The Dreamers’ Paradise

« Hermann Boerhaave »

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


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

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

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

Is a text with such a title even readable today?

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

And « metaphysics »!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Memory, will, and reason.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

« Ibant obscuri sola sub nocte per umbras,

Perque domos Ditis vacuas et inania regna. « vi

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

These are points that may never be elucidated with certainty.

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

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

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

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

« Roots above and branches below,

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

The meters [of the Veda] are its leaves,

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

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

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

« Roots-up, branches-down,

is this eternal fig tree,

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

he who is called immortal,

on him all the worlds rest,

no one passes beyond him. « xi

The great Śaṅkara comments:

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

iiiIbid. p.7

ivIbid. p. 14

vIbid. p.14-15

viVirgil,Aeneid, VI, 268 – 272 

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

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

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

xBhagavad Gîta, 15, 1.

xiKaU 2.3.1

xiiKaUB 2.3.1

A God with no Name

The intuition of mystery has touched humanity from the earliest ages. Eight hundred thousand years ago, men carried out religious rites accompanying the death of their loved ones, in a cave near Beijing, at Chou Kou Tien. Skulls were found there, placed in a circle and painted in red ochre. They bear witness to the fact that almost a million years ago, men believed that death was a passage.

Fascination with other worlds, a sense of mystery, confrontation with the weakness of life and the rigor of death, seem to be part of the human genetic heritage, since the dawn of time, inhabiting the unconscious, sculpting cultures, knotting myths, informing languages.

The idea of the power of the divine is an extremely ancient idea, as old as humanity itself. It is equally obvious that the minds of men all over the world have, since extremely ancient times, turned towards forms of animism, religions of immanence or even religions of ecstasy and transcendent trance, long before being able to speculate and refine « theological » questions such as the formal opposition between « polytheism » and « monotheism ».

Brains and cultures, minds and languages, were not yet mature.

Animism, shamanism, polytheism, monotheism, and the religions of the immanence try to designate what cannot be said. In the high period, the time of human dawn, all these religions in -isms obviously came together in a single intuition, a single vision: the absolute weakness of man, the irremediable fleetingness of his life, and the infinite greatness and power of the unknown.

Feeling, guessing, fearing, worshipping, revering, this power was one and multiple. Innumerable names throughout the world have tried to express this power, without ever reaching its intrinsic unity.

This is why the assertion of the monotheisms that « God is One » is both a door that has been open for millions of years and at the same time, in a certain way, is also a saying that closes our understanding of the very nature of the « mystery », our understanding of how this « mystery » has taken root in the heart of the human soul, since Homo knew himself to be a sapiens

In the 17th century, Ralph Cudworth was already tackling the « great prejudice » that all primitive and ancient religions had been polytheistic, and that only « a small, insignificant handful of Jews »i had developed the idea of a single God.

A « small insignificant handful of Jews »? Compared to the Nations, number is not always the best indicator. Another way to put the question is: was the idea of the One God invented by the Jews? If so, when and why? If not, who invented it, and for how long was it there around the world?

If we analyse the available sources, it would seem that this idea appeared very early among the nations, perhaps even before the so-called « historical » times. But it must be recognized that the Jews brought the idea to its incandescence, and above all that they « published » it, and « democratized » it, making it the essential idea of their people. Elsewhere, and for millennia, the idea was present, but reserved in a way to an elite.

Greek polytheism, the Sibylline oracles, Zoroastrianism, the Chaldean religion, Orphism, all these « ancient » religions distinguished a radical difference between multiple born and mortal gods, and a Single God, not created and existing by Himself. The Orphic cabal had a great secret, a mystery reserved for the initiated, namely: « God is the Whole ».

Cudworth deduced from the testimonies of Clement of Alexandria, Plutarch, Iamblichus, Horapollo, or Damascius, that it was indisputably clear that Orpheus and all the other Greek pagans knew a single universal deity who was « the One », and « the Whole ». But this knowledge was secret, reserved for the initiated.

Clement of Alexandria wrote that « All the barbarian and Greek theologians had kept the principles of reality secret and had only transmitted the truth in the form of enigmas, symbols, allegories, metaphors and other tropes and similar figures. « ii And Clement made a comparison between the Egyptians and the Hebrews in this respect: « The Egyptians represented the truly secret Logos, which they kept deep in the sanctuary of truth, by what they called ‘Adyta’, and the Hebrews by the curtain in the Temple. As far as concealment is concerned, the secrets of the Hebrews and those of the Egyptians are very similar.”iii

Hieroglyphics (as sacred writing) and allegories (the meaning of symbols and images) were used to transmit the secret arcana of the Egyptian religion to those who were worthy of it, to the most qualified priests and to those chosen to succeed the king.

The « hieroglyphic science » was entirely responsible for expressing the mysteries of theology and religion in such a way that they remained hidden from the profane crowd. The highest of these mysteries was that of the revelation of « the One and Universal Divinity, the Creator of the whole world, » Cudworth added.

Plutarch noted several times in his famous work, On Isis and Osiris, that the Egyptians called their supreme God « the First God » and considered him a « dark and hidden God ».

Cudworth points out that Horapollo tells us that the Egyptians knew a Pantokrator (Universal Sovereign) and a Kosmokrator (Cosmic Sovereign), and that the Egyptian notion of ‘God’ referred to a « spirit that spreads throughout the world, and penetrates into all things to the deepest depths.

The « divine Iamblichus » made similar analyses in his De Mysteriis Aegyptiorum.

Finally, Damascius, in his Treatise on First Principles, wrote that the Egyptian philosophers said that there is a single principle of all things, which is revered under the name of ‘invisible darkness’. This « invisible darkness » is an allegory of this supreme deity, namely that it is inconceivable.

This supreme deity has the name « Ammon », which means « that which is hidden », as explained by Manetho of Sebennytos.

Cudworth, to whom we owe this compilation of quotations, deduced that « among the Egyptians, Ammon was not only the name of the supreme Deity, but also the name of the hidden, invisible and corporeal Deity ».

Cudworth concludes that long before Moses, himself of Egyptian culture, and brought up in the knowledge of ‘Egyptian wisdom’, the Egyptians were already worshipping a Supreme God, conceived as invisible, hidden, outside the world and independent of it.

The One (to Hen, in Greek) is the invisible origin of all things and he manifests himself, or rather « hides » himself in the Whole (to Pan, in Greek).

The same anthropological descent towards the mysterious depths of belief can be undertaken systematically, notably with the oldest texts we have, those of Zend Avesta, the Vedas and their commentaries on Upaniṣad.

« Beyond the senses is the mind, higher than the mind is the essence, above the essence is the great Self, higher than the great [Self] is the unmanifested.

But beyond the unmanifested is Man, the Puruṣa, passing through all and without sign in truth. By knowing Him, the human being is liberated and attains immortality.

His form does not exist to be seen, no one can see it through the eye. Through the heart, through the intelligence, through the mind He is apprehended – those who know Him become immortal. (…)

Not even by speech, not even by the mind can He be reached, not even by the eye. How can He be perceived other than by saying: « He is »?

And by saying « He is » (in Sanskrit asti), He can be perceived in two ways according to His true nature. And by saying « He is », for the one who perceives Him, His true nature is established.

When all the desires established in one’s heart are liberated, then the mortal becomes immortal, he reaches here the Brahman.”iv

The Zohar also affirms: « The Holy One blessed be He has a hidden aspect and a revealed aspect. »

Aren’t these not « two ways » of perceiving the true nature of « He is »? Rabbi Hayyim of Volozhyn affirms: « The essence of the En-Sof (Infinite) is hidden more than any secret; it must not be named by any name, not even the Tetragrammaton, not even the end of the smallest letter, the Yod.” v

So what do all these names of God mean in the purest monotheism?

« R. ‘Abba bar Mamel says: The Holy One blessed be He says to Moshe: Do you want to know my Name? I name Myself after my deeds. Sometimes my name is El Shadday, Tsebaoth, Elohim, YHVY. When I judge creatures my name is Elohim, when I fight the wicked I am called Tsebaoth, when I suspend the faults of men I am El Shadday and when I take pity on the worlds I am YHVH. This Name is the attribute of mercy, as it is said: « YHVY, YHVH, merciful and compassionate God » (Ex. 34:6). Likewise: ‘Ehyeh, asher ‘Ehyeh (I am who I am) (Ex. 3:14) – I name myself after my deeds.”vi

These are very wise words, which invite us to ask ourselves what was the name of YHVH, 800,000 years ago, at Chou Kou Tien, when He saw the sorrow of these men and women, a small group of Homo sapiens in affliction and grief, assembled at the bottom of a cave.

iRalph Cudworth, True Intellectual System of the Universe (1678), quoted in Jan Assmann, Moïse l’Égyptien, 2001, p.138

iiClement of Alexandria, Stromata V, ch. 4, 21,4

iiiClement of Alexandria, Stromata V, ch.3, 19,3 and Stromata V, ch.6, 41,2

ivKaha-upaniad 2.3. 7-9 and 12-14. Upaniad. My translation into English from the French Translation by Alyette Degrâces. Fayard. 2014. p. 390-391

vRabbi Hayyim de Volozhyn. L’âme de la vie. 2ème Portique, ch. 2. Trad. Benjamin Gross. Verdier. Lagrasse, 1986, p.74

viIbid. 2ème Portique, ch. 3, p. 75.