The Western Esoteric Traditions (Part 8)

My summer reading from 2021 has morphed into winter reading in 2022 as I press forward with The Western Esoteric Traditions: A Historical Introduction by Nicholas Goodrick – Clarke (Oxford University Press – 2008). 

In this series of blog posts, I’m tracing the Western Esoteric traditions through history, with particular attention paid to the contribution of these traditions to the work of Carl Jung. 

Our last encounter was with 16th-century German alchemist Paracelsus, whom Jung considered the founder of depth psychology in many ways. In keeping with Paracelsus and prior esoteric occultists like Marsilio Ficino, Jung believed that health comes from being as celestial as possible (so above, so below). Let’s not forget that, like Ficino, Jung was himself an accomplished astrologer. He used astrology extensively to know himself better.

Enter Jacob Boehme, a German shoemaker and Christian mystic in the early 17th century. 

In an affront to the hard-line orthodoxy of the Lutheran Reformation, which emphasised knowing God through doctrine and faith, Boehme focused on gaining personal experience of the Divine.

His first recorded experience (he went on to write eleven volumes) came when a glance at a pewter dish ‘introduced [him] into the innermost ground or centre of the ‘hidden treasure’.[1] 

Boehme reported that during that life-transforming experience, ‘the Spirit shot through me like a blot of lightening’ and understanding came as follows:

The gate was opened unto me, that in one-quarter of an hour I saw and knew more than if I had been many years together at a University…For I saw and knew the Being of all Beings, the Byss and the Abyss … the descent, and the original of this world, and of all creatures … I knew and saw in myself all three worlds: namely the divine, angelical, and paradisical world and then the dark world; … And then thirdly, the external and visible world; and I saw, and knew the whole Being in the evil and in the good: and the mutual original, and existence of each of them.

This vision led Boehme to remap cosmology heliocentrically (i.e., the earth and planets revolve around the Sun) rather than stick with the generally accepted geocentric view (i.e., all revolve around the earth). As Copernicus had discovered half a century earlier, such a position was ‘theologically controversial’ and, accordingly, dangerous.

Nonetheless, Boehme plodded on.

In his amazing vision, Boehme’s experience was such that he’d not climbed up into the Deity; instead, the Deity had climbed into him. Now, for him, it was untrue that God had created the universe from nothing, as was the party line. Instead, all of God’s creation was an act of self-revelation (in keeping with Jewish kabbalistic doctrine). As the result, He was present in all things, including each and every man. 

This inspired Boehme to combine astrology and alchemical lore to find the ‘common denominator’ of the natural, human, and divine worlds. The goal was to bring that which is ‘above’ and ‘below’ into harmony. Boehme concluded that Spirit (in the form of numerous different vapours with various readily identifiable qualities, which Boehme defined as the ‘mobility, boiling, springing, and driving of a thing’) was the mediator between these worlds.

But not all was sweetness and light; remember, his vision initiated from that pewter dish included both dark and light and good and evil. In contrast to the popular view that oppositions, such as light vs dark and good vs evil, should be despised, Boehme argued that such opposition was to be embraced. It was necessary for understanding the process of God’s self-revelation and the road to personal salvation to accept dark and light and good and evil resided in all things, including the 7 (visible) planets which figured heavily into his cosmic map.

Following Boehme’s lead, Jung created a richly coloured painting, a mandala named Systema Munditotius or System of All Worlds.[2]

This was a cosmological map with astrological dimensions, recording Jung’s personal visions. Not surprisingly, it resembles a modern-day astrological chart both in orientation and construction. Also, unsurprisingly, his work used that of Boehme as building blocks.

In keeping with Jung’s extraordinary understanding of symbolism, Jung used his map to better articulate his understanding of the ‘cyclical, circular, and centrifugal shapes ‘of physic processes, which partake of the paradoxical ‘antinomies’ (i.e. opposition) as the archetypes which structure our world come into the domain of human existence in accord with each man or woman’s psychic makeup (conveniently symbolised in their natal chart).

As Jung’s daemon, Philemon, notes:

Man is a gateway, through which you pass from the outer world of Gods, daimons, and souls into the inner world, out of the greater into the smaller world … At immeasurable distance a lone star stands in the zenith. This is the one God of this one man, this is his world, his Pleroma, his divinity … This star is the God and goal of man. This is his lone guiding God, in him man goes to his rest, toward him goes the long journey of the soul after death, in him everything that man withdraws from the greater world shines resplendently. To this one God man shall pray… When the great world turns cold, the star shines.

Jung, Liber Novus, p. 349.

(to be continued)

[1] See Mystics of the Christian Tradition by Steven Fanning (Routledge, London, 2002) pp. 144-146.

[2] For a more detailed discussion see pp. 143 – 176 in The Astrological World of Jung’s Liber Novus: Diamons. Gods, and the Planetary Journey by Liz Greene (Routledge, London, 2018). 

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