A Voice Cries Out in the Desert

— Henri Meschonnic–

Henri Meschonnici was a formidable polemicist, and even, in this respect, a « serial killer », according to Michel Deguy. Meschonnic proposed « that we leave the word ‘Shoah’ in the dustbin of history. »ii This word was, according to him, « intolerable », it would represent « a pollution of the mind » and would aggravate a « generalized misunderstanding ». For this Hebrew word, which appears thirteen times in the Bible, refers only to thunderstorm, « a natural phenomenon, simply ». « The scandal is first of all to use a word that designates a natural phenomenon to refer to a barbarity that is all human. » Another scandal would be that Claude Lanzmann appropriated the highly publicized use of the word ‘shoah’, while diverting its meaningiii: « The author of the Shoah is Hitler, Lanzmann is the author of Shoah. » iv

Henri Meschonnic also attacked the « idolatry » of the Kabbalah: « Language is no longer anywhere in the Kabbalah. It is only an illusion, a utopia. It is replaced by the letters of the script taken for hieroglyphics of the world. A cosmism. And a theism. Then, paradoxically, one must recognize the sacred, more than the divine. A form of idolatry. »v

In a similar way, he attacked Leon Askenazi (the famous Rabbi ‘Manitou’), for his word games in the Torah, – this « idolatry that passes for thought »vi.

Idolatry. Idolettrism. Quite a sharp point. But, on the other hand, he tempers a little, hinting that this « idolatry » is also a « utopia »: « Kabbalah is a utopia of language. A utopia of the Jew. Since its indefinite and self-referential allegorisation is supposed to have the following effect: ‘A particular link is thus established between the letter yod, the 10th letter of the Hebrew alphabet, which represents the ten Sefirot, and the Jewish people, the Yehudimviiviii

What is this « utopia of the Jew »? A fuse formula summarizes it: Hebrew is the « holy language » par excellence (lechon ha-qodech).

We are here in heavy, very heavy stuff. Meschonnic quotes in support the famous medieval cabalist, Aboulafia, and one of his current thurifer, Elliot Wolfson:

« The cabal will be the exclusive property of the Jewish people, (…) the only nation to have real access to the sacred language of creation, revelation and redemption.»ix

For the comparatist, this type of formula (« the only nation to… », the « sacred language of »,…) seems to be an old cliché, to be found in all latitudes, at all times, in most cultures, so much so that exceptionalism seems really not that exceptional…

More than a thousand years before Abraham, and long before the Torah had even begun to be written down, the Vedic tradition already considered Sanskrit as a « perfect » language. Sanskrit holds its name from the word ‘samskṛta‘ , which means « perfect » in Sanskrit). Moreover, the Vedic tradition considered the entire Vedic corpus as pure, divine revelation.

More recently, for hundreds of millions of believers, the Quran, too, is considered « descended » directly from the Divinity into the Arabic language, which is considered by its locutors a « clear » and « perfect » language.

There is, therefore, obviously on this planet, a certain abundance of « perfect languages » and « divine revelations », seemingly indifferent to their putative concurrents.

What should we conclude from this rush? That these revelations, and these languages, contradict and exclude each other? That only one of them is the true one, the only one « chosen »? Or, should we adopt a more diplomatic formulation, that they all contain some truth? Or, to be more pessimistic, should we suppose that they all somehow lack their intended purpose, whose transcendence escapes them?

What strikes one, in these immense religious and intellectual adventures, which often display, in theory and in practice, ambitions of universal scope, is the paradoxically provincial, navel-gazing, somewhat narrow-minded side of their later commentators. There is no shortage of late voices, coming, a few millennia after the founders, to set themselves up as self-proclaimed defenders, arrogating to themselves the monopoly of exception and election.

In the Babel of languages, Hebrew certainly does not escape the shocking statements about its absolute specificity and its intrinsic superiority over all other languages.

« Divine consonants, human vowels, is the high revelation of Hebrew. »x

The « sanctity » of the Hebrew language is contagious. It extends to the people who speak it.

Hence a sharp alternative:

« The truth that Hebrew is the holy language of a holy people, and the untruth that it is the spoken language of a people like all peoples, seem irreconcilable. » xi

Franz Rosenzweig asked a binary question. There is no way out.

On one side a « holy language » and a « holy people », and on the other side « all peoples » and all other languages, immersed in the no-man’s-land of « untruth » (and un-holiness). Faced with this alternative, what is the answer?

The issue deserves attention.

Franz Rosenzweig seems very sure of his fact: he provides some elements of idiosyncratic argumentation, the scathing lesson of which could perhaps also be of interest to speakers of English, German or Latin – and why not, for good measure, Greek, Arabic or Sanskrit?

« To read Hebrew means: to be ready to gather the entire heritage of the language; to read German, English or Latin, one reaps only the harvest given by the furrows of the language of one season: of one generation. »xii

Franz Rosenzweig does not seem to suspect that the few ‘languages of a season’ he quotes are only the most recent, among a large and immemorial ‘harvest’ of other Indo-European languages, much more original, and some of them with sophisticated grammars, and incidentally with a vocabulary twenty times richer than the biblicalxiii lexicon. Among these languages, Avestic and Sanskrit go back to several millennia before our era, and have both served to compose « sacred » texts (respectively the Avesta and the Veda), which testify to very ancient « revelations », certainly older than the revelation « mosaic ».

It may be argued that Avestic and Sanskrit are nowadays only « dead languages », and that the Avesta or Veda no longer irrigate living times, but only celebrate forgotten Gods…

In contrast, it should also be noted, biblical Hebrew has « risen » again with modern Hebrew, while the Torah continues to live on through the people who bear it and the religions that draw inspiration from it.

These are indeed crucial points.

One could however answer that the Veda religion has not completely disappeared from the world consciousness… or from the depths of the collective unconscious. The history of the Spirit has only just begun. The Vedanta, the Upanishads, Baghavad Gîta, – forever under a bushel? The future, the distant future, will tell.

On the other hand, it can also be argued that the « spirit » of Sanskrit is not really dead, but that it is still very much alive today, and that it is constantly regenerating itself in the vast body of Indo-European languages that are spoken throughout the world, and through their own genius.

The « spirit » of Sanskrit. The « spirit » of Indo-European languages…

Is there a « spirit » of languages? And what does it mean?

Franz Rosenzweig asked this question in a lecture on « the spirit of the Hebrew language ».

« What is the spirit of the German language? Does a language have a ‘spirit’? The answer is: only the language has a spirit. As many languages we know, as many times we are a man. Can you ‘know’ more than one language? Our ‘knowledge’ is just as flat as French ‘savoir‘ (knowledge). We live in one language.» xiv

The word ‘knowledge’, – a ‘flat’ word?

To live is to react…

The French word ‘savoir’ comes from the Latin sapio, sapere, « to have flavor », and figuratively « to have taste, sense, reason ». This Latin word gave in French the words ‘sapience’, ‘saveur’, ‘sève’, ‘sapide’ (and its antonym ‘insipide’). Its etymological origin goes back to the Sanskrit सबर् sabar, « nectar, sap, milk », from which the words Saft in German, sap inEnglish, sapor in Latin also derive.

There is an irony here, a sort of ‘meta-linguistic’ irony, to note that the words ‘flavor’, ‘taste’, are translated ta’am inHebrew, in the plural te’amim.

Now it just so happens that Henri Meschonnic advocated a close attention to the presence in the biblical language of the signs of cantillation, the טְעָמִים, te’amim, supposed to enlighten the deep meaning of the verses by giving them their true rhythm, their melody. « The word, already used by Rabbi Akiva, of te’amim, (…) is the plural of ta’am, which means the taste, in the gustatory sense, the taste of what one has in the mouth.xv In medieval Hebrew, the word also referred to the ratio. It is of capital importance that this word, which designates the junctions-disjunctions, groupings and ungroupings of discourse, with for each ‘accent’ a melodic line, be a word of the body and the mouth. The mouth is what speaks. »xvi

The irony, then, is that the French word ‘savoir’ (which Rosenzweig found ‘flat’) and the Hebrew word te’amim share the same connotations, associating ‘taste’, ‘flavor’ and ‘ratio’...

We quickly return to provincialism and navel-gazing, as we see. One must resolve to understand, once and for all, that outside of Hebrew, there is no salvation. Literally. The Hebrew language holds the divine in it…

Rosenzweig puts it this way:

« The spirit of the Hebrew language is ‘the spirit of God’. (Es ist Geist Gottes). » xvii

Difficult to make more synthetic and more exclusive.

In search of this ‘spirit’ (of the Hebrew language), and interested in the interpretative power attributed to the te’amim, I looked for some possible examples of reference in Meschonnic’s writings.

He particularly emphasizes a verse from Isaiah, usually translated, for centuries, in the Gospels:

« A voice cries out in the desert: prepare a way for the Lord. « (Is. 40:3)

Meschonnic says of this translation: « It is the ‘Christian way’, as James Kugel says. The identification with John the Baptist in Matthew (3:3), Mark (1:3) and John (1:23) depended on it. »

It is true that there is a discrepancy of interpretation between the passages of the Gospels quoted and what we read in the Jerusalem Bible, which gives the following translation:

« A voice cries out, ‘In the desert, make way for the LORD’. »

So? What is the rigjht reading?

 » A voice cries out in the desert »?

Or: « A voice cries out: ‘in the desert etc.' »?

Meschonnic notes that in the Hebrew original, there is a major disjunctive accent (zaqef qatan) after « a screaming voice » (qol qoré):

« So ‘in the desert’ is related to ‘make way’, not about the preceding verb. I translate: ‘A voice cries out in the desert make way for Adonaï’. This text is liked to the exile in Babylon, and calls for a return to Jerusalem. Its meaning is geographical and historical, according to its rhythm in Hebrew. But when cut after ‘desert’, it becomes the Christian and eschatological call. Quite another theology. It is the rhythm that makes, or undoes, the meaning.»xviii

Meschonnic concludes his development with a shock formula :

« Rhythm is not only the Jew of the sign, it is also the Jew of the Jew, and it shares the utopia of the poem by being the utopia of meaning. »xix

The rhythm, the ta’am, is the « Jew of the Jew ». Difficult to find a formulation less goy, and more irrefutable…

However, the rhythm is not enough.

If we place the same verse (Is 40:3) in the immediate context of the first ten verses of the « second » Isaiah (Is 40:1-10), we suddenly see a rich density of possible meanings, proliferating, allusive, elusive, carried by voices, words, utterances, cries, repetitions, variations, ellipses, obscurities and openings.

A textual criticism, aimed at semantics, syntax, allegories and anagogy, would encourage a multiplication of questions – far beyond what the ta’am ta’am is.

Why is God twice named « our God » (אלֹהֵינוּ Elohei-nou) xxin Is 40:3 and Is 40:8, and twice named « your God » (אֱלֹהֵיכֶם Elohei-khem)xxi in Is 40:1 and Is 40:9?

Is « ours » also « yours », or is it not?

Why is God named ‘YHVH’ five times in Isaiah 40:2, Isaiah 40:3, Isaiah 40:5 (twice), and Isaiah 40:7, but only once ‘YHVH Adonai’ in Isaiah 40:10xxii? In other words, why is God here named six times ‘YHVH’, and once ‘Adonai’?

In what way do the expression « all flesh » כָל-בָּשָׂר khol-bachar, in Is 40:5, and the expression « all flesh » כָּל-הַבָּשָׂר kol-ha-bachar, in Is 40:6, differ? xxiii

Why is the article defined in one case and not in the other?

Could it be that the expression « all flesh will see it » וְרָאוּ כָל-בָּשָׂר vé-raou khol-bachar, implies a universality (total, inclusive) of the vision of the glory of YHVH, – « all flesh » then meaning « all creatures made of flesh »?

Whereas the expression « all flesh, – grass », כָּל-הַבָּשָׂר חָצִיר kol-ha-bachar ḥatsir, only implies that « everything » in the flesh is like « grass »?

Why do two voices, undefined, come from unnamed mouths (Is 40:3 and Is 40:6), – when the spoken word is from « the mouth of YHVH », כִּי פִּי יְהוָה דִּבֵּר, ki pi YHVH dibber (Is 40:5), and « the word of our God »,וּדְבַר-אֱלֹהֵינוּ devar Elohenou, (Is 40:8), are they duly and by name attributed to God?

Why does the first of these two (undefined) voices shout :

« A voice cries out: ‘In the desert, make way for YHVH; in the wilderness, make a straight road for our God’. »(Isaiah 40:3)

Why does the second, undefined voice first say: ‘Cry out’, – before saying what to cry out?

« A voice said, ‘Cry out’, and I said, ‘What shall I cry out?’ – ‘All flesh is grass and all its grace is like the flower of the field. « (Isaiah 40:6)

To whom does « your God » address himself when Isaiah says :

« Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.

נַחֲמוּ נַחֲמוּ, עַמִּי–יֹאמַר, אֱלֹהֵיכֶם (Is 40,1)

Who is speaking here? Who ‘says’ what ‘your God’ says?

Who exactly is « my people »? Is « my people » the people of ‘your God’ or the people of ‘our God’?

In other words, is « my people » just « grass »? xxiv

Or is it only « the people », which is « grass »?

Last but not least, who is consoling whom, on whose behalf?


iHenri Meschonnic (1932-2009), essayist, linguist, poet, translator.

iiHenri Meschonnic. « Pour en finir avec le mot « Shoah » », Le Monde, dated February 20-21, 2005. cf. https://www.larevuedesressources.org/pour-en-finir-avec-le-mot-shoah,1193.html

iii: Henri Meschonnic. « Pour en finir avec le mot « Shoah » », Le Monde, dated February 20-21, 2005. cf. https://www.larevuedesressources.org/pour-en-finir-avec-le-mot-shoah,1193.html

iv Claude Lanzmann writes: « I fought to impose ‘Shoah’ without knowing that I was thus proceeding to a radical act of nomination, since almost immediately the title of the film became, in many languages, the very name of the event in its absolute singularity. The film was immediately eponymous, people everywhere began to say « the Shoah ». The identification between the film and what it represents goes so far that daring people speak of me as « the author of the Shoah, » to which I can only reply: « No, I’m « Shoah », the Shoah is Hitler. » Le Monde, February 26, 2005

vHenri Meschonnic. The Utopia of the Jew. Desclée de Brouwer. Paris, 2001, p.127

viHenri Meschonnic. The Utopia of the Jew. Desclée de Brouwer. Paris, 2001, p.132

viiH. Meschonnic quotes here Elliot R. Wolfson. Abraham Aboulafia cabalist and prophet. Hermeneutics, theosophy and theurgy. Trad. J.F. Sené. Ed. de l’Eclat, 1999, p.123.

viiiHenri Meschonnic. The Utopia of the Jew. Desclée de Brouwer. Paris, 2001, p.128

ixElliot R. Wolfson. Abraham Aboulafia cabalist and prophet. Hermeneutics, Theosophy and Theurgy. Trad. J.F. Sené. Ed. de l’Eclat, 1999, p. 57, quoted by H. Meschonnic, op. cit. p. 128.

xRaymond Abelio. In a soul and a body. Gallimard, 1973, p.259. Quoted by Henri Meschonnic. The Utopia of the Jew. Desclée de Brouwer. Paris, 2001, p.137

xiFranz Rosenzweig. New Hebrew ? On the occasion of the translation of Spinoza’s Ethics. Collected Writings III p. 725. Cité par Henri Meschonnic. L’utopie du Juif. Desclée de Brouwer. Paris, 2001, p.138

xiiFranz Rosenzweig. « Neo-Hebrew » in L’écriture, le verbe et autres essais. p.28. Quoted by Henri Meschonnic. The Utopia of the Jew. Desclée de Brouwer. Paris, 2001, p.138

xiiiTo get an idea of this, just compare the Sanskrit-English dictionary by Monier Monier-Williams and the Hebrew-English dictionary by Brown-Driver-Briggs, both considered as references in the study of Sanskrit and Biblical Hebrew.

xivFranz Rosenzweig. « On the Spirit of the Hebrew Language. – es a language have a ‘spirit’ ? The answer is: only the language has spirit. As many languages as one can, so much one can be human. Can one ‘know’ more than one language ? Our ‘can’ is as shallow as the French ‘savoir’. One lives in a language. « Collected Writings III p. 719. Cité par Henri Meschonnic. L’utopie du Juif. Desclée de Brouwer. Paris, 2001, p.139-140

xvMeschonnic notes that in Arabic, mat’am means « resaturant ».

xviHenri Meschonnic. The Utopia of the Jew. Desclée de Brouwer. Paris, 2001, p.147-148

xviiFranz Rosenzweig. « Vom Geist der hebräische Sprache. « Gesammelte Schriften III p. 721. Quoted by Henri Meschonnic. The Utopia of the Jew. Desclée de Brouwer. Paris, 2001, p. 140

xviiiHenri Meschonnic. The Utopia of the Jew. Desclée de Brouwer. Paris, 2001, p. 165

xixHenri Meschonnic. The Utopia of the Jew. Desclée de Brouwer. Paris, 2001, p. 171

xx« A way cries out: ‘In the desert, make way for YHVH; in the steppe, smooth a road for our God. « קוֹל קוֹרֵא–בַבַּמִּדְבָּר, פַּנּוּ דֶּרֶךְ יְהוָה; יַשְּׁרוּ, בָּעֲרָבָה, מְסִלָּה, לֵאלֹהֵינוּ (Is 40,3)

« The grass withers, the flower withers, but the word of our God endures forever. « יָבֵשׁ חָצִיר, נָבֵל צִיץ; וּדְבַר-אֱלֹהֵינוּ, יָקוּם לְעוֹלָם (Is 40,8)

xxi« Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. נַחֲמוּ נַחֲמוּ, עַמִּי–יֹאמַר, אֱלֹהֵיכֶם (Is 40,1)

« Lift up your voice, fear not, say to the cities of Judah, ‘Behold your God!' » הָרִימִי, אַל-תִּירָאִי, אִמְרִי לְעָרֵי יְהוּדָה, הִנֵּה אֱלֹהֵיכֶם (Is 40,9)

xxii« הִנֵּה אֲדֹנָי יְהוִה (Is 40:10)

xxiii« Then the glory of YHVH will be revealed and all flesh will see it, together, for the mouth of YHVH has spoken. »

וְנִגְלָה, כְּבוֹד יְהוָה; וְרָאוּ כָל-בָּשָׂר יַחְדָּו, כִּי פִּי יְהוָה דִּבֵּר (Is 40,5)

« A voice said, ‘Cry out’, and I said, ‘What shall I cry out?’ – ‘All flesh is grass and all its grace is like the flower of the field. « קוֹל אֹמֵר קְרָא, וְאָמַר מָה אֶקְרָא; כָּל-הַבָּשָׂר חָצִיר, וְכָל-חַסְדּוֹ כְּצִיץ הַשָּׂדֶה (Is 40,6)

xxiv« The grass withers, the flower withers, when the breath of YHVH passes over them; yes, the people are grass. »

יָבֵשׁ חָצִיר נָבֵל צִיץ, כִּי רוּחַ יְהוָה נָשְׁבָה בּוֹ; אָכֵן חָצִיר, הָעָם (Is 40,7)

Virus Metaphysics


The Latin word virus, of the neutral gender, has no plural. This word initially meant « juice » but also « sperm », « venom », « poison », « pungency », and « bitterness ».

The Greek word for virus is ῑός, « venom », but also « rust ».

The etymologyi of these two words goes back to the Sanskrit word विष viṣa, which means, in the neutral gender: « poison, venom ». But the root of this Sanskrit word, viṣ-,basically means « to be active, to act, to do, to accomplish »ii. It thus had originally no negative connotation. It rather implied an idea of action, efficiency, accomplishment. The word विष viṣa, when in the masculine gender, means « servant » (implying the idea of being « active, zealous »).

One may learn from these etymological roots a useful lesson.

As one knows, when viruses infect living beings, they transmit to their genome some bits of their RNA, for example in the form of plasmids.

The COVID-19 pandemic is actually infecting a huge percentage of the entire human race, which will now share fragments of this widely distributed and constantly mutating ‘genetic heritage’.

The virus and its variants are then partly contributing to the overall, on-going mutation of human genome, and are also forcing humankind to be « active and zealous », in order to politically mutate and adapt its global ‘governance’ to reach a level of efficiency that should be higher, hopefully, than the genetic efficiency of the virus itself.

What is happening before our eyes can be undersood as a real-time ‘mutation’ affecting potentially the whole of humanity, genetically, but also politically, and even metaphysically, I would try to argue.

On a metaphorical level, this global pandemic could be compared to a form of incarnation (etymologically, a ‘penetration into the flesh’, an ’embodiment’).

The plasmids that we may inherit from the COVID-19 embody not just an ‘infection’ but also a metaphysical metaphor at work, — that of a continuous, immanent process of symbiotic incarnationof the « inanimate-unconscious » viral reign into the « animate-conscious » human species.

While using the word ‘incarnation’, a quote comes to my mind:

« The true history of the world seems to be that of the progressive incarnation of the divinity »iii.

It is certainly not my intention to compare the putative incarnation of the « divinity » in world ‘true history’ to a slow viral infection, but this metaphor offers some food for thought.

It links in a single knot the « inanimate-unconscious » viral reign, the « animate-conscious » human species, and the « animate-unconscious » divine reign.

The ‘progressive incarnation’ of the virus has its own way and timeline. Likewise the ‘progressive incarnation’ of the divinity. The word incarnation, in both cases, reveals an analogous process at work, in the respective natures of the divinity, the humankind and the allegedly ‘inanimate’, material world.

Undoubtedly, at a given moment, for some reasons of Her own, the Divinity has, in a way, resolved to come out of Herself, if only to allow Her own ‘Creation’ to exist, more or less independently from Her.

Was the eternal « confinement » of the Divinity no longer suitable, at one point? Did Her absolute, compact, total perfection appear to Her somewhat incomplete, notwithstanding Her apparent completeness?

One may conjecture that the Divinity got out of Herself, in order to break the tautology of her Being alone, the repetition of the Sublime, the circularity of the Supreme, the loneliness of the Holiness.

Before the world was even created, what did the Godhead do? She was, one may assume, bathed in an holy, infinite Unconscious. For what is called ‘consciousness’, and of which Man is so proud, is really a term that is not worthy of the supreme Divinity.

The Divinity is so infinite that She cannot know Herself like a mere ‘consciousness’ would. If the Divinity fully knew Herself in such a conscious way, then She would in some subtle manner be limited by this very ‘knowledge’ of Herself, by this projected ‘consciousness’ of Herself that would infringe on Her absolute freedom. This limitation is not conceivable in a divine context.

The Divinity must be beyond any form of consciousness. In other words, She is ‘unconscious’ of Her own, absolute infinity.

To put it another way, before the world or time was created, the Divinity did not yet know the scope of Her own Wisdom, let alone the sound of Her own Word, which had never been uttered (since there was really no ear up there and then to hear).

This is expressed in the Kabbalah’s image of the Divine Wisdom as standing ‘near’, besides the Divinity. There is not identity, but a separation.

In the unconsciousness (of the infinity of Her own Wisdom), the Divinity stood in a state of absolute timelessness.

She stood as a living Entity.

Ignoring Death.

Ignoring Darkness.

This ‘ignorance’ hid the mystery of Her unconsciousness from the Light of Her otherwise absolute knowledge.


iSee Alfred Ernout and Antoine Meillet. Etymological dictionary of the Latin language. Klincksieck, Paris, 2001, p.740, and cf. Pierre Chantraine. Etymological Dictionary of the Greek Language. Klincksieck, Paris, 1977, p.466.

iiGérard Huet. Sanskrit-French dictionary. 2013. p. 559

iiiC.G. Jung. The Divine in man. Albin Michel. 1999, p.134

The Irony of the Bráhman

-Friedrich Max Müller-

One day, according to the Bhagavadgītā (भगवद्गीता), the Supreme Lord came down to reveal to a man named Arjuna, the « most secret wisdom », the « secret of secrets », the « purest knowledge », a « knowledge, queen among all sciences ».

In a few decisive words, human reason was then stripped of everything and reduced to begging. Human nature was compared to « dust », but, more inexplicably, it was also promised to a very high destiny, a putative glory, though still infinitely distant, embryonic, potential. Faced with these impassable mysteries, she was invited to scrutinize endlessly her own background, and her own end.

« This entire universe is penetrated by Me, in My unmanifested form. All beings are in Me, but I am not in them. At the same time, nothing that is created is in Me. See My supernatural power! I sustain all beings, I am everywhere present, and yet, I remain the very source of all creation.»i

We also learn from Bhagavadgītā that the supreme God may descend in person into this world, taking on human form. « Fools denigrate Me when I come down to this world in human form. They know nothing of My spiritual and absolute nature, nor of My total supremacy.»ii

It is not without interest to recall here that the Hebrew Bible, for its part, repeatedly expressed a strangely similar idea. Thus, three « men », posing as « envoys » of the Lord, came to meet Abraham under the oak tree of Mamre. One of them, called YHVH in the Genesis text, spoke to Abraham face to face.

In the Veda, the supreme God is infinitely high, transcendent, absolute, but He is also tolerant. He recognizes that multiple modes of belief can coexist. There are men for whom God is the supreme, original Person. There are those who prostrate themselves before God with love and devotion. There are those who worship Him as the One, and others who worship Him in Immanence, in His presence among the infinite diversity of beings and things, and there are still others who see Him in the Universal. iii

In the Veda, the supreme God is at once unique, absolute, transcendent, immanent, universal; He is All in all.

« But I am the rite and the sacrifice, the oblation to the ancestors, the grass and the mantra. I am the butter, and the fire, and the offering. Of this universe, I am the father, the mother, the support and the grandfather, I am the object of knowledge, the purifier and the syllable OM. I am also the Ṛg, the Sāma and the Yajur. I am the goal, the support, the teacher, the witness, the abode, the refuge and the dearest friend, I am the creation and the annihilation, the basis of all things, the place of rest and the eternal seed (…) I am immortality, and death personified. Being and non-being, both are in Me, O Arjuna ». iv

In his third lecturev on Vedanta given in London in 1894, Max Müller recalled that the Supreme Spirit, the bráhman, ( ब्रह्मन्, a name of the neutral gender, with the tonic accent on the verbal root BRAH-, taken to the full degree – ‘guṇa’) said: « Even those who worship idols worship Me », as reported by Bhagavadgītā.

And Müller added that, within the framework of Vedanta philosophy, the bráhman, this supreme principle, must be distinguished from the brahmán (with the tonic accent on the second syllable), who represents a male agent name meaning « Creator ». According to the Vedanta philosophy, the bráhman could even state of himself: « Even those who worship a personal God in the image of an active creator, or a King of kings, worship Me or, at least, think of Me ».

In this view, the brahmán (the Creator) would be, in reality, only a manifestation of the bráhman (the Supreme Principle). The bráhman also seems to hint here, not without a certain irony, that one could perfectly well support the opposite position, and that would not bother Him…

Here again, with the famous opening of the first verse of Genesis: Bereshit bara Elohim (Gen 1:1), Judaism professed an intuition strangely comparable.

This verse could be read, according to some commentators of the Bereshit Rabbah:  » ‘Be-rechit’ created the Elohim«  (i.e.  » ‘In the principle‘ created the Gods »).

Other commentators even proposed to understand: « With the Most Precious, *** created the Gods ».

I note here by means of the three asterisks the ineffability of the Name of the Supreme Principle (unnamed but implied).

Combining these interpretations, one could understand the first verse of Genesis (berechit bara elohim) in this way:

« The Principle, withthe ‘Most Precious’, created the Elohim. »

The Principle is not named but implied.

The particle be- in the expression be-rechit can mean ‘with’.

One of the possible meanings of the word rechit can be ‘primal fruit’ or ‘most precious’.

For the comparatist, these possibilities (however slight) of convergence between traditions as different as Vedic and Hebrew, are sources of endless meditation and tonic inspiration…

One of the greatest commentator on Vedic heritage, Ādi Śaṅkara (आदि शङ्कर ) explained: « When bráhman is defined in the Upanishads only in negative terms, excluding all differences in name and form due to non-science, it is the superior [bráhman]. But when it is defined in terms such as: « the intelligence whose body is spirit and light, distinguished by a special name and form, solely for the purpose of worship » (Chand., III, 14, 2), it is the other, the lower brahmán. » vi

If this is so, Max Müller commented, the text that says that bráhman has no second (Chand., VI, 2, 1) seems to be contradicted.

But, « No, answers Śaṅkara, because all this is only the illusion of name and form caused by non-science. In reality the two brahman are one and the same brahman, oneconceivable, the other inconceivable, one phenomenal, the other absolutely real ». vii

The distinction made by Śaṅkara is clear. But in the Upanishads, the line of demarcation between the bráhman (supreme) and the brahmán (creator) is not always so clear.

When Śaṅkara interprets the many passages of the Upanishads that describe the return of the human soul after death to ‘brahman‘ (without the tonic accent being distinguished), Sankara always interprets it as the inferior brahmán.

Müller explained: « This soul, as Śaṅkara strongly says, ‘becomes Brahman by being Brahman’viii, that is, by knowing him, by knowing what he is and has always been. Put aside the non-science and light bursts forth, and in that light the human self and the divine self shine in their eternal unity. From this point of view of the highest reality, there is no difference between the Supreme Brahman and the individual self or Ātman (Ved. Sutras, I, 4, p. 339). The body, with all the conditions, or upadhis,towhich it is subordinated, may continue for some time, even after the light of knowledge has appeared, but death will come and bring immediate freedom and absolute bliss; while those who, through their good works, are admitted to the heavenly paradise, must wait there until they obtain supreme enlightenment, and are only then restored to their true nature, their true freedom, that is, their true unity with Brahman. » ix

Of the true Brahman, the Upanishads still say of Him: « Verily, friend, this imperishable Being is neither coarse nor fine, neither short nor long, neither red (like fire) nor fluid (like water). He is without shadow, without darkness, without air, without ether, without bonds, without eyes, without eyes, without ears, without speech, without spirit, without light, without breath, without mouth, without measure, He has neither inside nor outside ».

And this series of negations, or rather abstractions, continues until all the petals are stripped off, and only the chalice, the pollen, the inconceivable Brahman, the Self of the world, remains.

« He sees, but is not seen; He hears, but is not heard; He perceives, but is not perceived; moreover, there is in the world only Brahman who sees, hears, perceives, or knows. » x

Since He is the only one to ‘see’, the metaphysical term that would best suit this Being would be ‘light’.

But this does not mean that Brahman is, in itself, « light », but only that the whole light, in all its manifestations, is in Brahman.

This light is notably the Conscious Light, which is another name for knowledge, or consciousness. Müller evokes the Mundaka Upanishad: « ‘It is the light of lights; when it shines, the sun does not shine, nor the moon nor the stars, nor lightning, much less fire. When Brahman shines, everything shines with Him: His light illuminates the world. Conscious light represents, as best as possible, Brahman’s knowledge, and it is known that Thomas Aquinas also called God the intelligent sun (Sol intelligibilis). For, although all purely human attributes are taken away from Brahman, knowledge, though a knowledge without external objects, is left to Him.»xi

The ‘light’ of ‘knowledge’ or ‘wisdom’ seems to be the only anthropomorphic metaphor that almost all religions dare to apply to the Supreme Being as the least inadequate.

In doing so, these religions, such as Vedic, Hebrew, Buddhist or Christian, often forget what the narrow limits of human knowledge or wisdom are, even at their highest level of perfection, and how unworthy of Divinity these metaphors are in reality.

There is indeed in all knowledge as in all human wisdom an essentially passive element.

This ‘passivity’ is perfectly incompatible with the Divinity… At least, in principle.

One cannot help but notice in several religions the idea of a sort of (active) passivity of the supreme Divinity, who takes the initiative to withdraw from being and the world, for the sake of His creature.

Several examples are worth mentioning here, by order of their appearance on world stage.

-The Supreme Creator, Prajāpati, प्रजापति, literally « Father and Lord of creatures », felt « emptied » right after creating all worlds and beings.

-Similarly, the Son of the only God felt his « emptiness » (kenosis, from the Greek kenos, empty, opposing pleos, full) and his « abandonment » by God just before his death.

-In the Jewish Kabbalah, God also consented to His own « contraction » (tsimtsum) in order to leave a little bit of being to His creation.

In this implicit, hidden, subterranean analogy between the passivity of human wisdom and the divine recess, there may be room for a form of tragic, sublime and overwhelming irony.

The paradox is that this analogy and irony, then, would also allow the infinitesimal human ‘wisdom’ to approach in small steps one of the deepest aspects of the mystery.


iBhagavadgītā 9.4-5

iiBhagavadgītā 9.11

iii« Others, who cultivate knowledge, worship Me either as the unique existence, or in the diversity of beings and things, or in My universal form. « Bhagavadgītā 9,15

ivBhagavadgītā 9.16-19

vF. Max Müller. Introduction to the Vedanta philosophy. Three lectures given at the Royal Institute in March 1894. Translated from English by Léon Sorg. Ed. Ernest Leroux, Paris 1899.

viF. Max Müller, op. cit. 3rd conference, p.39

viiF. Max Müller, op. cit. 3rd conference, p.39-40

viiiIt should probably be specified here, thanks to the tonic accents: « The soul becomes Brahman by being Brahman. « But one could also write, it seems to me, by analogy with the ‘procession’ of the divine persons that Christian theology has formalized: « The spirit becomes Brahman by being Brahman. »

ixF. Max Müller, op. cit. 3rd conference, p. 41

xF. Max Müller, op. cit. 3rd conference, p. 44

xiF. Max Müller, op. cit. 3rd conference, p. 45

The Essence of Being

It is said that Being is. Apart from being a tautology, nothing is less certain. Rather, one should say that Being is also what is becoming, and therefore what it is not, yet. One could also say that it is, at least partly, what has been, and therefore what it is no longer. We should not, therefore, just say that Being is (strictly speaking).

Being is indeed all that it is in essence, and in potency, including all that it will be and all that it has been.

The essence of Being is not only to be, but to have been, in some ways that may be not fully understood, and also to contain some potentialities that may be revealed sometime in the future. Now, admittedly, ‘being in potency’ or ‘having been’ are not, strictly speaking, ‘being’, but one can however think and say that ‘being in potency’ or ‘having been’ are a certain way of being.

From that I infer that a part of the essence of Being lies in what is ‘thought‘ and ‘said‘ about it. The essence of Being has something to do with thought and words.

One may then expand this idea and state that there is no unspeakable Being, just as there is no Being without essence and existence, and just as there is no abstract Being.

A ‘mere’ Being, a Being that would be absolutely unthinkable, and absolutely unspeakable, is just a play on words, a mental chimera.

A ‘mere’ Being would necessarily refer to some other prior entity that would be ‘before’ it, — an entity that would be also in essence unspeakable and would moreover not be called ‘Being’, because this would be a name, – and there could not be any speakable name, starting with the name ‘Being’, for an entity that would be in essence unspeakable.

Hence, I assume that Being can only be conceived by the word, and with the word. A ‘Being without word’, or ‘before all words’, would not be ‘Being’, but something more original than ‘Being’, an entity without the need for any words (even the word ‘Being’), an entity for which no word exists, for which no word is suitable.

No word can designate what is before or beyond Being. Words can only suit what is, what has been or what will be, — not what is beyond Being.

Being and Wording are therefore linked. Said otherwise, Being and the Word make a couple. They are of the same essence. A reciprocal essence links these two entities. One constitutes a part of the essence of the other. The Word is part of the essence of Being, and Being is part of the essence of the Word.

Is the Word first? No, because if the Word were first, if it were before Being, then it would be before Being is, which is a logical contradiction.

Is Being first? No, for how could it be called ‘Being’ before the Word was? If we can say that Being is, if we can say that the Being is Being, then it implies that the Word is also already present, — in the presence of Being. The presence of the Word would be necessary to say the existence of Being.

As I said, Being and Word are linked to each other, they are and they say together.

From the outset, Being is not just Being, but is to be this whole, this linked, compact couple of Being and Word.

Being is to be from the outset all that is implied in being Being and being Word.

Being is to be from the outset the whole of Being, ‘all’ the essence of Being, all that is Being, all that constitutes it.

Being implies being ‘con-sistent‘ (from the Latin cum-sistere).

Being implies to be ‘co-existent‘ with all that is proper to being.

Being is with itself, it is in the presence of itself, in the presence of everything that constitutes its essence, including the Word that tells this essence.

Being involves Being-With-Oneself and Being-Word. If Being is consistent, and it has to be, it coexists with all that is ‘being’ in itself and all that is « thoughtable » and  »speakable » in it.

The coexistence of Being with the whole of Being and all its parts constitutes the immanent ‘self’ of Being. This immanent ‘self’ resonates with itself. It is this resonance that constitues the Word.

Hence the deepest origin of consciousness.

Hence also the origin of transcendence, which is constituted by the consciousness of immanence.

Being implies the immanence of Being, and immanence implies immanent consciousness, and the consciousness of immanence.

The immanent consciousness and the consciousness of immanence are already potential steps towards transcendent consciousness (in relation to Being).

The fact for Being to be-with-oneself carries in potency the appearance of the consciousness of being, of the awareness of the self by the self.

Being implies a fold of Being upon itself. This fold is an implication-explanation, which is also the beginning of a reflection, to move on to an optical metaphor.

At the beginning of Being, then, is this fold, this reflection, which can also be called ‘spirit’ (in Sanskrit manas), because the spirit is what ‘unfolds’, or what ‘reflects’.

And in this unfolding fold, the Vedic Word (वाच् vāc) was born.

An Ugly Black Sun From Which the Night Radiates

-Victor Hugo-

Victor, thoughtful, once stood near the dolmen of Rozel. A dark and talkative ghost appeared to him. From his mouth of night flowed a powerful, agitated stream, mixing raw and chosen words, where dead trunks and black silt layed. The nyctalope poet was even more loquacious, and his verses sprang, in hurried theories, out of their grassy, wordy bushes.

The images added up, like glasses at the bar:

The immense can be heard. Everything speaks. Everything has consciousness. The tombs are dressed in grass and night. The abyss prays. All lives. The depth is imperfect. Evil is in the universe. Everything goes to the worst, always, without ceasing. The soul chooses. The tree is religious. The pebble is vile, blind, hideous. Matter is evil, – fatal fruit. The incontinent poet rhymes ‘ombre‘ (shadow) with ‘sombre‘ (dark) several times without any shame. And, to compensate, ‘vivant‘ (alive) with ‘en avant‘ (forward).

He had a sad forehead, this great man, this exile with sad sweats, funeral impulses. He bent, this poet, from the weight of the infinite, nothing less, and from the silly light of the gloomy suns.

God is here. Are we so sure? Of course we are! He is not out of anything, by the way. The azure, and the rays, hide His wingspan.

Interpelled in vain, the Spirit continues his way, without wanting to hear Man alone, despising his ‘vile flesh’. The word ‘vile’ returns like an antiphon. The enormous life always continues, it enters the invisible, it ascends to the heavens, it travels ‘millions of leagues’, it reaches even to the ‘radiant toe’ of the ‘archangel sun’ and vanishes in God. Yes ‘in God’! That is, in the depths! Jacob and Cato have already passed through these ladders, with their future of duty, mourning, and exile. They have passed through these precipices and abysses, where the larvae and the mysteries, the vapors and the hydrants, are hurried.

Following them, the seers and angels plunged, towards the winged souls.

But for the banished who remain stuck in the nadir, shipwreck is promised, and the ‘rimless abyss’, full of ‘rain’, opens up.

« Of all that lived rains unceasingly the ashes;

And one sees everything at the bottom, when the eye dares to go down there,

Beyond the life, and the breath and the noise,
An ugly black sun from which the night radiates! »i

The Spirit thunders and threatens. As a prophet, he says: the top goes down, the ideal goes to matter, the spirit falls to the animal, the great crashes into the small, the fire announces the ashes, blindness is born of the seer, and darkness of the flamboyant.

But the rhymes save! ‘Azure’ goes with ‘pure’.

Above is joy, below is filth and evil.

It’s perfectly binary. Structurally binary.

In the infinite, one goes up, – or one falls.

Every being is in balance, and weighs its own weight. For elevation, or fall.

Let man contemplate, then, the cesspool or the temple!

Underneath even the worst of the rough ones, there are still the plants without eyelids, and under the stones, there is chaos.

But, always, the soul must continue to descend, towards the dungeon, the punishment and the scaffold.

Ah! Victor! How your hard and funny verses judge worlds and History!

With a light gesture, you cut down your cleaver, soaked with unbelievable alexandrines!

« Once, without understanding it and with a dazed eye

India has almost glimpsed this metempsychosis. »ii

‘India has almost glimpsed this metempsychosis’. Seriously ???

You Victor, you saw! You Clarified Poet, young Genius of Jersey! You, Seer, you knew, much better than her, this old India, that the bramble becomes a claw, and the cat’s tongue becomes a rose leaf, – to drink the blood of the mouse, in the shadows and the shouts !

Ah, Victor, seeing from your higher heaven, you contemplate the unheard-of spectacle of the lower regions, and you listen to the immense cry of misfortune, the sighs of the pebbles and the desperate.

You see ‘everywhere, everywhere, everywhere’, angels ‘with dead wings’, gloomy larvae, and ragged forests. Punishment seeks darkness, and Babel, when it is overthrown, always flees into the depths of the night. The man for you, O Victor, full of victories, glory and knowledge, is never but a brute drunk with nothingness, who empties the drunken glass of his sleeps, night after night.

But there is a but. When you think twice, man is in prison but his soul remains free. The magi thought that legions of unknown and enslaved souls were constantly trampled underfoot by men who denied them. The ashes in the hearth, or the sepulchre, also claim that a heap of evil sleeps in them.

Man says: No! He prostitutes his mouth to nothingness, while even his dog lying in the night (that sinister constellation) sees God. This is because man is nothing, even if the starry beast is little. He denies, he doubts, in the shadow, the dark and gloomy, the vile and hideous, and he rushes into this abyss, this universal sewer.

Ah! Victor! Why didn’t you crush, with a heavy foot, that immortal worm that was gnawing at your overripe soul?

Alas! Alas! Alas! All is alive! Everything thinks!

Triple complaint, quintuple exclamation. One must cry over all the hideous ugliness of the world.

The spider is filthy, the slug is wet, the aphid is vile, the crab is hideous, the bark beetle is awful (like the sun!), the toad is scary.

But there is still hope at the end!

The underworld will refer to itself as eden. It will be the real day. Beauty will flood the night. The pariah universe will stutter in praise. Mass graves will sing. The mud will palpitate.

The pains will end, – as this poem ends: with the ‘Beginning’!

To Victor, however, I would like to address a short message from beyond time, a brief word from beyond the age, a distant sign from India, who ‘glimpsed’ something that Hugo neither saw nor suspected:

Before the very Beginning, there was neither being nor non-being, and ‘all darkness was enveloped in darkness.’ iii

Wise men commented: the spirit (in Sanskrit: manas) is the one and only thing that can be both existing and non-existent. The spirit exists, they said, only in things, but things, if they have no spirit, then they are non-existentiv.

The seers have long sought wise views on these difficult questions.

They thought, for example, that there was a hidden, deep, obscure link between Being and Non-Being. And they asked themselves: What link? And who could really know anything about it?

They replied ironically: « He certainly knows it – or maybe He Himself doesn’t even know it ! »v


i Victor Hugo. Contemplations. XXVI , « What the Mouth of Shadow Says ».

ii Ibid.

iiiRV X,129.3

ivCf. SB X,5,3, 1-2

v RV X,129.7

Three Beginnings

« Genesis »

The anthropology of the ‘beginning’ is quite rich. A brief review of three traditions, Vedic, Jewish and Christian, here cited in the order of their historical arrival on the world stage, may help to compare their respective myths of ‘beginning’ and understand their implications.

1. The Gospel of John introduced the Greek idea of logos, ‘in the beginning’.

Ἐν ἀρχῇ ἦν ὁ λόγος, καὶ ὁ ἦν πρὸς τὸν θεόν, καὶ θεὸς ὁ λόγος.

« In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God ». (Jn 1:1)

It is certainly worth digging a little deeper into the meaning of the two words ἀρχῇ (arkhè) and λόγος (logos), given their importance here.

Ἐν ἀρχῇ. En arkhè.

What is the real (deep) meaning of this expression?

Should one translate by « In the beginning »? Or « In the Principle »? Or something else?

The original meaning of the verb arkho, arkhein, commonly used since Homer, is ‘to take the initiative, to begin’. In the active sense, the word means ‘to command’.i With the preverb en-, the verb en-arkhomai means ‘to begin the sacrifice’, and later ‘to exercise magistracy’. The notion of sacrifice is very present in the cloud of meanings associated with this word. Kat-arkho : ‘to begin a sacrifice’. Pros-arkho, ‘to offer a gift’. Ex-arkho means ‘to begin, to sing (a song)’. Hup-arkho, ‘to begin, to be in the beginning’, hence ‘to be fundamental, to exist’, and finally ‘to be’.

Many compounds use as first term the word arkhè, meaning either ‘who starts’ or ‘who commands’. The oldest meaning is ‘who takes the initiative of’. There is the Homeric meaning of arkhé-kakos, ‘who is at the origin of evils’. The derived word arkhosgave rise to the formation of a very large number of compounds (more than 150 have been recordedii), of which Chantraine notes that they all refer to the notion of leading, of command, — and not to the notion of beginning.

The feminine noun arkhe, which is the word used in the Gospel of John, can mean ‘beginning’, but philosophers use it to designate ‘principles’, ‘first elements’ (Anaximander is the first to use it in this sense), or to mean ‘power, sovereignty’.

Chantraine concludes that the meanings of arkhè whicharerelated to the notions of ‘taking the initiative’, of ‘starting’, are the oldest, but that meanings that express the idea of ‘command’ also are very old, since they already appear in Homer. In all the derivations and subsequent compositions, it is the notion of ‘commanding’ that dominates, including in a religious sense: ‘to make the first gesture, to take the initiative (of sacrifice)’.

One may conjecture from all this, that the Johannine expression ‘en arkhèdoes not contain the deep idea of an ‘absolute beginning’. Rather, it may refer to the idea of a (divine) sacrificial initiative or inauguration (of the divine ‘sacrifice’), which presupposes not an absolute, temporal beginning, but rather an intemporal, divine decision, and the pre-existence of a whole background necessary for the conception and execution of this divine, inaugural and atemporal ‘sacrifice’.

Now, what about λόγος, logos ? How to translate this word with the right nuance? Does logos mean here ‘verb’ ? ‘Word’ ? ‘Reason’ ? ‘Speech’ ?

The word logos comes from the Greek verb lego, legein, whose original meaning is ‘to gather, to choose’, at least in the ways Homer uses this word in the Iliad. This value is preserved with the verbal compounds using the preverbs dia– or ek– (dia-legeinor ek-legein,‘to sort, to choose’), epi-legein ‘to choose, to pay attention to’, sul-legeintogather’. Legeinsometimes means ‘to enumerate’ in the Odyssey, and ‘to utter insults’, or ‘to chat, to discourse’ in the Iliad. This is how the use of lego, legein in the sense of ‘to tell, to say’ appeared, a use that competes with other Greek verbs that also have the meaning of ‘to say’: agoreuo, phèmi.

The noun logos is very ancient and can be found in the Iliad and Odyssey with the meaning of ‘speech, word’, and in Ionic and Attic dialects with meanings such as ‘narrative, account, consideration, explanation, reasoning, reason’, – as opposed to ‘reality’ (ergon). Then, much later, logos has come to mean ‘immanent reason’, and in Christian theology, it started to mean the second person of the Trinity, or even God.iii

Usually Jn 1:1 is translated, as we know : ‘In the beginning was the Word’. But if one wants to remain faithful to the most original meaning of these words, en arkhè and logos, one may choose to translate this verse in quite a different way.

I propose (not as a provocation, but for a brain-storming purpose) to tranlate :

« At the principle there was a choice. »

Read: « At the principle » — [of the divine sacrifice] — « there was a [divine] choice ».

Explanation: The divine Entity which proceeded, ‘in the beginning’, did not Itself begin to be at the time of this ‘beginning’. It was necessarily already there, before any being andbefore any beginning, in order toinitiate and make the ‘beginning’ and the ‘being’ possible. The ‘beginning’ is thus only relative, since the divine Entity was and is always before and any beginning and any time, out of time and any beginning.

Also, let’s argue that the expression ‘en arkhe‘ in Jn 1:1 rather refers to the idea and initiative of a ‘primordial sacrifice‘ or a primal ‘initiation’, — of which the Greek language keeps a deep memory in the verb arkhein, whencompounded with the preverb en-: en-arkhomai, ‘to initiate the sacrifice’, a composition very close to the Johannine formula en arkhe.

As for the choice of the word ‘choice‘ to translate logos, it is justified by the long memory of the meanings of the word logos. The word logos only meant ‘word’ at a very late period, and when it finally meant that, this was in competition with other Greek words with the same meaning of ‘to say’, or ‘to speak’, such as phèmi, or agoreuo. as already said.

In reality, the original meaning of the verb lego, legein,is not ‘to speak’ or ‘to say’, but revolves around the ideas of ‘gathering’ and ‘choosing’, which are mental operations prior to any speech. The idea of ‘speaking’ is basically only second, it only comes after the ‘choice’ made by the mind to ‘gather’ [its ideas] and ‘distinguish’ or ‘elect’ them [in order to ‘express’ them].

2. About a thousand years before the Gospel of John, the Hebrew tradition tells yet another story of ‘beginning’, not that of the beginning of a ‘Word’ or a ‘Verb’, but that of a unity coupled with a multiplicity in order to initiate ‘creation’.

The first verse of the Torah (Gen 1:1) reads:

בְּרֵאשִׁית, בָּרָא אֱלֹהִים, אֵת הַשָּׁמַיִם, וְאֵת הָאָרֶץ.

Berechit bara elohim et ha-chamaïm v-et ha-arets.

Usually Gn 1.1 is translated as :

« In the beginning God created heaven and earth ».

The word אֱלֹהִים , elohim, is translated by ‘God’. However, elohim is grammatically a plural (and could be, — grammatically speaking –, translated as  »the Gods »), as the other plural in this verse, ha-chamayim, should be translated bythe heavens’. The fact that the verb bara (created) is in the singular is not a difficulty from this point of view. In the grammar of ancient Semitic languages (to which the grammar of classical Arabic still bears witness today, for it has preserved, more than Hebrew, these ancient grammatical rules) the plurals of non-human animated beings that are subjects of verbs, put these in the 3rd person singular. Elohim is a plural of non-human animated beings, because they are divine.

Another grammatical rule states that when the verb is at the beginning of the sentence, and is followed by the subject, the verb should always be in the singular form, even when the subject is plural.

From these two different grammatical rules, therefore, the verb of which elohim is the subject must be put in the singular (bara).

In other words, the fact that the verb bara is a 3rd person singular does not imply that the subject elohim should grammatically be also a singular.

As for the initial particle, בְּ be, in the expression be-rechit, it has many meanings, including ‘with’, ‘by’, ‘by means of’.

In accordance with several midrachic interpretations found in the Bereshit Rabbah, I propose not to translate be-rechit by ‘in the beginning’, but to suggest quite another translation.

By giving the particle בְּ be- the meaning of ‘with‘ or ‘by, be-rechit may be translatedby: « with [the ‘rechit‘] ».

Again in accordance with several midrachic interpretations, I also suggest giving back to ‘rechitits original meaning of ‘first-fruits‘ (of a harvest), and even giving it in this context not a temporal meaning but a qualitative and superlative one: ‘the most precious‘.

It should be noted, by the way, that these meanings meet well with the idea of ‘sacrifice’ that the Greek word arkhé in theJohannine Gospel contains, as we have just seen.

Hence the proposed translation of Gn 1.1 :

« By [or with] the Most Precious, the Gods [or God] created etc… »

Let us note finally that in this first verse of the Hebrew Bible, there is no mention of ‘speaking’, or ‘saying’ any ‘Verb’ or ‘Word’.

It is only in the 3rd verse of Genesis that God (Elohim) ‘says’ (yomer) something…

וַיֹּאמֶר אֱלֹהִים, יְהִי אוֹר; וַיְהִי-אוֹר

Va-yomer Elohim yéhi ‘or vé yéhi ‘or.

Literally: « Elohim says ‘let there be light’, and the light is [and will be]. »

Then in the 5th verse, God (Elohim) ‘calls’ (yqra), i.e. God ‘gives names’.

וַיִּקְרָא אֱלֹהִים לָאוֹר יוֹם

Va-yqra’ Elohim la-‘or yom

« And Elohim called the light ‘day’. »

The actual « word » of God will come only much later. The verb דָּבַר davar ‘to speak’ or the noun דָּבָר davar ‘word’ (as applied to YHVH) only appeared long after the ‘beginning’ had begun:

« All that YHVH has said » (Ex 24:7).

« YHVH has fulfilled his word » (1 Kings 8:20).

« For YHVH has spoken » (Is 1:2).

3. Let us now turn to the Vedic tradition, which dates (in its orally transmitted form) to one or two millennia before the Hebrew tradition.

In the Veda, in contrast to Genesis or the Gospel of John, there is not ‘one’ beginning, but several beginnings, operating at different levels, and featuring various actors …

Here are a few examples:

« O Lord of the Word (‘Bṛhaspati’)! This was the beginning of the Word.  » (RV X, 71,1)

« In the beginning, this universe was neither Being nor Non-Being. In the beginning, indeed, this universe existed and did not exist: only the Spirit was there.

The Spirit was, so to speak, neither existing nor non-existent.

The Spirit, once created, desired to manifest itself.

This Spirit then created the Word. « (SB X 5, 3, 1-2)

« Nothing existed here on earth in the beginning; it was covered by death (mṛtyu), by hunger, because hunger is death. She became mental [she became ‘thinking’]: ‘May I have a soul (ātman)‘. »(BU 1,2,1).

Perhaps most strikingly, more than two or three millennia before the Gospel of John, the Veda already employed formulas or metaphors such as: the ‘Lord of the Word’ or ‘the beginning of the Word’.

In Sanskrit, the ‘word’ is वाच् Vāc. In the Veda it is metaphorically called ‘the Great’ (bṛhatī), but it also receives many other metaphors or divine names.

The Word of the Veda, Vāc, ‘was’ before any creation, it pre-existed before any being came to be.

The Word is begotten by and in the Absolute – it is not ‘created’.

The Absolute for its part has no name, because He is before the word. Or, because He is the Word. He is the Word itself, or ‘all the Word’.

How then could He be called by any name? A name is never but a single word: it cannot speak thewhole Word’, – all that has been, is and will be Word.

The Absolute is not named. But one can name the Supreme Creator, the Lord of all creatures, which is one of its manifestations, – like the Word, moreover.

The Ṛg Veda gives it the name प्रजापति Prajāpati,: Lord (pati) of Creation (prajā). It also gives itthe name ब्र्हस्पति Bṛhaspati, which means ‘Lord of the Wordiv, Lord (pati) of the Great (bṛhatī )’.

For Vāc is the ‘greatness’ of Prajāpati: « Then Agni turned to Him with open mouth; and He (Prajāpati) was afraid, and his own greatness separated from Him. Now His very greatness is His Word, and this greatness has separated from Him. »v

The Sanskrit word bṛhat, बृहत् means ‘great, high; vast, abundant; strong, powerful; principal’. Its root ब्र्ह bṛha means‘to increase, to grow; to become strong; to spread’.

The Bṛhadāraṇyaka-upaniṣad comments: « It is also Bṛhaspati: Bṛhatī [‘the great one’] is indeed the Word, and he is its Lord (pati). « vi

The Word is therefore also at the « beginning » in the Veda, but it precedes it, and makes it possible, because the Word is intimately linked to the (divine) Sacrifice.

The Ṛg Veda explains the link between the supreme Creator, the Word, the Spirit, and the Sacrifice, a link that is unraveled and loosened ‘in the beginning’:

« O Lord of the Word! This was the beginning of the Word,

– when the seers began to name everything.

Excellence, the purest, the profoundly hidden

in their hearts, they revealed it through their love.

The Seers shaped the Word by the Spirit,

passing it through a sieve, like wheat being sifted.

Friends recognized the friendship they had for each other,

and a sign of good omen sealed their word.

Through sacrifice, they followed the way of the Word,

and this Word which they found in them, among them,

– they proclaimed it and communicated it to the multitude.

Together, the Seven Singers sing it. »vii

In the Śatapatha brāhmaṇa which is a later scholarly commentary, the Word is presented as the divine entity that created the « Breath of Life »:

« The Word, when he was created, desired to manifest himself, and to become more explicit, more incarnated. He desired a Self. He concentrated fervently. He acquired substance. These were the 36,000 fires of his own Self, made of the Word, and emerging from the Word. (…) With the Word they sang and with the Word they recited. Whatever rite is practiced in the Sacrifice, the sacrificial rite exists by the Word alone, as the utterance of voices, as fires composed of the Word, generated by the Word (…) The Word created the Breath of Life. »viii

In the Bṛhadāraṇyaka-upaniṣad, one of the oldest upaniṣad, the Vedic Word is staged as born of death, or rather of the soul (ātman)of death.

This Word is the prayer or hymn (ṛc), or ritual recitation (arc, of the same root as ṛc). Through the play of assonances, homophonies and metaphors, it is associated with arca, the‘fire’ and ka, the‘water’ (both essential elements of the sacrifice), and also with ka, the ‘joy’ it brings.

« Nothing existed here on earth in the beginning; it was covered by death (mṛtyu), by hunger, for hunger is deathix. She made herself mental [thinking]: ‘May I have a soul (ātman)‘. She engaged in a ritual recitation [bow, a prayer]. While she was in the ritual recitation the water was bornx. She thought] ‘Truly, while engaged in this ritual recitation (arc), the water [or joy] (ka) came’. This is the name and being (arkatva) of the ritual recitation [or fire] (arka). Water [or joy] (ka) really happens to the one who knows the name and being of the virtual recitation [or fire]. »xi

From these quotations, one sees clearly that, in the Vedic tradition, the Word is not « in the beginning », but he is « the beginning ». The beginning of what? — The beginning of Sacrifice.

The Word ‘begins’ to reveal, he ‘initiates’, but he also hides all that he does not reveal.

What is it that he does not reveal? – He does not reveal all the depth, the abyss of the (divine) Sacrifice.

The Word is a ‘place’ where is made possible an encounter between clarity, light, brilliance (joy) and Man. But the Word also makes heard, through his silence, all the immensity of the abyss, the depth of the darkness, the in-finite before any beginnings.


iCf. The Greek Etymological Dictionary of Chantraine

iiBuck-Petersen, Reverse index 686-687

iiiCf. Lampe, Lexicon, Kittel, Theological Words.

ivRV X.71

vSB II, 2,4,4

vi Cf. BU,1,3,30. This Upaniṣad further explains that the Word is embodied in the Vedas in the Vedic hymn (Ṛc), in theformula of sacrifice (yajus) and in the sacred melody (sāman). Bṛhatī is also the name given to the Vedic verse (ṛc) and the name of the Brahman (in the neutral) is given to the sacrificial formula (yajus). As for the melody (sāman) it is ‘Breath-Speech’: « That is why it is also Bṛhaspati (Ṛc). It is also Bhrahmaṇaspati. The Brahman is indeed the Word and he is the lord (pati) of the [Word]. That is why he is also Bhrahmaṇaspati (= Yajus). He is also the melody (sāman). The melody is truly the Word: ‘He is she, (the Word) and he is Ama (the breath). This is for the name and nature of the melody (sāman). Or because he is equal (sama) to a gnat, equal to a mosquito, equal to an elephant, equal to the three worlds, equal to this all, for this reason he is sāman, melody. It obtains the union with the sāman , theresidence in the same world, the one that knows the sāman. »(BU 1,3,20-22)

vii RV X, 71, 1-3.

viii SB X 5, 3, 1-5

ix A. Degrâces thus comments this sentence: « The question of cause is raised here. If nothing is perceived, nothing exists. Śaṅkara is based on the concepts of covering and being covered: ‘What is covered by the cause is the effect, and both exist before creation… But the cause, by destroying the preceding effect, does not destroy itself. And the fact that one effect occurs by destroying another is not in opposition to the fact that the cause exists before the effect that is produced….Manifestation means reaching the realm of perception… Not being perceived does not mean not existing… There are two forms of covering or occultation in relation to the effect… What is destroyed, produced, existing and non-existing depends on the relation to the manifestation or occultation… The effort consists in removing what covers… Death is the golden embryo in the condition of intelligence, hunger is the attribute of what intelligence is… ». (BAUB 1.2) Alyette Degrâces. The Upaniṣad. Fayard, 2014, p.222, note n° 974.

x Water plays an essential role in the Vedic sacrifice.

xiBU 1,2,1 (My adaptation in English from a French translation by Alyette Degrâces. The upaniṣad. Fayard, 2014, p.222)

The God « Ka » (« Who? »)

« Raimundo Panikkar »

More than two millennia before the times of Melchisedechi and Abraham, other wandering and pious men were already singing the hymns of Ṛg Veda. Passing them on faithfully, generation after generation, they celebrated through hymns and prayers, the mysteries of a Supreme God, a Lord creator of worlds, of all creatures, of all lives.

Intelligence of the divine did just not begin in Ur in Chaldea, nor sacred wisdom in Salem.

They probably already reigned, more than five thousand years ago, among chosen, attentive, dedicated spirits. These men left as a legacy the hymns they sang, in precise and chiselled phrases, evoking the salient mysteries that constantly assailed them:

Of the Creator of all things, what can be said? What is his name?

What is the primary source of « Being »? How to name the primordial « Sun », from which the entire Cosmos emerged?

‘Who’ is the Lord imposing his lordship on all beings, – and on the ‘Being’ itself ? But who is ‘Who’?

What is the role of Man, what is his true part in this Mystery play?

A Vedic hymn, famous among all, summarizes and condenses all these difficult questions into one single one, both limpid and obscure.

It is Hymn X, 121 of Ṛg Veda, often titled « To the Unknown God ».

In the English translation by Ralph T.H. Griffith, this Hymn is entitled « Ka ».ii Ka, in Sanskrit, means « who ? »

This Hymn is dedicated to the God whom the Veda literally calls « Who? »

Griffith translates the exclamation recurring nine times throughout this ten-verses Hymn as follows :

« What God shall we adore with our oblation ? »

But from the point of view of Sanskrit grammar, it is perfectly possible to personify this interrogative pronoun, Ka, as the very name of the Unknown God.

Hence this possible translation :

To the God ‘Who?’

1. In the beginning appeared the Golden Germ.

As soon as he was born, he became the Lord of Being,

The support of Earth and this Heaven.

What God shall we adore with our oblation ? 

2. He, who gives life force and endurance,

He, whose commandments are laws for the Gods,

He, whose shadow is Immortal Life, – and Death.

What God shall we adore with our oblation ? 

3. ‘Who?iii – in His greatness appeared, the only sovereign

Of everything that lives, breathes and sleeps,

He, the Lord of Man and all four-membered creatures.

What God shall we adore with our oblation ? 

4. To Him belongs by right, by His own power,

The snow-covered mountains, the flows of the world and the sea.

His arms embrace the four quarters of the sky.

What God shall we adore with our oblation ? 

5. ‘Who?’ holds the Mighty Heavens and the Earth in safety,

He formed the light, and above it the vast vault of Heaven.

‘Who?’ measured the ether of the intermediate worlds.

What God shall we adore with our oblation ? 

6. Towards Him, trembling, forces crushed,

Subjected to his glory, raise their eyes.

Through Him, the sun of dawn projects its light.

What God shall we adore with our oblation ? 

7. When came the mighty waters, carrying

The Universal Germ from which Fire springs,

The One Spirit of God was born to be.

What God shall we adore with our oblation ? 

8. This Unit, which, in its power, watched over the Waters,

Pregnant with the life forces engendering the Sacrifice,

She is the God of Gods, and there is nothing on Her side.

What God shall we adore with our oblation ? 

9. O Father of the Earth, ruling by immutable laws,

O Heavenly Father, we ask You to keep us,

O Father of the ample and divine Waters!

What God shall we adore with our oblation ? 

10. O Lord of creaturesiv, Father of all things,

You alone penetrate all that is born,

This sacrifice that we offer you, we desire it,

Give it to us, and may we become lords of oblation!


What is this divine Germ (Hiraṇyagarbha , or ‘Golden Germ’, in Sanskrit), mentioned in verses 1, 7 and 8?

One does not know, but one can sense it. The Divine is not the result of a creation, nor of an evolution, or of a becoming, as if it was not, – then was. The Veda here attempts a breakthrough in the very nature of the divinity, through the image of the ‘germ’, the image of pure life. The idea of a ‘God’ is only valid from the creature’s point of view. The idea of ‘God’ appears only through its relation to the idea of ‘creature’. For Himself, God is not ‘God’, – He must be, in His own eyes, something completely different, which has nothing to do with the pathos of creation and the creature.

One can make the same remark about « Being ». The « Being » appears only when the beings appear. God creates the beings and the Being at the same time. He Himself is beyond Being, since it is through Him that Being comes. And before the beings, before the Being itself, it seems that a divine, mysterious life ‘took place’. Not that it ‘was’, since the Being was not yet, but it ‘lived’, hidden, and then ‘was born’. But from what womb? From what prior, primordial uterus? We do not know. We only know that, in an abyssmal mystery (and not in time or space), an even deeper mystery, a sui generis mystery, grew, in this very depth, which was then to come to being, but without the Mystery itself being revealed by this growth and by this outcoming of being.

The place of origin of the mystery is not known, but the Veda calls it ‘Golden Germ’ (hiraṇyagarbha). This metaphor of a ‘Germ’ implies (logically?) some ovary, some womb, some desire, some life older than all life, and older than the Being itself.

Life came from this Living One, in Whom, by Whom and from Whom, it was given to the Being ; it was then given to be, and it was given thereby to beings, to all beings.

This mysterious process, which the word ‘Germ’ evokes, is also called ‘Sacrifice’, a word that appears in verse 8: Yajña (यज्ञ). The Seed dies to Himself, He sacrifices Himself, so that out of His own Life, life, all lives, may be born.

May God be born to Himself, through His sacrifice… What a strange thing!

By being born, God becomes ‘God’, He becomes the Lord of Being, for the Being, and the Lord of beings. Hymn 121 takes here its mystical flight, and celebrates a God who is the Father of creatures, and who is also always transcendent to the Being, to the world and to his own ‘divinity’ (inasmuch as this divinity allows itself to be seen in its Creation, and allows itself to be grasped in the Unity that it founds).

But who is this God who is so transcendent? Who is this God who hides, behind the appearance of the Origin, below or beyond the very Beginning?

There is no better noun, one might think, than this interrogative pronoun: ‘Who?’. Ka.

This ‘Who?’ , this Ka, does not call for an answer. Rather, it calls for another question, which Man addresses to himself: To whom? To whom must Man, seized by the unheard-of depth of the mystery, in turn offer his own sacrifice?

A haunting litany: « What God shall we adore with our oblation ? » 

It is not that the name of this God is strictly speaking unknown. Verse 10 uses the expression Prajāpati , ‘Lord of creatures’. It is found in other texts, for example in this passage from Taittirīya Saṁhitā :

« Indra, the latest addition to Prajāpati, was named ‘Lord of the Gods’ by his Father, but they did not accept him. Indra asked her Father to give her the splendor that is in the sun, so that she could be ‘Lord of the Gods’. Prajāpati answered her:

– If I give it to you, then who will I be?

– You will be what You say, who? (ka).

And since then, it was His name. »v

But these two names, Prajāpati , or Ka, refer only to something related to creatures, referring either to their Creator, or simply to their ignorance or perplexity.

These names say nothing about the essence of God. This essence is undoubtedly above all intelligibility, and above all essence.

This ka, ‘who?’, in the original Sanskrit text, is actually used in the singular dative form of the pronoun, kasmai (to whom?).

One cannot ask the question ‘who?’ with regard to God, but only ‘to whom? One cannot seek to question his essence, but only to distinguish him among all the other possible objects of worship.

God is mentally unknowable. Except perhaps in that we know that He is ‘sacrifice’. But we know nothing of the essence of His ‘sacrifice’. We can only ‘participate’ in the essence of this divine sacrifice (but not know it), more or less actively, — and this from a better understanding of the essence of our own sacrifice, of our ‘oblation’. Indeed, we are both subject and object of our oblation. In the same way, God is both subject and object of His sacrifice. We can then try to understand, by anagogy, the essence of His sacrifice through the essence of our oblation.

This is what Raimundo Panikkar describes as the ‘Vedic experience’. It is certainly not the personal experience of those Vedic priests and prophets who were chanting their hymns two thousand years before Abraham, but it could be at least a certain experience of the sacred, of which we ‘modern’ or ‘post-modern’ could still feel the breath and the burning.


iמַלְכֵּי-צֶדֶק , (malkî-ṣedeq) : ‘King of Salem’ and ‘Priest of the Most High (El-Elyôn)’.

iiRalph T.H. Griffith. The Hymns of the Rig Veda. Motilal Banarsidass Publihers. Delhi, 2004, p.628

iiiIn the original Sanskit: , Ka ? « To Whom ? »

iv Prajāpati :  » Lord of creatures « . This expression, so often quoted in the later texts of the Atharva Veda and Brāhmaṇa, is never used in the Ṛg Veda, except in this one place (RV X,121,10). It may therefore have been interpolated later. Or, – more likely in my opinion, it represents here, effectively and spontaneously, the first historically recorded appearance (in the oldest religious tradition in the world that has formally come down to us), or the ‘birth’ of the concept of ‘Lord of Creation’, ‘Lord of creatures’, – Prajāpati .

vTB II, 2, 10, 1-2 quoted by Raimundo Panikkar, The Vedic Experience. Mantramañjarī. Darton, Longman & Todd, London, 1977, p.69

Metaphysics of Fungi and Tares

« Richard Gordon Wasson and Albert Hofmann »

An innate sense of ‘mystery’ has always been one of the defining features of the human condition. The appearance of this trait, a long time ago, – say a few thousand centuries ago –, coincided, one must assume, with an obscure and progressive emergence of the consciousness itself, – mixed with a certain consciousness of the presence of the unconscious, – or of what was still lying unknown, hidden behing the veil of consciousness.

These two phenomena, the intuition of the mystery and the intuition of the unconscious, also opened the way to the progressive bursting of the consciousness of the Ego itself, – and of the ‘Self’.

The appearance of consciousness itself has undoubtedly been particularly favored by the repetition (encouraged by rituals) of many individual, acute, unprecedented, ‘proto-mystical’ experiences, – some of them with literally unspeakable implications, and whose essence was to reveal unexpectedly some of the depths of the Self, to some ‘initiated’ minds.

The accumulation of these experiences, by countless successive generations, not only by individuals but also by tribal groups during collective trances, suggests that these ecstatic states of consciousness must have been described and shared according to socialized forms (proto-religions, cult rites, initiation ceremonies).

The progressive experience of self-awareness and the proto-mystical experience are in fact indissolubly linked and reinforce each other. Both must have been made possible and encouraged by clusters of favorable conditions (environment, surroundings, climate, fauna, flora).

Moreover, through the effect of epigenesis, they must have had an impact on the neuronal, synaptic, neurochemical evolution of the brain (in hominids, then in humans), producing an organic and psychic terrain more and more adapted to a continuous increase in ‘levels of consciousness’.

For innumerable generations, and during multiple trance experiences, whether deliberate or hazardous, prepared or undergone, provoked during religious rites, or melting like lightning following personal discoveries, the mental ground of Homo brains never stops sowing, then sprouting, as if under the action of a psychic yeast intimately mixed with the neuronal dough.

Powerful proto-mystical experiments accelerated the neurochemical and neuro-synaptic adaptation of the brains of Paleolithic man, and thus revealed the incalculable immensity and radical unspeakability of the underlying, immanent, deep-seated ‘mysteries’.

These mysteries manifestly dwelled not only in the brain itself, and in a human consciousness that seemed to be barely awake, but also all around, in Nature, in the vast world of Cosmos, and beyond the Cosmos itself, deep in the Night of Origins.

Mysteries seemed to be hiding, not only in the ‘Self’, but also in the ‘Other’ , in the ‘Everywhere’ and in the ‘Elsewhere’.

The neuronal, synaptic and neurochemical evolution was, and still is, obviously, the essential condition for a mental, psychic and spiritual evolution.

This evolution was accelerated by increasingly powerful and complex feedback loops, intertwining the sudden physiological modifications available, and the ‘neuro-systemic’, cultural and psychic effects that they could cause in individuals, by genetic propagation within human groups, and by catalyzing the potential exploration of unfathomable, unresolved, abyssmal depths.

We can safely postulate the existence of an immanent and constantly evolving epigenetic link between the evolution of the brain’s structure, the network of its neurons, synapses and neurotransmitters, their inhibitory and agonizing factors, and its increasing capacity to support proto-mystical, spiritual and religious experiences.

What is a proto-mystical experience?

There are undoubtedly many of them… But to fix the ideas, we can evoke the experience reported by many shamans of an exit from the body (‘ecstasy’ or ESPs), followed by the perception of a great lightning bolt, then accompanied by surreal visions, coupled with an acute development of Self-consciousness, and the inner spectacle created by the simultaneous excitement of all parts of the brain.

Let us imagine a Homo erectus, hunter-gatherer in some region of Eurasia, who consumes, by chance or by tradition, such and such a mushroom, among the dozens of species possessing psychotropic properties, in his living environment. Suddenly, a ‘great flash of consciousness’ invades and stuns him, following the simultaneous stimulation of a massive quantity of neurotransmitters affecting the functioning of his neurons and his cerebral synapses. In a few moments, there is a radical difference between his usual state of ‘consciousness’ (or ‘subconsciousness’) and the suddenly occurring state of ‘over-consciousness’. The novelty and the incredible vigor of the experience will mark him for life.

He will now have the certainty of having lived a moment of double consciousness, a moment when his usual consciousness was as if transcended by an overconsciousness. In him, a true ‘dimorphism’ of consciousness has been powerfully revealed, which is not without comparison with the daily dimorphism of wakefulness and sleep, and the ontological dimorphism of life and death, two categories undoubtedly perfectly perceptible by Homo erectus’ brain.

Let us add that, since ancient times, probably dating back to the beginning of the Paleolithic, more than three million years ago, hunter-gatherers of the Homo genus must already have known the use of psycho-active plants, and consumed them regularly. Long before the appearance of Homo, many animal species (such as reindeer, monkeys, elephants, mouflons or felines…) also knew their effects themselvesi.

Their daily example was to intrigue and disturb humans living in close symbiosis with them, and, if only to increase their hunting performance, to incite them to imitate the so strange behavior of animals putting themselves in danger by indulging in the grip of psychoactive substances – otherwise (and this in itself is an additional mystery) widespread in the surrounding nature, and throughout the world …

There are still about a hundred species of psychoactive fungi in North America today, and the vast territories of Eurasia must have had at least as many in the Paleolithic, – although nowadays there are only about ten species of fungi with hallucinogenic properties.

Paleolithic Homo was thus daily confronted with the testimony of animals undergoing the effect of psychoactive substances, regularly renewing the experience of their ingestion, affecting their ‘normal’ behavior, and thus putting themselves in danger of being killed by hunters on the lookout, quick to seize their advantage.

There is no doubt that Homo has imitated these animals ‘delighted’, ‘drugged’, ‘stunned’ by powerful substances, and ‘wandering’ in their own dreams. Wanting to understand their indifference to danger, Homo ingested the same berries or mushrooms, if only to ‘feel’ in turn what these so familiar prey could ‘feel’, which, against all odds, then offered themselves easily to their flints and arrows…

Even today, in regions ranging from northern Europe to far-eastern Siberia, reindeer still consume a lot of fly-agarics during their migrations – just like the shamans who live on the same territories.

This is certainly not a coincidence.

In Siberia, the reindeer and the hunter-breeder both live, one could say, in close symbiosis with the Amanita muscaria fungus.

The same molecules of Amanita muscaria (muscimoleii, and ibotenoque acid) that affect man and beast so intensely, how can they be produced by such seemingly elementary life forms, by ‘simple’ fungi? And moreover, why do these fungi produce these molecules, for what purpose?

This is a mystery worthy of consideration, for it is a phenomenon that objectively – and mystically – links the fungus and the brain, lightning and light, animal and human, heaven and earth, by means of a few molecules, common and active, though belonging to different kingdoms?

It is a well-documented fact that in all continents of the world, in Eurasia, America, Africa, Oceania, and since time immemorial, shamans have been consuming psychoactive substances that facilitate the entry into trance, – a trance accompanied by deep psychological effects, such as the experience of ‘divine visions’.

How can we imagine that these incredible experiences can be so mysteriously ‘shared’, if only by analogy, with animals? How can it be explained that these powerful effects, so universal, are simply due to the consumption of humble mushrooms, and that the active ingredients are one or two types of molecules acting on neurotransmitters?

R. Gordon Wasson, in his book Divine Mushroom of Immortality iii, has skillfully documented the universality of these phenomena, and he did not hesitate to establish a link between these ‘original’, shamanic practices and the consumption of Vedic Soma (from the 3rd millennium BC), whose ancient hymns of Ṛg Veda accurately describe the rites, and celebrate the divine essence, – occupying the heart of the Vedic sacrifice.iv

During several thousand years, shamanism naturally continued to be part of the sacred rites and initiation ceremonies of the wandering peoples who migrated from the North of Eurasia to the « South »,

In the course of time, Amanita muscaria has probably had to be replaced by other plants, endemically available in the various geographical environments crossed, but with similar psychotropic effects.

These migrating peoples referred to themselves as āryas, a word meaning ‘nobles’ or ‘lords’. This very old Sanskrit term, used since the 3rd millennium BC, has nowadays become sulphurous, since its misuse by Nazi ideologues.

These peoples spoke Indo-European languages, and were slowly but surely moving from Northern Europe to India and Iran, but also to the Near and Middle East, via Southern Russia. Some of them passed through the Caspian and Aral Sea, through Bactria and Margiana (as the remains of the ‘Oxus civilization’ attest), through Afghanistan, and finally settled permanently in the Indus Valley or on the Iranian highlands.

Others went to the Black Sea, Thrace, Macedonia, present-day Greece and to Phrygia, Ionia (present-day Turkey) and the Near East.

Arriving in Greece, the Hellenic branch of these Indo-European peoples did not forget the ancient shamanic beliefs. The mysteries of Eleusis and the other mystery religions of ancient Greece can be interpreted as ancient Hellenized shamanic ceremonies, during which the ingestion of beverages with psychotropic propertiesv induced mystical visions.

At the time of the Great Mysteries of Eleusis, this beverage, kykeon, made from goat’s milk, mint and spices, probably also contained as active ingredient a parasitic fungus, the rye spur, or an endophytic fungus living in symbiosis with herbs such as Lolium temulentum, better known in English as ‘ryegrass’ or ‘tares’. Rye ergot naturally produces a psychoactive alkaloid, lysergic acid, from which LSD is derived.vi

Albert Hofmann, famous for synthesizing LSD, wrote in The Road to Eleusis that the priests of Eleusis had to treat the rye spur Claviceps purpurea by simply dissolving it in water, thus extracting the active alkaloids, ergonovine and methylergonovine. Hofmann suggested an alternative hypothesis, namely that kykeon could be prepared using another species of rye spur, Claviceps paspali, which grows on wild herbs such as Paspalum distichum, and whose ‘psychedelic’ effects are even more intense, and indeed similar to those of the Aztec ololiuhqui plant, endemic to the Western Hemisphere.

Our mind, in a state of awakening, is constantly torn between two very different (and complementary) forms of consciousness, one turned towards the external world, that of physical sensations and action, and the other turned towards the internal world, reflection and unconscious feelings.

There are, of course, varying degrees of intensity for these two types of ‘consciousness’, external and internal. Dreaming with your eyes open is not the same as ‘dreaming’ under the influence of fly agaric, peyote or any of the many hallucinogenic plants containing psilocybin.

Upon ingestion of these powerful psychoactive principles, these two forms of consciousness seem to be simultaneously excited to the last degree, and may even alternate very quickly. They ‘merge’ and enter into ‘resonance’ at the same time.

On the one hand, the sensations felt by the body are taken to extremes, because they are not relayed by the nervous system, but are produced directly in the very center of the brain.

On the other hand, mental, psychic, or intellectual effects are also extremely powerful, because countless neurons can be stimulated or inhibited simultaneously. Under the sudden effect of psychoactive molecules, the action of inhibitory neurotransmitters (such as GABA) is massively increased. The action potential of post-synaptic neurons or glial cells is just as suddenly, and sharply, diminished.

This massive inhibition of post-synaptic neurons translates, subjectively, into a kind of radical decoupling between the usual level of consciousness, that of the consciousness of the external reality, and an entirely different level of consciousness, ‘internal’, completely detached from the surrounding reality, but by this very fact, also more easily sucked into a psychic, independent universe, which C.G. Jung calls the ‘Self’, and to which innumerable traditions refer under various names.

The set of complex neurochemical processes that occur in the brain at these times can be summarized as follows.

Psychoactive molecules (such as psilocybin) are structurally very close to organic compounds (indolesvii) that occur naturally in the brain. They suddenly put the entire brain in a state of almost absolute isolation from the immediately nearby world of external sensations.

The usual consciousness is suddenly deprived of any access to its own world, and the brain is almost instantaneously plunged into a universe infinitely rich in forms, movements, and especially ‘levels of consciousness’ absolutely unequalled with those of daily consciousness.

But there is even more surprising…

According to research by Dr. Joel Elkes at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, a person’s subjective awareness under the influence of psilocybin can ‘alternate’ between two states – an ‘external’ state of consciousness and an ‘internal’ state of consciousness.

The alternation of the two states of consciousness is commonly observed, and it can even be provoked simply when the subject opens and closes his or her eyes…

We can therefore hypothesize that the original emergence of consciousness, in hominids and developed even more in Paleolithic man, may have resulted from an analogous phenomenon of ‘resonance’ between these two types of consciousness, a resonance that was itself strongly accentuated when psychoactive substances were ingested.

The back and forth between an ‘external’ consciousness (based on the world of perception and action) and an ‘internal’ consciousness, ‘inhibited’ in relation to the external world, but consequently ‘uninhibited’ in relation to the ‘surreal’ or ‘meta-physical’ world, also reinforces the ‘brain-antenna’ hypothesis proposed by William James.

Psilocybin, in this case, would make the consciousness ‘blink’ between two fundamental, totally different states, and by the same token, it would make the very subject capable of these two kinds of consciousness appear as overhanging, a subject capable of navigating between several worlds, and several states of consciousness…

In the tares hides the spur of (divine) drunkenness…

« As the people slept, the enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and departed. When the grass had grown and yielded fruit, then the tares also appeared. « viii

Should it be uprooted? No. « Lest you pick up the tares and uproot the wheat with it. Let the two grow together until the harvest. And at harvest time, I will say to the reapers, ‘Gather the tares first and bind it into bundles to consume it; but the wheat will be gathered into my granary. « ix

The interpretation is rather clear, on the one hand. The tares must remain in the wheat until the ‘harvest’. It is also obscure, on the other hand, for the tares must be burned, and then it is as an image of the fire that consumes the spirit and opens a world of visions.

And there is the parable of the leaven, which is ‘hidden’ in the flour, but of which a tiny quantity ferments the whole doughx

The leaven ferments and makes the dough ‘rise’. In the same way the rye spur, the tares, ferment the spirit, and raise it in the higher worlds…

Spirits can just burn in the way of tares.

Or they may become infinitely drunk with the divine.

They can then understand within themselves how consciousness came to be, through the humble and radiant power of plants, the potency of grass linked to the potency of cosmos, uniting the secret depths of roots and what may be beyond the heights of heavens…


iDavid Linden, The Compass of Pleasure: How Our Brains Make Fatty Foods, Orgasm, Exercise, Marijuana, Generosity, Vodka, Learning, and Gambling Feel So Good. Penguin Books, 2011

iiMuscimole is structurally close to a major neurotransmitter of the central nervous system: GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid), whose effects it mimics. Muscimole is a powerful agonist of GABA type A receptors. Muscimole is hallucinogenic at doses of 10 to 15 mg.

iiiRichard Gordon Wasson, Soma : Divine Mushroom of Immortality, Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich Inc, 1968

ivThe article Amanite fly killers of Wikipedia quotes that anthropologist Peter T. Furst’s Hallucinogens and Culture, (1976) survey analyzed the elements that may or may not identify fly killers as Vedic Soma, and (cautiously) concluded in favor of this hypothesis.

vPeter Webster, Daniel M. Perrine, Carl A. P. Ruck,  » Mixing the Kykeon  » [archive], 2000.

vi In their book The Road to Eleusis, R. Gordon Wasson, Albert Hofmann and Carl A. P. Ruck estimate that hierophant priests used the rye ergot Claviceps purpurea, available in abundance around Eleusis.

viiHeterocyclic aromatic organic compounds.

viiiMt 13, 25-26

ixMt 13, 29-30

xMk 4, 33-34

God and Shadow

Modify the article

« Van Gogh. Starry Night »

Billions of suns shimmer in the Night, – and all the gods are silent and shine.

The Night, – the immense abyss sucks it up, breathes this dark shroud of blood, this veil of shadow.

A voice cries out in the dark: « O Abyss, you are the only God. »i

Another voice answers, in an ironic echo: « O unique God, you are Abyss! »

All the suns that I know overflow with shadows, are full of enigmas, pierce the night with irruptions, with intestinal fury, pulverize and volatilize the mysteries.

Their deliriums, their burns, their glimmers, their impulses, fill old divine voids, long already there, pierce black matter, streak with dark mists.

See the divine Athena, wise, simple, sure, solar too, – one comes from afar to pray under the radiance of her aegis, and to recollect (relegere) on the threshold of her altar, on her calm Acropolis.

But her very Soul is only shadow, even if her Intelligence is light.

It is said that the dreams of the wise, the hatreds of the people, the tears, the loves and the gods pass.

I prefer to believe that they slide eternally, into nameless oblivion, an endless drift, but no, they will not pass. On the contrary, they grow, and always multiply. Like God Himself.

This God whom, out of faith or fear, fierce monotheists say they want to « unify » (in words only). They vehemently assign to Him a single attribute, the « one », only the « one », – not the « two », or the « three », or the « π », the pleroma or the infinite.

Those who pronounce His plural, intangible name, Elohim, still read in this plural the « One », the unique, alone, singular « One ».

They also assign the defined article to His name: the Elohim. הָאֱלֹהִים. Ha-Elohimii.

« The » God. In Arabic, too : « Al » Lah. « The » Divinity.

Two grammatical temptations : to ‘unify’ God (as being ‘one’)… and to ‘define’ God (by the article)….

And death is promised, surely, to all others, to those who, they say, « multiply Him, » – in word or thought, by action or omission….

A crucified Muslim, a saint and martyr, at the beginning of the 10th century A.D., famously said:

« Who claims to unify Him, multiplies Him.»iii

He paid with his life for this deep and uncomfortable truth.

Is the God, immensely infinite, so much in need of this din around a ‘unity’ that is tired, but certainly threatened, atomized with clamor (of pride and conquest), crumbled with cries (of hatred and suffering), diluted with harangues (of excommunications and fatwas).

The « One », – image, or even idol, of pure abstraction, worshipping itself, in its solitude.

The. One. The One.

The definite and the indefinite, united in a common embrace, against grammar, logic and meaning, – for if He is « One », if He is only « One », how can one say « the » One, who supposes « an » Other, maybe a less or a more than « one » Other, lurking in His shadow?

Only, perhaps, is the path of negative theology worthwhile here.

Maybe, God is neither one, nor multiple, nor the One, nor the Other, nor defined, nor undefined, but all of that at once.

Only one thing seems to be sure: He is nothing of what they say He is. Nada.

How is it possible to attribute an attribute to Him, if He is unity as such? What blindness! What derision! What pride!

They don’t know what they are doing. They don’t know what they are saying. They don’t think what they think.

But if He is not the One, from a grammatical and ontological viewpoint, what sort of grammar and ontolgy can we use to say what He really is ?

The very idea of the One is not high enough, not wide enough, not deep enough, – for His Présence, His Powers, and His infinite armies (tsebaoth) of shadows, to remain included in it.

To move forward, let’s reflect on the concept of ‘reflection’.

The sun, this unique star (for us), by its infinite images, by its incessant rays, is ‘reflected’ in the slightest of the shadows. Some of these rays even dance within us, with in our souls.

The Veda tradition helps to understand the lesson, adding another perspective.

The God Surya, who is called ‘Sun’, says the Veda, has a face of extreme brilliance, – so extreme that his ‘wife’, the Goddess Saranyu, flees before him because she can no longer face his face.

To keep her escape secret, to hide her absence, she creates a shadow, – a faithful copy of herself – named Chāyā, which she leaves behind, in her place.iv

It should be noted that in Sanskrit Chāyā, छाया, indeed means ‘shadow’. The root of this word is chād, छाद्, ‘to cover, to wrap; to hide, to keep secret’.

The word chāyā is also given by Chantraine’s Dictionary of Greek Etymology as having « a definite kinship » with the Greek word σκιά skia, ‘shadow’, ‘darkness, hidden place’ and also ‘ghost’ (a qualifier designating man’s weakness). Avestic and Persian also have a very similar word, sāya, ‘shadow’. The word skia is found in the Gospel several times, for example:

« This people, sitting in darkness, saw a great light. And upon those who sat in the region and the shadow (skia) of death, the light has risen. »v

The God Surya is deceived by this faithful shadow, which seems to be (in appearance) His own shadow. He, then, unites Himself to her, to Chāyā, to this shadow that is not divine, only human. And He generates with her à son, Manu.vi

Manu, – the ancestor of mankind.

Manu, – the Adam of the Veda, therefore!

According to Genesis, a text that appeared at least a millennium after the hymns of Ṛg Veda were composed (and thus having, one can think, some distance from the most ancient Vedic intuitions), the God (named Elohim) famously said:

נַעֲשֶׂה אָדָם בְּצַלְמּ כִּדְמוּתֵנוּ

Na’oçéh adam bi-tsalme-nou ki-dimoute-nou

« Let us make Adam in our image (bi-tsalmé-nou) and according to our likeness (ki-demouté-nou)« vii.

Then the text insists, and repeats the word ‘image’ twice more.

וַיִּבְרָא אֱלֹהִים אֶת-הָאָדָם בְּצַלְמוֹ, בְּצֶלֶם אֱלֹהִים בָּרָא אֹתוֹ

Vé-bara Elohim et-ha-adam bi-tsalmou, bi-tsélém Elohim bara otou.

Translated literally: « And Elohim created Adam in his image (bi-tsalmou), in the image (bi-tslem) Elohim created him. »viii

Let us note that the third time, this ‘image’ that Elohim uses to create is not the image of anyone, it is only an ‘image’ with which He creates Adam. Perhaps it is not even an image, then, but only a shadow?

This is worth thinking about.

The Hebrew word צֶלֶם tselem, ‘image’, has the primary meaning: ‘shadows, darkness’, as the verse « Yes, man walks in darkness (be-tselem) » (Ps. 39:7) testifies, and as the word צֵל tsel, meaning ‘shadow’, confirms.

The Vedic God generates « Manu », the Man, with the Shade, Chāyā.

The biblical God creates « Adam » as a « shadow ».

Was there an influence of the Vedic myth on the biblical myth of the creation of man? One cannot say. On the other hand, it is obvious that some fundamental archetypes remain, beyond time and cultures, which are properly human, undoubtedly coming from the dark depths, where many shadows indeed reign.

It is not so surprising, in fact, that one of the deepest archetypes attaches precisely the idea of shadow to the deepest nature of man.

Man, a frail shadow, – and image too, or veil, of an abyss within him, without bottom.


iErnest Renan. Memories of childhood and youth. Prayer on the Acropolis. Calmann-Lévy, Paris, 1883, p.72

iiSee Gen 6.2; Ex 1, 17: Ex 20.16; 1Kings 17.18; Job 1.6 and many other examples.

iiiHallâj. The Book of the Word. Translation by Chawki Abdelamir and Philippe Delarbre. Ed. du Rocher, 1996. p.58

ivDoniger, Wendy(1998). « Saranyu/Samjna ». In John Stratton Hawley, Donna Marie Wulff (ed.). Devī: goddesses of India. Motilal Banarsidas. pp. 158-60.

vMt 4 ;16

viAccording to a later tradition, that of Mahābhārata.

viiGen 1 :26

viiiGen 1 :27

Deep Logos and Bottomless Soul

« Heraclitus »

For at least a million years, man has been using the spoken word more or less skillfully. Since ancient times, its uses and modes of expression have been infinite, from the most futile to the most elevated. The stammering child, the fluent poet, the sure sage, the inspired prophet, all tried and continue trying their own ways and speaking their voices.

With the same breath of expelled air, they generate gutturals from the glottis, fricatives from the pharynx, hissing on the tongue, whistling labials through the lips.

From these incessant sounds, what sense does exhale?

Heraclitus, master in obscure matters, great lord of meaning, once made this sharp judgment:

ἀνὴρ νήπιος ἤκουσε πρὸς δαίμονος ὅκωσπερ παῖς πρὸς ἀνδρός.

« The man is held as a little boy by the divinity, like the child by the man. »i

This both pessimistic and optimistic fragment proposes a ratio of proportion: what the child is to man, man is to the divinity. The observation of man’s impotence in relation to the divine is not dissociated from the natural and expected perspective of a passage from childhood to adulthood.

In his translation of this fragment, Marcel Conche curiously emphasizes speech, although the word logos is clearly absent from the Heraclitus text:

« A ‘marmot’ (a toddler) who cannot speak! Man is thus called by the divine being (δαίμων), just as a child is called by man. « ii

The periphrase ‘A marmot who cannot speak’ is the choice (bold and talkative) made by Marcel Conche to render the meaning of the simple Greek word νήπιος, affixed by Heraclitus to the word ‘man’ (ἀνὴρ).

Homer also uses the word νήπιος in various senses: ‘who is in infancy’, ‘young child’, but also ‘naive’, ‘foolish’, ‘devoid of reason’.

Conche evokes these various meanings, and justifies his own translation, which is periphrastic and therefore not very faithful, in the following way:

« Translating as ‘child without reason’ sounds right, but not precise enough: if νήπιος applies to the ‘infant’ child, one must think of the very young child, who does not yet speak. Hence the translation [in French] by ‘marmot’, which probably comes from ‘marmotter’, which originates from an onomatopoeia expressing murmuring, the absence of distinct speech. « iii

This is followed by a comment on the supposed meaning of the fragment:

« It is about becoming another being, who judges by reason, and not as habit and tradition would have it. This transformation of the being is translated by the ability to speak a new language: no longer a particular language – the language of desire and tradition – but a discourse that develops reasons referring to other reasons (…) Now, from this logical or philosophical discourse, from this logos, men do not have the intelligence, and, in relation to the demonic being – the philosopher – who speaks it, they are like little brats without speech (…) To speak as they speak is to speak as if they were devoid of reason (of the power to speak the truth). »iv

Although this fragment of Heraclitus does not contain any allusion to logos, the main lesson that Conche learns from it is : « Man is incapable of logos for the demonic being ».

In a second departure from the commonly received meaning for this fragment, Marcel Conche considers that the divinity or demonic being (δαίμων) evoked by Heraclitus is in reality the ‘philosopher’. For Conche, it is the philosopher who is the demonic being par excellence, and it is precisely he who is able to determine for this reason that « man is incapable of logos ».

However Heraclitus certainly did not say: « Man is incapable of logos.»

Man may mumble. But he also talks. And he even has, in him, the logos.

Indeed, if the word logos is absent from fragment D.K. 79, it is found on the other hand in ten other fragments of Heraclitus, with various meanings : ‘word’, ‘speech’, ‘discourse’, ‘measure’, ‘reason’…

Among these ten fragments, there are five that use the word logos in such an original, hardly translatable way that the common solution is just not to translate it at all, and to keep it in its original form : Logos

Here are these five fragments:

« The Logos, which is, always men are incapable of understanding him, both before hearing him and after hearing him for the first time, for although all things are born and die according to this Logos, men are inexperienced when they try their hand at words or deeds. »v

« If it is not I, but the Logos, that you have listened to, it is wise to agree that it is the One-all. »vi

« In Prayer lived Bias, son of Teutames, who was more endowed with Logos than the others. « vii

In these three fragments, the Logos seems to be endowed with an autonomous essence, a power to grow, and an ability to say birth, life, death, Being, the One and the Whole.

In the next two fragments, the Logos is intimately associated with the substance of the soul itself.

« It belongs to the soul a Logos that increases itself. « viii

« You cannot find the limits of the soul by continuing on your way, no matter how long the road, so deep is the Logos it contains. « ix

As a reminder, here is the original text of this last fragment :

ψυχῇ πείρατα ἰὼν ἰὼν ἂν ἐξεύροιο, πᾶσαν ἐπιπορευόμενος ὁδόν- οὕτω βαθὺν λόγον ἔχει.

Strangely enough, Conche, who added the idea of speech in a fragment that did not include the word logos, avoids using the word logos here, in his translation, though the fragment does contain it explicitly: « You wouldn’t find the limits of the soul, even if you walked all the roads, because it has such a deep discourse.»x

Is it relevant to translate here the word logos by discourse?

If not, how to translate it?

None of the following meanings seems satisfactory: cause, reason, essence, basis, meaning, measure, report. The least bad of the possible meanings remains ‘speech, discourse’xi according to Conche, who opts for this last word, as we have seen.

But Heraclitus uses a strange expression here: ‘a deep logos‘, – a logos so ‘deep’ that it doesn’t reach its ‘limit’.

What is a logos that never reaches its own depth, what is a limitless logos?

For her part, Clémence Ramnoux decided not to translate in this fragment the word logos. She even suggested to put it in brackets, considering it as an interpolation, a late addition:

« You wouldn’t find a limit to the soul, even when you travel on all roads, (it has such a deep logos). « xii

She comments on her reluctance in this way:

« The phrase in parentheses may have been added over. If it was added, it was added by someone who knew the expression logos of the psyche. But it would not provide a testimony for its formation in the age of Heraclitus. « xiii

In a note, she presents the state of scholarly discussion on this topic:

 » ‘So deep is her logos’. Is this added by the hand of Diogenes Laërtius (IX,7)?

Argument for: text of Hippolytus probably referring to this one (V,7): the soul is hard to find and difficult to understand. Difficult to find because it has no boundaries. In the mind of Hippolytus it is not spatial. Difficult to understand because its logos is too deep.

Argument against: a text of Tertullian seems to translate this one: « terminos anime nequaquam invenies omnem vitam ingrediens » (De Anima 2). It does not include the sentence with the logos.

Among the moderns, Bywater deleted it – Kranz retained it – Fränkel retained it and interpreted it with fragment 3. »xiv

For his part, Marcel Conche, who, as we have seen, has opted for the translation of logos by ‘discourse’, justifies himself in this way: « We think, with Diano, that logos must be translated, here as elsewhere, by ‘discourse’. The soul is limited because it is mortal. The peirata are the ‘limits to which the soul goes,’ Zeller rightly says. But he adds: ‘the limits of her being’. « xv

The soul would thus be limited in her being? Rather than limited in her journey, or in her discourse? Or in her Logos?

Conche develops: « If there are no such limits, it is because the soul is ‘that infinite part of the human being’. »

And he adds: « Snell understands βαθὺς [bathus] as the Grenzenlosigkeit, the infinity of the soul. It will be objected that what is ‘deep’ is not the soul but the logos (βαθὺν λόγον). (…) In what sense is the soul ‘infinite’? Her power is limitless. It is the power of knowledge. The power of knowledge of the ψυχὴ [psyche] is limitless in so far as she is capable of logos, of true speech. Why this? The logos can only tell reality in a partial way, as if there was somewhere a reality that is outside the truth. Its object is necessarily reality as a whole, the Whole of reality. But the Whole is without limits, being all the real, and the real cannot be limited by the unreal. By knowledge, the soul is equal to the Whole, that is to say to the world. « xvi

According to this interpretation, reality is entirely offered to the power of reason, to the power of the soul. Reality has no ‘background’ that remains potentially obscure to the soul.

« The ‘depth’ of the logos is the vastness, the capacity, by which it equals the world and establishes in law the depth (immensity) of reality. Βαθὺς : the discourse extends so deeply upwards or downwards that it can accommodate everything within it, like an abyss in which all reality can find its place. No matter which way the soul goes on the path of knowledge, inward or outward, upward or downward, she encounters no limit to her capacity to make light. All is clear in law. Heraclitus’ rationalism is absolute rationalism. « xvii

Above all what is absolute, here, is the inability to understand the logos in its infinite depth, in its deepest infinity.

We’re starting to understand that for Heraclitus, the Logos cannot be just reason, measure or speech.

The soul (psyche) has no ‘limits’, because she has a ‘deep logos‘ (βαθὺν λόγον).

The soul is unlimited, she is infinite, because she is so vast, so deep, so wide and so high that the Logos himself can dwell in her always, without ever finding his own end in her, – no matter how many journeys or speeches he may make…

No wonder the (word) Logos is ‘untranslatable’. In theory, and in good logic, to ‘translate’ it, one would need an infinitely deep periphrase comprising an infinite number of words, made of infinite letters…


iFragment D.K. 79. Trad. Jean-Paul Dumont. Les Présocratiques. Bibliothèque de la Pléiade. Gallimard 1988, p. 164

iiD.K. 79. Translation by Marcel Conche, in Héraclite PUF, 1986, p.77.

iiiMarcel Conche, Héraclite PUF, 1986, p.77

ivMarcel Conche, Héraclite PUF, 1986, p.80

vFragment D.K. 1, Trad. Jean-Paul Dumont. The Presocratics. Bibliothèque de la Pléiade. Gallimard 1988, p. 145

viFragment D.K. 50. Trad. Jean-Paul Dumont. The Presocratics. Bibliothèque de la Pléiade. Gallimard 1988, p. 157

viiFragment D.K. 39. Trad. Jean-Paul Dumont. The Presocratics. Bibliothèque de la Pléiade. Gallimard 1988, p. 155

viiiFragment D.K. 115. Trad. Jean-Paul Dumont. The Presocratics. Bibliothèque de la Pléiade. Gallimard 1988, p. 172

ixFragment D.K. 45. Trad. Jean-Paul Dumont. The Presocratics. Bibliothèque de la Pléiade. Gallimard 1988, p. 156

xM. Conche, Heraclite PUF, 1986, p.357


xiiRamnoux, Heraclitus, or the man between things and words. Ed. Les Belles Lettres, Paris, 1968, p. 119.


xivRamnoux, Heraclitus, or the man between things and words. Ed. Les Belles Lettres, Paris, 1968, p. 119, note 1.

xvM. Conche, Héraclite PUF, Paris, 1986, p.357.

xviM. Conche, Héraclite PUF, Paris, 1986, p.357-359

xviiM. Conche, Héraclite PUF, Paris, 1986, p.359-360

The Law of the Universal Attraction of Consciousnesses

« Isaac Newton »

In a previous article, The Dreamers’ Paradise, we invited you to meditate on the double nature of the plant, which is rooted below, or in the stomach, for the materialists, or on the contrary above, in the philosophy of the Veda. In both cases, the plant and its roots sum up their respective visions of the world.

Hylozoismi, which is not very Vedic but intrinsically modern, sees life as « springing » from matter itself, which is still a metaphor. The « source » can be seen to be, in a way, analogous to the « root ». In everything, always and everywhere, life supposes the immanent presence of the same internal and autonomous principle of generation, source or root, which animates all things.

No less modern, and rather more so, materialism, is by definition eminently immanent. It denies a priori any idea of soul in life, and it kills (in the bud) any idea of spirit within matter. Its aim is to assimilate, to digest in the material stomach any idea of the spirit, or of its essence, which amounts to the same thing.

Kant, on the other hand, is not at all modern. He asserts that an immaterial world exists. This immensely vast world includes all created intelligences, reasonable beings, but also the sentient consciousnesses (of all animals), and finally all the principles of life, whatever they may be, and which are found everywhere in nature, for example in plants.

Among the « created intelligences » some are related to matter. We know this, because we experience it in ourselves, and it is they who, through this special alliance, form « persons ».

Other « created intelligences » are not bound to matter. They may remain isolated, or they may be linked to other spirits, or they may be more or less closely associated with other entities, having an intermediate status between matter and spirit.

All these immaterial natures (the intelligences, the consciousnesses, the principles) exert their (immaterial) influence in the corporeal world, according to ways and means which remain incomprehensible.

Among them, there are all the so-called « reasonable » beings, whether they are present on earth or lying, presumably, elsewhere in the universe. Because of the use of their reason, whose end it is, they are not destined to remain separate (from matter). Reason is another name for an immanent, ordering and regulating principle, which reasonable beings (i.e. beings in which reason is immanent) use to animate the (irrational) fabric of matter, and constitute it as a « living » entity.

We can suppose that the so-called reasonable beings maintain with the other created intelligences various exchanges or communications, in accordance with their respective natures.

These communications are then not limited by bodies, nor by the usual constraints of material life. They transcend them. Nor do they weaken with distance in space or time, nor do they disappear when death occurs.

According to these general views, the human soul, which is a particular case of these immaterial and reasonable natures, should therefore be regarded as already linked, in the present life, to both worlds, the immaterial and the corporeal.

The singular soul is bound to a particular body, which makes it an absolutely unique person. It clearly perceives the material influence of the corporeal world. As it is also part of the spirit world, it also feels the influences of the immaterial natures, and can perceive, in certain cases, their immaterial effluvia.

At death, as soon as the bodily connection has ceased, the soul continues to be in impalpable community with the spiritual natures.

Undoubtedly, it should then, being at last separated from the body, be better able to form a clearer intuition of its own nature, and to reveal it, in an appropriate manner, to its inner consciousness.ii

On the other hand, it is probable that the other spiritual natures, those which are not « incarnate », cannot be immediately conscious of any sensible impression of the bodily world, because they are not bound in any way to matter.

Not having a body of their own, they cannot be conscious of the material universe or perceive it, lacking the necessary organs. But they can exert a subtle influence on the souls of men, because they have a nature similar to their own.

The two can even maintain a reciprocal and real trade, capable of progress and enrichment.

However, the images and representations formed by spirits that still depend on the corporeal world cannot be communicated to beings that are purely spiritual.

Conversely, the conceptions and notions of the latter, which are intuitive representations corresponding to the immaterial universe, cannot pass as such into the clear consciousness of man.

Let us add that the ideas and representations of purely spiritual beings and of human spirits are undoubtedly not of the same kind, and are therefore very difficult to transmit and to share as such, without having been digested first.iii

Among the ideas or representations which can set the human mind radically in motion, stimulate in it an acute desire for metamorphosis, and begin its transformation into a « new man », the most powerful ones can appear to it quite unheard of, inexplicable, perfectly capable even of « submerging » or « drowning » it.

Where do they come from?

From an immaterial world, that of the Muses, these inspirers reputed to come to the rescue of creators and disarmed spirits?

As phenomena, they also seem to be able to emerge spontaneously from the deepest interior of man himself.

The most elevated of them have a priori no connection with the personal utility or with the immediate, practical, individual needs of the men who receive them.

But perhaps they have some use for distant, theoretical, universal needs, which concern the whole universe?

They are moreover capable of transporting themselves again, leaving the sphere of consciousness assigned to a particular person, by a kind of contagion, of contamination, extending outwards, far beyond what one can imagine.

They go far, touching in the passage of their noumenal and numinous power other reasonable beings that they affect in their turn.

There are thus two types of spiritual forces, some centripetal, where self-interest absolutely dominates, and others, centrifugal, which reveal themselves when the soul is somehow pushed out of itself and attracted to others.iv

The lines of force and influence that our minds are capable of receiving or conceiving do not, therefore, simply converge in each of us, to be confined to them.

There are also forces that can move powerfully outside of us, outside of our own intimate space, and sometimes in spite of us, – to reach other people, other minds.

And even caress the confines.

From this, we deduce that irresistible impulses can carry the strong man away from self-interest, even to the ultimate sacrifice.

The strong law of justice, and the somewhat less imperious law of generosity and benevolence, which do not fail to show themselves universally in human nature, can carry one or the other, according to the circumstances, and according to the specific tessitura of such or such spirits, conditioned by their deep aspirations, suddenly revealed.

It is thus that in the apparently most intimate motives, we find ourselves depending in fact on universal laws, of which we are not even a little conscious.

But the result is also, in the world of all thinking natures, the possibility of a general unity and communion obeying all spiritual laws, and by this effect, preparing new degrees of metamorphosis.

Newton called ‘gravitation’ the tendency of all material bodies to come together. He treated this gravitation as a real effect of a universal activity of matter, to which he gave the name of « attraction ».

In a similar way, one could imagine the phenomenon of thoughts and ideas getting into thinking natures, then revealing themselves to be sharable, communicable, as the consequence of a universal force, a form of « attraction » by which spiritual natures influence each other.

We could name this power, the « law of the universal attraction of the consciousnesses ».

Pushing the metaphor, the force of moral feeling could well be then only the dependence felt by the individual will towards the general will, and the consequence of the exchanges of universal actions and reactions, which the immaterial world uses to tend in its way to unity.v

The human soul, in this life, occupies its full place among the spiritual substances of the universe, just as, according to the laws of universal attraction, matter spread over the immensity of space never ceases to be bound by bonds of mutual attraction, and the elementary particles themselves, far from remaining confined to a narrow granularity, fill the whole universe with their quantum potentials of field.

When the links between the soul and the corporeal world are broken by death, it can be assumed that another life in another (spiritual) world would be the natural consequence of the countless links already maintained in this life.

The present and the future would thus be formed as of one piece, and would compose a continuous whole, both in the order of nature and in the order of the spirit.vi

If this is the case with the spiritual world and the role that our spirit plays in it, it is no longer surprising that the universal communion of spirits is an ordinary phenomenon, and far more widespread than is generally admitted.

The extraordinary, in fact, lies much more in the absolute singularity of psychic phenomena affecting such and such a singular, individual person, than in their very existence, which seems to be widespread throughout the universe.


i Philosophical doctrine which maintains that matter is endowed with life by itself.

iiCf. Kant. Dreams of a man who sees spirits, – explained by dreams of metaphysics. (1766). Translated by J. Tissot. Ed. Ladrange, Paris, 1863, p.21

iiiIbid. p.22

ivIbid. p.23

vIbid. p.23-24

viIbid. p.26

The Dreamers’ Paradise

« Hermann Boerhaave »

The kingdom of shadows is the paradise of dreamers. Here they find an unlimited land, where they can establish dwellings at will. Hypochondriac vapors, children’s stories, and monastic miracles provide them with abundant material.’i


The shadow is not modern. The brilliance of the Enlightenment cannot stand the competition of darkness. Luminosity is now required more and more, in all domains, arts and sciences, and those linked to peat, mire and night.

Should we decide, with disdain, to abandon the night dreamers to their idle dreams, to their vain researches, and devote our days to the light and the useful?

To this ancient question, Kant answered with a curious pamphlet, Dreams of a Man Who Sees Spirits, – Explained by Dreams of Metaphysics.ii

Is a text with such a title even readable today?

A « man who dreams », that is all right. But a « man who sees spirits »!

And « metaphysics »!

Moderns, as we know, do not believe in « spirits », nor in « vision », nor in « metaphysics ».

Most of them are pragmatic, and of an unmoderated materialism.

But some, even among the most realistic, still agree, in front of the factual evidence, to concede the existence of « immaterial » phenomena, and attributable, at the very least, to what can be called « spirit », by some cultural training, due to tradition.

The spirit being only an emanation of the matter, its « essence » is not at all « spiritual ». It presents only a specific phenomenology, that the psychology of the cognition takes care to enlighten, and whose cerebral imageries begin to map the elementary forms.

The modern mind has no essence, nor soul of course, and is only an epiphenomenon, a kind of neuro-synaptic exudation, a material vapor.

And what do we find in this epiphenomenon, this exudation, this vapor?

Memory, will, and reason.

« A mind, [say modern sages], is a being endowed with reason. It is not surprising, then, if one sees spirits; whoever sees a man sees a being endowed with reason. « iii

The modern sees in the spirit nothing less than the soul, certainly, – but nothing less than reason…

When the modern wise man « sees men », then he « sees minds », since he « sees reasonable beings », according to Kant’s acid remark, not without a certain metaphysical irony.

The modern wise man has a good sight, it must be admitted, and much better than that of Kant, who, for his part, makes a sincere admission of his real ignorance in the matter:

« I do not know whether there are spirits; much more, I do not even know what the word spirit means. However, as I have often used it myself, or as I have heard others use it, it is necessary that some meaning be attached to it, whether what is meant by it is a chimera or a reality.

Is the spirit a material phenomenon, an abstruse chimera or an immaterial reality? Or does this word have another meaning?

At least, the spirit has a material place, to organize its appearance, and its action, – the brain, where it sits, like a spider.

« The soul of man has its seat in the brain; it has its seat in an imperceptible place. It feels there like the spider in the center of its web. (…) I confess that I am very inclined to affirm the existence of immaterial natures in the world, and to place my own soul among these beings. But then what a mystery is the union of soul and body? »iv

The mystery is less in the immaterial soul as such than in what one must resign oneself to calling the « union » of the immaterial and the corporeal, a union of which no one, even today, conceives how it takes place, nor how it is even simply possible.

And yet it is possible, since it is enough to observe one’s own consciousness to have confirmation of the phenomenon.

Such a « union » seems to deny the respective essence of the « material » and the « immaterial » and to cancel the necessary distance in which they are confined, by definition, one with respect to the other. This poses a « difficult » problem, unresolved to this day.

And yet, even if we do not see the spirit, we see well that the spirit moves what lacks spirit, precisely. It moves it, but how? And at what precise point does the lever of the spirit start to lift the immense inertia of matter?

Kant proposes an explanation, by plunging the glance of his own spirit in the deepest of the intimate of the matter:

« It seems that a spiritual being is intimately present to the matter with which it is united, and that it acts not on the forces of the elements with which these elements are related to each other, but on the internal principle of their state; for every substance, and even a simple element of matter, must nevertheless have some internal activity as the principle of external action, though I cannot say in what this activity consists. « v

Kant’s idea is that the (immaterial) mind acts on a certain (also immaterial) « internal principle », which governs not matter itself or its elements, but its deepest state, where an « internal activity » is revealed, – and where its undetectable essence lies.

This « inner principle », in so far as it is a « principle », cannot be material.

If it were, it would no longer be a « principle ». And if matter were « without principle », it would be pure chaos, without order or reason.

Materialists will of course retort that matter does not need an « immaterial principle », since it is there, in evidence, in its immanent reality, and that it has done very well without any principle to « exist », simply as such, eternally, for a respectable number of billions of years.

One may retort that matter was not doing much, just before the Big Bang, not knowing then if it was going to be reduced to nothing as soon as it was born, because of the very restrictive conditions set for its real appearance, precisely by virtue of some considerations of « principle », the reason for which the most modern physics still struggles to explain, but of which it enumerates with astonishment the precision of the prerequisites, of which the « universal constants » give some idea.

But what makes these constants exist? What is their essence?

To advance, and to go beyond these quarrels between materialists and idealists, which are too caricatural, and which lead nowhere, it would be necessary to test some other way, more in overhang.

We could suppose the existence of other ways, which would lead, as for them, somewhere… even if it was necessary for that to face the « shadows », the « emptiness » and the « non-existence », – like Aeneas looking for Anchises in the Underworld, with the Sibyl.

« Ibant obscuri sola sub nocte per umbras,

Perque domos Ditis vacuas et inania regna. « vi

(They went, obscure, in the solitary night, through the shadows,

the empty dwellings of the Richvii and the kingdoms without existence).

The ancients, who were not modern, cultivated this ‘secret philosophy’ which opens ways and paths.

The immaterial world of spirits and souls was considered a coherent realm, subsisting by itself, although not existing according to the criteria of the material world, including those of tangible or visible appearance.

All its parts were united by close, reciprocal connections and constant exchanges, without the need for bodies or materials to support them.

Plato explained that at conception, specific spirits descended into this world by adventure, and began to maintain a close commerce with particular bodies, allocated to them according to procedures, some chosen, others ignoredviii.

During the time of life, this time of the ad hoc linking of spirits and bodies, incarnated spirits may have, moreover, other direct, immaterial relations with other spirits (incarnated or not).

This is a conjecture, but it is compatible with the intrinsic logic of the immaterial.

That immaterial spirits have the desire and the possibility to maintain relations with other immaterial spirits – in a way and for reasons that naturally escape both bodily perception and human intelligence, can be explained precisely by their immaterial nature, freed from all the constraints of matter, and possessing its own ends.

In a kind of ideal dream, of which Kant was one of the promoters, one could imagine that all the beings belonging to the immaterial world, all the members of the infinite, unknowable series of the psychic natures, contribute more or less effectively to the great Whole of the Immaterial, this immense society of the spirits, closely united, constantly active, in the heat and the ardor of their bubbling communions, pursuing their own logics, towards ends of which one ignores all, except their putative reality.

Some sparing and much less burning flames, here and there escaped from this great Whole, could, twirling, fleeting, fly away and come down, as if on a commanded mission, in addition to their first destiny, to come and animate and vivify some precise bodies, chosen in the bosom of the matter (matter without that inert, infertile and inanimate).

It is conceivable that life, both material and immaterial, extending from kingdom to kingdom, flexibly changing worlds, inclining from the heights of the spirit to the depths of matter, or conversely, springing from the abyss to the heights, perpetuates and differentiates itself ceaselessly, by the dualism and the conjugation that the existence of two principles allows and favors, a principle of the ‘material’ and a principle of the ‘immaterial’.

It remains to be asked to what extremes this life, with its double principle, can descend or ascend, in order, in both cases, to continue its continuous work of metamorphosis.

To what ends of nature does life extend? When does the cold world of true non-life begin? And what burning, ultra-seraphic plasmas can spirits face?

These are points that may never be elucidated with certainty.

But some have thought they could identify this mythical frontier, at least the one that looms below.

Hermann Boerhaave famously said that « the animal is a plant that has its roots in the stomach »ix.

It is in this organ, certainly essential, that the lines of the great division would be drawn, between the plant and the animal on the one hand, – and the spiritual, on the other hand, which would be only the flower, or the aroma…

There is no clearer example of the contrast with the vision of the Bhagavad Gita. The latter also uses the plant metaphor, but changes its meaning completely.

« Roots above and branches below,

imperishable, the Azvattha [the Fig Tree] is said to be.

The meters [of the Veda] are its leaves,

and he who knows it knows Knowledge [the Veda]. « x

What is this Azvattha, this « fig tree »? What are these roots-up?

The Kaṭha-Upaniṣad takes up the image, unveiling its metaphysics:

« Roots-up, branches-down,

is this eternal fig tree,

it is he who is resplendent, he who is Brahman,

he who is called immortal,

on him all the worlds rest,

no one passes beyond him. « xi

The great Śaṅkara comments:

« The roots are the supreme abode of Viṣṇu. The tree, roots-up, of the empirical world has the unmanifested as its beginning and the inanimate as its end. It is called ‘tree’ (vṛkṣa) because of the act of cutting (vraścana). He is made of many uninterrupted evils, like birth, old age, death and sorrow, at every moment he is different. As soon as its true nature is in sight, it is destroyed like magic, like water in a mirage, an imaginary city in the sky… Its true reality is determined by those who desire to discern reality: its essence is in the roots, it is the supreme brahman. « xii

Through its etymological ‘root’, the figure of the tree embodies the idea of severance. Moreover, the tree never ceases to branch out, both in its roots and in its branches, which represent so many cuts in the continuity of its growth, both above and below.

Likewise, the world never ceases to branch its possibilities, and to grow from above and below.

Śaṅkara’s commentary adds another idea. Truth cannot be approached without generating even more illusions. The more one tries to dispel the shadows that surround it, the illusions that veil it, the more the truth slips away.

However, there is a way for those who wish to go further, deeper, to try to determine this elusive truth. It consists in following the roots of the tree to their very origin. But by following the root bush, one is quickly overwhelmed by the multiplication of the rootlets, and their bifurcations. And all of them, at the end of their myriads of hyphae, point to the void and the shadow… where the supreme brahman stands in its place.


iKant. « A Preface which promises very little for discussion.  » In Dreams of a Spirit-Seer. Illustrated by Dreams of Metaphysics. Ed. Swan Sonnenschein. London, 1900, p.37

iiKant. Dreams of a man who sees spirits, – explained by dreams of metaphysics. (1766). Trad. J. Tissot. Ed. Ladrange, Paris, 1863, p.6

iiiIbid. p.7

ivIbid. p. 14

vIbid. p.14-15

viVirgil,Aeneid, VI, 268 – 272 

viiPluto, god of the Underworld, also bears the Latin name of Dis, a contraction of ditis, « rich ». Pluto, god of the dead, is the richest of all the gods because the number of his subjects is constantly increasing. It is to evoke the same symbol that the Greeks called Pluto the god of the dead (Ploutos, wealth).

viiiCf. the myth of Er. Plato, The Republic, Book X (614 b – 621 d)

ixQuoted by Kant in Dreams of a man who sees spirits, – explained by dreams of metaphysics. (1766). Trad. J. Tissot. Ed. Ladrange, Paris, 1863,

xBhagavad Gîta, 15, 1.

xiKaU 2.3.1

xiiKaUB 2.3.1

The Incapable Socrates

« Socrates »

Socrates presents a figure difficult to surpass, that of an eternal hero of philosophical thought. But during his life, he nevertheless found his master, – or rather his mistress, by his own admission.

In the Symposium, Socrates reports that a « foreign », Dorian woman, Diotima, had made no secret of her doubts about Socrates’ limited abilities in truly higher matters.

Diotima had told him, without excessive oratory precaution, that he knew nothing about the ‘greatest mysteries’, and that he might not even be able to understand them…

Diotima had begun by inviting Socrates to « meditate on the strange state in which the love of fame puts one, as well as the desire to secure for the eternity of time an immortal glory.» i

Speaking of the « fruitful men according to the soul », such as poets or inventors, like Homer and Hesiod, who possess « the immortality of glory », or Lycurgus, « safeguard of Greece », she had emphasized their thirst for glory, and their desire for immortality. « It is so that their merit does not die, it is for such glorious fame, that all men do all that they do, and all the better they are. It is because immortality is the object of their love! » ii

Certainly, the love of immortality is something that Socrates is still able to understand. But there are much higher mysteries, and beyond that, the last, most sublime ‘revelation’…

« Now, the mysteries of love, Socrates, are those to which, no doubt, you could be initiated yourself. As for the last mysteries and the revelation, which, provided you follow the degrees of them correctly, are the goal of these last steps, I don’t know if you are capable of receiving them. I will nevertheless explain them to you, she said. As for me, I will spare nothing of my zeal; try, you, to follow me, if you are capable of it!» iii.

Diotima’s irony is obvious. No less ironic is the irony of Socrates about himself, since it is him who reports these demeaning words of Diotima.

Diotima keeps her word, and begins an explanation. For anyone who strives to reach ‘revelation’, one must begin by going beyond « the immense ocean of beauty » and even « the boundless love for wisdom ».

It is a question of going much higher still, to finally « perceive a certain unique knowledge, whose nature is to be the knowledge of this beauty of which I am now going to speak to you »iv.

And once again the irony becomes scathing.

« Try, she said, to give me your attention as much as you can. » v

So what is so hard to see, and what is this knowledge apparently beyond the reach of Socrates himself?

It is a question of discovering « the sudden vision of a beauty whose nature is marvelous », a « beauty whose existence is eternal, alien to generation as well as to corruption, to increase as well as to decrease; which, secondly, is not beautiful from this point of view and ugly to that other, not more so at this moment and not at that other, nor more beautiful in comparison with this, ugly in comparison with that (…) but rather she will show herself to him in herself and by herself, eternally united to herself in the uniqueness of her formal nature »vi.

With this « supernatural beauty » as a goal, one must « ascend continuously, as if by means of steps (…) to this sublime science, which is the science of nothing but this supernatural beauty alone, so that, in the end, we may know, in isolation, the very essence of Beauty. » vii

Diotima sums up this long quest as follows:

« It is at this point of existence, my dear Socrates, said the stranger from Mantinea, that, more than anywhere else, life for a man is worth living, when he contemplates Beauty in herself! May you one day see her! » viii

The ultimate goal then is: « succeeding in seeing Beauty in herself, in her integrity, in her purity, without mixture (…) and to see, in herself, the divine Beauty in the uniqueness of her formal nature »ix.

Moreover, it is not only a question of contemplating Beauty. It is still necessary to unite with her, in order to « give birth » and to become immortal oneself…

Diotima finally unveils her deepest idea:

« Do you really think that it would be a miserable life, that of the man whose gaze is turned towards this sublime goal; who, by means of what is necessaryx, contemplates this sublime object and unites with it? Don’t you think, she added, that by seeing Beauty by means of what she is visible by, it is only there that he will succeed in giving birth, not to simulacra of virtue, for it is not with a simulacrum that he is in contact, but with an authentic virtue, since this contact exists with the authentic real?

Now, to whom has given birth, to whom has nourished an authentic virtue, does it not belong to become dear to the Divinity? And does it not belong to him, more than to anyone else in the world, to make himself immortal? xi

To see Beauty herself, in herself, is the only sure way to make oneself immortal.

Is this what Socrates himself is « incapable of »?

Is then Socrates « incapable » of giving birth to virtue?

By his own admittance ?


iPlato. Symposium. 208 c

iiPlato. Symposium208 d,e

iiiPlato. Symposium 209 e, 210 a

ivPlato. Symposium 210 d

vPlato. Symposium210 e

viPlato. Symposium 211 a,b

viiPlato. Symposium 211 c

viiiPlato. Symposium 211 d

ixPlato. Symposium 211 e

xIn order to do this, one must « use thought alone without resorting to sight or any other sensation, without dragging any of them along with reasoning » and « separate oneself from the totality of one’s body, since the body is what disturbs the soul and prevents it from acquiring truth and thought, and from touching reality. « Phédon 65 e-66a

« Within his soul each one possesses the power of knowledge (…) and is capable, directed towards reality, of supporting the contemplation of what is in the most luminous reality. And this is what we declare to be the Good » The Republic VII 518 c.  » The talent of thinking is probably part of something that is much more divine than anything else. « Ibid. 518 e

xiPlato. Symposium. 212 a

Separate Wisdom

« Heraclitus. Johannes Moreelsee, 1630 »

« Wisdom is separate from everything »i said Heraclitus in his concise style.

For a start, I adopt here the translation of G.S. Kirkii. But the quote in the original Greekiii ,’Sophon esti pantôn kekhorismenon’, preserved in Stobaeus’ Anthology, allows several very significant variations, depending on how one understands the word sophon, – which is, grammatically, an adjective, with the neutral meaning: ‘wise’.

Here are two representative examples of quite alternative translations:

« What is wise is separate from all things. »

« To be wise is to be separated from all things. »

Both these interpretations lose the abstract idea of ‘wisdom’, and personalize the word sophon, in a more concrete way, by attributing it to an entity (‘what is wise’), seen as ‘separated from everything’, and therefore outside this world. Another way to personalize is to attribute it to a (wise) ‘being’, which could possibly belong to this world, therefore not separated, – but whose ‘being wise’ would separate it, somehow virtually.

Clémence Ramnoux, for her part, proposes: « Wise things are separated from everything. »

The spectrum of the meanings of sophon is thus very broad:

Wisdom. That which is wise. The Wise Being. The Wise Thing.

The word sophon has no definite article in this fragment, but it has it in other Heraclite fragments. Then, if one adds the definite article to the adjective sophon, it acquires an abstract meaning, and leads to other interpretations, including the idea of ‘Transcendence’, and even the idea of the ‘One’:

« Let us put the article in front of something wise, by identifying it with the One-Thing-Wise, then the formula touches the goal of knowing… a Transcendence! Let it be heard only in the sense of human wisdom, then the formula says that: for men, the way to be wise consists in keeping oneself separate from all or everything. It would be wise to live away from the crowds and their madness. It would be wise to live apart from the vain science of many things. The two are surely not incompatible. Put together, they would reform the ideal meaning of a vita contemplativa: retreat and meditation of the One. « iv

To justify these interpretations, Clémence Ramnoux studies the other occurrences of the word sophon, in fragments 32, 50 and 41 of Heraclitus.

From these comparisons, she draws the assurance that with sophon, Heraclitus wanted to « designate the divine with the words of fragment 32 », and « if not the divine, even better, Something in dignity to refuse this very name. »v

Fragment 32 uses the expression to sophon (‘the Wise One’, or ‘the Wise Being’, which C. Ramnoux renders as ‘the Wise Thing’):

« The Wise Thing (to sophon) alone is one: it wants and does not want to be said with the name of Zeus. »vi

In Greek, one reads : ἓν τὸ σοφὸν μοῦνον λέγεσθαι οὐκ ἐθέλει καὶ ἐθέλει ὄνομα.

Hen to sophon mounon legesthai ouk ethelei kai ethelei Zènos onoma.

By translating word for word: « One, the Wise One, alone, be said: He does not want, and He wants the name of Zeus ».

Fragment 50 opens another perspective:

οὐκ ἐμοῦ, ἀλλὰ τοῦ λόγου ἀκούσαντας ἀκούσαντας σοφόν ἓν πάντα εἶναί

Ouk émou, alla tou logou akousantas homologein sophon estin hen panta einai.

Word for word: « Not me, but the Logos, listening, saying the same, wise is one, all, being. »

Five words follow each other here: sophon estin hen panta einai. Wise, is, one, all, being. There are many ways to link them.

The most direct way of translating would be, using capital letters for emphasis:

« Wise is One, All, Being ».

The German edition by W. Kranz and the English edition by G.S. Kirk translate :

« Listening, not to me, but to the Logos, it is wise (sophon estin) to agree (homologein)vii: everything is One (hen panta eïnaï). »

In another interpretation, that of H. Gomperz :

« Listening not to me, but to the Logos, it is fair to agree that The One-The Wise One knows everything. »

Clémence Ramnoux suggests yet another interpretation:

« Listening not to me, but to the Logos, agreeing to confess the same lesson (everything is one?) is the Wise Thing. « viii

However, she adds a question mark to the expression ‘everything is one’, which shows indeed that a certain doubt is at work here.

In spite of the significant differences of interpretation that we have just seen, what stands out is the idea that to sophon undeniably possesses a magnified status, and that it can be qualified as ‘unique’ and even, implicitly, ‘divine’.

Fragment 41 reinforces the hypothesis of associating the idea of unity with to sophon:

« The wise thing is one thing (hen to sophon): to possess the meaning (epistasthai gnômèn), by virtue of which everything is led through everything. »

By linking the semantic fields of the four fragments, 32, 41, 50, 108, Ramnoux draws two possible interpretations of the essential message that Heraclitus is supposed to transmit: « A simple meaning would be: Wise Thing is One, and she alone. Another meaning would be: Wise Thing is separate from everything. « ix

These fragments, put together, carry a vision, aiming to grasp the ‘Wise Thing’, from different angles.

« That one gathers the fragments thus, and one will believe to reconstitute a recitative on the topic of the Wise Thing. Here is what should be recited all together while learning the same lesson! »x

The real difficulty is to avoid reading Heraclitus with much later, anachronistic representations of the world, starting with those of Plato and Aristotle.

In spite of the pitfalls, it is necessary to try to reconstruct the spirit of the philosophical community in the pre-Socratic era, the nature of its research :

« It is permissible to conjecturalize the way of being: it would consist in separating and reuniting. To separate from whom? Probably: the crowd and its bad masters. To reunite with whom? Probably: the best and the master of the best lesson. Separate from what? The vain science of many things. To find what again? The right way of saying things. It’s a two-way street! The Heracletian ethos does not alienate man from the present thing: on the contrary, it makes him better present, and as in conversation or cohabitation with the thing. (…) A master of discourse puts into words the meaning of things (…) But the authentically archaic way of thinking was probably still different. For a good master, (…) it is appropriate that discourse shows itself with an ambiguous face, hidden meanings, and two-way effects. »xi

According to Ramnoux, Heraclitus’ fundamental intention is to teach man « to stand far and near at the same time: close enough to men and things so as not to alienate himself in the present, far enough so as not to be rolled and tossed around in traffic. With the word as a weapon to defend oneself against the fascination of things, and things as a reference to better feel the full of words. Like a being between two, aiming through the crack at something untraceable, whose quest guarantees, without his knowledge, his freedom! « xii

Ambiguity? Darkness ? Double meaning ? Hidden sense ?

No doubt, but for my part I would like to put the spotlight on the only unambiguous word in fragment 108: kekhorismenon, ‘separate’, applying to a mysterious entity, named « Wise », whose attributes are unity, being and totality.

How can one be ‘separated’ if one has ‘unity’, and ‘totality’?

What does the idea of ‘separation’ really imply in a thought that claims to be thinking about the ‘origins’?

It is with these questions in mind that I set out to search for occurrences of the word ‘separate’ in a very different corpus, that of the biblical text.

The idea of ‘being separate’ is rendered in Biblical Hebrew by three verbs with very different connotations: בָּדַל badal, חָלַק ḥalaq, and פָּרַד pharad.

בָּדַל badal is used in two verbal forms, niphal and hiphil.

The niphal form is used with a passive or reflexive nuance:

1° ‘to separate, to move away’: « Separate yourselves from the peoples of the land » (Esdr 10,11).

2° ‘to be separated, distinguished, chosen’: « Aaron was chosen » (1 Chr. 23:13); ‘to be excluded’: « He shall be excluded from the congregation of those who returned from captivity » ( Esdr. 10:8 ).

The hiphil form has a causative, active nuance:

1° ‘To separate, tear off’: « The veil will separate you » (Ex 26:33); « Let it serve as a separation between the waters and the waters » (Gen 1:6).

2° ‘To know, to distinguish, to discern’: « To be able to distinguish between what is impure and what is pure » (Lev 11:47).

3° ‘To separate, choose; exclude’: « I have separated you from the other peoples » (Lev 20:26); « The Lord has chosen the tribe of Levi. « (Deut 10:8); « The Lord has excluded me from his people » (Is 56:3).

In this sense, ‘to separate’ means ‘to choose’, ‘to distinguish’, ‘to discern’, ‘to elect’ (or ‘to exclude’).

חָלַק ḥalaq brings another range of meanings, around the notions of ‘sharing’ and ‘division’:

1° ‘To share, to give, to give’: « They divided the land » (Jos 14:5); ‘To be divided’: « Their hearts are divided, or have separated from God » (Hosea 10:2).

2° ‘To divide and distribute’: « And at even he divided the prey » (Gen 49:27); « And he distributed to all the people » (2 Sam 6:19); ‘To scatter’: « I will divide them in Jacob » (Gen 49:7), « The face of YHVH has scattered them » (Lam 4:16).

As for the verb פָּרַד pharad, it is used in an intensive or reflexive sense.

1° (Niphal) ‘To separate’: « Separate yourself, I pray you, from me » (Gen 13:9), « He who separates himself (from God) seeks his desires » (Prov 18:1).

2° ‘To spread, to be scattered’: « These spread throughout the islands » (Gen 10:5).

3° ‘To separate’ with intensive or causative nuances (piel): « They separated from their wives » (Hosea 4:14), « A people that remains separated among the nations » (East 3:8); (hiphil) « Jacob separated the lambs » (Gen 30:40); and (hithpael): « all my bones were separated » (Ps 22:15).

To sum up, the biblical meanings attached to the verbs whose sense is ‘to separate’ include the following nuances: ‘to distance, choose, exclude’ but also ‘to know, distinguish, discern’, or ‘to share, distribute’, and ‘to be scattered’ or ‘to spread’.

One can quite easily apply all these nuances to an entity that would be (divine) Wisdom.

Wisdom, in fact, distinguishes, discerns, knows; she can be shared, spread, distributed;

she can distance herself, elect or exclude.

But yet, what is the truly original meaning that applies to Wisdom?

In an attempt to answer, I have consulted all the Bible verses that contain the word ‘wisdom’ (ḥokhma). There are several hundred of them.

I have selected those that are most ‘open’ – containing an implicit invitation to further research – and grouped them into four categories:

Wisdom as ‘mystery’ and ‘secret’;

Wisdom as ‘companion of the Creator’;

Wisdom as ‘person to dialogue with’;

and Wisdom as ‘faculty of the mind’.

For example, here are some verses assimilating wisdom (or Wisdom, with a capital letter) to mystery or secrecy:

« If he would reveal to you the secrets of Wisdom » (Job 11:6).

« But Wisdom, where does she come from? « (Job 28,12)

Do not say, « We have found wisdom » (Job 32:13).

« Be silent and I will teach you wisdom » (Job 33:33).

« In secret you teach me wisdom » (Ps 51:8).

« Then I began to reflect on wisdom » (Qo 2:12).

There are also verses in which Wisdom seems to accompany the Creator in his task:

« He made the heavens with wisdom » (Ps 136:6).

« Spirit of wisdom and understanding » (Is 11:2)

« Establish the world by his wisdom » (Jer 10:12).

« It is that you abandoned the Source of Wisdom! « (Bar 3,12)

« YHVH by wisdom founded the earth » (Pr 3:19).

There are also verses where Wisdom is presented as a person, capable of interacting with men:

« Tell wisdom: you are my sister! « (Pr 7,4)

« Wisdom cries out through the streets » (Pr 1,20)

« Doesn’t Wisdom call? « (Pr 8,1)

Finally, there are the verses where wisdom is considered a faculty of the mind:

« Give me now wisdom and knowledge » (2 Chr 1:10).

« Who gives wisdom to the wise » (Dan 2:21).

« Intelligence and wisdom like the wisdom of the gods » (Dan 5:11).

For good measure I add here some verses from biblical texts, which are not recognized by the Masoretes as part of the Canon of the Scriptures of Judaism, but which belong to the texts recognized by Catholicism – in this case the Book of Wisdom and the text of Sirach (Ben Sirach):

« Wisdom is a spirit friendly to men » (Wis 1:6) [Person].

« What Wisdom is and how he was born, I will reveal it; I will not hide the mysteries from you, but I will follow his footsteps from the beginning of his origin, I will bring his knowledge to light, without departing from the truth. « (Wis 6:22) [Mystery, Secret].

« For more than any movement, wisdom is mobile » (Wis 7:24) [Mystery, Secret].

« With you is Wisdom who knows your works » (Wis 9:9) [Companion of the Creator].

« But first of all wisdom was created » (Sir 1:4) [Companion of the Creator].

« The root of wisdom to whom was it revealed? « (Sir 1:6) [Mystery, Secret].

« Wisdom brings up her children » (Sir 4:11) [Person].

« Hidden Wisdom and Invisible Treasure » (Sir 20,3) [Mystery, Secret].

And finally, here are some excerpts from the New Testament, – especially from Paul’s texts:

« And Wisdom was justified by all his children » (Luke 7:35) [Companion of the Creator].

« It is of a wisdom of God, mysterious, hidden » (1 Cor 2:7) [Mystery, Secret].

« To give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation » (Eph 1:17) [Faculty of the Spirit].

« All the treasures of wisdom and knowledge » (Col 2:3) [Faculty of Spirit].

« Filled with the Spirit and with wisdom » (Act 6:3) [Faculty of the Spirit].

If we return to the intuition of « separate wisdom » as imagined by Heraclitus, we see that it is perfectly compatible with the representations of Wisdom as belonging to the Mystery, as a Companion of the Creator and as a Person]

But where Judaism plays with the idea of a kind of doubling of the divine between the function of the Creator and the role of Wisdom (which is, let us recall, one of the Sefiroth of the Jewish Kabbalah), the metaphysical mysticism of Heraclitus sees only divine Unity and Totality.

It is not the least result of this research, to find in one of the most eminent Greek pre-Socratic thinkers, such an extreme intuition of the transcendence of Wisdom, and of its Unity with the Divine.

Wisdom is par excellence ‘separate’, and is also that which is most ‘one’.…


i Fragment B 108

ii Quoted by Clémence Ramnoux. Heraclitus or the man between things and words. Ed. Les Belles Lettres. Paris, 1968, p.247

iii Ἡρακλείτου. ὁκόσων λόγους ἤκουσα, οὐδεὶς ἀφικνεῖται ἐς τοῦτο, ὥστε γινώσκειν ὅτι σοφόν πάντων κεχωρισμένον. (Joannes Stobaeus, Anthologie, III, 1, 174)

iv Clémence Ramnoux. Heraclitus or the man between things and words. Ed. Les Belles Lettres. Paris, 1968, p.247

vClémence Ramnoux. Heraclitus or the man between things and words. Ed. Les Belles Lettres. Paris, 1968, p.248

vi ἓν τὸ τὸ σοφὸν μοῦνον λέγεσθαι οὐκ ἐθέλει καὶ ἐθέλει ὄνομα.

vii Or, if we play with the word homologein: ‘to say with the same voice’, or ‘to say the same as the Logos‘.

viiiClémence Ramnoux. Heraclitus or the man between things and words. Ed. Les Belles Lettres. Paris, 1968, p.243

ixClémence Ramnoux. Heraclitus or the man between things and words. Ed. Les Belles Lettres. Paris, 1968, p.248


xiIbid.pp. 248-249

xiiIbid.p. 249

Brief Angelology

Multitudinous angels, created for this purpose, stubbornly remain with the times and beings that already are no more. From the brushing of their wings, sharp like judgments, they make them live, yet in another way. They separate them from what they were not, and from what they could not be. Thus they keep them in their essence, animated by the gentle breath of their wings. By their quiet effervescence, they watch over their infinite sleep, – like the eagle circling above the nest to inspire its eaglets, – like the winds once palpitated in the face of the origins. They are the guardians of the past in agony, warning, for as long as it takes, the fatal coma.

Other angels roam the dark alleys of the future. They spread immense wings like ecstasy, they glide silently over the empty plains of the non-existent. Their powerful flight awakens the black waters, and all that is not yet. Against all odds, from far and wide, crack the shells of unborn times.

With their burning lips they give the beak to the fledglings of the possible.

We must finally evoke the angels of the present. They link (like quantum loops, and subliminal bursts of precognition) the distant past and the improbable future, the countless déjà-vu and the unlimited forthcoming, the immanent causes (dormant like dead saints) and the transcendent potency (radiant like seraphim). They fly and come, as in Jacob’s dream, between the uncertain and the unimaginable…

From these vast landscapes of various angels, which are like myriads of divine synapses, a vesperial mist is exhaled.

It announces in advance the rain to come, penetrating, fertile, and in the rainbow of the sky finally bent, it draps the first rays of dawn, gorged with soul plasma and liquid light.

Dual Consciousness

« Kant »

« Gods, whose empire is that of souls, silent shadows,

And Chaos, and Phlegeton, silent in the night and unlimited places,

May I be allowed to say what I heard,

May I, with your consent, reveal the secrets

Buried in the dark depths of the earth. »

Virgil i

Consciousness is capable of grasping immaterial ideas (e.g. the principle of non-contradiction or the idea of universal attraction). Is this enough to infer that she is herself immaterial?

If consciousness is not immaterial, is she only a material emanation of a body that is material?

But then how to explain that material entities are capable of conceiving supreme abstractions, pure essences, without any link with the material world?

And how do consciousness relate or interact with the various beings that make up the world, and that surround her?

What is the nature of her connections with these various beings?

In particular, how do consciousness interact with other consciousnesses, other spirits? Is it conceivable that consciousness can link with yet other kinds of ‘intelligible’ beings existing in act or in potency throughout the world ?

These delicate issues were addressed by Kant in a short, witty book, Dreams of a Man Who Sees Spirits.ii

Kant affirmed that consciousness (he called her ‘the soul’) is immaterial, – just as what he called the ‘intelligible world’ (mundus intelligibilis), the world of ideas and thoughts, immaterial.

This ‘intelligible world’ is the proper ‘place’ of the thinking self, because consciousness can go there at will, detaching herself from the material, sensitive world.

Kant also affirmed that consciousness, although immaterial, is necessary linked to a body, the body of the self, a body from which she receives impressions and material sensations from the organs that compose it.

Consciousness thus participates in two worlds, the material and sensitive world and the immaterial and intelligible world, – the world of the visible, and the world of the invisible.

The representation that consciousness has of herself, by an immaterial intuition, when she considers herself in her relations with other consciousnesses, or beings of the same nature as herself, is quite different from that which takes place when she represents herself as being attached to a body.

In both cases, it is undoubtedly the same subject who belongs at the same time to the sensitive world and the intelligible world; but it is not the same person, because the representations of the sensible world have nothing in common with the representations of the intelligible world.

What I think of myself, as a living human, has nothing to do with the representation of myself as a (pure) consciousness.

Moreover, the representations that I may have of the intelligible world, however clear and intuitive they may be for me, are not at all indicative of the representation I have of myself as a consciousness.

On the other hand, the representation of myself as a consciousness may be somewhat acquired through reasoning or induction, but it is not a naturally intuitive notioniii.

Consciousness belongs indeed to a « subject », and as such is both participating to the « sensitive world » and to the « intelligible world », but she is not the same when she represents herself as a pure consciousness or when she represents herself as attached to a human body.

Not being the same implies an inherent and profound duality of consciousness.

It is Kant who first introduced the expression « duality of the person » (or « duality of the soul in relation to the body »), in a small note supplementing Dreams of a Man who sees Spirits.iv

This duality was induced from the following observation.

Many philosophers often refer to the state of deep sleep when they want to prove the reality of obscure representations, although nothing can be affirmed in this respect, except that on waking we do not clearly remember any of those ‘obscure representations’ we may have had in the deepest sleep.

We can only observe that they are not clearly represented on waking, but not that they were really ‘obscure’ when we were asleep.

For instance, one could readily assume that these representations were much clearer and more extensive than even the clearest ones in the waking state, – because ‘clarity’ is what can be expected from consciousness, in the perfect rest of the outer senses.

Hannah Arendt abruptly qualified these remarks from Kant as « bizarre »v without making her judgment explicit.

Why « bizarre »?

Several conjectures are possible.

Perhaps she thought that it was « bizarre » to present the soul as thinking more clearly and extensively in deep sleep, and as revealing more of herself in this state than in the waking state?

Or did it seem « bizarre » to Arendt that Kant presented the soul not as ‘one’ but as ‘dual’, this duality implying a contradiction with Arendt’s own idea of her nature?

On the one hand, the soul may feel the intrinsic unity she possesses as a ‘subject’, and on the other hand, she may feel herself as a ‘person’, endowed with a double perspective. It might then seem « bizarre » that the soul thinks of herself as both one and dual, – ‘one’ (as a subject) and ‘dual’ (as a person).

This intrinsic duality introduces a distance of the soul to herself, an inner gap in the consciousness herself, – a gap between the state of ‘waking’ (where her duality is somehow revealed) and the state of ‘deep sleep’ (where the feeling of duality evaporates, revealing then (perhaps) the true nature of the soul (or the consciousness)?

Hannah Arendt made only a brief paraphrase of Kant’s note:

« Kant compares the state of the thinking self to a deep sleep where the senses are at complete rest. It seems to him that during sleep the ideas ‘may have been clearer and more extensive than in the waking state’, precisely because ‘the sensation of the human body has not been included’. And when we wake up, we have none of these ideas left. » vi

What seems « bizarre » then, one may conjecture, is that after being exposed to « clear and extended » ideas, none of this remains, and the awakening erases all traces of the activity of the soul in the deep sleep of the body.

But if there is nothing left, at least there remains the memory of an immaterial activity, which, unlike activities in the material world, does not encounter any resistance, any inertia. There also remains the obscure memory of what were then clear and intense ideas… There remains the memory of having experienced a feeling of total freedom of thought, freed from all contingencies.

All this cannot be forgotten, even if the ideas themselves seem to escape us.

It is also possible that the accumulation of these kinds of memories, these kinds of experiences, may end up reinforcing the very idea of the existence of an independent soul (a consciousness independent from the body). By extension, and by analogy, all this constitutes an experience of ‘pure consciousness’ as such, and reinforces the idea of a world of spirits, an ‘intelligible’ world, separate from the material world.

The soul (the consciousness) that becomes aware of her power to think ‘clearly’ (during the deep sleep of the body) begins to think at a distance from the world around her, and from the matter that constitutes it.

This power to think ‘clearly’ at a distance does not however allow her to go out of this world, nor to transcend it (since always the awakening occurs, – and with it the forgetting of what were then ‘clear’ thoughts).

What then does this distance from the world bring to the consciousness ?

The consciousness sees that reality is woven of appearances (woven of ‘illusions’). However, in spite of the profusion of these ‘illusions’, reality remains stable, it is unceasingly prolonged, it lasts in any case long enough for us to be led to recognize it not just as an illusion, but as an object, the object par excellence, offered to our gaze, and consideration, as long as we are conscious subjects.

If one does not feel able to consider reality as an object, one can at least be inclined to consider it as a state, lasting, imposing its obviousness, unlike the other world, the ‘intelligible world’, – whose existence always raises doubts, and suspicions of improbability (since its kingdom is only reached in the night of deep sleep).

And, as subjects, we demand real objects in front of us, not chimeras, or conjectures, – hence the great advantage given to the sensitive world.

Phenomenology, in fact, also teaches that the existence of a subject necessarily implies that of an object. The two are linked. The object is what embodies the subject’s intention, will and consciousness.

The object (of the intention) nourishes the consciousness, more than the consciousness alone can nourish herself, – the object constitutes in the end the very subjectivity of the consciousness, presenting itself to her attention, and instituting itself as her intention.

If there is no consciousness, then there can be no project and no object. If there is no object, then there can be no consciousness.

All subjects (i.e. all beings with a consciousness) carry intentions that are fixed on objects; similarly, objects (or ‘phenomena’) that appear in the world reveal the existence of subjects with intentions, by and for which the objects make sense.

From this we may draw a profound consequence.

We are subjects, and we ‘appear’, from the beginning of our lives, in a world of phenomena. Some of these phenomena also happen to be subjects. We learn to distinguish between phenomena that are only phenomena (i.e. requiring subjects to appear), and phenomena that end up revealing themselves to us as being not only phenomena, of which we would be the spectators, but as other subjects, other consciousnesses.

The reality of the world of phenomena is thus linked to the subjectivity of multiple subjects, and countless forms of consciousness, which are both at once phenomena and subjects.

The total world is itself a ‘phenomenon’, whose existence requires at least one Subject, which is not a phenomenon, but a pure Consciousness.

To put it another way, – if, as a thought experience, one could suppose the absolute absence of any consciousness, the inexistence of any subject, for instance during originary states of the world, should one then necessarily conclude, in such circumstances, to the inexistence of the ‘phenomenal’ world in those early times?

The ‘phenomenal’ world would not then exist as a phenomenon, since no subject would be able to observe it, no consciousness would be conscious of it.

But another hypothesis would still be possible.

Perhaps might there exist subjects who are part of another world, a world that is not phenomenal, but ‘noumenal’, a.k.a. the « intelligible world » evoked by Kant?

Since there can be no doubt that the world and reality began to exist long before any human subject appeared on earth, one must conclude that other kinds of consciousness, other kinds of ‘subjects’ really existed then, for whom the world in the state of an inchoate phenomenon already already constituted an ‘object’ and an ‘intention’.

Then, we may infer that the world, at all time, has always been an object of ‘subjectivity’, of ‘intentionality’, of ‘desire’, for some sorts of consciousness.

It cannot be otherwise. We just have to try to figure out for which subjects, for which consciousnesses, this then nascent world could have been revealed as an object, as a phenomenon.

One can hypothesize that a primal subjectivity, intentionality, desire, pre-existed the appearance of the world of phenomena, in the form of a potential ‘aptitude to want, to desire, to think’.

« For the philosopher, who expresses himself on the experience of the thinking self, man is, quite naturally, not only the verb, but the thought made flesh; the always mysterious, never fully elucidated incarnation of the ability to think.»vii

Why ‘always mysterious’?

Because no one knows where thought comes from, and even less may guess the extent of all the forms that thought has taken in this universe, – from the ancient days of its beginning, to date, — and may still take. in the future.

Since we have no other guide in all this research than our own consciousness, we must get back to her again.

Every thought is singular, because with each she recreates (in her own symbolic way) the conditions of the original freedom of the spirit, even before ‘thought was made flesh’.

« While a man lets himself go to simply think, to think about anything, he lives totally in the singular, that is to say in complete solitude, as if the Earth was populated by one Man and not by men. »viii

The lone thinker recreates the absolute solitude of the first Thinker.

Who was this first Thinker? The mythical Adam? A Spirit who originally thought, and by this very fact, created the object of His thought?

Among the ‘first thinkers’ of whom we still have a trace, Parmenides and Plato evoked and pinned to the pinnacle the small number of those who live ‘the life of intelligence and wisdom’.

« The life of intelligence and wisdom » is the life of the spirit (noos), the life of thought herself, in her highest freedom, in her infinite potency. Like Intelligence, she was from the outset the « queen of heaven and earth »ix.


i Di, quibus imperium est animarum, umbraeque silentes

and Chaos and Phlegethon, loca nocte tacentia late,

Sit mihi fas audita loqui, sit numine vestro,

pandere res alta terra and caligine mersas.

Aeneid VI, 264-7

ii Kant. Dreams of a Man who sees Spirits, – Explained by Dreams of Metaphysics. (1766). Translated from German by J. Tissot. Ed. Ladrange, Paris, 1863

iiiCf. Kant. Dreams of a Man who sees Spirits, – Explained by Dreams of Metaphysics. (1766). Translated from German by J. Tissot. Ed. Ladrange, Paris, 1863, p.27

ivCf. Kant. Dreams of a Man who sees Spirits, – Explained by Dreams of Metaphysics. (1766). Translated from German by J. Tissot. Ed. Ladrange, Paris, 1863, p.27

v H. Arendt. The Life of the Spirit. The Thought. The Will. Translation by Lucienne Lotringer. PUF, 1981, p.68-69

vi H. Arendt. The Life of the Spirit. The Thought. The Will. Translated by Lucienne Lotringer. PUF, 1981, p.68-69

vii H. Arendt. The Life of the Spirit. The Thought. The Will. Translated by Lucienne Lotringer. PUF, 1981, p.72


ixPlato. Philebus. 28c