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Athanasius Kircher

Athanasius Kirchers Theatre of the World: The Life and Work of the Last Man to Search for Universal Knowledge by Joscelyn Godwin (Inner Traditions) Linguist, archaeologist, and exceptional scholar, Athanasius Kircher (1602-1680) was the last true Renaissance man.  By profession a Jesuit priest, he made himself an authority on almost every subject under the sun.  To Kircher the entire world was a glorious manifestation of God, and his exploration was both a scientific quest and a religious experience.  His works on Egyptology (he is credited with being the first Egyptologist), music, optics, magnetism, geology, and comparative religion were the definitive tests of their time--and yet they represent only a part of his vast range of knowledge.  A Christian Hermeticist in the mold of Marsilio Ficino and Pico della Mirandola, his work also examined alchemy, the Kabbalah, and the Egyptian Mystery tradition exemplified by Hermes Trismegistus.  Kircher was the first to map ocean currents; the first to offer a comprehensive theory of vulcanism; the first to compile an encyclopedia on China, a dictionary of Coptic, a book dedicated solely to acoustics; the first to construct a machine for coding messages and another for composing music.  His museum in Rome was among the most famous "cabinets of curiosities," visited by everybody in the intellectual world.

The Hermetic cast of Kircher's thought, which was foreign to the concerns of those propelling the Age of Reason, coupled with the breadth of his interests, caused many of his contributions to be widely overlooked--an oversight now masterfully rectified by Joscelyn Godwin. It has been said that Kircher could think only in images. While this is an exaggeration, 400 of the stunning engravings that are a distinguishing feature of his work are included here so we may fully appreciate, learn from, and see for ourselves the life work, philosophy, and achievements of "the last man who knew everything."

JOSCELYN GODWIN, musicologist and translator, is a professor of music at Colgate University. He first explored the life and work of Athanasius Kircher in 1979 in his book A Renaissance Man and the Quest for Lost Knowledge.  Godwin was educated at Cambridge and Cornell Universities and has authored and edited many books on Hermeticism and music, including Music, Mysteries and Magic: A Sourcebook; The Golden Thread, The Harmonies of Heaven and Earth, and Arktos: The Polar Myth.  He is also known for his translations of the works of such figures as Fabre d'Olivet and Julius Evola and the first complete English translation of Francesco Colonna's Hypnerotomachia Poliphili. He lives in New York state.

Excerpt: Athanasius Kircher stands out against the background of his time like some rugged headland jutting into the sea — perhaps one of those formations in which the imaginative eye discerns a monstrous face. The tides swirl busily around it, but it stands aloof, proud, and oblivious of the erosion of its base. Then, one day, it collapses. A few rocks remain visible at low tide, but for the rest the seas wash over it as though it had never been.

That, with a little poetic exaggeration, has been Kircher's fate among the tides of history. Held in awe during his lifetime for his universal knowledge, he died an all but forgotten curiosity. His books were occasionally noticed, maybe for the wrong reasons but for ones to which we heartily subscribe. No longer were they repositories of ultimate wisdom: they became portals into a land in which truth is no longer the quarry. Wonderland has its own truths, one of which is the irony with which it helps us view our own.

There is a kind of tourism of the past that consists in visiting mental monuments, especially the ones most different from those at home. This book is an invitation to visit Kircher's mind, to whose quirks, dreams and inventions his illustrators gave memorable form. What did he think and feel as he leafed through his own books, hot off the press? To what inner world, what quality of soul, did these images serve as windows? And did his readers feel the same?

Up to a point, the answer must be yes. Kircher's books, if they did not achieve immortality, won the penultimate accolade of commercial success, as they poured by the cartload from the presses of Rome and Amsterdam. He had his legions of readers and, at need, defenders, especially in his own militant order, the Society of Jesus. What he was doing struck a certain chord, though one increasingly at variance with the predominant harmonies. Even after his time there were those who preferred his style, and tried to replay the tremendous concords of his certainty. For others, and they have had the last word, it was this certainty that, turning to hubris, ensured his eclipse.

René Descartes (1596-1650), raised like Kircher by the Jesuits and no less a Catholic, proposed that philosophy should make a fresh start on the basis, not of inherited certainties but of doubt. Although nearly all of Descartes' pet theories were discarded — for example, the existence of 'innate ideas', the mind—body connection at the pineal gland, the mechanistic biology that sees animals as machines, the arguments for the existence of God—his philosophical method was something so new, so stimulating, that it fathered an entire genealogy of philosophers, who now constitute the canon. Like him, they sought a philosophizing free from sacred authority, free from erudition and the wisdom of the ancients, in fact free from everything that Kircher revered.

While Descartes led a reclusive and shifting life, mostly outside France, his best friend and agent was Marin Mersenne (1588-1648), a friar of the Order of Minims. As firmly based in his Paris convent as Kircher would be in the Collegium Romanum, Mersenne's first mission was to purge the learned world of any taint of Hermetism and magic, using as his vehicle a stupendous commentary on Genesis. This task accomplished, his work lay on the borderline between philosophy and science. He found that experimental science was best advanced by assuming a mechanistic philosophy and employing a mathematical approach. These would become cornerstones of the scientific method, as would be the very idea that science advances, with its consequent future-centred attitude. Mersenne was also one of the century's great net-workers, corresponding with the learned of Europe and coordinating their researches. It was he who introduced Galileo's work to France after the great scientist's condemnation, and with it the debate over the Copernican system and the shortcomings of Aristotelian physics.

Aristotle had few friends in this era, outside the schoolrooms. The new experimental scientists discredited one after another of his dogmas, whether concerning the disposition of the heavens, the laws of physics, or the physiology of animals. At the same time, adepts of the magical, alchemical and Hermetic philosophies reproved Aristotle for having rejected the higher wisdom, as they saw it, of his master Plato.

Mersenne's deathbed was attended by his friend and fellow priest Pierre Gassendi (1592-1655), another of the circle of mechanistic philosophers. To Aristotle's four elements, Gassendi opposed another classical system, the atomic theory of Epicurus, which would prove a lasting model for chemistry if not for physics. He also joined Mersenne in polemics against Robert Fludd (1574-1637), the Paracelsian doctor whose devotion to the World-Soul and the Hermetic doctrine of correspondences (which we will find in its ripest development in Kircher) seemed to them worse even than the stultified Aristotelianism of the schools.

These French philosophers helped to form an intellectual climate in which both philosophy and science could get on with their business without interference from religious dogmas on the one hand, or occult beliefs on the other. This business was what Francis Bacon (1561-1626) had defined as the `Great Instauration', the restoration of humanity to its birthright of command over nature. Bacon's combination of commonsense philosophy with the experimental method, which he was the first to define, made him the godfather of the Scientific Revolution. From Bacon came the inductive principle of using experiments to discover the laws of nature, rather than taking the laws as already known; and also the assumption that progress in scientific knowledge is useful to mankind. His fictitious travelogue The New Atlantis, with its depiction of a utopia blessed with advanced technology, was an inspiration to the groups that would later coalesce to form the Royal Society.

These men all managed to avoid the collision of their philosophies with the religious authorities, unlike the two famous victims of the latter: Giordano Bruno (1548-160o) and Galileo Galilei (1564-1642). Although Bruno was originally a Dominican monk, he developed a mystic pantheism coloured by Hermeticism and magic, and a corresponding contempt for Judeo-Christian doctrines. Straying over into astronomy, he accepted the Copernican doctrine on metaphysical grounds (the sun being the proper centre of all), and went further to posit the infinity of the universe and the plurality of worlds. These notions threatened the biblical creation story and the scheme of Christian salvation, both of which presupposed a single world and a single Incarnation. For his obduracy in promoting his doctrines, he was burned at the stake.

Galileo escaped Bruno's fate but was condemned in 1633 to permanent house arrest. Strictly speaking, his offence was not his embrace of the heliocentric system, which had been given its latest and most persuasive form by Nicolaus Copernicus (1473-1543), a Polish churchman. It was Galileo's presumption, as a layman, to interpret the Bible so as to make it fit. This is what got him into trouble with the Church in 1616, from which he emerged with a mere caution, forbidden to 'hold, teach or defend' the theory. What caused much worse trouble was his disobedience when in 1632 he published his Dialogue on the Two World Systems. The accession to the papacy of his patron Maffeo Barberini (1568-1644; Pope from 1623) and the encouragement of his friends had emboldened him to believe the decree of 1616 past history. It was not. Galileo's mockery of the modern Aristotelians who dominated the universities had already made him enemies, and the ludicrous character in his book who defended the geocentric system seemed an outright insult to the Pope, who happened to hold that opinion.

Bruno and Galileo were minds of the very first order, self-confident, impatient with stupidity and ultimately foolhardy. This is not to excuse the religious establishment that made martyrs of them, far from it. But it does help one to appreciate the skill of Kircher and others similarly gifted, who steered through those perilous rapids unharmed. At what cost of personal integrity and the cohabitation of contrary beliefs, we shall never know, but we cannot blame them.

Galileo's achievement was twofold. First, he proved the power of technology to extend the reach of the senses and gather information from which natural laws could be induced. This he did by training his telescope on the sun, moon and planets, and noticing phenomena that could only be 'saved' (i.e. explained), by discarding the Aristotelian dogma of perfect and immutable heavens, and the Ptolemaic system that placed the earth motionless at the centre of the universe. Second, he showed that problems in physics and mechanics are best solved by mathematical methods.

None of this was of much importance to Kircher's type of science. Certainly it was experimental, but the end result of his experiments was not so much the advancement of knowledge as the making of some new machine to entertain a patron or adorn his Museum. He never paid much attention to the possibilities of the telescope or the microscope, preferring the more dramatic effects of magnetism and the magic lantern. When Christiaan Huygens (1629-1695) revolutionized the science of timekeeping in 1657 by inventing the pendulum clock, Kircher was still busy devising new sundials.

Galileo's condemnation and abjuration sent a shudder through the 'Republic of Letters', as Europe's relatively freethinking savants called themselves. Among his defenders, to the point of protesting to the Pope, was Nicolas-Claude Fabri de Peiresc (1580-1637). A member of the regional parliament of Aix-en-Provence, Peiresc was one of the Republic's chief nodes, somewhat as Mersenne was and as Kircher would become. In fact, it was Kircher who brought him the bad news about Galileo in August 1633.

With Peiresc, the emphasis moves from the natural sciences to the sciences of the past, such as chronology, philology, archaeology, palaeography and numismatics. The raw materials here are not simply knowledge, but the tangible remnants of antiquity, and in the place of the experimental scientist is the collector, which Peiresc was and, again, Kircher would be. With them came the transition from the cabinet of curiosities — the Kunst- and Wunderkammer — to the study collection that we know as a museum. Peiresc's most precious possessions were his manuscripts in oriental languages, and much of his correspondence and organizing skill went into acquiring them and finding experts to study them. Kircher was one such expert, whom Peiresc valued chiefly as a pioneer of Coptic studies. Yet the fact that Kircher was snatched from Peiresc's research team in order to become a professor of mathematics shows how irrelevant was the notion of specialization. All of the people mentioned so far were intellectual omnivores, collecting knowledge with no concept of today's disciplinary boundaries. As the telescope and microscope extended the sense of sight, the early museums were tools for the extension of the mind beyond its natural limits of time and space. A collection of coins might yield clues about ancient dynasties, and these in turn could be correlated with the Bible to arrive at a more accurate picture of the past. Artefacts from the Indies or the Americas, from Africa or the Ottoman Empire, bore witness to peoples formerly beyond the ken of Europeans, to their peculiar habits and beliefs; and these, too, could be used to supplement the skimpy account of the population of the globe as given in Genesis.

In the Republic of Letters, Catholics and Protestants alike agreed with Galileo that the Bible was not given to mankind in order to teach us science, but to show the way to salvation. However, while this attitude spelled freedom for physics, mechanics and even astronomy, it did not benefit the sciences of the past. The book of Genesis spoke unambiguously of the Creation in six days, the ages of the patriarchs, the universal deluge and the origin of languages. No interpretation that respected the numbers in that text could yield a creation date of more than six thousand years ago. Even Isaac Newton (1642-1727) accepted it, as he spent his old age poring over chronology and its counterpart, prophecy. Until this time barrier was broken, no progress was possible in understanding the processes of geology or astronomy, the taxonomy of animals and plants, the development of human capabilities and languages, the populating of the globe, the origin and extinction of species, to say nothing of evolution. Kircher's efforts were therefore doomed to obsolescence.

Newton, of course, was a heliocentrist. Living when and where he did, he did not fear the fate of Galileo or feel obliged, like Kircher and Gassendi, to sign on to the compromise system of Tycho Brahe (1546-1601), according to which the planets move around the sun while the sun moves around the static earth. More important to Newton were the discoveries and conclusions of Tycho's assistant Johann Kepler (1571-1630), who had broken the perfect circles that shaped all previous cosmologies (including Copernicus's). Through a dogged devotion to accuracy in observation and tabulation, Kepler had been led to the conclusion that the planets move in elliptical orbits, with the sun at one of their foci. His further conclusion, that God planned the proportions of their orbits on the basis of musical consonances, did not long survive, but it goes to show the continued relevance, to some scientists, of the classical as well as the biblical past. In this case, it was the Pythagorean doctrine of the Harmony of the Spheres, an important element of Kircher's cosmology and one which Newton, too, believed to conceal true physical principles.

The informal groups and corresponding circles of the earlier seventeenth century gave way in the latter part to more formal academies. The Accademia del Cimento, founded in Florence in 1657, continued in the tradition of its native son Galileo, and enjoyed the protection and participation of the Medici. It set the new style in which all religious issues were set aside, as was all reliance on Aristotelian or scholastic authority. The emphasis was solely on making experiments and evaluating the results (cimento means `assaying'). England followed in 1665 with the Royal Academy, whose name indicates its level of patronage; France in 1666 with the Académie des Sciences, founded by Jean-Baptiste Colbert with royal assent. While they served a certain national pride, these academies were international in membership and scope. The first secretary of the Royal Academy was a German, Henry Oldenburg (1619-1677); Christiaan Huygens, who was brought to Paris as the new institution's chief research fellow, was a Dutch Protestant.

The academies instituted a new way of gathering and diffusing knowledge that has remained valid to the present day. Through collaborative research, peer review (instituted by Oldenburg) and periodical publication, findings could be shared, commented on and added to in a continuous self-correcting process. Kircher's method of compiling facts through erudition and correspondence and enshrining them in encyclopaedic works could not compete. While the motor of the new science was conversation, Kircher's was a monologue. At the same time, though, he had the advantage of the Society of Jesus, unequalled in its numbers, educational level and worldwide distribution.

The Society had many scientists and scholars in its ranks, but for all their brilliance, furthering science and scholarship was not their prime purpose. Their founder, Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556), hoped to win the whole world for Christ. This first meant converting the heathens, notably Spain's nearest neighbours, the Muslims of North Africa. With the voyages of discovery, the field expanded commensurately, and the Society's missions were soon installed throughout the Old and New Worlds. But making Christians out of heathens was not enough. In Europe, the order lent its energies to the Counter-Reformation, whereby the Catholic Church tried by all means to suppress the rising tide of Protestantism.

Jesuit education had two levels. First, the colleges prepared the Society's members for a life of total devotion to the Christian cause. This included a thorough grounding in the arts and sciences, in theology, and in a system of self-discipline through Ignatius's 'Spiritual Exercises'. Second, there were the schools for laypeople, which were always of such a high quality that even Protestants would send their sons to them. The Jesuits valued learning; they regarded the world as potentially good, and worth knowing and enjoying, though they themselves, as soldiers of Christ, were indifferent to its pleasures. They also knew the appeal of the arts to the human mind and emotions. Drama, music, poetry and the visual arts all played a part in Jesuit education, though never lacking a moral or religious subtext.

Kircher was educated, worked and died in this spiritual hothouse. But in the world outside the Society he spent ten years as a refugee, and the rest of his adult life as an emigrant. His native Germany was devastated before his eyes in the series of conflicts known as the Thirty Years War.

Ever since 1555, with the Peace of Augsburg, the Catholic and Lutheran principalities of Germany had coexisted under the principle that each ruler should determine the form of Christianity to be followed by his or her subjects. (If Kircher had been born a few miles away, say in Calvinist Schmalkalden, his life would have taken a very different course.) The policy of conformity led to resentment among dissenters, especially the Calvinists who had not been included in the original settlement. Leagues were formed, nominally in self-defence against possible attack by the other side.

The Bohemian nobility set the spark to the tinder when in 1619 they elected Frederick Count Palatine, a Calvinist, as their king. This made possible a Protestant majority among the seven traditional Electors of the Holy Roman Emperor (the Count Palatine of the Rhine and the King of Bohemia; the Duke of Saxony and the Margrave of Brandenburg, already Protestants; and the Catholic Archbishops of Cologne, Mainz and Trier). It was a situation that the fanatical Ferdinand of Styria, heir presumptive to the imperial throne, could not countenance. His suppression of the Bohemian rebels led to general war, with Denmark, Sweden and eventually France entering against the Empire and Spain. Much of the fighting was done by mercenary soldiers, who left unimaginable misery throughout much of present-day Germany.

What is most surprising, considering the wholesale slaughter, famine, disease and destruction ofproperty, is the cultural achievement of those Germans who stayed behind. For instance, in 1617 Leopold von Anhalt-Köthen (15791650), who had been admitted to the Accademia della Crusca while in Italy, founded a society in emulation of that literary academy. This, the Fruchtbringende Gesellschaft (Fruitful Society'), existed to further the German language as a proper vehicle for literature and scholarship. It met in Köthen with few interruptions for the duration of the war, counting among its members most of the century's important literary figures. Among the most eminent was Martin Opitz (1597-1639), who translated the ideals of Italian humanist poetry into his native tongue, and with the composer Heinrich Schatz (1585167z) created the first German opera (Dafne,1627). Schutz, the greatest German composer up to his time, served the Saxon electoral court in Dresden from 1615 until his death, except for a few years spent in Italy and Denmark. Andreas Gryphius (1616-1664) and Hans Jakob Christoffel von Grimmelshausen (16211676) grew up amid the turmoil to emerge, respectively, as the exemplary poet and dramatist, and the first novelist of the German baroque. The Lutheran pastor and mystical writer Johann Valentin Andreae (1586-1654), who in his youth helped to create the myth of the Rosicrucians, twice lost his home and his library. He fled to the independent city of Nuremberg, and returned to pass the last decade of the war as court preacher in Stuttgart. Thanks to these and many lesser lights, the postwar generation of Dietrich Buxtehude (1637-1707) and Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz (1646-1716) did not arise from a vacuum.

The Peace of Westphalia (1648) ended the war with a complicated transfer of territory, money and blame, and with Habsburg power, both Spanish and Austrian, much diminished. It was immediately followed by dire events in two of Europe's chief monarchies. In England, King Charles I was beheaded (1649) and the interregnum of the Commonwealth began. France witnessed the 'Fronde' (1648-1653), a sequence of skirmishes between the monarchy (represented, in the king's minority, by Cardinal Mazarin), certain nobles and the parliament. The English monarchy was restored with Charles II (ruled 1660-1685), and in 1661 Louis XIV (ruled 1643-1715) took over absolute power.

As for the Holy Roman Empire, its story was one of gradual decline. It did not exactly lose the Thirty Years War, but it had begun it with the high ambitions of Ferdinand II (ruled 1619-1637) to restore the entire empire to the Catholic faith; and it ended it with Ferdinand III (ruled 1637-1657) conceding to the German princes the right to conduct their own foreign and internal affairs. Conflicts with the France of Louis XIV and the assaults of the Ottoman Turks on its eastern borders blighted the reign of Leopold I (ruled 1657-1705), though none of this prevented all three emperors from generously supporting artists, musicians and scholars.

For the second half of the war, Kircher was secure in his Roman home, and a spectator of one of the most grandiose periods of papal rule. The Papal States had grown ever since the popes returned from Avignon, and now they stretched from Terracina, south of Rome, to Bologna and Ferrara in the north, Rimini and Ancona on the Adriatic coast: an area larger than the Grand Duchy of Tuscany. The south of the peninsula, Sicily, Sardinia and the Duchy of Milan belonged to the Spanish Habsburgs and were ruled from Naples by a Viceroy. France dominated the northwest in an unhappy series of invasions. The Republics of Genoa and Venice maintained their independence, though their great days of controlling the trade routes were over.

The Pope was thus responsible not just for the Church but for a state, with all the headaches and expenses of raising armies, fortifying his cities and keeping the nobles in check. Whereas in most states, dynastic rule ensured continuity, the papacy lurched in succession around the great Roman families, each using the enormous papal income to further its wealth and status. That is why Rome boasts so many outsize palaces, notably (from our period) Palazzo Barberini, built by Urban VIII; Palazzo Pamphili on Piazza Navona, built by Innocent X; and Palazzo Chigi (now a seat of government), acquired by Alexander VII. Patronage of the arts and culture was part and parcel of this ambition, in which each Pope sought to make his reign more glorious than the last. The competition stopped, however, with the three last Popes of Kircher's lifetime: Clement IX, Clement X and Innocent XI. They were respectively too short-reigned, too old and too earnest to behave as their predecessors had done, and papal largesse was never the same again.

Outside Europe, the great voyages of discovery were over, the heyday of colonization not yet begun. The seventeenth century was the great era of the missionaries, who established themselves in the wake of the trade routes. The Jesuits rivalled the Franciscans in their global reach, and easily exceeded them in their curiosity and penetration of native cultures. There were Jesuit missions — and martyrs — all over the New World, from Tierra del Fuego to Canada. In Asia and Africa, their fortunes were affected by the rivalry of the Portuguese and Dutch, but wherever Portugal was installed, notably in Goa on the southeast coast of India, Jesuit churches rose in astonishing echoes of baroque Rome. For a while the Society's envoys were welcome at the court of the Mughal Emperor, ruler of most of India, and at that of the Emperor of China. Their monuments remain in Macao on the Chinese coast, and in the Philippines. In Japan they were at first tolerated, then cruelly put down.

Kircher, who lacked nothing in stamina or physical and moral courage, yearned to be a missionary but was denied his ambition. So for all his global vision, he never saw much of the world. Perhaps this is one reason that he was prone to believe every report that came in his mailbag. But it is this that makes him so fascinating, and, for all his apparent oddness, probably more representative of his times than any of the canonized saints of progress.

Kircher has a fair claim to be the most learned savant of his age. His works on Egyptology, music, optics, magnetism, geology, linguistics and comparative religion were each definitive for their time. But history has not been kind to him, for several reasons. First, he wrote only in Latin, while other scholars were turning to the vernacular. Second, the breadth of his interests makes it almost impossible to appreciate his work as a whole. Third, his adherence to a Christian Hermetism rooted his thought in a set of assumptions that the world of science and learning was already discarding. Yet while his work was a tardy monument to the Renaissance ideal of universal knowledge, its celebration of the natural world opened new fields of study that heralded the age of secular science.

Kircher was born in Geisa, near the city of Fulda in that little-known region at the geographical centre of today's Germany. He writes in his autobiography' that he began life at three in the morning on the Feast of Saint Athanasius, 2 May 1602 —hence his name, which is Greek for 'immortal'. His father, Johann Kircher, had worked until 1599 as an Amstvogt (bailiff) in Haselstein, administering affairs and justice for the local lord, the Prince-Abbot of Fulda. Then he moved to Geisa for a two-year period as Stadtschultheiss (mayor), before retiring into private life on his comfortable fortune.' Athanasius was the last of nine children from Johann's marriage with Anna Gansheck, daughter of a burgher from Fulda.

Two snapshots of Fulda history lend grim colour to these bland facts. From 1602 to 1606, under the rule of the witch-hunter Balthasar Nuss, no fewer than 26o witches were burned in that city.' During the same four years, the Prince-Abbot Balthasar von Dernbach expelled the Protestants (Lutherans and Calvinists) from Fulda, and the small town of Geisa, formerly of mixed religion, was formally 'recatholicized'.

Kircher's autobiography takes no note of the atmosphere of sectarian hatred and paranoia that must have overshadowed his childhood. From his account, it was a time filled with adventure, in which his pride and curiosity repeatedly led to a fall, to prayer and then to a miraculous rescue. At least four times he escaped an early death: from being caught in a mill-race; from falling under the feet of racing horses; from getting lost in a forest; and from gangrene contracted while skating. Already in his youth he felt favoured by God and marked out for some special destiny — perhaps even sainthood, for as Anton Haakman, most sly and perceptive of Kircherians, observes, 'Kircher wrote his very own hagiography, taking care to insert a number of miracles sufficient for canonization"

Kircher was first educated by his father, now retired and the possessor of a fine library. At the age of ten or eleven he was sent in the footsteps of his brothers to the Jesuits' Gymnasium in Fulda, a school of some 50o boys. Before he left at the age of 16, he had learned Latin, Greek and Hebrew, and presumably at some point had made the lifetime commitment to a monastic career. After failing in his first application, to the Jesuit College in Mainz, he was admitted as a novice to the college at Paderborn in 1618.7

By 162o his novitiate was completed and his first vows taken, but the onset of the Thirty Years War interrupted his education. The advance of the fiercely anti-Jesuit Duke Christian of Brunswick prompted him, with two companions, to flee in January 1622. They struggled for three days through deep snow, penniless and begging their food, until a Catholic nobleman took them in. After a week at the Jesuit College at Münster they were advised to continue to Cologne. Passing through Düsseldorf they came to the frozen Rhine and proceeded to cross it. Halfway across, a piece of ice broke loose and Kircher was carried away on it. His companions expected never to see him again. But he succeeded in swimming through the freezing water to the bank, and walking for three hours until he reached the haven of the Jesuit College in Neuss.

Kircher duly completed his course in scholastic philosophy in Cologne, then in 1623 was transferred to Koblenz to study humanities and teach Greek at the Jesuit School. Up to now he had humbly concealed his true abilities, but when he gave up his pretence of mediocrity, he aroused so much jealousy that his superiors transferred him again, this time to the college at Heiligenstadt. The journey was a dangerous one through Protestant territory, but Kircher obstinately refused to wear a disguise, saying: 'I would rather die in the robes of my order than travel undisturbed in worldly dress...' This nearly transpired, as he was ambushed by Protestant soldiers. After stripping and beating him, they prepared to hang him from the nearest tree. But his calm demeanour so moved one of the men that he persuaded his comrades to spare the young Jesuit's life, and even to give him back his property.

Heiligenstadt was reached without further incident, and here the 23-yearold Kircher taught mathematics, Hebrew and Syrian.' When in 1625 delegates of the Archbishop-Elector of Mainz visited the college, Kircher arranged an astonishing entertainment of moving scenery and fireworks. Some onlookers feared that it was done by black magic, until he explained how it worked. As a result, he was summoned to the Archbishop's court at Aschaffenburg to make more such curiosities, and to draw up a survey of the principality, which he completed in only three months. Perhaps it was this commission, done with the help of the magnetic compass, that suggested the subject of Kircher's first book, Ars Magnesia (The magnetic art', 1631).

On the Archbishop-Elector's death, Kircher returned to Mainz for another four years. Although nominally studying theology, he managed to acquire a telescope, through which he observed the then unexplained phenomenon of sunspots. In 1628 he was ordained priest and entered his Tertianship (spiritual preparation for the ministry) at Gau um Speyer. A new world of humanistic learning opened there when he first saw pictures of Egyptian hieroglyphs, probably in Herwart von Hohenburg's Thesaurus Hieroglyphicorum, and longed to understand them." But he could not yet pursue this interest, as he was next sent to teach at Würzburg. In 163o he petitioned to go as a missionary to China, but was refused. The next year the Swedish army entered the region. In another miraculous episode, Kircher was granted the gift of prophecy and saw in a vision armed men drilling in the college courtyard; he was able to warn his fellows and the Würzburg College was hastily disbanded. Abandoning all his manuscripts, he took refuge in Mainz.

During his absence, one of his noble pupils, Johannes Jakob Schweigkard von Freihausen, took care of the publication of Ars Magnesia and obtained its dedication to the Prince-Bishop of Würzburg. The first part of the book describes magnetic phenomena and experiments, largely based on William Gilbert's De Magnete (1600). Kircher's explanation of magnetism, unlike Gilbert's more mechanistic one, is that things have an innate appetite or inclination towards their own good. In the second part, he discusses the deviations of compass needles and the use of magnets in medicine. He entertains the possibility of perpetual motion by using magnets, and describes magnetic tricks and toys. Thus his first work announces his characteristic blend of mathematics and experimental science with Hermetic philosophy and a delight in natural and artificial wonders.

Now that there was no future in Germany for a promising young Jesuit scholar, Kircher's superiors allowed him, with many others, to go to France. He passed through Lyon in 1632 on the way to Avignon, there to teach mathematics, philosophy and oriental languages. For the Avignon Jesuit College he designed an elaborate clock, described in his Primitiae Gnomonicae Catoptricae (First fruits of the reflective sundial', 1635). Just as Ars Magnesia is a sketch for the large-scale Magnes, this short book on optics and sundials anticipates his later Ars Magna Lucis.

In France Kircher entered a new, cosmopolitan world of learning, thanks to Nicolas-Claude Fabri de Peiresc, member of the Parliament at Aix and a wealthy collector and patron of scholarship." Through Peiresc, Kircher met Pierre Gassendi and started a correspondence with Marin Mersenne, both men of universal learning and wide connections. Peiresc was particularly interested in having Kircher work on deciphering his collection of Ethiopian, Arabic and Coptic manuscripts. This resulted in the foundational work of all Coptic studies, Prodromus Coptus (Introduction to Coptic', 1636).12 The book contains the first Coptic grammar, for which a special typeface was cast, and argues (correctly) that Coptic bears a relationship to the language of ancient Egypt. At the end of the book, Kircher published the projected table of contents of a much larger, three-part work, which he already knew would be titled fEdipus /Egyptiacus.

Kircher already saw himself as a new Oedipus, who would solve the Sphingian riddle of the hieroglyphs, but his linguistic research was again interrupted in 1633, when he was summoned by the Habsburg Emperor to be Professor of Mathematics in either Vienna or Trieste." Peiresc and other patrons of Kircher's linguistic work lodged influential complaints, and consequently, when Kircher broke his long journey in Rome, he was ordered to stay there. He was appointed to the Roman College, the hub of the whole Jesuit order, as Professor of Mathematics, with a special commission from the Pope's nephew, Cardinal Francesco Barberini, to study hieroglyphs. This was to be his home until his death."

When Kircher arrived in Rome, the scientific world was still reeling from the Galileo affair. The elderly scientist, once a friend of the Barberini Pope, had been hauled before the Inquisition in April 1633 and forced to desist from `holding and teaching' the Copernican theory. In the previous year, Urban VIII had published a severe bull against astrologers, to counter the suspicion that had rested on him ever since he had summoned Tommaso Campanella to perform astrological magic for him." By 1634 the atmosphere had turned sufficiently sour that Campanella, aided by Cardinal Barberini, slipped out of Rome and ended his days in France. Under these circumstances, a polymathic and enquiring mind like Kircher's had to be careful.

Kircher made only one further journey outside Italy.' In 1636, at least partly through his influence, Friedrich, Landgrave of Hesse-Darmstadt (1616-1682), was converted to Catholicism: a great catch for the Roman Church." Wishing to travel in Italy, the young Landgrave chose two compatriots as companions: his confessor, Kircher, and his tutor, Lucas Holsten. As the party moved south to Sicily, Kircher took every opportunity to explore new areas of natural science. He was keen to see Syracuse, to ascertain whether in 212 BC Archimedes could have used a burning-mirror to destroy the Roman fleet at anchor there. In a Messina monastery library he discovered a Greek musical manuscript," and perhaps the legendary Book of Enoch, reputedly written by the deathless patriarch before the Flood."

After Sicily, the party sailed to Malta, which the Landgrave, a Knight of the Order of Malta, had visited in the previous year. Kircher's presence was a welcome diversion to the Jesuits there, for whom he invented the rotating astronomical device described in Specula Melitensis Encyclica CCircular Maltese mirror', 1638),21 and he began a lasting friendship with the Apostolic Delegate, Fabio Chigi, the future Pope Alexander VII. Otherwise the island had little to offer Kircher and his ambitions, and after intervention in high places," he was ordered back to Rome. The delay was timely, for in March 1638, on the homeward journey, he witnessed the eruptions of Etna and Stromboli and the destruction of the island of St Euphemia. When he reached Naples, Vesuvius was threatening to erupt, too. The insatiable Kircher climbed the volcano and had himself lowered into the crater to observe the process more closely. This experience would form the kernel of his great work on the Subterranean World.

Now Kircher began to publish his major works, creating an encyclopaedia on a different scientific or antiquarian subject every three or four years. First he returned to the subject of magnetism, with Magnes ("The magnet', 1641). One object of the work was to counter the magnetic argument for the Copernican theory, with which Kircher had flirted in his Avignon period but which now, after Galileo's condemnation, was anathema to the orthodox circles on which he depended for his career. Otherwise Magnes develops the same range of themes as the earlier work on the subject, especially the Hermetic idea of universal attraction and repulsion. This manifested itself as much in Kircher's 'sunflower clock', which turned to face the sun, as in the music of the Tarantella, which dislodged the poison of the tarantula spider from the bloodstream. At its highest level, it was the same magnetic force that attracted the human soul to God.

Lingua AEgyptiaca Restituta (The Egyptian language restored', 1643) is another case of Kircher's expansion of an earlier work. He used the information from the traveller Pietro della Valle to compile a vocabulary of Coptic, Latin and Arabic in parallel columns. This was the book that helped Champollion decipher the Rosetta Stone nearly two hundred years later. It includes material on Egyptian chronology, weights and measures, fauna, flora, place names and philosophical terms. The book was dedicated to Emperor Ferdinand III, marking Kircher's breakthrough into the highest realms of patronage. Imitating the sobriquet of the mythical philosopher-king of Egypt, Hermes Trismegistus, Kircher addresses his patron as Rex Trismegistus, 'Thrice-Greatest King'.

Ars Magna Lucis et Umbrae (The great art of light and shadow', 1646) was the first of Kircher's books to be organized along symbolic lines: its ten books are represented as the ten strings of the instrument with which the Psalmist declares he will praise God (Psalm 143:9). The work overlaps with Magnes in several places. It treats of eclipses, comets and astrological influences, also of phosphorescence, colour, optics, timekeeping and sundials. It includes the first printed picture of Saturn, flanked by two ellipses (which were how the rings appeared in Kircher's telescope), and devices for projecting images. The true magic lantern, however, would not appear until the second edition (1671).

In 1646 the Roman College relieved Kircher from teaching and in effect gave him a research fellowship for life. As his fame grew, so too did his correspondence. The Jesuit missionaries, for whom mathematics and technology were an important part of their training, sent back scientific reports from every corner of the globe. Receiving these from Chile, Peru, Brazil, Mexico, Tunisia, Aleppo, Isfahan, Agra, Surat, Goa, Manila, Guam and from most of Europe, Kircher was at the centre of the world's most efficient and best-educated network. He was the first to hear of any new discovery, and eager to share it with the world and with his swelling list of royal, aristocratic and ecclesiastical patrons.

Musurgia Universalis (Universal music-making', 165o) does for sound what Ars Magna Lucis did for light." Coming at the point where the newly expressive style of opera was superseding the earlier style of imitative counterpoint, it announces the 'doctrine of the affections' that underlies the former. However, unlike the Italian academies, whose studies of ancient Greek music had given birth to the new style, Kircher's ideal was the music of the ancient Hebrews; King David, rather than Orpheus or Pythagoras, was his model of the supreme musician. Musurgia begins with an exhaustive treatment of ancient music and mathematical tuning theory, ultimately based on the divine archetype of number. Kircher then describes all the musical genres and instruments current in his day. Natural magic is never far away, as he explains acoustical marvels, megaphones, eavesdropping devices, talking statues and Aeolian harps. Always practical, he gives directions for a composing machine, and offers samples of his own composition (see Ill. 9.1). About 1,500 copies of the book were printed, of which one was sent to every Jesuit college, 30o were given to Jesuits converging on Rome for the election of a new Superior-General, and 352 were distributed throughout Europe."

Kircher was committed to the free exchange of information, irrespective of nationality or religion. Thus he sent a copy of Musurgia to August the Younger, Duke of Braunschweig-Lüneburg." This led to a long correspondence and friendship with the Protestant ruler and bibliophile, to many gifts of money from the Duke, and to Kircher's reciprocal gift of his most precious manuscript, the fifth-century Syrian Gospels now in the Herzog-August Bibliothek in Wolfenbüttel. Kircher never succeeded in his gentle efforts to convert Duke August to Catholicism, but he did play a discreet role in the spectacular conversion and abdication of Queen Christina of Sweden (reigned 1632-1654), having been in correspondence with her for at least seven years before she abdicated. He dedicated Itinerarium Exstaticum to her, and entertained her in his museum.'

His growing reputation as a linguist made Kircher the obvious person to consult when Pope Innocent X decided to re-erect a fallen obelisk and to restore its inscription. In Obeliscus Pamphilius (The Pamphilian obelisk', 1650), Kircher set out his principles for interpreting the Egyptian hieroglyphs as statements of Hermetic wisdom.' Although he already knew their language (Coptic), he read the hieroglyphs as a purely symbolic writing, rather than a verbal or alphabetical one, hence missing the path that eventually led Champollion, with the help of the Rosetta Stone, to their true decipherment.

This field of research came to fruition in Kircher's next and longest book, the long-awaited Oedipus Aegyptiacus (The Egyptian Oedipus', 1652-1654)where he assembled all that was known about the history and geography of Egypt, carrying out almost exactly his plan of twenty years earlier. His longtime patron Archduke Leopold Wilhelm negotiated a gift of 3,00o scudi from Emperor Ferdinand III, which covered more than half the cost of printing, and multiple dedications of the various sections ensured further gifts from those thus honoured. In seeking the meaning of the hieroglyphs, Kircher plumbed the sources of the 'ancient theology' as understood in the Renaissance: the Book of Enoch, the writings attributed to Zoroaster, Orpheus, Hermes Trismegistus, Pythagoras, Plato, Proclus, the Greek myths, the Chaldaean Oracles, and the Hebrew Kabbalah. He had no doubt that there was authentic sacred wisdom in the heathen nations, and especially in Egypt, as the cradle of arts and sciences after the universal Deluge and the place where both Moses and Jesus had been educated. Kircher paid no attention to the proof by the Protestant philologist Isaac Casaubon that the writings ascribed to Hermes Trismegistus dated from the early centuries AD. This made him almost the last in the chain of Christian Hermeticists that had begun with Marsilio Ficino and Giovanni Pico della Mirandola in fifteenth-century Florence. At the same time, through extending his study of ancient religion to include the new discoveries in India, China, Japan and the Americas, he was the first to take a global approach to the subject.

Kircher's next work, Itinerarium Exstaticum (Testate journey', 1656) uses the fictional device of recounting a dream." The author, called `Theodidactus' (Taught by God), is led by the angel Cosmiel on a journey away from the earth, through the regions of the moon, sun and planets. While he does not hesitate to make use of Galileo's observations, Kircher's cosmology is geocentric." Jesuit policy favoured the scheme of Tycho Brahe, who believed that the planets go round the sun, which in turn goes round the earth. Kircher says that the heavenly bodies are not, as in Aristotle's teaching, of a different substance from earth. The planets are uninhabited, but each one, and every star, has its Intelligence or angel. They send down influences in accordance with their traditional astrological characters, some of them seemingly evil but necessary to the general economy, for the universe was created for the sake of the earth, the earth for the sake of man, and man in order to love and know God.

The 'ecstatic journey' met with considerable criticism, though attempts to censor the work failed. Rather than reply to his enemies himself, Kircher allowed the loyal Kaspar Schott to prepare a second edition, greatly augmented with notes and detailed answers to the critical points, and publish it in Germany (Iter Extaticum, 1660), where the watchdogs of orthodoxy were less vigilant than in Rome.

The second volume of the work, Iter Extaticum II (1657) takes Theodidactus on a voyage in the opposite direction, beneath the surface of the earth. The book is advertised as the prelude to Mundus Subterraneus, a work that had been in preparation for many years. Here another angel, Hydriel, teaches his charge about the circulation of the seas, sucked in at the North Pole and spewed out at the South, and takes him on a terrifying journey from one pole to the other.

Cosmiel returns to teach him about the circulation of fire in the bowels of the earth and to lead him through the subterranean channels that link sea to sea. There is much discussion of how creatures are generated from the seeds enclosed in the earth, the growth of birds and fish, and the nature of whales. Kircher is here among the first to suggest that mountains rise and fall following natural movements in the earth's crust.

In 1656 the bubonic plague broke out in Rome, and the Jesuit College isolated itself behind locked doors." While some fathers went out to tend the sick, Kircher used his microscope to seek the cause of the epidemic. In Scrutinium Physico-Medicum (Thysio-medical investigation', 1658), he summarizes the three types of explanation of the disease. One rests on the Hermetic medicine of Paracelsus and Cornelius Agrippa; the second on religious and moral causes; the third on official medicine. Kircher rejects the tendency to seek a scapegoat or to blame the epidemic on anyone but ourselves, whom God periodically visits, as in biblical times, with trials of our faith in Him. On a practical level, Kircher examined the blood of the victims under a microscope and saw 'animalcules'. While his instrument was not nearly powerful enough to have shown the actual plague bacillus, he may have seen the largest types of bacteria, and in any case was the first to suggest that disease may be caused by germs, rather than by imbalance of the humours, devilry and so on." At the same time, he recommended wearing a dead toad around the neck, not out of any superstitious belief but as a scientifically proven 'magnet': as toads are notoriously poisonous and covered with unpleasant swellings, they naturally attract the poisonous vapours that cause such swellings in humans."

Another phenomenon that the seemingly omniscient Kircher was invited to explain was the appearance of cross-shaped markings on the garments of those exposed to the fall of volcanic ash from Mount Vesuvius." In Diatribe de Prodigiosis Crucibus (`Discourse on the prodigious crosses', 1661), he blames it merely on the effect of ashes staining the cross-woven fabrics, but does consider such natural events as divinely ordained. Kircher's linguistic interests next led to Polygraphia Nova ('New polygraphy', 1663)." In a typically Jesuit combination, it contains both material for a universal language, and a treatise on secret writing and cryptography. The noblest of his patrons were also given a special chest with movable slats that enabled them to encode secret political messages, but although everyone admired them, there is no evidence that they were ever used for this purpose.

Fabio Chigi, now Pope, was responsible for a new climate of reconciliation between the formerly warring sects within Christianity, and it was with his sanction that Kircher turned to a Protestant printer for his next works.' In August 1661 he signed an independent contract with the Amsterdam publisher Joannes Jansson van Waesberge, who offered 2,200 scudi for all of Kircher's stock of books published in Rome, along with their copperplates, woodblocks, characters and punches." It took another four years for the first fruits of this relationship to appear in print: this was Mundus Subterraneus (`The subterranean world', 1664-1665),' which her had mostly finished a decade earlier under the title of Geocosmus. It expands the themes of IterExtaticum II, appealing to a wider public through lavish illustrations, and develops his earlier theories of vulcanism and the generation of animals and plants. Convinced that even frogs and mice can arise through spontaneous generation, Kircher explains that the Creator has infused in the massa chaotica (chaotic mass) of the earth a panspermia rerum or semen universale (universal seed of things) endowed with vis radiativa (radiating energy). This is the source of all bodily existence, growing as circumstances allow into all manner of creatures. Other themes in Mundus Subterraneus on which Kircher's opinions are of historical interest are the tides, alchemy, petrefaction and palingenesis (the resurrection of dead matter, e.g. of a plant from its ashes). The whole work is less a scientific treatise than a pageant of the wonders of creation, intended to induce love and respect for the Creator. At the same time, it opened up many new areas to popular and scientific discussion.

By now Kircher was a celebrity. His portrait, engraved in 1655 by Cornelius Bloemaert, was published as the frontispiece to Mundus Subterraneus. Visitors to Rome sought interviews with him, or at least entry to the museum that he was assembling in the Jesuit College. Holding an important place in the history of museums, this collection had begun with the donation of Peiresc's Egyptian objects. It grew as objects arrived from the various Jesuit missions, including natural freaks and enigmas such as stones with designs imprinted on them (another result, Kircher thought, of the 'universal seeds'). Kircher added ingenious machines of his own design, based on tricks of magnetism, acoustics and optics. The museum was raided for souvenirs after his death, and fell into decay. After the confiscation of Jesuit property in 1870 the remaining contents were dispersed to various Italian museums, and little remains of it today, while the building now houses a Urea (secondary school).

Kircher's recreation was exploring the countryside surrounding Rome. In 1661, while searching for antiquities south of Tivoli, he found the ruins of an old sanctuary built by the Emperor Constantine at Mentorella, the legendary site of St Eustace's vision of Christ between the horns of a stag. Kircher arranged for the restoration of its church, dedicated to the Virgin Mary, and of the chapel of St Eustace, begging donations from the Emperor and his other influential friends. It became a place of pilgrimage and his favourite retreat. He described the place and its history in his first topographical work, Historia Eustachio-Mariana (`Eustachian and Marian history', 1665).

Arithmologia (`Arithmology', 1665) is, in John Fletcher's words, 'a dull and lengthy treatise written in strict conformity with the mathematical trends of the seventeenth century, and containing little of interest'." It does, however, include a treatment of the Kabbalistic and magical uses of number. Kircher did not approve of magic, in the sense of supernatural operations. But his Hermetic world view, based on the correspondence of all levels of being, did allow for influences to travel from higher to lower levels — for example, from the planets to plants and the human body. To exploit these correspondences and to harness the occult or hidden forces in matter was natural magic, shading imperceptibly into what we call technology. At the summit of the Hermetic chain of being is the mind of God, which seems to contain number as the archetype of archetypes. This is the 'true and licit mystery' mentioned in the subtitle of the work.

The unearthing of a broken obelisk near the former Temple of Isis, and the decision of Pope Alexander VII to re-erect it, led to Obeliscus Egyptiacus (1666). The side facing the ground was not visible, but Kircher, after studying and translating the other three sides, successfully predicted the hieroglyphs that would be found on it. This convinced any further doubters that he had correctly solved the mystery of the hieroglyphs.

The reports of Jesuit missionaries to the Far East enabled Kircher to compile China Monumentis Illustrata (`China illustrated with monuments', 1667), one of his least original works but in many ways the most important historically, as it was the foundation of oriental studies." It contained new documents on oriental geography, geology, botany, zoology, religion and language, including the first picture of the Potala in Lhasa, Tibet, the first Chinese vocabulary, and the first reproduction of the Sanskrit alphabet and grammar. Kircher attributed all oriental religions to the deviation of Noah's son Cham, who had polluted the original true religion with polytheism, idolatry, and demonic magic. Alone among Kircher's books, China was translated during his lifetime into French, Dutch and German, and partially into English.

A short third book on magnetism, Magneticum Naturae Regnum (The magnetic kingdom of nature', 1667), contains Kircher's last thoughts on sympathies and antipathies in the animal, vegetable and mineral realms. It was probably the new phenomena from the East, such as the reputed snake-stone from India that cured snakebite, that prompted him to write on the subject once again." His main efforts during the mid-1660s went into the composition of Ars Magna Sciendi (`The great art of knowledge', 1669), his most ambitious attempt to lay a foundation for all possible knowledge. He appears to have known nothing of Francis Bacon's Novum Organum (1620), in which the experimental method is suggested as a way of finding out things unknown; not, as Kircher used it, as a way of confirming a world view already fixed. He ignored René Descartes' Discourse on Method (1636), which approached the problem of knowledge from a standpoint of ignorance. There was no scepticism or nominalism about Kircher, who assumed that since everything in the universe was connected, it was all knowable if only one had a framework into which to fit it. The framework in this case was a blend of Aristotelian and Thomistic logic with the categories of Ramon Llull, the fourteenth-century Mallorcan mystic. Kircher developed a symbolic language for syllogistic and other statements, based on his own expansion of Lull's categories.

Kircher's wanderings in the countryside now gave birth to Latium (1671), a topography of the region around Rome, illustrated with imaginative reconstructions of the ancient Roman villas, as well as the modern ones." A companion work treating the region around Florence, Iter Hetruscum

(Tuscan journey') remained unpublished and appears to be lost." Splendor et Gloria Domus Joanniae (The splendour and glory of the house of Juan'), 0therwise titled Principis Christiani Archetypon Politicum (Political archetype of a Christian prince', 1672), is a study of the ideal ruler, illustrated with emblems. It is an atypical and sycophantic work, made for a Spanish patron."

Alth0ugh Phonurgia Nova ('New phonurgy [acoustics]', 1673) is largely taken verbatim fr0m Musurgia Universalis, it has the distinction of being the first book ever dedicated entirely to the science of acoustics. It describes the propagation and amplification 0f sound through devices such as the speaking trumpet.

Arca Noe (N0ah's Ark', 1675) and Turris Babel (The Tower of Babel', 1679) form a pair, expensively designed by the publisher Jansson as an illustrated compendium of prehistory." To combat the growing scepticism about the Bible, Kircher pr0ves that the Ark could have contained all the necessary animals, and that all 0f mankind descends from Noah. He strives to reconcile the Bible with 0ther s0urces of ancient history, holding firmly to 3984 BC as the date 0f Creation. In Turris Babel he continues the story to show how the world was rep0pulated after the Fl0od, and how the original language of mankind (Hebrew) split into today's 72 or more tongues. His treatment of the Tower of Babel and the Seven Wonders of the ancient world belongs within the Jesuit traditi0n 0f mystical architecture and the Art of Memory."

Kircher returned once more to Egyptology in Sphinx Mystagoga (` The Sphinx, teacher 0f the mysteries', 1676), to interpret the hieroglyphs on some mummy cases recently brought to Europe. It includes a lengthy discourse on ancient beliefs in metempsych0sis and reincarnation, which he vigorously refutes. Kircher's last work, befitting one whose career had begun as a professor of mathematics, was Tariffa Kircheriana (Kircherian table', 1679), treating the squaring 0f the circle, trigonometry, and musical proportion." It was issued with a c0mprehensive set of multiplication tables (as was necessary in pre-l0garithmic days), furnished by Benedetto Benedetti.

In Kircher's last year, Jansson published a digest of experiments drawn fr0m his many works: Physiologia Kircheriana Experimentalis (Kircher's experimental physi0l0gy', 1680), compiled by J.S. Kestler. As Brian Merrill says," it sh0ws what a g00d editor could have made of Kircher's own work. Kircher himself had by n0w withdrawn from public life. Suffering his share of the ailments 0f 0ld age, he gave himself increasingly to spiritual exercises, and died 0n the same day as his friend the sculptor Bernini: 27 November 1680.

On Music: Excerpt: Kircher’s mastery of music is one of his most unexpected traits. While musical talent typically shows itself in childhood and leads to a lifelong involvement with performance and/or composition, Kircher’s biography reveals nothing of the sort. Only once does he mention having had any musical training or inclination in his youth; he never tells anecdotes linking himself with music, and no biographer has shown him doing anything musical. Yet music is not easily learned in later life, while to compose counterpoint, play it on the keyboard, or read it from the score in one’s head is no light achievement at any age. Could Kircher do it?
    He himself answers the question in the preface to Musurgia with a spirited defence, saying that just because he does not perform music or compose for money, it does not mean that he is incompetent. ‘The Prince of Venosa [Gesualdo] was not a musician by trade; so was he ignorant of it? Did the great kings Ptolemy and Alfonso, in not professing music or astronomy, know nothing of them?’ The idea, he adds, is insolent and absurd! From an early age he has worked at all the noble arts and sciences, including music both theoretical and practical, with attentive study and diligent practice.
    While many pieces in Musurgia Universalis are unattributed and may be by him, Kircher states plainly that he composed the example of how to handle three-part writing. He says that the voices can begin together, or else one can lead and the others follow, observing the rules of harmony, diminution and syncopation. In its short compass, this Paradigma Melothesias omnibus numeris absolutae (example of free composition in all rhythms) contains at least eight different motifs, each treated imitatively and having its own ‘affect’ or mood. Typical of Kircher’s zeal to classify and display the variety of the world, he has here composed a musical microcosm, a sort of miniature specimen chest. Equally typical, he says that his piece ‘describes the soul moved towards God in harmonic affection’. As for the myriad other compositions and musical examples in Musurgia, Kircher admits that he had help, and no wonder: at over 1,200 pages it remained for centuries the most comprehensive work on music by a single author.
    Musurgia opens with the anatomy of the musical parts of man and beast: the ear and the voice. The first engraving shows the outer ear and its parts, and the small bones of the middle ear, namely the hammer, the anvil and the stirrup. The small frames beneath compare these bones in the hearing apparatus of man, calf, horse, dog, hare, cat, sheep, goat, mouse and pig.
    The text describes the three semicircular canals, but says that they have been omitted from the engraving because of the difficulty of illustrating them. More important to Kircher is the question of what sort of air is contained in these chambers, which he assumes to be totally isolated from the outside air. He thinks that it must be similar to the air that is treated in the lungs before it is allowed to reach the heart, or the air that enters the nostrils and must be ‘prepared’ before it can penetrate the brain. This treatment modifies the temperature and humidity of the air, enabling it to nourish the animal spirits. This leads him to consider theories of sound. Some say that it is a real and independent entity, while others, that it only exists as perception. He takes the middle path: sound really exists as waves propagated in the air, but also ‘the sounds of sonorous objects reach the auditive potential by the emission of species’.
    In terms such as ‘species’ and ‘spirits’ we hear the struggle of Aristotelian metaphysics to bridge the gap between objective reality and subjective perception. The problems were of a different order when Kircher came to the vocal organs.

Who can easily explain the great variety of vocal production in animals? We hear the querulous voice of the toad, the plaints of the mourning dove, the cuckoo’s call, the sweet trilling of the nightingale, the piping of swallows, the cock’s crow, the trumpeting of elephants, the bleating of sheep, the lowing of cattle, the barking of dogs, and we wonder what meaning of love, hatred, anger, indignation, sorrow or lamenting lies in them.

    Kircher defines the voice thus: ‘The voice is the sound produced by an animal from the glottis through the striking of exhaled air, for expressing the affects of the soul’. Consequently he excludes the buzzing or chirping of insects, and, for that matter, the voice that reputedly issued from the stomach of the Pythoness (the prophetic priestess of the Delphic Oracle). The voice of the frog was a borderline case, about whose cause even Aristotle was uncertain, but Kircher settled the matter by experiment. ‘We excited [a croak] in a recently dead frog by inserting a pipe through the ribs and into the trachea, then strongly blowing out the water collected in the gullet’. He concluded that the frog’s croak is not really a ‘voice’, but is caused by air violently expelled from the lungs and meeting with moisture: in short, a belch.
    The often-reproduced plate of birdsongs shows the song of the nightingale transcribed into musical notation, and the songs of the cock, hen (B: laying an egg; C: gathering her chicks), cuckoo, quail and parrot. The latter has been taught to say ‘Hello!’ in Greek; but that is nothing compared to a bird of the lark species, called gallandra, as we read in the accompanying text. A learned Portuguese friar, Damianus à Fonseca, kept a pet gallandra in his ‘museum’ and trained it to rattle off the Litany of the Saints, and much else, in a quasi-human voice. Kircher would never have believed this, had not he and others witnessed the bird’s performance in Father Damianus’s cell on 16 March 1648.

Claiming Knowledge: Strategies of Epistemology from Theosophy to the New Age by Olav Hammer (Numen Book Series, 90: Brill) deals with the transformation of religious creativity in the late modern West. Its point of departure is a set of esoteric beliefs, from Theosophy to the New Age. It shows how these traditions have adapted to the cultural givens of each successive epoch.

The claims of each movement have been buttressed by drawing on various structural characteristics of late modernity. The advance of science has resulted in attempts to claim scientific status for religious beliefs. Globalization has given rise to massive loans from other cultures, but also to various strategies to radically reinterpret foreign elements. Individualism has led to an increasing reliance on experience as a source of legitimacy. The analytical tools applied to understanding religious modernization shed light on changes that are fundamentally reshaping many religious traditions.

This study is divided into three main sections. The first serves as a necessary background, presenting some terms and concepts used throughout the text. Since this is a study of a modern mode of religious discourse as much as it is a study specifically of the Esoteric Tradition, several crucial terms relating to the study of religion and modernity are presented in chapter 2, before the Esoteric Tradition is briefly introduced in chapter 3. The second section, comprising chapters 4 to 6 and thus by far the most extensive, presents what Hammer has called the three discursive strategies. The third and final sec­tion consists of chapters 7 and 8. Chapter 7 examines how all three strategies interconnect and form a whole by examining a particular case: how the strategies are used to support the concept of reincar­nation. A short summary caps the text.

This volume is concerned with a rarely studied sector of the history of religions: certain currents of modern or post-Enlightenment Western esotericism. Such currents have played a considerable role in the intellectual history of the West. They continue to hold great fascination for millions of people throughout Europe and North America. Nevertheless, they have been largely neglected by scholars.

One could think of several reasons for defying the canons of good taste in the history of religions. In itself, the dearth of scholarly studies in a field that affects and interests so many in the lay public makes the need for scholarly investigation particularly felt. It is something of an oddity that prominent religious innovators such as Alice Bailey (Arcane School) or Helen Schucman (A Course in Miracles©) and their respective doctrines have been slighted by historians of religion. The point of departure of the present study, however, also lies in a second direction. My decision to investigate contemporary forms of esotericism is due to a more overarching interest in the challenges and paradoxes inherent in religious faith and religious innovation in a modern, post-Enlightenment setting. This interest has motivated the restriction to certain contem­porary or near-contemporary esoteric positions, i.e. those formulated during the period from 1875 to 1999.

There is a common tendency, probably inherited from the Enlighten­ment and strengthened in the early days of anthropology, to adopt an exclusivist and elitist view of Western intellectual development. According to this view, the development of science, of technology and of rationalist philosophies are part of a dynamic modernity, whereas folk religion in various guises, occult and esoteric currents, new religious movements and idealist beliefs form a kind of cultural arrière-guarde, stagnant survivals of magical thinking or reflexes of pre-scientific speculation. This study will attempt to show that although such a perspective may be valid at the grandest of scales, as witnessed by the gradual secularization not only of Western European society but of many religious traditions during the last two centuries, it unnecessarily trivializes the creativity of such non-rationalist Perspectives in coming to grips with the forces of modernity.

This study, then, combines these two personal interests and attempts to understand some of the mechanisms by which a number of modern esoteric currents have attempted to modernize, democratize and legitimize themselves, adapting themselves to an increasingly hostile cultural environment.

A text such such as this must attempt to find a delicate balance between the neutral standards of reporting and the effect of an analysis that may or may not, depending on the perspective chosen, bor­der on debunking. It is therefore more than merely a matter of record to state initially my stance in relation to the tradition that I discuss. What follows is an attempt to draw up a map of a territory that I myself do not inhabit; a spiritual tradition that in a deep sense is foreign country to me, who identify myself with the Enlightenment tradition. In attempting to come to grips with religious traditions that one does not share, four categories of approaches have emerged.' The first, the skeptical, is primarily concerned with evaluating the truth claims of those statements within a tradition that have empir­ical content, and generally show little or no interest in religion as a cultural phenomenon. The second, the theological, is motivated by the concerns of one's own religious point of view (e.g. Christian or perennialist), with the concomitant temptation to present value judgments as to the integrity of the tradition that one studies. The third is hermeneutical and attempts to reproduce as faithfully as possible the world-view of the believers themselves. Such studies are often centrally concerned with the meaning of cultural elements, as ways of understanding and living in the world. The fourth is analytic and sees such a hermeneutical reconstruction as the point of departure of an analysis that differentiates sharply between the emic (or believ­ers') perspective and the etic (or analytic) perspective. Commonly associated with the hermeneutical approach is the concept of epoche, the bracketing of questions of truth or falsehood. Religious questions are characterized as meta-empirical and are therefore largely insu­lated from critique. The analytic perspective on the contrary notes that the documented doctrines and rituals of the world’s religions vary in all respects and are thus entirely dependent on social and historical context. Their claims are human constructions, and it is therefore relevant to ask how,  by whom and for what purposes these claims are produced, legitimized, disseminated and reproduced.

The difference between a hermeneutical and an analytical approach need not only be a matter of personal predilection. Hermeneutical approaches often build on a post-Wittgensteinian view that considers the only legitimate approach to a for­eign culture to be an understanding of what the world looks like from the inside, and insists that every life-form is closed and cannot or should not be judged by those who are alien to it. The hermeneutical approach, however, seems problematic on several accounts. Firstly, it can tacitly accept the presuppositions of certain post-Enlightenment protestant theologies in supposing that religions deal with a non-empirical, transcendent realm. This obscures the border between the meta-empiri­cal claims (such as the "meaning" of life or the existence of a transcendent deity) and the many empirical propositions (e.g. the existence of witches or angels or the efficacy of spiritual healing) presented within any given tradition. Secondly, drawn to its conclusion, such a view is epistemologically hard to defend. Only those who  participate actively in politics could understand the world of politics, while the untold millions who vote, comment on the activities of politicians, read newspapers and reflect on current affairs are only privy to the life-form of the spectator and do not “really” understand what politics is all about. Thirdly, as this example illustrates, it risks becoming ideologically blinkered, in that it can e.g. reify myth at the expense of the active process of myth-making, or ritual at the expense of the acts of postulating or contesting "correct" performance. 

The point of departure of the present study is a sincere attempt at crafting an accurate picture of certain themes within the Esoteric Tradition, an analysis that naturally is based on the statements of the religious virtuosi of that tradition. It is, nevertheless, ultimately motivated by an analytic approach and therefore implies a strategy of reading that attempts to find subtexts that are implicit in the data but which are not part of the self-representation of the religious tradition itself. It is the opposite of a hermeneutical stance, an avowed attempt to subject a tradition that at times sees itself as an ahistor­ical perennial wisdom to what Mircea Eliade called "the terror of history". 

Excerpt: Like the literature of most other religious traditions, Esoteric movement texts are filled with detailed claims that are part and parcel of a highly distinct frame of reference and probably appear reason­able only from within that setting. The particulars of reincarnation as documented in chapter 7 are a case in point. Of the many exam­ples found in the literature reviewed there, the following two, which regard two famous thinkers of the nineteenth century, are taken from the writings of Rudolf Steiner. According to Steiner, the American writer and philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson received his poetic gifts in a rather remarkable way: Emerson's talents were, in a sense, inherited, since he had already lived a previous life as a writer. Emerson's considerable interest in exotic cultures was also an echo from this previous existence. Two thousand years earlier, the soul that was now incarnated in Emerson had lived as Tacitus. Similarly, other famous people's life stories are not primarily the result of genes, upbringing or biographical vicissitudes. Steiner relates that a large estate in north-eastern France was held during the early Middle Ages by a martial feudal lord. During a military campaign, this estate was captured by a rival. The previous owner had no means of retaliat­ing, and was forced to see his property lost to an enemy. He was filled with a smoldering resentment towards the propertied classes, not only for the remainder of his life in the Middle Ages, but also in a much later incarnation—as Karl Marx. His rival was reborn as Friedrich Engels.

As seen in the last chapter, Steiner claims to have uncovered the precise mechanisms of reincarnation. Among the many emically ratio­nal rules governing the succession of lives on earth are astrological influences. As in truly pre-modern belief systems, correspondences are thus established between what is seen as separate domains by the secularized worldview: celestial mechanisms and the character and fate of the human being. Steiner's Esoteric religion partakes of what philosopher Charles Taylor calls ontic logos: a view of the cos­mos as a meaningful order, in which a natural one-to-one corre­spondence exists between the actual structure of the world, the knowledge we can have of it and the moral law we are to follow.'

Considering the strongly pre-modern flavor of many of Steiner's claims, it should be remembered that anthroposophy is not merely an isolated "survival" in an otherwise disenchanted world. One of the main connecting threads of the present study is the contention that in their claims of possessing valid knowledge, the major spokes­persons of the Modern Esoteric Tradition have adapted to many of the default assumptions of a Western postEnlightenment context. Thus, Steiner repeatedly insists that information of this kind is the result of scientific investigation. One of the foremost present-day anthroposophists remarks that anthroposophy "contains no dogmas or other doctrines that cannot be reached by rational means. Nor is it a philosophical system that somebody has thought out. Anthroposophy is a path to knowledge". Other Esoteric spokespersons may not go quite as far as Steiner did. Writers that could be classified as espousing a New Age worldview are, with a significant difference in nuance, apt to claim that their message is based on, compatible with, or explain­able by means of modern science. Few spokespersons resist the temp­tation of appealing to the ethos of science.

For the anthroposophist, spiritual science is as inexorably logical as the natural sciences. The path towards attaining knowledge of the higher worlds, including insights into the exact mechanisms of rein­carnation, lie open to those who practice the methods of Geisteswissen­schaft to the full. It is not only part of Steiner's experience, but also potentially part of the experience of every individual. A carefully outlined series of meditative exercises describes how one can attain knowledge of the spiritual truths.

All of these details regarding the reincarnation of individual souls can be found in a massive work entitled Esoterische Betrachtungen karmischer Zusammenhange. Since the title of the book explicitly men- tions the concept of karma, one could infer that Steiner sees at least an indirect link between his own method of spiritual insight and an Indian tradition. A perusal of Steiner's writings will indeed reveal a host of references to what are originally Indian concepts. Other Esoteric positions, especially theosophy, are even more apt to borrow termi­nology from Sanskrit. Thus, India plays a central role for many of Steiner's colleagues. For anthroposophy, however, the links to the East are of secondary importance as parts of a discursive strategy. Steiner's admirers might claim that he did not actually borrow ideas from Oriental sources. To the extent that there are similarities between these worldviews, a more likely reason, according to anthroposophists, is that Hindu sages glimpsed the same reality that Steiner saw. Since these insights were purportedly gained by means of a systematic process of investigation, the invention of tradition is of secondary importance compared to the appeal to logic and science.

Thus, the founders of modern Esoteric movements are embedded in a modern context. The prophets of an earlier age could perhaps have relied on their charisma, on having been chosen by their god, or on their inner certainty. If one presumes to speak in the name of a god who is believed in by all the members of a society, this may be enough of an argument to present one's claims as self-evident fact. Spokespersons of the Modern Esoteric Tradition, however, live in an epoch permeated with Enlightenment values. How would they make their claims of possessing true knowledge sound plausible? As the present study has illustrated, theosophists, anthroposophists and New Age spokespersons have attempted the paradoxical task of combining seemingly rational arguments with claims of possessing ancient, revealed wisdom. 

One factor that has been indicated to explain the increasing secularization of many countries in the West is the contact with an ever larger number of competing religious belief systems. How should one handle the insight that other people worship other gods or no gods at all?

During the late Middle Ages and the Renaissance, the educated elite in the Christian West seems to have had a fair knowledge of existence and particulars of the faiths of nearby lands. However, with few exceptions, this was combined with a very limited tolerance towards these religions. Thus, the medieval text Confutatio alcorani dis­missed the prophet Muhammad as merely an epileptic tribal chief.' As for cultures that were more distant in time and space, the level of ignorance seems to have been considerably higher. Hermeticist interest in an imagined Egypt was matched by a profound ignorance of actual Egyptian culture. The map of the world expanded with the rise of the modern age. Jesuit missionaries, travelers, explorers, merchants and diplomats were among the increasing number of writers to convey something of the richness and diversity of the world's cultures and faiths. A greater familiarity gave rise to a mild relativism. The contrast between the two views of the Other can be seen by juxtaposing a sixteenth century chronicler with a precursor of the Enlightenment.

One of the earliest texts to describe a native American people is Jean de Léry's Récit d'un voyage en la terre du Brésil, published in 1578. De Léry visited large and well-organized villages of five to six hun­dred inhabitants, and was struck by how well life in these villages and the relations between their inhabitants worked in the absence of a judiciary system. There can be little doubt that his chronicle contributed to the appreciation of "savages" so evident in Montaigne's essay On Cannibals. However, de Léry's tolerance abruptly ended when he described the faith of the Tupinamba Indians. The six­teenth chapter of his book is the only one that has a directly dep­recating content. The poor natives live in spiritual darkness; they venerate no gods, have no places of worship, no scripture or sacred days in their calendar. They do not pray, nor do they have any theories regarding the origins of the world.

A vast gulf exists between the religious exclusivism of de Léry and the budding relativism of a pre-Enlightenment thinker such as Descartes. In his Discours de la méthode, he writes:

On ne saurait rien imaginer de si étrange et si peu croyable, n'ait été dit par quelqu'un des philosophes; et depuis, en voyageant, ayant reconnu que tous ceux qui ont des sentiments fort contraires aux nôtres, ne sont pas, pour cela, barbares ni sauvages, mais que plusieurs usent, autant ou plus que nous, de raison; [---] en sorte que c'est Bien plus la coutume et l'exemple qui nous persuadent qu'au­cune connaissance certaine.'

[Descartes Discours de la méthode 11:4; "No opinion, however absurd and incredible, can be imagined, which has not been maintained by some one of the philosophers; and afterwards in the course of my travels I remarked that all those whose opinions decidedly repugnant to ours are not in that account barbarians and savages, but on the contrary that many of these nations make an equally good, if not better, use of their reason than we do. [—] I was thus led to infer that the ground of our opinions is far more custom and example than any certain knowledge".] 

Once one dares to entertain such thoughts, the position of Christianity as the exclusive truth begins to erode. Certainty is transformed into belief, into one opinion among many. By the end of the Enlightenment, this relativism was accompanied by the first steps toward a freedom of religion as well as from religion: legislation in countries such as the newly founded United States of America made it possible for spirit­ual entrepreneurs to experiment with non-Christian doctrines and rituals and incorporate elements from various exotic creeds.

However, a profoundly biased mental map of these exotic Others emerged. By the early nineteenth century, leading spokespersons had developed a pool of resources from which to pick images of non-Christian wisdom. The present study has briefly surveyed the ways in which e.g. a generic Orient, the belief in the noble savage and the veneration of ancient civilizations arose at different times and were supported by different spokespersons, yet were amalgamated into a common vision of the positive Other.

Total relativism is devastating to any religious claim. If there is no consensus between faiths, on what grounds does one make one's choice? The canonical texts and the spokespersons for various faiths muster arguments that seem to endorse mutually incompatible claims with more or less the same degree of credibility. David Hume expressed the problem succinctly in section X of his Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding).  Numerous religions of the world have established themselves on the basis of their miracles. If so, they cancel each other out; each religion establishes itself as firmly as the next, thereby overthrowing and destroying its rivals. A commonly adopted counteracting strategy is to claim that there is an underlying unity beneath the apparent diversity. Part of chapter 4 was devoted to the proposed solutions to the fundamental problem of this strategy, namely the difficulty in stating what such a common spiritual core would consist of, since the overt characteristics of the various religions (and thus their differences) are readily observable. Chapter 4 also elaborated on the strategies used by Esoteric spokespersons in`their attempts to transform what is basically heterogeneous into something more homogenous, to somehow make plausible the maxim plus fa change, plus c'est la même chose.

Among the strategies selected for review are those that convert a pre-existing religious material into something new. These include selectivity, i.e. the tacit eschewing of any religious traditions that con­tradict one's totalizing vision; pattern recognition, i.e. the argument that doctrines and practices from various peoples are "in fact" reflexes of the same underlying wisdom; synonymization, the related claim that terms taken from the religious vocabulary of various faiths designate the same reality; and the universalizing exegesis that under­takes to find common elements in myths from various traditions. To these can be added strategies that fabricate religious "traditions" more or less ex nihilo. Entire civilizations can be created in the pages of a movement text. The Secret Doctrine is a major source of fantasy images of Atlantis and Lemuria. A somewhat less extreme form cre­ates new legend elements and grafts them onto a historically plausible scenario or person. Examples of this would include the claims that Jesus was a member of an order of Essenes, or that he had learned yogic techniques in a monastery in Ladakh.

Through such processes, spokespersons for various positions of the Esoteric Tradition radically reinterpret history, at times to the point of inventing traditions. American and Western European spokesper­sons express values and beliefs that belong in a post-Christian, psychologizing and Esoteric culture by means of a terminology and doctrinal elements culled from other traditions. In practice, the free­dom to be eclectic that a globalized religious ecology could have produced actually results in attempts to subvert the differences between belief systems. Spokespersons for Esoteric positions have created a new tradition of their own using the myths, symbols, rituals and doc­trinal statements of various other traditions, as found in religious texts or secondhand reports.

The final case study in chapter 4 shows just how distant an Esoteric interpretation can be from the significant Other from which it attempts to draw legitimacy. Texts describing the tantric concept of chakras became available to an educated Western audience in the 1910s, notably with the publication of Arthur Avalon's The Serpent Power. In the eighty years that have passed since then, the concept of chakras has become a staple of New Age literature. At the same time, the chakras have been not-so-subtly transformed from being elements in a pre-modern belief system and a meditative praxis, to a set of terms with which to express American middle class values such as autonomy, individualism and expressiveness. Tantric terminology has been adapted to the characteristically late modern concerns of identity formation.

The theoretical concept of position is linked to that of discourse, which in the classical, Foucaultean sense is inextricably connected with issues of power and authority. Although this aspect of the Esoteric Tradition is only marginally addressed in the present study, it may be appropriate to briefly note that the construction of tradi­tion is indeed a question of taking the right to speak authoritatively. All presumptive spokespersons are free to make their own choices from the pool of culturally given resources, to use pattern recogni­tion and other strategies at will, and to present their own interpre­tations as being particularly legitimate. When a spokesperson uses a discursive strategy rather than a more formal demonstration to sup­port the claim that his or her interpretations should be a valid grid through which others could or should interpret reality, this is an ideological maneuver. Modern movement texts, e.g. Caroline Myss' two books on the chakra system, are ambivalent on this point, since the author encourages readers more or less in passing to accept only what feels right. Yet Myss devotes several hundred pages to con­structing a system of correspondences that is backed by only rhetorical evidence; in this case, whatever "feels right" can hardly be subject to independent confirmation, and must therefore be accepted or rejected at face value. 

By the end of the eighteenth century, Christianity was not only challenged by other faiths. Arguably the most serious competitor were the materialistic and—more or less implicitly—secular natural sci­ences. A God who actively manifested his power and majesty in the workings of the world and in the history of mankind was gradually replaced by the far more distant creator of the deists. Reliance on scripture, miracles or revelation was criticized by Enlightenment philosophers on rational grounds. In this cultural climate, the first attempts were made to construct religious (or quasi-religious) systems on seemingly scientific grounds.

The history of scientistic religiosity was briefly reviewed in chapter 5. By the mid-1770s, Franz Mesmer had created a form of alter­native medicine. According to his theories, all diseases had a common cause: an imbalance in the magnetic fluid that flowed through the patient's body. Mesmer created a number of healing rituals aimed at restoring the flow of animal magnetism. Mesmer soon began to attract pupils, some of whom would experiment with his methods and modify them. In 1784, one of Mesmer's disciples, Armand Marie Jacques de Chastenet, the marquis de Puységur, created the perhaps most significant innovation in the early history of mesmerism. One of Puységur's servants, Victor Race, had been afflicted with a respiratory ailment accompanied by fever, and the marquis attempted to cure him by mesmeric means. However, Race did not experience any of the common symptoms of crisis, but merely appeared to fall asleep. Nevertheless, Puységur noted that Race seemed to hear every­thing that was said and slavishly followed every command. After the treatment, Race claimed not to remember anything that had happened during the session. Puységur named the new mesmeric symptom magnetic sleep or somnambulism.

The radical innovation consisted in the focus of Puységur's and his followers' investigations. Whereas Mesmer was entirely committed to his view of mesmerism as a method of curing patients, the reformed mesmerists under Puységur paid attention to the exotic symptoms manifested by many of their clients when subjected to magnetic sleep: they appeared to read thoughts, gave proof of X-ray vision, heard voices or foretold the future. Puységur and his colleagues lived in a pre-psychological age. Many of them appear to have understood the experiences of their mesmerized patients as an empirically valid path to access a religious (or, to borrow an anachronism, paranormal) world. The mesmerists seemed to gather experimental evidence in support of what had previously been religious or folk beliefs. By being empiricists of sorts and thus "scientific", the spokespersons for various versions of the mesmerist worldview created a syncretism between faith and rationality.

The present study has shown how each generation of Esoteric spokespersons since the days of Puységur has attempted to incorporate the scientific advances of their epoch into a religious bricolage.

As magnetism became an everyday phenomenon, electricity partially replaced it as a powerful metaphor for vital forces. Then electricity also lost its nimbus, and atomic theory, relativity theory and quantum physics became new sources of inspiration. Since then, scientism has come to permeate many aspects of the Esoteric movement texts that form part of the present corpus. Paratextual markers, such as the author's academic titles and the scholarly credentials of those who endorse the books, give these texts legitimacy. The structure of certain texts is modeled on that of scientific treatises. The vocabulary is infused with terms taken (i.e. disembedded) from their origins within the scientific community. Movement texts may claim scientific status for an array of doctrinal elements ranging from auras and astrology to various forms of healing. Religious activities are expressed by means of a rationalistic vocabulary that makes these activities acceptable to a largely secularized audience.

What, besides rhetorical legitimacy, does one accomplish by incorporating contemporary science? On the one hand, it becomes pos­sible to attempt a seamless synthesis a la Fritjof Capra or Gary Zukav. On the other, as shown by the final case study in chapter 5, it also becomes feasible to attempt to employ single elements of scientific theories or terminology as strategies to legitimize concepts that an earlier age might have seen as typically religious. In the case study, the type of events that may have been interpreted as mira­cles by an earlier age are explained as belonging to the domain of science but of a science that is vastly more encompassing than the purportedly narrow and materialistic science practiced in research laboratories around the world. 

The claim that the third discursive strategy, the appeal to experi­ence, is part of a late modern religious creativity may have surprised the reader. References to ancient wisdom or quantum physics are relatively obvious products of the religious creativity of a modern age. How could religious experience be a modern phenomenon?

Of course, it would be odd to claim that the concept of religious experience per se is part of the modern age. The earliest religious texts report visions, feelings of fear or trust in the transcendent, prophetic calling and a host of other phenomena that could readily be labeled religious. However, not all Western religious traditions have valued experience in the way many people appear to do today. Contemporary interest in e.g. mysticism can be seen as characteris­tic of our own epoch. As long as the religious tradition was guarded by a hierarchically organized priesthood, personal experience could even be viewed with suspicion. What could be a more efficient method of short-circuiting the hierarchy than to claim to have direct experience of the divine?' The first section of chapter 6 briefly discussed this historical background of the modern reevaluation of per­sonal experience.

As the doctrinal positions of Christianity came under increased attack, one apologetic strategy was to defend experience over e.g. faith, ritualism or ethics. Building on a Kantian legacy, Friedrich Schleiermacher is the perhaps most influential representative of this view of religious experience as the "true essence" of religion. In his Reden ueber die Religion, published in 1799, Schleiermacher introduces the notion that true religion is neither belief in specific doctrines, as it is for the religious orthodoxy, nor moral conduct as it was for certain Enlightenment philosophers, but rather feeling, intuition and contemplation. A few of the post-Kantian and post-Enlightenment views of religion founded on an epistemology of experience were briefly reviewed in chapter 6. However, the largest part of that chapter reviewed some fundamental ways in which narratives of religion have been used in Esoteric movement texts. For heuristic purposes, narratives of experience in the Modern Esoteric Tradition have been divided here into three groups, according to the relationship between the protagonist of the narrative and the narrator.

Third person narratives are reports of what people have experi­enced, e.g. as the result of having recourse to complementary med­icine, carrying out meditative exercises or consulting diviners. These are narratives of vicarious experience, spiritual insights and practices that somebody else has profited from. The present study has argued that such narratives serve a double purpose. Firstly, they are rhetor­ical exempla that support the doctrinal claims expounded in the text. By telling the story of a successfully healed client, spokespersons for a specific form of healing point to the validity of their preferred method. Secondly, they potentially cue the experiences of the reader.

Those who read the text on healing will be presented with a framework into which the symptoms of illness, processes of treatment and ensuing recovery or lack of recovery fit. Potentially, such narratives make use of practical examples to support the same discourse on illness, treatment and recovery that is theoretically explained through the doctrinal framework constructed in the text.

Almost by definition, first person narratives are narratives of priv­ileged experience. The narrator, who claims, after all, to have some­thing important to impart to his readership, is also the protagonist of biographical sections of his movement text. The narrative is at least partly aimed at impressing on his readers the fact that this claim is legitimate. Thus, the corresponding section of chapter 6 reviewed biographical data found in Esoteric texts, with the aim of exploring the way in which recipients of privileged experience are described. The experiences themselves are also claimed to have a variety of origins, which were also briefly reviewed. The latter topic again illustrates the fundamentally modern nature of these narratives of experience: the sources of privileged experience are variously claimed to be discarnate entities from other civilizations, space beings or metaphysical concepts such as the Higher Self.

Finally, second person narratives are directly addressed to the reader. The writer attempts to present experiences that the reader may have had, or may be able to have, thanks to the instructions given in the movement text. In the perspective adopted here, such textual passages fundamentally misconstrue what they actually accom­plish. Whereas the overt goal of the text is to reveal the meaning of experience or to help the reader attain a spiritual state where certain experiences are possible, on a covert level, the narrative of expe­rience can cue readers into reinterpreting considerably more mundane experiences in a new light. Thus, one's ordinary stream of conscious­ness becomes an object of attention by being provided with a label such as "channeled message".

If, as I have argued, second person narratives of experience embedded in Esoteric movement texts offer readers a`structure through which to interpret their life histories, their everyday experiences and their patterns of inference, this, along with the discursive strategies of invented tradition and scientism, points to one reason for the suc­cess of many Esoteric doctrines: the cognitively grounded and socially reinforced predilections of the readers are elevated to the status of ancient wisdom and scientific truth.

Returning briefly to the reincarnation claims that headed this chap­ter, it is clear that Steiner, like his Esotericist colleagues, relies on all three strategies. The case study in chapter 7 illustrates how one single doctrinal claim, that we are born again in a new human embodiment after the death of our physical body, can be legitimized through a variety of means. Experience, science and tradition are all said to point in the same direction. 

Without wishing to construct too heavy a case on the basis of a metaphor, religious systems could be said to exist in a kind of Darwinism of ideas. Hundreds of religious entrepreneurs are busy launching new doctrines and rituals in an untold number of movement texts. Only a few reach out beyond a small circle of enthusiasts. For those who do, half-life may be surprisingly short. In order to make more than an ephemeral impression on the cultic milieu, one of the necessary (but not sufficient) requirements is an ability to construct one's innovations on structural properties already familiar within that milieu.

Many of these structural properties were defined by the end of the Enlightenment. Most exact datings of cultural innovations should be taken with a pinch of salt. Nevertheless, it seems reasonable to consider the last two decades of the eighteenth century as a period of major religious innovation in Europe. Science and faith were syncretized by the Marquis de Puységur and his followers from the mid-1780s. A non-Christian form of religiosity had become an increasingly available option by the end of the same decade. Finally, the rhetor­ical position of experience had been considerably strengthened after the appearance of Schleiermacher's essays in 1799. The preconditions of successful religious innovation had changed within just a few years. Since then, dozens of successful prophets have explained that their message is logical and accords with the latest findings of science; that their doctrines are not their own innovations but the fruits of ancient tradition; and that they can be experienced in the life of every person.

Esoteric literature provides its readers with a means of structuring their worlds; tells them that these structures are as ancient as the spiritual life of humanity itself; and explains in scientistic terms why this perennial philosophy is valid in a modern age. Nevertheless, a study of the substantive doctrines of the Esoteric Tradition reveals wide gaps between its central tenets and the oriental, scientific and other sources from which it culls its ideas, and with which it competes. How is it possible to construct a worldview that claims to be based on the wisdom of the East without adhering to those basic tenets that Eastern thinkers themselves follow? How can one claim to be in tune with the latest developments in quantum physics while receiving only scathing commentaries from the mainstream of academic physicists? Two main modes stand out in the construction of an Esoteric tradition from the most diverse sources.

The first is a massive disembedding of elements from their previ­ous contexts. This mechanism clearly applies to the most diverse facets of modern Esoteric thought. Purportedly traditional elements such as shamanism or the chakra system are thoroughly detraditionalized and used for purposes far removed from those that pre­vailed in their pre-modern settings. Scientific terms such as energy, vibration or quantum are deployed in ways that bear little or no resem­blance to usage in texts dealing with natural science. Even elements that originate from other positions of Western esotericism, e.g. the concept of archetypes, are used in ways that diverge, with varying degrees of subtlety, from the use intended by their founding figures.

The second is the adoption of a pragmatic emic epistemology, the proposition that "if it works, it is true". Descriptions of mental states are understood as direct reflections of underlying reality, a position commonly characterized in philosophical literature by the unflattering term "naive realism". Narratives are taken at face value. The step from professed belief to established fact is a small one. Although the epistemological roots of the Modern Esoteric Tradition lie squarely in the Enlightenment view of the world, the core values of the Enlightenment, especially critical rationalism, are eschewed. In a sense, the positions of the Esoteric Tradition studied here are the results of the Enlightenment gone astray.

If the New Age, as Wouter Hanegraaff persuasively argues, is a cultural critique, it is a critique of modernity phrased in terms that are in themselves the products of modernity. Indeed the Modern Esoteric Tradition as portrayed here, from the first writings of Helena Blavatsky in the mid-1870s, can be read as such an ambivalent critique of the modern condition. During the 120 years portrayed in this study, spokespersons have sought a form of gnosis inherent in the remote past as well as in the imminent future.

All three discursive strategies reviewed here—scientism, traditionalism and reliance on experience are both a result of and a reac­tion against the broader Enlightenment project, just as the Romantic period was a result of and reaction against the Enlightenment proper. It is hardly surprising, then, that the views of Esoteric spokespersons on history, science and experience bear profound structural similar­ities to Romantic views on the same subjects. Like their Romantic predecessors, Esoteric spokespersons reject materialistic science in favor of a holistic vision of the nature of science, a kind of scien­tistic Naturphilosophie. Like them, Esoteric spokespersons decry the supposed shallowness and rootlessness of modern life and look back at a nostalgic past and its lost values. Like the Romantics, esotericists see personal experience as a privileged means of tapping the inner resources that will bring back the spiritual vision of that past epoch. The core insights of the spiritual past and the dawning holistic science can be experienced here and now by a vanguard of spiritually evolved individuals. Those who have progressed furthest along the path toward gnosis are the counterparts of the poet-prophets of Roman­ticism. If the term were not preempted by political discourse, it would be tempting to characterize this view as profoundly reactionary.

However, whereas the Romantic conception was capable of producing works of the greatest beauty, the literary, musical and artis­tic products of the New Age are sometimes indistinguishable from religious kitsch. A discussion of why this is so would entail deep engagement with the history of ideas of the post-Romantic age, and would require yet another volume.

Academic Revival

Western esotericism has at last found a thriving toehold in academia. After years of scorn and neglect, a marginalization where scholars from a variety of disciplines explained the behavior and ideation of cults and magical fashions based on the premises of the academic discipline in favor. The esoteric viewpoint thrived on the margins of the institutionally recognized religions and sciences.  It's own perspectives and raison d'être ignored and mocked by commonsense culture.

Visionary histories and traditions of occult knowledge and theory flourished without any official recognition from the academic powers of mainline science or religious studies. Now with the recent maturation of religious studies, weaned from the stranglehold of seminary and church, and seeking a more empirical and phenomenological sophisticated model upon which to mold interdependent and interdisciplinary descriptions and explanations of the esoteric aspects religious experience and cosmological vision into a reasonably coherent and historically informed picture.

Esotericism is a cultural construct of the nature of consciousness that is intricately interwoven with the vision of human becoming that is inclusive of science, religion, art, and cosmology. As a folk psychology the esoteric can include various forms of meditation and inner experience as they develop in self-consciousness.

The New Age is an accommodation of American marketing and commodity reductionism, where visionary experience and understanding is packaged to be purchased as a experience or a product such as a book, DVD or audio disc. Beside the adroit use of consumer culture to promulgate and profit from the perennial curiosity people have about the nature of their own awareness, there is little new in the New Age.

A recent book by Kocku von Stuckrad, Western Esotericism, A Brief History of Secret Knowledge (Equinox) provides a useful introduction to the history of esotericism in Western history. The book should serve as a handy orientation to newcomers to the vast field of esoteric studies. Even though the academic study in recognition of esotericism is well underway, the field has always been fraught with controversy. Stuckrad attempts in good measure offer of an outline of the main trends in traditions of esotericism from ancient times until the near present. By keeping in mind that “secret knowledge” and its revelation is a hallmark of the traditions that support what we would nowadays call “consciousness studies,” Stuckrad traces out the historical reach of Gnosticism, hermeticism, alchemy, Kabbalah, Neoplatonism, Rosicrucians, Freemasonry and Theosophy into the modern world. Like any book that is introductory, it manages to not falsify the data it looks at.

The Secret History of Hermes Trismegistus: Hermeticism from Ancient to Modern Times by Florian Ebeling (Cornell University Press) covers of some of the same ground but with a more narrow focus. Hermeticism is one of the traditions of Western esotericism that has thrived under varying guises since its inception in late antiquity. Ostensibly Hermes Trismegistus antedated Christ, being identified with the man-God, Thoth, a Promethean figure who taught Egyptians to write, and whose revelations supposedly foretold the coming of Jesus and the essential tenets of the New Testament. This mythical formulation was accepted by Renaissance scholars in their early synthesizing of Christian scholasticism with the revival of classical learning especially with the completion of the Platonic dialogues as interpreted by the late antique Neoplatonic thinking. Ficino, the Medici’s house philosopher was instrumental in propagating this view. Ebeling’s unique twist to his history is his concentration on the German Renaissance, especially the hermeticism as it was developed by Paracelsus, which did not follow in the humanism of Ficino, but rather took up the alchemical understanding of hermeticism. Sebastian Frank’s hermetic theology is also discussed, as is the pietistic rejection of the hermetic and the adoption of hermetic symbolism in Freemasonry. Neither Stuckrad or Ebeling show the nuanced complexity of the esoteric traditions, in their history as well as in their ideology, as the works approach modernity.

Magic and Mysticism: An Introduction to Western Esoteric Traditions by Arthur Versluis (Rowman & Littlefield Publishers) is a concise overview, from antiquity to the present, of many of the major Western religious esoteric movements. Topics covered include alchemy, Gnosticism, Hermeticism, Rosicrucianism, Theosophy and the recent development of academic study of esotericism itself as distinct from marginalized religion or science. Until comparatively recently, there was very little scholarship on Western es­otericism as a field. There were, of course, various articles and books on as­pects of Western esotericism like alchemy or Rosicrucianism, but there was virtually no sense in the scholarly world that these disparate tributaries of thought formed a larger current of Western esotericism as such. Landmark studies in the mid-twentieth century by Frances Yates began to demarcate "Western esotericism" as a field for interdisciplinary or transdisciplinary study. More than anyone else, though, it was Antoine Faivre (1934-) who, in the last quarter of the twentieth century, with numerous major books and ar­ticles defined the field as an academic area.

Faivre's typology describes well what we may call the cosmological do­main to which many currents of Western esotericism do belong, incorporat­ing as it does such disciplines as practical alchemy, astrology, geomancy, and other forms of divination, as well as secret or semisecret societies as found in Rosicrucianism, Freemasonry, various magical lodges or orders, and so forth. All of these draw on the doctrine of correspondences. What is more, a signif­icant part of Bohmean theosophy belongs to the cosmological domain—one thinks of the doctrine of signatures, the triadic nature of the Bohmean cos­mos, and so forth. Bohme too offers a profoundly esoteric view of nature. But to acknowledge the primacy of the cosmological dimension in what has come to be known as Western esotericism must not entail denying the presence of a metaphysical gnostic dimension at least in some of the same currents of thought. This said, the basic principle behind Faivre's methodology—a strictly historicist approach seeking primary definitive characteristics of esotericism—is a necessary one. We need definitions of terminology and of primary concepts, and the conceptual and historicist framework informing Faivre's perspective is of great value in construing the new field.

The contemporary academic study of esotericism began with Antoine Faivre, as cited below from his pioneering study and manifesto Access to Western Esotericism (State University of New York Press), who works historically and typologically. He defines six basic characteristics of modern Western esoteric thought (i.e., from the seventeenth century to the present), these being:

  1. Correspondences. As the Hermetic dictum has it, "as above, so below," meaning that there are precise correspondences between all aspects of the universe, including between the human microcosm and the macrocosm.
  2. Living Nature. Nature is not a collection of objects to he manipulated, but alive and connected via hidden, subtle forces that can he awakened and drawn upon through magia naturalis, natural magic.
  3. Imagination and Mediations. Here imagination refers not to wild fantasy, but to a means of spiritual perception, insight into the mundus imaginalis or spiritual realm(s) that can he seen only by those with purified vision.
  4. Experience of Transmutation. Transmutation here refers to metamorpho­sis, sometimes of natural substances (as of lead into gold via alchemical work) and sometimes of the individual (from ignorance to illumination).
  5. Praxis of the Concordance. Essentially, Faivre refers here to the tendency of esotericists to see the parallels between various traditions, as when in antiquity one finds Hermetists who are also Gnostic Christians. It is very close to syncretism or syncrasis— the joining of various traditions in prac­tice.
  6. Transmission. An emphasis on the importance of the initiatic chain—the transmission of secret knowledge from master to disciple—a tendency found in traditions as disparate as alchemy and magic.

Faivre's typology emphasizes the cosmological dimensions of esotericism and focuses on the early modern and modern periods, whereas other scholars have sought to widen the scope of the field. Dutch scholar Wouter Hanegraaff argues, in a whole series of articles, for an empiricohistorical approach to a field that de facto ranges from antiquity to the New Age.

A German scholar as we made note of above, Kocku von Stuckrad, argues even more broadly from a perspective of dis­course analysis that Western esotericism has two primary characteristics: claims to higher knowledge, and means of access to that higher knowledge. "Higher knowledge" is "a vision of truth as a master key for answering all questions of humankind," and the means to higher knowledge include pri­marily the mediation of revelatory beings like Hermes, and direct individual experience." My own approach here is a new, inclusive one that incorporates many aspects of these other perspectives and draws from a range of disciplines while remaining historically grounded.

One of the most striking future areas for investigation lies in comparative religious studies. Many Western esoteric traditions parallel Asian religious traditions in various ways—there are, for instance, Asian alchemical traditions that correspond strikingly to some forms of European alchemy; just as there are some interesting parallels between Vajrayana Buddhism and Chris­tian theosophy, or between Asian and European astrological or magical traditions. These are all comparative fields that remain largely unexamined and that could shed much light on the traditions concerned. But investigations of this nature require great sophistication of knowledge in a range of fields and languages, as well as extensive general knowledge of various eras. In many respects, only now are such comparisons even possible.

In short, it appears we stand on the brink of a new era for scholarship in esotericism. The aim of Versluis'  Magic and Mysticism: An Introduction to Western Esoteric Traditions  is to orient readers and potential scholars to this particular field and to its possibilities, but also to provide a new, more integrative approach. Some authors have warned against bringing esotericism into the academy, and there are indeed dangers in doing so. However, by approaching these esoteric figures and traditions historically and empirically, working integrative rather than by approaching them with any particular ideological axe to grind, we may well discover much of value that had too hastily been jettisoned or ignored in the past several centuries. What follows is a new, historically grounded approach to esotericism that focuses on the twin themes of magic and mysticism, of cosmological and metaphysical gnosis. One enters into the field with a sense of adventure, and that this sense of adventure both pervades this study and will continue in the future, for that above all is the sign under which investigation in this field necessarily proceeds. This theoretical enthusiasm offers more insight into the deeper rationale for the esoteric that does Florian Ebeling's study or Kocku von Stuckrad survey.

Versluis asserts that as we look over Western esotericism from antiquity to the present, we can discern one characteristic that emerges as central throughout the entire period: gnosis. The word gnosis here refers to assertions of direct spiritual in­sight into the nature of the cosmos and of oneself, and thus may be taken as having both a cosmological and a metaphysical import. Indeed, one may speak of these as two fundamental but related kinds of gnosis: under the heading of cosmological gnosis we may list such traditions as astrology and the various forms of -mancies such as geomancy, cartomancy, and so forth, as well as numeric, geometric, and alphabetic traditions of correspondences and analogical interpretations, traditions of natural magic based on these correspondences, and so forth. Cosmological gnosis illuminates the hidden pat­terns of nature as expressing spiritual or magical truths; it corresponds, more or less, to the via positiva of Dionysius the Areopagite. Metaphysical gnosis, on the other hand, represents assertions of direct insight into the transcendent; it corresponds, more or less, to the via negativa of Dionysius the Areopagite and is represented by gnostic figures like Meister Eckhart and Franklin Merrell-Wolff, to offer two historically disparate examples.

Versluis chooses to define esotericism primarily in terms of gnosis because gnosis, of whatever kind, is precisely what is esoteric within esotericism. Esotericism describes the historical phenomena to be studied; gnosis describes that which is esoteric, hidden, protected, and transmitted within these historical phenomena. Without hidden (or semihidden) knowledge to be transmitted in one fashion or another, one does not have esotericism. Alchemy, astrology, various kinds of magical traditions, Hermeticism, Kabbalah, Jewish or Christian visionary or apophatic gnosis—under the rubric of Western esotericism are a whole range of disparate phenomena connected primarily by one thing: that to enter into the particular arcane discipline is to come to realize for oneself secret knowledge about the cosmos and its transcendence. This secret or hidden knowledge is not a product of reason alone, but of gnosis—it is held to derive from a suprarational source.

Gilles Quispel, the scholar of ancient Gnosticism, has argued that Euro­pean tradition may be demarcated into a triad of faith, reason, and gnosis, with gnosis being the third and hidden current of Western thought. While Versluis does not agree with some of Quispel's Jungian premises, he seems fun­damentally right in proposing this triad, and further think that we cannot in­vestigate European, American, or other categories of comparatively recent es­otericisms without reference to their historical antecedents at least as far back as late antiquity. One cannot fully understand the triad of faith, reason, and gnosis without considering the full range of European history in which it manifests itself. What is more, we cannot adequately investigate, singly or comparatively, variants of esotericism without an awareness from the outset that we are entering into unfamiliar territory for the strictly rationalist or sci­entific mind, and that in order to understand it in any genuine way, we will have to learn at least imaginatively to enter into it.

There have already been some limited or preliminary efforts by a few scholars to begin a comparison of Gnosticism in late antiquity with Vajrayana Buddhism, with Bohmean theosophy, or with Persian Sufism, to give several examples. And such efforts are bound to suggest new insights into these disparate but sometimes apparently parallel traditions or spiritual currents. But what we are discussing here is no simple matter. For while the conventional historian must work with rather straightforward historical data—dates, events, major figures—to this the historian of esotericism must also confront an entirely new additional dimension that we may as well describe from the outset as gnosis. This dimension cannot be addressed by conventional history alone, precisely because gnosis represents insight into that which is held to transcend history. A visionary revelation, for instance, occurs in time, but ac­cording to the visionary that which is revealed does not belong to time alone. As eighteenth-century visionary Jane Leade wrote, to enter into the visionary realm, one must cast off from the "shoar of time." So must the historian of esotericism attempt to do, at least imaginatively if not in fact, or his or her his­tory may well devolve into mere reductionism and even denigration due to a failure of understanding. And this imaginative effort is all the more difficult if one is attempting to deal with not one but two culturally disparate forms of esotericism.

But this imaginative effort is critical if one is to truly begin to understand one's esoteric subject from within as well as from without. It is here that the work of Henry Corbin reveals its importance. Here Versluis not referring to the accuracy or lack thereof of Corbin's work— Versluis is not a scholar of Persian spirituality—but to the effort to enter into the perspective one is studying. This is the adventure the study of esotericism offers the scholar that few other fields can present. In the future, comparative esotericism will take its place as a subspecialty, but for now the field as a whole is in its infancy, with vast pri­mary research yet to be done, whole histories yet to be written. Before we can compare European alchemy with that of South India, we must first have a firm grasp of European alchemy itself! And that is a goal as yet not attained; one that will require not only a wide range of knowledge, but also the imag­inative capacity to interpret it.

While it may not always be easy to chart a course between the extremes of wholly embracing and wholly rejecting esotericism, this is what is necessary if we are to come to understand this complex and subtle field. An investiga­tor must attempt to understand the world in almost certainly unfamiliar ways, and this requires a sympathetic approach to various figures, writings, and works of art, open to the unexpected, yet also retaining some sense of critical distance. Western esotericism as it is outlined in this book is a vast and profound area for research, one that could perhaps best be characterized as a long series of different investigations into the nature of consciousness itself. It is entirely possible that an investigation into it will discover in its various forms of cosmological or metaphysical gnoses unexpected insights into hidden as­pects of nature, of humanity, and of spirituality.

Central to these insights is the relationship between self and other, or subject and object. In an article published in the Journal of Consciousness Studies, Versluis argues that Western esotericism tends to see and use language in a fundamentally different way than many of us are familiar with—here, language is used not for conven­tional designation in a subject-object relationship, but in order to transmute con­sciousness or to point toward the transmutation of consciousness through what we may term hieroeidetic knowledge. Be it Kabbalism or alchemy, troubadours and chivalry, the Lullian art, magic or theosophy, pansophy or esoteric Rosicru­cianism or Freemasonry, one finds a consistently recurrent theme of transmut­ing consciousness, which is to say, of awakening latent, profound connections between humanity, nature, and the divine, and of restoring a paradisal union be­tween them. Hieroeidetic knowledge can be understood in terms of a shift from an objectifying view of language based on self and other to a view of language as revelatory, as a via positiva leading toward transcendence of self-other divi­sions. It is here, in their emphasis on the initiatory, hieroeidetic power of language to reveal what transcends language, that the unique contribution of Western esoteric traditions to consciousness studies may well be found.

Near the end of this article, Versluis’ remarks that “The massive edifice of the modern technological, consumerist state was built from a materialist, secular, and objectified worldview, and the participatory, transformative, and gnostic perspectives characterizing Western esotericism seem far removed from and incompatible with that edifice. Still, for the first time now there are numerous scholars examining both Western esotericism as a general concept, and particular currents within esotericism, and it may well be that such studies will eventually offer unexpected insights into the historical origins of the modern era, as well as further insight into the relationships between Western esoteric traditions and consciousness.”

It is important to recognize how different are the premises of Western esoteric traditions from modern ways of thinking and understanding, and how by en­tering into these currents of thought we may indeed see our own world in new ways.

If Western esotericism is to fully develop as a field of scholarly inquiry, its unique nature must be recognized. Most unique about it is not its transdisciplinary nature alone, but the fact that its manifold currents are each concerned with new ways of knowing, with the transcendence of the self-other dichotomy, be it through initiatory literature, alchemical or magical work, vi­sionary experience, or apophatic gnosis. While purely historical research ob­viously has its place in this field, the most important works may be those that suggest new ways of seeing and knowing. Perhaps some of the most vital and profound contributions of this fascinating field will be in areas like con­sciousness studies, but in any case, we can be sure that there is much more yet to be discovered.

Obviously good introductory histories of esotericism are a necessary preamble to theoretical exploration of its various branches are important. However of greater importance will be the monographs that deal with the various branches of esoteric knowledge as it developed in the 19th and 20th centuries. Aspects of this history have been approached as for example in the various studies of the Hermetic Order of Golden Dawn.

But there is much more than still needs to be done.

Histories of esotericism become part of esoteric lore, though many esoteric works themselves approach their history mythically rather than critically.  Another aspect of esotericism is the deliberate cultivation of magick (the k being emblematic of the mystical and ritual aspects of the practice, rather than merely trickery and sleight-of-hand of the stage magician).

The Book of Abramelin: A New Translation by Abraham Von Worms (Ibis) comes to us in a new edition, complete with some probable backstory about the true history of the famous magick manual and the amateur sleuthing by Georg Dehn that uncovered its true province.

The Book of Abramelin is the first modern translation of this magical work since Golden Dawn Meister Mathers’ original translation over 100 years ago. Not only is the language updated, but Georg Dehn, the compiler and editor, has sourced his work from all extant manuscripts, while Mathers used just one.

The result is a stunning new translation that has already set the occult world abuzz. It includes voluminous important material left out of Mathers’ work, including an entire Part 2 filled with magical recipes, important distinctions in the Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel ritual, and complete word grids that were only partially completed by Mathers. This is an essential work for any serious practicing magician or student of occult history.

The underpinnings remain the same. The ultimate goal of Abramelin's Art is to gain direct conversation with your Holy Guardian Angel. There is also the book Abraham writes to his son, as an explanation of how the Treasure and the Art came into his hands. Anyone familiar with the Mathers version will also recognize the last book. It consists of magical squares that produce sundry effects by way of the spirits that are bound to them.

If it sounds like too much is the same to bother purchasing this book, let me counter by listing the things that are different.
There is a fourth book, in addition to the three Mathers translated from the French edition. This book deals with what Abraham calls the "mixed kabbalah". It is in effect a formulary of folk cures, charms, and nostrums that are not to be found at all in the Mathers edition.
Instead of six months, the operation detailed here, is a much more complex 18 months.
The squares from the final book that mesmerize so many students are completely different in the original German, than they are in the manuscript Mathers had worked from. Instead of 242, mostly incomplete squares, the German manuscripts show 251 squares, and every single one of them is completely filled in. That is to say, the Mathers version gave not only an incomplete list of squares, but out of the ones that are listed, two thirds are not completely filled in. What lines in the squares are filled in, you quickly discover, are misspelled, out of order, and almost wholly in disagreement with the original sources the present author uses.
In addition to the above, the author goes to great lengths retracing the steps of Abraham, making a case for his historical reality, as well as the hermitage of Abramelin the "old father" himself.
If you are familiar with the original Mathers translation, you owe it to yourself to take a second journey with Abraham to Egypt, and look anew at the teachings of Abramelin the Mage.

This Art takes a loftier place in Western Tradition than most tomes of its time and kind. Rather than idols, pentacles, and barbarous names, the Operation draws its power from the exorcist being virtuous. That is, god-like power is granted on the condition of piety. It is important to note that there is an 18 month initiation involving fasting, prayer, study of the Holy Books, and doing good deeds, culminating in a union between the prospective Magus and the Divine, completing both in the process.

The Alphabet of Nature by Franciscus Mercurius van Helmont, translated with an introduction and annotations by Allison P. Coudert, Taylor Corse (Brill Academic) Van Helmont was the son of the famous Paracelsian chemist Jan Baptista van Helmont (1579-1644). He was born in October, 1614, shortly after his father claimed he had successfully transmuted base metal into gold. Hence the name Mercury, hardly common, but redolent with alchemical associations, for mercury was an essential agent in transmutation and brought to mind the reputed founder of alchemy, Hermes, or Mercurius, Trismegistus. Like the wandering planet, whose name he bore, the younger van Helmont appeared to follow an erratic path. Born a Catholic, he was accused in middle age of "judaizing" and of becoming a Jew, for which the Inquisition duly imprisoned him. Later he joined the Quakers, but soon left when George Fox, their founder, rejected his kabbalistic brand of Christianity. Van Helmont was a reformer who so insistently sought to foster the best in human nature and society that one cannot but have sympathy with his ideals. He tended the sick and tried to reform the medical profession; he wove his own clothes and developed weaving projects to employ German peasants left destitute by the Thirty Years' War. He invented a chair to straighten crooked backs, and along with his good friend Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646-1716) drew up designs for a more efficient wheel barrow, better cooking pots, and even shoes with springs for "fast get-aways." Van Helmont must have been a most attractive and engaging character. The thought of his goodness once brought tears to the eyes of his good friend Henry More (1614-1687), a key figure among England's Cambridge Platonists. Only a pint of ale and a glass of canary wine could calm More's "passion," as he described it, and he excused himself by saying that as a chemist van Helmont could draw moisture from flint. Leibniz shared More's respect and admiration. When van Helmont died, he wrote his epitaph and said in the last two lines, "If such a man had been born among the Greeks, He would now be numbered among the stars."

The unifying motif behind van Helmont's activities came from his untiring effort to find a comprehensive reform of the Christian religion in an age of bitter and bloody religious controversy. He was convinced that a union of the mystical teachings of the Jewish Kabbalah and Christianity offered the foundation for a truly universal religion that would embrace Catholics, Protestants, Jews, Moslems, and pagans. This conviction is very much in evidence in his book on the natural Hebrew alphabet.

Van Helmont was not entirely happy with his orthodox education. In the preface to the posthumous edi­tion of his father's works, which he edited and pub­lished in 1648, he describes himself as 'not content', desiring “thorowly to know the whole sacred Art, or Tree of Life, and to enjoy it.” To this end he taught himself Latin and German by reading the New Testament many times in both languages and traveled throughout Europe seeking enlightenment from a variety of unortho­dox sources, which included mystics, followers of Jakob Boehme, Kabbalists, Collegiants, and Quakers. Between 1644 when he left home after his father's death, and 1648 he became acquainted with members of the Palatine family, becoming especially close in later years to the two eldest sons, Karl Ludwig (1617-1680) and Rupert ( 1619-1682). Van Hel­mont received a patent of nobility from Emperor Leopold in 1658 in recognition of the diplomatic and practical services he performed for these mem­bers of the German aristocracy.

Beside his father, another major influence shaping van Hel­mont's mature thought were the teachings of the Jewish Kabbalah. How he became acquainted with the Kabbalah is unknown, although it is prob­able that he came into contact with Jewish and Christian Kabbalists in Amsterdam. By the time he published his first book, The Alphabet of Nature in 1667 his kabbalistic philosophy was formulated in a way that would never change throughout his long life. He was con­vinced that the Kabbalah represented the prisca theologia granted by God to Adam and that it consequently offered profound insights into the natural and supernatural worlds. Through the Kabbalah mankind would come to share a single religion and obtain the philosophical basis for a complete understanding of the natural world. Van Helmont collaborated with Christian Knorr von Rosenroth in the publication of the Kabbala denudata (1677, 1684), a collection and transla­tion of the largest number of kabbalistic texts (particularly Lurianic kabbalistic ones) available to the Latin-reading public until the 19th century.

Van Helmont's role as advisor to Prince Christ­ian August of Sulzbach led to his arrest by the Roman Inquisition on the charge of "judaizing" in 1661, which suggests that his kabbalistic phi­losophy was already in place six years before the publication of his first book. Christian August's ardently Catholic cousin Philip Wilhelm, Duke of Neuburg, was convinced that van Helmont was undermining Christian August's Catholic faith by encouraging him to study Hebrew and the Kabbalah and by advocating the settlement of Protestants and Jews in the Sulzbach territories. He persuaded the Inquisition to imprison van Hel­mont on the grounds that van Helmont's judaizing had led him to reject the Sacraments, to interpret Christ's death and resurrection allegorically, and to claim that anyone could be saved in his own faith. Van Helmont was released after a year and half probably due to the intervention of Christian August.

While imprisoned van Helmont began work on his first book, The Alphabet of Nature. In this work, which now appears in English for the first time, van Helmont argues that Hebrew was the Ur-speech, the divine language of creation in which words exactly expressed the essential natures of things. While time and ignorance had led to the corruption of Hebrew, van Helmont contended that he had rediscovered its original written form, which corresponded to the tongue movements made while pronouncing indi­vidual letters. In this work he argues that Hebrew was not only the original language, or Ur-speech, but that it is also a "natural" language inasmuch as Hebrew words exactly mirror things. He further argues that the very naturalness of Hebrew enabled him to construct "a method for teaching those born deaf not only to understand others speaking but to speak themselves," Van Helmont was convinced this discovery would lead to the correct understanding of the biblical text and consequently provide the basis for an ecumenical religion rooted in the Jew­ish Kabbalah and capable of uniting Christians, Jews, and pagans. Furthermore, because it was the Ur-speech Hebrew provided access to both the divine and natural worlds. Studying it would there­fore lead to a better understanding of the natural world and to the advancement of learning in all fields, including natural science. 

Excerpt: While van Helmont's book offers a practical method for teaching the deaf to speak, it is primarily a philosophical work arguing that Hebrew was the divine language of creation in which words exactly expressed the essential natures of things. But as we shall see, the two themes were intimately connected in van Helmont's mind. Van Helmont contended that while time and ignorance had led to the corruption of Hebrew he had rediscovered its original form. He expected great things from this, believing it would bring an end to the religious controversies that had precipitated the Reformation and embittered its aftermath. He envi­sioned a natural Hebrew alphabet that would enable men to converse without rancor and solve disputes rationally.

Like many philosophic works, ancient and modern, van Helmont's The Alphabet of Nature is cast in the form of a dialogue between two speakers, who drive the argument forward by questioning and answering each other. The dialogue form was especially common in the early modern period. It was a favorite of van Helmont, and he made frequent use of it in his subsequent works. It fit well with his approach to knowledge and method of inquiry He was not didactic but preferred to make his points by leading his reader on with questions and answers.

Dialogue is inherently dramatic, a literary fact that van Helmont clearly appreciated. His countryman Erasmus wrote brilliant dialogues; and his English friend and colleague, Henry More, used the same for­mat for many of his treatises. Dialogue can give the impression of an actual conversation taking place between two or more people; it can create tension and suspense, as well as convey a sense of informality and immediacy. Since van Helmont's great theme is the power of speech, he needed effective speakers to advocate his cause: the revival of ancient Hebrew as a "living" language.

Although the speakers in this treatise do not come to life as fully realized literary characters, van Helmont does individuate them in certain ways. For example, he designates one as H, the other as M. These, of course, are the author's own initials, and it is likely that van Helmont intended for H and M to represent different aspects of his personality, as well as different sides of his inquiry into the origin and nature of language. Generally speaking, H plays the role of the cau­tious but curious skeptic, who poses questions ("How do infants learn to speak?"), raises objections ("I am not satisfied with these remarks"), and asks for further clarification ("Can this be more clearly explained with a more concrete example?"). M, on the other hand, supplies all the answers and explanations, as, for instance, in the long Sixth Conversa­tion which describes the various motions of the tongue and mouth in forming each and every letter, consonant, and vowel, of the Hebrew alphabet. M has other qualities: we find him praising the pioneering work of some scholars (such as Hutterus on Hebrew roots), quarreling with other authorities (such as Kircher and Walton), telling anecdotes (including the horrific story about two soldiers who copulate with a corpse), relating personal experiences (his striking success in teaching a deaf musician how to read and speak Hebrew), promoting concord between Jews and Christians, and everywhere displaying his dazzling erudition about different subjects (modern science, comparative linguistics, biblical and classical scholarship, ancient history, and so on).

Throughout his dialogue, van Helmont employs a "vitalist" rhetoric that matches his vitalistic views on language, human society, and the natural world. No descriptive term occurs more frequently than the Latin word vis (which we render sometimes as "force," sometimes as "power"). In one typical sentence, we are told that "the tongue, driven upwards with force, also descends with force to a lower position." On another page, we read about the tongue rebounding "forcefully from the palate," striking "violently in its descent," cleaving "strongly to the palate," and falling "swiftly`back again."' Speech is an energetic activ­ity that requires constant exertion and conscious vigilance; nothing about it is simply passive or receptive. Time and again, we hear about the "power" of individual letters to produce unique effects, such as the letter Jod, which gives "a living sense of the pain of childbirth," or the letter Schin, which "carries the sound of a silent man ruling with authority" Richly figurative, van Helmont's dialogue shows the influence of the ancient rhetorical idea of enargia, a generic name for a variety of techniques aiming at lively description. The vivid and energetic style of A Short Sketch also reflects van Helmont's belief in a cosmos that is fully animated and interconnected. Central to this doctrine is the notion that "every man radiates from himself his entire vital power without stop." Hence the many fascinating digressions on such topics as the secret power of the human hair, "the menstrual blood of the moon," or the sorry fate of a transplanted nose. Nothing is irrelevant. Thus the various organs of speech (breath, tongue, lips, mouth, palate, epiglottis, and windpipe) cooperate vitally and instrumentally with every other organ and faculty of the human being, the natural world,`and God.

Van Helmont wrote The Alphabet of Nature under rather unusual circumstance, during the eighteen months he was imprisoned by the Inquisition in Rome." His isolation and lack of books left him with nothing to do but think. Given this situation, he embarked on a train of thought that began with musing about living on an island inhabited by deaf mutes and concluded with the conviction that Hebrew is a`"natural" language:

“This, among other things, is what a plain and simple meditation suggested to me when I was in a certain place, where I was deprived of all the help necessary for an accurate elaboration of this matter [of a natural language], and the only relief left to me was thinking. For I had the opportunity to consider by meditating with myself what I would do if I had to live on an island inhabited only by people born deaf in order to lead a most pleasant life with the best conversation. So now I wish to deliver all this to the freest judgment of everyone, and I give infinite and eternal thanks to God, who has placed the mouth and tongue in man.”

Francis mercury van Helmont

From the frontispiece in the, we can see that the "certain place" was van Helmont's cell. Van Helmont sits at a table in a dark, vaulted room, the stone walls and metal bars illuminated by the light of a single candle. In elegant dress and comfortable slippers, he stares into a mirror, calipers in one hand and pen in the other. Clearly his dreamy speculations about his island adventure have taken a more practical turn. He realizes that a deaf person is not mute, except in rare cases, because of any physical deformity of the speaking organs, and he knows that deaf people can learn to understand words by lip-reading. These general considerations led him to the mirror and calipers. As one of the speakers in the dia­logue reasons, if a deaf mute can learn to read words merely in the course of being spoken to, how much more quickly might he learn to understand and speak words from diagrams, especially since diagrams have been used to teach people all kinds of things from violin playing to food carving:

Surely, if it is possible for someone to learn to play the violin by seeing the finger movements illustrated on the strings of a violin, the art of dancing through depictions of the order and placement of the feet, the art of flag waving through illustrations of gyrating flags, and finally, if the art of jousting, gunnery, and building and other similar things can be learned in this way, is it not possible for someone to learn and teach human speech through the various configurations of the tongue and mouth?'

His alter ego concurs, "I have no doubt whatsoever about these things." In fact, he somewhat surprisingly says that he has used precisely this method with great success on a "deaf musician ... suffering from weak vision and trembling limbs."' What is even more surprising is that there was actually such a person at Sulzbach, the composer Peter Meyer."

By proving he could teach the deaf and dumb to read and speak Hebrew through pictures, van Helmont attempted to discredit the argu­ments brought against the concept of a "natural" language. Thomas Erastus (1524-1583), the Swiss doctor and forceful critic of Paracelsus, was one of many who maintained that language was wholly a matter of convention. To prove this he cited the case of deaf mutes. Erastus reasons that if language is natural, meaning that if words and things are intimately connected, then deaf mutes could speak from birth. They would automatically know the names of things and hearing would be of no importance in learning a language.' By showing that deaf mutes could easily learn to speak Hebrew, van Helmont thought that he could demonstrate the two premises on which his theory of the natural alpha­bet was based: first, that there were such things as innate ideas in the human mind that had only to be activated to come into consciousness, and second, that the Hebrew language perfectly represented these innate ideas. Thus the case of deaf mutes was used by both those arguing for and against the conventional nature of language. The topic continued to generate endless debates in the following centuries.

The first conversation ends with van Helmont's contention that he could teach the deaf to speak. The second leaves the subject of the deaf and dumb and turns to van Helmont's great interest and the main subject of the dialogues, the Hebrew language. There is, however, a continuity between the two dialogues, for the second opens with the provocative question: "does the most holy script of the Hebrews have any similarity to the motions of the human tongue?" The protagonist in the dialogue answers with a forceful affirmative: "In itself it is noth­ing other than the artificial representation of the various motions of the human tongue.... And certainly if it were not for this fundamental fact, would it not be just as arbitrary, vain, and changeable as every script of every other language without exception?"" There are two interesting points in this statement. First, it implies that there is an exact correspondence between the movements made by the tongue sounding Hebrew letters and their written form. The written symbol is thus a picture of the tongue movements, and simply by reading the picture one can make the sound. Van Helmont actually draws the Hebrew letters as concatenations of tongues. Secondly, for some reason not yet apparent, this aspect of the Hebrew language places it above all other languages, which are "vain" and "dumb" in comparison.

Van Helmont was not a cautious man. At the very time he was in the dangerous position of a suspected heretic, he sat down to write a book reiterating the unorthodox opinions for which he was being held. Truth was more important to van Helmont than life, and the truth he thought he had discovered went something like this: if Catholics, Protestants, Jews, and Moslems agree in accepting the Hebrew Bible as the revealed word of God, why do they disagree so fundamentally and murderously about its meaning? For van Helmont the only possible explanation was that the text had been corrupted and people no longer understood it.

Ignorance had led to disagreements, disagreements to divisions, and divisions to intolerance, persecution, war, and bloodshed. These would vanish, van Helmont believed, once the bible was understood according to the principles of his natural Hebrew alphabet.

But this was not all that van Helmont expected from his discovery. Like many people he was convinced that Hebrew was the divine language of creation. After all, when God said, "Let there be light," there was light. In both the Old and New Testaments speech is a powerful creative force. It "comes," it "abides," and as Psalm 33 clearly says, "by the word of the Lord were the heavens made; and all the host of them by the breath of his mouth." The idea that the Hebrew language was a powerful creative force is reiterated in the prologue to the Gospel of John with the concept of Christ as the logos or "word" of God, through whom the world was created. To van Helmont these statements were the literal truth. In his opinion creation was a process that began with the thoughts in God's mind and ended with the articulation of these thoughts. This explains why he retranslated the first sentence of Genesis to read, "In the Head Aelohim created the Heavens and the Earth," instead of the usual "In the beginning," on the plausible grounds that bereshit, the meaning of which has always puzzled translators, was derived from the Hebrew word rosh, which means "head."

Because Hebrew was the language of creation, it was also a "natural" language in which words indicated the essential nature of the things they both produced and represented. To substantiate this, van Helmont, like many other authors, referred to the passage in Genesis where Adam names the animals. He did not believe the animals existed until Adam named them; before that time they were simply ideas in his mind. By imposing names on the thoughts in his mind, he brought the animals into physical existence, "because," as van Helmont says, "to call Things by their Names is to give them their Nature." Thus, for example, when a horse was brought before Adam and he said sus (the Hebrew word for horse), he expressed the essence of "horseness." 

(Some premeditate and considerate thoughts on the first four chapters of the first book of Moses, called Genesis) provides a good example of the use to which he put his natural alphabet. In this passage he discusses the Hebrew name for God (Aelohim, in van Helmont's spelling). He was convinced that the shapes and sounds of the indi­vidual letters, when correctly understood, contributed qualities and characteristics that perfectly describe God. For example, the first letter Aleph signifies (both by its shape and sound) infiniteness or multitude; the second letter Lamed (because it is a tall letter) signifies virtue and power; He (undoubtedly because it is a spirant) signifies respiration, breath, life, vegetation, growth, and fruitfulness; Yod because it "has a Sharp or Shrill Sound" "signifies the strong Life that produces the manly Member"; the final Mem (because of its closed shape) signifies a womb, hence birth and multiplicity. Thus, the essence of God lay in the shapes and sounds of the individual letters that made up his name. What is remarkable about this passage is that it comes from a book that was actually ghosted for van Helmont by Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz." Leibniz's authorship emphasizes how much more complex early modern thought was than appears in the conventional division of thinkers into progressive rationalists and empiricists (Leibniz) versus benighted mystics and occultists (van Helmont).

In The Alphabet of Nature van Helmont describes each Hebrew letter in terms of the significance the shape and sound have for its intrinsic meaning. He was certain that once people really understood the letters in this way, they would gain "a living" understanding of the Scriptures. Such an understanding was crucial for several reasons: not only would it lead to religious peace and unity, but it would provide a key to unlock the secret wisdom, arts, and sciences that van Helmont, like many of his contemporaries, believed were encapsulated in the biblical text. The author of the preface to van Helmont's book, his friend and collaborator Christian Knorr von Rosenroth (1636-1689), emphasizes this point:

If we examine the writings of the Old Testament, what do we find in them but a gold mine of all good arts and knowledge and a treasure chest in which all the`gems of philosophy, all the riches of the Divine Law, and, what is most excellent, all the treasure of Divine and Holy wisdom are hidden.'

Like van Helmont, von Rosenroth was convinced that the key to unlock this treasure-chest lay in van Helmont's natural alphabet. With this key Eden could be recovered and Babel restored.

Van Helmont offers an example on the contribu­tion made by heterodox and esoteric thinkers to ideas that became the hallmark of Enlightenment thought, namely a belief in scientific progress and a commitment to religious toleration. Van Helmont's published work advocates an ideal of toleration that makes inspiring reading to this day, especially towards the Jews. His philosemitism was unique because he accepted Jews as Jews and not simply as potential Christians converts. Through the process of tikkun anyone could and would be saved, whatever his faith. Furthermore, human beings were responsible for restoring the world to its prelapsarian perfection. Experimental science was therefore a laudable occupation and the key to progress.

When Fear Falls Away: The Story of a Sudden Awakening by Jan Frazier (Weiser Books) This is a popular account of how she woke up to become enlightened and what she had to unlearn and learn anew. These self-help titles by the newly awakened, brim with a primordial universality of joy and wonder and fearlessness. They also may encourage some quirky ideas about just what the supreme human state might be. Frazier’s account is more her own experience with a few confirming bows to authors past and in vogue. Still even with the necessity of reading with a critical eye the nature of her account rings true. And her prophetic call to others to fall awake by merely asking isn’t too far from the primordial truths espoused by lore and sacred esoteric tradition. 

In August 2003, virtually overnight, Jan Frazier experienced "a Idramatic falling away of fear" —not just the immediate fear of her annual medical test but, as she learned as time went on, her fear of everything.

When Fear Falls Away: The Story of a Sudden Awakening  is a firsthand account of the spiritual liberation of a contemporary American woman. A widely-published writer, Jan Frazier experienced a radical transformation of consciousness at the age of 50 that resulted in a life free of fear. With a poet's eye for telling detail, the author portrays how she changed, virtually overnight, from being at the mercy of fear, to living in a state of causeless joy at the mercy of nothing. In language both lyrical and precise, the day-by-day record shows her awakening as it unfolds over the course of eighteen months, enabling the reader to witness the flowering of freedom as it is under way. Frazier describes with startling clarity what she came to understand about suffering: that it originates not in events and circumstances, but in our response to them. As the narrative progresses, she arrives at a seasoned understanding of the nature of suffering that proves highly instructive to the reader.

This extraordinary story of an ordinary woman confirms the claim of Eckhart Tolle, the Dalai Lama - indeed, of spiritual teachers of every age and tradition: that beneath all torment and restlessness lies a pool of joyful well-being that is not subject to harm, that waits patiently to be stirred to life. The commonplace belief that enlightenment is for saints comes apart at the seams. When Fear Falls Away shows that the answers to the big questions - Why was I born? Who am I? -are to be found not in achievements, relationships, or belief systems, but within the quiet of human consciousness.

Frazier's message is simple and profound: this state of constant peace and joy is possible for any of us to achieve. This rare and beautiful account puts Jan Frazier solidly in the tradition of enlightened teachers from J. Krishnamurti to Byron Katie. 

 From Publishers Weekly: The summer she turned 50, Frazier suddenly lost the nearly crippling fear that had plagued her for decades. In its place came love, tears, laughter, ecstasy, delight, bliss, understanding and, eventually, an unshakable "undercurrent of fundamental contentment." This book, she says, is not self-help but a "testimony to a life transformed" and a promise that her experience is open to all. Frazier, a poet, knows how to turn a phrase, but her dated commentary, covering 18 months beginning in August 2003, often evokes the self-absorption and inchoate emotion of an adolescent's diary: "Every single thing I do is a total blast. It's like being stoned, only it's entirely clearheaded." Interspersed with celebratory journal entries are lyrical descriptions of her worshipful encounters with Gurumayi, the controversial "perfected master" whose Siddha Yoga mantra is translated "I bow to my inner Self, who is God." Some readers may find Frazier's unremitting attention to her emotional state tedious, if occasionally worrisome ("I expend a lot of energy to keep from whirling in circles with my arms out to the sides"), while others will perceive deep wisdom in her awakened realization "that being released from fear was independent of being released from bad things happening."

AS Ellis' book, Curious Emotions, suggests the emotional awakening is much more complex that Frazier's personal and introspective account would have us believe. 

Curious Emotions by Ralph D. Ellis (John Benjamins Pub Co) Emotion drives all cognitive processes, largely determining their qualitative feel, their structure, and in part even their content. Action-initiating centers deep in the emotional brain ground our understanding of the world by enabling us to imagine how we could act relative to it, based on endogenous motivations to engage certain levels of energy and complexity. Thus understanding personality, cognition, consciousness and action requires examining the workings of dynamical systems applied to emotional processes in living organisms. If an object's meaning depends on its action affordances, then understanding intentionality in emotion or cognition requires exploring why emotion is the bridge between action and representational processes such as thought or imagery; and this requires integrating phenomenology with neurophysiology. The resulting viewpoint, "enactivism," entails specific new predictions, and suggests that emotions are about the self-initiated actions of dynamical systems, not reactive "responses" to external events; consciousness is more about motivated anticipation than reaction to inputs. More

The Nature of Magic : An Anthropology of Consciousness by Susan Greenwood (Berg Publishers) (Hardcover) examines how and why practitioners of nature religion--Western witches, druids, shamans--seek to relate spiritually with nature through "magical consciousness". Greenwood develops a new theory of magical consciousness by arguing that magic ultimately has more to do with the workings of the human mind in terms of an expanded awareness than with socio-cultural explanations. She combines her own subjective insights gained from magical practice with practitioners' in-depth accounts and sustained academic theory on the process of magic. She also tracks magical consciousness in philosophy, myth, folklore and story-telling, and the hi-tech discourse of postmodernity.

On one occasion at Beltane (1 May) on Old Winchester Hill, an Iron Age hill fort on the South Downs in Southern England, a gathering of ten New Age practitioners attuned to the natural energies of the earth. Using a combination of chanting, walking, singing, dowsing, and dancing around a maypole, the aim was to bring healing and balance to each person as well`as to the environment by the alignment of inner energies with the ley lines and chakras' of the earth. Up and down the country assorted groups of witches celebrated the coming of summer in various ways, some as the rebirth of the young King of the Greenwood and his union with the Goddess as I the embodiment of nature; while other Pagans were encamped in a wood in Kent to prevent it being turned into a leisure centre. During the same period in the same county, a group of local school children, guided by shaman environmental educators, created an imaginative world of animals, plants and fairies in a bluebell wood for a May Fair. What motivates and connects these events is a spiritual revaluing of the natural world and the regaining of a sense of unity with nature. One well-known Pagan said to me: 'For modern people the world has been intentionally deprived of significance, and so you have to reconnect.' Connection with the natural world is thus the basis of nature spiritualities.

How is it that the human mind comes to 'disconnect', to 'renounce its sensuous bearings isolating itself from the other animals and the animate earth' (Abram, 1997: 261)? Historian Catherine Albanese, in her study of nature religion in America, observes that historically religious reflection in Western cultures, which has been primarily conducted through the `Judeo-Christian tradition', has been preoccupied with three symbolic centres: God, humanity, and nature. God has been paramount, and humans and nature, as creatures of God, have shone – but only in reflected light, leaving nature as a symbolic centre largely unnoticed. By contrast, what she terms 'nature religion' focuses on nature as source of the sacred (1991:7-9). Disconnection is largely due to the fact that in Western history there has been a progressive withdrawal of divinity from the natural world accompanied by a devaluation of human experience. This started in the period of Late Antiquity between the accession of Marcus Aurelius and the conversion of Constantine to Christianity (Dodds, 1990:37). Aided by Copernicus's transferral, in 1543, of many astronomical functions previously attributed to the earth to the sun, a fundamental change was made regarding human relationships to the universe and to God, creating the transition from a medieval to a modem Western view (Kuhn, [1957] 1974:1-2). The Copernican revolution facilitated the seventeenth — century mechanistic conception of nature developed by philosopher Rene Descartes (1596-1650) who separated the thinking mind from the material world and thus laid the ground for an objective science; this contributed to the view that human relationships to the world were in opposition to nature.

It has been suggested that the notion of nature as a mechanical inanimate system may be comforting for some, giving the idea that human beings are in control of nature and confirming the belief that science has risen above primitive animistic beliefs (Sheldrake, 1990:3). However, this view comes at a cost. A superior sphere of reason was constructed over a sphere of inferiority; the former was a privileged domain of the master, while the latter, which formed a category of nature, comprised a field of multiple exclusions created by racism, colonialism and sexism. Racial, ethnic and sexual difference were cast as closer to the animal and the body, a lesser form of humanity lacking full rationality or culture. During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries discourses on the animality of negroes, American Indians, the Irish, infants, women, the poor, the ignorant, the irreligious and the mad prevailed.

The mechanistic conception of the world was combined by some philosophers with a particular Protestant rationalized belief system that viewed God as an omnipotent clockmaker standing outside and apart from his creation. The element of design in mechanistic philosophy did not arise from 'the "natures" of things but from the properties with which God endowed them' (Hooykaas, 1977:14). A divine creator implies a dependence of the created on a creator, and also a differentiation between creator and created. Human beings had a special role to play due to being made in God's image; this further emphasized their separation from the rest of creation. The development of capitalism promulgated the view that nature was a commodity or a resource to be used. Although mechanistic theories did not go unchallenged, particularly by Vitalism, a radical analysis by Paracelsus of the activity in nature whereby matter and spirit were unified into an single, active, vital substance, and also by the academic disciplines of botany and zoology, Descartes' views have been influential. Historian Keith Thomas notes that Descartes' explicit aim was to make men lords and possessors of nature; other species were inert and lacking any spiritual dimension and this created an absolute break between man and the rest of nature, a 'transcendent God, outside his creation, symbolized the separation between spirit and nature'. Indeed, Thomas goes further by saying that 'Man stood to animal as did heaven to earth, soul to body, culture to nature'. The result has been described as a spiritual alienation from the natural world. This work is not a history of this alienation, rather it seeks to examine nature religion as a spirituality that seeks to find a unity in Nature; it has emerged as a 'backlash' to the general historical and philosophical context that has separated mind from nature. As anthropologist Clifford Geertz has noted, our brains are in the world, 'And as for the world, it is not in our brains, our bodies, or our minds: they are, along with gods, verbs, rocks, and politics, in it.'

Not surprisingly, the term 'nature' has a history. In early Greek philosophy, nature was the essence of a thing that made it behave the way it did. This oldest meaning of the term was dominant into the thirteenth century when it denoted an essential quality, an innate character. A century later it came to mean a vital or inherent force that directed the world of human beings. At the time of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, nature was viewed as a physical power causing phenomena of the material world. The changing meaning of nature reflected the changing structure of society, and in the seventeenth century nature was observed and studied as the work of God. By the eighteenth century, with the establishment of a scientific world-view, nature was seen`to be governed by laws; nature became increasingly synonymous with the material world and science was involved in interpreting its universal laws. At this time, nature was a clear authority: the laws of nature were the laws of reason. Nature had become rationalized. Inevitably, there was a reaction to scientific rationalism and it took the form of the Romanticism movement with its view of nature as pastoral landscape and immanent mysticism. More recently, four contemporary discourses on nature have been outlined: the first is as a science where nature is seen in objective and abstract terms; the second is as an economic resource — nature is a source of productive wealth; the third views nature as a source of emotional identification, relationship and tradition; and the fourth is through nature mysticism whereby nature has spirit and is worthy of reverence and awe. Nature spiritualities draw on the last two discourses: nature is viewed as a source of emotional identification and spirituality; practitioners immerse themselves in nature.

Catherine Albanese calls the immersion in nature a 'quantum dance of religious syncretism' in which the different movements 'move freely together, mixing and matching, bowing to new partners'. The centrality of nature, Albanese observes, provides a language to express cosmology and belief; it forms the basis of understanding and practising a way of life; supplies material for ritual symbolism, as well as drawing a community together. Nature religion does not exist as a definite and identifiable religious tradition such as Buddhism or Christianity, but, as Peter Beyer notes in his sociological analysis, the term refers to a range of religious and quasi-religious movements, groups and social networks in which practitioners consider nature to be the embodiment of divinity, sacredness, transcendence, or spiritual power. Beyer, who analyses nature religion in terms of globalization, points out that nature religion comprises a counter-cultural strategy – a religious critique of institutionalized social structures and normal consciousness. He is concerned to show how nature religion fits into a global context through the use of 'nature' as a powerful counter-structural symbol representing resistance to dominant instrumental systems. Using anthropologist Victor Turner's analysis of the anti-structural components of religious ritual, Beyer argues that nature religion is counter-structural – stressing oppositional aspects – rather than being anti-structural. He notes certain critical features that characterize nature religion: a comparative resistance to institutionalization and legitimization in terms of identifiable socio-religious authorities and organization; a distrust of politically oriented power; a faith in charismatic and individual authority; a strong emphasis on individual path; a valorization of physical place; a this-worldly emphasis with a search for healing, personal vitality, and transformation of self; a strong experiential basis; a valuing of non-hierarchical community; a stress on holistic conceptions of reality; and a conditional optimism regarding human capacity and the future. This is certainly the case in radical Pagan protest against the destruction of nature for road development etc. However, magical consciousness is not necessarily counter-structural. Some movements within nature religion – such as the New Age – are alternatives to Christianity, incorporating many mystical elements of Christianity, and may be said to be supportive of mainstream social structure, particularly regarding capitalistic enterprise.

Also viewing nature religion in terms of globalization, anthropologist Piers Vitebsky, in a comparison of Sora shamanism in tribal India and ethnic revival shamanism in Arctic Siberia, claims that indigenous knowledge loses its holistic world-view when appropriated by New Age neo-shamanists; when transplanted it becomes global rather than local cosmological knowledge. An alternative approach is to see nature religion not as a counter-cultural movement, or as an expression of a form of global knowledge, but as an expanded form of consciousness that is common to all humans. I shall argue that if nature religion is studied in terms of magical consciousness then holism, a central defining feature of indigenous knowledge, is not lost but just expressed in a different cultural and physical context.

Magical Consciousness

So, a connection with nature concerns less a form of counter-cultural resistance – although this may be the case in more radical forms of Pagan protest – and more a development of magical consciousness. Using the term 'magical consciousness' creates a definition that is doubly ideologically loaded – both 'magic' and `consciousness' are broad concepts that are notoriously difficult to define. Facing a similar dilemma over a definition of 'globalization', the historian A.G. Hopkins notes that holistic concepts may be a source of confusion as they invariably carry conflicting ideological messages, but abolishing them would not remove the difficulty. He recommends that when using general terms to describe broad issues, definitions should be explicitly stated and framed to match the purpose in hand. With this in mind I shall define magical consciousness as a specific perception of the world common to practitioners of nature religion. Before that, however, it will be necessary briefly to consider both consciousness and magic.

Although consciousness has been of modern philosophical concern since Descartes' cogito 'I think therefore I am' shifted the focus from the cosmos to the individual human being, a single definition of consciousness is evasive. The study of consciousness is problematic, not only for neuroscience and psychology due to its subjective and constantly changing character, but also for anthropology, which has only belatedly come to find consciousness relevant, having taken it 'largely for granted, neglecting – even, perhaps, denying – its significance and relevance'. As John and Jean Comaroff have pointed out, anthropologists usually study consciousness and its transformations by examining its effects or expressions; its social and symbolic manifestations as conscience collective. Rarely is the nature of consciousness in the making, or its historicity examined. Consciousness itself is seldom scrutinized:

Sometimes it is regarded as the mere reflection of a reality beyond human awareness, sometimes as the site of creativity and agency. But, almost invariably, 'consciousness' is treated as a substantive 'mode of or 'for' the world, as so much narrative content without form.

The classic work of psychologist William James (1890 [1950]) indicates why consciousness has been seen to be so formless and so difficult to pin down. James's notion of mind as a 'theatre of simultaneous possibilities' views consciousness as a process that compares, selects and suppresses data, much as a sculptor works on a block of stone, extricating one interpretation from the rest. He writes that my world is but one in a million alike embedded, alike real to those who may abstract them. How different must be the worlds in the consciousness of ant, cuttlefish, or crab!'. Consciousness, says James, is also like a stream or river; it is a continuous and always changing process. The work of neuroscientist Gerald Edelman, in Bright Air, Brilliant Fire, draws on and develops James's ideas: consciousness depends on unique history and embodiment, it is constructed through social interaction, and meaning takes shape in terms of concepts that depend on categorizations. The picture that emerges from these views is that there is a multiplicity of consciousnesses, or aspects of consciousness, rather than a single state.  The notion of consciousness as a stream of possibilities both overcomes the Cartesian emphasis on mind and reflective reasoning aspects, and opens up possibilities for alternative views of consciousness as process that is inclusive of body, as well as being more expansive to include other beings in nature, and even perhaps being an intrinsic quality of a wider universe.

Notwithstanding, anthropologist Michael Hamer, who explored South American Indian shamanism and developed 'Core Shamanism' as a method that synthesized shamanic techniques for Westerners, differentiates between what he terms an 'ordinary state of consciousness' (OSC) and a `shamanic state of consciousness' (SSC), referring to 'ordinary' and `nonordinary' reality respectively. The shaman can move between states of consciousness at will. Harner's distinction of OSC and SSC for Westerners belies the complexities of consciousness - such as aspects arising from imagination, emotion, cognition, and perception - and that people, whether shamans or not, are constantly shifting effortlessly from awareness to awareness or aspect to aspect; it is not always so easy to categorize consciousness in this manner.' This is not to deny that a shaman is nonetheless a specialist in one part of this process as a mediator of different realities.

Turning to magic we will see that it means many different things to different people. Magic, as anthropologist Ariel Glucklich points out, can refer to a moon-swept landscape, love, music, the occult, the extraordinary that defies the laws of nature, and gross superstition among many other things. It is, he claims, a 'decadent hodge podge of ideas from many sources'. We use the term so much, Glucklich argues, that it means too much and therefore hardly anything at all; we need a clear and definite understanding. Historically, magic had a negative association in Roman times being viewed as a system that utilized powerful forces to control nature. Seen to be outside the ordinary course of nature in the fifth centuryl it was rehabilitated in an exalted sense in the Hermetic tradition of the Renaissance when it was seen as a way to contact higher powers or God and was associated with neoplatonism. Magic, under this guise, was 'natural magic' or 'sympathetic magic' and involved the secret virtues of plants, stones and talismans for drawing down the powers of stars. This was a form of esotericism based on the view that there were correspondences between the natural and celestial worlds, both seen and unseen. During the Reformation, demonic magic, which was seen to rely on supernatural intelligences, was sharply demarcated from 'true' religion and science. The aspect of control - using preternatural or supernatural means to gain control over nature - was opposed to the religious attitude of reverence: an inclination to trust and to be in awe of powers superior to humanity. Magic is also concerned with the ritual working ofunseen (occult) or subtle levels of reality in order to create change in the everyday world - such as casting a spell or raising energy to direct to a specific intention. Magic is, as Pagan Margot Adler observes in her influential study of Paganism (she calls it Neo-Paganism) in America, a convenient word for a whole collection of techniques that involve the mind, including the mobilization of the imagination and the ability to visualize; magic is a knowledge about how emotion and concentration can be used to change consciousness.

My use of the term 'magic' here concerns an aspect of consciousness that is primarily natural rather than supernatural or mystical, although it may be interpreted in those ways socially or culturally. A magical 'state of mind' must be experienced; it has an intrinsically subjective and sensory quality that is embodied and intuitive rather than purely reflective and intellectual, although the reflective and intellectual may be engaged with the intuitive and the embodied as there is no radical opposition. I want to make it clear that my use of the term `magical consciousness' is not an attempt to reify an aspect of consciousness but rather to draw attention to a certain dimension of human experience. In my focus on magical consciousness I do not wish to suggest that magical consciousness should be opposed to rationality, neither do I want to create a dualism between science and magic (or religion) or between reason and imagination, but rather to highlight a part - or strand, or thread, or 'expanded' awareness - that is an important component of the whole process of consciousness central to how many practitioners of nature spiritualities experience the world. It is the development of this type of expansive awareness - one that actively develops the imagination in making connections between other beings both seen and unseen - that constitutes the basis of magical practice. Above all, magical consciousness concerns the awareness of the interrelatedness of all things in the world.

Anthropologist Bruce Kapferer, in his study of sorcery among Sinhalese Buddhists in Sri Lanka, argues that the magicality of human beings is in embodied, passionate relationships with others and in the way that realities are constructed: sorcery (as a psycho-social expression) accentuates vital dimensions of the ways that humans explicitly or implicitly construct their realities:

Human life is magical in the sense that human beings span the space that may otherwise individuate them or separate them from others. Their magical conjunction with other human beings in the world - imaginative, creative, and destructive - is at the heart of human existence.

Magical conjunction, I suggest, is magical consciousness; it is not a category of thing in itself but an aspect of a particular experience of consciousness and a way of ordering reality. Magical consciousness is a dimension of human thought and action; it is not primarily individual nor can it be divorced from the wider social or environmental context - it is a participatory and holistic way of thinking.

Psychologist, biologist and anthropologist Gregory Bateson was a holistic thinker seeking an understanding of the human part in the whole living world; he sought to overcome the Cartesian split between mind and body, and in Mind and Nature: a necessary unity he expressed a relational view of mind. Bateson thought that the mind should be seen as immanent in the whole system of organism--environment relations in which humans are enmeshed. The brain was in relation to the surrounding environment and the mind (as a processor of information) extended outwards into its environment along multiple sensory pathways; the perceiver was involved in his or her environment. Thus the mind was not just involved with the working of the human brain; it was viewed in much wider terms as a way of coming to understand the world by being in the world. Bateson tried to find a language of relationship to describe the living world as a dynamic reality. He thought that logic, a method for describing linear systems of cause and effect, was unsuitable for the description of biological patterns and that metaphor was the language of nature. Bateson attempted to find the underlying pattern in the structure of nature and the structure of mind in 'an ecology of mind'. The mind is concerned with thoughts and ideas about the world; it classifies and maps things. Mental maps organize connections and differences between things in a familiar pattern; and patterns connect. Bateson called this 'ideation'. By contrast, 'abduction' was the process of recognizing the patterns between different things through metaphor, dreams, allegories and poetry. Abductive systems link the body and the ecosystem: a meta pattern is shared.

Although Bateson did not discuss magic directly, his work on abductive systems employing dreams, poetry and metaphor links closely with conceptions of magic as relational thinking. He believed that knowledge always existed surrounded by an unknown that was penetrable to the ambitious investigator. Ideas could be drawn from many disciplines and he 'respected the mystic's approach to life as much as the scientist's' . Creating relationship – in physical or spirit form – is the basis of magical consciousness. A decentred part of the process of consciousness that is receptive to other beings both seen and unseen, magical consciousness is a perception that is able to move away from a primary focus on the individual; it is a consciousness that is aware of connections between phenomena and it is shaped by psycho-social experience and world-view. Magical consciousness may be explained in terms of mysticism, an experience of vastness, sometimes experienced as a union with an ultimate reality, cosmic consciousness, or God; it is also explained in more animistic terms. Ecologist and phenomenological philosopher David Abram says that the human mind is instilled and provoked by the 'tensions and participations between the human body and the animate earth'. He asserts that by acknowledging an inner psychological world and the surrounding world, psychology is loosened from the strictly human sphere to meet with other minds in oak, fir, hawk, snake, stone, rain, and salmon; all aspects of a place make up a particular state of mind – a `place-specific intelligence' shared by all beings that live in the area.

Magical consciousness requires a shift in perception from a so-called normal perception; this is akin to what the anthropologist Stanley Tambiah, drawing on philosopher Levy-Bruhl, has termed `participation'. An ancient construct in Western philosophy and theology, the term 'participation' accounts for the togetherness of diverse elements – how one thing participates in one or several others. Tambiah says that participation can be represented as occurring when 'persons, groups, animals, places, and natural phenomena are in a relation of contiguity, and translate that relation into one of existential immediacy and contact and shared affinities'. Participation, according to Tambiah, uses the language of solidarity, unity, holism and continuity in space and time; it also engenders a sense of encompassing cosmic oneness. Participation is contrary to causality, defined by Tambiah as quintessentially represented by the categories, rules and methods of positivistic science and discursive mathematicological reasoning. Analytically separate, participation and causality intertwine in many combinations and Tambiah is careful to emphasize that they do not form a dualism; he points out various contexts and discourses where one or the other mode predominates, the different modes becoming increasingly difficult to separate in the scientific theory-making branch of modern physics . In fact, if consciousness is viewed as a process the problems of dualistic thinking are avoided. My experience on the Snowdonian hillside, already mentioned, is but one example of the participation required in developing magical consciousness. Experiences such as these are said to bring about a transformation of perception; changes may occur through the meeting of other practitioners for rituals, meditation, as well as specific practices of healing or environmental protest, for example. In the chapters that follow more examples will be given.

Part of the process of developing a magical consciousness is learning to see the natural world as vital and alive – seeing it in animistic terms. Edward Tylor used the term 'animism' to refer to the 'anima' or soul as the essence of a being or the 'animating principle'. For Tylor, animism was the earliest form of religion, coexisting with magic in 'primitive' societies. More recent anthropologists, such as Tim Ingold, take a phenomenological approach to animism, seeing it as a world-view envisaged from within a 'total field of relations whose unfolding is tantamount to the process of life itself. Taking his cue from Bateson and drawing on ethnographic work on the hunter-gatherer Cree people of northeast Canada who say that the entire world, not just the human world, is saturated with powers of agency and intentionality. Ingold asserts, like Bateson, that mind should be seen as immanent in the whole system of the organism–environment relations; the whole organism-in-its-environment is the point of departure of an indivisible totality. There is no separation between mind and nature; mind is not added onto life but is immanent in intentional engagement of living beings within their environments. David Abram takes this further when he argues that 'perception, in its depths, is truly participatory'. He defines magic in its most primordial sense as participating in a world of multiple intelligences with:
the intuition that every form one perceives — from swallow swooping overhead to fly on a blade of grass, and indeed the blade of grass itself — is an experiencing form, an entity with its own predilections and sensations, albeit sensations that are very different from our own.

Abram draws on Merleau-Ponty's phenomenology and makes four points to illustrate this magical animistic world-view: firstly, perception is inherently interactive and participatory – there is a reciprocity between perceiver and perceived; secondly, spontaneous pre-conceptual experience is not dualistic in or out of animate/inanimate but forms relative distinctions between diverse forms of animateness; thirdly, perceptual reciprocity between sensing bodies and animate expressive landscape engenders and supports linguistic reciprocity – language - is rooted in non-verbal exchange; fourthly, human languages are informed b structures of human body, human community and more-than-human terrain. Language is not specifically human: 'Experientially considered, language is no more the special property of the human organism than it is an expression of the animate earth that enfolds us'.

In views such as this magic is essentially a natural phenomenon, not mystical or metaphysical; it expresses a conceptual and perceptual world-view that creates meaningful connections between phenomena. To an extent, this is what Carl Jung meant when he said that, 'No man lives within his own psychic sphere like a snail in its shell, separated from everybody else, but is connected with his fellow-minds - by his unconscious humanity.' Jung saw this as a collective unconscious, a living reality; the pre-conscious aspect of things and a reservoir from which to draw – was nature not something mystical. Here Jung draws on the Greek definition • psyche which, according to Aristotle, meant the 'principle of life' that anima a living thing. Psyche was a wider concept than mind or consciousness and was equivalent to soul, the 'first principle of living things' and the functional state of living creature. For Jung, the psyche occurs in living bodies and in matter, but the original feeling of unity with the unconscious psyche has been lost due to the conscious mind becoming more and more the victim of Jung saw as its own discriminating activity.

Practitioners of nature religion may look back to a time of unity with nature, and psychologist Brian Bates's historically-based novel The Way of Wyrd has been influential in this respect.6 IThis work is an introduction to a shamanistic inspirited nature as told through a story of the initiation of Wat Brand, a Christian scribe, by Wulf, an Anglo-Saxon sorcerer. Wulf tells Wat that the soul is the essence of wyrd and is present in everything– even rocks have soul (psyche), the principle of life. Wat questions Wulf:
'Rocks do not breathe, Wulf. Surely then, they cannot have soul?' Wulf watched me steadily, through narrowed eyes.

`Rocks breathe,' he said evenly. 'But each breath lasts longer than the life and death for a man. Hills and mountains breathe, but each breath lasts a thousand human lifetimes.'

Bates writes that the original Anglo-Saxon form of the word 'weird' meant `destiny', 'power' and 'magic' or 'prophetic knowledge'. He points out that in Anglo-Saxon times all aspects of the world were seen to be in constant flux and motion, and a dynamic and pervasive world of spirits coexisted with the material world. The spirits were manifestations of the forces of wyrd and were invisible to most humans. Life force, or vital energy, permeated everything in this worldview; it was manipulated by the sorcerer, as the mediator of the spirit world and the human world, who 'connected individual human functioning with the pulse of earth rhythm'.

Bates sees wyrd as a path to knowledge – of psychological and spiritual liberation; it is a way of being that challenges dominant notions of body, mind and spirit. All aspects of the world are seen to be in relationship in this view, and the totality is conceived of as a web. The web of wyrd is a view of the world conceived as a relationship of patterns and it offers a metaphor for connection – a European model for a cyclical process more visible in non-Western contexts. Bates himself likens it to the Chinese notion of Yin and Yang, but it also has parallels with much African thought in the sense that the material world is not seen as inert but vital. Bates employs a psychological approach to shamanism that is very popular amongst practitioners but problematic for some academics;

The chapters give an overview of the numerous spiritualities that`make up nature religion; it also points to some of the underlying historical influences o esotericism, romanticism and environmentalism that have currency in everyday contemporary practice. This is followed by a more detailed look at how some practitioners identify with and create relationships and connections with nature. Catching a glimpse through a New Age talk on Deep Ecology at `Alternatives', a forum for talks on mind, body and spirit held in St James's Church, Piccadilly, London; the experiences and thoughts of a Pagan priestess, and Druid; a workshop on the spirit of place held at Atlantis, the well-known occult book shop in London; the work of a New Age healer in Norfolk, East, Anglia; radical Pagan protest against environmental destruction; and finally, a shamanic drumming group ritual to contact ancestors, this chapter aims to present' an intimate portrayal of some ideas and attitudes to nature; it is inevitably selective – a vignette through some of the multiplicity of approaches.

Next we look at ways in which practitioners locate themselves through the themes of place, ancestors and tradition. It compares the work of two shamans: the first, a Romany gypsy chovihano, acts as a medium for gypsy ancestors and other spiritual beings. Like other mediums – such as the Victorian Spiritualists and the Sora shamans of south-east India – he is a channel for the world of spirits. A relationship with the spirits of nature and the land is said to be an integral part of life for many Romany gypsies: in Romany lore kam, the sun is father, shop, the moon is mother, puvus, the earth grandmother, while ravnos, the sky, grandfather. The second shaman, a Pagan environmental educator, claims Celtic ancestry but chooses to work with what he sees as a variety of traditions of the land to link people with place. In this Chapter I also use the example of a late Bronze Age timber circle popularly known as Seahenge', which emerged from the sea on the north Norfolk coast whilst I was conducting fieldwork in the region, to look at some different attitudes towards what was seen by many to be a sacred monument on a par with Stonehenge. I examine the dissension between local residents, archaeologists, and practitioners of nature spiritualities caused by its appearance.

Dealing with the process of transformation of cognition through magical consciousness draws on the philosophical and theological notion of participation, the term coined by philosopher Lucien Levy-Bruhl and developed by anthropologist Stanley Tambiah to examine consciousness. The main purpose underlying many of the varying practices of nature religion is the transformation of consciousness – this might be to see the world as vital, conscious and interactive – and various examples of this process are given, including relating to spirits in a New Age centre, shamanic journeying using Michael Hamer's Core Shamanism technique, and a Romany gypsy healing ritual. Healing involves restoring, or creating, a participatory perception, one that links the person within a wider animated cosmos; it orders and realigns the universe, essentially creating spiritual balance and harmony in the world. According to Richard Katz, with reference to the Kalahari !Kung of South Africa, healing involves a process of transition toward meaning, balance, wholeness and connectedness between individuals and their environments. Healing is more than curing, it seeks to establish health on the physical, psychological, social and spiritual levels, and it integrates the individual, the group, the environment and the cosmos. !Kung ritual shares many affinities with Romany gypsy ritual as portrayed here.

Specific case studies illustrating how magical consciousness is developed through myth is the focus. The old European myth of the Wild Hunt is associated with 'soul-ravening' chases, and its origins lie in the belief held by many in the ninth to the fourteenth centuries that during their sleep their spirits were snatched away to ride in a ghostly cavalcade. The power of this myth is connected with the urban/rural divide probably created with the rise of the ancient city-state when humans became separated from the natural world, as nature came to represent 'the wild', the chaotic antithesis of ordered society. The mythology of the Wild Hunt draws on notions of a primordial ancient and 'untainted'`power as a framework for experiencing magical consciousness.

Utilizing a common folk theme of a god or goddess hunting for souls, this myth illustrates the rhythm of life and death and a certain form of transformation; how practitioners interpret it is the focus of this chapter.

Then we continue the theme of participation through an examination of the role of fairy stories and nature spirits in creating a sense of being indigenous – of being related to place. David Abram says that language for oral peoples is not a human invention but a 'gift of the land itself'. Language arose not only as a means of attunement between people but also between humans and an animated landscape. Does nature religion encourage 'thinking with nature', knowing the land though its stories? Three case studies – of Romany gypsy shamanic workshops, Reclaiming Witch Camp, and the work of a shaman environmental educator – will be discussed in relation to the problematic notions of tradition, authenticity and being indigenous.

As indicated earlier, there is a paradox within nature religion involving a contradiction between a discourse of connectedness and a discourse of esotericism – both are semi-permanent currents within the general 'nature religion' stream – and Chapter 8 raises the thorny question of whether nature spiritualities are ecological. Mostly originating within the Western Hermetic tradition rather than any indigenous practices, nature religion has strong neoplatonic tendencies and these influence contemporary attitudes and practice. There is an implicit monotheism – principally seen in a veneration of the Goddess – and an anthropocentrism, a human-centred focus on the individual in relation to the cosmos. Neither attitude is ecological; this chapter discusses some of the resulting complexities and paradoxes and also raises problematic issues for the academic study of magical consciousness.

The final chapter seeks to locate nature religion within a wider perspective, largely in terms of what it means to those who live in the city. Nature religion is most often practised by city dwellers. Reflecting on nature religion in terms of globalization and postmodernism, this chapter suggests that the holistic world-view of magical consciousness is not necessarily solely a reaction to social fragmentation; it can also be seen as an innate expression of human consciousness that is manifested differently in varying socio-cultural contexts. The persistent underlying theme of this book is that magical consciousness is primarily natural rather than supernatural.
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