served them well in the accomplishing of their respective missions.
The Cherubim placed at the east of the garden of Eden, with a flaming sword to guard the way to the tree of life, was there to turn away souls who committed the original sin. The body had nothing to do with it.
According to Hermes Trismestigus’ The Virgin of the Cosmos, the Fall occurred prior to the terrestrial life of mankind. This Hermetic doctrine was taken up by Pythagoras and Plato, and was represented in the first Christian centuries by Origen. Origen taught that God had created all souls equal, but that some sinned in the spiritual world and had to leave for the earth: these are human souls. Others in turning towards God, perfected themselves and became Angels.
The doctrine that the pre-existent soul, in having sinned, took into itself the seed of evil in the pre-terrestrial sphere, has as a practical consequence positive asceticism, i.e. that of the soul’s atonement and reunion with God.
Positive asceticism does not struggle against the body but rather against the seed of evil in the soul, for the sake of its reunion with God. If, for example, the only food that Teresa Neumann had for decades was the host from the Sacrament of Holy Communion, this was not because she struggled against the body or despised it, but rather because she really lived from the Holy Sacrament without prejudicing the health of the body.
St. Martin gave his coat to a poor man not because he wanted to make his body suffer from the cold but rather because he wanted to put an end to the suffering of his neighbour, whose body was deprived of protection against the cold.
St. Anthony went into the desert not in order to make his body suffer but rather in order to be alone in the presence of God.
A monk renounces marriage not because he hates love, women and children but rather because he is fired by the love of God and there is no room in him for another love.
Positive asceticism is universal. A scientist, who shuts himself in his room with a view to pursuing his studies, does so because he is taken up with the truth that he is seeking and not because he wants to deprive his body of sun, fresh air and other benefits or pleasures of the world outside his room.
A ballerina fasts much so as to keep her body slender and supple. A doctor interrupts his sleep during the night, if he is called out to a sick person. A missionary lives in a miserable hut in a village in Africa, not because he loves misery, but because he wants to share the lot of his brothers.
According to the ancient Hindu wisdom of India, from the mouth of Shankara (ninth century A.D.), it is ahamkara, the sense of self, due to avidya, primordial ignorance, caused by maya’s power of projection (viksepa-shakti), associated with maya’s power of obscuration (avarana-shakti), which consists in the illusory identification of the true Self (atman) with the empirical self—as is clearly attested by the revelation of Scripture (shruti), direct authentic experience (pratyaksba), tradition (smirti) and inference (anumana).
It is desire (tanha), engendered by ignorance (avidya), which consists in attributing the central role to an illusory mental construction of the “self”, whilst the centre is nowhere, or everywhere, answers Buddhism
Among the Hermetic texts, it is Kore Kosmu which speaks in the most explicit way of the sin prior to the Fall (whose consequence and punishment was the Fall), where Isis says to Horus:
The souls, my son, betook themselves to doing the work they had been bidden to do (by the Father)… They fashioned the race of birds…fishes… quadrupeds…reptiles…
“Thinking that they had now something great, they began to arrange themselves in presumptuous audacity, and transgress God’s commands; for they sought to vie with the gods in heaven, claiming nobility equal to theirs, in that the souls themselves had been made by the same Maker.
“And so they now began to overstep the bounds of their own divisions of the atmosphere; for they would not any longer abide in one place, but were ever on the move, and thought it death to stay in one abode…
“But when the souls did thus, my son, the Lord of all (so Hermes said…) failed not to mark it; and he sought a way to punish them. And so the Ruler and Master of all, thought good to fabricate the human organism, to the intent that in it the race of souls might through all time suffer punishment…”
The souls were entrusted with fashioning animals according to their celestial models in the zodiac; but instead of accomplishing this synthetic work, “they sought to find out of what ingredients it was compounded”, i.e. they gave themselves up to analysis, preferring analytical knowledge to creative synthetic work; this had the consequence that they changed their fundamental attitude from the vertical attitude (God-soul) to the horizontal attitude (soul-world) and “were ever on the move” in the horizontal, “since they thought it death to stay in one abode.”
The similarity, if not identity, of the narratives of the Garden of Eden and the Kore Kosmu leaps out at one. In both it is a matter of the sin of “presumptuous audacity”; in both man follows the desire “to have his eyes opened and to be as a god”; in both man is entrusted with a creative magical task with regard to the animals; in both man changes his fundamental attitude from the vertical to the horizontal — with the consequences of incarnation being suffering, toil and death.
The differences between the narratives of the Kore Kosmu and Genesis are:
Kore Kosmu teaches, while Genesis recounts the dawn of mankind and world history. Kore Kosmu wants to convince, whilst Genesis awakens profound memories of a remote past which slumber in the depths of the soul— memories from the “collective unconscious” as Jung would have said.
Genesis does not confine itself to the first stage of the Fall in paradise —although this is the decisive one—but adds three subsequent stages: notably Cain’s fratricide, the generation of giants, and the building of the tower of Babel (Genesis iv, 1-16; vi, 1-4; xi, 1-9).
Cain’s fratricide is the primordial phenomenon (Goethe’s Urphaenomen) containing the seed of all subsequent wars, revolutions and revolts in the history of the human race. His fratricide is the revolt of the “lower self” against the “true Self’—of the fallen “likeness” against the intact “image”.
Cain, who killed his brother Abel, became an exile—he became a wanderer. For to wander is the inevitable lot of the revolt of the “lower self” against the “higher Self”
The generation of giants is the primordial phenomenon which is the seed of all subsequent pretensions in the history of the human race for groups and peoples to play a domineering role as divine sovereigns, and thus all pretensions of being “supermen”. The Caesars who arrogated divine honour and authority to themselves, Nietzsche’s “superman” (Uebermensch), and likewise the diverse fascist and communist Fuhrers.
These are the primordial “gigantism” of which Genesis speaks. At the root of the generation of giants is the marriage of the “lower self” with entities of the fallen hierarchies—instead of with the “true Self”.
The generation of giants was followed by the flood. To be drowned is the lot entailed by the pretension to be a “superman”. He who unites himself the fallen hierarchies, will be drowned, i.e. he will fall prey to madness. This happened to Nietzsche, the inspired author of works lauding the “superman” and the antichrist.
The law of the tower of Babel is manifest in purgatory after death. For every man who is not a saint or fully righteous man builds a kind of “tower of Babel” which is his own. His actions, opinions and aspirations constitute a “private world” that he has built and that he bears with himself into the spiritual world after his death. This subjective world must there pass through the trial of meeting with spiritual reality—the thunderbolt. No one judges it; it is the soul itself who judges itself in the light of a completely awakened conscience.
Seen from without, a soul who enters the state of purgatory disappears from the sight of other souls and is thus plunged into the darkness of invisibility and inaccessibility.
But seen from within, a soul is plunged into the absolute light of trans-subjective consciousness, which seems to envelop and make the soul so concentrated as to become inaccessible to everyone.
No one has given a clearer idea and a more convincing description, being founded on authentic experience, than that given by St. John of the Cross in his Dark Night of the Soul.
The purification portrayed here amounts to a school of humility. In the Card of the sixteenth Arcanum of the Tarot. The thunderbolt which blasts is the divine light which dazzles and bears down; the blasted tower is what the human powers of understanding, imagination and will have erected, which find themselves confronted with divine reality; the constructors who fall represent the “school of humility” for the human powers of understanding, imagination and will.
It is this law which is the theme of the Magnificat that I have put at the head of this Letter, where it is said:
In biology in the process of evolution there are many ways which lead to a temporary advantage due to the specialisation of an organism, but which always ends in an impasse. Thus the great reptiles, the Saurians, attained uncontested dominion on the earth owing to their physical strength, their agility in movement, and their formidable jaws. But they lasted only to give way to small beings without the advantages of physical strength. These small warm-blooded beings, the first mammals, were not so specialised as the reptiles, and were insignificant beings alongside the latter.
What is true in the domain of biology is also true in all other domains.
You see a fakir who is insensible to a bed of nails, or who has himself buried alive for a week without being suffocated, or who makes a plant grow in your presence. This fakir has realised some advantages; he can do what you cannot do. But he has attained it at the expense of general development as a human being; he has specialised himself. He will never make a contribution of value to philosophy, religion or art. He is at an impasse—awaiting a thunderbolt from above which can enable him to get out of it.
The fakir and the magician both need equally the liberating thunderbolt from above in order to return to the way of purely human evolution, i.e. to that of general growth, without the impasses of specialisation.
And then the problem that disquieted Agrippa of Nettesheim, author of the classic work on magic, De Occulta Philosophia. How could it be that the author who finds a multitude of things based on authentic experience, became the sceptic disenchanted with life who wrote De Incertitudine et Vanitate Scientiarum (“On the Uncertainty and the Vanity of the Sciences”), which was written during his last years of life?
Agrippa had built a “tower of Babel” which was later blasted by a “thunderbolt from above”. It was higher reality which made all the “sciences of the supernatural” — to which he had devoted the best years of his life — appear vain to him. The tower was shaken, but the way of heaven was opened. He was free to begin again, i.e. in a condition to enter upon the way of growth.
The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed upon the ground, and should sleep and rise night and day, and the seed should sprout and grow, he knows not how. (Mark iv, 26-27)
Calculating machines and computers have their place in the scientific work of today. But they have no place in Hermeticism, where personal and original effort of thought is irreplaceable. Neither The Art of Combination of Raymond Lull nor the “archeometry” of Saint Yves d’Alveydre, ingenious and well-founded though they are, were accepted in Hermeticism as intellectual instruments for discoveries and classification.
Hermeticism —being the art of becoming, the art of transformation, transubstantiation and transmutation of human consciousness — cannot make use of any intellectual instrument.
The soul of Hermeticism is that “nothing should be lost…all should have eternal life” (John vi, 39-40).
Its fundamental thesis that all can be saved is that of faith, pure and simple, i.e. due to the experience of the divine breath. It has the virtue of taking hold not only of the heart and the will but also of the understanding.
The parable of the lost sheep can, by analogy, apply to the inner life of the soul. If one considers each force in the soul as a “sheep”, one arrives at the understanding that the soul’s faults and vices are not monsters, but rather, lost sheep.
The desire to submit the will of other people to one’s own is, fundamentally, a sheep which is lost. For at the root of the desire to dominate is found the dream of unity, union, the harmony of a choir. It is a “sheep”. But instead of seeking the realisation of the dream of harmony by way of love, the will seeks to realise it by way of compulsion.
In order to meditate, one must place oneself within the light from above. And in order to experience contemplation, it is necessary to become one with this light. For this reason the stages of the soul corresponding to concentration, meditation and contemplation are those of purification, illumination and union. And it is the three sacred vows of obedience, chastity and poverty which render concentration, meditation and contemplation effective. These are the practical “secrets” of inner “gardening”—concerned with the laws of growth (and not those of building).