TO the philosophical student of humanity the most significant and important feature of the present remarkable epoch is, unquestionably, the revival of Occult Science and Mystical, or Esoteric, Philosophy. The significance is due no less to the character of the period of its occurrence, than to that of the subject itself. For the moment chosen has been one wherein the human mind, as represented by the recognised intellect of the age, had become, to all appearance, irrevocably set in the opposite direction--that of materialism. Happily, however, for humanity, such appearance has proved deceptive, as had already been foreseen would be the case by those "watchers for the day," who, recognising the unity of nature, and vitalised on the higher planes of the consciousness, are able to forecast the processes of the mental world by those of the physical. That it is always when the sun is at its lowest point that the day and the year are reborn, is no less true in the world spiritual than in the world material. And while the prevalence of materialism meant the extinction of man's spiritual consciousness, the revival of occult and mystical science means the restoration of that consciousness. History, too, had its lessons of encouragement for them, by shewing that the passing away of old forms of faith is wont to be the prognostic and condition of new and higher manifestations. Hence they had confidence that the Spirit of Humanity, being, as they well knew, real and divine, would, in its own good time, make effectual protest against the extinction threatened; and are able to recognise in the present revival the form which that protest has taken.
The significance of this event is definitely enhanced by the facts, first, that it has brought the Hermetic philosophy into a prominence which it has not known for many centuries; and, secondly, that the revival of that philosophy has been at once the condition and the result of every great religious renaissance the world has seen. For the system designated the Hermetic Gnosis--the earliest formulation of which, for the western world, belongs to the pre-historic times of ancient Egypt--has constituted the core of all the religio-philosophical systems of both east and west, Buddhism and Christianity, among others, being alike intended as vehicles for and expressions of it, though the fact has been recognised by only the initiated few. The great school of scholastic mysticism which was the glory of the church of the Middle Ages, had, although unavowedly, the same basis. This school represented a strenuous and sustained endeavour to rescue religion from the exclusive domain of the historical and the ceremonial, and the control of a sacerdotalism, grossly materialistic and idolatrous, by restoring its proper intuitional and spiritual character. That the endeavour failed to secure a lasting success, and the church of the Middle Ages continued to sink deeper and deeper into superstition, with its usual accompaniment of religious persecution, was due to no fault of the system itself. This requires for its reception, that the spiritual consciousness of the many should have attained a development hitherto possessed only by the few. And the world was not then ripe for a doctrine which represents reason in its highest mode. History thus shows that the revival we are witnessing now, is but one of a series of revivals, all having the same object; and it may be confidently anticipated, that, under the altered conditions of society, the success attained will far surpass any yet achieved. For, gloomy as is the present outlook in every department of human activity, social, philosophical, moral, and religious alike, there never was a time when the conditions were so favour-able for a radical and widespread improvement; because there never was a time when new ideas and knowledges found such facilities for propagation, or when, through the intensity of their suffering and discontent, mankind were in so high a state of receptivity. Hence the system has now a chance of recognition surpassing any hitherto enjoyed by it. Having always in the past found exclusive favour with the most luminous minds and noblest natures, it can hardly fail, with due formulation and presentation, to find acceptance with the mankind of the incoming era. Already are there indications not to be mistaken, that the still powerful aid of the church will not be wanting in this behalf, and this no less for its own preservation than for that of religious truth. The world has yet to discern the significance of the action of Pope Leo XIII., in the reinstatement of the writings of Aquinas as the basis of ecclesiastical education. But for the initiates of Hermes this is not doubtful, but affords sure ground for the loftiest hopes. And similarly with that extraordinary, if too often grotesque, phenomenon called modern spiritualism.
From these remarks on the circumstances under which the revival has occurred, of which this series of reprints is at once a product, a token, and an aid; we will proceed to give a slight general sketch of the nature of the doctrine which has played so important a part in the past, and bids fair to do as much, and even more, in the future.
It should be first stated, however, that the materials for our sketch are not restricted to the so-called Hermetic fragments themselves, which form the subject of these reprints. Not only are they, as fragments, incomplete; they are also interpolated and partially corrupt in text, though still replete with the purest and loftiest teaching. Much, too, of that which is genuine is mystical and allegorical, referring to a plane, and needing an interpretation, other than are apparent. Hence, it is necessary for such a task, to utilise the labours of those various exponents of the system who have either derived it from sources not now extant, or who, by following the same method, have discerned it for themselves, 1 giving it, in some instances, fresh applications, not the less Hermetic because representing a further development of the doctrine. No learning or industry, however, can compensate for the absence of that sympathetic insight which alone can detect the characteristic ring of the true Hermetic metal; and which, if hearty appreciation be any guarantee, will assuredly not be wholly wanting on this occasion. At best, however, it is but a slight outline that can be given here.
Starting from the axiom that from nothing nothing comes, and recognising Consciousness as the indispensable condition of existence, the Gnosis, with resistless logic, derives all things from pure and absolute Being, itself unmanifest and unconditioned, but in the infinity of its plenitude and energy, possessing and exercising the potentiality of manifestation and conditionment, and being, rather than having, life, substance, and mind, comprised in one Divine Selfhood, of which the universe is the manifestation.
Regarding all things as modes of consciousness, the Gnosis necessarily regards consciousness as subsisting under many modes, and as being definable as the property whereby whatever is, affects, or is affected in, itself; or affects, or is affected by, another; which is really to say, as constituting the things them-selves. There is, thus, a mechanical consciousness, a chemical consciousness, a magnetic, a mental, a psychic, consciousness, and so on up to the divine, or absolute, consciousness. And whereas all proceed from this last, so all return to this last, in that every entity possesses the potentiality of it. Herein lies the secret of evolution, which is no other than the expression of the tendency of things to revert, by ascension, to their original condition--a tendency, and therefore an expression, which could have no being were the lowest, or material mode of consciousness to be the original and normal mode.
By thus making matter itself a mode of consciousness, and therein of spirit--spirit being absolute consciousness--the Gnosis escapes at once the difficulties which stand in the way of the conception of an original Dualism, consisting of principles inherently antagonistic; and also those which arise out of the kindred conception of non-consciousness as having a positive existence. All being modes of the One, no inherent antagonism, or essential difference, is possible; but that which is regarded as unconsciousness is but a lower mode of consciousness--consciousness reduced, so to speak, to a minimum, but still consciousness so long as it is. Total unconsciousness is thus not-being; and bears to consciousness the relation of darkness to light, the latter alone of the two being, however reduced, positive entity, and darkness being non-entity.
However various the manifestations of the universal consciousness, or being, whether as regards its different planes, or its different modes on the same plane, they all are according to one and the same law, which, by its uniformity, demonstrates the unity of the informing spirit, or mind, which subsists eternally and independently of any manifestation. For, as said in the "Divine Pymander" (B.V.):--
"He needeth not to be manifested; for He subsisteth eternally.
"But in that He is One, He is not made nor generated; but is unapparent and unmanifest.
"But by making all things appear, He appeareth in all and by all; but especially is He manifested to or in those wherein He willeth."
"The Essence of all is One."
From the oneness of original Being comes, as a corollary, the law of correspondence between all planes, or spheres, of existence, in virtue of which the macrocosm is as the microcosm, the universal as the individual, the world as man, and man as God. "An earthly man," says "The Key," "is a mortal God, and the heavenly God is immortal man." The same book, however, is careful to explain that by man is meant only those men who are possessed of the higher intelligence, or spiritual consciousness, and that to lack this is to be not yet man, but only the potentiality of man. It avoids also the error of anthropomorphism by defining Divinity to be, itself, neither life, nor mind, nor substance; but the cause of these.
Ignorance of God is pronounced to be the greatest evil, but God is not to be discerned in phenomena, or with the outer eye. The quest must be made within oneself. In order to know, man must first be. This is to say, he must have developed in himself the consciousness of all the planes, or spheres, of his fourfold nature, and become thereby wholly man. It is to his inmost and divine part, the spirit, that the mystery of existence appertains, since that is Pure Being, of which existence is the manifestation. And, as man can recognise without him, that only which he has within him, it is essential to his perception of spiritual things that he be himself spiritual. "The natural man," says the apostle Paul, following at once the Hermetists and the Kabbalists, who are at one in both doctrine and method, and differ only in form, "receiveth not the things of the Spirit, neither can he know them, for they are spiritually discerned," that is, by the spiritual part in man. In such degree as man developer this consciousness he becomes an organon of knowledge, capable of obtaining certitude of truth, even the highest; and from being "agnostic" and incapable of knowledge, he becomes "Gnostic," or has the Gnosis, which consists in the knowledge of himself and of God, and of the substantial identity of the two.
From this it is obvious that what is demonstrated by the agnosticism of the present age, is simply the immaturity of its professors. This is to say, the philosophy of the day represents the conclusions of men, who, how developed soever intellectually, are still rudimentary in respect of the spiritual consciousness, and fall short, therefore, of their spiritual and true manhood--the manhood which belongs to the highest plane. Being to such extent not human but subhuman, and ignorant of the meaning and potentialities of man, they confound form with substance, and mistake the exterior and phenomenal part of man for man himself, and imagine accordingly that to gratify this part is necessarily to benefit the man, no matter how subversive of the real humanity the practices to which they have recourse. Out of this condition of spiritual darkness the Gnosis lifts man, and, giving him the supreme desideratum--which it is the object of all divine revelation to supply--a definition of himself, demonstrates to him, with scientific certainty, the supremacy of the moral law, and the impossibility either of getting good by doing evil, or of escaping the penalty of the latter. The attempt to get good by evil doing only puts him back, making his fate worse. The doctrine of Karma is no less Hermetic than Hindû, the equivalent term in the former being Adrasté, a goddess to whom is committed the administration of justice. In the Greek pantheon she appears as Nemesis and Hecate. They all represent that inexorable law of cause and effect in things moral, in virtue of which man's nature and conditions in the future are the result of the tendencies voluntarily encouraged by him in the past and present.
The Hermetic method to the attainment of perfection, on whatever plane--physical, intellectual, moral, or spiritual--is purity. Not merely having, but being, consciousness, man is man, and is percipient, according to the measure in which he is pure; perfect purity implying full perception, even to the seeing of God, as the gospels have it. In the same proportion he has also power. The fully initiated Hermetist is a magian, or man of power, and can work what to the world seem miracles, and those on all planes--physical, intellectual, moral, and spiritual--by force of his own will. But his only secret of over is purity, as his only motive is love. For the power with which he operates is spirit, and spirit is keen and mighty in proportion as it is pure. Absolutely pure spirit is God. Hence the miracles of the magian, as distinguished from the magician, are really worked by God--the God in and of the man.
A word on the organon of Hermetic knowledge. This is emphatically the mode of the mind termed the intuition. Following this in its centripetal course, man comes into such relations with his own essential and permanent self--the soul--as to be able to receive from her the knowledges she has acquired of divine things in the long ages of her past. But this implies no disparagement to the mind's other and centrifugal mode, the intellect. This also must be developed and trained to the utmost, as the complement, supplement, and indispensable mate of the intuition--the man to its woman. Perfecting and combining these two, and only thus, man knows all things and perpetuates himself. For he knows God, and to know God is to have, and to be, God, and "the gift of God is eternal life."
A foremost Hermetic doctrine is that of the soul's multiple re-births into a physical body. Only when the process of regeneration--an Hermetic term--is sufficiently advanced to enable the spiritual entity, which constitutes the true individual, to dispense with further association with the body, is lie finally freed from the necessity of a return into materiality. The doctrine of correspondence here finds one of its most striking illustrations, but one which nevertheless was wholly missed by the chief modern restorer and exponent of that doctrine, Emmanuel Swedenborg. This is the correspondence in virtue of which, just as the body uses up and sheds many times its external covering of integument, plumage, shell, or hair, to say nothing of its artificial clothing, so the soul wears out and sheds many bodies. The law of gravitation, moreover, pervades all planes, the spiritual as well as the physical; and it is according to his spiritual density that the plane of the individual is determined, and his condition depends. The tendency which brings a soul once into the body must be exhausted before the soul is able to dispense with the body. The death of the body is no indication that the tendency has been overcome, so that the soul will not be again attracted to earth. But it is only the soul that thus returns; not the magnetic or "astral" body which constitutes the external personality.
Such is the rationale of the orthodox doctrine of transmigration, according alike to the Hermetic, the Kabbalistic, and the Hindu systems. It permeates, occultly, the whole of the Bible, and is implied in the teaching of Jesus to Nicodemus, the whole of which, as is also the entire Christian presentation, is, in its interior sense, Hermetic. Not that the new birth insisted on by Jesus is other than purely spiritual; but it involves a multiplicity of physical re-births as necessary to afford the requisite space and experiences for the accomplishment of the spiritual process declared to be essential to salvation. Seeing that regeneration must--as admitted by Swedenborg--have its commencement while in the body, and must also be carried on to a certain advanced stage before the individual can dispense with the body, and also that it denotes a degree of spiritual maturity far beyond the possibility of attainment in a single, or an early, incarnation; it is obvious that without a multiplicity of re-births to render regeneration possible, the gospel message would be one, not of salvation, but of perdition, to the race at large. What is theologically termed the "forgiveness of sins" is dependent upon the accomplishment in the individual of the process of regeneration, of which man, as Hermetically expressed, has the seed, or potentiality, in himself, and in the development of which he must co-operate. Doing this, he becomes "a new creature," in that he is re-born, not of corruptible matter, but of "water and the spirit," namely, his own soul and spirit purified and become divine. Thus re-constituted on the interior and higher plane of the spirit, he is said to be born of the "Virgin Mary" and the Holy Ghost."
While purely mystical and spiritual, as opposed to historical and ceremonial, the Hermetic system is distinguished from other schools of mysticism by its freedom from their gloomy and churlish manner of regarding nature, and their contempt and loathing for the body and its functions as inherently impure and vile; 1 and so far from repudiating the relations of the sexes, it exalts them as symbolising the loftiest divine mysteries, and enjoins their exercise as a duty, the fulfilment of which, in some at least of his incarnations, is essential to the full perfectionment and initiation of the individual. It is thus pervaded by an appreciation of beauty and joyousness of tone which at once assimilates it to the Greek, and distinguishes it from the Oriental, conception of existence, and so redeems mysticism from the reproach--too often deserved--of pessimism. The Hermetist, like the prophet who found God in the sea's depths and the while's belly, recognises divinity in every region and department of nature. And seeing in "ignorance of God the greatest of all evils," 2 he seeks to perfect himself, not simply in order the sooner to escape from existence as a thing inherently evil, but to make himself an instrument of perception capable of "seeing God" in every region of existence in which he may turn his gaze. The pessimism ascribed to some Hermetic utterances, especially in the "Divine Pymander," is but apparent, not real, and implies only the comparative imperfection of existence as contrasted with pure and divine being.
It is to this end that the renunciation of flesh as food is insisted on, as in the "Asclepios." Belonging neither by his physical nor his moral constitution to the order of the carnivora, man can be the best that he has it in him to be only when his system is cleansed and built up anew of the pure materials derived from the vegetable kingdom, and indicated by his structure as his natural diet. The organon of the beatific vision is the intuition. And not only is the system, when flesh-fed, repressive of this faculty, but the very failure of the individual to recoil from violence and slaughter as a means of sustenance or gratification, is an indication of his lack of this faculty.
In no respect does the Hermetic system shew its unapproachable superiority to the pseudo-mystical systems than in its equal recognition of the sexes. True it is that the story of the Fall is of Hermetic origin; but it is no less true that this is an allegory, having a significance wholly removed from the literal, and in no way implying blame or inferiority, either to an individual or to a sex. Representing an eternal verity of divine import, this allegory has been made the justification for doctrines and practices in regard to women, which are altogether false, unjust, cruel, and monstrous, and such as could have proceeded only from elementary and sub-human sources.
In conclusion. All history shews that it is to the restoration of the Hermetic system in both doctrine and practice that the world must look for the final solution of the various problems concerning the nature and conduct of existence, which now--more than at any previous time--exercise the human mind. For it represents that to which all enquiry--if only it be free enquiry, unlimited by incapacity, and undistorted by prejudice--must ultimately lead; inasmuch as it represents the sure, because experimental, knowledges, concerning the nature of things which, in whatever age, the soul of man discloses whenever he has attained full intuition. Representing the triumph of free-thought--a thought, that is, which has dared to probe the consciousness in all directions, outwards and downwards to matter and phenomena, and inwards and upwards to spirit and reality; it represents also the triumph of religious faith, in that it sees in God the All and in All of Being; in Nature, the vehicle for the manifestation of God; and in the Soul--educated and perfected through the processes of Nature--the individualisation of God.
xi:1 For, as we have subsequently ascertained, "The Perfect Way" is not a singular instance of the recovery of the Hermetic system, by unwittingly following the same method to which it was originally due, namely, intuitional perception and recollection, and altogether independently of extraneous sources of information.
xvii:1 The term "corrupt," which in the translation of the "Divine Pymander" is applied to things earthly, means simply perishable.
xvii:2 The title of one of the books in the "Divine Pymander."
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