Haec est tonus fortitudinis
quia vincet omnem rem subtilem
omnemque solidam penetrabit.
(This thing is the strongest of all powers,
the force of all forces,
for it overcometh every subtle thing
and doth penetrate every solid substance.)
……………………………..(tabula Smaragdina, 9)
[Letter 11, page 268]
In Letter 10, our anonymous author discusses the transformation of fallen animality into holy animality:
In the preceding Letter the transformation of fallen animality into holy animality was discussed, where the latter is spontaneous obedience to God, without the hindrance of reflection, doubt or motives of interest. Such obedience is basically an instinct (269).
In this letter, he continues to elaborate on this distinction, outlining two tableaus which summarize the kind of force that is active in the respective natures which are exemplified in these two types of animality–forces illustrated by the two types of water (or “seas”) and the two feminine figures described in the Apocalypse of St. John.
The first type of “water” is “the sea of glass” surrounding the throne God which represents the “eye” of unfallen nature. After quoting Revelation 4:6-8, our anonymous author comments as follows:
This gives a tableau of the working of natural religion, and its structure and elements. It is the Presence which is reflected in the limpid sea “like crystal”, and it is Holy Animality, which never ceases to sing: “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!”
The “sea of glass” is the eye of the whole of Nature for God; the four creatures “full of eyes all round and within”—what they are and what they do —represent the natural reaction to the divine Presence. Perception and reaction— here is the essence of the natural religion which fills the unconscious core of creatures and which manifests itself through vital elan. Because all that lives participates in the collective perception of the “sea of glass”, and in the collective reaction of the chorus: “Holy, holy. holy. . .”, for this participation is the Life of life and the source from which the Elan of vital elan springs forth (270-271).
The second type of water is the “flood” flowing out of the serpent’s mouth like a “river” with the aim of sweeping away the feminine figure of unfallen nature (271 — cf. Revelation 12:15-16). Thus, he continues, there are two ways of arriving at conviction indicated by these two types of water:
In the world there are therefore two different kinds of arriving at a conviction: one can be illumined by the serene clarity of contemplation, or one can be swept away by an electrifying flood of passionate arguments aiming at a desired end. The faith of the illuminated is full of tolerance, patience and calm steadfastness — ‘”Like crystal”; the faith of those who are swept away is, in contrast, fanatical, agitated and aggressive — in order to live it needs conquests without end. because it is conquest alone which keeps it alive. The faith of those who are swept away is greedy for success, this being its reason for existence, its criterion and its motivating force. Nazis and communists are of this faith, i.e. that of those who are swept away. True Christians and true humanists can only belong to the other faith, i.e. that of the illuminated (271-272).
Plato, he goes on to say, illumines, whereas Marx sweeps away:
Now, the waters which pour out of the mouth of the serpent sweep away, whilst those of the “sea of glass” like crystal, before the throne, illumine. And just as the collective perception of virgin Nature (the “sea of glass” before the throne) is accompanied by the collective reaction to this perception (perpetual adoration by the four holy creatures), so also there is in fallen Nature a reaction to the waters of the serpent swallowed up by the earth, namely the beasts of the Apocalypse. The Apocalypse does not designate them by the term “living creature” ( [Greek] ‘to dzoon’). which it uses to designate the four before the throne, but rather by the term “beast” ( [Greek] ‘to therion’; Latin, ‘bestia’). Thus it opposes animality and bestiality. Genuine animality is holy; bestiality is degenerate (272).
At this point, he quotes Revelation 12: 1-4, describing in some detail the two feminine figures representing non-fallen and fallen nature, respectively: 1) Israel/The Mother of God, and 2) The Whore of Babylon:
The former is the soul of cosmic non-fallen Nature (sun, moon, stars) and the latter is the soul of terrestrial fallen Nature (gold, jewels, pearls and beast). The first is a mother; the second is a prostitute. The one is perception of that which is above and reaction to that which is thus perceived —through its realisation (“childbirth”); the other is horizontal perception (“fornication”) and reaction to that which is thus perceived — through sterile enjoyment (the “cup full of abominations and the impurities of her fornication”). The one is the Virgin-Mother and the other is the great prostitute of Babylon.
The Virgin-Mother . . . the soul of natural virgin Nature, i.e. non-fallen Nature, which is in the anguish of perpetual childbirth, until the Birth which is the ideal of all births is accomplished (273).
Thus, the Word became flesh and dwelt among us… The Virgin-Sophia was present in Mary as the soul of non-fallen Nature gave birth to the divine Word (274). “Free Nature” has accomplished her task and, as the principle of Force, continues to cooperate in the realization of supernatural acts of the Holy Spirit which are a Divine magic that transforms, transmutes, and heals the effects of sin in fallen nature. This is summed up in a particularly pregnant passage:
It is virgin Nature participating actively in the miracles of divine magic which is the subject of the eleventh Arcanum of the Tarot, Force, representing a woman victorious over a lion, holding its jaws open with her hands. The woman does so with the same apparent ease — without effort — with which the Magician of the first Arcanum handles his objects. Moreover, she wears a hat similar to that of the Magician — in the form of a lemniscate. One could say that the two stand equally under the sign of rhythm — the respiration of eternity — the sign ∞ ; and that the two manifest two aspects of a single principle, namely that effort signifies the presence of an obstacle, whilst natural integrity on the one hand, and undivided attention on the other hand, exclude inner conflict — and therefore every obstacle, and therefore all effort. Just as perfect concentration takes place effortlessly, so does true force act without effort. Now, the Magician is the Arcanum of the wholeness
of consciousness, or concentration without effort. Force is the Arcanum of the natural integrity of being, or power without effort. Because Force subdues the lion not by force similar to that of the lion, but rather by force of a higher order and on a higher plane. This is the Arcanum of Force” (275).
Thus the fallen animality of the lion yields to the Holy Animality of The Lion:
“It is the magic of virgin Nature which awakens the virgin nature in the lion, and it is this Force that the eleventh Arcanum is called to reveal. There are two principles which one has to understand and distinguish when one wants to go deeply into the Arcanum of Force. The one is the principle of the serpent, and the other is that of the Virgin. The former is opposition from which there proceeds friction which produces energy. The other is concordance from which comes fusion which engenders force” (275).
Above, we saw two types of water, two “natures”, and two feminine figures. Likewise, we see two types of life, one of which has been corrupted by the domain of the serpent through which it flows.
After a brief discussion of the way in which truth flows from con-versation (a flowing together rather than the clash of opinions), our anonymous author distinguishes between the force of life and the force of electricity:
“electricity is due to the antagonism of opposites, whilst life is the fusion of polarities” (277).
He further distinguishes between two types of life, the first– Zoe –flows down from above, vertically, the second– bios –flows horizontally, from generation to generation:
Scripture has two different terms in Greek for “life”: Zoe and bios. The first signifies “vivifying life” and the second “derived life”. Zoe is to bios as free Nature (natura naturans) is to necessitated Nature (natura naturata) (cf. also the philosophy of John Scotus Erigena). Zoe is therefore the source and bios is that which flows, having come from the source. It is bios which flows from generation to generation: and it is Zoe which fills the individual in prayer and meditation, in acts of sacrifice and participation in the sacred sacraments. Zoe is vivification from above in a vertical sense; bios is vitality which, although it once issued from the same source above, passes in the horizontal from generation to generation (277-278).
So far, so good… But because bios flows through the domain of the serpent, it has become mingled with electrical energy in a way that leads to corruption and decay (cf. “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil–the fruit of the polarity of opposites” 278). It is for this reason that we find nature divided according to the relative dominance and predominance of Zoe, bios, and electricity:
The soul of life-endowed Nature in which bios is subordinated to electricity is the “woman Babylon” of the Apocalypse. Life-endowed Nature in which bios and electricity are in equilibrium is the “suffering creation” of which St. Paul said that it “sighs for deliverance” (Romans viii, 19-23). And, lastly, life-endowed Nature in which bios dominates electricity —and therefore is itself dominated by Zoe — is non-fallen Nature. Its soul is the celestial Virgin — the high priestess of natural religion. This is what constitutes the Arcanum of the eleventh Card of the Tarot. One could formulate it as follows; Force is virginity (278).
The State of Virginity, he argues:
…is that of the consonance of three principles—the spirit, the soul and the body. A being in whom spirit, soul and body are in consonance is in a state of virginity. In other words, it is the principle of the unity of three worlds: heaven, purgatory and earth. From the point of view of the earth, it is complete obedience of the body to the soul. From the point of view of purgatory, it is complete obedience of the soul to the breath of eternity—or chastity. From the point of view of heaven, it is absolute receptivity to the Divine — or poverty (279).
Nonetheless, it is the Virgin, speaking through Solomon, that is in some sense prior to creation– at work beside [God] when he marked out the foundation of the earth —and who, as such,
…cooperates with the Divine not only in the miracles of redemption but also in those of creation (279).
Thus, the reality of fertile, productive virginity is said to be immanent in Mary-Sophia who represents (incarnates/manifests) the principle of virginity:
…that of non-fallen Nature, that of natural religion, and that of Force… (279-280).
In the pages which follow, it is emphasized that the blessed Virgin is “a concrete and living individuality” and that every sincere, authentic Hermeticist (whose spiritual aspiration is intense and pure) will eventually meet her. For it is only by being wrapped in her mantle that we can pass safely through the zone of illusion designated by the prophets and the Apocalypse as that great prostitute, Babylon (281).
Keeping in mind the distinction between force and Force — between electrically dominated bios and that dominated by Zoe, let us consider once again the distinction between the Blessed Virgin and the whore of Babylon and how the former constitutes our refuge and protection from the latter:
“One meets the Blessed Virgin inevitably when one attains a certain intensity of spiritual aspiration, when this aspiration is authentic and pure. . . . every Hermeticist who truly seeks authentic spiritual reality will sooner or later meet the Blessed Virgin. This meeting signifies, apart from the illumination and consolation that it comprises, protection against a very serious spiritual danger. For he who advances in the sense of depth and height in the “domain of the invisible” one day arrives at the sphere known by esotericists as the “sphere of mirages” or the “zone of illusion”. This zone surrounds the earth as a belt of illusory mirages. It is this zone which the prophets and the Apocalypse designate “Babylon”. The soul and the queen of this zone is in fact Babylon, the great prosstitute, who is the adversary of the Virgin.
Now, one cannot pass by this zone without being enveloped by perfect purity. One cannot traverse it without the protection of the “mantle of the Blessed Virgin”— the mantle which was an object of worship and of a special cult in Russia (Pokrov Presvyatyya Bogoroditsy —”Mantle of the Very Holy Mother of God”). It is therefore the protection of this “mantle” which is absolutely necessary in order to be able to traverse the “sphere of mirages” without falling prey to the influence of its illusions” (281).
Earlier, we saw that “the principle of the Virgin . . . is concordance from which comes fusion which engenders force” (275). This idea is further elaborated upon by distinguishing political union— the alliance of individual wills with a view to achieving a common aim –from authentic unity:
“With respect to qualitative force, it would be appropriate to say that “unity is force”, because one is strong only in so far as there is unity of spirit, soul and body, i.e. in so far as there is virginity. It is inner conflict that renders us weak: the fact that we serve two or even three masters at the same time” (282; cf. 279, “the unity three worlds…”).
It is this unity that, according to the Emerald Tablet, overcometh every subtle thing and doeth penetrate every solid substance.
It overcometh every subtle thing…
Far from dominating in a coercive manner, Force “turns enemies into friends” (282). For it is through this power that Saul of Tarsus became the Apostle Paul and that, eventually, the Devil himself will be overcome when his voice . . . will be heard with the chorus of celestial hierarchies praising God… Until that time, life on earth will continue to be characterized by temptation (mechanics/opposition/electricity), on the one hand, and inspiration (sacred magic/cooperation/life), on the other–which, together, constitute a kind of two-way street which our anonymous author describes as an exchange of influence:
In the last analysis, the “subtle things” meant here are therefore equivalent to temptations. However every temptation is similar to a two-way flow of traffic. Because when evil tempts good, it is itself at the same time “tempted” by the latter. Temptation always entails contact, and therefore an exchange of influence. Every beautiful temptress, in attempting to tempt a saint, risks finishing up by “wetting his feet with her tears, wiping them with the hair of her head, kissing them, and annointing them with ointment” (Luke vii, 38). Do we not have prefigured here the victory over the “great prostitute Babylon”? (283).
In the pages which follow, a tableaux of degenerative and regenerative influences is suggested– temptations and inspirations –which operate on three different levels. Since some of the categories applied to the various levels in the text seem to repeat or overlap at times, it is easy to become confused as one attempts present these two tableaus in schematic form. For good or for ill– let the reader judge –some liberties have been taken in the following table to make it more formally consistent. Note that the use of “mental/spiritual”, “psychic/emotional”, and “physical/biological” in the middle column is somewhat interpretive. It should also be noted that this table does not reflect the inclusion of electricity in the list of mental, psychic , and electrical forces (283), assuming, instead, the ubiquity (in the left-hand column) of electricity in its triple form–physical, psychic and mental (286).
If we emended the text on page 283 as follows, replacing “electrical” with “physical”, we would remove the primary cause of our initial confusion :
“To overcome every subtle thing” is therefore equivalent to changing opposing forces— mental, psychic and [physical] —into friendly and allied forces. The “subtle things” to overcome are the intellectual forces of temptation based on doubt, the psychic forces of temptation based on sterile enjoyment, and the [physical] forces of temptation based on power.
This suggested emendation would also be consistent with the mention of spirit, soul, and body on pages 282 and 285, the mention of “the whole domain of electricity — physical, psychic and mental” on page 290, AND the discussion of the triple form of solidity on 287 (more about which, below). In any event, we must think of doubt, pleasure (sterile enjoyment), and power as each being a form of electricity– each one of the three “subtle things” –as explained on page 286:
“Electricity” in its triple form — physical, psychic and mental — is an instrument which lends itself prodigiously to the service of the will-to-power, i.e. to the desire to order and subjugate. For this reason it is a temptation for mankind. Mankind is confronted by the choice between the power of sacred magic and that of mechanics —a choice which, in the last analysis, amounts to one between life (Zoe) and electricity. These are therefore the three principle “subtle things” which are overcome by Force or virginity.
In addition to our treatment of electricity in the table, above, we should also say word or two about our conjoining of the term SPIRITUAL with the term MENTAL. This conjunction is meant to acknowledges both the relationship that exists and the distinction that is to be drawn between our higher and lower intellectual natures or centers — cf. Latin Intellectus (which is sometimes described as contemplative and intuitive) in contrast to Ratio (discursive reason). Quoting Joseph Piper:
The medievals distinguished between the intellect as ratio and the intellect as intellectus. Ratio is the power of discursive thought, of searching and re-searching, abstracting, refining, and concluding [cf. Latin dis-currere, “to run to and fro”], whereas intellectus refers to the ability of “simply looking”
(simplex intuitus), to which the truth presents itself as a presents itself to the eye.
If it weren’t for the tendency of the modern mind to reduce intelligence to Ratio, we might have used MENTAL/INTELLECTUAL. We have opted, instead, to use MENTAL/SPIRITUAL (inspired by Pierre Hadot’s translation of Nous as Spirit in Plotinus or The Simplicity of Vision — see fn. 10 on page 28 of that work).
The conjoining of MENTAL/SPIRITUAL is also consistent with the role of doubt as it relates to spirit–the former tending to undermine our relationship to the latter:
“…in the technique of temptation [pleasure] plays the same role with regard to the soul as doubt does with regard to the spirit. For just as doubt reduces the spirit to impotence, so does pleasure (or sterile enjoyment) reduce the soul to impotence, to a state of passivity” (285).
Moreover, this conjunction is also consistent with the very profound discussion of vision which appears early-on in the section on doubt–a discussion that contrasts the relative myopia of scholastic theology with the limitations of modern science which goes to the opposite extreme:
Doubt is to faith as the sight of eyes suffering from astigmatism is to normal eyesight. Just as normal eyes either do not see or see together, so does faith see — whether more or less is not important —with the “higher eye” and the “lower eye” together. For certainty is due to the coordinated vision of the higher or transcendent Self—this is the “higher eye”—and the lower or empirical self, which is the “lower eye”. Doubt appears when the “higher eye” and the “lower eye” do not see together. There is then a spiritual astigmatism, a lack of coordination between the two “seers” in man. . . . Productive though it is in the scientific domain, doubt nevertheless entails expenses that must be paid. Its practice, be it only by using it as a method, results in partial blindness; it renders us one-eyed. For the fact of regularly turning away from the “higher eye”, from its message and testimony, and confining oneself to the “lower eye” (the five senses plus cerebral intellectuality), cannot fail, sooner or later, to have its effect, i.e. to render one-eyed he who assiduously practises the use of one eye instead of two. . . . And exactly as the great doctors of theology, metaphysics and mysticism of the Middle Ages proved to be sterile in what concerns medicine, biology, physics, physiology and other sciences . . . so are the doctors of the sciences of our time sterile in what concerns the vital spiritual needs of mankind. The former had an eye only for the spiritual; the latter have an eye only for the temporal (283-284).
So, whether or not the suggested emendation of electrical to physical in the first full paragraph on page 283 is at all justified, it seems safe to conclude that the electrical in the form of doubt is a temptation that can lead to the degeneration of our capacity for spiritual discernment; the electrical in the form of pleasure (or sterile enjoyment) is a temptation that can lead to the degeneration of our capacity for experiencing the kind of bliss that leads to beatitude in the presence of God; and, finally, the electrical in the form of the will to power– the willingness to employ physical compulsion (to crucify others rather than to be crucified) —is a temptation that can lead to the degeneration of authentic power and life.
It doeth penetrate every solid substance…
As indicated above, just as our anonymous author speaks of the “triple form” of electricity, even so solidity is said to be experienced on three different levels–each of which is penetrable by Force or virginity:
Now, there is physical, psychic and mental “solidity”. All three forms of solidity have in common that they are experienced as obstacles to our movement. They are experienced as impenetrable. Nevertheless, the Emerald Table affirms that “every solid substance”, i.e. each physical, psychic and mental obstacle, is certainly penetrable for Force or virginity (287).
He goes on to describe this penetration in terms of an emollient action which is, once again, operative on all three levels:
With regard to a mental obstacle presented by a rigid intellectual system, Force will not occupy itself with the mental formation itself, but will admit its breath into the heart of the person concerned. The heart having tasted life (Zoe), the creative movement of life will pass its breath to the head and will breathe movement into the mental formation. This latter, having been set in motion — not by doubt, but rather by creative elan — will lose its rigidity and will become fluid. It is thus that the liquification of crystallised mental formations is effected.
With respect to psychic obstacles, it is again emollient action which effects the transformation of a psychic complex from rigidity into sensitivity. Here again it is the breath of life which dissolves the complex, by way of the heart so that the mistrust, fear or hate, concentrated in the complex is dispersed and the soul is left free of the blinding influence of the psychic complex.
Lastly, physical obstacles exist for Force, i.e. for the radiation of life, only in so far as they are due to morbid processes of crystallisation in living organisms. If we give them a common comprehensive name, it is “sclerosis”; this constitutes the obstacle in general. Sclerosis is the process of gradual alienation of the body from the soul and spirit. A corpse is the limit and end of this, because the corpse is a body completely alienated with regard to the soul and spirit (287).
This section is followed by a two page discussion of death which can be either the expulsion of the soul by the body (as in the case of sclerosis) or the retirement of the soul from the body in ecstasy:
It is therefore quite justifiable to say that so-called “natural” death is fundamentally a natural ecstasy—notably, a natural samadhi, where the transcendent Self accomplishes union with the personal self, in withdrawing it from the body and uniting with it. It is, again, a case where Force “doth penetrate the solid substance” when one dies a natural death, having supple arteries and a normal nervous system. It is then Force (Zoe) which keeps the blood vessels supple through its emollient action, and which renders natural death possible as a result of “natural ecstasy” or the gathering of vital forces above (289-290).
Thus, the concept of Force is said to be an intermediary between pure consciousness and manifestation. Force, in the generic sense, has two aspects–that of the serpent (electricity) and that of the Virgin (life). It is through and by virtue of the latter– the Force of our Arcanum which is the principle of springtime and spiritual flourishing –that Hermeticists are called to realize a springtime in the western world which has, otherwise, turned away from the Virgin (e.g. by pursuing, instead, the reformation, rationalism, the French revolution, materialism, and communism). [290-291]
In contrast to many contemporary occultists (who have sided with the dethroners of the Virgin, e.g. the exponents of scientism and other iconoclasts), the Hermeticist is an iconophile for whom symbols, far from being obstacles to the truth, are revelatory. Whereas the iconoclast is a murderer of tradition, the Hermeticist honors his father and his mother which is the spirit and soul of tradition (292). Thus he concludes that:
Hermeticism lives and survives from century to century thanks to its essential faithfulness to the divine commandments “thou shalt not kill” and “honour thy father and thy mother” (293).
Such honor is extended not merely to representatives of the Judeo-Christian tradition, but also to “Greek philosophers, Cabbalists, and many others besides” (294). And we can do this without engaging in syncretism or adultery, staying true to our tradition and to our Lady who vivifies it. For however much we may benefit from the teachings of other traditions, we must not forget that the spiritual tradition of Israel– “the spiritual tradition par excellence” — is of universal significance:
A spiritual tradition of universal significance whose [efficient] cause was God, whose formal cause was the Law, whose material cause was the community of Israel (or the Shekinah) and whose final cause was the Christ A spiritual tradition of universal significance—whose effecrive cause was God, whose formal cause was the Law, whose material cause was the community of Israel (or the Shekinah) and whose final cause was the Christ-was founded, or rather engendered, in the desert at Mt. Sinai.
. . . every particular spiritual tradition falls under the law of its origin, life and work. In other words, no spiritual tradition can live or accomplish its mission in the world without conforming to the essential conditions of the origin, life and mission of the tradition of Israel. In other words again, there are no true traditions other than those modelled on the tradition of Israel. For it is the spiritual tradition par excellence — the model, the prototype and the law of all viable spiritual traditions which have missions to accomplish.
The following are the essential conditions to which every viable spiritual tradition must adhere; it must be founded from above; it must observe the ten commandments and be inspired by the ideal of virginity; and its aim must be implied in the will which founded it, with every human “programme” withdrawn from it (296).
He goes on to reformulate Moses’ ten commandments in contemporary terms:
The ten commandments signify much more than simply a moral code of daily life. They signify, further, the hygiene, the method and the conditions of fructification of the spiritual life, including all forms and degrees of practical esotericism. In this sense, they may be formulated as follows (cf. Exodus xx, 1-17):
i surrender to the living God (“thou shall have no other gods before me”);
ii non-substitution of products of the human mind, or those of Nature, for the reality of the living God (“thou shalt not make for thyself a graven image, or any likeness”);
iii activity in the name of God without making use of his name in order to adorn oneself with it (“thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain”);
iv practice of meditation (“remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy”);
v continuity of effort and experience (“honour thy father and thy mother”);
vi constructive attitude (“thou shalt not kill”);
vii faithfulness to the alliance (“thou shalt not commit adultery”);
viii renunciation of the desire to accept merit which is neither the fruit of one’s own work nor the gift of grace (“thou shalt not steal”);
ix renunciation of an accusatory role towards others (“thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour”);
x respectful consideration for the private and personal life of others (“thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s house”).
These constitute the ten foundations not only for a healthy moral life but also for all mystical, gnostic, magical and Hermetic practice (296-297).
In the remaining pages, our anonymous author elaborates on these commandments along with the risks and benefits of exposing ourselves to other schools and traditions–with which, he argues, we should live in peace, in consciousness of our kinship (insofar as our causes and ideals are related) and respecting one another’s freedom (insofar as our causes and ideals seem to diverge).
Be that as it may, he concludes:
the ten commandments —when comprehended and practised — signify harmony with non-fallen Nature, with the Virgin and the principle of virginity, i.e. with the Force of the eleventh Arcanum of the Tarot.
Haec est tonus fortitudinis
quia vincet omnem rem subtilem
omnemque solidam penetrabit.
(This thing is the strongest of all powers,
the force of all forces,
for it overcometh every subtle thing
and doth penetrate every solid substance.)
……………………………..(tabula Smaragdina, 9)