III. Mediaeval Philosophers

Chapter Three


Centrum in Trigono Centri

THE external world is an image of the interior world. The astronomy of the visible starry sky is an external reproduction of astrological processes taking place in the invisible heavens, and the revolutions of the planets which are within the reach of observation by our physical senses, are symbols by means of which the action of spiritual powers existing in the universe are represented. As the earth has her seasons of heat and cold, according to her position which she occupies in regard to the sun, and as she approaches the sun at certain times and recedes at others, likewise there are regular periods at which the human mind seems to come nearer to the spiritual sun of divine wisdom, and there are other times when a period of darkness and materialism exists. During the times of perihelion, receptive minds will find it easier to rise up in their thoughts to the fountain of eternal truth; while during the aphelion it requires greater efforts to approach the divine luminary. During the time of the Middle Ages there appears such perihelion to have taken place, and a wave of spirituality was passing over the world, illuminating the minds of those who were receptive for wisdom; while in the minds of the vulgar it merely aroused the emotional element, causing among them an epidemic of superstition, which manifested itself on the external plane as the development of witchcraft and sorcery. There were many hermetic philosophers of great prominence living during those times. Foremost of all must be mentioned Theophrastus Paracelsus, of Hohenheim; Jacob Boehme, Cornelius Agrippa, Basilius Valentinus, Robert Fludd, and many others too numerous to be named. As the lives and the philosophy of the two former ones have already been explicitly dealt with in my other books, I will select from the rest the writings of Cornelius Agrippa as a type of what was taught by those mediæval philosophers.

Cornelius Agrippa of Nettesheim was born of a noble family at Coeln (Cologne) on September 14, in the year 1486. He was a philosopher, physician, lawyer, theologian, soldier, and also a statesman. He studied the Occult Sciences, and is said to have been a good Alchemist. He also organized at Paris a secret society for the purpose of studying the secret sciences. He drew upon himself the hatred and malice of the clergy, whose evil practices he desired to reform, and he was consequently denounced as a black magician and sorcerer, and there are even to-day nearly as many fabulous stories circulating about him as there are in regard to the reputed black magician, Doctor Faustus. He was an open enemy of the Holy Inquisition, continually persecuted by the latter, and therefore he had to change his place of residence very often. While only twenty-four years of age he wrote his celebrated work, “Occulta Philosophia,” which in his riper age he greatly improved. His study of the occult side of nature led him to realize the fact that the truth cannot be found in illusions, even if they belong to the supersensual plane of existence, and he therefore says in his book, “De Vanitate Scientiarum”: “He who does not prophesy in the truth and power of God, but by means of dæmons and evil spirits, errs. He who produces illusions by magic spells, exorcisms, citations, conjurations, philtres, and other dæmoniacal methods deserves to be punished in hell.”

Cornelius Agrippa made great effort to restore the true meaning of the term “Magic”: a term which means the exercise of spiritual functions which are in possession of the wise; but the ignorant even to this day use the term “Magic,” when they want to talk about Sorcery and Villainy, which is not wisdom, but the very thing opposed to it. In regard to his book he says: “I have written it in such a manner that those who are wise will find therein all the information they desire; but to the evil disposed and the sceptic the door to the mysterious realm will remain closed, no matter how hard they may struggle to enter it. If you possess the power of seeing with the eye of reason, the whole sublime magic science will appear before your sight, and you will know the powers which Hermes, Zoroaster, and Apollonius knew.”

“The Key to the highest and divine philosophy of the mysterious powers of nature is reason. The brighter the sun of reason shines, the more powerful will the intellect grow, and the easier will it become for us to accomplish even the most wonderful things. But if the intellect is in the bonds of flesh, if it cannot overcome the errors received by inheritance and false education, it will be unable to penetrate into the divine mysteries of nature and God. He who wants to enter into the sanctuary must die. He must die to the world and to external sensual attractions, die to his animal instincts and desires. Not that by such a death the soul would become separated from the body; but the soul must be able to step out of the latter. Therefore Paulus writes to the Colossians: ‘You have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God’; and at another place he says: ‘I know a man (but whether he was in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows it) he was exalted into the third heaven.’ Such a death must he die who wishes to know God, and only few are privileged to do so.”

“Whatever we read about the irresistible powers of the Magic Art, of the wonderful sights of the Astrologers, etc., will be found to be fables and lies as soon as we take those things in their external and literal meaning. Their external forms cover internal truths, and he who desires to see those truths must be in possession of the divine light of reason, which is in possession of very few. Therefore those who attempt to solve the problems of the divine secrets of nature by the reading of books will remain in the dark; they are led away from the light of reason by the illusive glare of their erring intellect; they arc misguided by the tricks of external astral influences and by erroneous imaginations. They fall continually into error by seeking beyond their own selves that which exists within themselves. You must know that the great cause of all magic effects is not external to ourselves, but operating within ourselves, and this cause can produce all that the Magicians, Astrologers, Alchemists, or Necromancers ever produced. Within ourselves is the power which produces all wonderful things.

Nos habitat, non tartara, sed nec sidera coeli
Spiritus in nobis, qui viget, illa facit.

“Magic Science embraces a knowledge of the most sublime and exalted truths, the deepest mysteries in nature, the knowledge of the nature of matter and energy, of the attributes and qualities of all things. By uniting the powers of nature and combining the lower with its corresponding higher counterpart the most surprising effects may be produced. This science is therefore the highest and most perfect of all; she is a sacred and exalted philosophy the culminating point of all.”

Agrippa regards nature as being a trinity; an elementary (corporeal) astral and spiritual world, and the lower principles are intimately connected with the higher ones, forming thus four more intermediary states; that is to say, seven in all.

The cause of all activity in the universe is the omnipresent principle of Life (being identical with the Will), a function of the universal spirit. This life principle causes the ethereal Soul to act upon the gross element of Matter.

“The Spirit—the Primum mobile—is self-existent and is motion; the body, or the element of matter, is in its essence without motion, and differs so much from the former that an intermediary substance is required by which the Spirit can be united with the body. This intermediary spiritual substance is the soul, or the fifth essence (quinta essentia) because it is not included in the four states of matter, which are called the four elements, but constitutes a fifth element, or a higher state of matter which is perceptible to the physical senses. This soul of the world is of the same form as the world; because as the spirit in man acts upon all the members of his body by means of man’s soul, likewise the universal spirit by means of the soul of the universe pervades and penetrates all parts of the latter. There is nothing in the world which does not contain a spark of this universal power; but spirit is most active in those things or beings in whom the activity of soul is strongest.

This astral spirit can be rendered very useful to us if we know how to separate it from the other elements, or if we use such things as contain an abundance of it. There are certain things in which this principle is not so deeply sunk into or so strongly amalgamated with the body as it is in others, and such things act powerfully and may produce their counterparts.

This is the great alchemical agent, and in it are contained all productive and generative powers. If this spirit is extracted from gold or silver and united with some other metal it transforms the latter into gold, respectively silver.

There is such a great harmony and unity in nature that every superior power sends its rays through intermediary links down to the lowest, and the most inferior thing may rise up through the scale to the highest. Thus the lowest is connected with the highest comparable to a string of a musical instrument, which vibrates in its whole length if touched at one end. If the lower is acted on it reacts upon the higher, and the highest corresponds to the lowest.

A thing of very small size may produce a great effect (as may be seen by the growth of a tree from a seed), but this cannot take place with an elementary quality (physical force). The hidden powers may accomplish a great deal, because they are the properties of the form to which they belong; but the elementary (mechanical or physical) forces, being material, require a great deal of matter to produce great effects upon matter. The powers belonging to the form are called occult powers, because their causes are hidden; that is to say, even the sharpest intellect cannot thoroughly conceive of their nature, and what the philosophers know about them they have learned rather by observation and experience, than by intellectual reasoning.

God created man in His own image. The universe is the image of God and man is the image of nature. Man is therefore, so to say, the . image of the image; in other words a Microcosmos, or little world. The world is a reasonable, living, and immortal being; man is equally reasonable, but he is mortal, or at least divisible. Hermes Trismegistus says that the world is immortal, because no part of it is ever annihilated. Nothing is ever annihilated, and if “to die” means to be annihilated, then is “dying” a term without any reason for its existence; because there is no death in nature. If we say that a man dies, we do not mean to imply that anything of that man perishes; we only mean to say that his body and soul become separated from each other. The true image of God is His Word, Wisdom, Life, Light, and Truth; they exist through Him, and the (spiritual) soul is their image. This is the reason why it is said that we (man in its primitive purity as a spiritual being) have been created in the image of God, and not in the image of the world or its creatures. God can neither be touched with the hand, nor be heard with the external ear, nor be seen with the external eye, and likewise the spirit of man can neither be seen, heard, or touched in this manner. God is infinite and cannot be overpowered by anything, and likewise is man’s spirit (spiritual soul) free and can neither be forced nor limited. In God is contained the whole world and everything existing therein, and likewise in the will of man is contained every part of his body. Man being thus stamped and sealed in the image of God as His counterpart, necessarily clothed himself in a form, representing the true image of nature. He is therefore called the second or little world; he contains everything contained in the great world, and there is nothing existing in the latter which is not also truly existing within the organism of man. In him are contained all the elements (principles), each principle according to its own qualities; in him is the ethereal astral body, the vehicle of his soul, corresponding to the firmament of the world; in him is the vegetative power of plants, the principle of sensation, manifest in the animal kingdom, the divine spirit, divine reason, and the divine mind. All this is contained in man, united to a unity and belonging to him by divine right. Man is therefore called by the Bible “the whole creation,” and in his aspect as the Microcosm he contains not only all parts of the world, but also contains and comprehends the divinity itself.

The natural Soul is the Medium by which the Spirit becomes united with the flesh and the body, through which the latter lives and acts and exercises its functions. This Medium is intelligent, but also so to say corporeal; or to express it perhaps more correctly, the soul takes part in the materiality of the physical body. This is the doctrine of all hermetic philosophers. Man consists of the higher, the intermediary, and the lower principles. The higher ones are called the illuminated spiritual soul, and Moses speaks of it figuratively as having been breathed by God into the nostrils of man. The lowest is the animal soul (anima sensitiva). The apostle Paulus calls it the animal man. The intermediate part is the rational soul which connects the animal soul with the divine mind and takes part in the nature of the two extremes. This part, to become free, must be separated from the lower elements by the power of the Will of which the apostle says, that it is living and cutting like a sword. The divine principle never sins and never consents to sin; but the animal principle sinks continually lower in animal desires unless it is held up by the divine spirit. The highest part of ourselves is never subject to punishment, knows nothing of the sufferings of the lower principle; but returns after being separated from the lower principles to its divine source; but that part which is called the rational soul, and which being free, may choose between rite higher or lower, will, if it continually clings to the highest, become united with God and immortal in him; but if the intellectual principle clings to that which is evil, it will become ultimately evil, and grow to be a malicious demon.

God is the centre of the world and enters the heart of man, like a sun-ray. As the spirit of God descends, it surrounds itself with an ethereal substance, forming the Astral body, the vehicle of the soul (the fiery chariot of the soul). From the centre of the heat the spirit radiates into all parts of the body and pervades all its members, combining its own vehicle with the natural heart of the body and with the soul substance generated within the heart. By means of the soul it mixes with and amalgamates with the fluids (the blood, nerve currents, etc.), and with all organs of the body. The soul is therefore equally near to all organs, although she radiates from one organ into another in the same sense as the heat of a fire is intimately connected with air and water, if it is carried from fire to water by means of the air. In this way we may form a conception of the process, by which the immortal spirit by means of its immortal ethereal vehicle may be enabled to adhere to and mix with a dense, mortal, material body. If by disease or otherwise the connection between different parts of the same organism is interrupted, the spirit returns again to the heart. If the life-principle leaves the heart, the spirit departs with the ethereal vehicle and the physical organism dies.

The first Light in God is beyond intellectual conception, and can therefore not be called a conceivable light; but as it enters the mind it becomes intellectual light and may be intellectually conceived. Entering into the soul it may not only be conceived, but also understood. It is incorporeal. When it enters into the ethereal vehicle it takes form, invisible to the physical senses; but when it penetrates the elementary (physical) organism, it becomes also visible to the external perception. By this gradual progression of this divine Light from Spirit into dense Matter our spirit may obtain great power. It is possible that if the thoughts of the wise are directed with great intensity upon God, the divine light illuminates the mind and radiates its rays through all the parts of the dark and gross body, causing even the latter to become illuminated like a luminous star, and to change its attraction to the earth, so that it may be raised up into the air, and thus it has happened that even the physical bodies of men have been carried away to some distant locality. So great is the interior power of the spirit over the external body that the former may lift the latter up and take him to that place where man’s thought travels or where he desires or dreams to be.

Man’s power to think increases in proportion as this ethereal and celestial power or light penetrates his mind, and strengthening his mental faculties, it may enable him to see and perceive that which he interiorly thinks, just as if it were objectively and eternal. Spirit being unity and independent of our ideas of space, and all men having therefore essentially the same spirit, the souls of men existing at places widely distant from each other may thus enter into communication and converse with each other exactly in the same manner as if they had met in their physical bodies. In this state man may perform a great many things in an exceedingly short period of time, so that it may seem to us as if he had required no time at all to perform it. But not everybody can do so; it can only be done by those whose imagination and power of thought is very strong. Such a man (an Adept) is able to comprehend and understand everything by the light of the universal power or guiding intelligence with which he is spiritually united.

But if imagination possess such a power that it cannot be impeded or restrained by the obstacles presented by time or distance, if it can even communicate itself to the heavy physical body and carry the latter with it; then it will be reasonable to believe that thought becomes still more powerful if it becomes free and may follow its natural inclinations, instead of being held back by the attractions of the sensual plane. In each man there is such a power, which is the inherent property of his soul by right of the divine origin of the latter; but this power is not equally developed in all men, but stronger in some, weaker in others, and according to the state of its development the possibility to use it differs in different individuals.

By this power two persons being bodily far distant from each other may exchange their thoughts, or one may impress his thoughts upon another, and such a power may be used for good or for evil purposes. Weak-minded persons may thus be fascinated by stronger minds, or be made to fall in love with the person by whom they are thus fascinated. The instrument of fascination is the spirit, and the organ by which it eminently expresses itself is the eye. Thus the spirit of one person may enter the heart of another by way of the eyes, and kindle a fire therein which may burn and communicate itself to the whole body. If two persons look into the eyes of each other, their spirits come in contact, and mix and amalgamate with each other. Thus love may be caused by a look in a moment of time, like a wound caused suddenly by an arrow. The spirit and the blood of a person thus affected then turn towards him who fascinated it, like the avenging spirit and the blood of a murdered person turns against the murderer.

The passions of the soul which adhere to the imagination may, if they are sufficiently strong, not only produce changes in the organism to which they belong, but also be transferred upon another organism, and thus impressions may be made by the will of a person upon the elements and external things, and thus diseases of the soul or body may be caused or cured. The state of the soul is the principal cause of the condition of the external body. A strong, exalted soul, stimulated by a strong and active imagination, may not merely cause health or disease in her own organism, but also in that of others with which she comes in contact. Evil disposed persons may exert a very evil influence upon others by their look. The invisible forces emmanating from the soul through the eye are much more powerful, stronger, hotter, and more active than the emanations of the physical body. The soul-force of a person entering within the soul sphere of another acts therein not less strong than it would act if it had originated in the latter. By such means one man may exert an influence upon the mind and character of another. The spirit may accomplish a great deal by the power of Faith. This power is a firm confidence or conviction, based upon the knowledge that one can and will accomplish his purpose. It is a strong, unwavering attention which gives strength to the work, causing, so to say, an image in our mind of the power which is necessary to accomplish the work, and of the work which is to be accomplished in, by, and through ourselves. We must, therefore, in all magic operations, apply a strong will, a vivid imagination, a confident hope, and a firm faith; all of which combined will assist in producing the desired result.

It is well known that if a rich person has confidence and faith in his physician, he is more liable to be benefited by the latter than if he mistrusts him, and often the presence of the physician in whom the patient has faith benefits the latter more than the remedies which he uses. The presence of a spiritually-minded physician who possesses a strong soul, and who desires to help the patient, is a power which is often sufficiently strong to change the pathological activity of the soul-elements of the patient (of which the physical processes taking place in the organism are merely the external expression), and thus to restore the patient. Every physician ought therefore be a magician in a certain sense. He ought not to doubt in the least that he will be successful in that which he attempts to accomplish. He ought not even to permit a thought of the possibility of a failure to enter his mind; because as a firm faith may accomplish wonderful things, likewise doubt disperses the active power of the operator and renders it ineffective. In such a case the spiritual activity vibrates, so to say, between two extremes: it lacks the projecting impulse to enter the physical organism of the patient, it becomes diffused in space and is lost.

In this power of the spirit over the element of matter by means of the soul rests the power of certain signs, images, formulas, incantations, words, etc., and many wonderful experiments may thus be produced. The activity of the spirit strengthens the soul; by the will and imagination of the spirit the soul receives strength to act upon matter.

There is a spiritual power residing in the soul of man which enables the latter to attract, influence, and change things. If the power of the soul mounts to a certain height she may overpower the elements which hold her in bonds; for that which is above attracts and subjects that which is below, and the latter partakes of the changes of the former. Therefore, a man who has rendered himself capable to receive celestial gifts, by making use of the aspirations (functions) of his soul and employing natural things, may influence another being who is less spiritually strong, and force him to obey.

He may cure another by the power of his will or cause him to be sick or kill him; he may make him joyful or sad, fill him with fear, admiration, respect, veneration, etc.

The root from which all such effects spring is a strong and decided will supported by the spiritual influence coming from and through the heart. An opposing spiritual activity will, if the latter surpasses the former in strength, neutralize or repulse it, or weaken its influence.

If a man becomes subject to a fascination, it is not his intellectual principle, but his sensual (animal) soul which is thus affected. The intelligent and spiritual part in man cannot be thus magically influenced. If the organism of a man is suffering it suffers according to its animal and terrestrial, and not in his spiritual or celestial aspect. The intelligent and spiritual part of man can merely know that such influences are acting upon the lower principles by a certain sensation which is communicated from the lower to the higher elements. Intelligent man feels the influence which is exercised by external conditions upon his animal constitution; but he is not himself subject to their influences. Everything belonging to the above moves that which is next to it below according to its degree and order, not merely in the visible, but also in the invisible part of nature. Thus the Universal Soul moves the individual souls, the Mind acts upon the animal, and the animal upon the vegetative principle. Each part of the world acts upon every other part, and each one is capable to be moved by another; and upon each part of the lower world acts the higher world, according to the attributes and conditions of the former, just as one part of the animal organism acts upon another.

There is an art, known only to few, by which the purified and faithful (intellectual) soul of man may be instructed and illuminated, so as to be raised at once from the darkness of ignorance to the light of wisdom and knowledge. There is also an art, by which the knowledge gained by the impure and unfaithful may be taken away from their mind and memory and they thus be reduced to their former state of ignorance.

Apuleius says that the human soul may be put into a state of sleep, so that she will forget her terrestrial conditions and turning her whole being towards her divine origin, she will become illuminated by the divine light, and not only be able to see the future and to prophesy it correctly, but also to receive certain spiritual powers. On such occasions the divine inspiration and illumination may be so great, as even to communicate itself to other persons near, and to influence them in a similar manner.

Persons in a state of receptivity or passivity may become mediums through which divine demons (influences) may be attracted within the body of man and cause men to perform wonderful things. If the soul of such a person breaks away from the bonds of the body and surrenders herself to the power of imagination, she may become the habitation of demons of a lower order, which may enable her to perform extraordinary things. Thus we may see that a person who has never had any instructions in painting may suddenly exercise that art and produce an artistic work, etc., etc. If the soul enters entirely the intellectual sphere, she may become the habitation of another class of demons and obtain great knowledge in regard to human and external things, and man may thus become suddenly a great philosopher, physician, orator, etc., without having learned those things; but if the soul rises up entirely to the region of divinity, she may become the habitation of divine spiritual influences, and obtain a knowledge of divine mysteries .

Only those who are pure-minded and spiritual can possess true magic powers. Thought is the supreme power in man, and pure spiritual thought is the miracle-worker within him. If the thought of man is bound to the flesh, deeply amalgamated with it and occupied with animal desires, it loses its power over the divine elements, and therefore among those who seek to exercise magic powers there are few who succeed. If we desire to become spiritually developed we must try to find out how we can free ourselves of our animal instincts and desires and become rid of our sensuality and passions, and we must, furthermore, attempt to rise up to a state of true spirituality. Without accomplishing these two propositions we will never rise up to that state which is necessary to obtain magic powers, which result from the spiritual elevation and dignity of man.

We should therefore attempt to remove all external impediments which are in the way of our spiritual development and live in a state of purity. Our thoughts should be continually directed inwardly and within ourselves; for within ourselves is the element of consciousness, knowledge, and power. Nothing hinders us to develop and exercise our own powers, except our misconceptions, imaginations, and external desires. Therefore the divine influences will only come to him who liberates his soul of all such hindrances, carnal desires, prejudices, and hallucinations. A diseased eye cannot bear to look at the light; an impure soul is repulsed by the divine light of truth.

Such a process of development and unfolding is not accomplished at once, but requires time and patience; a neophyte cannot immediately understand the mysteries of initiation when he enters the sacred precincts. The soul must be gradually accustomed to the light until the power of spiritual thought is unfolded, and the latter being, continually directed towards the divine light, becomes at last united with it. If the soul is perfectly purified and sanctified she becomes free in her movements; she sees and recognizes the divine light and she instructs herself, while she seems to be instructed by another. In that state she requires no other admonition or instruction except her own thought, which is the head and guide of the soul. She is then no more subject to terrestrial conditions of time, but lives in the eternal, and for her to desire a thing is to possess it already.

C. Agrippa here adds the following instructions, copied from Boethius:—

“The guides on the road to perfection are Faith, Hope, and Charity, and the means to attain this object are Purity, Temperance, Self-control, Chastity, Tranquility of Mind, Contemplation, Adoration (Ecstasy), Aspiration, and Virtue.”

If the highest state of spiritual development is attained, the spirit, endowed with the highest spiritual activity of the soul, attracts the truth, and perceives and knows at once the conditions, causes, and effects of all external and internal, natural and divine things. It sees them within the eternal truth like in a mirror of Eternity. By this process Man, while he still remains in eternal nature, may know all that exists in the internal and external world, and see all things, not merely those which are, but also those which have been, or which will exist in the future, and, moreover, by being united and identified with the divine power (The Logos), he obtains the power to change things by the power of his (spiritual) Word. Thus man being within nature may be above her and control her laws.”

Those who are able to read the works of Cornelius Agrippa by the light of internal reason, will see that a single page of his books contains more wisdom than whole libraries filled with the speculations and theories of our modern philosophers, and his name and doctrines will be remembered and admired when all the illusions and hallucinations of the latter will have sunk into the oblivion which they deserve.