The Western Esoteric Traditions (Part 5)

My summer reading: 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 special attention paid to the contribution of these traditions to the work of Carl Jung.


By the 16th century, the distinction between Ficino’s natural magic and demonic magic starts to blur. 

First stop, is the German humanist Johannes Reuchlin, who builds on Ficino’s magic and Pico’s work with the Kabbalah.  Now the power of words, figures, secret rites, and holy names comes to the fore and teachings in Hebrew become justified in the Christian community. 

Next up, is monastic abbot, Johannes Trithemius, who was a follower of Reuchlin and his work. Now, Christian humanists turned their attention to angelic magic, and Trithemius gives precise instructions on how to summon angels to gain knowledge from them as well as use them to send long distance messages.[1]  His 3 book treatise, Steganograhia, dealt with progressively more powerful spirits demonstrating how they are invoked by prayer, incantation, and precision timing:

  1. in his first book, he warns about the dangers of dealing with the spirits of air because they are both arrogant and rebellious,
  2. in his second book, he enumerates the spirits governing each hour and day,
  3. in his third book he connects all of the Angels and spirits with the seven (visible) planets.

Trithemius also dabbled in prediction and prohecy. His message was that each progressive age (measured in Platonic months of 2480 terrestrial years each with reference to the procession of the equinoxes through the 12 Zodiac signs), would be governed by a particular angel. Knowing his angels, as he did, this allowed him to envisage major currents in political and religious change throughout human history. His underlying thesis was that God, as the first intellect, had delegated these various angelic governors to oversee these fixed periods.

As far as history was concerned, Trithemius was unfortunate. In the end, his notoriety became confused with the legend of Doctor Faustus, which became world famous through the 17th century play (of the same name) by Christopher Marlowe.

Enter Henry Cornelius Agrippa, born in Cologne in 1486, who ushers in the 2nd Golden Age of Hermetic and Christian Kabbalistic practice. Not only does he spread the word through his travels and teachings, but having finally settled in Northern Italy, he is involved with the translation of more ancient works that become accepted into mainstream Christian thought and practice. In his mind, this was only right, convinced as he was that these writings would bring men back from intellectual pride and despair into humble acknowledgement of God’s goodness. The benefit of this approach is clear: with such mastery and revelation, men would regain the upper hand over nature, which had been lost with the antics of Adam in the Garden of Eden.

As Dr Liz Greene points out, Jung was familiar with Agrippa’s work on angels and it did influence his work with Philemon, his ‘daimon’, in Liber Novus. In this, Jung took the view from Jewish magic that ‘guardian angels’ could be pretty much the same thing as one’s daimon, which could be determined from one’s natal or birth chart.[2] This conclusion, however, was harder for him to reach than one might think, given that, as Dr Greene notes, guardian angels are usually understood to be ontologically separate from the human soul. The idea that one’s guardian angel may also be found within is on the fringe, although it is found in the work of Agrippa, where it was demonstrated that through appropriate theurgy (in keeping with the mundus imaginalis of Iamblichus) one is able to invoke his or her angelic ‘higher Self’.

Unfortunately for Agrippa, he (along with other adherents of this 2nd Golden Age) gets caught out in the crossfire of the Reformation, wherein with the new Protestant ideal, the focus is now on the frailty of man and no longer on his confident, hubristic Neoplatonist magic. Nonetheless, Agrippa’s legacy lives on, which leads us to the next link in the chain, England’s John Dee and Edward Kelly.

As advisor to Queen Elizabeth I, John Dee enjoyed support and great freedom. Hence, he was a major intellectual force in Elizabethan England. This makes perfect sense. He possessed a library of over 2,500 printed books and 170 manuscripts including the complete works of Marsilio Ficino an edition of the Corpus Hermeticm. As a result, there is no doubt  he was well versed in the current state of the hermetic and kabbalistic arts. Yet as his own major work, Propaedeumata Aphoristica (1558), made clear is real interest lay Arabic and mediaeval Oxford natural science, suggesting as he did that the celestial influence on the everyday lives of men on earth was direct cause and effect rather than sympathetic.  “Whatever exists in actuality spherically projects into each part of the world rays, which fill up the universe to its limit.” 

Overtime , however, hermetic and kabbalistic thought did leave its mark on his work, most famously in Monas (1564) which scholar, Frances Yates, suggests was really a type of magical amulet infused with astrological power, its purpose to bring the human psyche into unity. It’s important to note that other scholars offer a similarly interesting yet competing analyses of that work. 

That his personal library included work by Johannes Trithemius about spiritual (angelic) planetary governors as noted above, did suggest that he was interested in Angel magic . But because he lacked the clairvoyant gifts, he needed intermediaries hence entered, Edward Kelly, a talented medium who most certainly had a reputation for walking on the dark side. There is evidence that the believed that the noises come of voices, operations, and even dreams that he had during the period of working with Kelly were indeed the good Angels bearing genuine messages from God. He felt confident in this given that his experience tallied with those recorded by Agrippa. Reuchlin, and Trithemius.

Interestingly, although the stigma of being a conjurer finally did stick to Dee, there’s little evidence that either he or Kelly attempted to command the angels with whom they were in contact, to do their personal bidding. Although there is plenty of evidence that Dee was much more interested in learning the secrets of creation through his angelic encounters than in obtaining spiritual illumination. This does, then, leave a suggestion that like Kelly, Dee had been drawn to the darker end of the occult spectrum.

(to be continued)


[1] The word angel is derived from the Greek aggelos, or ‘one going’ or ‘one sent’, a ‘messenger’. Aggelos is sometimes used in translation for the Hebrew mal’akh, or ‘messenger’. Biblical applications of the word, both in Hebrew and Greek, refer to certain heavenly intelligences. Whom God employs in the office of messengers to carry out his will amongst humanity. Not surprisingly, the Christian conception of angels stems from much earlier Jewish ideas of God enthroned in a celestial palace, with various coming and goings on heavenly journeys with chariots. For more, see, Angelomorphism and Magical Transformation in the Christian and Jewish Traditions by Alison Greig (pp 129-144); in Culture and Cosmos: A Journal of the History of Astrology and Cultural Astronomy, papers from the 2013 Sophia Centre conference, special double issue on Celestial Magic, vol. 19 , Number 1 and 2, Spring/ Summer and Autumn/Winter 2015

[2] Green, Liz; Jung’s Studies in Astrology: Prophecy, Magic, and the Qualities of Time. London: Routledge (2018), pp.104-105.

The Western Esoteric Traditions (Part 4)

My summer reading: 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 special attention paid to the contribution of these traditions to the work of Carl Jung.

Byzantine Legacy

After the fall of Rome in the 4th century AD, Constantinople, capital of the Byzantine Empire, became the new centre of culture and learning and, as the result, the Alexandrian Hellenistic esoteric tradition got a facelift with an Arabic rendition of Hermes Trismegistus, The Emerald Tablet. As such, the words ‘so as above, so as below‘ became cemented into Western esoteric tradition and with them, the idea that the same forces work on earth exactly as they do throughout heaven.

As Peter Marshall observes, The Emerald Tablet is nuanced version of the creation myth of ancient Egypt with Ra symbolised by the sun and told the names of creation by Thoth, symbolised by the moon, who by uttering them brought them into existence in the single act of adaptation by reversing, as did the ancient Egyptians, the familiar Western notion of ‘Mother Earth’ and ‘Father Sky.’[1]

This opens the way for the alchemical allegory of the chemical wedding of the sun and the moon , Sol and Luna. More of alchemy in later posts, but for now it’s enough to set the scene for this development with a deep awareness of the beauty and magnificence of the creation as well as firmly cementing the four classical elements of earth, air, fire, and water into Western esoteric tradition.[2]

Marsilio Ficino and the Hermetic Revival

As the Byzantine Empire declined in the 15th century, the centre of culture and learning shifted westward, to the city of Florence where humanist thought paved the way for the revival of Platonism.[3] As wealth and patronage played such an important part in the advancement of learning in that time, it’s little wonder that with aid from Cosimo de’ Medici, the leading merchant-prince of the Florentine Republic, Marsilio Ficino now takes centre stage.

Ficino had been searching for a type of spirituality that fit his needs and in Plato’s work, he found it. With the backing of Cosimo, Ficino began to translate original Greek manuscripts into Latin. It was during this endeavour that he got his hands on a copy of the Corpus Hermeticum. At that time, it was believed the Hermeticum was much older that it has turned out to be. Thus Ficino and his followers regarded Hermes Trismegistus as a contemporary of Moses and as such, the work was seen as a philosophia perennis, which although predating Christianity, anticipated its arrival. Doubtless, this allowed the ideas in that work to be more palatable to the Church.

The result was an intriguing cosmology, or a psychologically spatial orientation of that which is ‘me’ as well as that which is other than ‘me’, that put God at the top of a hierarchy populated by orders of angels, the planets, and the elements as well as various types of plants, animals and minerals. 

But what made Ficino’s cosmology unique was the role to which he assigned to the human soul. In keeping with Plato’s Symposium, in which Socrates identifies love is an active force holding all things together, Ficino attributed this active influence of thought and love to the human soul, which he believed could reach out and embrace all things in the universe. More than just a formal intellectual model, this new cosmology acted as a map for the travels and ascent of man’s individual soul. In his own contemplative life, Ficino gave personal and practical slant to this idea and combined it seamlessly with his Christianity. 

For thus our soul becomes most like to God, who is wisdom itself. According to Plato, in this likeness consists the highest state of happiness. 

Ficino, a letter written to Cosimo de Medici 

Most importantly, in the hands of Ficino, the Hermetica offered the opportunity to gain power over nature, through what is now known as natural or sympathetic magic. For Ficino, this magic was most easily accomplished through astrology. He believed that the planets and all things celestial, sowed the seeds of God’s divine plan into the material world through archetypal energies resembling rays. Wisdom, one’s key to happiness, would come from judiciously absorbing as many different rays as possible.

By withdrawal from earthly things, by leisure, solitude, constancy, esoteric theology and philosophy, by superstition, magic, agriculture, and grief, we come under the influence of Saturn.”

Marsilio Ficino

As Dr Liz Greene reminds us, not only was Carl Jung very familiar with Ficino’s work, but he relied on it extensively in his own work in the Liber Novus. For example, the Old Scholar, with whom Jung communicated in that work, was a grief-stricken recluse, echoing the Ficino’s association of Saturn with grief and solitude.[4]  As noted in an earlier post, Jung’s most important spiritual guide in Liber Novus, who was known to him as Philemon, was a Saturnian figure with Aquarian leanings. As Dr Greene also reminds us, Philemon provided Jung with his wisdom, his insight, and his understanding of the workings of the psyche – in essence his own cosmology – which Jung then translated into his psychological theories. Philemon’s approach to all of this through astrology, is directly traceable to the work of Ficino. [5]

Pico della Mirandola and the Kabbala

Giovanni Pico della Mirandola, a contemporary of Ficino, upped the ante in developing an even more powerful variety of Renaissance magic by incorporating into Ficino’s approach, the Jewish Kabbalah, a mystical concept used by Kabbalists to signify the self-emptying aspect of the creator.

God (known as Ain Soph) withdraws his Light in order to create a vacuum allowing a single thread of his Light to traverse the darkness in a series of ten concentric circles called Sephiroth – collectively known as The Tree of Life.  Each Sephira, connected by twenty-two pathways, acts as a vessel containing some of His Light; thus each represents an aspect of God.

For the Kabbalist, the ‘Tree’ is not only a diagram of God’s unfolding creative impulse, but also a path for spiritual union with the Divine.  Legend has it that after the fall of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden, angels brought the Kabbalah down from Heaven to teach Adam how to recover his primal bliss.

Although primarily a system of contemplation, the Kabbalah also has a magical side. As a means of approaching the Sephiroth, seventy-two angels could be invoked by one knowing their names and numbers as well as the appropriate arrangement of Hebrew words, letters, and/or signs.

According to Pico , Ficino’s natural or sympathetic magic was weak and ineffective unless used in combination with the Kabbalah. He said that whereas natural magic aims no higher than operating upon the material world and the stars, the Kabbalah can be used to operate beyond – to influence the super celestial spheres of angels, archangels and God (the first cause), Himself. Such practise however, could be dangerous and the ecstasy that results may cause the death of the body, a way of dying known as the “Death of the Kiss.”

Not surprisingly, Jung’s spirit guide, Philemon, was also knowledgeable with the Kabbalah. It was shortly before Jung’s kabbalistic vision of uniting the divine male and female, that he’d experienced a serious heart attack in 1944.[6] Indeed, the English occultist, Dion Fortune, attributed her well known book, The Mystical Qabalah, to the wisdom that Philemon had communicated to Jung.[7]

I would commence my mental rehearsal up the sacred names, and would suddenly find that I was aware of mental pictures only… I maintained my concentration on the images arising in consciousness, and did not allow it to wander… Out of the Sky over the water a vast angelic figure began to form, and I saw what I felt to be an archangel bent over me in a vast curve.

Dion Fortune

In his famous Oration on the Dignity of Man, Pico marked the change between the medieval mind and the modern mind; man alone has been given by God the freedom to make of himself what he will, and it should come as no surprise, drawing on the that overwhelming message of the Corpus Hermeticum, that in doing so he should strive to become like God, to know God as an equal – because only like understands like. The stage is now set for the develop of further invocational magic.

(to be continued)



[1] Marshall, Peter. The Philosopher’s Stone: A Quest for the Secrets of Alchemy. London; Macmillan (2001).

[2] As Peter Marshall suggests, nothing stands more powerfully than the words of the Emerald Tablet themselves:

  1. True it is, without falsehood, certain and most true. That which is above is like that which is below, and that which is below is like to that which is above, to accomplish the miracles of one thing. 
  2. And as all things were by the contemplation of the one, so all things arose from this one thing by a single act of adaptation.
  3. The father is therefore is the Sun, the mother the Moon. 
  4. The wind carried it in its womb, the Earth is the nurse thereof. 
  5. It is the father of all the works of wonder throughout the whole world. 
  6. The power therefore is perfect. 
  7. If it be cast on to the Earth, it will separate the elements of the Earth from that of Fire, the subtle from the gross. 
  8. With great sagacity it doth ascend gently from Earth to Heaven.
  9. Again it doth descend to the Earth, and uniteth in itself the force from things superior and things inferior.
  10. Thus thou wilt possess the glory of the brightness of the whole world, and all obscurity will fly from thee.
  11. This thing is the strong fortitude of all strength, for it overcometh every subtle thing and doth penetrate every solid substance. 
  12. Thus was the world created. 
  13. Hence there will be marvellous adaptations achieved, of which the manner is this. 
  14. For this reason I am called Hermes Trismegistus, because I hold three parts of the wisdom of the whole world. 
  15. That which I had to say about the operation of the Sol  is completed.

[3] As Louis Dupre explains in his excellent book, Passage to Modernity: An Essay in the Hermeneutics of Nature and Culture (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1993. P. 96-97 and 149), underlying the humanist movement in all its variations, is the idea of human responsibility for bringing all creation to its destined perfection. Since the 15th century humanists were focused on finding the right models for telling an essentially unchanging story, it’s not surprising that in their hands, ancient learning again takes centre stage in new form.

[4] For more on this, see discussion at pp. 75 in The Astrological World of Jung’s Liber Novus, (Routledge, 2018) by Dr Liz Greene

[5] Ibid, p. 119.

[6] Ibid,  p. 99.

[7] Ibid, p. 101.

The Western Esoteric Traditions (Part 3)

My summer reading: 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 special attention paid to the contribution of these traditions to the work of Carl Jung.

As noted earlier, all western Traditions are based on the cosmology so as above so is below with a more or less direct connection between the divine reality (logos) and our human lives in the earthly realm. 

Hermeticism

As might be expected, it all began in ancient Egypt around the time that Alexander the Great (332BC) founded the city of Alexandra. Cultural change (urbanisation and the Greek rationalism which made gods too difficult for most people to relate to) brought in the first of these traditions, Alexandrian Hermeticism. 

The city of Alexander was a melting pot of cultures so it only makes sense that its spiritual tradition followed suit quickly becoming a clearing house for both Greek and Eastern ideas , myth, and religious practises and beliefs. The best known texts of this period are those attributed to Hermes Trismegistus – whose attributes were also a melting pot of the Egyptian god, Thoth and the Greek god Hermes (known as Mercury in ancient Rome). 

Thoth was a lunar deity in service to the solar god, Ra, and for the ancient Egyptians, everything lunar was vital not least because the moon was considered responsible for the periodic flooding of the River Nile. It’s little surprise then that Thoth was at the top of divinity heap, considered to be the supreme law giver especially regarding magical and occult powers. Likewise, Hermes, the psychopomp (the spiritual guide of a living person soul) was also a lunar deity and considered responsible for the timely functioning of everyday life.

Although both Thoth and Hermes had serious clout, they also had a lighter more playful side in the sense they were identified as trickster gods. This allowed people to relate with them more easily than they had been able with other gods.

In time, Hermes became associated with the concept of Logos, one of the most complex concepts of the Hellenistic world meaning nothing less than the natural order of things –  the very rhyme and reason of creation. Thus it was through Hermes that the people could find Logos, or divinity,  within themselves, as did Carl Jung through his connection with Philemon, his spirit guide in Liber Novus, who, as Dr Liz Greene reminds us, was also a hermetic figure. 

The primary text of Alexandrian Hermeticism is the Corpus Hermeticum, which itself is a collection of 17 different treatises written in Greek in 2nd and 3rd centuries AD. Throughout most of these treaties, the character Hermes Trismegistus, plays the role of initiator to various other characters into wisdom and mysteries. However in the famous first book Poimandres (The Divine Pymander), Hermes receives a lecture from the god Nous (Supreme intellect).

 “Because of this, unlike any other living thing on earth, mankind is twofold – in the body mortal but immortal in the essential man. Even though he is immortal and has authority over all things, mankind is affected by mortality because he is subject to fate; thus, although man is above the cosmic framework, he became a slave within it.”

(Book 1 (Discourse) of Hermes Trismegistus: Poimandres, [15].

The overwhelming message of Corpus Hermeticum is that it is the work of humans to become like God, to know God as an equal – because only like understands like.

This is to be accomplished through contemplation of the divinity that pervades the whole of nature. Look for symbols because all symbols point to God. Learn how to read the symbols, and you will know God.

Therefore according to the hermetic tradition, the purpose of esoteric (spiritual) practise is to find our own divinity, our own connection with God, through our intellect. This is achieved through discourse with the hierarchical entities (mundus imaginals). In essence, it is this initiation, development, and maintenance of bonds and relationships between revealed and concealed worlds that is known to us as magic.

It is this ‘essential man’ (or spirit) that Nous mentioned (see above) that we are attempting to reconnect. Eventually, by climbing that hierarchal ladder with help from the various entities, we will transmute the baseness of the material world and once again become one with God.[1]


Neoplatonism

Closely related to Hermeticism, is pagan Neoplatonism, which like Hermeticism, perceived the primary aim of man is to tread a spiritual path allowing him to ascend to his divine origins, from which he’d fallen into earthly existence. Neoplatonism flourished between the 3rd and 6th centuries AD and was especially popular with the wealthy inhabitants of the later Roman Empire.

According to Plotinus, a leading figure in this moment, the hierarchy of Hermeticism could be divided into three readily discernible parts: (1) the Higher Soul (World Soul and that of individuals), (2) Intellect, and (3) Lower Soul or Nature. Each level was a constituent part of living, breathing Logos and each consisted of exactly the same stuff, albeit the lower down the ladder, the more imperfect that would be.

As with Hermeticism, Plotinus believed the point of all esoteric practice (i.e. magic) was the purification and ascent of the soul into unity with the Divine through use of correspondence, or sumpatheia (sympathy). As Dr Liz Greene explains, sumpatheia means ‘happening with’, or ‘experiencing with’; ‘two apparently unrelated events, conditions, or objects that occur simultaneously and reflect a shared hidden meaning, root, pattern, or divinity. According to Dr Greene, this is precisely what Jung meant when he coined the new term ‘synchronicity’, in order to make the old magical ideas more palatable to the scientific community. [2]

Porphyry, a disciple of Plotinus, added the flourish of strict asceticism to the process whilst Iamblichus, a disciple of Porphyry, streamlined and formalised the process with formulaic (theurgical) manipulation of symbolic objects as well as methodology to achieve ‘divine possession’ of the gods through mediumship.

According to Iamblichus, ‘the eyes of the body’ cannot tolerate a vision of the gods except through the mediation of perceptible symbols such as gemstones. As Dr Greene also reminds us, although we still do not understand why humans respond psychologically to certain gemstones (and in particular to their colours), nevertheless, we do. Like all symbols, gemstones have potency and consumers are more willing than ever to accept this at face value. [3

Proclus, the last major pagan Neoplatonist strengthen the connection between spiritual ascent and properly focused theurgy, thus laying the groundwork for Renaissance magicians like Ficino.

Gnosticism

A major current in Christian thought, Gnosticism follows a game plan of achieving spiritual knowledge (gnosis) of God and the higher realities (archangels, cherubim, seraphim, guardians, et al) that operate in the same plane as God.

But although one may aspire to know God, God remains always unknown and unknowable. Gnosis is as close as you’ll get, and for some Gnostics, that could only be achieved through redemption through Jesus Christ.

Also in contrast to Hermeticism, wherein there was no duality in the sense that everything in the world is recognised as of divine origin, with the Gnostics comes the concept of good vs. evil.

For the Gnostics, the material world (one of illusion) populated by humans was not a creation of God, but instead of an inferior (or perhaps even evil) being known as the demiurge.

Overall, Gnosticism is a pessimistic view of the fallen nature of man and a rejection of the fundamental good of all God’s creation.

(to be continued)


[1] It is worth nothing that in this sense, spiritual, unlike the common English usage, refers to a material substance, the Stoic conception of a higher, finer matter that sustains life, movement, and thought. See Hermetica: The Greek Corpus Hermeticum and the Latin Asclepius in a new English translation with notes and introduction by Brian P. Copenhaver (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992), p 99, note 1.5.

[2] See The God in the Stone: Gemstone Talismans in the Western Magical Traditions by Liz Greene (pp 48); in Culture and Cosmos: A Journal of the History of Astrology and Cultural Astronomy, papers from the 2013 Sophia Centre conference, special double issue on Celestial Magic, vol. 19 , Number 1 and 2, Spring/ Summer and Autumn/Winter 2015.

[3] Greene, The God in the Stone, p. 51.

The Western Esoteric Traditions (Part 2)

My summer reading: The Western Esoteric Traditions: a Historical Introduction by Nicholas Goodrick – Clarke (Oxford University Press – 2008).

Carl Jung was heavily influenced by Henry Corbin, a renowned 20th century scholar of Islamic esotericism. 

A central aspect of Corbin’s work was the idea of the imagination as both ‘cognitive and creative’. In line with the Persian philosophers whom he had studied, Corbin identified the human imagination as ‘an autonomous world of intermediaries, the mundus imaginals, where visions, apparitions, angels, and hierarchies occurred independently of any perceiving subject’. 

Corbin concluded that this world of hierarchies is as ‘real and objective’ as the material world in which we carry out our everyday lives. But because these intermediaries are not as dense as the material objects populating our everyday world, they are not easily perceptible. To access mundus imaginals, we must use our active imaginations rather than the sense of sight, smell, and touch, through which we usually navigate.

This, along with the work of other academics and scholars, leaves us with six fundamental characteristics of western esoteric spirituality: 

  1. Correspondence –  all constituent levels of being (stars, planets, humans, animals, plants, minerals, humours, and states of mind both healthy and diseased) are linked together through a series of correspondences. Imagine two violins. Sympathetic or corresponding  vibration occurs when two strings are tuned to the same pitch. When one is plucked, the other will sing out in ‘in sympathy’. The connection between these various levels of being is not causal, but symbolic. As Dr Liz Greene reminds us, the gods have left their traces in the material world for us to find and this is done through symbols. Humans don’t invent symbols. We discover them through our active imagination. Dr Greene says we use symbols to coax the gods to come down to earth and partake with us through ritual and this is precisely what Jung did whilst writing Liber Novus.
  2. Living nature – all things in nature are alive, full of divine energy or soul. It is through this divine energy or soul, that Marsilio Ficino, an accomplished magician and protégée of Cosimo de Medici, one of the most powerful men in Renaissance Europe, lived what he referred to as a ‘well-tempered’ life in cosmic harmony with the divine plan. This plan was charted in the heavens and so it is no surprise that Ficino was also an accomplished astrologer. In Ficino’s solar system, there were only seven planets (Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto had yet to be discovered). Ficino believed that in order to thrive, soul needs exposure to each of those planets. For example, the Sun symbolizes the qualities – insight and imagination – that are uniquely human. Thus solar energy is associated with consciousness, rational thought, and the pursuit of truth and honour.  Cultivate solar energy through solemn music, all things gold coloured, nutmeg, heliotrope, myrrh, honey, crocus, corn, cinnamon, aloes, lions, swans, beetles, and chickens. Visualize a king on a throne in a yellow garment, along with a raven and the form of the sun.
  3. Imagination and mediations – as mentioned earlier, it is through our active imagination that we establish a cognitive and creative connexion with mundus imaginals. As Goodrick-Clark reminds us, where the mystic typically seeks a direct and immediate connexion with God, for the esotericist, this connection is made through the intermediaries that extend up and down the hierarchal ladder. In essence, this is magical thinking –  a unique type of consciousness – participative of mode of thought whereby participants gain awareness of the Inter relatedness of all things in the world by a means of simple , but we find, sense perception. In this sense, magic does not seek to fix or change the objective world.[1] Dr Greene reminds us that when we coax the gods to come to earth and partake with us through ritual , we have invoked them not to ‘fix’ our outer world, but instead to ‘fix’ our inner world – in other words, to transform us to live, as did Ficino, in harmony with the divine plan. 
  4. The experience of transmutation – as noted above, as the result of esoteric work we must expect to experience change in some uniquely manifest way. This is not an intellectual pursuit. For Jung, the arrival of his Philemon, his Saturnian daimon with Aquarian leanings, was a key moment in his life. Dr Greene suggests that Jung stopped working on Liber Novus in 1929-1932 because he needed to understand what was meant psychologically by Philemon as symbol of his ‘inner’ self.  As the result, he developed psychological models like perhaps synchronicity to explain what had resulted for him as the result of his esoteric work. Jung believed synchronistic experiences mirror deep psychological processes that further ‘individuation’ – the process by which we gain understanding of our place in the world. He believe that synchronistic experiences always involve an archetype. Consider the case of the Golden beetle. While Jung’s client was relating a dream which she’d received a gift of a Golden scarab (a large dung beetle held sacred in ancient Egypt), Jung heard a gentle tapping on the window. He opened it and caught a beetle whose green gold colour was the same as that of the Golden scarab his client had described. When Jung related that the scarab was a classic rebirth symbol depicting the archetype of self-transformation , exactly the issue with which she’d been struggling, the client was shocked enough to breakdown her resistance to therapy. Here you can see the connection between magical thinking (i.e. synchronicity), symbols, and personal change of transmutation.[2]
  5. Concordance – the idea here is that all of these western esoteric traditions (perhaps also some or all of the eastern traditions) are linked together in important ways and perhaps even stem from a single source (prisca theologia).
  6. Transmission – most esoteric traditions suggest that the fullness of their teachings can only be passed from master to disciple through an established path of initiation. In other words, book learning or even personal experimentation will never be enough.  

Finally, and very importantly, Corbin and other esoteric scholars have demonstrated that the esoteric traditions and ideals come back into fashion whenever the world order as we currently know it starts to fall apart. This is exactly what happened in the European renaissance revival of all of these traditions and we will see more examples of this in future blog posts.

(to be continued) 


[1] Campion, Nicholas, Editorial (p 1-8) in Culture and Cosmos: A Journal of the History of Astrology and Cultural Astronomy, papers from the 2013 Sophia Centre conference, special double issue on Celestial Magic, vol. 19 , Number 1 and 2, Spring/ Summer and Autumn/Winter 2015.

[2] For more on this, see discussion at pp. 116-117 in The Astrological World of Jung’s Liber Novus, (Routledge, 2018) by Dr Liz Greene.

The Western Esoteric Traditions (Part 1)

My summer reading: The Western Esoteric Traditions: a Historical Introduction by Nicholas Goodrick – Clarke (Oxford University Press – 2008).

Western esoteric traditions have roots in religious thinking reaching far back into the Hellenistic era and before. In the Renaissance, ancient texts thought forever lost were rediscovered. This led to a revival of an interest in and the practice of magic, astrology, alchemy, and the Kabbalah. After the Reformation, this continues with the development of theosophy, Rosicrucianism, Freemasonry and for me, most importantly the analytical psychology of Carl Jung.

As Dr Liz Greene makes clear in her scholarly study, The Astrological World of Jung’s Libre Novus: Daimon’s, Gods, and the Planetary Journey (Routledge, 2018), Jung used ritual magic and astrology in his own personal work which underlaid much of his psychological theories.

Jung’s most important spiritual guide in this work was known to him as Philemon, a Saturnian figure with Aquarian leanings (Saturn being the planetary ruler of Aquarius), who was not only a wise man but also a magician (in the sense of the tarot trump, The Magician). Interestingly, Philemon was also a gardener, who quietly cultivated tulips in his own garden as might any pensioner. Not only did Philemon guide Jung along his own spiritual journey in much the same way as did Virgil with Dante, but he also provided Jung with a much needed sense of spiritual meaning. 

Jung’s work with magic and astrology demonstrates not only is there a place for esoteric traditions in modern science but also, if we are to become all that we as men and women can be, an important link must be made between irrationalism and progressive rationalism. Indeed many Great Western thinkers such as Nietzsche and Kierkegaard have also expressed grave concerns about where progressive rationalism might take the human race.

As I hope to make clear in my blog posts over the next few months, a solid understand of western esoteric tradition is essential for anyone involved with an/ or interested in working with visions, apparitions, and even angels.

Indeed, it is the view of Dr Liz Greene (expressed in a series of lectures given in 2017 regarding Jung’s Liber Novus) that the current popularity of guardian angels is a substitute religious pursuit. As organised religion becomes less popular people become ever more desperate to find meaning and purpose in their lives, something that transcends the boundaries of their personal Egos.

But I hope this book will also give me more insight into the subjects and ideas that I addressed during my pursuit of my MA in Study of Religious and Mystical Experience at the University of Kent at Canterbury. Because first and foremost, according to Goodrick-Clarke, behind any work involving western esotericism lies a spiritual experience.

(to be continued)

The Daemon of Carl Jung

In Plato’s Republic(The Myth of Ur), souls cue up to choose their next life and are assigned a daemon – an overseer for that life. In classic astrology, daemon could be determined using one’s natal chart and as the result, it was incumbent upon the individual to establish contact with (or invoke) his or her daemon. In many respects, this was exactly what Jung was doing whilst writing and illustrating the Red Book, which he considered to the ‘prima materia’ for his life’s work.

Daemon can be understood as fate – but not fate in the sense that it comes from outside us. Instead, daemon is our personal unconscious pushing through the creative impulse to encourage us to accomplish that which we are meant to do. Naturally, you may choose to reject or ignore Daemon (or your fate) but there is a price to be paid. Equally, following Daemon (either eagerly or begrudgingly) does not guarantee you an easy ride.

Carl Jung had Aquarius rising. This means that Saturn, the ruler of Aquarius was his daemon, or at least it was in his eyes although not all astrologers (classical or modern) might agree.

When it comes to daemon, it isn’t so much that Saturn the planet was running the show but instead the symbolism surrounding Saturn. According to the 3rd century Neo-Platonist, Iamblichus, symbols are the footprints of the gods, wondrous tokens sent down from above. In this sense, a symbol can never be a man-made design. Symbols pre-exist and hence carry energy that exerts power over us not unlike Jung’s archetypes.

Jung

Jung believed it was vital that he understand his daemon – no, more than that – he was determined to establish a personal relationship with his daemon and it is highly likely this was accomplished through magical ritual.

To that end, the Red Book, Jung communicates with several different Saturnian figures (Elijah, The Old Scholar, The Anchorite, The Librarian, and the Professor) that culminate with Philemon (whose name, Jung always wrote in Greek, most probably for magical reasons).

Several key points are of significant interest regarding these Saturnian figures and as ought to be expected in many respects they are all deeply paradoxical.

  • The Saturnian figures in Red Book are all associated with rocks and stones – imperishable – belonging to and of the earth – present in the beginning of time on earth and presumably present at the end. It is not surprising that this stone/rock motif comes up often in Jung’s writings. He had been fascinated with them since youth.
  • Jung’s Saturnian images are all old men – SENEX – they are also thinkers –seekers of wisdom (as opposed to knowledge). Philosophers. They are magicians, too. This is in keeping with the writings of Marsilio Ficino, a 15thcentury Italian scholar who appears to have heavily influenced Jung’s work.
  • All Jung’s Saturnian images are recluses and sad. These are in keeping with traditional associations with Saturn.
  • Several of Jung’s Saturnian images are associated with religion and more specifically, religious experience. Not all of them are complimentary or supportive of religion. Indeed, Philemon is always shown as lame and this might well be suggesting a connection with the devil. Philemon, after all, did always have a serpent hanging around.
  • Philemon was also connected with Mercury, the hermetic figure and the philosopher stone. Hermes Trismegistus, who controlled both the sun and the moon was semi-divine and he is, in essential ways, very much like Philemon (who was also a magician – possessing his own grimoire). This highlights the importance of the ancient art of alchemy. Saturn is lead, the metal of transformation and redemption.

In The Astrological World of Jung’s Liber Novus, Dr Liz Greene suggests that because Philemon drew together Saturnian ideas and images from a number of ancient disciplines and cosmologies, he allowed Jung to build a workable bridge between the pagan and Christian aspects of his own world view.

Those  of us who are interested in similarly understanding the complexity of our own daemon, or chosen ‘fate’, might be well-advised to perform similar invocations and explorations. Dr Greene reminds us that during that difficult period in Jung’s life, his work with Philemon and predecessors gave Jung a connecting thread of meaning that helped him to understand his situation. Likewise, we may also turn to our daemons for help when things get tough.

Never forget, however, that working with daemons is not for the faint of heart. Jung’s daughter reported that things ‘went bump in the dark’ in the house when Jung was working with Philemon – things that we might well call supernatural.

Dream Weaver

Starting today (13 January), one of the major planetary aspects of 2019 gets underway when Jupiter and Neptune form an opportunistic square. Both are strong in their signs of rulership and so expect this square, in the hands of someone someone sensible, to yield extraordinary results.

DREAMS

Jupiter is big picture, an inspired optimistic vision for the future. Combined with Neptune, which brings magic, colour and soul into your life, this is the time to catch your dreams and make them happen.

If ever your dreams can manifest, it is now.

The trick, however, is not to go overboard.

Both Jupiter and Neptune share a taste for the boundless. Together, they are signature of the dreamer/visionary with a foolhardy naivety about the ‘real world’.

This is territory where usually, you’d be well advised not to tread but luckily, this time there’s a mitigating factor – Saturn.

Saturn is all about accomplishment, authority, responsibility – not to mention the ability to evaluate both you and your dreams realistically. When Saturn is in his own sign of rulership, Capricorn, he does his job extraordinary well.

The next bites of this juicy Jupiter/Neptune apple come on 16 June and 21 September. Saturn is doing a slow burn (with an enabling semi-sextile/sextile) throughout the entire time.

Obviously, this propitious period will effect each of you differently but if you have key planets in 14-18 degrees of the mutable signs (Gemini, Virgo, Sagittarius, and Pisces) you’re in for a treat.

Why not make the best of this time with different kind of astrology reading? Don’t you owe it to yourself to take this opportunity to weave your dreams?

The Sorcerer’s Apprentice

Once, I knew a Belgian ‘white’ witch who had been a powerful (hereditary) black magician. At the height of his powers, he could kill a man just by looking at him, or at least so he said. Sounds a bit much but I believed him – not the least because he had a Pluto Square Mercury and Pluto sextile Venus – both within seconds of arc.

For some, tapping into outer planetary energies like Pluto comes easy. Presto! Results! Yeah! Yet these energies are particularly dangerous because they will remain forever beyond the personal Ego’s grasp.

Not surprisingly, then, after partaking in a power battle with other black magicians, my friend awoke in the middle of the Belgian Ardennes with 70% burns over his body. He made promise to himself then and there that if he didn’t die, he’d mend his magical ways and he did.

My ‘white’ witch friend learned the hard way that there are two sides to the magical equation. Because of this, he was always critical of ‘New Age’ practitioners who focus only on ‘goodness’ and ‘light’.

440px-Tovenaarsleerling_S_Barth.pngLike the Sorcerer’s Apprentice, the uninitiated usually fail to understand the true nature of the energies at hand and, in their inexperienced hands, things can quickly get out of control.  Even in the hands of the very experienced, things can and do go terribly wrong.

I’m only too thankful that I do NOT have Pluto in the mix with with my personal planets. If did, I’d be joining ranks with some seriously powerful witches and ceremonial magicians. That’s much too much responsibility for me and I know it. But what if some ‘goodness and light’ article/post stimulates someone with tight Pluto contacts to play their hand at the game?

A good magician works with the forces of nature – not against them. He knows the difference of what he can and cannot change. A good magician full well knows that there are ‘dark forces’ in the universe and, whilst he may not actively seek them out, he is prepared to deal with if needs be.

Are you?

 

 

Eclipse of the Day

imagesThis morning, at 9:04 GMT, we experienced a powerful solar eclipse.

It occurred at 9 Virgo 21.

Unless an eclipse triggers a sensitive natal aspect (i.e. between 5-13 degrees of Virgo, Sagittarius, Pisces, or Gemini), or falls on your angles (i.e. cusps of the 1st, 4th, 7th, or 10th houses), you are likely not to feel it too much.

But if it does, then it will function like a power surge, provoking a crisis of some sort, something with which you’ll be forced to deal. For clues, look back to your life experiences during the previous eclipse season 19 years ago in regards to any one or all of the following:

  • Natal Sun: You were born to be the hero of your life story – but sometimes from fear or false modesty, you delegate this role to another. When an eclipse makes an aspect to your natal Sun, you can no longer avoid assuming the starring role in your life. Expect issues with authority figures like parents or bosses, all those to whom in the past, you’ve abdicated your personal power.
  • Natal Moon – Throughout your life, you seek to reclaim the security and safety that you enjoyed in your mother’s womb. You feather your nest, stock the pantry with yummy foods, and surround yourself with all that which makes you feel comfortable. But when an eclipse makes aspects your natal Moon, something – a new living situation, a change in health – will leave you feeling exposed.
  • Natal Mercury: You define yourself through your names, rank , and serial number – your position in the pecking order at home,school, or in the workplace. When eclipses aspect natal Mercury, prepare for a changes  in the way in which you define yourself.  Mercury is the storyteller. It’s time start writing your life story from a different point of view or perspective.
  • Natal Venus: Wouldn’t you just love it if you’d been born with self-confidence, great relationships, fabulous looks – not to mention oodles of cash?! Eclipse aspects to Venus remind you that you don’t always get that which you might think that you deserve. This realisation usually comes through financial challenges, relationship transitions, or flagging self-esteem.
  • Natal Mars: Mars operates as your personal guard dog – protecting your home, your reputation, your family, defining your boundaries. When an eclipse makes an aspect to your natal Mars, the watch dog is stirred up and straining at his leash; take what’s yours, but just make sure no one gets hurt.
  • Natal Jupiter: Do you love an adventure? Taking a chance, making a gamble, an exotic trip to somewhere you’ve never before been? When an eclipse makes an aspect to your natal Jupiter, you’re revved up to have a go, take that chance, do whatever you think is needed to get your life back on track.
  • Natal Saturn: When an eclipse makes an aspect to your Saturn, you may feel worn out and/or discouraged. Maybe you’ve your outgrown your present life  it or maybe you’re still playing by outdated rules? Just remember that you’ll never get anywhere by blaming others for your difficult situation. Regardless of how things got this way, only you can take the positive action needed to make your life better.
  • Natal Uranus: When an eclipse makes an aspect to your natal Uranus, you may feel like a misfit, a clown, a scapegoat – and, well…let’s be honest –  that hurts. Recognising who are and are not your friends, is a key challenge now. Identify only with groups that allow you be yourself.
  • Natal Neptune: Now’s the time to examine your blind spots, examine your faith, and dispute that which you’ve always believed was indisputable. If you’ve been fooling yourself  – hiding away from reality, then expect a wakeup call.
  • Natal Pluto: We all have a darker side; feelings of rage, jealousy, and/or fear. These make us weaker, slaves to our emotions, not to mention allowing those who are self-possessed to further manipulate us. When an eclipse makes an aspect to your natal Pluto, expect to confront the dark side – either in yourself or in those you’ve allowed to embody it for you. Power struggles are the order of the day.

Using tomorrow’s Total Solar Eclipse to your best advantage

Tomorrow, 9 March 2016, at 2 AM GMT (London), there is a total eclipse of the Sun.

As you probably know, this means that the Moon  passes between the Sun and Earth and hence completely blocks our view of the Sun.

You probably also know that most calendar years have four eclipses, two of which must be solar eclipses and whilst total solar eclipses are not exactly rare (approximately once every 18 months a total solar eclipse is visible from some place on Earth), they do tend to attract a good deal of attention.

eclipse-traditions1Astrologers view eclipses as a release of pent up energy that shakes us out of our everyday complacency and gets us up and running again.  Because the Moon is associated with the unconscious and the Sun with the conscious, a total solar eclipse (when the conscious is completely blotted out by the unconscious), offers a perfect opportunity to undertake some housekeeping in regards to your personal unconscious.

Tomorrow’s eclipse occurs at 18 Pisces 56. So for those of you with planets or sensitive areas in your charts at this degree (and/or about 19 Virgo, 19 Gemini, or 19 Sagittarius), you might expect your daily (unconscious) routine to be quite shaken up.

But everyone can positively utilise the energy released by this eclipse to reset his or her personal intentions. The Sabian symbol (The Sabian Symbols in Astrology, by Dr Marc Edmund Jones) for 19 Pisces, offers assistance as follows :

A master instructing his pupil:

  • Unlimited potential
  • Self-refinement of human intelligence
  • Enjoy & employ the privileges and bounties of life allotted to you
  • Personality comes into its own to direct destiny
  • Careful direction through patient investigation and genuine psychological insight
  • AVOID the tendency to live by rules forged by the conceit of empty knowledge.

To release unconscious behavioral patterns working against reaching your unlimited potential, you first need to accept that they exist. Next, accept that as the creator of these patterns, you can eliminate them and that in doing so, you will be able to consciously direct the privileges and bounties allotted to you in order to reach your unlimited potential. During this eclipse, honestly identify unconscious behavioural pattern that you think may be getting in your way and write them down on a piece of paper. Each day for the next seven days, study your paper whilst making specific plans as how to eliminate these unwanted patterns. If you like, you may also light a white candle and/or chant “Blow wind blow, blow a path for me. Make it clear and straight so the future I can see.”