. . .
|(The Cry of the 6th Aethyr)|
GRAY = The G-SPOT and the RAY
Vertigo: Outgoing blonde creative Rays revolve around the Pole of Ingoing brunette destructive Rheays (Strange FROOT)
The Poles of Virtue and Vice between the Empress and the High Priestess: Temptation is Forbidden Froot-Gnosis for the King from Lucy-in-the-Sky with Diamonds in Ialdabaoth's Garden
An aged blonde, a young brunette, the eternal dilemma of man at the crossroads between yesterday and tomorrow
The Poles of Virtue and Vice between the Empress and the High Priestess: Temptation is Forbidden Froot-Gnosis for the King from Lucy-in-the-Sky with Diamonds in Ialdabaoth's Garden
An aged blonde, a young brunette, the eternal dilemma of man at the crossroads between yesterday and tomorrow
Disciples of Kali, or … Eve Rest, where the Great Beast finds himself at the infinite point of the Axis Mundi (a race to the Pole of Ice)
|(William S. Burroughs)|
Such is the word of the angel guarding the Ice of the Poles:
The Cherubim address the seeker thus: “Man, thou art dust and to dust thou shalt return. Thou wert fashioned by thee Builder of Forms; thou belongest to the sphere of form, and the breath that was breathed into thy Soul was the breath of form and like a flame it shall flicker out. More than thou art thou canst not be. Thou art a denizen of the outer world and it is forbidden thee to enter this inner place.” (Manly P. Hall)And the Priest-King of Nemi:
In the mystical hierarchy, the Qutb or Pole is the Spiritual Head of the hierarchy of Prophets and Saints, the intermediary stage between the Godhead and the phenomenal world, the eternal and the temporal [Affifi, Mystical Philosophy, p.74]. The Qutb is the "Pole" on which all Creation turns. According to Sufism, the Pole is realised in the Perfect Man, the individual human expression of the Logos.
As the Pole of Creation, the Qutb is comparable to the world-axis of Shamanism (which survives in Scandanavian mythology as the world-tree Ymir, and in Hindu and Buddhist cosmography as Mount Meru), the Tai Ch'i or "Great Pivot" or "Great Ridgpole" of Chinese (Neo-Taoist and Neo-Confucian) cosmology, the "Central Sun" of Blavatsky, that maintains the Cosmos. Just as the Sun is the central pivot and source of life and energy for the solar system, so the Qutb is like a "Sun" in the centre of the planes of being. But in saying this, one must be careful not to assume, as some theosophists and neo-theosophists actually do, that there is an actual physical central sun. This is just a metaphor, like "pole" or "world mountain". (Kheper.net)
Man, separated from his original Centre by his own fault, finds himself henceforth confined to the temporal sphere; he can no longer regain the single point from which all things are contemplated from the aspect of eternity. The terrestrial Paradise was, in fact, the true ‘Centre of the World’, which is everywhere symbolically assimilated to the Divine Heart; and can it not be said that Adam, as long as he was in Eden, truly lived in the Heart of God? . . .
The relationship which exists between the centre and the circumference, or between what they respectively represent, is already indicated clearly enough by the fact that the circumference cannot exist without its centre, while the centre is entirely independent of the circumference. This relationship can be denoted even more precisely and explicitly by the rays issuing from the centre and ending at the circumference. . . .
Those who have been closest to the truth are they who have considered the swastika as a symbol of movement, but this interpretation is still insufficient, for it is not a question of just any movement, but of a rotation around a centre or an immutable axis; and it is precisely the fixed point that is the essential element to which the symbol in question directly relates. . . .
If it is first of all a point of departure, it is also a terminal point. All has come from the Centre, and all must finally return to it. As all things exist only by the Principle and could not subsist without it. there must be between them and it a permanent bond, represented by rays joining to the Centre all points on the circumference. But these rays can be traversed in two opposite directions; first from the Centre to the circumference, and then returning from the circumference to the Centre. There are. as it were, two complementary phases, the first represented by a centrifugal movement and the second by a centripetal movement. . . .
Let it be noted also that the "wheel of Fortune", in the symbolism of Western antiquity, is very closely related to the ‘wheel of the Law' and also, though it may not seem so evident at first glance, to the zodiacal wheel. . . .
[. . . the Supreme Centre, which represents the Primordial Tradition, is a ‘symbol of the Edenic state’: and all traditions teach that this state remains accessible to man. as a spiritual possibility, throughout the temporal cycle. . . .]
The meaning of ‘apple’ attached to the name Avalon in the Celtic languages, no doubt secondarily, is not in any way in opposition with what we have said, for it is then a question of the golden apples of the Garden of Hesperides, that is, the solar fruits of the World Tree. . . .
If we refer to the Biblical symbolism of the Earthly Paradise . . . immortality is given, not by the liquor drawn from the Tree of Life, but by its very fruit, so that here it is a question of a ‘food of immortality’ . . . there is question of two trees, a higher one and a lower one . . . designated as the ‘Tree of Life’ and the ‘Tree of Death’ . . . the double power of production and destruction of which life and death are the expression in our world, and which is related to the two phases of ‘expiration’ and ‘inhalation’ of universal manifestation. . . .
Plato describes the World Axis as a luminous axis of diamond which is surrounded by several concentric sheaths of different dimensions and colours, corresponding to the different planetary spheres and moving around the axis. . . . The diamond among stones and gold among metals, both the one and the other, are what is most precious: both. also, are ‘luminous’ and 'solar': but the diamond, like the ‘philosophers' stone’ to which it is here assimilated, is held to be even more precious than gold. . . .
Kubele is not of Greek origin and that there is nothing enigmatic or doubtful about its true etymology. It is in fact directly linked to the Hebrew gebal and to the Arabic jabal, ‘mountain’; . . . Cybele is thus the ‘goddess of the mountain’ . . . This same meaning of the name Cybele is clearly linked to that of the ‘black stone’ which was her symbol. In fact, it is known that this stone was of conical shape and. like all the ‘baetyls’ of the same form, it must be considered as a miniature representation of the mountain as ‘axial symbol'. On the other hand, since the sacred ‘black stones’ are meteorites, this ‘celestial’ origin suggests that the ‘chthonian’ nature we alluded to at the outset corresponds in reality only to one of the aspects of Cybele. Moreover, the axis represented by the mountain is not ‘terrestrial’, but connects heaven and earth to one another; and we will add that it is along this axis that, symbolically, the fall of the ‘black stone’ must take place as well as its final reascension; for here too it is a question of the relations between heaven and earth. . . .
The name of the Ethiopians signifies, literally, ‘burnt faces’ (Aithi-ops), and consequently ‘black faces’ is commonly interpreted as designating a people of the black race or at least of a dark complexion. This simplistic explanation, however, seems unsatisfactory as soon as we call to mind that the ancients gave the name of Ethiopia to very diverse countries, even to some for which that explanation would have been in no way appropriate. It is said, for example, that Atlantis itself was also called Ethiopia . . . black has a double symbolism, in the same way that anonymity . . . has likewise two opposite meanings. . . .
It is known that in its higher sense the colour black symbolises essentially the principial state of non-manifestation, and that it is in this sense that one must understand, for example, the name of Krishna, as opposed to that of Arjuna (which signifies ‘white’)—the one and the other representing respectively the non-manifested and the manifested, the immortal and the mortal, the Self and the self, Paramatma and Jivatma. . . . the symbolic significance of which we have already indicated elsewhere in connection with the ideas of ‘summit’ and of ‘principle’. . . .
The initiate must touch the junction of the black and white hairs, thus uniting the complementary principles from which he is to be born as a ‘Son of Heaven and of Earth’ . . .
Now the centre is, by reason of its principial status, that which one might call the ‘place’ of non-manifestation; and as such the colour black, understood in its higher sense, is truly apt for it. It should moreover be noted that on the contrary the colour white is also fitting for the centre in another relationship, that is, insofar as it is the starting-point of a ‘radiation’ comparable to that of light. It could therefore be said that the centre is ‘white’ from the outside and in relation to the manifestation that proceeds from it, while inwardly and in itself it is ‘black’: and this point of view is naturally that of the beings who, for reasons such as we have mentioned, are symbolically situated in the centre itself. . . .
. . . the ‘central’ or ‘polar’ position of the letter G, cannot be given except by means of the symbolism of operative Masonry; and, moreover, it is here that it becomes necessary to take this letter in its Greek form, Γ, as indicated above. In fact, four gammas joined together at right angles form the swastika, ‘symbol, as is also the letter G, of the Pole Star which is itself the symbol, and for the operative Mason, the actual throne of the hidden central Sun of the Universe, Yah’ . . . we can understand without difficulty why the ‘polar theory has always been one of the greatest secrets of the true master Masons’. . . .
This is still not all: even while representing the ‘eye of the heart’ . . . [the letter] also represents a seed contained in the heart, symbolically assimilated to a fruit; and this, moreover, can be understood in a macrocosmic as well as in a micro-cosmic sense. . . .
IN the course of our different studies, we have often had occasion to allude to the symbolism of the annual cycle with its two halves, ascending and descending; and especially to that of the two solstitial gates . . . traditionally designated as the ‘gate of men’ and the 'gate of the gods’. . . .
This symbol, as representative of the cyclic revolutions, the phases of which are bound up with alternating predominance of yang and of yin, is not unconnected with other figures of great importance from the traditional point of view, such as the swastika, and also the double spiral which is related to the symbolism of the two hemispheres. These, the one luminuous and the other dark (yang, in its original signification is the side of light, and yin that of shadow), are the two halves of the ‘World Egg’, assimilated respectively to Heaven and Earth. These are also, for each being, and always in virtue of the analogy of the ‘microcosm’ with the ‘macrocosm’, the two halves of the primordial Androgyne which, generally speaking, is described symbolically as being of spherical form. This spherical form is that of the complete being which is in a state of virtuality in the original seed and which has to be reconstituted in its actual plenitude at the term of the development of the individual cycle. . . .
Of these two positions . . . the first corresponds to the ark of Noah . . . which can be represented as the lower half of a circumference closed by its horizontal diameter and containing within it the point in which are synthetised all the seeds in the state of complete envelopment. The second position is symbolised by the rainbow, appearing ‘in the clouds’, that is, in the region of the Upper Waters, at the moment which marks the re-establishment of order and the restoration of all things, whereas during the catyclysm, the ark floated on the ocean of the Lower Waters. The rainbow is therefore the upper half of the same circumference; and the reunion of the two figures, inverse and complementary to one another, forms a single complete circular or cyclic figure, reconstituting the primordial spherical form. . . .
It follows from what we have been saying that the fulfilment of the cycle, as we have envisaged it, should have a certain correlation in the historical order with the encounter of the two traditional forms that correspond to its beginning and its end, and which have respectively Sanskrit and Arabic for sacred languages—the Hindu tradition insofar as it represents the most direct heritage of the Primordial Tradition, and the Islamic tradition as ‘Seal of Prophecy’ and therefore the ultimate form of traditional orthodoxy for the present cycle. . . .
From the traditional point of view, the great value of war is that it symbolises the fight that man has to make against the enemies he carries within himself, that is, against all those internal elements which are contrary to order and to unity. . . . the normal outcome of war, and in the final analysis the only point of war, is peace (as-salam), which cannot be obtained truly except by submission (al-islam) to the divine will, putting each element in its right place in order to make them all unite in the conscious realisation of one and the same plan. . . . In the Islamic tradition, these two senses of warfare as well as the real relationship between them, are expressed as clearly as possible by a hadith of the Prophet, uttered on return from an expedition against outward enemies: ‘We have returned from the lesser holy war to the greater holy war’ (Rajana min al-jihadi I-asghar ila I-jihadi l-akbar). If outer warfare is thus only the ‘lesser holy war’, while the inner war is the ‘greater holy war’, it is because the first has only a secondary importance in relation to the second, of which it is merely an outward image.
. . . according to the Islamic tradition, the site of a mosque is considered as consecrated not only at the surface of the earth, but from the earth to the ‘seventh Heaven' . . . the two vertical dimensions, heights and depth, . . . are reckoned according to the two halves of a single axis running from ‘Zenith to Nadir', taken in an inverse direction from one another. . . .
Another very widely spread symbol . . . is that of the ladder . . . . Its two vertical uprights correspond to the duality of the ‘Tree of Knowledge’ or, in the Hebrew Kabbala, to the two ‘columns’, right and left, of the Sephirothic tree. Thus, neither the one nor the other is strictly axial; and the ‘column of the middle’. which is truly the axis, is not itself represented (just as in those cases where the central pillar of a building is not materially represented). But in another respect, the whole ladder, in its entirety, is in a way ‘unified’ by the rungs which join the two uprights to one another, and which, being placed horizontally between them, necessarily have their centres situated on the axis.
In early Christian Hermetism an equivalent in this respect is to be found in one of the symbolic interpretations of the letter H with its two vertical strokes and the horizontal line which joins them. (René Guénon, Fundamental Symbols: The Universal Language of Sacred Science)
In accordance with the Ptolemaic cosmology, the simple dichotomy (“cutting-in-two”) of heaven and earth is there resolved into a system, at once astronomical and psychological, of intervening spheres. The ancient astronomer imagined that between himself and the Pole Star were the transparent spheres of the seven planets: Moon, Mercury, Venus, Sun, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn. The Hermetic philosopher taught that these have to be crossed one by one on the upward, as on the downward journey: at each sphere, one had to lay aside the negative tendencies ruled by the planet in question. Perhaps this is why the upward trajectory of the soul is not an unimpeded straight line, but a serpentine path.
The crossing of the planetary spheres is described in the Poimandres as occurring after death, but the preparation for it takes place in the course of life. It is what Jung called the “integration of the personality” or the “way of individuation,” and the planetary portals are the challenges thrown to us both by life and by the archetypal contents of the unconscious. The Pole Star, shining from the Eighth Sphere, is a symbol of the Self: the all-but-inaccessible Center, where the keystone of the heavenly vault opens to give access to another order of existence. Jung cautioned against the too presumptive assimilation of one’s human ego to this transcendent Self, just as we have offered for consideration the examples of men who aimed at transcendence without having first cultivated psychological balance and the virtues.
The esotericist will recognize here the “death” of Non-Being or of the Unmanifest, into which the whole created universe must be dissolved, and to which the polar initiate surrenders his being. Here, as in the Hermetic ascent, the seven planets—not excluding the Sun—arc but obstacles: they are like the demons encountered in the posthumous or initiatic journey, the “guardians of the threshold” who are not intrinsically evil, but appear as such to test the voyager. In the next chapter we will sec how tin's experiential polar tradition survived after the fall of the classical world in the very heart of Islam.
Chapter 13: The Symbolic Pole
It is in Medieval Iran that we find the fullest literature on the spiritual Pole and the experience of mystical ascent to it. The Iranian Sufis draws not only on Islam, but on the Mazdean, Manichean, Hermetic, Gnostic, and Platonic traditions that all flourished on the hospitable soil of Persia. (One recalls that the Athenian Academy, founded by Plato, took refuge there after its suppression in 529 CE) In the intellectual ferment of the Islamic Middle Ages, these were blended in a "theosophy": a science of divine knowledge that was at once mysticism and the highest form of practical philosophy. It is thanks to the work of Henry Corbin, the French scholar who made this literature available to Westerners, that I am able here to give a slight impression of it.
The medieval Persian sages, of whom the chief was Sohrawardi the Martyr (1153-1191), were called in their day "Philosophers of the Orient." The Orient is where the sun rises, and for this reason the East symbolizes the place from which light of every kind is to be expected: ex oriente lux. Thus so great a Sufi as Mohyiddin Ibn `Arabi regarded his eastward voyage from Spain to Syria and Arabia as a symbolic ascent to the source of light.1 And it is evident that for the Jews and Christians of Europe, and the Muslims of Egypt and the Mahgreb, their religious capitals of Jerusalem and Mecca have always lain eastwards.
Esoterically, however, the Persian theosophers situated their "Orient" neither to the East, nor to the South, whither they faced in prayer towards the Ka'aba. "The Orient sought by the mystic, the Orient that cannot be located on our maps, is in the direction of the north, beyond the north."2 About this Pole reigns a perpetual Darkness, says the Recital of Hayy ibn Yaqzan, one of the visionary recitals of Avicenna (Ibn Sina). "Each year the rising sun shines upon it at a fixed time. He who confronts that Darkness and does not hesitate to plunge into it for fear of difficulties will come to a vast space, boundless and filled with light."3 This Darkness, says Corbin, is the ignorance of the natural man. "To pass through it is a terrifying and painful experience, for it ruins and destroys all the patencies and norms on which the natural man lived and depended..."4 But it must be faced consciously before one can acquire the saving gnosis of the light beyond.
The Darkness around the Pole, annually pierced by the sun's rays, is at once terrestrial and symbolic. On the one hand, this is the situation at the North Pole, where there are six months of night and six of day. It is characteristic of esoteric tradition that the same image is valid on two (or more) levels. But as Corbin (and Guénon) never tired of pointing out, the symbolic level is not a fanciful construct on the basis of hard terrestrial fact: it is quite the other way round. In the present case, the mystical experience of penetrating the Darkness at the Pole is the fundamental reality and the authentic experience of the individual. The fact that the set-up of the material world reflects the celestial geography is what is contingent. In brief, in this teaching as in Platonism, it is the supersensible realm that is real, and the material realm that is a shadow of it.
By the same token, the Aurora Borealis of the Arctic regions, meaning literally the "northern dawn," is another visible image of the Midnight Sun that dawns in the mystical consciousness; Corbin reminds us of the prominence of inner light in the rituals of the mystery religions.5 Charles Fourier's "boreal crown," which will be described in Chapter Fifteen, is perhaps a faint intuition of the same illumined state, which Fourier more generously foresaw as the destiny of the whole of humanity.
The individual who, through deep meditation and the practice of active imagination, succeeds in entering the real world of such theosophic visions, is making a pilgrimage to the polar "Orient" that is not found on maps. This is the place of the soul's origin, and of its return. In between, the person is in exile in the "West," that is to say, in the material world which received opinion mistakes for the only reality. The journey to this pole is sometimes illustrated as the ascent of a column of light, which extends from the depths of Hell to the lucid paradise in the cosmic north.6 There is darkness at both ends: at the bottom, the darkness of the extreme of non-being, the absence of light which is pure matter; at the top, the luminous darkness of the impenetrable beyond-being, the divine night of origins. In this higher darkness, the midnight sun blazes forth, as the being enters the state of superconsciousness, overcoming its own darkness to realize its own light.7
Again, in the Iranian visions there may be a cable let down from the cosmic pole. Hermes, according to Sohrawardi's Book of Elucidations, climbed this cable of light, and found himself with both heaven and earth beneath his feet.8 This means that he had gone beyond the eight spheres described in his Poimandres, beyond the furthest objects visible to the bodily eye—the fixed stars—to the realm that medieval cosmology imagined to surround the entire visible cosmos, where God and the angelic hierarchies have their dwelling.
This cable or column of light is also Homer's Golden Chain of Jupiter that holds the worlds together, Plato's Spindle of Necessity on which all the worlds are threaded and spun, and the Taoists' Celestial Ray that René Guénon has shown us transfixing the levels of existence. There are further symbols for it in Sufism. The nomadic imagination sees it is the central pole of the tent of Heaven, surrounded by four subsidiary posts that are the pillars of the Earth.9 While simple souls may conceive of heaven or earth as actually resting on four pillars-and even on elephants and a turtle, if they are Hindus-these pillars symbolize the locations in space of the two solstices and the two equinoxes, together forming a cross within the circular orbit of the earth.
The Pole is also a mountain, called Mount Qaf, whose ascent, like Dante's climbing of the Mountain of Purgatory, represents the pilgrim's progress through spiritual states.10 We know by now that it is not necessary to think of this as a physical mountain in the Arctic Ocean. Geographically speaking, the mountain of ascent is wherever the pilgrim begins his journey to the "Orient," and its symbol could be the local zenith of every place on earth.11 For the more settled peoples of the Middle East, Mount Qaf was symbolized very adequately by the Babylonian ziggurats, tall towers with a spiral path of ascent, at the top of which is a platform for the observation of the heavens. The aspiration of the builders of the Tower of Babel, in nearby Iraq, to raise a tower "with its top in the heavens" (Genesis 11.4) was not so stupid, nor so arrogant, as Yahweh and his followers thought. The same desire to imitate the axial mountain of the Pole emerges in Chinese pagodas, in the piled-up towers of Hindu temples, and in the spires of Christian churches. Wherever inspired architecture has placed the image of the polar mountain, there the esoteric pilgrim can read the invitation to a spiritual ascent. And where it has not, nature offers the same invitation in the clear air of mountaintops, or in the contemplation of the stars themselves.
In the Iranian theosophy, the heavenly Pole, the focal point of the spiritual ascent, acts as a magnet to draw beings to its "palaces ablaze with immaterial matter."12 Here again one can see a concordance with the physical pole which attracts the loadstone and the compass needle. The Occidental Exile of Sohrawardi is "summoned at last to return home, to return to himself."13 This magnetism is the work of the divine Compassion, that (like Matgioi's "Destiny," mentioned at the end of Chapter Fifteen) eventually draws all its creatures to itself. In a passage that might seem contradictory to the above, Corbin calls the Mountain of Qaf the "Sphere of Spheres surrounding the totality of the visible cosmos; an emerald rock, casting its reflection over the whole of the mountain of Qaf, is the keystone of this celestial vault, the pole."14 The mountain here becomes assimilated to the symbol of the heavenly tent, which must logically be spherical if the earth is so. It is the level of being superior to the visible world, thus the same as the angelic realm that extends infinitely beyond the visible boundary of the fixed stars. There is only one way through the latter, and that is at the celestial pole. The spiritual pilgrim finds there the Emerald Rock, the threshold of the beyond.
Najm Kobra, who wrote in detail on the colors and lights seen on the theosophic journey, speaks of green as the color of the pole.15 The pilgrim at first finds himself in a deep well-evidently the World Axis experienced from within in the unillumined state-that is suddenly illuminated by an extraordinary green light that first shines at the mouth, then, in the course of ascent, suffuses the whole of the well so that one is traveling up a luminous shaft. "Dark at the beginning, because it was the dwelling-place of devils, it is now luminous with green light, because it has become the place to which descend the Angels and the divine Compassion."16
There is no place to digress on the prevalence in the hollow earth literature of green lights, green children, etc.17 But the Iranian theosophers refer continually to this color: to emerald rocks, giving access to emerald cities, and to the Green Island where the hidden Imam dwells.18 All these appear to be transcripts of the same visio smaragdina (emerald vision), an experience of immaterial light, that as Corbin says may either precede or succeed the "darkness at the approach to the pole."19 That the cosmology of Hermes Trismegistus was written on an "emerald tablet" is surely no accident; for such visions are not merely entertainments, like their drug-induced imitations. They bring an initiation of knowledge, both cosmological and theosophic. The pilgrims are not only the richer for the experience, but also the wiser. They are henceforth "Hyperboreans," whose soul has "reached such completeness and harmony that it is devoid of negativity and shadow; it is neither of the east nor of the west."20
This Iranian theosophy could scarcely be further from the narrow and oppressive exotericism for which Iran has temporarily become notorious. We are speaking of a tradition that is Islamic only by accident, as it were, having existed long before Muhammad. Nevertheless, the Shi'ite branch of Islam has contributed richly to the lore of the Pole by identifying with it the hidden Imam. Each prophet-messenger, in Shi'ite doctrine, is followed by twelve Imams who continue his theophanic function. The Twelfth Imam of the Islamic line disappeared in 940 or 941 CE. According to some Sufis he died, and his function has been held ever since by a line of Sufi shaykhs whose names and number are known to initiates. The Ishraqiyun or Oriental theosophers, on the other hand, believe that the Twelfth Imam has not died, but is "occulted," residing in the intermediate world to which access is given as described above. He is and remains the "mystic Pole," until the Resurrection, because he is the last Imam of Islam, and Islam is the last revelation of the prophetic series.21 He does not need to be recognized by mankind to fulfil his function, which is not a social one but a sacral and metaphysical one.22 He is the "perfect Sage, whose mere secret presence, unknown to the multitude of men, at once suffices and is necessary for the leaven of Wisdom to continue to ferment among them and for the perpetuation of a humanity of which the Imam is the 'pole' (qutb)."23 As such, he sounds very much like Guénon's King of the World.
Following Sohrawardi, Corbin explains that around the "hidden Pole" of the Imam is a whole group who are the columns sustaining the world, "since it is through them that the effusion of divine grace still arrives in this world; and if it should ever happen that an epoch were deprived of them, the world would perish in an irreversible catastrophe."24 The numbers of this hierarchy vary; sometimes they are equated with the fourfold columns, but more often with the stars that surround Polaris in the northern sky. Ruzbehan of Shiraz (died 1209), whom Corbin calls "the imam par excellence of the 'Fedeli d'amore' in Iranian Sufism, [...] had a series of visions referring to the heavenly Pole; it was by meditating on these that he finally understood how he was personally and secretly connected with the group of the masters of initiation symbolized by the stars stationed in the immediate vicinity of the Pole Star."25
This again underlines the essentially individual, not social nature of theosophy. Yet it is far from being useless to the community. Just as the Platonic world of Forms gives being to the material world, so the influence of the esoteric masters and the access to them, one by one, of their destined pupils is the magnetic influence that keeps humanity from falling into complete abandonment and self-destruction.26
Ruzbehan, in his vision, was "given oil from the constellation of the Bear," which he seems to have recognized as an anointing, admitting him to the rank of the seven masters of initiation. On turning his attention to the Great Bear, Ruzbehan saw its seven stars as seven apertures through which God was showing himself.27 One should note the language here: in Islam there is no incarnation, as there is in Hinduism and Christianity, but there is theophany, in which God, in Ruzbehan's anthropomorphic terms, "shows himself."
Apart from the obvious analogy with the Seven Rishis of the Vedas, Corbin finds parallels in Zoroastrianism and Taoism to the Sufi's vision of the Great Bear as a constellation of great beings attendant on their polar head.28 In particular, he notes a Taoist tradition of "seven spiritual rulers 'localized' in the constellation of the Bear." This comes from a book called The Classic of the Pivot of Jade, which is the Taoist designation for the Pole Star-jade being, aptly enough, a green stone. The Confucians, being more exoteric, called Polaris the Emperor, and the Great Bear his chariot.29 The Buriats and Mongols apparently saw the stars of the Great Bear as "seven old men" or "seven Tengris" (gods or deified patriarchs),30 which is close to the Hindu designation of them as the Seven Rishis, ancestral heroes or sages translated to the heavens.31
Among those peoples who turned to the Pole Star for their prayers, Corbin names the Mandeans, the Sabeans of Harran, the Manicheans, and the Buddhists of Central Asia.32 The Brethren of Purity of Basra, an isolated community of pious scholars who inherited some of the Sabean practices, held a monthly ritual in which "a cosmic text was read under the starry heavens facing the polar star."33 All in all, the sacred character of the celestial Pole and its attendants seems to have filtered down into the religions of many peoples of Central and Western Asia, but to the "Oriental theosophers" of Iran and their modern spokesman, Henry Corbin, goes the eternal credit of having explored and mapped this place of theophanies and spiritual transmutations.
Dante and the Polar Tradition
Dante's journey through Inferno, Purgatory, and Paradise is the most shining example in Christendom of a theosophic ascent such as the Iranians describe. In the Inferno, Dante and Virgil travel from Jerusalem, the "polar" city of the Judeo-Christian tradition, gradually downwards through the subterranean pit, shaped like a funnel, which ends with Lucifer at the center of the earth. They continue in the same direction, passing rapidly through a tunnel to emerge at the foot of the Mountain of Purgatory, from which they can see the stars of the Southern Cross. Like Meru or Sinai, this is the archetypal mountain with its spiral stages of ascent that join earth to heaven. Being opposite Jerusalem, it must be in the southern hemisphere; one might assimilate it to the negative currents mentioned in our study of the Antarctic (see Chapter Ten). But somehow in the course of the Purgatorio the travelers accomplish a "reversal," for when they reach the Earthly Paradise at the top of the mountain, the stars they see are the Septentrion, the Seven Stars of the Little Bear, that announce the coming of Beatrice on the Griffin Chariot-the Great Bear.34 Beatrice is robed and veiled in green, and her eyes are like emeralds,35 which to the reader schooled in the Iranian theosophy is not simply an emblem of Hope, but an announcement of the "Smaragdine Vision" that is presumably the common experience of all who rise so far.
Illustration 20: Dante's cosmos
Whereas the ascent of the Poimandres situated the purgations of the soul in the seven planetary spheres, omitting any detail of celestial geography beyond the entry into the Eighth Sphere, Dante has them on a mountain which reaches only to the First Heaven, that of the Moon. The planetary spheres are then available as a variegated setting for the Paradiso. Throughout the work, stars are much more important than planets, even including the Sun: as every student of the Divine Comedy knows, the word stelle ends each of the three parts of the poem.
Dante's way to Paradise was through his love for Beatrice, and hers for him. Titus Burckhardt (1908-1984), a very great scholar and a Muslim, in his essay "Why Dante was right," says:
That Dante should have bestowed upon Divine Wisdom the image and name of a beautiful and noble woman is in accordance with a compelling law, not merely because Divine Wisdom, insofar as it is the object of knowledge, includes an aspect which precisely is feminine in the highest sense, but also because the presence of the divine Sophia manifested itself first and foremost to him in the appearance of the beloved woman. Herein a key is provided that enables us to understand, at least in principle, the spiritual alchemy whereby the poet is able to transpose sensory appearances into supra-sensory essences: when love encompasses the entire will and causes it to flow towards the center of the being, it can become knowledge of God. The means that lies between love and knowledge is beauty: upon experiencing its inexhaustible essence-which confers release from all constraints-an aspect of Divine Wisdom is already within it, so that even sexual attraction may lead to knowledge of the Divine, to the extent that passion is absorbed and consumed by love, and passion likewise transformed by the experience of beauty.36Although everyone can find in Dante, as in the Bible, something to support their own agenda, I venture to point out two further appearances of Arktos that seem to bear directly on Burckhardt's theme. One of these occurs during the visit to the Seventh Circle of Purgatory, where the sin of Lust is punished: the souls in their hymn of penitence choose, of all the myriad tales of lust from the pagan repertory, to mention that of Helice (another name for Callisto): "To the wood/Diana ran, and drove forth Helice/Therefrom, who had of Venus felt the poison."37 The second is near the culmination of Paradise, where the angels form themselves into a white rose. Dante likens his amazement to that of
...the barbarians, coming from some region
That every day by Helice is covered,
Revolving with her son whom she delights in,
Beholding Rome and all her noble works...38
The name of Helike, one of the Greek terms for the Great Bear, refers directly to its "helical" spiralling around the celestial Pole; its two appearances in the Paradiso mark precisely the contrast between carnal and spiritual love. With the exception of a mention of Phoebus later in the same canto, this is the last classical reference in the Divine Comedy. At the very least, one can say that Dante was alert to the archetypes with which we have been dealing.
According to the mid-nineteenth century studies of Eugène Aroux-though conventional scholarship seems to know nothing of it-Dante was a member of a secret society called the Fedeli d'Amore, the "Faithful of Love." In one direction, this points back to the "courts of love" of the Troubadours, suppressed in the Albigensian Crusade a century before Dante. In the other, it points forward to the rather watered-down conventions of courtly love which dominate the music and poetry of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, if not long after that. The whole subject is too large and too well-explored for any summary to be desirable here; but the essential thing to be retained is the idea of a spiritual eroticism, or of an erotic spirituality, known in the Bible from the Song of Solomon but rigorously excluded from dogmatic Christianity. Its symbolism is polar because it links heaven and earth, and because its practices concern the axial currents of the human body. There is a Right-handed version, of which Dante is the prince, in which the transmutation of carnal love requires its renunciation. And there is a Left-handed version, more secret by far, in which it does not. Possibly some of the alchemists were practicing the latter with their sorores mysticae.
This brings us again to the Dream of Poliphilo and the group of quattrocento philosophers whose ideals were enshrined in that work during the period of their enforced silencing by the Church. The first letters of each chapter make an acrostic, saying that Francesco Colonna (the protector of the work), was a lover of Polia, who appears in the book as the feminine symbol for Divine Wisdom as revealed through Nature. One notices in passing the fact that Francis "column" was thus the lover of a feminized "pole"! (Joscelyn Godwin, Arktos: The Polar Myth)