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?

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.

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

The limits of the unlimited, and the unlimitedness of the limits


Plato calls God « the Unlimited » in the Parmenidesi – but he calls him « the Limit » in the Philebusii. Contradiction? No, not really.

He calls God « Unlimited » because He receives no limit from anything, and he calls it « the Limit » because He limits all things according to their form and measure.

Marsilio Ficino notes that matter itself imitates God in this. It can be called « unlimited » because it represents « like a shadow, the infinity of the one God ». And it is « limited » as all things are, in some form.

The infinity of matter and the infinity of things can be described philosophically, using the three Platonic categories of « essence », « other » and « movement ». The world, shadow of God, generates infinitely in matter essences, alterations, transformations and movements.

The limit of matter, like the limit of all things, can also be philosophically described using the Platonic categories of « being », « same » and « rest ».

The Unlimited and the Limit are in the same relationship as the sun and the shadow. This is not an opposition ratio, but a ratio of generation. Through shade, one can probably better « see » (understand) the light of the sun than by looking at it directly.

If the « Unlimited » were a sun, then the innumerable essences, the infinite ‘othernesses’, the incessant movements would be its cast shadows.

And we would find the Limit in ideas, the idea of Being, the idea of the Same, the idea of Rest.

iParmenides 137d

iiPhilebus 16d-23c

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.

What do we have (yet) 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 Verses)

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.

« Gilded in Argonautics imitating the Theology of Mercury Trismegist, when he sings principles of things in the presence of Chiron and the heroes, that is, angelic men, puts Chaos before the world, & before Saturn, Iupiter and the other gods, within this 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. »

Merci, Marcile. Perfect, Orpheus.

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 Priestly. The third is Divination. The fourth is the Affection of Love. Poetry depends on the Muses: The Mystery of Bacchus: The Divination of Apollo & The Love of Venus. Certainly Soul cannot return to unity unless it becomes unique.” iii

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

To hear it first, Orpheus must have lost Eurydice.

But to hear it, what do we have yet 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.

Music and Religion


Music plays a special role in all religions. Part of the Vedic ceremonies consisted of songs from the Sâma-Veda. David’s psalms sang the praise of the Lord and the signs of cantilation guided how they should be sung during prayer. The deliberately dissonant music of flutes and tambourines accompanied the Dionysian thiases.

Plato presented a theory of music in its relationship with philosophy and religion, based on Egyptian ideas, introduced in Greece by Orpheus and developed by Pythagoras.

This musical science was subject to secrecy. Pythagoras openly explains the theoretical part of the system to be used, but he remains silent about the fundamental meaning of sacred music, reserving that knowledge for the initiated.

The initiates had access to these mysteries only after painful trials, and after swearing silence about them. Aeschylus was suspected of having publicly unveiled a subject supposed to be covered by the Mysteries in one of his plays. He only narrowly escaped the fury of the people who wanted him dead for committing this blasphemy. Antoine Fabre d’Oliveti writes that, according to Aristotle, Aeschylus denied having revealed the Mysteries by saying that he did not know that these things should not be said. He could only be absolved of this crime by proving that he had not been initiated himself.

But according to Clement of Alexandria, Aeschylus in fact admitted to having been initiated, but this gave him, unlike his accusers, the ability to disentangle precisely what could be said about the Mysteries and what should be kept quiet.

Fabre d’Olivet also reports that Diagoras’ head was put at a price for the same reason as those of Andocides and Alcibiade. Diagoras de Melos, nicknamed « the atheist », discredited the Mysteries by disclosing them, explaining them, and went so far as to mimic them to make fun of them. He recited in public the Orphic Logos, and told the Mysteries of Eleusis and the Cabires.

Times were not conducive to freedom of criticism and analysis of religion. Aristotle escaped the prosecution of the hierophant Eurymedon with great difficulty. Long before Galileo, Philolaos of Crotone and Aristarchus of Samos were publicly accused and dragged before the court, one for saying and the other for writing that the Earth was not at the centre of the universe.

Philolaos was himself an initiate.

It was through him that Plato was able to read the books of Pythagoras, and to acquire the foundations of his own initiation to the « Pythagorean Gospel ». If this initiation included teachings denying geocentrism, as early as the 5th century BC, their relevance can only be underlined, confirmed by the patronage of such eminent minds as Pythagoras and Plato.

The initiation was supposed to provide a deep understanding of the mechanisms governing the universe. Music was one of the elements of this initiation. It was exoteric (by its public manifestation) but esoteric (by its true meaning, which had to remain hidden).

There are still some traces of this cult of mystery in the solfeggio today.

The musical notes (Do, Re, Mi, Fa, Sol, La, Si, i.e. C, D, E, F, G, A, B) were named after Guy d’Arezzo, who used the first syllables of a sacred hymn to Saint John to name them:

Ut queant laxis

Resonare fibris

Mira gestorum

Famuli tuorum

Polluted Solve

Labli reatum

Iohannes Sancte

It should be noted that the B (SI) is made up of the initials of Sancte and Iohannes (S.I.).

This hymn is translated as follows:

« So that your servants

can sing with their throats extended

the wonderful deeds,

dissolves the stain

of their sinful lips,

Saint John! »

The fact that the initial Ut replaced Do does not change much in terms of substance. Do is the first syllable of Dominus, the « Lord ».

Whatever the sound of music, it sounds the praise of Lord…

iAntoine Fabre d’Olivet (1767-1825) in La musique expliquée comme science et comme art et considérée dans ses rapports analogiques avec les mystères religieux, la mythologie ancienne et l’histoire de la terre.

The Ink in the Sand


Iamblichus thought that humanity is composed mainly of fallen souls, but that the gods have sent some wise men like Orpheus, Pythagoras, Plato, or Hermes here to help them. Iamblichus also boasted being knowledgeable about theurgy.

What is theurgy? It is the idea that the human can unite with the divine through special practices. The soul is called, by means of intense religious gestures, initiation rites, sacrifices, invocations aimed at ecstasy, to unite degree by degree with beings of a higher nature, heroes, « demons », angels and archangels, and ultimately with the One, the ineffable God.

In the Mysteries of Egypt, a book devoted to Chaldeo-Egyptian wisdom, Iamblichus evokes the idea of a progressive « degradation » of man, of his fall from the divine plan. The hierarchy of this fall includes divine beings, archangels, angels, demons, heroes, archons. Human souls are at the end.

Iamblichus also describes two kinds of ecstasy, analyses the causes of evil, the theurgic power of sacrifice and presents the symbolic mystagogy of the Egyptians as well as hermetic theology and astrology. Every soul is guarded by a « demon » who helps it to reach its goal, happiness, union with the divine.

Unity is possible, but not through knowledge. « Actually, it is not even a knowledge that contact with the divinity is. Because knowledge is separated by a kind of otherness. »i

The contact with the divine is difficult to explain. « We are rather wrapped in the divine presence; it is it that makes our fullness, and we take our very being from the science of the gods. « ii

Iamblichus uses well-documented Egyptian metaphors and symbols, such as silt, lotus, solar boat. These are effective images to explain the background of the case. « Conceive as silt all the body, the material, the nourishing and generating element or all the material species of nature carried by the agitated waves of matter, all that receives the river of becoming and falls with it (…) Sitting on a lotus means a superiority over the silt that excludes any contact with it and indicates an intellectual kingdom in the heavens (…) As for the one who sails on a boat, he suggests the sovereignty that rules the world. » iii

Through the magic of images, the silt, the lotus, the boat, the whole order of the universe is revealed. Why go looking elsewhere for distant and confused explanations? Just look at the Nile.

Where does the anaphoric, anagogic power of these images come from? They are the equivalent of divine names. « We keep in our souls a mystical and unspeakable copy of the gods, and it is by the names that we lift our souls to the gods. »iv

Names have this magical, mystical and theurgic power because they have the ability to touch the gods, even if only in a tiny way, in a language that is their own, and that cannot leave them indifferent. « As the entire language of sacred peoples, such as the Assyrians and Egyptians, is suitable for sacred rites, we believe we must address to the gods in the language known to them, the formulas left to our choice. »v

All the religions of the region, from the Nile to the Indus, the religion of ancient Egypt, the Chaldean religions, Judaism, Zoroastrianism, Vedism, have multiplied the names of God.

Each of these names represents a unique, irreplaceable way of knowing an aspect of the divine.

Men use multiple invocations, prayers, formulas. Religions give free rein to their imagination. What really matters is not the letter of prayer. The important thing is to place yourself on the field of language, the language « connatural to the gods ». We don’t know this language, of course. We only have a few traces of it, such as names, attributes, images, symbols.

Of these minute traces, we must be satisfied. In the early 1970s, an archaeologist, Paul Bernard, headed the French Archaeological Delegation in Afghanistan, and conducted research in Ai Khanoun, at the eastern end of the Bactria River, near the border between Afghanistan and Tajikistan.

This city, located at the confluence of the Amu Darya River (the former Oxus) and the Kokcha River, had been nicknamed « Alexandria of the Oxus » by Ptolemy. The archaeological team uncovered the ancient Greek city, its theatre and gymnasium.

In a room of the great Greco-Indian palace of Ai Khanoun, invaded by the sands, Paul Bernard found « the traces of a papyrus that had rotten, leaving on the sand, without any other material support, the traces of ink of the letters. Wonderful surprise! The traces of papyrus fragments were barely visible in the corners, but the text in Greek could still be read: it was the unpublished text of a Greek philosopher, Aristotle’s disciple, who had accompanied Alexander on his expedition! »vi

The communist coup d’état, supported by the Soviet army, ended the archaeological work in 1978. The result of the excavations, deposited in the Kabul Museum, was heavily damaged by successive bombings, and a little later was vandalized by the Taliban.

Have the tiny traces of ink finally disappeared?

iMysteries of Egypt, I,3.

ii Ibid. I,3

iii Ibid. VII, 2

iv Ibid. VII, 4

vIbid. VII, 4

viCf. P. Bernard, Fouilles d’Ai Khanoun I, Paris, 1973. Qoted by Jacqueline de Romilly. Petites leçons sur le grec ancien.

The Divine Omnipotence vs. Contingency, Chance and Fortune


Tommaso Campanella (1568-1639), a Dominican monk, spent twenty-seven years of his life in prison where he was tortured for heresy. He wrote an abundant worki there after narrowly escaping the death penalty by posing as mad.

He said of Aristotle that he was « unholy », « a liar », « father of the Machiavellians », and « author of amazing errors ».

He said of himself: « I am the bell (campanella) that announces the new dawn. »

Campanella wanted to found a philosophical republic, « The Sun City », referring to Plato, Marcile Ficin and Thomas More.

In his Apology of Galileo, he describes the world as « a book in which eternal Wisdom wrote his own thoughts; it is the living temple in which she painted her actions and her own example (…) But we, souls attached to dead books and temples, copied from the living with many errors, interpose them between us and the divine teaching. » ii

Nature is the « manuscript of God ». It is necessary to look for « all ugliness and all evil ». They are « beauty masks ».

From the « living book » of nature, Man is the « epilogue ». Man can be compared to a « windowpane ».

He is a « spark of the infinite God ». He can reach the level of the « archetypal world » by means of ecstasy, – even if it is « denied by the stupidity of the Aristotelians ».

Through his immortal soul, man can escape the condition of other living beings, who are « like the worms in a belly or in a cheese ».

The characteristic of a good metaphor is that it can be followed ad libitum, and given unexpected directions.

If the world is a « book », many of its pages may be stained, incomplete, unreadable; other pages are simply missing, or have not even been written.

In other words, in this world made for « being », there are also many « non-being ». In this light, there is a lot of darkness. There is wisdom and a lot of ignorance; there is love and hatred.

Everything derives from a mixture of necessities and contingencies, destinies and chance, harmony and antagonisms.

But it is from this contingency and chance that the possibility of freedom is born for man.

Contingency, chance, fortune are defects inherent in the very texture of the world. From the beginning, all creation is affected by a « deficit » of being. Hence the rifts, the blindness, the gaps in the world.

However, it is in these gaps and blindness that man can find freedom.

Campanella’s theory (freedom through « lack of being ») was both revolutionary and « heretical » at the beginning of the 17th century.

It was difficult for the authorities to accept that contingency, chance, fortune could contradict the supposed manifestations of divine omnipotence and omniscience.

Contingency (contingentia) unnecessarily breaks the chain of necessity (necessitas) willed by God. It limits the power of causes, it denies the tyranny of determinism, it undoes the inflexible chain of causality.

Chance (casus) counters fatality (fatum), and « contradicts » what has been « predicted » (by God). In this way, he invalidates the idea of absolute, divine prescience.

Fortune (fortuna) thwarts universal harmony (harmonia). It thwarts world order and the will that drives it.

Thus are marked the necessary limits of necessity, and the constraints that are imposed even on divine power, knowledge and will.

Contingency, chance and fortune are all obstacles to divine « omnipotence », and therefore all openings to human « freedom ».

Subversive ideas!

If God is omnipotent and omniscient, how could He be limited in His power or prescience by contingency or chance?

If God wants universal harmony, how could His will be thwarted by the whims of fortune?

If God wants the necessary sequence of causes and effects, how can He tolerate contingency? How can His « omniscience » be compatible with the effects of chance?

Campanella replied that creation was drawn from nothing by God. It is therefore a combination of being and non-being. It comes from the Being, but its being « lacks being ». Contingency, chance and fortune are the concrete expressions of this lack, and the visible expression of the possible freedom of man.

Contingency, chance and fortune can be interpreted as providential figures of God’s absence in the world, as signs of his voluntary withdrawal, to leave man a responsibility in his creation.

This absence and withdrawal from God is reflected in the ideas of kenosis (S. Paul) and tsimtsum, (Kabbalah).

I will evoke these concepts in another article.

i Philosophia Sensibus Demonstrata, La Cité du soleil, Atheismus Triumphatus, Aforismi Politici,

ii « Mundus ergo totus est sensus, vita, anima, corpus, statua Dei altissimi, ad ipsius condita gloriam, in potestate, sapientia, et Amore (…) Homo ergo epilogus est totius mundi, ejus cultor et admirator dum Deum nosse velit, cujus gratia factus est. Mundus est statua, imago, Templum vivum et codex Dei, ubi inscripsit et depinxit res infiniti decoris gestas in mente sua. » (De Sensu Rerum et Magia, 1619) Cité par J. Delumeau Le mystère Campanella

How to Start Fighting the Looming Global Civil War


There are words that are almost completely untranslatable from one language to another.

To give an idea of their meaning, they may require the mediation of several metaphors, and an accumulation of approximations. These words cannot travel easily.

Is it then wiser to let them marinate in their own juice?

Take as an example the Sanskrit word tajjalān in this text of Chāndogya-upaniṣad:

« In reality Brahman is all this. Whoever is appeased must worship it as tajjalān. »i

Sanskrit scholars suggest that the word tajjalān can be broken down into four syllables: tad + ja + la + an ii.

Each syllable embodies a symbolic meaning, related to a Brahman attribute.

Thus the world is tajja: « That – begotten ». Tajja is formed by the assimilation of tad « that » and ja which is related to the root JAN « to be born, to produce ».

But the world is also talla: « That – attached and dissolved » [tad + la = talla], where the root of la is LĪ, as used in words like liyate, « attach » and layate, « dissolve ».

Talla and tajja are then two opposing processes, of « birth » and « dissolution ».

Finally the world is tadana: « That which breathes and lives in it »[tad + an + a], where an has as its root AN « to breathe, to live ».

The word tajjalān thus describes in a dense, concentrated way, the world as having three states (engendering, dissolution, life/breathing), identified with the essence of Brahman.

Through the ambivalence of the root LĪ, the word also evokes the world’s attachment to Brahman, excluding any idea of separation.

One word, four ideas.

If we tried to give a kind of equivalent of tajjalān in English, we could perhaps propose a concatenated series of words like « That-born-dissolved-linked-alive »…

Let’s generalize.

If certain essential words of a particular civilization have no plausible equivalents in another culture, one could conclude that the world of ideas, religions and cultures is fundamentally fragmented, divided into more or less autistic provinces, keeping before them their idiosyncrasies, secret gardens, intimate grammars, gods and codes.

And this would be an argument to highlight the difficulty of a unified conception of humanity.

However, the hypothesis of the looming Balkanization of ideas and cultures does not necessarily exclude other possibilities, such as the idea that man can be defined by a unique ‘essence’.

For example, the Aristotelian idea that « man is a rational animal » could be entirely compatible with the reality of a Balkanized world.

Idea and reality would only be juxtaposed, circulating in two orbits of meaning not intended to meet, and able to ignore each other royally, for a long time to come.

Nor does the idea of an « essence » of man mean that humanity does not conceal, in its thicknesses, in its depths, in its past or in its future, immense and impenetrable areas of darkness, which no « essence » can define.

It is quite possible that Plato’s Ideas, or Aristotle’s reason, may coexist with a world deprived of meaning and internal cohesion, even if in theory this seems to be incompatible, or contradictory.

It is possible that, if translated otherwise, into a language that perhaps does not yet exist, or will never exist, these ideas would then no longer be contradictory, but would appear obviously compatible, and even necessary.

At this stage, it can already be argued that the hypothesis of a humanity less one than divided, less transparent than obscure, less communicative than hostile is completely compatible with the exactly opposite hypothesis, because it is obvious that so much everything is already mobile, diverse, evolving in a world that is both one and multiple.

Anthropology lets us know of the existence of tribal or religious groups, which are defined by exclusion. These tribes or groups decree the principle of their metaphysical separation from the rest of humanity.

They may draw a feeling of absolute singularity from a « principle », revealed only to them, in their own language, or following a « decision », communicated only to them, from a « God » who would only be « their » God.

However, the very idea of religious or ideological exclusion of entire segments of humanity is neither new nor reserved for specific cultures. Paradoxically, it is in fact quite commonplace.

The ideas of exclusion, separation, ostracism, seem as constitutive of the human essence as the opposite ideas, that of union, unity, community, society.

There are « first » tribes that only call themselves « men » in their language, implying that all those who are not of their tribe, all the rest of men, are not really human.

What the genius of these languages of exclusion has been able to do, symbolically, genetic engineering to modify the human genome can do, really, and on a large scale.

The dream of a « trans-humanity », capable of genetically and neurologically modifying itself, and thus gaining access to a completely unthinkable mutation of the human race, is no longer a distant utopia.

This tangible dream is there to remind us of the burning relevance of a project of an « exodus » reserved for a privileged subset of humanity outside human contingencies.

For the time being, this « exodus » seems to be only of an economic, fiscal or political nature, but it could soon become genetic, neural, anatomical and one day perhaps biological.

The Hollywood myth of a planetary « exodus », of a flight of a few mutants from a polluted Earth, irradiated and deeply scarred by a world civil war, is in everyone’s mind.

The general Balkanization and the bantustans imposed by all kinds of apartheids will be the first step.

In such a case, scholarly debates on words « almost untranslatable » would then be very derisory, very useless.

Those who then correctly pronounce the shibboleth of the day will be able to board the interstellar shuttle or take part in the meta-genetic adventure of trans-humanity.

All the others will be condemned to remain in the earthly hell.

While waiting for this perspective, closer than we may want to believe, we must affirm that words count, that they are semaphores.

It is really worth studying the « untranslatable » words, because they are like symptoms, verbal clues to the global separation, the progressive cultural and religious dislocation, in the making.

And it is worth trying to translate these « untranslatable » words, if we do not want a global civil war to happen some day.

i CU 3.14.1

iiCf. Les Upaniad.Trad. A. Degrâces. 2014, p.128

Why are souls locked in earthly bodies?


« If the soul were not immortal, man would be the most unhappy of all creatures, » writes Marsile Ficin in his Platonic Theology of the Immortality of the Soul. In this treaty, which dates back to 1482, this argument is only mentioned in passing, as a matter of course. No need to insist, indeed: if one had absolute, irrefutable conviction, apodictic proof of the mortality of the soul, then the feeling of unhappiness of being nothing, the despair of a pitiful WTF, the assured evidence of the absurd, would invade the soul and suffocate it.

Questions about the origin and the end follow one another over the centuries, with strange resonances. There is no need for fine hearing or sharp eyesight. It is enough to visit the remains of sacred traditions, to connect them, and to place them side by side, to consider them together, with sympathy, in what they indicate in common, in what they reveal to be universal.

Marsile Ficin, a humanist and encyclopedic conscience, was interested in the beliefs of the Magi of Persia and Egyptian priests, the certainties of the Hebrew prophets, the visions of the Orphic, the truths of the Pythagorean and Platonician philosophers, the dogmas of the ancient Christian theologians and the revelations of the Brahmins of India.

Let’s look at the big picture, let’s breathe wide. The feeling of mystery is a stronger, more established, more significant anthropological constant than any of the truths hardly conquered by Gnostic and schizophrenic modernity. Among all peoples, the men most remarkable for their love of wisdom have devoted themselves to prayer, notes Porphyry.

For his part, Ficin, probably one of the remarkable men of his time, asked himself questions such as: « Why are souls locked in earthly bodies? »

Ficin proposes six answers to that question:

To be able to know the singular beings.

To unite the particular shapes with the universal shapes.

For the divine ray to be reflected in God.

To make the soul happier (the descent of the soul into the body contributes to the happiness of the soul itself).

For the powers of the soul to act.

So that the world may be embellished and God may be honored.

These answers can be summarized as follows: the soul unites what is a priori separate. The top and bottom. The world and the divine. The same and the other. It needs mediation, and it is itself mediation. It is in the process of becoming, it must increase, grow, mature, rise, to act, even if to do so it must first descend, to the point of becoming tiny like a germ again, remain for a very short time, decrease as much as possible, in order to observe better.

Why does such an infinite God bother with all these little supernumerary souls? Mystery, tsimtsum.

There are some leads, however, some indications, in the vast history of the world, that can be gleaned from the dismemberment of the body of Osiris, the Orphic hymns, the Book of the Dead, some verses from Homer, Virgil and Ovid, the fragments of Nag Hammadi, the cries and songs of the Vedas, the brevity of Heraclitus, the folds of Plato, the lengths of Kabbalah, the words of Christ, the figures of the shamans, – and in many other places…

Our plastic essence


India’s characteristic is « evanescence, » wrote Hegel. This image may surprise us if we confront it with the contemporary Indian reality. But Hegel was aiming for something else: to capture the spirit of India’s ancient religion.

Between transience, brevity and immateriality, evanescence is a terminal transformation, a final metamorphosis. Within the world, at the heart of reality itself, the evanescent form becomes subliminal, gradually impalpable. It constantly dissolves until it disappears completely. In this way it is likely to serve as a visible metaphor for invisible transcendence. Hence the idea of India.

Evanescence challenges matter, its weight, its durability. It escapes any assimilation, any seizure. In short, it is the exact opposite of what happens in any vital process. In the life of nature as in the life of the spirit, the essential thing is assimilation, the transformation of what comes from the outside into something internal, the ingestion of the other into the same. What is evanescent cannot be ingested, assimilated, by life, since it is nothingness that primarily absorbs it, engulfs it.

Evanescence is intended to be total, complete. But for a long time, from the « vanished » thing, there is still a small remnant, which no longer offers enough material for assimilation, and which resists nothingness. The evanescent weakly signals that something has happened, that something has almost completely disappeared, and continues to wave, in the form of a shadow, echo, effluvium, or some imperceptible nuance affecting the background of the set.

By refusing to resist its disappearance, evanescence gives hope for reversibility. It retains a potential for regeneration, reactivation.

Under certain conditions, the evanescent can indeed regain form, return to the world, return to life.

Evanescence is an eminently plastic metaphor. Everything dissolves and everything takes on a new form.

This is why we may be tempted to compare it to another metaphor, that of « genetic plasticity », which often serves as an image for the fundamental plasticity of life.

The implementation of the genetic program is not a linear process. RNAi (i for « interfering ») has the property of « interfering » with protein coding. We must abandon the notion of a « genetic program » that is too mechanical, too determined.

Even more surprisingly, it is now necessary to recognize the possible reversibility associated with the program. Already adult cells can continue to be transformed, de-differentiated, deprogrammed and reprogrammed into new stem cells to obtain either totipotent cells (embryonic cells), multipotent cells (adult cells from the same tissue) or pluripotent cells (adult cells from other tissues).

Until recently, this plasticity of life was unsuspected. The consequences are staggering. We can awaken the sleeping potential of adult cells, reprogram them to behave like totipotent cells. Stem cells can be made by diverting olfactory bulb cells to fight Parkinson’s disease, in order to regenerate the areas of the brain affected by the disease.

The « plastic » possibilities of these genetic interference mechanisms are infinite.

Just over 25,000 genes in the human genome code for proteins. They represent only 2% of the genome. But there are also thousands of genetic sequences encoding RNAi whose function is to regulate the expression of these 25,000 genes encoding proteins. It can be assumed that these genetic sequences can themselves be regulated by similar mechanisms. And so on and so forth.

The genome is therefore not a « program », stable, determined in the cybernetic sense of the term. It is eminently mobile, plastic, metamorphic. It has all kinds of means to reprogram itself, and therefore to modify its coding action, means and ends, according to the conditions encountered. The metaphor of the « programme » is not suitable to account for this complexity, which escapes determinisms, and which never ceases to leave all their place to contingency, fortune, hazards, without however being durably dominated by them.

It is as if a higher intelligence or a deep instinct, apparently unconscious, constantly took full advantage of the chance thus systematically produced, and thereby constantly shaped the new means of survival, and perhaps even the new ends of life.

The metaphors of totipotency, pluripotency and multipotency refer to the concept of « intermediate » (in Greek: metaxu), in the sense given to it by Plato in the Banquet. The genome is a kind of metaxu, capable of all metamorphoses. It contains, hidden in the entangled regulatory cycles, a potential for variation that never ceases to apply to itself, varying the conditions of variation of the variation, transforming the conditions of transformation of the conditions of transformation, to infinity.

We can only describe from the outside, and very approximately, this phenomenal stacking, and seek to observe through experience some of its actual possibilities. But we are unable to grasp its deep essence.

Is it already a little better to try to grasp this essence than to call it a « mystery », for want of a better word?