Psychurgical Practice

Even every one that is called by my name: for I have created him for my glory, I have formed him; yea, I have made him. ~ Isaiah 43:7

While pondering the Minor Arcana, I took some time to investigate some more popular treatments of the Tarot. What they have in common is the emphasis on various “layouts” followed by the interpretation of the cards dealt out at random. The suits are arbitrarily assigned to various life areas. For example, one suit may refer to one’s “love life”, another to financial situations, and so on. Thus they are fundamentally limited to the psychological realm, to “improving” one’s life, or to gaining self-knowledge, not via one’s own powers, but rather through an intermediary.

The latter is the most important. There is passivity, in that the “cards” will “reveal” something to me. We will see that, instead, the ultimate goal is “pure creative activity”. That is, we must become the active force in our life, and revelation will come from above, not through chit chat around the cards.

The Kabbalistic Worlds

We are given a much different directive in the Meditations on the Tarot. There we learn that the Minor Arcana serve as an extension to the World Arcanum, and the world is best understood via the symbolism of the Kabbalah.

Hence, the pip cards correspond to the various sephiroth, with the Ace relating to the Kether up to the 10 at Malkuth. The four worlds and their relationship to the Minor Arcana can be summarized in this table:

Cabala World Philosophy Element Suit Figure
Azilut Emanation Pantheism Fire Wands King
Beriah Creation Theism Air Cups Queen
Yetzirah Formation Demiurgism Water Swords Knight
Assiyyah Action Naturalism Earth Pentacles Knave

The four worlds can be represented in the basic Tree of Life in the following diagram.
4 worlds
However, that does not explain the suits, since in that diagram a single suit would suffice. Therefore, there must be a Tree of Life for each of the worlds. In that case, each suit corresponds to the Tree for a world. Now, analogously to the diagram above, the four worlds are hierarchically arranged. They are not merely stacked, but they overlay and interpenetrate each other. Specifically, the Tiphareth of one world is the Kether of the world beneath it.

The single tree diagram explains the figure cards. Each world is reflected in the other worlds, through the system of triads in each world (except the Malkuth).


In the Letter on the World, we read that the purpose of the Minor Arcana is “psychurgical practice”. Here are two definitions of psychurgy, one from the Oxford English Dictionary and the other from the text itself.

OED definition: The ability to understand and enhance the structure, operation, and capabilities of the mind through thinking and self-analysis; the study of this considered as a science.

MoTT definition: The transformation of consciousness rising from plane to plane, i.e., from the plane of action to the plane of emanation.

Jacob’s Ladder

The Minor Arcana represent the way of ascent of consciousness from the phenomenal, physical world up to the world of emanation. These degrees can be summarized like this:

  • Action: The world of sensual and intellectual imagery.
  • Formation: The destruction of this imagery, i.e., the emptying of the mind
  • Creation: The Silence necessary to receive Revelation from above
  • Emanation: Pure creative activity

This is also known as Jacob’s Ladder.

Hence, a complete meditation on the Minor Arcana will start with the Malkuth of Action (the Ten of Pentacles) and end with the Kether of Emanation (the Ace of Wands). That does not include the figure cards.

I’ve made an attempt at a meditation in The Middle Pillar. Of course, it needs to be greatly expanded.

Esoteric Meaning of Action

In order to start with the world of action, we should be clear about its meaning. The world of formation (God formed Adam from clay) is the Garden of Eden. The Fall, then, is into the world of action. The exoteric teaching is that Adam disobeyed God, who then expelled Adam from the Garden. The esoteric teaching, as explained in the Zohar, is the contrary: it was Adam who expelled God from the Garden. Wishing to be like a god, he put himself in God’s place. This resulted in the world of action, godless, and in which the philosophy of naturalism makes sense.

Tentacles, Paws, Arms, Wings

In this passage from Meditations on the Tarot, we see how “evolution” can be understood in a deeper sense. Profane science can only “see” random forces, operating without direction or purpose, in some inexplicable way still manage to create unexpectedly complex structures. Hermetic science sees more deeply, since it takes into account, not only material forces, but also vital and etheric forces.

In Letter XIV on Temperance in Meditations on the Tarot, Tomberg writes:

Tentacles, paws, arms, wings — are they not simply diverse forms manifesting a common prototype or principle?

In other words, Tomberg will show that they are homologous forms of a central and unitary meaning, which is precisely the Principle of Correspondence. He explains:

They are insofar as they express the desire to bear the sense of touch further, to be able to touch things more removed than those in the immediate neighbourhood of the surface of the body. They are active extensions of the passive and receptive sense of touch which is spread out over the surface of the organism. In making use of them, the sense of touch makes “excursions” from its usual orbit circumscribed by the skin which covers the body.

Clearly this is absurd and incomprehensible to one-dimensional thinkers who live and move on a line. So how do we justify this epistemologically? As we have repeatedly mentioned, the sufficient reason of the world of appearance is the Will. Since we have direct experience of our own Will, we should understand how the Will strives to bring our ideas into manifestation. So it is actually the rationalist who is absurd, since he denies the existence and efficacy of his own will, attributing it to some external force, fashioned by electro-chemical activity in the brain. Thus he denies his own existence while pretending to exist. Let’s allow Tomberg to explain:

The organs of action are simply crystallised will. I walk not because I have legs but rather on the contrary. I have legs because I have the will to move about. I touch, I take, and I give not because I have arms, but I have arms because I have the will to touch, to take, and to give.

The Will is creative. It takes the idea and brings it into the appropriate form. Tomberg makes this clear:

The “what” [the idea] of the Will engenders the “how” of the action (the organ) and not inversely. The arms are therefore the expression of the will to bear touch further than the surface of one’s own body. They are the manifestation of extended touch due to the will to touch things at a distance.

The Magician’s Meditation

The sephirah Binah is the rational part of the intellectual centre, corresponding to the Latin ratio. Its concerns are debate, argument, and definitions. It is limited to formal logic, and tends to be impressed with “streams of simple mental associations” as Valentin Tomberg puts it. It is more intent with discovering a secret than in dealing with mystery and arcana. There is precious little of this form of thinking in Meditations on the Tarot, i.e., it does not try to convince by means of logical or rational argument.

Chokmah is intuition in the sense that it is a direct experience unmediated by words or rational arguments. Of course, there are different levels of experience: sensory experience, psychical experience, mystical experience, for example. Binah, or ratio, has no starting point, it cannot lift itself up by its own bootstraps. Hence, it requires basic axioms or postulates to even begin. Or else, in our scientific age, it starts with sensory experience (positivism is the school of thought that limits reality to what can be experienced through the senses), then formulate more general laws and principles from the data furnished by the senses.

However, if its starting point is Binah, the results are quite different: it is a matter of descent rather than assent. In the second meditation on the High Priestess, we read the stages of this descent, from the highest intuition to a formulation comprehensible to the rational part of the mind:

this transformation of mystical experience into knowledge takes place in stages.

  1. The first is the pure reflection or a kind of imaginative repetition of the experience.
  2. The second stage is its entrance into memory.
  3. The third stage is its assimilation in thought and feeling, in a manner where it becomes a “message” or inner
  4. The fourth stage, lastly, is reached when it becomes a communicable symbol or “writing”, or “book”—i.e. when it is formulated.

Sensory experience is clear enough, but how about psychical and mystical experience? The latter require training. Careful self-observation will reveal a detailed understanding of one’s psyche. Prayer and meditation may lead to genuine mystical experience. And I certainly don’t mean meditation in the modern sense, which is pursued solely for its instrumental value in relaxing, lowering blood pressure, and the like. Moreover, some things will never be understood without efforts made in the moral purification of the will. Rational thought strives to be “objective” independent of the subjective element or the character of the knower. For intuition, the subjective element is the point, so gnosis can fall only on a purified soul.

Without those practices inspiration will be lacking. And it is inspiration that constitutes the Hermetic community. (Letter XIV Temperance) There needs to be shared inspiration to create our on-line community of Hermetists, or else there is only idle chatter. The thought process of intuition is quite different from the rational, discursive mind. Depth is one characteristic of the language of inspiration. Here are some others – and they are all baffling to discursive thought:

  • dimension of depth
  • analogy of being
  • anamnesis
  • synthesis
  • typology
  • the marriage of opposites
  • moral logic

Dimension of Depth

A worthy goal of the rational intellect is “clarity and breadth of knowledge”, but without the “dimension of depth” it can become a mere display of erudition, quite far from Hermetic inspiration. Tomberg explains this dimension:

Discursive thought is satisfied when it arrives at a well-founded conclusion. Now, this conclusion is the point of departure for contemplation. It fathoms the profundity of this conclusion at which discursive thought arrives. Contemplation discovers a world within that which discursive thought simply verifies as “true”. The gnostic sense begins to operate when it is a matter of a new dimension in the act of knowledge, namely that of depth. It becomes active when it is a question of something deeper than the question: Is it true or false? It perceives more the significance of the truth discovered by discursive thought and also “why this truth is true in itself, i.e. it reaches to the mystical or essential source of this truth. How does it arrive at this? By listening in silence.

That is the point: the focusing of concentration is contemplation. It begins when the rational mind takes leave. The latter seeks to fill up the mind with ideas, the former seeks to clear the mind to experience the silence. Tomberg confirms this:

Contemplation—which follows on from concentration and meditation—commences the very moment that discursive and logical thought is suspended.

In short, we can say that the intellectus is awakened, not by knowing its definition, but rather by experiencing it directly in the depths of one’s being.

Marriage of Opposites

The marriage of opposites, as mentioned in Letter X The Wheel of Fortune is “the essence of the practice of the law of the Cross.” Hence, it is not something optional, but rather necessary, although senseless to one of the axioms of formal logic: A v ~A (either A or not-A). Letter XXI The Fool mentions the necessity of sacrificing the intellect to spirituality. But ultimately, the goal is the marriage of “discursive intellectuality and illuminative spirituality.”

The marriage of opposites was also discussed in The Middle Pillar in relation to the rational mind and intuitive mind. Their alchemical marriage results in the “intellect illuminated by grace” (intellectus gratia illuminatus).


Anamnesis or remembering is another means of direct knowledge. Henri Bergson writes, in regard to horizontal memory:

pure memory is a spiritual manifestation. With memory we are in very truth in the domain of the spirit

Plato goes further:

research and learning are wholly recollection.

Analogy of Being

“As above, so below” is the fundamental principle of Hermetism. Its basis follows from the idea of the One and the multitude. Unity is found at the root of the diversity of phenomena, which are simultaneously different, yet one. Therefore, they are analogous, but not identical nor heterogeneous. (Letter I Magician) Tomberg mentions that one either “sees” or else fails to see analogous correspondences. It is not a matter for debate or argument.


Intuition envisions the whole in a synthesis while the rational mind analyses things into their constituent parts. An example in Letter II concerns the doctrine of creation ex nihilo, a magical act. The rational mind rejects magical acts, and prefers theories instead. Hermetism shows us that there are multiple planes of existence, in particular the four worlds of the Cabala. Here are four theories of creation and the world they correspond to:

  • Pantheism: World of Emanation
  • Emanationism: World of Creation
  • Demiurgism: World of Formation
  • Naturalism: World of Action

The rational mind can only conceive that only one of those theories can be true. The intuitive mind, on the other hand, through synthesis sees how they all can seem true in the proper context.

Another example is Pico della Mirandola’s synthesis of the doctrines of Plato and Aristotle. Although Pico is never mentioned in the Meditations, he was a forerunner in bringing to light the Christian Hermetic Tradition.


Typology follows from the analogy of being. There are prototypes above and their manifestations below. Archetypes are patterns that repeat themselves in history or in life. Typology used to be commonly employed in understanding the Bible, but less so mind. In an era dominated by the rational mind, both fundamentalists and liberals focus primarily on the literal meaning of texts.

Moral Logic

Moral logic has previously been discussed, so there is no need to repeat it.

The Guardian of the Threshold

The point is that talking about Hermetism is not the same as being a Hermetist, and knowing the definition of something is not the same as knowing the thing defined. Gnosis cannot be demonstrated on a multiple choice test. When asked, the rational mind can recite the three counsels of the first Arcanum:

  • Learn concentration without effort
  • Transform work into play
  • Make every yoke easy and every burden light

There are also warnings associated with these counsels:

  • Do not confuse lack of concentration with concentration without effort
  • Do not confuse mental associations with correspondences by analogy

At the end of Letter I we are left with a brief meditation that every would-be Magician should recite every day. There is a lot to it, and each sentence could merit a long meditation. The Magician recites it every day, so try it for 7 days or 30 days and let’s see what happens.

To perceive and to know, to try and to be able to, are all different things. There are mirages above, as there are mirages below; you only know that which is verified by the agreement of all forms of experience in its totality—experience of the senses, moral experience, psychic experience, the collective experience of other seekers for the truth, and finally the experience of those whose knowing merits the title of wisdom and whose striving has been crowned by the title of saint. Academia and the Church stipulate methodical and moral conditions for one who desires to progress. Carry them out strictly, before and after each flight into the region beyond the domain of work and effort. If you do this, you will be a sage and a mage. If you do not do this — you will be only a charlatan!

Intellectuality and Spirituality Redux

The “true” and the “desired” must find their synthesis in the “beautiful”, for it is only in the beautiful that the urge to play renders the burden of the “true” or the “just” light and raises at the same time the darkness of instinctive forces to the level of light and consciousness. In other words, he who sees the beauty of that which he recognizes as true cannot fail to love it — and in loving it the element of constraint in the duty prescribed by the true will disappear: duty becomes a delight. ~ Valentin Tomberg

I have delighted in the way of thy testimonies, as much as in all riches. ~ Psalm 118:14

Since we began this sequence of gnosis meetings with the ideal of the alchemical marriage of intellectuality and spirituality several months ago, and now that we are finished for this year, it is worthwhile to circle back around on the topic.


Years ago, I learned centering prayer from Fr. Thomas Keating, not personally, but from some cassette tapes. In this brief video, he asserts the necessity for daily meditation. For our purposes, note particularly his explanation that engaging with spiritual friends is an adequate substitute for a spiritual director. That – if you haven’t figured it out that by now – is why we choose to work in groups. Hence, regular attendance is important, not just for yourself, but also for the commitments you’ve made to others.

Meditation, just like riding a bike or swimming, cannot be explained intellectually. One must simply begin. However, once the practice is established, you can get feedback from your spiritual companions. Just as your biking or swimming can improve, so can your meditating. After all, it is the first step to becoming a Bodhisattva.

The Hermetist and the Hermetic Path

The Hermetic path is a gift, if you are called to it. It requires intelligence, resources, and time, so it is certainly not an option for everyone. However – and this is important — it is not “superior” to, or an alternative to, the exoteric path, it is simply our path. It would be a mistake to force these views on exoteric practitioners, or to use them as debating points. The exoteric path is perfectly adequate for salvation and a life of sanctity. There is a reason Hermetic groups used to be secret and closed to outsiders.

The Hermetist often used to masquerade as a trader or street performer; the latter is the primary meaning of the first Tarot card, Le Bateleur. Under such cover, they could travel from town to town, allowing them to meet with local groups without attracting attention. Since books were heavy and expensive, the teachings were conveyed in diagrams (as in Gnosis), or even a deck of Tarot cards. On the one hand, they were compact and portable, but on the other, they required an accompanying oral teaching in order to be fully understood.

Years ago, I used to follow the books of Carlos Castaneda. I’m sure the teachings of the shaman Don Juan are still embedded in my soul somewhere, for better or for worse. The first thing to note is that it is difficult to find Don Juan. In one scene that I recall, Don Juan appeared at some government office on official business in a suit, just blending in with everyone else. This struck Castaneda, who had never seen him in that context, as something remarkable. Nowadays, shamans seem to be everywhere, peddling their books, courses, and so on. Those converts to some sort of spiritual life often feel they have to alter their outer appearance to be convincing. This is quite unlike Don Juan or even a Hermetist.

The real shaman Don Juan was indistinguishable from his surroundings. Therefore, you could not pick out the Hermetist in a room. He would look like everyone else and talk about the weather or sports to you. Only if you expressed some sort of interest in something deeper, might he open up to you.

St. Augustine tells us that God gives us everything we need for salvation. So if you are still searching, you may be missing the obvious. This might be as good as it gets for you.

The Quest for Novelty

Some birds allegedly become fascinated by shiny objects on the ground, thereby forgetting the bugs that constitute their true nourishment. Similarly, we often become distracted by convoluted intellectual schemes or elaborate tableaux. Stay rooted in the core principles, and be clear about the difference between an allegory or secret, and a genuine mystery. Tomberg warns us about this temptation:

Let us therefore not commit the error of wanting to “explain” a symbol by reducing it to a few general abstract ideas. Let us also avoid the error of wanting to “concretise” an abstract idea by clothing it in the form of an allegory.

The Arcana are not allegories in which a card is said to “represent” some qualities along the lines, say, of a work like John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress. In Tomberg’s words:

The Major Arcana of the Tarot are neither allegories nor secrets, because allegories are, in fact, only figurative representations of abstract notions, and secrets are only facts, procedures, practices, or whatever doctrines that one keeps to oneself for a personal motive, since they are able to be understood and put into practice by others to whom one does not want to reveal them. The Major Arcana of the Tarot are authentic symbols. They conceal and reveal their sense at one and the same time according to the depth of meditation.

In other words, if the meaning seems to “jump out” at you immediately, it may not be an “authentic symbol” in this sense. Ultimately, we will come to understand the mystery, but only plunging into its depths. An allegory, on the other hand, tries to “solve” the mystery:

Just as the arcanum is superior to the secret, so is the mystery superior to the Arcanum. The mystery is more than a stimulating “ferment”. It is a spiritual event comparable to physical birth or death. It is a change of the entire spiritual and psychic motivation, or a complete change of the plane of consciousness.

This cannot be overemphasized. A mystery cannot be resolved intellectually. Unless an arcane teaching leads to, or elicits, or acts as the midwife to, a spiritual transformation, it has not been understood. And worse, it may even become a distraction, with no more transformative power than a parlour game.

Cartesian Meditation

Cartesian meditation, which is the search for clear and distinct ideas, is an intellectual task. Rene Descartes was a maths prodigy. As a boy, I was quite proficient in maths, although not at that level, so I enjoyed reading about the lives of the great mathematicians. Now, because of his intellect, the young Rene Descartes was pampered. Instead of being shooed out of bed in the morning, he was allowed to lounge, giving him the leisure to think.

There is no doubt that there can be great joy in the experience of intellectual insight or learning. Just watch the expression on baby when he takes his first step and young children when they learn a new skill. I’ve seen people show great excitement in solving a puzzle or answering a question while watching some game show on TV. Adults still do crosswords or Sudoku just for the pleasure of it.

That feeling is magnified with more complex intellectual attainments, particularly in physics, maths, and metaphysics. For example, Newton’s discovery of the equivalence of inertia and gravity is mind bending when it dawns on you, as is Descartes’ discovery of the transformability of algebra and geometry. I personally can attest to the pleasures in physics and maths. One can struggle with an obscure maths problem, but, in a sudden insight, its solution simply appears, perhaps analogous to the experience of Yesod. Of course, the study of metaphysics can lead to a sort of bliss, especially with the realization that certain ideas bring you oh so close to the very nature of God. At this point, the search for Truth becomes the delight in Beauty.

So, back to the young Rene: following his example. I will often lie in bed pondering some issue. Of course, Cartesian meditation is not the source. Rather, the real meditation reaches in the depths, often murky depths, not for the clarity of the atmosphere. Nevertheless, clear ideas are floating in the darkness of those depths, and they need to be coaxed out. Obviously, the discursive mind is required in order to turn those vague intuitions into text. That is the purpose of Cartesian meditation. Ultimately, however, there is not a shortage of ideas, but rather its opposite. There is actually an abundance of ideas, so cutting and pruning is necessary. Much more is discarded than is ever published.

If you allow your intellectual life to be nourished by the real nutriments hiding in the darkness, you will no longer be satisfied with dazzling baubles, word puzzles, or intellectual trivia. The goal of the intellectual life is to be a Sage, so seek the higher things like virtue, the life of reason, aesthetic beauty, the path of salvation, and the attributes of God.

Living in the Light of Tabor

Hermetism is an athanor (“alchemical furnace”) erected in the individual human consciousness, where the mercury of intellectuality undergoes transmutation into the gold of spirituality. St. Augustine acted as a Hermetist in transmuting Platonism into Christian thought. Similarly, St. Thomas Aquinas acted as a Hermetist in doing the same thing with Aristotelianism. Both of them accomplished the sacrament of baptism with respect to Greece’s intellectual heritage. ~ Valentin Tomberg, Letter on Justice

If the goal of the intellectual life is to become a Sage, the goal of the spiritual life is to become a Saint. Of course, the latter quest is foolishness to the Intellect. Hence, only the Fool can show us the way. Tomberg explains:

The Arcanum “The Fool” teaches the “know-how” of passing from intellectuality, moved by the desire for knowledge, to the higher knowledge due to love.

The Fool is also a Trickster, since there are two ways of sacrificing the intellect:

  • It can submit itself to the service of Transcendental consciousness
  • It can simply be abandoned

Now, the temptation to simply abandon the intellect is quite strong. Deep meditation may be accompanied with intense sensations of pleasure, or even siddhis. The spiritual quest may then devolve to a quest for the repetition of such feelings as ends in themselves. Common practices such as postures, breath control, dancing, chanting, and so on may help focus the mind. When they fail, some schools resort to stronger practices such as drugs, alcohol, or extreme sexuality. However, the Spirit cannot be coerced by any sort of technique or mechanical practices.

Tomberg points to the Whirling Dervishes and Zen monks as those who have abandoned the intellect entirely. Some of this lies behind the Hesychast controversy. What concerned Barlaam was the ignorance and credulity of some of the monks, so, in compensation, he overemphasised the side of the Intellect. The monks, on the other hand, pointed out that the first disciples were simple men, not advanced scholars. Now that may be true in the Synoptic Gospels, but John’s Gospel explicitly identifies Christ with the Logos behind the creation of the world. We take the middle path between Barlaam and Palamas.

The Work

In our time apart, we could focus on all the themes of the past few years. We can be Holy Fools, yet still be intellectually competent. Our meditations should be on the life of Christ or something analogous; that is, something that requires an Active Imagination, not the passive imagination of a dream-like state. We concentrate without effort and have mastery over what thoughts and emotions are allowed to take hold in our consciousness.

To achieve the fusion of intellectuality and spirituality, we need to return up the Middle Pillar. That begins with the recognition of one’s True Will and ends with the awareness of one’s Real I. That is the gift of Integrity that was lost in the Fall.

The Middle Pillar

The Three Pillars

The three pillars of the Cabala Tree of Life represent the process of manifestation from God to the World, and also the path back. On the principle that the microcosm reflects the macrocosm, the Tree of Life also refers to our inner structure.

The right pillar is masculine and the left pillar is feminine. The middle pillar, then, is the reconciling force, as it synthesizes the right and left paths. In the Meditations on the Tarot, Valentin Tomberg refers to four syntheses, represented by the Sephiroth on the Middle Pillar:

  • Malkuth is the synthesis the entire paths in the world of action
  • Yesod is the synthesis of romantic love between the sexes
  • Tiphareth is the synthesis revealed through artistic creativity
  • Daath is the synthesis of Intelligence and Wisdom in the act of knowledge, or gnosis

Daath and Kether

Daath is a crypto-sephirah, that is, it is not one of the 10 sephiroth. That is because it is not given to us by natural birth, but is something that must be created in a second birth. It arises via the synthesis of Intelligence and Wisdom. Tomberg defines it this way:

Daath is therefore the state of consciousness where intelligence and wisdom — acquired and acquirable knowledge, on the one hand, and latent and actualisable knowledge, on the other hand — become one.

Daath Chokmah Binah
Since Daath is the image of Kether, they should not both be represented in the Tree together. Either one or the other is shown. This means that the Sephiroth of Binah and Chokmah, when Kether is omitted, both derive from Daath, as shown in this diagram.


Intelligence is knowledge we acquire about the world. That is why it is feminine, or lunar. It does not provide its own light, but can only reflect on things. Regarding the higher things, it is capable of understanding God as the Absolute and the Infinite, even if those terms are commonly misunderstood. For example, the Infinity of God is often interpreted in mathematical terms, which leads to incorrect ideas.

Through natural intelligence, God can also be known as the First Cause, Unmoved Mover, etc. However, God cannot be known as Spirit, as an “I”. For that, it must be illumined through a spiritual marriage with Wisdom. Our feminine age is overly intellectual and rejects the other ways of knowing that are revealed in the Cabala.


Wisdom represents knowledge that is latent or virtual, and it must be actualized. Man is not a tabula rasa, and is not as malleable as those on the left hand path would like. There is instinctual knowledge, as Henri Bergson points out, that needs to rise to the level of intelligence. There is a nagging forgetfulness, both horizontal and vertical, that must be brought up into the light of consciousness. This vague memory of a different world is what drives the religious impulse. Whatever might seem absurd to natural Intelligence, is actually a natural challenge to the presumed and hubristic superiority of Intelligence. In The Two Sources of Morality and Religion, Bergson explains:

Since instinct no longer exists except as a mere vestige or virtuality, since it is not strong enough to incite to action or prevent it, it must arouse an illusory perception, or at least a counterfeit of recollection so clear and striking that intelligence will come to a decision accordingly. … religion is then a defensive reaction of nature against the dissolvent power of intelligence.

At its best, religion will force the Intelligence out of its box in order to confront something higher. In the synthesis with Wisdom, Tomberg says:

the intelligence unites with and understands things that it would never have understood from within itself. It is therefore “illumined”.

At its worst, this defensive reaction of the instincts may devolve into superstitions and illusions. Practices arise with the aim of producing mere sensory phenomena, which are then misconstrued as spiritual enlightenment. Of course, certain phenomena may arise as side effects, as we see in some saints, but they should never be the primary aim. Tomberg points out that breathing exercises, postures, etc. cannot, on their own, lead to inspiration.

Direction of the Middle Pillar

The directions of the paths of the left and right pillars of the Cabala are downward, whereas that of the middle pillar is upward. The left and right pillars bring divine governance down to the world. Then the synthesis of the two paths results on Malkuth, or the Kingdom. Between the sephiroth of Kether (the Crown) and Malkuth (the Kingdom), there are three levels that represent the soul activities of thinking, feeling, and willing. In the Letter on the Hanged Man, we read:

the normal relationship between thought, feeling and the will for a civilised and educated man is such that his thought awakens feeling and directs the will. Thought plays a stimulating role, by means of imagination, towards feeling, and an educative role, by means of imagination and feeling, towards the will. Having to act. one thinks, one imagines, one feels, and —lastly—one desires and acts.

So, on the left pillar, the organ of thought is the Intellect and on the right, the organ of thought is Revelation. However, looking at the Middle pillar, the place that thought should occupy – namely Daath – is missing. Hence, it cannot be the beginning of the path, but rather the terminus. This is represented by the Hanged Man, where we read this explanation:

For [the “spiritual man”] it is the will which plays the stimulating and educative role towards feeling and thought. He acts first, then he desires, then he feels the worth of his action, and lastly he understands.

This means that on the Middle Path, the return to God, the spiritual man must act first before he fully understands. On the upward path, Will changes from “my will” to “thy will” be done. The will begins in obedience. Ultimately, the path leads to Daath, intuition, gnosis. Here we see the truth of St Augustine’s saying:

crede, ut intelligas

Meeting Notes for 8 May 2017

We discussed the task about moods. For this week, choose any task, e.g., doorways, handling keys, or whatever works. When awareness comes, observe the body for any signs of tension. E.g., in the feet, clenched fists, crossed arms, hunched shoulders, etc. See if the body begins to relax as the awareness is intensified. All that tension throughout the day is not healthy.

It was noted that moods can colour our mentality. We might feel gloomy one day, yet positive another. This rhythm is consistent throughout life. This is a ripple from the Fall of Man: the desire to know good and evil. Hence, we tend to view life from one perspective or another. Thus, we adopt the “original sin” as our own, thus recapitulating the original fall. This is what is meant the Fall being “mythological”: “a symbol expressing correspondences between archetypes in the past and their manifestations in the present”, as described in the meditation on Letter I: The Magician. The way back is the alchemical marriage of opposites, rather than the seesaw effect of our common life.

In relation to the reading, our normal waking state of semi-awareness is like the darkness, i.e., unconscious. The task then is to look for signs of intelligent life in that darkness.

We read about Daath starting on page 506 and ended at page 509 of Meditations on the Tarot with the Third Great Arcanum. Next time, we will continue with the following paragraph about the Second Great Arcanum.

(NOTE about the translation: the word “geniality” is misleading in English, as it does not mean the same thing as its French cognate. It really means something like “brilliant” or ingenious, not being a pleasant person.)

Daath is not one of the Sephiroth, since we are not born with it. It is something that needs to be created, that is, it is related to the second birth. Traditionally, it was called the “intellect illuminated by grace.” Grace actualizes the knowledge of being in the “image and likeness of God”, which otherwise is merely latent. This certainly accords with empirical experience. If we were born with that knowledge, then there would be no denial of God. Compare to our inborn need for food, water, and air.

Daath is the union of intelligence and wisdom. Or the union of discursive knowledge and the revelations known by faith.

It Scholastic terms, there are likewise three stages:

  • Metaphysics: discursive knowledge (i.e., its highest expression), what can be known by thinking, i.e., purely human wisdom.
  • Theology: the knowledge revealed by faith
  • Mystical Theology: the experiential knowledge of God, direct gnosis, beyond both reason and faith.

    At lower levels – that is, what the Kabbalah refers to as worlds – there is a foreshadowing of gnosis in artistic creation and in love between the sexes. Few reach the knowledge of Daath. More – but still relatively few – are able to experience aesthetic ecstasy in great poetry, literature, music or art. Yet, love between the sexes seems within reach for most people, so there is always a desperate and frenzied search for it, even for ersatz imitations of it. If you’ve ever been in love, or experienced sexual pleasure, you know how fleeting it is, or even, unfortunately, how it may devolve into pain.

    Vraiment commencent amours en joie et finissent en douleurs. ~ Merlin

    Imagine, then, how much more satisfying gnosis is.

Prophets of Electrum

Consciousness in man is pre-eminently intellect. It might have been, it ought, so it seems, to have been also intuition. Intuition and intellect represent two opposite directions of the work of consciousness: intuition goes in the very direction of life, intellect goes in the inverse direction, and thus finds itself naturally in accordance with the movement of matter. A complete and perfect humanity would be that in which these two forms of conscious activity should attain their full development. ~ Henri Bergson, Creative Evolution

Here is the difference between the nature of intelligence and that of intuition of faith, between the principle of autumn and that of spring. The former is understanding of that which is; the latter is participation in the becoming of that which is to be. ~ Meditations on the Tarot, Letter XVIII The Moon

[There is] a centre from which worlds shoot out like rockets in a fireworks display—provided, however, that I do not present this centre as a thing, but as a continuity of shooting out. God thus defined, has nothing of the already made; He is unceasing life, action, freedom. Creation, so conceived, is not a mystery; we experience it in ourselves when we act freely. ~ Henri Bergson, Creative Evolution

According to Valentin Tomberg, one of the tasks of Hermetism is to accomplish the alliance of intelligence and the intuition of faith—the alchemical marriage of the moon and the sun. Another way to put it is to obtain the alloy of silver and gold, which is called Electrum. Although some have come close to this ideal, it is a task still incomplete. Tomberg mentions several thinkers who have come close; these we will call the Prophets of Electrum.

At the top of those prophets is St. Thomas Aquinas whose thought is silvered gold. More common is gilded silver as expressed by Origen, Dionysius the Areopagite, Jacob Boehme, Louis Claude de Saint-Martin, Vladimir Solovyov, Nicolas Berdyaev, Henri Bergson and Pierre Teilhard de Chardin.

The importance of Thomas Aquinas cannot be overestimated, even for Hermetists. The raison d’être of scholasticism is the union of faith and intelligence. Following his conversion to Catholicism, Tomberg wrote his graduate thesis on International Law from a Thomist perspective, so he is quite familiar with his work. Tomberg offers this insight, describing Thomism as the combustible that, when enflamed, gives rise to contemplation (given the influence of John of the Cross, we can assume this is the fruition of personal experience):

St. Thomas Aquinas was not the only one. Just as he arrived at contemplation through scholastic reasoning, so did the peak of the scholastic wave reach gnosis [mystique], that is to say, intuition or the state of union of faith and intelligence, which is the aim of scholasticism. A Meister Eckhart, a Ruysbroeck, the Admirable Doctor, a St. John of the Cross are in fact spirits amongst whom you will search in vain for a spirit of opposition to scholasticism. For them also it was true that scholasticism was “like straw”, but they knew at the same time from their own experience that this straw is an excellent combustible. They certainly surpassed scholasticism, but after having attained its aim. For the aim of scholastic effort is contemplation, and it is gnosis [mystique] which is the fruit of the scholastic tree. ~ Valentin TombergLetter XIX The Sun

I have written about Nicolas Berdyaev here. For a brief summary of Louis Claude de Saint-Martin, see The Hidden Tradition. For Jacob Boehme, see Christian Gnosis: Jacob Boehme. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin is the scientist who approaches the ideal. He restored the subjective element to scientific objectivity, in his claim that there is an “inside” as well as an “outside” to everything. Any complete understanding of the world process needs to take that into account. I was astounded by the novelty and originality of The Phenomenon of Man when I read it several decades ago; I wish I could recapture that experience.

Although Tomberg writes extensively about Henri Bergson, I’d like to add a little more background. Finally, I’ll conclude with the influence of Vladimir Solovyov which, I believe, provides a view into Tomberg’s motivation.

Henri Bergson

Henri Bergson’s philosophy was born in the atmosphere of French spiritualism, a form of idealism prominent in Italy and France at the time. One influence, for example, was Emile Boutroux who in the Contingency of Physical Laws, claimed that life, feeling, and freewill need to be part of any understanding of Physical Laws. He rejected determinism, and instead claimed that natural laws as a sort of “habit” of things: what originally was also able to be a free act, in repeating itself, automatizes, and mechanizes itself and ends up appearing to be a necessity. A fortiori, this applies to human beings, who cannot be determined by environment, race, etc.

Bergson married a cousin of Marcel Proust and his brother-in-law was Samuel Liddell MacGregor Mathers, a founder of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. Although born Jewish, Bergson felt closer to Catholicism, which he regarded as the fulfillment of Judaism. He never officially converted, however, because of the rise of National Socialism.

Although from a strictly logical point of view, his philosophical system can be refuted. The Church even banned his books. Rene Guenon, too, was critical of Bergson. However, that is not the Hermetic reading of Bergson, which is more concerned with Bergson’s insights than its logical presentation. Any useful critique of his thought would have to advance the alliance of intelligence and intuition. The standard critiques remain on one or the other side of that alliance, and therefore fall short of what is necessary.

In Bergson’s view, the intellect treats matter as inert, and is unable to discern the life that animates it. It chops Being up into pieces, so that “whatever is fluid in the real will escape it”. We see this starkly in the abortion debate: science cannot determine when “life begins in the womb”. The intelligent course of action in this case would be to admit that shortcoming of “science” and rely on one’s intuition. That seldom happens, so the modern world loves death and sterility.

Solovyov and Egyptian Theosophy

In a footnote to Lecture Six of Divine Humanity, Vladimir Solovyov informs us:

Although the close inner connection between Alexandrian theosophy and the Christian doctrine is one of the firmly established theses of Western scholarship, for one reason or another, this perfectly correct thesis does not enjoy common acknowledgement in our theological literature. Therefore, I consider it necessary to devote to this question a special appendix at the end of these lectures, where I will touch upon the significance of the native Egyptian theosophy (the revelations of Thoth or Hermes Trismegistus) in its relation to both the doctrines mentioned.

Unfortunately, this pregnant quotation is the theological equivalent of Fermat’s Last Theorem, since the promised appendix was never published. This section will try to begin the proof. First of all, the two doctrines in question are the dogmas of the Logos and the Trinity. These doctrines were developed metaphysically by Egyptian Neoplatonists from Philo to Plotinus independent of Christian revelation. What Christianity brought was the revelation that this divine life appeared as a fact, as an historical reality. Only later was this fact connected to Neoplatonic metaphysics. Now we see how Solovyov became a prophet of Electrum, uniting the intuition of faith with the intelligence of metaphysics.

So, how does this relate to Valentin Tomberg? In a lecture Inner Impulses of Evolution, Rudolf Steiner mentions Solvyov in relation to Ernest Renan and David Strauss. Renan wrote a Life of Christ that presumes that Jesus was simply a man living in Palestine at a certain historical time. Hence, he strips out all supernatural and miraculous elements from the Gospels.

Strauss’ Life of Christ, on the other hand, wrote from the perspective of Jesus’ followers. The miracles, for example, were mythical, i.e., creations of the early Christians to express their developing conception of Jesus. Since Strauss was a Hegelian, he did not deny spiritual reality in itself. Steiner interprets Strauss like this:

As Strauss sees it, in the course of mankind’s earthly development, from the times of the first beginnings of the earth to its final end, mankind has and always will have a higher power in it than the merely external power that develops on the physical plane. A power runs right through mankind that will forever address itself to the super-earthly; this super-earthly finds expression in myths. We know that man bears something super-sensible within him that seeks to find expression in myth since it cannot be expressed in external physical science. Thus, Strauss does not see Jesus in the single individual, but rather the Christ in all men.

Solovyov, on the other hand, focuses on Christ rather than Jesus, but on Christ as a living being, not as a Straussian abstract idea. Steiner describes it this way, perhaps with some exaggeration:

When we come to Soloviev, behold, Jesus is no more, but only the Christ. Nevertheless, it is the Christ conceived as living. Not working in men as an idea, with the consequence that its power is transformed in him into a myth, but rather working as a living Being who has no body, is always and ever present among men, and is, in effect, positively responsible for the external organization of human life, the founder of the social order.

Steiner’s lecture made quite an impression on the young Tomberg, who was inspired to study Solovyov in depth. Tomberg describes that encounter:

A result was the conviction that this author had never encountered a work written before the time of Rudolf Steiner that contained such a profound concept of the nature and mission of Jesus Christ, a view presented against the background of cosmic history.

The obvious question is how did Solovyov arrive at such a deep understanding. This perplexed Tomberg, since Solovyov certainly did not argue himself into his understanding, despite presenting his understanding in a logical way to others. Solovyov does mention three divine experiences of Sophia, including one in the Egyptian desert. We don’t know exactly what he was doing in Egypt, but we do know that Solovyov had become quite familiar with both the Kabbalah and Hermetism. He regarded Paracelsus, Boehme, and Emmanuel Swedenborg as “substantial individuals”. He was also familiar with Johann Gichtel, so he would have known of Gichtel’s correspondence of the chakras with the planets.

So we can read the Letters on the Tarot as the promised appendix to Divine Humanity. Tomberg explains in the foreward:

these Letters are intended only to serve, to sustain, and to support the Hermetic tradition — from its first appearance in the epoch of Hermes Trismegistus, lost in the remoteness of antiquity and become legendary


The Descent into Hell

Since the Fall, Earth’s karma is death. Everything we do will result in decay, disappointment, or death. It is a common misunderstanding that the ancients believed the Earth to be a privileged place, at the centre of the universe. That is not true. Esoterically, Earth not centre of universe, but rather quite far from God. It is separated from it by the hierarchy of angels, the astral layer and the planetary layers. Moreover, Earth is closest to Hell, located at its very centre.

Knowing this, the secular world dares not to hope for more. On the contrary, the world worships death and sterility. It denies that human life is breathed into matter by a living god. Rather, it claims that the human spirit spontaneously arises from matter. Its goal is the creation of a golem, the artificial man. It wants to overcome death by technology, like the Frankenstein monster. Ultimately, the goal is the replacement of human beings by androids as though, somehow, a soul will spontaneously arise out of electronic circuitry and Python code. Only mechanical and logical memory matter, as there is not even an awareness of moral and vertical memory.

That is the world Jesus is incarnated into.

The Death of Jesus

The incarnation must include death as the end of life. However, although death is a fact, it is not a positive principle willed by God. The spirit cannot die, so it is more appropriate to refer to death as “dormition”.

Since Jesus is not subject to Adam’s curse, his death is voluntary. Death did not end his earthly ministry; the time of the entombment is analogous to the Sabbath rest. Since his death was voluntary, i.e., not necessary, it is thereby sacrificial and redemptive.

Human death is the separation of the soul and spirit from the body. The animal soul does not possess immortality, so, at death, the soul receives the life principle from the spirit. Yet is also retains the possibility of death due to sin. Without the body, the soul is mere potency, so it becomes petrified, retaining what it accumulated during life. This is illustrated in the novel Laurus:

Arseny’s soul wanted to touch Ursina’s soul … Get used to separation, said Death, it is painful, even if it is only temporary. Will we recognize each other in eternity? asked Arseny’s soul. That depends in large part on you, said Death: souls often harden during the course of life and then they barely recognize anyone after death.

That is, the soul has forgotten its life. In the Meditation on the Arcanum of Death, this is related to the loss of mechanical and logical memory. To the extent that the soul, during its life, had a strong moral memory, the soul will not have become so hard. Thus, the soul can either burden the spirit after death or else leave it free for its postmortem being. Death is the entry into the spiritual world, so it is both initiatic and cathartic. As such, it is not just a punishment, but also a blessing.

As Hermetists, we desire initiation while alive, understanding initiation as the entry into the spiritual world. This is facilitated through “vertical memory”, “which links the plane of ordinary consciousness to planes or states of consciousness higher than that of ordinary consciousness”. It provides us with the certainty of God and the spiritual world.

Christ experienced this human death. The cry of “into thy hands I commend my spirit” refers to the separation of the body from the spirit. The body was then buried in the cave. In the postmortem state, Christ descended into Hell. Hell referred to the postmortem state of all human souls before Christ; this is the case not just in the Old Testament, but also in paganism.

Of course, hell is not a “place” in the sense that Ohio is a place, so the descent was not a movement from one place to another. Rather, it is the movement from one state of being to another. Since Christ’s divine nature never separated from this human nature, his ministry continued after death, including to those who had previously died. Like the two thieves, there are two possible destinies for those souls in hell: continuation in hell or else in paradise.

Even though Christ’s body was incorruptible, it was nevertheless a real experience of death. This is revealed by the descent into hell, i.e., the separation of the soul from the body. Death was voluntary, and that is why it had to be an unnatural death, viz., death by execution.

The Possibilities

If our karma is death, we must learn to act without concern for results. That is, the act may not bear fruit right away, not until certain obstacles will have fallen away. There is the tendency today to expect instant results, irrespective of the karmic possibilities, or the facticity, of the moment. If we believe that death has been overcome, we can be assured that “everything sown in the field of death will rise again one day” [~ Valentin Tomberg]

Sergius Bulgakov, The Lamb of God: The Death of Christ and His Descent into Hell
Anonymous, Meditations on the Tarot: Letter XIII Death
Eugene Vodolazkin, Laurus

Death and Resurrection

Amen, amen I say to you, you shall see the heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man. ~ John 1:51

The revelation of the spiritual world in death is the greatest joy and an ineffable triumph for all those who, in this life, yearned for this spiritual world from which they had been exiled. But death is an inexpressible horror, anguish, and torment for those who did not want this spiritual world, did not know it, rejected it. ~ Sergius Bulgakov


Before meditating on the seven stages of the passion, we should, as the Meditations suggest, first clarify the story of Creation and the Fall. Then the meaning of Redemption can be understood in the context of the restoration of the state of being prior to the Fall. The Fall is an historical event, although not an empirical event. That is, there is no physical or archeological trace of it, but just a nearly forgotten memory that sometimes intrudes into consciousness.

Because of the lack of a corporeal body, the fall of the angels was conscious, deliberate, and self-willed. The demons are pure evil, revolt against God. The effects have been a perversion of creation, as the demons interacted with the world. They brought a sickness into creation, affecting the natural, the animal, as well as the human world.

Adam and Eve, before the Fall, were aware of living in God’s presence and the angels “ascending and descending”. Nevertheless, they have their “own” world over which they were given dominion. In some ways, this world seems to persist apart from God so that God has become today, if at all, a matter of faith. Since man had tasks to perform, he was not complete.

So even though there was the possibility of believing in a world apart from God, the Fall of man did not originate in his own consciousness, but rather from an external source. This was the whispered temptation of the serpent, itself a result of the Fall of the angels. Nevertheless, unlike their Fall, man’s Fall was not the result of a fully conscious rejection of God. Rather it was the result of deception, gullibility, and misunderstanding.

First there was the subtlety of the serpent’s deception and the naïveté that believed it. The misunderstanding was that knowledge could be achieved horizontally within the world (eating the fruit of the tree) without reference to any higher world. Man then came to know good and evil, i.e., a mixture: he was no longer fully good, yet he was still not fully evil.

The consequence was that the awareness of God and the spiritual world because obscured. The “garments of animal skins” refers to a densification of human existence. The center of gravity of the soul life descended in the direction from the spirit to corporeality.  This new center was in the lowest three chakras, i.e., the animal life of man’s soul. These centers represent:

  • Fear, anxiety, worry, and shame
  • Sexuality, sensuality, and an attachment to the glamour of the world
  • Hunger, the desire to take

This can be verified by meditation on the Creation and Fall. As we learned in the Letter on the Magician, Adam and Eve are archetypes, which “manifest themselves endlessly in history and in each individual biography”. Thus it becomes a matter of remembering what had been forgotten.


So now we can understand the purpose of death. The only way back to the awareness of higher worlds is total separation of the soul from the body, so it can reunite with the spirit. Obviously, this is what we call “death”. It is a harsh measure, yet the only effective option.

At death, the soul carries with it all its experiences of life, its acts and omissions, its sins and merits. It will become aware once again of the spiritual world and will know Christ as judge. It will then understand its life in its wholeness. Of course, an effort at that self-understanding should be made part of our spiritual task, in preparation for death.

If the soul’s mystical union with God is forgetting of the phenomenal world and recollection of God, death is simultaneously the call from above and forgetting what is below. As such, death is more like a dormition, a leaving behind of earthly life in anticipation of a return. The soul becomes the new body of the spirit, sort of an “astral” body. Yet the soul is also the form of the corporeal body, so at some point it will be the form of another corporeal body, a resurrection body.

The Redemption, then, aims at the elimination of death as the path of return to the state prior to the Fall.

As a reminder, these are the seven phases of the Passion. The meditations will being with the “washing of the feet”.

  1. Washing of the feet
  2. The scourging
  3. Crown of thorns
  4. The way of the cross
  5. The crucifixion
  6. The entombment
  7. The resurrection

Washing of the Feet

for some the superman has more attraction than the Son of Man, and because he promises them a career of increasing power, whilst the Son of Man offers only a career of “foot washing” ~ From Letter VII, The Chariot

Several years ago, at a Maundy Thursday mass, I was selected as one of the men whose feet would be washed by the priest. In my meditations, the memory of that event came back to me. I recall that I felt quite awkward and embarrassed. I was slow getting my sock and shoe off, forcing the priest to wait. The experience was unpleasant.

Like Adam and Eve, who felt ashamed in the presence of God and had to cover themselves, I likewise felt ashamed in baring my foot. Yet, if one’s whole being – spirit, soul, and body – is to be redeemed, then Christ has to descend all the way down to the feet. It is one thing to illumine the intellect or the heart, another one to bring it down to the feet, i.e., all of terrestrial life. In an early work, Valentin Tomberg explains:

The general effect of meditation consists in the fact that what is spiritual in a human being descends … into the human personality… Just as Christ bowed down before his disciples and washed their feet, so in every meditation the angel bows down and washes the feet of the meditator.

Once again, we “see” the angels ascending and descending.

Anonymous, Meditations on the Tarot
Sergius Bulgakov, The Bride of the Lamb
Valentin Tomberg, Inner Development

Stages of Hermetic Meditation

The Aim of Meditation

In the Letter on the Fool, we learn that Christian meditation pursues the aim of deepening the two divine revelations:

  • Holy Scripture
  • Creation

Ultimately, this will awaken a consciousness and appreciation of Christ’s work of Redemption. Hence, our meditation will lead to contemplation of the seven stages of the Passion. That task will be a follow up to this essay.


To understand the Redemption, it is first necessary to start with understanding the cosmic significance of the idea of Sacrifice. In the Letter on the Emperor, we learn of two sacrifices:

  • Creation is a sacrifice: to allow freedom
  • Incarnation is a sacrifice: the fact of freedom

Creation is effected by a divine contraction and by voluntary divine powerlessness, which is akin to crucifixion. Freedom is the key to understanding Providence in history. On the one hand, without freedom, God would be a “divine tyrant”; yet on the other hand, because of man’s freedom, God’s power may be falsely doubted. Tomberg summarizes it:

God is all-powerful in history inasmuch as there is faith; he is crucified insofar as one turns away from him.

The fact of freedom led to the Incarnation. The sacrifice is not limited to the cross, since the Incarnation itself was a sacrifice. Sergius Bulgakov in Sophia: The Wisdom of God describes it this way.

Christ underwent all the limitations and infirmities of human life. He was subject to every human propensity: he experienced hunger and thirst, exhaustion, grief, temptation. … The agony [of the cross] provides clear evidence at once of the reality of his human nature and of the depth of his self-abasement.

Moreover, his understanding of man’s nature was not sugar-coated as it so often is today. Christ was fully aware of the human race living in spiritual darkness with stupidity, weakness, sloth, lust, injustice, disease … in short, sin. This was accompanied by the awareness of God’s wrath. Bulgakov concludes:

in his human nature the representative human feels the force of the sin of the whole world pressing upon him, the horror, for the one sinless being, of contact with sin, and of the justice of God outraged thereby.

Stages of Meditation

Tomberg describes three stages of meditation, above our ordinary waking consciousness. These stages, in a sense, correspond to the four levels of interpretation of sacred writings. These are summarized in the following table:

Stage Object Experience Interpretation
Objective Consciousness External images and sounds Sensory phenomena Literal
Imagination Concentration on an inner image Perception of spiritual phenomena Allegorical
Inspiration Inner silence, listening Spiritual communications Moral
Intuition Beyond words and thoughts Spiritual identification Anagogical

In our ordinary state of objective consciousness, we learn the faith through sensory images and hearing. Exoteric faith is learned through images such as icons, statues, stained glass, art work, and the like. It is also taught by an authority.


The beginning of meditation is our imagination (which Tomberg also calls “vision”) by which we try to concentrate on interior images. We try to visualize the events, perhaps even placing ourselves in them. Tomberg describes this as augmenting our experience. Objective consciousness is passive in respect to experiences, but the imagination is active. This may lead to the perception of spiritual phenomena, as described by several saints and venerables. Anne Catherine Emmerich and  Maria d’Agreda have been such visionaries.

St. Francis de Sales describes this stage as the mind meditating on a subject with the aid of the imagination and discourse or reasoning.


In inspiration, we try to quiet the mind, listening silently. Whereas imagination requires effort, this stage is the beginning of concentration without effort. In silence, the gifts of understanding or wisdom may be received. Ideas or dogmas that seemed to be difficult to understand begin to make sense. Sometimes, issues in your own life will be cleared up. You may find that things “just happen” favourably. Not necessarily in your material life, but more so in your spiritual life, as one depends more and more on this for moral guidance.


At the stage of ordinary consciousness, the source of knowledge or faith is from beyond one’s own being. Even at the stage of imagination, the images are still in a sense external, as something the I actively creates and envisions. There is still some of that in inspiration, although the process is passive rather than active; the source is beyond the I. In other words, there is the I, or Self, confronting an experience, whether sensory or spiritual.

In the stage of intuition, however, all images, words, and thoughts are relinquished. This may even feel like a “dark night”, a time of abandonment.  The consolations of spiritual visions and communications seem to disappear. That is because the I itself must go. It is not a matter of a new and elevated experience, but rather a transformation of one’s very being.

Tomberg gives us the example of St Paul on the road to Damascus, to illustrate the three stages of vision, inspiration, and imagination:

  • Vision: He had the vision of Christ
  • Inspiration: He received communication
  • Intuition: No longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me

Purgation of the Senses and the Spirit

Given the importance of St. John of the Cross in the Meditations, it is worthwhile to learn from him. On the path to the Unitive Way, two conversions are necessary based on the purgation of the senses and the purgation of the spirit. “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart, and with thy whole soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind.” (Luke 10:27) According to Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange in The Three Conversions of the Spiritual Life, this requires loving God for His own sake, not from self-interest or attachments. To love God with your whole mind means that your love is not affected by the ebb and flow of our experiences. This awareness will counteract the feeling of abandonment on the way to Union.

Hermetically, the path through the stages of mediations involves an alchemical transformation of the spirit, soul, and matter. This transformation is summed up by this pattern:

  • From the state of primordial purity before the Fall
  • To the state after the Fall
  • To Reintegration

Hence, there are a series of meditations suggested by Tomberg, that start by meditating on the state of primordial purity, concluding ultimately on the meditation on the Passion. This is the proposed sequence of meditations:

  • The seven days of creation
  • The seven stages of the Fall
  • The seven miracles of St. John’s Gospel
  • The seven “I am” sayings of Christ
  • The seven last words of Christ
  • The seven stages of the passion

The third stage is reached following the understanding of the Passion and then the Resurrection. Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange summarizes the stages, based on the three conversions of the Apostles:

  • First Conversion: They became disciples of the Master, attracted by the sublime beauty of His teaching.
  • Second Conversion: This came at the end of the Passion, which had enabled them to divine the fecundity of the mystery of the Cross, enlightened by the Resurrection which followed it;
  • Third Conversion: It filled them with the profound conviction of this mystery. This resulted in a complete transformation of their souls.

The events of the Passion that are fruitful for meditation are these:

  1. Washing of the feet
  2. The scourging
  3. Crown of thorns
  4. The way of the cross
  5. The crucifixion
  6. The entombment
  7. The resurrection

A more detailed examination of each of these will follow during the week.

Epilog on Love

The Scripture readings for Quinquagesima Sunday illustrate the first and third conversion. The Gospel was about the blind man by the side of the road (Luke 18:31-43) St. Gregory the Great understood this as an allegory about the human race, which was in a state of darkness following the Fall, but then came into the light.

The other text was from 1 Corinthians 13:1-13, the famous sermon on Love, or actually on Charity. Everyone seems today to know what love is, without realizing how difficult it is, what is worth loving, or even how to go about loving. Charity means “love” in the sense of the commandment to love God and your neighbor as yourself. As such, charity is the goal, not the beginning. The gifts of the Holy Spirit lead to Charity. It requires understanding and wisdom to know what to love. It takes strength to love in the face of adversity. Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange sums it up like this:

It is impossible to have a high degree of charity without having at the same time and in a proportionate degree the gifts of understanding and wisdom, gifts which, together with faith, are the principle of the infused contemplation of revealed mysteries.