A Very Long Journey


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

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

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

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

– Who are you, I answered?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

i Phaedrus, 249, c-d

iiMarsilio Ficino, Th. Plat. 18,8

iiiIbid.

iv Georg. IV, 480

v Argonaut., 1142

vi Argonaut., 1142

vii Orpheus, Hymns, X

viii Hymns, LXI

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

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

What do we have to lose?


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

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

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

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

Modulant tour à tour sur la lyre d’Orphée

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

(And I have twice a winner crossed the Acheron

Modulating in turn on the lyre of Orpheus

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

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

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

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

Why do heroes want to face Hell?

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

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

« Always, under the branches of Virgil’s laurel

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

Gérard de Nerval was inspired. By what?

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

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

In this world where life is bursting into everything?

(…)

Each flower is a soul to nature blooms.

A mystery of love in metal rests.

(…)

Often in the dark being dwells a hidden God

And like a nascent eye covered by his eyelids,

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

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

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

Time will bring back the order of the old days,

The earth shuddered with a prophetic breath…

However, the sibyl with its Latin face

Is asleep under the arch of Constantine

And nothing disturbed the severe gantry.  » (Delfica)

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

Orpheus, Nerval, prophetic poets.

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

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

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

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

This « good news » was first announced by Orpheus.

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

God the Eternal Love all things comforts

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

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

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

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

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

To hear it, what do we have to lose?

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

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

iii Ibid., Oraison 7, Ch. 14

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…