THE mystic title of the celebrated Hermetic fragment with which this volume commences, "Koré Kosmou" that is, the "Kosmic Virgin," is in itself a revelation of the wonderful identity subsisting between the ancient wisdom-religion of the old world, and the creed of catholic Christendom. Koré is the name by which, in the Eleusinian Mysteries, Persephone the Daughter, or Maiden, was saluted; and it is also--perhaps only by coincidence--the Greek word for the pupil or apple of the eye. When, however, we find Isis, the Moon-goddess and Initiatrix, in her discourse with Horos, mystically identifying the eye with the soul, and comparing the tunics of the physical organ of vision with the envelopes of the soul; when, moreover, we reflect that precisely as the eye, by means of its pupil, is the enlightener and percipient of the body, so is the soul the illuminating and seeing principle of man, we can hardly regard this analogy of names as wholly unintentional and uninstructive. For Koré, or Persephone, the Maiden, is the personified soul, whose "apostasy," or "descent," from the heavenly sphere into earthly generation, is the theme of the following Hermetic parable. 1 The Greek mysteries dealt only with two subjects, the first being the drama of the "rape" and restoration of Persephone the second, that of the incarnation, martyrdom, and resuscitation of Dionysos-Zagreus. By Persephone was intended the Soul; and by Dionysos, the Spirit. Hermetic doctrine taught a fourfold nature both of the Kosmos and of Man; and of this fourfold nature two elements were deemed immortal and permanent, and two mortal and transient. The former were the spirit and the soul; the latter, the lower mind--or sense-body--and the physical organism. The spirit and soul, respectively male and female, remained throughout all the changes of metempsychosis the same, indissoluble and incorrupt, but the body and lower intellect were new in each rebirth, and therefore changeful and dissoluble. The spirit, or Dionysos, was regarded as of a specially divine genesis, being the Son of Zeus by the immaculate Maiden--Koré-Persephoneia, herself the daughter of Demeter, or the parent and super-mundane Intelligence, addressed in the Mysteries as the "Mother." 1 But Koré, although thus of heavenly origin, participates more closely than her Son in an earthly and terrestrial nature. "Hence," says Proclos, "according to the theologians who delivered to us the most holy Mysteries, Persephone abides on high in those dwellings of the Mother which she prepared for her in inaccessible places, exempt from the sensible world. But she likewise dwells beneath with Pluto, administering terrestrial concerns, governing the recesses of the earth, and supplying life to the extremities of the Kosmos."
Wherefore, considered as the daughter of Zeus and Demeter, Koré is immaculate and celestial in character; considered as the captive and consort of Hades, she belongs to the lower world and to the region of lamentation and dissolution. And, indeed, the Soul possesses the dual nature thus ascribed to her, for she is in her interior and proper quality, incorrupt and inviolable--ever virgin--while in her apparent and relative quality, she is defiled and fallen. In Hermetic fable the constant emblem of the Soul is Water, or the Sea--Maria; and one salient reason for this comparison is that water, however seemingly contaminated, yet remains, in its essence, always pure. For the defilement of so-called foul water really consists in sediments held by it in solution, and thereby causing it to appear turbid, but this defilement cannot enter into its integral constitution. So that if the foulest or muddiest water be distilled, it will leave behind in the cucurbite all its earthy impurities, and present itself, without loss, clear and lucent in the recipient alembic. Not, therefore, without cause is the Soul designated "ever virgin," because in her essential self-hood she is absolutely immaculate and without taint of sin. And the whole history of the world, from end to end, is the history of the generation, lapse, sorrows, and final assumption of this Kosmic virgin. For the soul has two modes or conditions of being--centrifugal and centripetal. The first is the condition of her outgoing, her immergence in Matter, or her "fall," and the grief and subjection which she thereby brings upon herself. This phase is, in the Jewish Kabbala, represented by Eve. The second condition is that of her incoming, her emergence from Matter, her restitution, or glorification in "heaven." This phase is presented to us in the Christian evangel and Apocalypse under the name of Mary. Hence the Catholic saying that the "Ave" of Mary reverses the curse of Eva.
In perfect accord with Kabbalistic doctrine, the allegory of the "Koré Kosmou" thus clearly indicates the nature of the Soul's original apostacy; "she receded from the prescribed limits; not willing to remain in the same abode, she moved ceaselessly, and repose seemed death." 1
In this phrase we have the parallel to the scene represented in the Mysteries, where Persephone, wilfully straying from the mansions of heaven, falls under the power of the Hadean God. This, perhaps the most occult part of the whole allegory, is but lightly touched in the fragmentary discourse of Isis, and we cannot, therefore, do better than to reproduce here the eloquent exposition of Thomas Taylor on the subject.
"Here, then," he says, "we see the first cause of the Soul's descent, namely, the abandoning of a life wholly according to the [paragraph continues]Higher Intellect, which is occultly signified by the separation of Proserpina from Ceres. Afterward, we are told that Jupiter instructs Venus to go to her abode, and betray Proserpina from her retirement, that Pluto may be enabled to carry her away; and to prevent any suspicion in the virgin's mind, he commands Diana and Pallas to go in company. The three Goddesses arriving, find Proserpina at work on a scarf for her mother; in which she had embroidered the primitive chaos and the formation of the world. Now, by Venus, in this part of the narration, we must understand desire, which, even in the celestial regions (for such is the residence of Proserpina till she is ravished by Pluto), begins silently and stealthily to creep into the recesses of the Soul. By Minerva we must conceive the rational power of the Soul, and by Diana, Nature. And, lastly, the web in which Proserpina had displayed all the fair variety of the material world, beautifully represents the commencement of the illusive operations through which the Soul becomes ensnared with the fascination of imaginative forms. After this, Proserpina, forgetful of the Mother's commands, is represented as venturing from her retreat through the treacherous persuasions of Venus. Then we behold her issuing on to the plain with Minerva and Diana, and attended by a beauteous train of nymphs, who are evident symbols of the world of generation, and are, therefore, the proper companions of the Soul about to fall into its fluctuating realms. Moreover, the design of Proserpina, in venturing from her retreat, is beautifully significant of her approaching descent; for she rambles from home for the purpose of gathering flowers, and this in a lawn replete with the most enchanting variety, and exhaling the most delicious odours. This is a manifest image of the Soul operating principally according to the natural and external life, and so becoming ensnared by the delusive attractions of sensible form. Immediately, Pluto, forcing his passage through the earth, seizes on Proserpina and carries her away with him. Well may the Soul, in such a situation, pathetically exclaim with Proserpina:
'O male dilecti flores, despectaque Matris
Consilia; O Veneris deprensæ serius artes!' 1
[paragraph continues]Pluto hurries Proserpina into the infernal regions: in other words, the Soul is sunk into the profound depth and darkness of a material nature. A description of her marriage next succeeds, her union with the dark tenement of the body."
To this eloquent exposition of Taylor's, it is well to add the description given in Homer's Hymn to Ceres. Persephone herself speaks:
"We were plucking the pleasant flowers, the beautiful crocus, the iris, the hyacinth, and the narcissus, which, like the crocus, the wide earth produced. With joy I was plucking them, when the earth yawned beneath, and out leaped the strong King, the Many-Receiver, and went bearing me, deeply sorrowing, under the earth in his golden chariot, and I cried aloud."
Compare with this Hermetic allegory of the lapse of Persephone and the manner of it, the Kabbalistic story of the "fall" of Eve.
"And she saw that the tree was good to eat, and fair to the eyes, and delightful to behold; and she took of the fruit thereof and did eat. . . . And to the woman He said: I will multiply thy sorrows and thy conceptions: in sorrow shalt thou bring forth, and thou shalt be under thy husband's power, and he shall have dominion over thee."
In a note appended to Taylor's Dissertations, Dr. Wilder quotes from Cocker's Greek Philosophy the following excellent reflections:
"The allegory of the Chariot and Winged Steeds, in Plato's Phædrus, represents the lower or inferior part of man's nature (Adam or the body) as dragging the Soul down to the earth, and subjecting it to the slavery of corporeal conditions. Out of these conditions arise numerous evils that disorder the mind and becloud the reason, for evil is inherent to the condition of finite and multiform existence into which we have fallen. The earthly life is a fall. The soul is now dwelling in the grave which we call the body We resemble those captives chained in a subterraneous cave,' so poetically described in the seventh book of 'The Republic'; their backs turned to the light, so that they see but the shadows of the objects which pass behind them, and 'to these shadows they attribute a perfect reality.' Their sojourn upon earth is thus a dark imprisonment in the body, a dreamy exile from their proper home."
Similarly we read, in the "Koré Kosmou," that the souls on learning that they were about to be imprisoned in material bodies, sighed and lamented, lilting to heaven glances of sorrow, and crying piteously, "O woe and heartrending grief to quit these vast splendors, this sacred sphere, and all the glories of the blessed republic of the Gods to be precipitated into these vile and miserable abodes! No longer shall we behold the divine and luminous heavens!"
Who, in reading this, is not reminded of the pathetic lament of Eve on quitting the fair "ambrosial bowers" of Paradise? 1
From the sad and woful state into which the Virgin thus falls, she is finally rescued and restored to the supernal abodes. But not until the coming of the Saviour, represented in the allegory before us under the name of Osiris--the Man Regenerate. This Redeemer, himself of divine origin, is in other allegories represented under other names, but the idea is always luminously defined, and the intention obvious. Osiris is the Iesous of our Christian doctrine, the supreme Initiate or "Captain of Salvation." He is represented, together with his Spouse, as in all things "instructed" and directed by HERMES, famed as the celestial conductor of souls from the "dark abodes;" the wise and ubiquitous God in whom the initiate recognises the Genius of the Understanding or Divine Reason--the nous of Platonic doctrine, and the mystic "Spirit of Christ." Therefore, as the understanding of holy things and the faculty of their interpretation are the gift of HERMES, the name of this God is given to all science and revelation of an occult and divine nature. A "Divine" is, in fact, one who knows the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven; hence S. John the seer, or the "divine," is especially the "beloved" of Christ. HERMES was regarded as the Messenger or Angel of the Gods, descending alike to the depths of the Hadean world, to bring up souls from thence, and ascending up beyond all heavens that he might fill all things. For the Understanding must search alike the deeps and the heights; there can be nothing hidden from it, nor can it attain the fulness of supernal and secret knowledge unless it first explore the phenomenal and terrestrial. "For that he ascended, what is it but because he also descended first into the lower parts of the earth?"
With the splendid joyousness and light-hearted humour which characterised the Greeks, mingling laughter and mirth even with the mysteries of Religion, and making their sacred allegories human and musical as no others of any nation or time, HERMES, the Diviner and Revealer, was also playfully styled a Thief, and the patron of thieves. But thereby was secretly indicated the power and skill of the Understanding in making everything intellectually its own. Wherefore, in charging HERMES with filching the girdle of Venus, the tongs of Vulcan, and the thunder of Jove, as well as with stealing and driving off the cattle of Apollo, it was signified that all good and noble gifts, even the attributes of the high Gods themselves, are accessible to the Understanding, and that nothing is withheld from man's intelligence, if only man have the skill to seek aright.
As the immediate companion of the sun, HERMES is the opener of the gates of the highest heaven, the revealer of spiritual light and life, the Mediator between the inner and outer spheres of existence, and the Initiator into those sacred mysteries, the knowledge of which is life eternal.
The panoply with which Greek art invests HERMES, is symbolical of the functions of the Understanding. He has four implements--the rod, the wings, the sword, and the cap, denoting respectively the science of the magian, the courage of the adventurer, the will of the hero, and the discretion of the adept. The initiates of HERMES acknowledge no authority but the Understanding; they call no man king or master upon earth; they are true Free-Thinkers and Republicans. "For where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty." 1 Hence Lactantius, in his "Divine Institutions," says:--"Hermes affirms that those who know God are safe from the attacks of the demon, and that they, are not even subjected to Fate." Now, the powers of Fate reside in the stars--that is, in the astral sphere, whether Kosmic or micro-Kosmic. And the astral power was, in Greek fable, typified by Argos, the hundred-eyed genius of the starry zone, Panoptes, the all-seeing giant, whom it was the glory of HERMES to have outwitted and slain. Of which allegory the meaning is, that they who have the Hermetic secret are not subject to Fate, but have passed beyond the thrall of metempsychosis, and have freed themselves from "ceaseless whirling on the wheel" of Destiny. To know God is to have overcome death, and the power of death. To know the origin and secret of delusion is to transcend delusion.The spheres of delusion, dominated by the sevenfold astral Powers, lie between the Soul and God. Beyond these spheres are the celestial "Nine Abodes," wherein, say the Mysteries, Demeter vainly sought the lost Persephone. For from these abodes she had lapsed into a mundane and material state, and thereby had fallen under the power of the planetary rulers; that is, of Fate, personified by Hekate. On the tenth day, therefore, the divine Drama shows Demeter meeting the Goddess of Doom and Retribution, the terrible Hekate Triformis--personification of Karma--by whom the "Mother" is told of Persephone's abduction and detention in the Hadean world. And--we learn--Hekate becomes thereafter the constant attendant of Persephone. All this is, of course, pregnant with the deepest significance. Until the Soul falls into Matter, she has no Fate, or Karma. Fate is the appanage and result of Time and of Manifestation. In the sevenfold astral spheres the Moon is representative of Fate, and presents two aspects, the benign and the malignant. Under the benign aspect the Moon is Artemis, reflecting to the Soul the divine light of Phœbos; under the malignant aspect she is Hekate the Avenger, dark of countenance; and three beaded, being swift as a horse, sure as a dog, and as a lion implacable. She it is who, fleet, sagacious, and pitiless, hunts guilty souls from birth to birth, and outwits death itself with unerring justice. To the innocent and chaste soul, therefore, the lunar power is favorable. Artemis is the patron and protectress of virgins--that is, of souls undefiled with the traffic of Matter. In this aspect the Moon is the Initiatrix, Isis the Enlightener, because through a beneficent Karma, or fate, the soul receives interior illumination, and the dark recesses of her chamber are lit up by sacred reminiscences. Hence, in subsequent births, such a soul becomes prophetic and "divine." But to the corrupt and the evil-hearted the influence of the Moon is malignant, for to such she assumes the aspect of Hekate, smiting by night, and terrifying with ghostly omens of misfortune. These souls fear the lunar power, and in this instinctive dread may be discerned their secret recognition of the evil fate which they are preparing for themselves in existences to come. The Tree of Good and Evil, says the Kabbala, has its root in Malchuth--the Moon.
It has been sometime asserted that the doctrine of Karma is peculiar to Hindu theology. On the contrary, it is clearly exhibited alike in the Hebrew, Hellenic, and Christian Mysteries. The Greeks called it Fate; the Christians know it as Original Sin. With which sin all mortal men come into the world, and on account of which all pass under condemnation. Only the "Mother of God" is exempt from it, the "virgin immaculate," through whose Seed the world shall be redeemed.
"As the lily among the thorns," sings the Church in the "Office of the Immaculate Conception," "so is the Beloved among the Daughters of Adam. Thou art all fair, O Beloved, and the original stain is not in thee: Thy name, O Mary, is as oil poured out; therefore, the virgins love thee exceedingly."
If, then, by Persephone or Koré, the "Virgin of the World," we are thus plainly taught to understand the Soul, we are no less plainly taught to see in Isis, the Initiatrix or Enlightener. Herself, equally with Koré, virgin and mother, the Egyptian Isis is, in her philosophical aspect, identical with the Ephesian Artemis, the Greek personification of the fructifying and all-nourishing power of Nature. She was regarded as the "inviolable and perpetual Maid of heaven;" her priests were eunuchs, and her image in the magnificent temple of Ephesus represented her with many breasts--πολυμαστ?ς. 1 In works of art Artemis appears variously, as the huntress, accompanied by hounds, and carrying the implements of the chase; as the Goddess of the Moon, covered with a long veil reaching to her feet, and her head adorned with a crescent; or as the many-breasted Mother-Maid, holding a lighted torch in her hand. The Latins worshipped her under the name of Diana, and it is as Diana that the Ephesian Artemis is mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles. Isis had all the attributes ascribed to the lunar divinity of the Greeks and Romans; and hence, like Artemis and Diana, she was identified with the occult principle of Nature--that is, Fate, which in its various aspects and relations was severally viewed as Fortune, Retribution, Doom, or Destiny; a principle represented, as we have already seen, by the Kabbalists, under the figure of Malchuth, or the Moon; and by the Hindu theosophists under the more abstract conception of Karma. The hounds of Artemis, or Diana, are the occult powers which hunt down and pursue the soul from birth to birth; the inevitable, implacable forces of Nature which, following evermore on the steps of every ego, compel it into the conditions successively engendered by its actions, as effect by cause. Hence Actæon, presuming upon Fate, and oblivious of the sanctity and inviolability of this unchanging law of Karmic Destiny, is torn in pieces by his own dogs, to wit, his own deeds, which by the decree of the implacable Goddess, turn upon and rend him. So also, in accordance with this philosophical idea, those who were initiated into the mysteries of Isis, wore in the public processions masks representing the heads of dogs. So intimately was the abstract conception of the moon associated by the ancients with that of the secret influence and power of Destiny in Nature, that Proclos in his Commentary upon the Timæus says of Diana:--"She presides over the whole of the generation into natural existence, leads forth into light all natural reasons, and extends a prolific power from on high even to the subterranean realms." These words completely describe the Egyptian Isis, and show us how the moon, occultly viewed as the Karmic power, was regarded as the cause of continued generation in natural conditions, pursuing souls even into the Hadean or purgatorial spheres and visiting upon them the fruition of their past. Hence, too, in the Orphic Hymn to Nature, that Goddess is identified with Fortune, and represented as standing with her feet upon a wheel which she continually turns,--"moving with rapid motion on an eternal wheel." 1 And again, in another Orphic Hymn, Fortune herself is invoked as Diana. Proclos, in the Commentary to which reference has already been made, declares that "the moon is the cause of Nature to mortals, and the self-revealing image of the Fountain of Nature." "If," says Thomas Taylor, "the reader is desirous of knowing what we are to understand by the fountain of Nature of which the moon is the image, let him attend to the following information, derived from a long and deep study of the ancient theology, for from hence I have learned that there are many divine fountains contained in the essence of the Demiurgus of the world; and that among these there are three of a very distinguished rank, namely, the fountain of souls, or Juno (Hera), the fountain of virtues, or Minerva (Athena), and the fountain of nature, or Diana (Artemis). . . . And this information will enable us to explain the meaning of the following passages in Apuleius, the first of which is in the beginning of the eleventh book of his Metamorphoses, wherein the divinity of the moon is represented as addressing him in this sublime manner:--'Behold, Lucius, moved with thy supplications, I am present; I, who am Nature, the parent of things, mistress of all the elements, initial progeny of the ages, the highest of the divinities, queen of departed spirits, the first of the celestials, of Gods and Goddesses the sole likeness of all; who rule by my nod the luminous heights of the heavens, the salubrious breezes of the sea, and the woful silences of the infernal regions, and whose divinity, in itself but one, is venerated by all the earth, in many characters, various rites, and different appellations. . . Those who are enlightened by the emerging rays of the rising sun, the Æthiopians and Aryans, and likewise the Egyptians, powerful in ancient learning, who reverence my divinity with ceremonies perfectly appropriate, call me by my true appellation Queen Isis.' And again, in another place of the same book, he says of the moon:--'The supernal Gods reverence thee, and those in the realms beneath do homage to thy divinity. Thou dost make the world to revolve, and the sun to illumine, thou rulest the universe and treadest on Tartarus. To thee the stars respond, the deities rejoice, time returns by thee, the elements give thee service.' For all this easily follows if we consider it as spoken of the fountain-deity of Nature subsisting in the Demiurgus, and which is the exemplar of that nature which flourishes in the lunar orb and throughout the material world."
Thus enlightened as to the office and functions of Isis, we are at no loss to understand why she is selected by the writer of the following Hermetic fragment as the exponent of the origin, history, and destiny of the soul. For she is, in a peculiar sense, the arbiter of the soul's career in existence, her guardian and overseer. If Demeter, the Divine Intelligence, be the Mother of Koré, then Isis is her foster-mother, for no sooner does the soul fall into generation than Isis becomes her directress and the dispenser of her fate. It is not surprising, therefore, to find that by some mythologists Isis is identified with Demeter, and the sufferings of the former modified accordingly, to harmonise with the allegory of the sorrows of Demeter as set forth in the Eleusinian Mysteries. But the cause of this confusion is obvious to those who rightly understand the Hermetic method. Isis, whether as Artemis (Good Fortune), or as Hekate (Evil Fortune), is the controlling and illuminating influence of the soul while remaining within the jurisdiction of Nature and Time; Demeter, the Divine Intelligence, represents the heavenly fountain or super-mundane source, whence the soul originally draws her being, and as such, is concerned directly, not with her exile and wanderings in material conditions, but with her final recovery from generation and return to the celestial abodes. Consistently with this idea, Isis is represented sometimes as the spouse, sometimes as the mother of Osiris, the Saviour of men. For Osiris is the microcosmic sun, the counterpart in the human system of the macrocosmic Dionysos or Son of God. So that those authors who confound Isis with Demeter, equally and quite comprehensibly confound Osiris with Dionysos, and regard the former as the central figure of the Bacchic Mysteries. The Hermetic books admit three expressions of Deity: first, the supreme, abstract, and infinite God, eternally self-subsistent and unmanifest; secondly, the only-Begotten, the manifestation of Deity in the universe; thirdly, God in man, the Redeemer, or Osiris. On one of the walls of the Temple of the Sun at Philae, and on the gate of that at Medinet-Abou are inscribed these words:--"He has made all that is, and without Him nothing that is hath been made," words which, fourteen centuries or more afterwards, were applied by the writer of S. John's Gospel to the Word of God. The micro-cosmic Sun, or Osiris, was the image and correspondence of this macrocosmic Sun; the regenerating principle within the man, begotten by means of the soul's experience in Time and Generation. And hence the intimate association between this regenerating principle by which the redemption of the individual was effected, and the divine power in Nature, personified by Isis, whose function it was to minister to that redemption by the ordination of events and conditions appropriate to the soul's development. Isis is thus the secret motive-power of Evolution; Osiris is the ultimate ideal Humanity towards the realisation of which that Evolution moves.
xix:1 Dr. Wilder, in his Introduction to the work of Mr. Thomas Taylor, the Platonist, entitled "Dissertation on the Eleusinian Mysteries," asserts that the name Koré is also Sanscrit, and that the Hindu goddess Parasu-pani, also called Gorée, is identical with the Koré-Persephoneia of Hellenic worship.
xx:1 The Spirit, under the name of Atman, is the chief topic of Hindu esoteric philosophy, the Upanishads being exclusively devoted to it. They ascribe to Atman the qualities of self-subsistence, unity, universality, immutability, and incorruptibility. It is independent of Karma, or acquired character and destiny, and the full knowledge of it redeems from Karma the personality informed of it. Atman is also the all-seeing; and, as the Mantras say, He who recognises the universe in his own Atman, and his own Atman in the universe, knows no hatred.
xxi:1 I substitute the singular for the plural number, but this alters nothing in the sense.
'O flowers fatally clear, and the mother's counsels despised!
O cruel arts of crafty Venus!'
xxiv:1 Milton's "Paradise Lost," Book XI.
xxv:1 "Follow no man," said John Inglesant's adviser--"there is nothing in the world of any value but the Divine Light--follow it."
xxvii:1 The many-breasted figure which forms the frontispiece of this volume, represents Isis under this aspect. The black face and hands are, of course, equivalent to the celebrated Veil, and indicate the inscrutable nature of the occult influence which directs Destiny; and which, to the uninitiate, even appears to be blind and fortuitous. The well-known "black virgin" has the same significance.
xxviii:1 Αεναω στρ?φαλιγγι θο?ν ??μα δινε?ουσα.
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