Man’s Relationship with his Gods

Reading Homer’s Iliad, it is clear that not only did the gods – or immortals – meddle in every aspect of the lives of important men and women – but that those men and women were quick to blame their misfortunes on the gods, often failing to take any personal responsibility for their lives, as we might be expected today.

So what might have might have been going on?

I suggest it’s all to do with man’s perceived relationship with his gods. Further, I suggest that this is nicely explained in Julian Jaynes’s book The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind. In that work, Jayne’s proposed that until about 3000 years ago, human consciousness consisted only of voices that, because the two hemispheres of the brain didn’t communicate, were perceived as coming from the gods.

In essence, these ancient men lacked self-consciousness as we know it today. They could not perceive themselves as separate from – and thus ‘in relationship with’ – the gods. Instead, they had a type of cosmic consciousness which gave them imaginal – almost telepathic – access to the greater cosmos. Everything they saw and heard was to them, objectively real.

Jaynes suggests that in effect these ancients were what we might call ‘signal-bound’, responding constantly in a stimulus -response manner, completely controlled by cues. To get a sense of what this means, we need only to look at artwork from this period. I am most struck by the early Cycladic art, which I suggests demonstrates these people had a symbiotic relationship with their divinity, the Great Goddess and Earth Mother. This was the Age of Taurus, one in which men and women moved with and through the flow of nature, at one with the natural world.

Jaynes suggests this bicameralism began to break down during 2nd millennium BCE  – about the time of that the Trojan War is thought to have occurred. This was the Age of Aries and so during this time, the focus shifts to individualised achievement and conquest. The world was no longer slow moving and rural, but hierarchically organised and maintained by brute force. This required a cold, hard, calculated response. The gods no longer spoke to every individual, so the truths of cosmic consciousness were expressed in the form of the great narrative epics and divine commandments, of which the Old Testament of the Bible and Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey are excellent examples.

After mankind’s ‘fall’ from the garden of Eden, which you might view as a loss of cosmic consciousness, men had to become increasingly devious in order to survive. Again, when we look at the early artwork of the ancient Middle East at the beginning of the period, we see kings standing side by side with their councillor gods effortlessly gaining divine wisdom. But by the end of that age – ‘after the fall’ – the kings were on their knees begging for guidance.

Thus consciousness of ‘I’ – as separate and ‘in relation with’ the gods developed and the rational problem-solving man, with which we are familiar, is born. It’s interesting that our familiarity with our humanity increased as our familiarity with the gods decreased.

Next, the distant imperial divinities were replaced the local gods and great mythic narratives. The old cosmic consciousness had nearly faded from memory, although it was revived from time to time by mystery religions.

Here we find the right brain intuition just starting to interact with the left brain thinking, although even today we can’t be sure of the degree of the quality of such interaction. It’s not surprising that this period produced such a diametrical divinity like Jesus Christ – a mortal man who died – but didn’t really die- and because of that, was worshipped like an immortal God. This was the Age of Pisces.

What might we expect next, in the coming Age of Aquarius? I suggest that man will reposition himself vis a vis God through scientific endeavours.  In essence, man reaches for the stars –  not so much by playing God – but through creating reality. It’s ideas that drive us. We’ve always known this. But until now, we’ve been held back by our mortality.

In the post-human era, characterised by artificial intelligence and uploaded consciousness (or the transfer of the human mind to an artificial substrate), we will eliminate these distinctions, which interestingly were all man made in the first place.[1] .

Hence in the post-human era, we will transcend our bodies and become immortal like the gods. Aquarius is all about communication and through it the three aspects of the mind, cautiousness, unconsciousness, and super-consciousness will seek simultaneous expression. If we look carefully at the glyph for Aquarius – two parallel WAVY lines – I suggest that represents our new status with God.[2]

Nor surprisingly, this idea has already been presented by Nietzsche in writings about the Ubermensch or overman, in which he suggested that ‘man is something that must be overcome’ and that the highest truth is being born within man through the self-creating power of the will. To accomplish this, man’s present limited ‘self’ must be destroyed. The truth isn’t to be proved or disproved but instead, to be created. Nietzsche believed that man’s striving toward the future will result in the birth of a new being who would incarnate the meaning of the universe and thus impose redemptive order on the chaos of a meaningless universe without the gods.


[1] At the beginning of the Piscean age, Plato first formatted the distinction between the sensory (the earth plane) and the eternal world (of ideas).

Early Christian theologians renamed this external world Heaven with its guiding principle as God. The Christians further borrowed from Aristotle the notion of God as the Prime Mover of the cosmos and the First Cause of everything that exists. Amazingly, those notions had never been seriously challenged until relatively recent by the modern philosophers. 

Take Descartes. When new scientific discoveries made him wonder ‘what can I know for certain’, he came to the famous conclusion ‘I think, therefore I am’. But his matrix still kept God as the first cause of – and the only link between – a bicameral universe where subjectivity – ‘I think’ –  was isolated from objectivity – ‘the world which I perceive’.

Next comes Hume who claims that the only thing that we can be certain of is the fact that there is an unbroken stream a subjective images and ideas. Under his ‘radical scepticism’, we can’t even be certain that there is something called the mind to contain these ideas because the mind is itself just another idea.

For Kant, one could only know the sensory world and only believe in any realm beyond that. Finally, Nietzsche came along and pronounced the ‘death of God’. This was a turning point where we could no longer legitimately argue that anything lies beyond the earth plane in which we live. This was the ‘dawning of the Age of Aquarius’.

[2] In Descartes’s matrix, which still underlies most modern thinking, the problem is due to the difference in kind between the mind and the body. While the non-spatial mind and the mechanistic body shouldn’t interact, they do so in the human body. In post-humanism, this problem is reworked and the distinction between subject and object is collapsed, with the mind considered to be no more than a material function of the body. Thus we will become both creator and the created.

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.

Astrological Anxiety (2)

This is the second in a series of blog posts based on the work of a fabulous astrologer, Acyuta-bhava from Nightlight Astrology. I’ve thrown in my two cents here and there as you might expect, but many thanks to Acyuta-bhava for having put this in place in the first place.

To this point, we’ve defined astrological anxiety as follows: ‘I’m warned in advance that a ‘cosmic weather front’ is coming through. OMG, what do I now do?’ In important respects, this anxiety is very much like the existential anxiety addressed by philosophers like Heidegger. As Heidegger reminds us, we expect life to progress with logical linearity over which we remain in conscious control at all times. 

That, however, is not how it works.

When we refuse to accept this, we get into big trouble. Religion is meant to keep us out of this trouble, yet it seems that more often it plunges us deeper in the thick of it. That’s because we fail to understand that true religion is not the same as organised religion. True religion, practiced everyday, helps us to connect with the divine. In the words of Heidegger, to accept that ‘time is no longer a reckonable sequence’ but instead, ‘an inexhaustible inescapable presence’. Organised religion tends to tempt us to move closer to this understanding only in great times of personal need and/or the major religious events/festivities like (for Christians), like Christmas and Easter. 

We often think that we don’t need religion because we tend to define it with the stuffy set of rules that came along with any religious upbringing/training we might have had as children. But in reality, however much we might like to think otherwise, the religious impulses – i.e., the impulse to connect with the divine plan – is innate – alive and well within us. 

When that impulse is thwarted, (or misdirected)  we not only feel bad (in the sense of suffering), but we tend to act out that impulse in ways that go over the top. For example, thwarted religious impulse can result in religious fanaticism and/or ‘drama queen’ displays of childish superiority. In other words, when our true religious impulse is thwarted, our emotions – the powerful passionate stuff, get channelled in ways (politics, money, obsessive dieting, securing the best schools for our kids, whatever) that do us more harm than ever they could do us good. 

This is where astrology comes in. 

Properly approached, astrology helps us to be sober about our lives in the sense that we make life choices in line with the divine plan, of which, like it or not, we remain an integral part. By its very nature, astrology, used correctly, should thus not make us anxious, but instead quietly confident that we are (or are not) on the right path.

By contrast, if astrology is causing us to stress out about the future, we are not approaching either it or our lives soberly. In this sense sobriety does not mean without great passion or pleasure. What it does mean is that we do not allow our need for great passion and pleasure to drive our lives. 

The upshot of this is that some people are simply not cut out for astrology – be they practitioners, students, or clients. The goal of astrology, handled correctly, is allow us to be content and steadfast in where we’re headed. The goal of astrology is not to aid us in expending energy to attain that which, for reasons we may never understand, is unattainable.

When you find yourself getting worked up about what comes next and asking astrology to help you prepare for it, you’d be better off leaving astrology – and indeed, all forms of divination – alone. 

Gateway to the Stars & the Winter Solstice

After dark this Winter Solstice (21 December 2020 at 10:03 GMT) take a walk outside and look up at the stars and think about how our whole solar system is on the move. In the time it takes you to read this post, the Sun, Earth, and all the other planets with which you are familiar (plus their moons) will have travelled 3600 km, or 2200 miles, through the Milky Way ever closer toward the Solar Apex.

The Solar Apex is a position sightly southwest of the bright, beautiful bright star, Vega, which once upon a time, around 12,000-10,000 BCE, was the pole star. Because Vega is found in the constellation of Lyra, the Harp of Orpheus, it cloaks everything associated with enchanting, other-worldly, charisma. Vega is linked with magic and divine spells and that Mozart, considered by many to be the greatest composer in history, was born with Vega rising is a fascinating testament to the spellbinding power of his beautiful music.

But perhaps the most fascinating of all is that like geographers use latitude and longitude to map out locations on earth, astronomers use similar measurements called Right Ascension and Declination to map locations in the skies. Although longitudes and latitudes are determined from the Earth’s equator and the 0 meridian at Greenwich, Right Ascension ‘begins’ at the crossing point of the Sun’s apparent path through the sky (the ecliptic) with the celestial equator, the point otherwise known as the Vernal Equinox (the first day of spring). 

It is beginning with this point that the 360 degrees of the Sun’s annual path are measured in terms of hours and minutes. The Solar Apex holds the position of about 18 hours of Right Ascension, which is the moment of the Winter Solstice, when the Sun enters the zodiac sign of Capricorn. 

This is this an important moment each and every year. For those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, it marks the time when the sun turns back toward us becoming increasingly stronger as the days grow increasingly longer. This year, this moment is even more monumental because Jupiter and Saturn come together by conjunction to start their historical shift into Aquarius. 

Least you think that this does not affect our everyday lives on earth, think again. When one of the slower moving planets such as Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, or Pluto crosses this point, even the stock or share markets react as Christeen Skinner reminds us in her excellent book, The Beginners Guide to the Financial Universe: An Introduction to the Role of the Sun, Moon, and Planets in Financial Markets. Both Saturn and Neptune crossed this point in 1987 and 1988 respectively, with Uranus following in 1989. As Skinner notes, you may wish to refresh yourself on the volatility demonstrated by the Dow Jones Index during those last years of the 1980’s. Least you are not yet convinced, when Pluto (slowest moving of all) crossed this point in 2008, we suffered a global financial crash. Skinner also predicts that when both Saturn and Neptune will be at the apparent right angle to the Solar Apex in 2026 (a highly unusual moment) , we might well expect a sharp decline in index values again over a period of a few months.

What might this all mean for our solar system to be sucked, as if by an enormous magnet, toward Vega, the former pole star, located in the constellation of Lyra the Harp of Orpheus? I don’t know about you, but I’m tempted to guess it might have something to do with ‘Judgement Day’ or a massive reevaluation and realignment. Certainly this is what happened with the financial markets. This is also because in 12,000-10,000 BCE, Vega was also known as Maat, the great Egyptian goddess who, after weighing souls on her scales of justice, moved them from one life to another and by the way, Vega will also be the pole star again in about 11,500 CE. Other-worldly charisma and engagement indeed. 

Happy Solstice!

A Study in Existential Philosophy (Part 1)

My summer reading:  Willem Barrett’s 1959 classic, Irrational Man, A Study in Existential Philosophy.

From the beginning, Barrett reminds us that contrary to popular belief, the groundwork for Existentialism was not laid in the cafes and bars of 20th century Paris but much earlier, with the 16th century Protestant Reformation. With the iconoclasm that accompanied that movement, the psychic underpinnings of man’s here-to-fore meaningful cradle to grave lives was cast adrift. This left man face-to-face with ‘nothingness’, a stark and shocking reality that in the 19th century, both Kierkegaard and Nietzsche made perfectly clear.

Both 20th century secularism and capitalism hastened our demise. By the mid-1950’s, when Barrett was writing, a new car or TV set delivered American men and women more meaning in their lives than ever could God. Onward forges capitalism until we find ourselves devoid of anything tangible to which we can hold except faceless corporations, sprawling factories, and of course, the next pay check.

By this time, it becomes obvious there is nothing left of the pious medievalist, much less classical Greek man. According to Barrett, modern man remains a mere fragment – a bare skeleton, of that long-ago man that as we are told in Genesis, was created by God in His own image. American president Donald Trump with recent his photo-op with the Bible, aptly sums this up for most, it’s not a pretty picture.

This is because with that picture, it becomes abundantly clear that we are an abstraction, at best, of what once we were. What’s worse, because of the inevitability of evolution, we cannot turn the tide. Now the gateway home to paradise, the Garden of Eden, is well and truly closed and locked. It is with this stark realization that we now all enjoy what the Existentialists have coined ‘angst’ or a deep seated, irrefutable, insatiable anxiety.

(to be continued)

Happy Easter

Easter is the perfect time to remember how the doctrine of resurrection (i.e. life after death) leads straight to that of judgement, which like Karma, leads to the moment when the rewards for your past efforts manifest.

Sounds scary?

Not really, at least not if we also remember that the wisdom of the Tarot suggests that for those who’ve met certain preconditions, judgement is a time of healing. So what are those preconditions? The symbolism on the card itself makes this clear.

The three individuals being resurrected from this square-shaped grave embody the trinity of the divinity which is now freed from the quaternity of the earthly world. This suggests that which is authentic, essential, and divine in you will be finally liberated but only to the extent you have been true to your heart, your humanity, and to your ‘higher self’.

Astrologically, this brings us to the Sun.

According to Ficino (1433-1499), the consummate Renaissance man, the Sun is the image of the ‘heart’ of all life and especially that of our psyche. As such, the Sun symbolizes insight and imagination, those qualities considered to be uniquely human. Thus solar energy is associated with consciousness, rational thought, and the pursuit of honour – the ‘higher Self’ – the wind vane that directs our key decisions. Most importantly, the sun is associated with the divinity of spirit in all things, bringing them to life, fertilizing them, and providing all that is necessary for them to thrive and grow.

In the Kabbalah, the 6th sephirah known as Tiphareth and associated with the ‘Christ’, lies at the exact center of the Kabbalistic Tree. Thus it is in Tiphareth that soul and body, self and ego, higher consciousness and personality merge. 

Astrologically, Tiphareth is associated with the Sun as well as the heart-chakra. Not surprisingly then, as both the Kabbalah and Ficino remind us, the Sun, or Tiphareth, is the seat of our humanity, our ‘higher selves’.

What can you do with this?

The energy of this long Easter weekend is predominately that of the Sun in Aries, or the ‘higher self’, making a challenging square aspect to Pluto, the Lord of transfiguration, death and rebirth. If ever there was time a time to get in touch with how your ego (shadow side of the Sun) stifles your humanity, you higher Self, it’s right now.

Key to this is realizing that personalization is not the same as passion, which itself figures heavily into Easter imagery. The word Passion comes for the Latin word for suffering and so it is little surprise that with Easter, we celebrate the Passion of Christ, the betrayal, arrest, trial, and suffering of Jesus which ends with his death on the cross.

Sure, you need to have conviction in what you do and love for those for whom you do it. That’s passion!  By contrast, personalization – i.e. it’s all about me – only fans the flames of ego and hubris and that’s dangerous especially at this time. Use this time on this Easter to ensure your own resurrection by getting in touch with your humanity so as to be your best version of yourself.

Christmas Stories

Is the story about a baby named Jesus born to a virgin named Mary on the 25th December in a manger in Bethlehem literally true?

Doubtful.

Even the Bible provides plainly conflicting nativity narratives. In the Gospel of Matthew we have a magnificent star and three wise men bearing gifts. Yet, nowhere in that text do we encounter a manger. For that we require the story as told in the Gospel of Luke. But there, unfortunately, the gift-bearing wise men have been replaced by shepherds and that magnificent star morphed into an angel. Although some gloss over this inconsistency, academically minded theologians do not. They have always accepted that where these stories conflict, then at least one of them cannot be literally true.

Realising that understanding the Word of God requires more than the literality of the texts, early and medieval Christian scholars developed the allegorical method of reading scripture.

By the time of Thomas Aquinas in the 13th century, the four levels of hermeneutic, by which scripture is still interpreted had become widely accepted:

  • The letter teaches you the facts,
  • Allegory what you should believe,
  • Morality how you should act,
  • Anagoge what to hope for.

The idea was to bring the Old and New Laws (Testaments) into unity through a double structure of prophecy.

Since the events of the Old Testament prefigure the mission of Christ, the Old Law is a prophecy of the New (allegory). In turn, the New Law is a prophecy of the Kingdom of Heaven upon Earth at the Second Coming (anagoge). Understanding the allegories of the Bible is also the gateway to the moral meaning of the various stories and a guide to Christian conduct (tropological or moral image of the ‘Truth’). For ordinary priests, who might find the four levels hermeneutic unduly challenging, standard interpretations of Bible stories were devised to aid with the anagogic (mystery interpretations).

But this was does not mean that you need to accept these standard stories as the ‘gospel truth’.

For example, the facts pertaining to the life of Jesus as we know them could be interpreted as a patchwork of events in the lives of those who came before him: born to a carpenter and a virgin, like Krishna; born on the 25th December, like Mithras: announced by a star in the East, like Horus: walking on water and feeding five thousand from a small basket, like Buddha; performing miracles, like Pythagoras; raising the dead, like Elisha; executed on a tree, like Adonis; and ascending to Heaven like Hercules, Enoch, and Elijah.

Looking at the Nativity through a similar lens, then in Mary we might sense the presence of Isis; in Joseph, we might see Osiris, the patriarch with the crooked staff. How about finding the luminous babe in the manger to be like Krishna? We can even find the ox in the zodiac sign of Taurus and the ass in the zodiac sign of Aires, both ages leading to the, then, new Age of Pisces. 

What if the guiding star of the wise men is the spirit of Zarathustra or the angel announcing the birth, the spirit of the Buddha? What if one of the wise men was Pythagoras reincarnated? What if the wise men had been initiated by the prophet, Daniel? What if instead of one Jesus, there were two as depicted in the Leonardo Cartoon in London’s National Gallery as well as on the north portal at Chartres?

What if…, well, I think that you get the idea.

May peace be with you this holiday season and may hermeneutics take you as far as you’re willing to go.

The Christmas Star (Part IV)

The Christmas Star is one of the holiday season’s most fascinating and enduring stories. Yet even today, astronomers remain uncertain as to the precise nature of the heavenly event that inspired it.

In a series of blog posts, I’ll be reviewing some key pieces of evidence supporting several of the most likely contenders along with some traditional and not so traditional interpretations. 


Previously

A few days ago, we investigated the messianic biblical prophecy of Balaam (Numbers 24.17) and how it may be connected, through the Magi, to one of the strongest contenders, a triple Saturn/Jupiter conjunction in Pisces in 06/07 BC. 

Yet, because such conjunctions are not really all that rare, the question then became whether or not something else might have been going on. There was and it had to do with how the Magi referred to only as an amorphous group became three. Not only that, but these three magi, or wise men brought gifts. They also saved the baby Jesus from the clutches of blood-thirsty Kind Herod.

But just when the political machinations of this story found in the Gospel of Matthew reached its peak, we had to consider a completely different version, that found in the Gospel of Luke. Gone now is all reference to the magi, their gifts, Herod, and even our Christmas Star. We are instead presented with shepherds, an angel, and a ‘concerned’ Mary and Joseph.

Veering away from astrological interpretations, early Christian writers steered followers toward seeing the Christmas star as a miracle, free from any heavenly signs and accompanying ideas of fate or destiny. This naturally led to the suggestion that the heavenly event in question was a comet, for which there seemed sufficient historical and biblical evidence.

Yet this interpretation created its own set of problems, not the least of which involved the symbol of the virgin Mary giving birth with the crescent moon under her feet (as described in Revelations). Add to that no one had yet managed to fit the pericope of Luke, with the shepherds and an angel rather than Magi and a star into the picture, and everything seems a right muddle.


Although tempting, it would be a mistake to view this through a modern lens.


Hellenistic thinking

There is significant evidence that along with the rest of the New Testament, both the Gospel of Matthew and Luke were originally penned in Greek. This suggests that Hellenistic thinking, including Hellenistic astrology, itself laden with anthropomorphic Mesopotamian sky narratives, probably influenced these biblical texts.

This is important.

Not only were the constellations comprising the Mesopotamian zodiac different from those of our modern zodiac,  but celestial prophecy regarding that zodiac was not only prevalent, but also taken seriously.

In his book, Astrological Reports to Assyrian Kings, Hermann Hunger, an Austrian authority on Babylonian astrology and celestial omens, provides several relevant examples:

  • ‘If the stars of Orion [known to the Babylonians as The Shepherd of Anu] keep gaining radiance: an important person will become too mighty and commit evil. – Venus stands in front of Orion.”
  • The priest Bullutu records a bright Venus in the ‘Crook’, known later as Auriga, the Charioteer and writes of this combination, ‘the foundation of the throne will become stable.’
  • ‘If Orion [known to the Babylonians as The Shepherd of Anu] comes close to the moon; the days of the reign of the king will become long…’
  • ‘If Ada thunders in the middle of Taurus [the Cosmic Bull], the king will conquer a country not belonging to him.’

Putting it all together

On 1 May 7 BC, there was a new moon along with the first of the three Jupiter/Saturn conjunctions.
  • Immediately afterwards, the planet Venus, as the evening star, was just above the crescent moon, in the stars of the Shepherd of Anu,
  • While the Sun, the king, was in Taurus just setting at the horizon, close by.
  • We now have all the elements central to the nativity pericope in Luke: shepherds, cattle, and a stable (as foundation of the throne).


In Venus, the evening star, we may also have found the ‘woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet’ as noted in Revelations 12:1-5 (RSV).

Could it be that in some sense, both the apparently conflicting bible versions (Luke and Matthew) of the birth of could be true, as sky narratives, recording through visual celestial symbolism the story of the birth of the Christ and the attendant Christmas Star?

Better yet, should any or all of this be considered as having fulfilled the prophecy of Balaam:

…a star shall come for out of Jacob and a sceptre shall rise out of Israel…

Numbers 24:17 (RSV)

Interesting, the word ‘sceptre’ originally meant a rod or staff. In the Old Testament, it was thus specifically applied to the shepherd’s crook, which was considered an insignia of supreme power:

And all the tithe of herds and flocks, every tenth animal of all that pass under the herdsman’s staff, shall be holy to the Lord.

Leviticus 27:32 (RSV)

Shepherd thy people with thy staff, the flock of thy inheritance…

Micah 7:14 (RSV)

The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until he comes to whom it belongs; and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples.

Genesis 49:10 (RSV)

Conclusion

As it is impossible to reach any definitive inclusions about the real nature of the Christmas Star, I invite you to consider what has been presented over this four-part series of posts and make up your own minds as how best to interpret all the possibilities and the evidence. Also, when you next sing about shepherds who watch their flocks or three kings bearing gifts, I invite you to consider the cultural role that such celestial symbolism still plays 2,000 years after the historical event that it depicts.