Orpheus and Pythagoras


Orpheus descended to the Underworld and was initiated into the Mysteries of Isis and Osiris (those Gods called Demeter and Dionysus among the Greeks, Ceres and Bacchus, among the Romans). He established in Greece the cult of Hecate in Aegina, and that of Isis-Demeter in Sparta. His disciples, the Orphics, were at once marginal, individualistic, mystical, and loving life.

In contrast, the Pythagoreans, though also influenced by orphism, were « communist and austere », to use H. Lizeray’s formula. Socrates had said: « Everything is common, – between friends. »

If Pythagoras had a tendency towards « communism », and Orpheus towards « individualism”, what does it teach us, today, in terms of the fundamental aspirations of mankind?

An “Exit” Prophecy


The Chaldaic Oracles date from the 2nd century AD. Attributed to Julian, it is a short, dense, deep, open-ended, eyes-opening text, made of oracular sentences, old, worn out, precious nuggets, whose ancient shards shine with an uncertain fire.

Here are a few of them:

« a Spirit born of the Spirit » (νοῦ γάρ νόος).

« The silence of the Fathers, of which God feeds Himself » (16).

« You know the paternal abyss by thinking of it, beyond the Cosmos » (18)

« All Spirits think this God. » (19)

« The Spirit does not subsist apart from the Intelligible, and the Intelligible does not subsist apart from the Spirit» (20)

« The fire of the Sun, He placed it in the core of the heart. » (58)

« Everything yields to the intellectual fulgurations of the intellectual Fire. » (81)

« Do not put off your Spirit » (105)

«The mortal who will aprroach the Fire will be given light by God. » (121)

« All is lit by lightning. » (147)

« When you will have seen the holy, holy Fire, burning without form, jumping around the abysses of the world, listen to the voice of Fire. » (148)

« Do not ever change the barbaric names » (150)

« Do not lean towards the low. » (164)

« The inaccessible abyss of thought. » (178)

« The ire of matter. » (180)

« Truth is in the deep » (183)

« The time of time (χρόνου χρόνος). » (185)

A thousand years after their writing, Michel Psellus (1018-1098) wrote a Commentaries of the Chaldaic Oracles, and highlighted their Assyrian and Chaldean influences.

And a thousand years later, Hans Lewy wrote his great work, Chaldean Oracles and Theurgy. Mysticism magic and platonism in the later Roman Empire (Cairo, 1956).

Many other modern scholars, such as W. Kroll, E. Bréhier, F. Cumont, E. R. Dodds, H. Jonas, also studied these texts between the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the last century.

Long before them, an ancient chain of thinkers, Eusebius, Origen, Proclus, Porphyry, Jamblicus, had traced their own paths around it.

In fact, it appears that it is necessary to go all the way back to Babylon, and even more so to Zoroastrianism, to try to understand the meaning of these magical-mystical poems, which obtained the status of sacred revelation among the neo-Platonists.

What’s left of it, nowadays?

Maybe, some ideas like that of the soul’s journey through the worlds, and words like « anagogy » or « Aion », which is another name for eternity. There also remains the hypothesis of « the noetic hypostasis of the Divinity », as Hans Lewy puts it.

G. Durand had this famous formula: « The symbol is the epiphany of a mystery. « i

Generally, today, these poems, these oracles, still mystify the world, but their sparks light up the night.

We could say the same about an ancient Proverb such as: « I, Wisdom, dwell with prudence, and find out knowledge of witty inventions.»ii

What does our “Modern times” have to say about Mystery, the “prudence of Wisdom”, or the « fulguration of the Spirit »?

It’s « the time of time », it’s time to change times! Blind and deaf modernity, Exit! Exit!

i G. Durand L’imagination poétique

ii Prov. 8,12

Going Beyond Migration.


Angels, powers, virtues, dominions, seraphim, cherubim, and many other supernatural envoys and agents of the Jewish or Christian traditions, do not always confine themselves to their supposed rankings, to their orders of precedence, because of their subtle and incessant ascents, their internal movements and connections, and their continuous descents.

Hans Urs Von Balthasar, for instance, sees their endless interpenetration as a metaphor and a possible illustration of the process at work within the Trinity, a process which he names the “conversation”. Each divine Person sees the Face of God in the Other Person, a Face of a God greater than any total understanding, eternally worthy of worship, even for a divine Person. The « Trinitarian conversation » is like an image of the « original prayer ».

This « Trinitarian conversation » could be imagined as a supreme metaphor, far above the entanglement of sephirotic whispers, the murmurs of the zephyrs, the atonal choirs of angels, their distant echoes, their evanescent evocations, their systemic symphonies.

In these elevated and delicate realities, the metaphors we are bound to use are only an invitation to journey. We have to move, always again, always further, we must always “go beyond”.

“To go beyond”in Hebrew: Habar, עָבַר. The English word ‘Hebrew’ was coined precisely from the Hebrew word – habar. Does it still convey its original meaning?

We may generalize this semantic intuition. The destiny of man is that of a never ending migration, possibly continuing, after death, in a future life. Men have been created as eternal migrants, en route for an infinite discovery.

Where does the soul go when she migrates?

We don’t know. But between “being here” and “being gone”, we may think of a continuity. We may dream that there is a way, a path. We may cherish the eventuality of a path leading to some place of unexpected interest, where to look after hidden gates, opening on new horizons.

Of course, this is a « fantastic » idea, in the sense that Plato gave to the word « phantasmos » in the Sophist.

Why consider it? As migrants, on our faces, we bear metaphysical scars. Under the scars, a rift. Under the rift, another face, yet hidden. We migrate within our scars.

Lightning, thunder, zephyrs, whispers. Metaphors invite us to navigate even further, to leave behind the grammatical ports, the security of our roots.

The next mutation will be yet another migration. Man is changing. The self-transformation of the human species is underway. A new language, visionary, is needed, beyond grammar, beyond roots, beyond migration.

Silent Fire


The “wryneck” is quite a strange bird. It has two fingers in front and two fingers in back, according to Aristotle. It makes little high-pitched screams. it is able to stick its tongue out for a long time, like snakes. It gets its name, « wryneck », from its ability to turn its neck without the rest of its body moving. It is also capable of making women and men fall in lovei.

But more importantly, the “wryneck” is a divine « messenger », according to the Chaldaic Oraclesii.

There are, admittedly, many other divine “messengers”, such as the Platonic « intermediaries » (metaxu) and « demons » (daimon). Among them, there is the « Fire », which is a metaphor for the « soul of the world ». All souls are connected to the Fire, because they originated from it: « The human soul, spark of the original Fire, descends by an act of her will the degrees of the scale of beings, and comes down to lock herself in the jail of a body.» iii

How does this descent take place? It is an old “oriental” belief that souls, during their descent from the original Fire, clothe themselves with successive ‘veils’, representing the intermediate planes they have to cross through.

Every incarnating soul is in reality a fallen god. The soul strives to come out of the oblivion into which she has fallen. She must leave the « flock », subjected to an unbearable, heavy, somber fate, in order « to avoid the brazen wing of the fatal destiny »iv. To do this, she must succeed in uttering a certain word, in memory of her origin.

These « chaldaic » ideas have greatly influenced thinkers like Porphyry, Jamblicus, Syrianus and Proclus, inciting them to describe the « rise of the soul », ἀναγωγη, thus replacing the more static concepts of Greek philosophy, still used by Plotinus, and opening the possibility of theurgy, the possibility for the soul to act upon the divine.

Theurgy is « a religious system that brings us into contact with the gods, not only by the pure elevation of our intellect to the divine Noos, but by means of concrete rites and material objects »v.

Chaldaic theurgy is full of signs, expressing the unspeakable, in ineffable symbols. « The sacred names of the gods and other divine symbols raise to the gods.”vi Chaldaic prayer is effective, because « hieratic supplications are the symbols of the gods themselves »vii, wrote Edouard des Places.

“Angels of ascension” make souls rise towards them. They remove the souls from the « bonds that bind them », that is, from the vengeful nature of demons, and from the trials human souls suffer: « Let the immortal depth of the soul be opened, and dilate all your eyes well above! ».viii

Many challenges await those undertaking the spiritual ascension. The Divine is beyond the intelligible, entirely unthinkable and inexpressible, and better honored by silence.

It’s worth noting that, in Vedic ceremonies, silence plays a structurally equivalent role in approaching the mysteries of the Divine. Next to the priests who operate the Vedic sacrifice, there are priests who recite the divine hymns, others who chant them and yet others who sing them. Watching over the whole, there is another priest, the highest in the hierarchy, who stands still and remains silent throughout the ceremony.

Hymns, psalms, songs, must yield to silence itself, in the Chaldaic religion as in the Vedic religion.

The other common point in these two cults is the primary importance of Fire.

The two traditions, which are so far apart, transmit a light from a very old and deep night. They both refer to the power of the original Fire, and contrast it with the weakness of the flame that man has been given to live by:

« [Fire] is the force of a luminous sword that shines with spiritual sharp edges. It is therefore not necessary to conceive this Spirit with vehemence, but by the subtle flame of a subtle intellect, which measures all things, except this Intelligible Itself. » ix

iIn his 4th Pythic, Pindar sang Jason’s exploits in search of the Golden Fleece. Jason faces a thousand difficulties. Fortunately, the goddess Aphrodite decided to help him, by making Medea in love with him, through a bird, the “wryneck”. In Greek, this bird is called ἴϋγξ, transcribed as « iynge ». « Then the goddess with sharp arrows, Cyprine, having attached a wryneck with a thousand colours to the four spokes of an unshakeable wheel, brought from Olympus to mortals this bird of delirium, and taught the wise son of Eson prayers and enchantments, so that Medea might lose all respect for her family, and the love of Greece might stir this heart in fire under the whip of Pitho.» The magic works. The « bird of delirium » fills Medea with love for Jason. “Both agree to unite in the sweet bonds of marriage”.(Pindar, 4rth Pythic)

iiChaldaic Oracles, Fragment 78

iiiF. Cumont. Lux perpetua (1949)

ivChaldaic Oracles, Fragment 109

v A. Festugière. Révélation (1953)

viCf. Édouard des Places, dans son introduction à sa traduction des Oracles chaldaïques (1971). (Synésius de Cyrène (370-413) énonce un certain nombre de ces noms efficaces. Άνθος est la « fleur de l’Esprit », Βένθος est le « profond », Κολπος est le « Sein ineffable » (de Dieu), Σπινθήρ est « l’Étincelle de l’âme, formée de l’Esprit et du Vouloir divins, puis du chaste Amour » : « Je porte en moi un germe venu de Toi, une étincelle de noble intelligence, qui s’est enfoncée dans les profondeurs de la matière. » Ταναός est la « flamme de l’esprit tendué à l’extrême », et Τομή est « la coupure, la division », par laquelle se produit « l’éclat du Premier Esprit qui blesse les yeux ».Proclus s’empara de ces thèmes nouveaux pour éveiller la « fleur », la « fine pointe de l’âme ».)

viiÉdouard des Places, Introduction. Oracles chaldaïques (1971)

viiiChaldaic Oracles, fragment 112

ix Chaldaic Oracles, fragment 1.

A Very Long Journey


A Jewish historian, Artapanus, living in Alexandria under the Ptolemy, more than 2300 years ago, affirmed that Moses and Hermes Trismegistus were one and the same person. This provocative thesis is obviously controversial. But from the point of view of cultures quietly assuming their « symbiosis » (such as the one prevailing in the vibrant Alexandria of this time), this idea has the merit of being a pungent symptom.

Whether or not he was in fact Moses, the man named Hermes Trismegistus was a remarkable character. Almost two thousand years before Blaise Pascal, Hermes struck a famous formula, quoted in the Asclepius: « God, – a spiritual circle whose center is everywhere, and the circumference nowhere. »

His Poimandrès is also moving by his scope of vision, and the prophetic power of his intuitions. Here are the first lines.

« I was thinking about beings one day; my thoughts hovered in the heights, and all my body sensations were numb as in the heavy sleep that follows satiety, excess or fatigue. It seemed to me that an immense being, without defined limits, called me by name and said to me: What do you want to hear and see, what do you want to learn and know?

– Who are you, I answered?

– I am, he said, Poimandrès, the sovereign intelligence. I know what you want, and everywhere I am with you.

– I want, I replied, to be educated about beings, to understand their nature and to know God.

– Receive in your mind everything you want to know, » he said to me, « I will instruct you.

At these words, he changed his appearance, and immediately everything was discovered to me in a moment, and I saw an indefinable spectacle. »

There is something divine in Hermes, just like in Moses. Why hide it? Today, there are few men of this calibre. Does this make the world more difficult to live in? Less open to wisdom? This can be believed if we stick to Plato’s description of the philosopher.

« This is why the philosopher’s thought is the only winged one; for those higher realities to which he is constantly applied by memory to the extent of his forces, it is to these very realities that God owes his divinity. However, it is by straightforwardly using such means of remembrance that a man who is always perfectly initiated to perfect initiations, becomes, alone, really perfect. But as he departs from what is the object of human concern and applies to what is divine, the crowd shows him that he is disturbed in spirit; but he is possessed of a God, and the crowd does not suspect it! »i

Today, as in the past, the opinion of the crowd often prevails over that of the wise man. But the latter does not care. He is « possessed ».

There is nothing better, in order to understand an era, than to look at the forms of “possession”, of « disturbance », the ways of « delirium », which it condemns or recognizes.

In Poimandrès Hermes gives crucial indications in this regard on the concerns of his time. He describes his own transport in an immortal body, and the ecstasy of his soul.

In the Symposium, Plato recounts the dive of purified souls into the ocean of divine beauty. In the Epinomis, he explains how the soul can be united with God, then living through Him, rather than by herself.

It is difficult not to be struck by the incredible distance between the experience of these ancient thinkers and that of most intellectuals and other publicists at the beginning of the 21st century.

Few, it seems, can still get the faintest idea of what the experience of ecstasy was really like for Moses, for Hermes, or for Socrates.

« Modern thinkers » have almost completely severed the links with these multi-millennial experiments. We see in the media professionals of the sacredness, spokesmen for faith X, religion Y or spirituality Z, parading on stages, pulpits, platforms, or screens, proclaiming themselves guardians of divine laws, imposing sermons and homilies, launching anathema or fatwas.

The modern domain of the « sacred » forms a noisy, blurred, confused scene.This confusion hides a more substantial opacity. The untouched, unsuspected mystery still lies in the depths, much deeper than the spiritual night that surrounds us on all sides. Marsilio Ficino, one of the Renaissance thinkers who best resisted modern desiccation, then in genesis, described an interesting phenomenon, the path of the mind captured by the object of his research:

« By ardently loving this light, even if it is obscurely perceived, these intelligences are completely engulfed in its heat, and once they are engulfed, which is the hallmark of love, they are transformed into light. Strengthened by this light, they very easily become by love the very light they previously tried to follow with their eyes.»ii

Ficino, who seems to have experienced the thing for himself, believes that there are nine possible degrees of contemplation of God. Three are related to his goodness, three are related to his wisdom, and three are related to his power. But these approaches are not equivalent.

“We fear the power of God, we seek his wisdom, we love his goodness. Only the love of his goodness transforms the soul into God.”iii

Why all these ways, then, if there is only one effective? The symbolism of the number 9 is to be taken into account. Virgil used it, too. « The Styx, interposing itself nine times, locks them in. »iv

Ficino quotes Hesiod, Virgil, Ovid, Hermes Trismegistus, Plato. In the middle of the Renaissance, he dreams of the golden age, during which the mysteries had been contemplated.

The intelligence of men is bound and weak. To dream today of a new golden age is to believe once again in a possible leap, a huge leap, from this weakness, towards the vision of the high mysteries, or even their understanding.

The testimony of the great elders on this subject is invaluable. They say the leap is possible. They suggest that this experience is always open to anyone who undertakes this journey with determination. We must rely on the general strengths of universal symbiosis to help us through the difficult stages that await the Argonauts of life. Orpheus warns: « It is impossible to force the gates of the kingdom of Pluto; inside lives the people of dreams.»v

But these doors can be opened, as if by magic. How? Orpheus entrusts his method: « Daughters of Mnemosyne and Jupiter, O famous and illustrious Muses, goddesses who will generate all the arts, nourish the spirit, inspire right thoughts, wisely rule the souls of men and have taught them divine sacrifices; Clio, Euterpe, Thalie, Melpomene, Terpsichore, Erato, Polymnia, Urania and Calliope, come with your august mother; come to us and be favourable to us, bring us the Almighty Glory and Wisdom.»vi

For those who would have a sensitivity to immanence, Orpheus proposes to invoke the « universal substance »:

« I invoke Pan, the universal substance of the world, of the sky, of the deep sea, of the earth of various forms and of the imperishable flame. These are just scattered members of Pan. Pan at the feet of goats, wandering god, master of storms, who drives the stars and whose voice represents the eternal concerts of the world, god loved by herdsmen and pastors who love the clear fountains, fast god who inhabits the hills, friend of sound, dear god of nymphs, god who generates all things, procreative power of the universe.»vii

For those who prefer to put themselves under the shadow of the Law, Orpheus also has a sign:

« I invoke the divine Law, the genius of men and immortals; the heavenly goddess, governing the stars, the common sign of all things, the foundation of nature, the sea and the earth. A constant Goddess, keeping the eternal laws of heaven and faithfully carrying out her immense revolutions; you who grant mortals the benefits of a prudent life and govern all that breathes; you whose wise counsel directs all things according to equity, goddess always favourable to the just, but overwhelming the wicked with severe punishments, sweet goddess who distributes goods with delicious largess, remember us and speak our name with friendship.»viii

The journey has only just begun. It has no end. Any vessel will do, to the one who knows the bearings, even fuzzily. Only imagination and hope are likely to be in short supply. And courage.

i Phaedrus, 249, c-d

iiMarsilio Ficino, Th. Plat. 18,8

iiiIbid.

iv Georg. IV, 480

v Argonaut., 1142

vi Argonaut., 1142

vii Orpheus, Hymns, X

viii Hymns, LXI

Symbiosis : an Universal Paradigm


Symbiosis is a fascinating subject, with indescribable extensions, not devoid of universal implications, and metaphysical considerations.

Almost all animals and plants use symbiotic bacteria, which allow them to perform certain metabolic functions by proxy. Some plants have bacteria that fix nitrogen. In the stomachs of cows, there are bacteria that digest cellulose.

Mitochondria and chloroplasts, essential components of cells, were once independent creatures, living independently of their current hosts. It is their genomic DNA, very different from that of their current host cells, that bears witness to this distant past.

It is inferred that mitochondria and chloroplasts penetrated primitive cells at a remote time and then adapted to life inside these cells. The symbiosis between mitochondria, chloroplasts and primitive cells is at the origin of giant leaps in the evolution of life. The assembly of simple structures with specific biological properties has made it possible to build increasingly complex cellular structures faster and faster. The mechanism of symbiosis thus avoided the already advanced cells having to reinvent by chance of genetic mutations what the symbiotic creatures brought them directly, on a plateau of sorts.

Physicist Freeman Dyson observes that in the universe, very many cases of symbiosis are also observed. We’re talking about symbiotic stars. Many of the objects observed in the universe are associated in symbiotic systems, either in pairs or within more complex systems. Symbiotic galaxy pairs are widespread. These symbioses frequently prepare fusions, just as ancestral cells ingested mitochondria and chloroplasts. Thus large galaxies « swallow » small galaxies after having been symbiotically associated with them for some time. The nuclei of swallowed galaxies are observed inside those that have swallowed them. This is called « galactic cannibalism ».

At the star scale, there are also many cases of symbiosis. Symbiotic star pairs are composed of a highly condensed element such as a white dwarf, a neutron star or even a black hole, and another normal star, which will also eventually be swallowed.

Symbiosis phenomena have been discovered between two neutron stars, which slow each other down due to the interaction of their gravitational waves. In the end they merge together and create a unique star in a gigantic splash of light and stellar matter, within a few thousandths of a second. This type of phenomenon is observed several times a day, through gamma-ray discharges, which are considered to be the most violent events in the universe, even more so than supernova explosions.

The Sun and Earth also form a symbiotic couple. The Earth brings chemical and environmental diversity. The Sun guarantees a stable supply of energy. Life was born thanks to the combination of the Earth’s potentialities, its variability, with the constancy and stability of the Sun.

The symbiosis paradigm applies to cells and galaxies, and also to man. For example, in the human couple. Or, on a different scale, in cultures and civilizations that are capable of symbiotic union.

We can hypothesize the existence of other forms of symbiosis, more abstract or more philosophical. Thus, the relationship of tension between the manifest and the latent can be described as symbiotic, or the link between the evidence of the phenomenal world and the mystery of the noumenal world, or between the relationship between the human and the divine.

It is possible, in order to continue to spin the metaphor of symbiosis, that we are not alone, isolated in our minds and souls, solitary like navigators lost in the ocean. We may well be, without our own knowledge, associated by several kinds of symbioses with higher forms of life whose form and power we cannot conceive, but which accompany us, throughout our peregrinations, in different planes of reality.

If everything is a system, as the ancient Chinese civilization likes to emphasize, then it is possible that our very being is an integral, systemic part of a multiplicity of symbioses, of varying importance.

Just as mitochondria play a particular role in the metabolism of each cell, just as the entire universe constantly produces countless forms of symbiosis under the influence of gravitational forces, so men, individually and collectively, may play their symbiotic role, blind, unravelable, but not mythical, on scales of time and reality, which we are unable to suspect.

In the Mire, Drowning Angels.


We humans are fundamentally nomads, – with no nomosi. We are forever nomads with no limits, and no ends.

Always dissatisfied, never at peace, never at rest, perpetually on the move, forever in exile.

The Journey has no end. Wandering is meaningless, without clues. The homelands are suffocating. Landscapes are passing by, and we have no roots. No abyss fulfills us. The deepest oceans are empty. The skies, down there, are fading. The suns are pale, the moons dirty. The stars are blinking. We can only breathe for a moment.

Our minds would like to look beyond the diffuse background, behind the veiled Cosmos. But even an infinitely powerful Hubble telescope couldn’t show us anything of what’s behind. Cosmology is a prison, only vaster, but still finite, bounded, and we are already tired of endless, useless, multiverses, and weary of their aborted drafts.

The worried soul « pursues an Italy that is slipping away », but Virgil is not anymore our vigilante, and Aeneas is not our elder. Rome has forgotten itself. Athens has died out. Jerusalem, we already have returned there, – so they say.

Billions of people live, dream and die on the Promised Land.

They try, every night, to drink the water of the Lethe and the Cocyte, without being burnt by the Phlegethon. When they wake up, they are always thirsty for new caresses, they want again to smell myrrh, to taste nectars.

They try to avoid the icy skin of mirrors. They desperately scan the hairy mountains, the undecided rivers, the bitter oranges. They follow the hard curve of the fruits, the orb of the colors.

But at one point the heart hits, the body falls. At any moment, the final night will cover the sun. Forgetting all will come without fail.

Euripides called life: « the dream of a shadow ».ii

This shadow has two wings, – not six, like Ezekiel’s angels.

Intelligence and will are our wings, says Plato.

With one wing, the shadow (or the soul) sucks in, breathes in. The world comes into her.

With the other wing, she goes to all things, she flies freely, anywhere.

When the two wings flap together, then anything is possible. The soul can evade anywhere, even out of herself, and even from God Himself. As Marsilio Ficino says: « Animus noster poterit deus quidam evadere ».

There is a mysterious principle at the heart of the soul: she becomes what she’s looking for. She is transformed into what she loves.

Who said that? A litany of impressive thinkers. Zoroaster, King David. Plato, Porphyry, Augustine. Paul put it that way: « And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory. »iii

It is indeed a mysterious principle.

The word ‘mystery’ comes from the Greek μύω, to close. This verb was originally used for the eyes, or for the lips. Closed eyes. Closed lips. The religious meaning, as a derivative, describes an ancient problem: how could what is always closed be ever opened?

Zoroaster found an answer, kind of: « The human soul encloses God in herself, so to speak, when, keeping nothing mortal, she gets drunk entirely on the divinity”.iv

Who still reads or pays attention to Zoroaster today?

Nietzsche? But Nietzsche, the gay barbarian, joyfully ripped away his nose, teeth and tongue. After that, he pretended he could speak on his behalf. Also Sprach Zarathustra. Ach so? Wirklich?

There are two kinds of thinkers.

There are the atrabilaries, who distill their venom, their suspicions, their despair, or their limitations, like Aristotle, Chrysippus, Zeno, Averroes, Schopenhauer or Nietzsche.

And there are the optimists, Heraclitus, Pythagoras, Socrates, Plato, or Apollonius of Thyana. They believe in life and in everything that may flourish.

We’ll rely on Heraclitus for a concluding line: “If you do not expect the unexpected you will not find it, for it is not to be reached by search or trail”. (Fragm. 18)

What can we learn from that fragment?

Without hope, everything is and will stay forever mud, mire, or muck. We have to search for the unexpected, the impossible, the inaccessible… What on earth could it be? – Gold in the mud, – or in the mire, drowning angels?

iNomos (Greek) = Law

ii Medea, 1224

iii2 Co 3,18

iv ChaldaicOracles V. 14.21

Mixed Souls


The soul is a kind of « heteroclite beast », like the Chimera or Cerberus, says Plato. He represents her as an assemblage of several monsters, whose heads form a « crown ». Some of these heads are peaceful, the others are fierce and ferocious. This beastly crown thrones over the body of a lion, coupled with that of a man. All this is wrapped in human skin, which gives the observer the impression that this composite creature has the appearance of a man.i

The idea of mixing the bestial and the human in several degrees of composition is taken up in another text, Timaeus, where Plato defines the soul of the world.

The soul of the world is described as an « indivisible reality that always remains identical », a « reality that is divisible and subject to becoming « , and finally a « third form of reality », called « intermediate », which is obtained by mixing the first two kinds of realities.

The soul of the world is thus a mixture of three elements: an indivisible one, a divisible one and a third one which is itself a mixture of the first two.

It may seem a little redundant, like a mixture of a mixture with itself… Or, logically, this could also imply that the third form of reality does not mix with the first two realities, indivisible and divisible, in the same way and with the same effects, as we observe when we mix the first two kinds of realities. In short, mixing is not a linear operation, but rather an « epigenetic » one, we would say today.

God, Plato continues, took these three kinds of reality and mixed them together to melt them into a single substance.

But, how to mix the divisible with the indivisible, the « Same » with the « Other »? « The nature of the Other was rebellious to the mixture; to unite it harmoniously to the Same,[God] used constraint; then in the mixture he introduced Reality; of the three terms, he made a unity. »ii

The soul of the world is therefore a mixture of three terms: the Same, the Other and « Intermediate Reality ».

If we compare this mixture with the mixture of the human soul, what do we see? The human soul is composed, as we remember, of a crown of animal heads, a leonine form and a human form.

Can the terms of these two mixtures be reconciled?

The « crown of animal heads » could be analogous to the Intermediate Reality. The « lion » could be assimilated to the Same, and « man » to the Other.

We can imagine other correspondences between the structure of the soul of the world and the structure of the human soul. But the important point is elsewhere.

The fundamental idea is that the human soul is, by the very principle of its composition, the image of all things. It contains in power the possible developments of all living beings.

Plato reinforces this idea with another image. The soul comes, he says, from a « cup » where God has cast all the seeds of the universe, and « mixed them ». It follows that every soul contains in power all these seeds, all these germs, all these possibilities.

iPlato The RepublicIX, 558e

iiPlato. Timaeus, 35a,b

Flying Without Wings


Minding one’s own mind is a difficult art. One must juggle with the uncontrolled power of ideas, the tyranny of imagination, the empire of reason, the excesses of imitation, and the probable (in-)adequacy of the mind to reality.

One must also consider the conformation of the soul’s desire to her true end. The soul is basically a mystery to herself. How could she unravel mysteries far from her attainment, when she is evidently unable to understand herself, or to escape the grip of her drifting imagination?

The myth, it seems, may be for the soul an alternative path of research. It is one way to escape the tyranny of the déjà vu and its consequences. A way to set her free, while giving in to her vertigo.

Here is an example.

In the Timaeus, Plato describes the power that the soul exerts over the body, and in the Phaedrus, he deals with the soul liberated from the body.

On the one hand, the soul is in charge of the body into which it has descended. On the other hand, the soul freed from the body travels through the heavens and governs the world. So doing, she binds herself to celestial souls.

Her liberation is accompanied by frankly enigmatic phenomena:

« Where does it come from that the names of mortal and also immortal are given to the living, that is what we must try to say. Every soul takes care of everything that is devoid of a soul and, on the other hand, circulates throughout the whole universe, presenting herself there sometimes in one form and sometimes in another. However, when she is perfect and has her wings, it is in the heights that she walks, it is the whole world that she administers. »i

The soul « has her wings » and is called to administer the « whole world ». What does that mean?

By commenting on this passage, Marsilio Ficino brings it closer to another text by Plato which states in a rather obscure way:

« The need for intelligence and the soul united to intelligence exceeds all necessity. »ii

This comment requires an explanation.

When the soul is liberated, that is, when she leaves the body, she takes advantage of this freedom to unite herself « necessarily » to the intelligence. Why « necessarily »? Because in the spiritual world there is a law of attraction that is analogous to the law of universal attraction in the physical universe. This law is the law of the love that the free soul « necessarily » feels for the (divine) intelligence.

When she unites with the ‘intelligence’, the soul becomes « winged ». She can do anything, including « administering the whole world ».

This explanation doesn’t explain much, actually.

Why is the « perfect » soul, « winged », called to « administer the whole world »?

In reality, the mystery is thickening. The Platonic myth only opens doors to other, more obscure questions.

Two thousand years after Plato, Marsilio Ficino proposed an interpretation of these difficult questions:

“All reasonable souls possess an upper part, spiritual, an intermediate part, rational, a lower part, vital. Intermediate power is a property of the soul. Spiritual power is a ray of higher intelligence projected on the soul, and in turn reflected on the higher intelligence. The vital power is also an act of the soul reflecting on the body and then repercussions on the soul, just as sunlight in the cloud is, according to its own quality, a light, but as it emanates from the sun, is ray, and as it fills the cloud, is whiteness.”iii

The thicker the mystery gets, the more images multiply!

Ray, light and whiteness represent different states of intelligence mixing with the mind (the ray becomes light), and of spirit mixing with the world and matter (light becomes whiteness).

We may also understand that the « ray » is a metaphor of the (divine) intelligence, that the « light » is a metaphor of the power of the (human) spirit, and that whiteness is a metaphor of the vital power of the soul. These images (ray, light, whiteness) have a general scope, – which applies to the world as well as to the mind.

So is the myth.

The myth is like a « light », generated by a « ray » striking the mind, and generating « whiteness » in it (i.e. revelation).

The « ray », the “light”, the “whiteness” are images, metaphors, for the Word (Logos), the Myth (Mythos), and Reason (Logos, again), as various degrees of illumination.

Is this explanation enlightening enough?

If not, you will have to learn to fly, without wings, radar and GPS, in the nights and fogs of the world.

i Phaedrus 246 b,c

iiPlato. Epinomis 982 b

iiiMarsilio Ficino Platonic Theology, 13,4

The Angel of the Bizarre


Plato says that, just before incarnating in her body, the soul must choose her destiny, her future way of life. At this crucial moment the soul is completely free. It is her sole responsibility to decide which kind of daimon she will use as her guardian during her brief earthly stay.

This idea goes totally against the « modern way ». For the most part, “modern thinkers”, for example Calvin, Hobbes, Voltaire, Marx, Einstein, Freud, have been advocating determinism or materialism for many centuries.

« Modern thinkers » are far removed from the Platonic world. And much more so from the intellectual and spiritual world in which the Egyptians of the pre-dynastic period, the Chaldean Magi or the Zoroaster supporters lived.

On these disappeared worlds, there are written sources, archaeological traces. It is not impossible to try to understand them better. Scrupulous scientists use their lives for this.

But how can « modernity » receive what Egyptologists or Assyriologists can extract from this long memory?

The noisy « modernity » remains silent, mute, speechless, on the oldest issues, the life and death of the spirit, the growth and degeneration of the soul.

How do « modern thinkers », for example, imagine the formation of the mind in the brain of the newborn child?

Epigenesis, they say, gradually shapes the human mind by connecting, strengthening or weakening neurons together during billions of continuous interactions with the world. It is a materialistic, epigenetic process. In this representation, there is no need for a primordial substance, an original soul, hidden under neurons, or descended from « heavens ». There is only a succession of half-programmed, half-contingent connections, a mixture of chance and neurobiological determinism, which end up constituting your mind or mine, the mind of a Mozart or of a Socrates.

In all cases, without exception, there is a totally unique, absolutely singular creation of a « person », a consciousness.

This “modern” view is widespread. But it is only a theory; it lacks clear evidence. There is no neurobiological evidence that the soul exists, and there is no neurobiological evidence that it does not exist.

The « modern » view, whether materialist or animist, determinist or spiritualist, wander and grope, blind-born, in baroque, devastated and irreconcilable intellectual landscapes.

We need to step back, a few centuries earlier, to reconsider the problem.

« What prevents an angelic thought from creeping into the powers of reason, even though we do not see how it creeps into them? »i

This sentence by a famous Renaissance thinker now has a « surrealist » flavor in the modern sense of the word. It effectively anticipates the Angel of the Odd (or the Uncanny) for more than three centuries.

This Angel had no wings, it was not a feathered « chicken ». Edgar Allan Poe explains that the only function of the « te Angel ov te Odd  » was to bring about these bizarre accidents that continually amaze skeptics.

At first, the writer did not believe a word of what the Angel was telling him. Well, he took it the wrong way. Shortly afterwards, he had a real hard encounter with the Angelic power.

“Meeting my betrothed in an avenue thronged with the elite of the city, I was hastening to greet her with one of my best considered bows, when a small particle of some foreign matter lodging in the corner of my eye, rendered me, for the moment, completely blind. Before I could recover my sight, the lady of my love had disappeared—irreparably affronted at what she chose to consider my premeditated rudeness in passing her by ungreeted. While I stood bewildered at the suddenness of this accident (which might have happened, nevertheless, to any one under the sun), and while I still continued incapable of sight, I was accosted by the Angel of the Odd, who proffered me his aid with a civility which I had no reason to expect. He examined my disordered eye with much gentleness and skill, informed me that I had a drop in it, and (whatever a « drop » was) took it out, and afforded me relief.”ii

The Angel had taken revenge.

Skeptics abound. Fewer, those who detect subtle interferences, tiny signals from worlds too parallel.

What are these worlds? To make it in, we could call them « branes ». But it is still a metaphor that is too material, too physical.

There are conditions to perceive these phenomena, these interferences. You have to be free, and your mind must be on « vacation ».

There are many kinds of such ‘mind vacations’: sleep, fainting, melancholy, loneliness.

The modern disease par excellence, unemployment, could be considered as yet another kind of ‘vacation’. Most of us will have to live with it. It will soon be necessary to ensure political and social peace through a guaranteed universal income. We will have to go through this, necessarily, when the rapid progress of artificial intelligence will deprive societies of most of the usual jobs.

Then, in such a world, liberated from stress, « on vacation », interesting encounters with the bizarre will undoubtedly take place. Especially, in spite of themselves, the skeptics will have to learn to live by the new, odd, uncanny, norm.

i Marsilio Ficino Platonic Theology

iiEdgar Allan Poe. The Angel of the Odd

A World Renaissance


Pythagoras and Plato attached their names to the power of numbers. Each number carries a symbolic charge. The simplest are the most meaningful. They can be associated by imagination with the higher functions of the soul.

The 1, or « unity », symbolizes intelligence because it is unified in intuition or in concept. Through intuition or concept intelligence grasps what makes the “unity” of the thing, and thereby reveals itself as « one ».

The 2, or « duality », represents science, because it starts from a principle, to reach a conclusion. It goes from one to the other, and thus generates the idea of duality.

The 3, or « trinity », is the number associated with opinion. The opinion goes from one to two (which makes three): it starts from a single principle but reaches two opposite conclusions. One seems accepted, provisionally « concluded », but the other remains « fear », always possible. The opinion, by its intrinsic doubt, introduces a ternary ambiguity.

The 4, or « quaternity », is associated with the senses. The first of the quaternities is the idea of the body, which consists of “four angles”, according to Plato.

The 1, 2, 3 and 4 altogether symbolize the fact that all things are known either by intelligence, or by science, or by opinion, or by the senses.

Unity, duality, trinity and quaternity are « engrammed » in the soul.

From this, Plato concludes that the soul is « separated ».

It is « separated » from matter and the body because it is composed of four unalterable, eternal numbers that serve as its essential principles.

How could one deny the eternity of the 1, 2, 3, 4 ?

And if the soul is composed of, or ‘engrammed with’, the ideas of the 1, the 2, the 3 and the 4, how could one deny its own eternity?

This Platonic idea is worth what it is worth. At least we cannot deny in it a certain logic, which combines reason, imagination and myth.

And this idea opens the way for Platonic « great stories » about the soul, the world and the Author, which it is difficult, even today, to throw into the dustbins of History.

But above all, it should be stressed that this idea, as well as the whole Pythagorean and Platonic philosophies that result from it, is bathed in a deep shadow, whose sources come from extremely ancient times.

Twenty centuries after Plato, Marsilio Ficino stated that the construction of the Platonic imagination would not have been possible without the immemorial contribution of seers, diviners, prophets, aruspices, auspices, astrologers, Magi, Sibyls and Pythias. He summed it up as such: « When the soul of man is completely separated from the body, it will embrace, the Egyptians believe, every country and every age. »i

In the midst of the European Renaissance, Marsilio Ficino, a humanist thinker, wanted to reconnect with the mysteries of the East and the lightning-fast, millenary intuitions of their greatest geniuses.

Happy times when Orient and Occident thinkers were seen as allies in the search for answers…

At the dawn of a chaotic third millennium, we need to build the conditions for a World Renaissance, we need to create a new civilization on a global scale.

For the world to live, we need to embrace, in the midst of each of our souls, every country and every age.

i Cf. Marsilio Ficino Platonic Theology

A Unique Universe


The most committed followers of super-string theory support the existence of ‘multiverses’. There would be 10500 ‘multiverses’, they say, if we take into account all the universes corresponding to all the possible varieties of Calabi-Yau, each one of them sailing in parallel branches.

In fact there could be even more, – if we take into account the multiverses that are totally disconnected, undetectable, unpredictable, pure creations of the mind, but which are necessary to guarantee the coherence of the supersymmetry defined by the mathematics of the super strings.

On the other hand, more conservative physicists consider that the theory of super-strings is not science but fairy tale. The theory of multiverses would come from the delirium of researchers who are so fond of the abstract power of mathematics that they consider it « real », whereas it is only an intellectual construction, and has no other reality than mental.

Plato already believed that mathematics has a form of reality, full of mystery. But he also believed that there were other, deeper mysteries beyond mathematics. As for the hypothesis of an infinity of parallel worlds, happily postulated by the physicists of the super-strings, he had also considered it by means of the metaphysical approach, and had clearly invalidated it:

« So that this world, in terms of uniqueness, may be similar to the Absolute Living, for this reason, it is neither two nor an infinite number of worlds that have been made by the Author, but it is on a unique basis, alone of its kind, that this world has come to be so, and that from now on it will be. »i

The alternative is simple: either there is only one universe (which Plato presents as « similar to the absolute Living Being »), or there is an almost infinite number of multiverses… What is the most likely hypothesis?

If there is an almost infinite number of universes, 99.9999…% of them (we must imagine here a sequence of millions of 9s, after the comma) are absurdly unstable, structurally deleterious – with the extremely rare exception of a handful of them.

And among this handful, infinitely rarer still those who would be able to generate the conditions for the emergence of human thought.

Now human thought has appeared. It therefore becomes a factor to be taken into account from the point of view of cosmological theory. Its very existence, and its extreme rarity on the scale of the large numbers of possible multiverses, are indicators of the exceptional nature (both statistical and conceptual) of the particular universe in which it has emerged.

Its existence and rarity have a cosmological significance. And this meaning inevitably interacts with the definition of the cosmos it seeks to conceive, – through the application of the Ockham principle and the anthropic principle.

Ockham’s principle states that it is futile to multiply beings without necessity. It is absurd to multiply them meaninglessly. A single universe with meaning and coherence (from the cosmological point of view) is preferable to a multiplication of non-viable, absurd and senseless universes (always from the cosmological point of view).

According to the anthropic principle, the mere fact of humanity’s existence requires us to affirm that the universe in which it was born is « special » and even « unique » (again from a cosmological point of view). Among the myriads of possible multiverses, which have no anthropic significance, the mere fact that the universe in which humanity exists implies an immeasurable cosmological chance, – if we just stick to the multiverses theory.

This « incommensurable » chance can be approximated. It can be measured by the hallucinating improbability of the « cosmological constant » essential for human life and thought to be possible.

Chance as it unfolds under the draconian constraints of cosmology can generally only produce ordinary (unstable or incapable of generating ‘human minds’) universes. However, this universe, ours, is not ordinary: it owes the very principle of its existence to the miraculously adequate precision of an infinitely hazardous cosmological constant to be implemented.

This universe is unique because it is special. Why so special? Because of the incredible and disconcerting improbability of the physical constants that govern its structure, and which are necessary for its existence.

These improbably « fine » constants, which physics detects and which mathematics theorizes, make possible the balance of cosmic forces, the existence of galactic clusters and life itself.

The cosmological constant, as deduced by observation and calculation, must be of a mind-blowing precision: a 0, followed by a comma, then 123 zeros, then a long series of numbers. The slightest variation in this sequence of figures would make the universe totally unstable, from the very first moments of the Big Bang, or would make it totally unfit for life.

Multiverses are, in theory, in almost infinite number. But only a very small number of multiverses are compatible with the anthropogenic principle.

The total improbability of the cosmological constants required by life implies that man had no chance of appearing in the infinity of possibly conceivable multiverses.

Yet humanity exists in this universe, and it is even possible to calculate approximately the minute probability of its existence.

The lower the probability, the lower the probability of validating the multiverses theory itself becomes.

As a result, the extreme probability of Plato’s thesis of the unique universe grows even greater.

This result gives us, probably, some nourishing food for thought…

i Plato,Timaeus, 31b

A Mystery much deeper than Mathematics and than Heavens


A famed platonic Renaissance thinker, Marsilio Ficino, thought that everything, whether body or soul, continuously receives the power to ‘operate’, little by little, but never possesses it entirely.

In particular, the soul, at all times, ‘generates herself’, that is, she continuously draws new strengths from herself, she endlessly unfolds intrinsically different forms, and she unceasingly varies (or adapts) her goals, her desires and her laws.

Our time is almost incapable of understanding and integrating these kinds of ideas, which were, by contrast, commonly accepted by the fine flower of philosophical intelligence of the early Renaissance.

It is a lesson in relativism.

Ironically, relativism is precisely what is at stake, here: the soul possesses an intrinsic, permanent, continuous, capacity of metamorphosis, of auto-transformation, – a permanent impermanence.

The soul has a metamorphic essence, and is made of constant transformation, unceasing mobility.

But our modernity does not really consider (and even less understand) the mobility of the “soul », it only knows the mobility of « matter ».

Matter, it is often said, is intrinsically mobile. Just look at the infinite movement of the quarks, the high pitch of the super-strings. By recognizing this intrinsic mobility, modern thinkers believe they understand the secret of all things, from the infinitely small to the ends of the stars.

‘Matter’ and ‘mobility’ together embody today the ancient role of ‘substance’ and ‘soul’.

Everything is still a « mixture », form and matter, mobility and rest.

Old categories, such as the soul and the body, are now confused, merged. No more discrimination, no more separation. Instead, there is now simply common matter, everywhere there is the ‘same’.

But matter, the ‘same’, the ‘common’, do not exhaust the mystery. The same and the common quickly run out of breath, and the mystery continues to grow everywhere, deeper and deeper.

Take a simple look at Euler’s circle. Nothing ‘modern’, nothing ‘material’ in this abstract circle, this mathematical representation taught in high school. But, who among modern thinkers can say why Euler line connects the orthocenter, the center of gravity, and the two centers of the circumscribed circle and of the Euler circle?

I am not talking about demonstrating this curious (and abstract) mathematical phenomenon.

I am saying that nobody, even today, can explain the essence of Euler line, and the reason of its properties…

The same could be said of all the laws of nature…

Modern people are unable to « see » these sorts of (relatively simple) objects of thought (of wonder) as worthy of metaphysical contemplation. They are unable to “penetrate” their nature, their essence.

For Pythagoras and Plato, it was the opposite. Geometric numbers and figures appeared to them as imaginary powers, and even as divine forcesi.

For Pythagoras or Plato, the power of mathematical forms was the best indication of the existence of an underlying mystery, far beyond matter, and far deeper than whichever heavens we were taught…

i Cf. Plato, Timaeus 31b-32c

Being Horizons


Man, stars, wisdom, intelligence, will, reason, mathematics, quarks, justice, the universe, have something precious in common: “being”. Arguably, they all have specific forms of “existence”, though very different. The diversity of their distinctive types of “being” may indeed explain their distinctive roles in the (real) world.

One could assume that the word “being” is much too vague, too fuzzy, too neutral, by allowing itself to characterize such diverse and heterogeneous entities. The verb “to be” has too many levels of meaning. This is probably a direct effect of the structure of (here English) language. For, despite an apparent homonymy, the “being” of man is not the “being” of the number pi, and the “being” of the Cosmos as a whole does not identify itself with the “being” of Wisdom or Logos.

Sensitive to this difficulty, Plato sought to analyze the variety of possible “beings” and their categories. He defined five main genres of the “Being”, which were supposed to generate all other beings through their combinations and compositions.

The first two types of “Being” are the Infinite and the Finite. The third type results from their Mixing. The Cause of the Mixing represents the fourth genre. The fifth genre is Discrimination, which operates in the opposite way to Mixing.

Infinite, Finite, Mixing, Cause, Discrimination. One is immediately struck by the heterogeneity of these five genres. It is a jumble of substance and principle, cause and effect, union and separation. But it is undoubtedly this wild heterogeneity that may give rise to a power of generation.

With its five genres, “Being” is a primary category of our understanding. But there are others.

Plato, in the Sophist, lists them five all together: Being, Same, Other, Immobility, Movement.

The Being expresses the essence of everything; it defines the principle of their existence.

The Same makes us perceive the permanence of a being that always coincides with itself, and also that it can resemble, in part, other beings.

The Other attests that beings differ from one another, but that there are also irreducible differences within each being.

TheImmobility reminds us that every being necessarily keeps its own unity for a certain duration.

The Movement means that every being has a ‘potential’ for ‘action’.

Five kinds of “Being”. Five “categories” of (philosophical) understanding. Oh, Platonic beauties!

This is only a starting point. If we are to accept their power of description, we must now show that from these “genres” and these “categories”, we may induce all the realities, all the creations, all the ideas, all the possible…

As a serendipitous thought experiment, let us conjugate these five « categories » of understanding with the five genres of “being”, in hope of bringing out new and strange objects of thought, surprising, unheard of, notions.

What about imaginary alloys such as: “Moving Cause”, “Mixed Same”, “Other Finite”, “Discriminate Being”, “Immobile Infinite”, “Cause of Otherness”, “Moving Finite”, “Infinite Otherness”, “Infinite Mixed”, “Immobile Discrimination”, or “Discriminate Immobility”?

A general principle emerges from these heuristic combinations : an abstraction piggybacking another abstraction generates “ideas”, that may make some sense, at least to anyone ready to give some sort of attention, it seems.

What do these language games teach us? It shows that genres and categories are like bricks and cement: assembled in various ways, they can generate shabby cabins or immense cathedrals, calm ports or nebulous clouds, dry chasms or acute bitterness, somber jails or clear schools, clumsy winds or soft mountains, hot hills or cold incense.

There are infinite metaphors, material or impalpable, resulting from the power of Platonic ideas, their intrinsic shimmering, and the promise of being “horizons”.

The Absurd Reason


The prophet Daniel speaks as a seer: “And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. And they that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament; and they that turn many to righteousness as the stars for ever and ever. » (Dan. 12,2-3)

This saying refers to the « wise » and to the “righteous”. It is not just a question of knowledge, but of justice, of a wisdom that is less human than divine. How to reach it? How to access these high places?

Many are those who doubt their own divinity, those who have never turned their eyes to the splendour of intelligence, of wisdom. There are even more who prefer the mist of the senses, the thickness of the bodies, to the thin acuity of the soul.

How would they achieve the wisdom and justice that Daniel is talking about?

Plato, who was not a prophet, but no less a seer, advises us to meditate unceasingly on death.

“Either in no way can we ever acquire knowledge, or it is for us only once we have passed away.”i

The way to be as close to divine knowledge as possible is to have as little trade as possible with the body. Going to the limit, we deduce that death only is the kingdom of true knowledge. This is the « immense hope » that Socrates joyfully shares with his afflicted friends, shortly before drinking the hemlock.

What is this hope based on? It is based on an idea as anti-modern as possible: « We are divine beings ». How can such a statement be made? “Because, momentarily deprived of our heavenly abode and homeland, that is, as long as we are on earth God’s substitutes, we are constantly tormented by the desire of this heavenly homeland and no earthly pleasure can console in the present exile the human intelligence desiring a better condition.”ii

This immense hope, without reason, is based – it is a paradox – on the sole activity of reason.

Marsilio Ficino gives this explanation:

“The hope of immortality results from a surge of reason, since the soul hopes not only without the help of the senses, but despite their opposition. That is why I find nothing more admirable than this hope, because, while we live incessantly among ephemeral beings, we do not cease to hope.”iii

These unreasonable ideas have been shared by thinkers as diverse as Zoroaster, Hermes Trismegistus, Orpheus, Aglaopheme, Pythagoras, Plato… They have created schools of thought, their disciples have proliferated: Xenocrat, Arcesilas, Carneade, Ammonius, Plotinus, Proclus…

On a philosophical level, Socrates’ argument seems to have a certain scope. Reason says that there are only two hypotheses: either knowledge is not possible at all, or it is only possible after death.

If we decide to ignore the Socratic, resolutely optimistic point of view, absolute horror would therefore resemble this: to see clearly with the eyes of pure reason the absurdity and inanity of a human condition, capable of reason, and capable of drawing from it the most crazy, most absurd hypotheses.

iPhaedo, 66 e

ii Marsilio Ficino, Platonic Theology Book XVI

iiiIbid.

Synapses and Soul Epigenesis


Why are souls ‘locked’ in earthly bodies? This very old question has received many answers, but after so many centuries, none consensual.

For some, this question has no meaning at all, since it presupposes a dualism of spirit and matter, of soul and body, in Plato’s way. And Platonic ideas are rejected by materialists: the soul is for them only a kind of epiphenomenon of the body, or the outcome of an epigenetic growth.

In the materialistic approach, one cannot say that the soul is ‘locked’, since it is consubstantial with the flesh: it blossoms fully in it, vivifies it, and receives all its sap from it reciprocally.

But can a spiritual ‘principle’ (the soul) share a material ‘substance’ with a material entity (the body)? How to explain the interaction of immateriality with materialism?

Descartes saw in the pineal gland the place of the union of the soul with the body. This small endocrine gland is also called conarium or the epiphysis cerebri. I can’t resist quoting Wikipedia’s definition of pineal gland, such is its wild poetry:

“The pineal gland is a midline brain structure that is unpaired. It takes its name from its pine-cone shape. The gland is reddish-gray and about the size of a grain of rice (5–8 mm) in humans. The pineal gland, also called the pineal body, is part of the epithalamus, and lies between the laterally positioned  thalamic bodies and behind the habenular commissure. It is located in the quadrigeminal cistern near to the corpora quadrigemina. It is also located behind the third ventricle and is bathed in cerebrospinal fluid supplied through a small pineal recess of the third ventricle which projects into the stalk of the gland.”

Raw flavor of learned words…

In the Veda, the pineal gland is associated with the cakra « ājnā » (the forehead), or with the cakra « sahasrara » (the occiput).

The main question of the coexistence or the intimate conjunction of soul and body is not so much the question of its actual place as the question of its reason.

The reason why souls are « locked » in the bodies is « to know the singular », says Marcile Ficin. Ficin is a neoplatonician philosopher. This explains why he is a priori in favour of soul-body dualism. Souls, of divine origin, need to incarnate in order to complete their ‘education’. If they remained outside the body, then they would be unable to distinguish individuals, and then to get out of the world of pure abstractions and general ideas.

« Let us consider the soul of man at the very moment when it emanates from God and is not yet clothed with a body (…) What will the soul seize? As many ideas as there are species of creatures, only one idea of each species. What will she understand by the idea of a man? She will see that the nature common to all men, but will not see the individuals included in this nature (…) Thus the knowledge of this soul will remain confused, since the distinct progression of species towards the singular escapes her (…) and her appetite for truth will be unsatisfied. If the soul, from birth, remained outside the body, it would know the universals, it would not distinguish individuals either by its own power or by the divine ray seized by it, because its intelligence would not go beyond the ultimate ideas and reason would rest on the eyes of intelligence. But in this body, because of the senses, reason is accustomed to moving among individuals, to applying the particular to the general, to moving from the general to the particular. »i

Indeed Plotin and, long before him, the Egyptians, believed that the soul, by its nature, participates in divine intelligence and will. « Therefore, according to the Egyptians, one should not say that sometimes it stays there and sometimes goes elsewhere, but rather that now it gives life to the earth and then does not give it. »ii

Life is a kind of battle, a battle, where souls are engaged, ignoring the fate that will be reserved for them. No one can explain to us why this battle is taking place, nor the role of each of the souls. « The dead don’t come back, you don’t see them, they don’t do anything (…) But why would an old soldier who’s done his time return to combat? ».

But war metaphors are dangerous because they are anthropomorphic. They deprive us of the quality of invention we would need to imagine a universe of other meanings.

The Platonicians have a metaphor on these questions, less warlike, more peaceful, that of the ‘intermediary’.

They consider that human life is ‘intermediate’ between divine life and the life of animals. And the soul, in leading this intermediate life, thus touches both extremes.

This short circuit between the beast and the divine is the whole of man. Obviously, there is such a difference in potential, but when the current flows, the light comes.

The soul of the newborn child knows nothing about the world, but it is potentially able to learn anything. Its synapses connect and reconfigure several tens of millions of times per second. We can now observe this curious phenomenon in real time on screens. This intense (electro-synaptic) activity testifies to the adventure of the emerging « spirit », meeting the succession of singularities, caresses and rubbing, shimmers and shininess, vibrations and murmurs of tastes and flavours.

The Vedic vision includes this systemic, self-emerging, non-materialistic image.

Veda and neurological imaging meet on this point: the passage through the bodies is a necessary condition for the epigenesis of the soul.

i Marcile Ficin, Platonician Theology. Book 16. Ch. 1

ii Ibid. Ch.5

From the Ass to the Skull and Far Beyond


The Sanskrit language, flexible, learned, sophisticated, has words to designate each of the seven « cakra » that punctuate the human body, from the anus to the occiput. These words are at the origin of analogies, forming a world view, systemic, integrated, structuring. They draw an architecture of metaphors, metonymies, catachresis and synecdoches, linking the human body to the universe, – and to God.

From the lowest to the highest, the seven cakra are also associated with the seven ‘senses’, respectively smell, taste, sight, touch, hearing, mind, and « vision ». They are also related to the seven « states » of the universe: earth, water, fire, air, ether, spirit, and the state called « divine union ». This symbolic gradation of the cakra can be interpreted on the physical level and also as the image of a moral gradation.

The first cakra is the « muladhara » (literally « foundation support »). It’s the anus, and it’s related to smell, and to the earth. It symbolizes the awakening incentive.

The second cakra is called « svadhisthana » (literally « the seat of the self »). It’s the sex. It is related to taste, and water. It symbolizes self-discovery.

The third cakra is called « manipura » (literally « abundant in jewels »). It’s the solar plexus. It is related to sight. It is associated with fire. It evokes the life force.

The fourth cakra is called « anahata » (literally « ineffable »). It’s the heart. We connect it to touch, and we associate it with air. It symbolizes the subtle sound.

The fifth cakra is called « visuddha » (literally « very pure »). It’s the larynx, which is linked to hearing. It is associated with ether. It symbolizes the sacred Word.

The sixth cakra is « ājnā », (literally « the order »). It is the forehead, linked to the mind. It is associated with the spirit, and it symbolizes the truth.

The seventh and last cakra is « sahasrara », (literally the cakra « with a thousand rays »). It is the occiput, which is linked to « vision » and kudalin yoga. It symbolizes divine union.

Catachresis and synecdoques abound in this general picture.

What does the connection of the plexus with sight and fire involve? What does the liaison of the heart to touch, to air and to « subtle sound » really mean? It can be assumed that the link of larynx to hearing is related to phonation, and that it is the ether and not the air that seems to be the medium of meaning, of the « verb ».

If we reflect on the details and implications of these relationships, what strikes us is the will to make system, to connect the body and the mind, semantically and symbolically, to the cosmos. The successive circles of consciousness, from the body foundation up to divine union, are clearly inscribed in human flesh, and described in human mind, through the precise modulations of the Sanskrit language.

However, what language, what words, could ever be able to convey the meaning of the thousand rays of « sahasrara »?

Those who saw and followed some of these rays, up to the core of their suns, only understood that they signal a disruptive way out of our common understanding.

Infinite Journeys


The age of the universe

According to the Jewish Bible the world was created about 6000 years ago. According to contemporary cosmologists, the Big Bang dates back 14 billion years. In fact the Universe could actually be older. The Big Bang is not necessarily the only, original event. Many other universes may have existed before, in earlier ages, who knows?

Time could go back a very long way. Time could even go back to infinity according to cyclical universe theories. This is precisely what Vedic cosmology teaches.

In a famous Chinese Buddhist-inspired novel, The Peregrination to the West, there is a story of the creation of the world. It describes the formation of a mountain, and the moment « when the pure separated from the turbid ». The mountain, called the Mount of Flowers and Fruits, dominates a vast ocean. Plants and flowers never fade. « The peach tree of the immortals never ceases to form fruits, the long bamboos hold back the clouds. » This mountain is « the pillar of the sky where a thousand rivers meet ». It is “the unchanging axis of the earth through ten thousand Kalpa.”

An unchanging land for ten thousand Kalpa

What is a Kalpa? It is the Sanskrit word used to define the very long duration entailed to cosmology. To get an idea of the duration of a Kalpa, various metaphors are available. Take a 40 km cube and fill it to the brim with mustard seeds. Remove a seed every century. When the cube is empty, you will not yet be at the end of the Kalpa. Then take a large rock and wipe it once a century with a quick rag. When there is nothing left of the rock, then you will not yet be at the end of the Kalpa.

What is the age of the Universe? 6000 years? 14 billion years? 10,000 Kalpa?

We can assume that these times mean nothing certain. Just as space is curved, time is curved. The general relativity theory establishes that objects in the universe tend to move towards regions where time flows relatively more slowly. A cosmologist, Brian Greene, says: « In a way, all objects want to age as slowly as possible. » This trend, from Einstein’s point of view, is exactly comparable to the fact that objects « fall » when dropped.

For objects in the Universe that are closer to the « singularities » of space-time (such as « black holes »), time is slowing down more and more. In this interpretation, it is not ten thousand Kalpa that should be available, but billions of billions of billions of Kalpa

A human life is only an ultra-fugitive scintillation, a kind of femto-second on the scale of Kalpa, and the life of all humanity is only a heartbeat. That’s good news! The incredible stories hidden in a Kalpa, the narratives that time conceals, will never run out. The infinite of time has its own life.

Mystics, like Plotin or Pascal, reported some of their visions. But these visions were never more than snapshots, infinitesimal moments, compared to the infinite substance from which they emerged.

This substance is comparable to a landscape of infinite narratives, a never-ending number of mobile points of view, each of them opening onto other infinite worlds, some of which deserve a detour, and some may be worth an infinite journey.

Adolf Hitler, Theodor Herzl and their « kitsch romanticism »


The most famous men want to leave traces, legacies. What’s left of it? Often few things.

History is full of ex-post celebrities, whose memory is judged with harshness, irony or indifference by subsequent generations.

Tacitus reports: “Calvus appeared to Cicero exsanguinated and overly exhausted, and Brutus idle and struck; conversely Cicero was criticized by Calvus, who found him relaxed and without muscles, and by Brutus, on the other hand, who said he was ‘soft and with no balls’. If you ask me, everyone seems to have been right.”i

More recently, Victor Klemperer was not afraid to depict Adolf Hitler and Theodor Herzl in similar, offbeat ways. « Both Hitler and Herzl live largely on the same heritage. I have already named the German root of Nazism, it is narrow-minded and perverted romanticism. If I add kitsch romanticism, then the intellectual and stylistic community of the two Führer (sic) is designated as accurately as possible. »ii

Comparing Theodor Herzl to a « Führer » may be daring. But Klemperer’s method of analysis favours the understanding of shifts in the meaning of words. The German language changed in many ways after the advent of the Third Reich.

The word Führer could, it seems, be applied without problem to Herzl in 1896 or 1904, but also, though with a different nuance, to Hitler between 1933 and 1945. It is a testimony to the fragility and transience of the meaning of words through time, a sign of the volatility of their resonances.

Klemperer reports another example of these shifts of meaning, through the words « to believe » and « belief », during the rise of Nazism. He sees it as a symptom of a quasi-religious phenomenon caused by Hitler’s ascension into German consciousness: « The Führer has always stressed his particularly close relationship with the divinity, his « election », the particular bond of filiation that links him to God, his religious mission. »iii

If Klemperer’s hypothesis proves true, one would have to question the meaning of the words « divinity », « election », « filiation », « religion » and the extent of their derivations.

While we are at it, we could propose a generalization of Klemperer’s corrosive analysis.

It could be especially rewarding to make a comparative “spectrography” of all the words relating to the « divine », the « sacred », the « mystery », the”spirit”, the “soul”, etc., in all the languages of the world.

Such a linguistic “spectrography” would lay a fruitful foundation for a global anthropology of religious sentiment.

And who knows, we may find new interpretations of the meaning of the word “god”.

iTacitus. Dialogus de Oratoribus, XVIII,5-6

iiVictor Klemperer, LTI, La langue du IIIème Reich, Ch. 29, Sion, p.274

iiiIbid., ch. 18, « I believe in him ».

The Peregrination of the Universe


According to the Jewish Bible the world was created about 6000 years ago. According to contemporary cosmologists, the Big Bang dates back 14 billion years. But the Universe could actually be older. The Big Bang is not necessarily the only, original event. Many other universes may have existed before, in earlier ages.

Time could go back a long way. This is what Vedic cosmologies teach. Time could even go back to infinity according to cyclical universe theories.

In a famous Chinese Buddhist-inspired novel, The Peregrination to the West, there is a story of the creation of the world. It describes the formation of a mountain, and the moment « when the pure separated from the turbid ». The mountain, called the Mount of Flowers and Fruits, dominates a vast ocean. Plants and flowers never fade. « The peach tree of the immortals never ceases to form fruits, the long bamboos hold back the clouds. » This mountain is « the pillar of the sky where a thousand rivers meet ». It is « the unchanging axis of the earth through ten thousand Kalpa. »

An unchanging land for ten thousand Kalpa.

What is a kalpa? It is the Sanskrit word used to define the very long duration of cosmology. To get an idea of the duration of a kalpa, various metaphors are available. Take a 40 km cube and fill it to the brim with mustard seeds. Remove a seed every century. When the cube is empty, you will not yet be at the end of the kalpa. Then take a large rock and wipe it once a century with a quick rag. When there is nothing left of the rock, then you will not yet be at the end of the kalpa.

World time: 6000 years? 14 billion years? 10,000 kalpa?

We can assume that these times mean nothing certain. Just as space is curved, time is curved. The general relativity theory establishes that objects in the universe tend to move towards regions where time flows relatively more slowly. A cosmologist, Brian Greene, put it this way: « In a way, all objects want to age as slowly as possible. » This trend, from Einstein’s point of view, is exactly comparable to the fact that objects « fall » when dropped.

For objects in the Universe that are closer to the « singularities » of space-time that proliferate there (such as « black holes »), time is slowing down more and more. In this interpretation, it is not ten thousand kalpa that should be available, but billions of billions of billions of kalpa…

A human life is only an ultra-fugitive scintillation, a kind of femto-second on the scale of kalpa, and the life of all humanity is only a heartbeat. That’s good news! The incredible stories hidden in a kalpa, the narratives that time conceals, will never run out. The infinite of time has its own life.

Mystics, like Plotin or Pascal, have reported their visions. But their images of “fire” were never more than snapshots, infinitesimal moments, compared to the infinite substance from which they emerged.

This substance, I’d like to describe it as a landscape of infinite narratives, an infinite number of mobile points of view, opening onto an infinite number of worlds, some of which deserve a detour, and others are worth the endless journey.

What do we have to lose?


Gérard de Nerval was imbued with shamanism and orphism. With its calculated, ironic and visionary poetry, Voyage en Orient bears witness to these tropisms.

« They plunged me three times into the waters of the Cocyte » (Antéros).

The four rivers of Hell, who can cross their liquid walls? Can a pale poet cross these bitter barriers, these dark, convulsive masses?

« Et j’ai deux fois vainqueur traversé l’Achéron,

Modulant tour à tour sur la lyre d’Orphée

Les soupirs de la sainte et les cris de la fée.”

(And I have twice a winner crossed the Acheron

Modulating in turn on the lyre of Orpheus

The sighs of the saint and the cries of the fairy.) (El Desdichado)

Nerval’s work is influenced by the tutelary figure of Orpheus, prince of poets, lovers and mystics – explorer of the depths.

Orpheus was dismembered alive by the Bacchae in madness, but continued to sing from the mouth of his beheaded head. His singing had already persuaded Hades to let him leave Hell with Eurydice. The condition was that he did not look at her, until he came out of the world of the dead. Worried about the silence of the beloved, he turned his head when they had arrived at the edge of the world of the living. He lost again, and forever, Eurydice.

Instead of looking at her, he could have talked to her, held her by the hand, or inhaled her scent, to make sure she was there? No, he had to see her, to look at her. As a result, she died.

Why do heroes want to face Hell?

What haunts them is whether death is real, or imaginary. What drives them is the desire to see the loved ones again, though lost forever. In these difficult circumstances, they must acquire special powers, magical abilities. Orpheus’ strengths were music, song and poetry.

Music produces, even in Hell, a form, a meaning, and calls for the poem. Orpheus might have sung:

« Always, under the branches of Virgil’s laurel

The pale hydrangea unites with the green myrtle.  » (Myrto)

Gérard de Nerval was inspired. By what?

From the scattered crumbs, let us deduce the bread that feeds him.

« Man, free thinker! Do you think you’re the only one thinking

In this world where life is bursting into everything?

(…)

Each flower is a soul to nature blooms.

A mystery of love in metal rests.

(…)

Often in the dark being dwells a hidden God

And like a nascent eye covered by his eyelids,

A pure spirit grows under the bark of the stones.  » (Golden Worms)

The poets lose, lost, in the theological assaults. Nerval admits defeat, false hopes and real regret:

« They will return these Gods that you always cry for!

Time will bring back the order of the old days,

The earth shuddered with a prophetic breath…

However, the sibyl with its Latin face

Is asleep under the arch of Constantine

And nothing disturbed the severe gantry.  » (Delfica)

Did Nerval believe in the breath of the sibyl, in the order of the day?

Orpheus, Nerval, prophetic poets.

During the Renaissance, Marsile Ficin presented Orpheus as an explorer of Chaos and a theologian of love.

« Orpheus in Argonautics imitating the Theology of Mercury Trismegist, when he sings the principles of things in the presence of Chiron and the heroes, that is, angelic men, he puts Chaos before the world, & before Saturn, Iupiter and the other gods, and within Chaos, he welcomes Love, saying Love is very ancient, by itself perfect, of great counsel. Plato in Timaeus similarly describes Chaos, and here puts Love. »i

Chaos is before the gods, – before the very sovereign God, Jupiter. And in Chaos, there is Love!

« Finally, in all of us, Love accompanies Chaos, and precedes the world, excites the things that sleep, illuminates the dark ones: gives life to the dead things: forms the unformed, and gives perfection to the imperfect. » ii

This « good news » was first announced by Orpheus.

« But the unique invisible perpetual light of the divine Sun, by its presence, always gives comfort, life and perfection to all things. Of what divinely sang Orpheus, saying:

God the Eternal Love all things comforts

And on all of them is spread, animated and supported. »

Orpheus bequeathed to humanity these simple pearls: « Love is more ancient and younger than other Gods ». « Love is the beginning and the end. He is the first and last of the gods. »

Finally, Ficin specifies the figure of the last of all the gods: « There are therefore four kinds of divine fury. The first is the Poetic Fury. The second is the Mystical, that is, the Sacred. The third is Divination. The fourth is the Affection of Love. Poetry depends on the Muses: The Mystery of Bacchus: The Deviation of Apollo: & The Love of Venus. Certainly Soul cannot return to unity unless it becomes unique. » iii

The One. The Love. The Union. This is the message of Orpheus.

To learn it first, Orpheus had to have lost Eurydice.

To hear it, what do we have to lose?

iMarsile Ficin. Discours de l’honneste amour sur le banquet de Platon, Oraison 1ère, Ch. 2, (1578)

ii Marsile Ficin. Discours de l’honneste amour sur le banquet de Platon, Oraison 1ère, Ch. 2, (1578)

iii Ibid., Oraison 7, Ch. 14

The Egyptian Messiah


Human chains transmit knowledge acquired beyond the ages. From one to the other, you always go up higher, as far as possible, like the salmon in the stream.

Thanks to Clement of Alexandria, in the 2nd century, twenty-two fragments of Heraclitus (fragments 14 to 36 according to the numbering of Diels-Kranz) were saved from oblivion, out of a total of one hundred and thirty-eight.

« Rangers in the night, the Magi, the priests of Bakkhos, the priestesses of the presses, the traffickers of mysteries practiced among men.  » (Fragment 14)

A few words, and a world appears.

At night, magic, bacchae, lenes, mysts, and of course the god Bakkhos.

The Fragment 15 describes one of these mysterious and nocturnal ceremonies: « For if it were not in honour of Dionysus that they processioned and sang the shameful phallic anthem, they would act in the most blatant way. But it’s the same one, Hades or Dionysus, for whom we’re crazy or delirious.»

Heraclitus seems reserved about bacchic delusions and orgiastic tributes to the phallus.

He sees a link between madness, delirium, Hades and Dionysus.

Bacchus is associated with drunkenness. We remember the rubicond Bacchus, bombing under the vine.

Bacchus, the Latin name of the Greek god Bakkhos, is also Dionysus, whom Heraclitus likens to Hades, God of the Infernos, God of the Dead.

Dionysus was also closely associated with Osiris, according to Herodotus in the 5th century BC. Plutarch went to study the question on the spot, 600 years later, and reported that the Egyptian priests gave the Nile the name of Osiris, and the sea the name of Typhon. Osiris is the principle of the wet, of generation, which is compatible with the phallic cult. Typhoon is the principle of dry and hot, and by metonymy of the desert and the sea. And Typhon is also the other name of Seth, Osiris’ murdering brother, whom he cut into pieces.

We see here that the names of the gods circulate between distant spheres of meaning.

This implies that they can also be interpreted as the denominations of abstract concepts.

Plutarch, who cites in his book Isis and Osiris references from an even more oriental horizon, such as Zoroaster, Ormuzd, Ariman or Mitra, testifies to this mechanism of anagogical abstraction, which the ancient Avestic and Vedic religions practiced abundantly.

Zoroaster had been the initiator. In Zoroastrianism, the names of the gods embody ideas, abstractions. The Greeks were the students of the Chaldeans and the ancient Persians. Plutarch condenses several centuries of Greek thought, in a way that evokes Zoroastrian pairs of principles: « Anaxagoras calls Intelligence the principle of good, and that of evil, Infinite. Aristotle names the first the form, and the other the deprivationi. Plato, who often expresses himself as if in an enveloped and veiled manner, gives to these two contrary principles, to one the name of « always the same » and to the other, that of « sometimes one, sometimes the other ». »ii

Plutarch is not fooled by Greek, Egyptian or Persian myths. He knows that they cover abstract, and perhaps more universal, truths. But he had to be content with allusions of this kind: « In their sacred hymns in honour of Osiris, the Egyptians mentioned « He who hides in the arms of the Sun ». »

As for Typhon, a deicide and fratricide, Hermes emasculated him, and took his nerves to make them the strings of his lyre. Myth or abstraction?

Plutarch uses the etymology (real or imagined) as an ancient method to convey his ideas: « As for the name Osiris, it comes from the association of two words: ὄσιοϛ, holy and ἱερός, sacred. There is indeed a common relationship between the things in Heaven and those in Hades. The elders called them saints first, and sacred the second. »iii

Osiris, in his very name, osios-hieros, unites Heaven and Hell, he combines the holy and the sacred.

The sacred is what is separated.

The saint is what unites us.

Osiris joint separated him to what is united.

Osiris, victor of death, unites the most separated worlds there are. It represents the figure of the Savior, – in Hebrew the « Messiah ».

Taking into account the anteriority, the Hebrew Messiah and the Christian Christ are late figures of Osiris.

Osiris, a Christic metaphor, by anticipation? Or Christ, a distant Osirian reminiscence?

Or a joint participation in a common fund, an immemorial one?

This is a Mystery.

iAristotle, Metaph. 1,5 ; 1,7-8

iiPlato Timaeus 35a

iiiPlutarch, Isis and Osiris.

Ancient Iran’s influence on Judaism


Henry Corbin wrote more than fifty years ago a vibrant tribute to the spirituality and philosophy of Iranian Islam, considered in its historical depth. The Ayatollah regime was not in place at the time. Taking a certain distance from the immediate history, Corbin analyses the difference between Iranian shî’ism and sunnism which generally prevails in Arab countries, in a book dedicated to Sohravardî and the Platonicians of Persia.

« Unlike the majority Sunni Islam, for which, after the mission of the last Prophet, humanity has nothing new to expect, the shî’ism keeps the future open by professing that, even after the coming of the « Seal of the Prophets » something is still to be expected, namely the revelation of the spiritual meaning of the revelations made by the great prophets. (…) But this spiritual intelligence will only be complete at the end of our Aiôn, during the parousia of the twelfth Imâm, the Imâm now hidden and mystical pole of the world. »i

Corbin also reviews the exceptional adventure of a « brilliant young thinker » from northwestern Iran, Shihâboddîn Yahyâ Sohrawardî.

This « brilliant thinker », who died in 1191 in Aleppo, Syria, at the age of thirty-six, as a martyr of his cause, had dedicated his young life to « resurrecting the wisdom of ancient Persia » and « repatriating the Hellenized Magi to Islamic Persia, and this thanks to hermeneutics (ta’wil) whose Islamic spirituality offered him the resources. »ii

Corbin’s works shed light on the ancient pendulum movement between East and West, and their intersecting influences over the centuries.

Sohrawardî wanted to celebrate the wisdom of the Hellenized Magi in Islamic Persia. What this Chaldaic Magic refers to? Greek Philosophy?

In any case, Sohrawardî was taking a certain risk, considering the context of his time. But he was also a visionary, from the point of view of the long history.

And Sohravardî paid for his vision with his life.

More than a millennium earlier, the Jewish, Essenian, Qumran sects had recognized their spiritual debt to Iran.

Almost intact texts, the Qumran manuscripts, have been found in caves near the Dead Sea between 1947 and 1956.

Drawing on the texts of Qumran, Guy G. Stroumsa, a Jerusalem-based researcher, raises the question of the influence of Iranian spirituality on Judaism in his book Barbarian Philosophy.

He reports on the words of the famous religious scholar Shaul Shaked: « It may be imagined that contacts between Jews and Iranians helped in formulating a Jewish theology which, though continuing traditional Jewish motifs, came to resemble fairly closely the Iranian view of the world.»iii

It seems to me fruitful, in our troubled, fanatical, over-informed and under-educated times, to recognize the richness of the cross-fertilization accumulated over the centuries, which has structured the spiritual geography of this immense area, ranging from the Greek West to the « near » and « middle » East, via Egypt and Israel.

iH. Corbin, En islam iranien, p. III.

ii Ibid. p.IV

iiiS. Shaked, Qumran and Iran : Further considerations (1972).

Jihad, Beheading and Castration.


Can post-modern philosophy say anything of substance about the religious passions of societies?

I don’t think so. Since Western philosophy decreed the death of metaphysics, it has put itself out of shape to think about the state of the real world.

It has de facto become incapable of thinking of a world in which endless and merciless wars are waged in the name of the God(s), a world in which religious sects slit men’s throats, reduce women to slavery and enlist children to become murderers.

Philosophy is unable to contribute to the intellectual, theological-political battle against fanaticism.

It deserted the fight without even trying to fight. It convinced itself that reason has nothing to say about faith, nor legitimacy to express itself on this subject. Scepticism and pyrrhonism stand in sharp contrast to the assurance of the enemies of reason.

Fanaticism has gone wild. No thought police is able to stop it. Philosophical critics have in advance acknowledged their inability to say anything reasonable about belief.

In this philosophical desert, there remains the anthropological path. It encourages us to revisit ancient religious beliefs, in search of a possible link between what people living in the valleys of the Indus or the Nile, the Tiger or the Jordan, believed thirty or fifty centuries ago, and what other peoples believe today, in these same regions.

How can we fail to see, for example, the anthropological link between the voluntary castration of the priests of Cybele, the dogmas of the religion of Osiris, and the faith of the jihadist fanatics, their taste for decapitation and slaughter?

Castration is one of the anthropological constants, translated throughout the ages into religious, perennial figures. In its link with « enthusiasm », castration projects its radical de-linking with common sense, and displays its paradoxical and unhealthy link with the divine.

On « Blood Day », the priests of Atys and Cybele voluntarily emasculate themselves and throw their virile organs at the foot of the statue of Cybele. Neophytes and initiates, taken by divine madness, fall into the fury of « enthusiasm », and imitate them, emasculating themselves in their turn.

What is the nature of this « enthusiasm »? What does it tell us about human reason and folly?

Iamblichus writes in this regard: « We must seek the causes of divine madness; it is lights that come from the gods, the breaths sent by them, their total power that seize us, completely banishes our own consciousness and movement, and makes speeches, but not with the clear thought of those who speak; on the contrary, it is when they « profess them with a delirious mouth »i and are at their service to yield to the only activity of those who possess them. That is the enthusiasm. »ii

This description of « divine madness », of « enthusiasm », by a contemporary of these orgiastic scenes, of these visions of religious excessiveness, strikes me by its empathy. Iamblichus evokes this « total power that seizes us » and « banishes our conscience » as if he had experienced this feeling himself.

It can be hypothesized that this madness and delirium are structurally and anthropologically analogous to the madness and fanatical delirium that have occupied the media scene and the world for some time now.

In the face of madness, there is wisdom. In the same text, Iamblichus evokes the master of wisdom, Osiris. « The demiurgic spirit, master of truth and wisdom, when he comes to become one and brings to light the invisible force of hidden words, is called Amoun in Egyptian, but when he unerringly and artistically executes everything in all truth, he is called Ptah (name that the Greeks translate Hephaistos, applying it only to his activity as an artisan); as a producer of the good, he is called Osiris.»iii

What is the link between Osiris and castration? Plutarch reports in great detail the myth of Osiris and Isis. It does not fail to establish a direct link between the Greek religion and the ancient Egyptian religion. Zeus’ proper name is Amoun [derived from the root amn, to be hidden], an altered word in Ammon. Manetho the Sebennyte believes that this term means ‘an hidden thing’, or ‘the act of hiding’.

It is to affirm a link between Zeus, Amoun/Ammon, Ptah and Osiris.

But the most interesting is the narrative of the Osirian myth.

We remember that Seth (recognized by the Greeks as ‘Typhon’ ), Osiris’ brother, killed him and cut his body into pieces. Isis goes in search of Osiris members scattered all over Egypt. Plutarch specifies: « The only part of Osiris’ body that Isis could not find was the manly limb. As soon as it was torn off, Typhon (Seth) had indeed thrown it into the river, and the lepidot, the caddis and the oxyrrinch had eaten it: hence the sacred horror inspired by these fish. To replace this member, Isis made an imitation of it and the Goddess thus consecrated the Phallos whose feast is still celebrated by the Egyptians today.  » (Plutarch, Isis and Osiris)

A little later, Seth-Typhon beheaded Isis. It seems that there is a link, at least metonymic, between Osiris’ murder, Seth’s tearing off of his virile limb and the beheading of the goddess Isis by the same man. A relentless effort to tear, to section, to cut.

Seth-Typhon didn’t do so well. The Book of the Dead tells us that Horus in turn emasculated him, then skinned him.iv Plutarch also reports that Hermes, the inventor of music, took Seth’s nerves and made them the strings of his lyre.

We can see it well: decapitation, emasculation, dismemberment are ancient figures, always reactivated. They are signals of a form of anthropological constancy. Applying to the ancient gods, but also to the men of today, the reduction of the body to its parts, the removal of « all that exceeds » is a human figure reduced to the inhuman.

In this context, and in a structurally comparable way, the swallowing of the divine penis by the Nile fish is also a figure dedicated to continuous reinterpretation, and its metaphorical transformation.

The prophet Jonah, יוֹנָה (yônah) in Hebrew, was also swallowed by a fish, as was Osiris’ penis before him. Just as Osiris resurrected, Jonah was spit out by the fish three days later. Christians also saw in Jonah a prefiguration of the risen Christ three days after his burial.

The belly of the fish is like a temporary tomb (or is it a womb?), from which it is always possible for devoured gods and swallowed prophets to rise again.

Beheading, dismemberment, castration, weapons of psychological warfare, have been part of anthropological equipment for thousands of years. Resurrection, metamorphosis and salvation too. For the Egyptians, everyone has a vocation to become Osiris N., once dismembered, castrated, resurrected, this Osiris whom, in their sacred hymns, the Egyptians call « He who hides in the arms of the Sun ».

Western modernity, forgetting the roots of its own world, cut off from its own heritage, emptied of its founding myths, now without any meta-narrative, is suddenly confronted with their unexpected re-emergence in the context of a barbarism that it is no longer able to analyse, let alone understand.

iHeraclitus DK. fr. 92

ii Iamblichus, The Mysteries of Egypt, III, 8

iii Ibid. VIII, 3

iv Cf. Ch. 17, 30, 112-113

Three sorts of God.


In an essay published in 1973, Jacques Lacarrière violently attacked Christianity, that of the first centuries, and that of our time. « Christians, with their compensatory and castrating mythology, have totally evaded the daily problems of their time and perpetuated to this day the acceptance of all social injustices and submission to established powers.»i

This harsh judgment does not accurately reflect the history of Christianity, but the intention is elsewhere. Lacarrière’s real aim is to give strong praise to Gnosticism, in contrast. « The Gnostics, on the other hand, have consistently advocated insubordination towards all powers, Christian or pagan, » he explains.

By taking up the cause of the Gnostics, he poses himself as a « reincarnated Gnostic, two thousand years later », and emphatically adopts their fundamental thesis: « All institutions, all laws, all religions, all churches, all powers are only jokes, traps and the perpetuation of a millennial deception. In short: we are exploited on a cosmic scale, the proletarians of the executioner-demiurgist, slaves exiled in a world viscerally subjected to violence.»ii

For the Gnostics, the world is a « prison », a « cloaca », a « quagmire », a « desert ». In the same vein, the human body is a « tomb », a « vampire ».

The world we live in was not created by the true God. It is the work of the Demiurge, a god who ‘simulates’ the true God. The Gnostics reject both this ‘evil’ world and the ‘false God’ who created it — a God that they call ‘Jehovah’.

Where and when did the Gnosis appear?

According to Lacarrière, it was in Alexandria in the 2nd century. This town was then « a crucible, an hearth, amortar, a blast furnace, where all the skies, all the gods, all the dreams are mixed, distilled, infused and transfused (…) All the races, all the continents (Africa, Asia, Europe), all the centuries (those of ancient Egypt which keeps its sanctuaries there, those of Athens and Rome, those of Judea, Palestine and Babylonia) are discovered there. »iii

In theory, such a place of encounter and memory would have been ideal for generating an inclusive and globalizing civilization. But the Gnostics had no use for these utopias. They deny the very reality of this world, which is from the beginning entirely dedicated to evil.

All signs are reversed. The Serpent, Cain, Set, symbols of evil and misfortune in the Jewish Bible, are for the Gnostics « the first revolts in the history of the world », and they make them « the founders of their sects and the authors of their secret books ».

The Gnostic sects, listed by Epiphanus, are very diverse. There are Nicolaitans, Phibionites, Stratiotics, Euchites, Leviticus, Borborites, Coddians, Zachaeans, Barbelites, etc. These terms had an immediate meaning for Greek-speaking populations. The Stratiotics meant « the Soldiers », the Phibionites are the « Humbles », the Eucharists are the « Prayers », the Zachaeans are the « Initiates ».

Lacarrière is fascinated by the Gnostics, but he also admits having great difficulty in discovering their « secrets », in finding « their veiled paths », in understanding « their hermetic revelations ».

There is in particular the question of ecstatic ceremonies, with their frenetic music, using the Phrygian mode (flutes and tambourines), their orgiastic dances, the consumption of drinks causing phenomena of transes and collective possession, and « horrible bacchanals where men and women mixed », as reported by Theodoret de Cyr.

The Gnostics, according to Lacarrière, had understood that the world was « a world of injustice, violence, massacres, slavery, misery, famine, horrors ». This world had to be rejected, contrary to what Christianity advocates. « It takes all the impudent hypocrisy of Christian morality to make the dispossessed, exploited, hungry masses believe that their trials were enriching and opened the doors of another world to them. »

Lacarrière concludes by claiming the need for a « new Gnosticism ». The Gnostic of today must be a « man turned towards the present and the future, with the intuitive certainty that he possesses above all in himself the keys to this future, a certainty that he must oppose all reassuring mythologies. »

These martial and hammered sentences are half a century old, but they certainly appear outdated. Today, the thousand-year-old debate between Christianity and Gnosticism seems to have lost its meaning. Current events seem to be more interested in the relationship between religion and fundamentalism, and in the issue of terrorism.

In the Bardo Museum of Tunis, where the memory of ancient Carthage still lives, in ancient Palmyra, on the shores of the Bosporus and the Gulf of Sirte, and in so many other places, blood has abundantly been shed.

Fanatics willing to give their lives to destroy a world order they consider vitiated to the very roots now occupy the headlines.

Can democratic states defend themselves against determined men or women who despise life, the lives of others like themselves?

The radicality of the Gnostics of the past, the war they had waged against the pagans, Jews and Christians at the beginning of our era, has found a successor. The jihadists embody it today vis-à-vis the Western world, the world of democracies and their allies.

History is on the lookout, and no one knows how things will turn out. The fact that the extreme right is now growing so much in countries that were vomiting it just yesterday is perhaps a sign of future disasters in preparation.

And what about God in all this? Is He even aware of all the misery, proliferating down this world?

Marguerite Yourcenar wrote in her Œuvre au noir: « Suffering and consequently joy and consequently good and what we call evil, justice and what is for us injustice and finally, in one form or another, the understanding that serves to distinguish these opposites, exist only in the world of blood and perhaps sap… Everything else, I mean the mineral kingdom and that of the spirits if it exists, is perhaps insensitive and quiet, beyond our joys and sorrows or below them. Our tribulations are possibly only a tiny exception in the universal factory and this could explain the indifference of this immutable substance that we devoutly call God. »

Blood flows, seemingly in God’s indifference.

But which God? The God of the Book? The One God? The God of Jihad? The « universal », « Catholic » God, or the God of the « Chosen Few », whether they are Calvinists, Gnostics or fundamentalists?

The heart beats, the sap and blood flows. God stays silent. Why?

It may be that this indifference comes from what God does not exist.

It may also be that God being immutable, his indifference follows from it, as Yourcenar suggests.

There is a third possibility. God’s mutity may only be apparent. It is possible that He speaks with a very low voice, that he whispers, like an uncertain zephyr. To perceive and hear, one must be a poet or a seer, an initiate or a mystagogue, a shaman or an ishrâqiyun.

So we are left today with tree options to choose from:

A non-existent God, an indifferent (or absent) God, or a very discreet God, speaking with an extremely weak voice?

What’s your bet?

iJacques Lacarrière, Les gnostiques. 1973

iiIbid.

iiiIbid.

Bound to Build the Collective Unconscious of Humanity


Several centuries before Abraham left Ur in Chaldea, the Zend-Avesta religion revered in ancient Iran a ‘Lord of Lords’, a ‘supreme God’, named Ahura Mazda,which translates, in Pehlevi, or Middle Persian, as Ormuzd. Ahura Mazda has also other names, such as Spenta Mainyu, literally: « the Holy Spirit ».

Ahura Mazda reigns unique over all other, lower ranking, divinities, called ‘Gâthâs’.

Ahura Mazda being a supreme God, far beyond human reach or understanding, the prayers of the Zend-Avesta are addressed to the Gâthâs, rather than to Ahura Mazda, though they are only ‘intermediate divinities’, or more exactly ’emanations’ of Ahura Mazda. The Yasna says about the Gâthâs: « All the worlds, the bodies, the bones, the vital forces, the forms, the consciousness, the soul, the Phravaṣi, we offer them all and present them to the Gâthâs, Saints, Lords of time, pure; to the Gâthâs who are for us supporters, protectors, a food of the spirit.»i

In Avestic, which is the ancient Iranian language, Ahura means « lord ». Mazda means « highly learned », according to the eminent Burnouf, who breaks down the word mazda into maz – dâ. Maz is a superlative, and means « to know ». In modern Persian, dânâ means « learned ». There is also an equivalent in Sanskrit: « mêdhas« .

When asked by Zoroaster about the meaning of his Name, Ahura Mazda declared, as reported in the first Yast:

« My name is the Sovereign, my name is the One who knows ».

Zoroaster did not stick to this answer and continued to question Ahura Mazda. He urged him to reveal what is most powerful, most effective against the Spirit of Evil, Aṅra Mainyu (in Pehlevi: Ahriman), and against all the demons.

Ahura Mazda replied that what is most powerful is the names he bears.

And he added:

« My name is the One to be questioned; my second name is the Head of the flock; the Propagator of the law; the excellent Purity; the Good of pure origin; the Intelligence; the One who understands; the Wise; the Growth; the One who increases; the Lord; the One who is most useful; the One who is without suffering; the One who is solid; the One who counts the merits; the One who observes everything; the Helper; the Creator; the All-Knowing (the Mazda) (…). Remember and pronounce these names day and night. I am the Protector, the Creator, the Suspender, the Savior, the Most Holy Celestial Being. My name is the Auxiliary, the Priest, the Lord; I am called the One who sees much, the One who sees far away. My name is the Supervisor, the Creator, the Protector, the Connoisseur. I am called the One who augments; I am called the Dominator, the One who should not be deceived, the One who is not deceived; I am called the Strong, the Pure, the Great; I am called the One who has good science.

Whoever remembers and pronounces these names will escape the attacks of demons. »ii

In passing, we note the obvious analogy of these lines with comparable, but much later, texts of Judaism, and even later texts of Islam.

Avesta has all the characteristics of a revealed religion.

First of all, it was God (Ahura Mazda) who initially revealed himself to the Mazdaites.

Then, the Avesta refers to a great prophet, Zoroaster, who boasts of having served as an intermediary between God and man, and who was the great reformer of Mazdeism. The most recent scientific work shows that Zoroaster lived before Abraham, between 1400 and 1100 BC. He was the prophet who transformed the initial dualism of Mazdaism and the multiplicity of the various Gâthâs into an absolutely transcendental monism, after having discussed it directly with Ahura Mazda.

The interaction between Ahura Mazda and Zoroaster is not without analogy with the encounter between God and Moses, several centuries later.

From this strident comparison we may derive the following rough alternative.

The Materialistic Hypothesis :

The « world from above », the world of the divine, whose variations, analogies and anagogies, similarities and echoes one tries to identify in the long history of religious ideas, simply does not exist. The ‘spiritual’ world is really empty, there is no God, and it is the materialists who are 100% right. So the wars of religion, the sacrifices, the martyrs, the passions of belief, and all the blood shed today, yesterday and tomorrow, are all facets of a sinister farce played by scoundrels or Machiavellian policies at the expense of the unfathomable naivety of peoples, victims of their credulity and superstition.

This farce is continually developed and rewritten over the millennia by the so-called ‘enlightened’, the mad, the deranged, the cynical and the war criminals, all contributing to making this Earth a place without meaning, without past and without future. In this hypothesis, the world would be condemned to self-destruction, moral suicide and absolute violence, as soon as the trickery is finally blown up.

The Spiritual Hypothesis:

The « world from above » does indeed exist, in one way or another, but it escapes our perception, our understanding and intellection. It’s a Mystery, or the Mystery. In this case, there is a good chance that religions that have appeared since the dawn of time, such as Shamanism, the ancient Egyptian religion, Veda, Avesta, Mazdeism, Zoroastrianism, Chaldaic magic, Orphism, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, far from being able to claim an elective singularity, are as many instances of various perceptions and intuitions of the divine by man, as many testimonies of the plurality of possible approaches to the Mystery.

Each one of these religions represents a unique and special way of understanding the divine emanation, more or less adapted to the time and the peoples who receive it.

It would then be futile to rank or classify religions among themselves. It would be more productive, particularly from a forward-looking perspective, to examine the systemic relationships between a given era and the way in which religious fact is inscribed, at that moment in history, in the social, cultural, political and economic fabric.

Let us add that the general state of the world today, unfortunately suggests hat none of the religions mentioned above is now in a position to claim a monopoly on the ultimate truth or the final revelation on the fundamental questions that humanity keeps asking itself since millennia.

If such a « world from above », inaccessible to human reason, does in fact exist, it also implies that something extremely important, vital, and also beyond human comprehension, has been at stake for thousands of years at the core of Mankind, with the active but hidden and (most of the time) silent complicity of the Divine.

It should be assumed that since the dawn of humanity there has been a kind of cosmic, sidereal « great game », whose meaning and purpose are clearly beyond our grasp, but in which men are invited to take part, within the limits of their limited means.

Humanity is composed of generations that fleetingly pass through the earth like insects in the light on a summer evening. It is therefore very likely that these successive generations can only apprehend in a deficient way, the unspeakable challenge of this super-natural arrangement.

But it is possible to assume that successive human generations may from time to time generate in their midst enlightened spirits capable of intuitively perceiving, imaginalement (‘imaginally’), as Henry Corbin would say, the grandiose stake of this divine part.

All we can do in an era like ours, where materialism seems to pervade everything, is to refuse to let ourselves be caught up in the trap of preconceived ideas, to refuse sectarianism, dogmatism, the prisons of thought and imagination. We can actively contribute, soul by soul, to the slow, fragile and ungraspable building of the immanent Noosphere, the collective Unconscious of all humanity.

iYasna, ch. 54

iiQuoted by Abel Hovelacque, Avesta, Zoroastre et le mazdéisme. Paris, 1880.

A Good News for Our Dark Times


A thousand years before Abraham, and twelve or fifteen centuries before the drafting of Genesis, Sanchoniaton cried out: « The Spirit blows on darkness ».

The Phoenicians, a people of merchants and travelers, invented the alphabet, but they left almost no written record. The only written monument they have left is a fragment attributed to this Sanchoniaton, priest of Tyre, according to Philo of Byblos. Sanchoniaton lived before the Trojan War, and more than 2000 years BC.

The name ‘Sanchoniaton, according to Ernest Renan, comes from the Greek word Σαγχων, « who lives ». In ancient Coptic Koniath means « holy dwelling », or « place where the archives are kept ». ‘Sanchoniaton’ would therefore mean « the one who lives with the holy college », or « the archivist »…

The quoted fragment of Sanchoniaton is precious, because it is one of the few remaining testimonies of a fabulous era, where elite human minds were able to converge, despite harsh cultural and linguistic differences, around strong ideas.

In those times, the Veda, the Avesta, the Genesis, the theogonies of Hesiod and the ‘Sanchoniaton’ could appear as different and complementary phases of the same history, and not as separate claims of peoples seeking for themselves an original proeminence.

The « sacred fire » was revered among the Egyptians, Greeks, Hebrews and Persians. The idea of a Unique God was present among the Hebrews, but also in the Orphic religion, in Mazdaism, in the religion of Chaldean magic.

The Unique God had also already been celebrated by the Veda and the Zend Avesta, more than a millennium before Abraham left Ur.

According to the most recent research on the archaeological field, monotheism did not settle in Israel until the end of the monarchical period, in the 8th century BC.

In the verses of Homer, who lived in the 8th century BC, more than a thousand years after Sanchoniaton, we find reminiscences of the universal intuition of the priest of Tyre. Gods abound in the Homeric work, but their plurality is only an appearance. The most important thing to understand is that Heaven and Earth are linked, and connected. The human and the divine merge. Men are descendants of the gods, and heroes are made of their fabric.

There are other traces of the long memory of this region of the world. Under Ptolemy Philadelphia, Manethu, a priest of Sebennytus, compiled the history of the thirty-one Egyptian dynasties, from Menes to Alexander, and traced their origin back to 3630 BC.

Champollion, according to indications collected in the tombs of Thebes, dates the institution of the 365-day Egyptian calendar back to 3285 BC.

It can be estimated that the astronomical knowledge of this ancient period was therefore already much higher than that of the nomadic peoples who still counted per lunar month.

The Phoenician of Tyre, Sanchoniaton, lived four thousand years ago. He left as his legacy, for centuries, some fragments, overturning in advance some preconceived ideas about the god Thoth, who would later be identified with Hermes, Mercury, Idrîs and Henoch.

Sanchoniaton calls him Taut, and gives this brief description: « Taut excites the Elohim, El’s companions, in battle by singing them war songs. »

Sanchoniaton also claims that Taut was the son of Misor, in other words Misr or Misraim, a term used to name the Egyptian colonies of the Black Sea, the main one being Colchis.

Moreau de Jonnès explains that Taut (or Thôt) received the name of Mercury, ‘Her-Koure’, the Lord of the Koures. « This name derives from Kour, the sun. The Coraitis and Coraixites lived in Colchis. The Kour River, Dioscurias, Gouriel remind us of this generic name. Her-Koure was the God of traffickers and navigators (emblem of the fish), ancestors of the Phoenicians. According to Strabon, the Corybantes (Kouronbant) were native to Colchis. »

In Colchis, located on the Black Sea coast, now called Abkhazia, and recently torn from Georgia, the magnificent villas of the Russian oligarchs and the silovniki of the FSB flourish today…

Eusebius of Caesarea reports that the beginning of the ‘Sanchoniaton’ was translated by Philo as follows: « At the beginning of the world there was a dark air and the Spirit – or the Breath – was dark, and there was the Chaos troubled and plunged into the night. »

These words were written a thousand years before the first verses of Genesis.

What did the priest of Tyre really want to say? He said that the Spirit has been blowing on darkness since the beginning of the world, – thus fighting against Chaos and Night. He said that the Spirit was Light, and breathed Light…

That’s pretty good news in our dark, troubled times. Isn’t it?

The Sad Fate of Oriental Theosophy


In Aleppo, Syria, on July 29, 1191, Saladin had a philosopher, Sohravardî, killed.

Why? He was too subversive. Rulers do not like ideas that do not comfort them.

Sohravardî had been searching all his life for what he called the « True Reality ». He recorded the results of his investigations in his book: Oriental Theosophy. Henry Corbin wrote that he had « resurrected the ancient wisdom that the Imams of India, Persia, Chaldea, Egypt and the Ancient Greeks up to Plato never ceased to take as their pivot, from which they drew their own theosophy; this wisdom is eternal leaven. »i

This short sentence, full of names, has immense implications. It summarizes the dream, the common aspiration of many minds, that fly from century to century, leaping through space and time, or creeping in discreetly, invisibly, in a few chosen minds.

It evokes the idea of a shared intuition, a unique wisdom, a common thread linking the Indus to the Aegean Sea through the Oxus, the Tigris, the Euphrates, the Jordan and the Nile.

These rivers have been irrigating the nations that crowd their shores for thousands of years. The roads that cross them from East to West never ceased to transport words, cultures and ideas.

But today, the dream of a common wisdom shared by all humanity seems more chimeric than ever.

Nothing has been learned.

Dead is the idea of a common wisdom, spread among countless peoples.

Diverse religions, during millennia, Vedism, Avestism, Mazdeism, Zoroastrianism, Chaldean Magism, Hermetism, Orphism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam (be it Sufi, Shi’ite or Sunni), all bear witness in their own specific and unique way to the fundamental unity of the human spirit. They are as many yeast in the same dough.

But they all failed, in their own way, since none of them succeeded in bringing real peace and lasting wisdom in the minds of men.

A universal cradle of ancient visions, the Middle East is still or again devastated by war.

Universal hatred, encouraged by specific interests, seems unabated.

We need to reassert what Sohravardî pointed out in Aleppo, eight centuries ago.

But the Powers, the Rulers, and their diplomats, the Sykes, the Picots, or the men of the day, have been playing their own Great Game in this vast region all over again. They laid the groundwork for today’s suffering. New corrupt leaders, men of little meaning and wisdom, have brought more harm on this part of the world, but they will not be judged by some International Court for all the suffering they have inflicted, after deliberately provoking endless disruptions, wars and mass migration.

i Henry Corbin, En Islam iranien. Aspects spirituels et philosophiques, t.2, p.35

The God of Israel had a Wife


« It is difficult to admit, but it is clear to researchers today that the people of Israel did not stay in Egypt, that they did not wander in the desert, that they did not conquer the Promised Land in a military campaign, that they did not share it among the twelve tribes of Israel. More difficult to digest is the now clear fact that the unified kingdom of David and Solomon, described by the Bible as a regional power, was at most a small tribal kingdom. Moreover, it is with a certain unease that we will have to live, when one knows that the Lord, the God of Israel, had a wife, and that the ancient Israelite religion did not adopt monotheism until the end of the monarchical period, and not on Mount Sinai. »

These provocative lines, not devoid of a kind of transgressive jubilation, were published in the Haaretz newspaper, on 29 October 1999 by Israeli archaeologist Zeev Herzog, professor at Tel Aviv University.

Archaeology is a discipline that requires a lot of rigor, both in the treatment of discoveries in the field and in the interpretation that makes them.

It is interesting to analyze the way in which this archaeologist prioritizes his conclusions. What seems to him « the most difficult to digest », among the revelations he is entitled to make, is that the kingdom of David and Solomon was not a « regional power » at that time, but only « a small tribal kingdom ».

Why is this more difficult to « digest » than, for example, the revelation that the account of the Exodus has no historical or archaeological basis? Would the political power of the moment be more important than the symbolic power of the myth and epic guided by Moses?

Or does this imply that the « Great Story » that Israel gives to itself may vary according to time and circumstances?

Now that Israel has at least two hundred nuclear warheads, a huge qualitative and quantitative leap has been made in terms of ‘regional power’ since the days of David and Solomon. On the other hand, with regard to the « Great Story », it remains to be seen whether the progress made since that distant time has been comparable.

As for the very late adoption of monotheism by the people of Israel, around the 8th century BC, the period corresponding to the end of the Kingdom of Israel, it is worth noting that, more than a millennium before, the Aryas of the Indus basin already worshipped a single God, a supreme Creator, Master and Lord of all universes.

In ancient Iran, the Zend Avesta, a religion that derives in part from the Veda, professed the same belief in a good, unique God in the second half of the 2nd millennium BC.

With regard to the alleged « wife of God », it should be pointed out that in the ancient religion of Israel, this « wife » could be just be interpreted as a metaphor, and assimilated to Wisdom (Hokhmah). In another interpretative configuration, this « wife » was Israel itself.

It should also be noted that in the Veda and Zend Avesta, metaphors such as « the spouse of the Divinity » were widely used since very ancient times.

Conceptually, then, it is legitimate to argue that a form of Vedic or Zoroastrian monotheism existed long before Abraham left Ur in the Chaldea.

But it must also be noted that Israel’s faith in one God is still alive today, after three millennia.

The Veda or Zend Avesta have apparently had less success in the long term.

But these religions have left a huge memory, which still irrigates the minds of entire continents today, with Buddhism and Hinduism.

Life is proven by life, like the cake by the eating. This is true of life as of ideas. And the memory of what was « life » also has its own « life », from which we can expect anything to be born, some day.

The Paroxysm of Absence


Martin Buber wondered in the early 1950s how the survivors of Auschwitz, whom he called the « Job of the gas chambers », could understand the verse with which Psalm 118 begins and ends: « Pay homage to the Lord, for he is good, for his grace is eternal ».

Emil Fackenheimi noted that Buber did not actually answer the question.

Jean-Christophe Attias adds that this question can never die and will always haunt the descendants of the survivors and that « it is always possible to account for the genocide in any way, and to see in it a punishment or the effect of a voluntary veiling of the divine Face, leaving man totally free from his acts, and therefore free to accomplish absolute evil ».ii

If a silent or absent God deliberately gives man the most total freedom, and allows him to deploy « absolute evil » in the « irreducible singularity » of a historical event, then that same God could, in the future, allow this same « total freedom » to be deployed again in other equally singular historical events, setting free the possibility of paroxysmal evils in the future.

Job’s misfortunes could in no way prefigure or announce those of the Holocaust. Yet Martin Buber chose the figure of Job to ask a question that transcends the millennia.

The « singularity » of absolute evil in a certain historical context in no way prevents its repetition or aggravation in measures that exceed any human imagination.

Today it is necessary not only to live with the question posed by Buber, that of God’s silence or voluntary absence from the world scene, for reasons that are completely incomprehensible to us, but also to imagine the man capable of doing much worse.

In an overpopulated planet, deprived of a decidedly absent God, how many hundreds of millions of dead will the next « absolute evil » instigated by man cause in the apparent indifference of Heaven?

Can we then, in a devastated world, sing with faith: « Pay homage to the Lord, for he is good, for his grace is eternal »?

Again, Buber did not answer this question.

There are limits to human speech and intelligence that cannot be overcome. But absolute, paroxysmal evil, can quite easily surpass itself ever more easily.

And the Face of God can always become ever more veiled, ever more opaque.

Between this paroxysm and this absence, human intelligence falters.

iEmil Fackenheim. The Jewish Bible after the Holocaust. A Re-Reading. Manchester, 1990, p.26

iiJean-Christophe Attias, Les Juifs et la Bible, Paris 2014, p. 245