The Three Princes of Serendip – origin of the word Serendipity

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“The story has become known in the English speaking world as the source of the word serendipity, coined by Horace Walpole because of his recollection of the part of the “silly fairy tale” where the three princes by “accidents and sagacity” discern the nature of a lost camel.

“This discovery indeed is almost of that kind which I call serendipity, a very expressive word, which as I have nothing better to tell you, I shall endeavour to explain to you: you will understand it better by the derivation than by the definition. I once read a silly fairy tale called The Three Princes of Serendip: as their highnesses travelled, they were always making discoveries, by accident and sagacity, of things which they were not in quest of: for instance, one of them discovered that a mule blind of the right eye had travelled the same road lately, because the grass was eaten only on the left side, where it was worse than on the right – now do you understand serendipity? ”  http://livingheritage.org/three_princes.htm

In a separate line of descent, the story was used by Voltaire in his 1747 Zadig, and through this contributed to both the evolution of detective fiction and also to the self-understanding of scientific method.”

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Edgar Allan Poe in his turn was probably inspired by Zadig when he created C. Auguste Dupin in “The Murders in the Rue Morgue”, calling it a “tale of ratiocination” wherein “the extent of information obtained lies not so much in the validity of the inference as in the quality of the observation.” Poe’s M. Dupin stories mark the start of the modern detective fiction genre. Émile Gaboriau, and Arthur Conan Doyle were perhaps also influenced by Zadig.

The Three Princes of Serendip is the English version of the story Peregrinaggio di tre giovani figliuoli del re di Serendippo published by Michele Tramezzino in Venice in 1557. Tramezzino claimed to have heard the story from one Cristoforo Armeno, who had translated the Persian fairy tale into Italian, adapting Book One of Amir Khusrau‘s Hasht-Bihisht of 1302. The story first came to English via a French translation, and now exists in several out-of-print translations.  Serendip is the Perso-Arabic name for Sri Lanka (Ceylon).

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“as their Highnesses travelled, they were always making discoveries, by accidents and sagacity, of things which they were not in quest of.” 

 

“In ancient times there existed in the country of Serendippo, in the Far East, a great and powerful king by the name of Giaffer. He had three sons who were very dear to him. And being a good father and very concerned about their education, he decided that he had to leave them endowed not only with great power, but also with all kinds of virtues of which princes are particularly in need.”

The father searches out the best possible tutors. “And to them he entrusted the training of his sons, with the understanding that the best they could do for him was to teach them in such a way that they could be immediately recognized as his very own.”

When the tutors are pleased with the excellent progress that the three princes make in the arts and sciences, they report it to the king. He, however, still doubts their training, and summoning each in turn, declares that he will retire to the contemplative life leaving them as king. Each politely declines, affirming the father’s superior wisdom and fitness to rule.

The king is pleased, but fearing that his sons’ education may have been too sheltered and privileged, feigns anger at them for refusing the throne and sends them away from the land.

No sooner do the three princes arrive abroad than they trace clues to identify precisely a camel they have never seen. They conclude that the camel is lame, blind in one eye, missing a tooth, carrying a pregnant woman, and bearing honey on one side and butter on the other. When they later encounter the merchant who has lost the camel, they report their observations to him. He accuses them of stealing the camel and takes them to the Emperor Beramo, where he demands punishment.

Beramo asks how they are able to give such an accurate description of the camel if they have never seen it. It is clear from the princes’ replies that they have used small clues to infer cleverly the nature of the camel.

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Grass had been eaten from the side of the road where it was less green, so the princes had inferred that the camel was blind on the other side. Because there were lumps of chewed grass on the road that were the size of a camel’s tooth, they inferred they had fallen through the gap left by a missing tooth. The tracks showed the prints of only three feet, the fourth being dragged, indicating that the animal was lame. That butter was carried on one side of the camel and honey on the other was evident because ants had been attracted to melted butter on one side of the road and flies to spilled honey on the other.

As for the woman, one of the princes said: “I guessed that the camel must have carried a woman, because I had noticed that near the tracks where the animal had knelt down the imprint of a foot was visible. Because some urine was nearby, I wet my fingers and as a reaction to its odour I felt a sort of carnal concupiscence, which convinced me that the imprint was of a woman’s foot.”

“I guessed that the same woman must have been pregnant,” said another prince, “because I had noticed nearby handprints which were indicative that the woman, being pregnant, had helped herself up with her hands while urinating.”

At this moment, a traveller enters the scene to say that he has just found a missing camel wandering in the desert. Beramo spares the lives of the three princes, lavishes rich rewards on them, and appoints them to be his advisors.” (wiki – The Three Princes of Serendip)

“The origin of the idea to which serendipity gives its name can be traced through a literary historiography and like many such terms has a wonderfully layered texture, a sort of stratigraphy of narrative, interpretation and contingency, almost as though the concept was an example of the very thing it named. The term was coined by Horace Walpole, an art historian, writer and political figure of the eighteenth century, based on a Persian fairy tale called The Three Princes of Serendip, (Serendip being the Persian name for Ceylon/Sri Lanka). The tale concerns three exiled princes who survived and prospered by their wits. Actually it has little to do with serendipity as we understand it today; it details something more like the application of deductive logic to evidence, a proto- semiotics. In the most famous story, the princes, by reading telltale signs, are able to describe a stolen camel that they have never seen – understandably leading to suspicion falling on them – before explaining their method and saving their own necks.”
dawnoftheunread blog

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The Remains of Elmet: a collaboration by Ted Hughes & Fay Godwin

The Ancient Kingdom of Elmet witnessed “Druidism; Britons, their fight against Rome and their adoption of Romanism; the start of Christianity and the clash with Rome’s catholic Christianity; a Bardic tradition in a Brythonic tongue and then in the highest quality Latin, the struggle against the English; the struggle against the Norse; the coming of the Normans; civil war in the 12th century; Scottish raids; the rise & fall of the Percy’s; the bloodiest battle in the Wars of the Roses; religious rebellion in the Tudor times; sieges and battles in the English Civil War; the growth of great estates through the 18th century; the centre of the Industrial Revolution. “

– John Davey

Elmet (Elmed/Elfed) called Elmete Saetan or “the dwelling place of the people of Elmete” came into prominence following the evacuation of the Roman Legions from Britain after 407-410 A.D. As such it is synonymous with the origins of Arthurian legends much corrupted by later generations.

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The Ancient Kingdom of Elmet has inspired bards, poets, photographers and authors, among others, with its history, legends, landscape and folklore, not least of all the Arthurian legends, though that connection is for another day.

One such body of work inspired by the landscape and history, is the collaborative Remains of Elmet. Collaborations between poets and photographers became increasingly common in the late twentieth century. Among the most successful was Remains of Elmet (1979), by photographer Fay Godwin and poet Ted Hughes.

Remains of Elmet

Remains of Elmet marks a departure from Hughes myth laden sequences of poetry which he produced in the 1970s. After the likes of CrowCave Birds and Gaudete,Remains of Elmet appears downbeat by comparison with its sparse lines of verse and bleak black and white high contrast photographs of the West Yorkshire landscape as taken by Hughes’s collaborator on this project Fay Godwin. ” – The Ted Hughes Society

Fay Godwin, Remains of Elmet
Fay Godwin, Remains of Elmet

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Fay Godwin, Ruined Farm, Stanbury Moor, 1979

“Hughes’s poetic vision of the Calder Valley, a region formerly referred to by the Celts as ‘Elmet’, is not a wistful and rose-tinted appreciation of the area he grew up in. His poems depict a weather beaten landscape and people and the vestiges of industrial enterprise, religious custom and ancient tradition. Here, the only survivor among these remains, the only ‘thing’ to flourish, is nature as it reclaims the land from those who inhabit it. This underlying conflict is foregrounded by allusions to the First World War where the valley is at once an extension of the Western Front and a site of remembrance with repeated allusions to the cenotaph and the war dead. Survivors of this conflict and the generation of inhabitants who have witnessed its economic demise become anachronisms, symbolic of an inertia crippling attempts of tame the valley.” – The Ted Hughes Society

Fay Godwin is very much a writer’s photographer, in more senses than one. Poets and novelists are drawn to her work, and she worked closely with several.”

“From an urban life as a 60s north London wife, mother and hostess, she set out on a long journey into the wilder landscapes of Britain, sometimes in company, sometimes alone, often on foot, and built up over time a body of work that reflects a deep sense of place and the poetry of place. In 1970 she met Ted Hughes, with whom she formed a creative partnership which was to result in his lament for the Calder Valley, Remains of Elmet (1979). Perhaps the best known of her collaborations, this volume was very much poem-led. She responded strongly to his vision of the ruined mills, the “melting corpses of farms”, the Satanic majesty, the sluttish subsidy sheep, the black chimneys, the cemeteries, the millstone grit, the willow herb. It was through Hughes, she said, that she got to know England.” Margaret Drabble on Fay Godwin

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Fay Godwin, Top Withens

Fay Godwin on a Photographers Place workshop in the late 1970s
Fay Godwin on a Photographers Place workshop in the late 1970s

“Attuned to each other, like the strings of a harp
They are making mesmerising music,
Each one bowed at his dried bony profile, as at a harp.
Singers of a lost kingdom. “

(from Remains of Elmet)

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Ted Hughes

“Throughout his creative life, Ted Hughes has used his poetry to tap the universal energies and to channel their healing powers towards the sterility and the divisions which he sees in our world. All his major sequences of poetry work towards this end, and Remains of Elmet represents an important step in Hughes’ ability to achieve wholeness and harmony through the imaginative, healing processes of his art.

In his pursuit of these regenerative energies, Hughes appears to have adopted the role of poet/priest/shaman, and it is a role which carries responsibilities that Hughes takes very seriously. He is aware of the creative/destructive powers of the energies he courts, and he has a superstitious belief that by fixing these powerful energies in a poem he can affect both writer and reader “in a final way”. Consequently, Hughes has experimented with many methods of summoning and containing these energies and, whilst he is skilled at using the rhythms and the rituals of poetry for this purpose, in his longer sequences he most frequently turns to “the old method” of religious and mythological ritual in order to obtain the imaginative healing he intends.” © Ann Skea – Regeneration in Remains of Elmet

For more on Elmet

sources:

Margaret Drabble on Fay Godwin

The Ted Hughes Society

Ann Skea – Regeneration in Remains of Elmet

 

 

 

Hilda Doolittle (H.D.) poet (1886–1961) – The Mysteries Remain

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“So, for once, let’s forget her beauty, and the string of amorous famous writers who sought her out. Never mind that she starred in an anti-racist silent film with Paul Robeson. Never mind she held her own throughout psychoanalysis with Freud, himself. Never mind her exotic travels, her busy androgyny, her splendid daughter, her voluntary exile abroad, her great clothes. Never mind, even, her two sublime strokes of luck: Winifred Bryher, her loyal, glorious patron, lover, and friend for some forty years; and Norman Holmes Pearson, who for thirty-plus years befriended her writing, its public relations, and its most advantageous publication.

All that is history, a done deal. What lives are the poems, and plenty of them. A fat volume of Collected Poems, which includes Sea Garden (1916), The God (1913–1917), Translations (1915–1920), Hymen (1921),Heliodora (1924), Red Roses for Bronze (1931), and Trilogy, which consists of The Walls Do Not Fall (1944), Tribute to the Angels (1944), and The Flowering of the Rod (1944), take us from 1912 to 1944. Two important books of new poems follow: Helen in Egypt (1961) and the posthumous Hermetic Definition(1972). First to last her work is shot through with brightness, streaks of lines and tunes, excited recognitions, hints of transfiguring.

H. D. is a poet who counts on her pleasure in the intense intuition it takes to unify sound and picturing. This serves her gift for co-opting ordinary phrases, making them memorable in oddly elevated ways—as she says, “realizing a self / an octave above.” She never loses her verbal music.

We can trace the development of her poems, beginning with her early Imagiste poems, which are vivid, vehement, and static; maybe, in their strained, metaphors, deliberately odd. Waves become trees. A leaf is a green stone. Poems are addressed to a storm, a twig, a moon; poems are spoken by gods, goddesses, and ancient heroes: Pygmalion, Demeter, Eurydice. Their unsituated significance comes to us chiefly through the almost liturgical stance of the poet, who takes great stylistic care to speak as though entranced.”

https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/text/shot-through-brightness-poems-h d

The Mysteries Remain by H.D. (Hilda Doolittle)

The mysteries remain,
I keep the same
cycle of seed-time
and of sun and rain;
Demeter in the grass,
I multiply,
renew and bless
Bacchus in the vine;
I hold the law,
I keep the mysteries true,
the first of these
to name the living, dead;
I am the wine and bread.
I keep the law,
I hold the mysteries true,
I am the vine,
the branches, you
and you.

H.D.’S wiki entry for more background, references and links to works: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/H.D. 

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Working through Depression with Alchemy

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“More than a school of thought, alchemy is a gnosis, a “way” of knowing. It is a deliberate attempt to grasp immortality in which the process is paramount. We all embody the archetypal journey of life, consciously or unconsciously. We are born in our essential nature but it quickly becomes covered with a hard-shelled core of the false ego. We long to return to our true nature. Alchemy amplifies and accelerates this process of self-actualization, connecting with a sacred sense of self.

Naturally, there is no absolute actualization, no final self-reflective insight. It is a recursive formula of returning, over and over on more subtle levels, to the sacred center where heaven and earth meet. You don’t have to heroically “succeed” at alchemy.

Not succeeding will deepen you as you improvise the narrative that is your life up to that point. How many times do we make, then lose the Stone? How many times do we lose our hard-won happiness or wholeness? The trick is to not paralyze yourself with New Age guilt over it. If a scientist has a failed experiment he or she doesn’t wallow in shame or analysis paralysis but starts over with new boundary conditions.

First, you must separate yourself from the herd mentality. When your comfort zone becomes constrictive, you have grown beyond it. Still, only a few adventurous souls will move beyond the cocoon of their self-imposed prison. If you suppress yourself too much, you become a stranger to yourself. Alienation is felt as chronic depression.

You have to change your level of game play, change your reality map. You die to one level to be reborn at a higher level. Dis-identify from the social hologram, dis-identify from rigid roles and soul-diminishing victimization to become open. To step up your game, you have to reconnect with your core, your deep presence and awareness. Reality speaks for itself if we listen closely enough to nature and our nature. But you have to retrain your eyes, ears, and heart to comprehend the intuitive language of alchemy.”

“The spiritual landscape is changing and alchemy offers a safe harbor for the drifting spirit beyond institutional or cult affiliation. Many paths are vying for participants but alchemy chooses you. It is a self-initiatory path that provides a structure or scaffolding for metaphorical death and rebirth, a generic process described in many traditions. But you must remain dedicated to the process.In exploring the unknown you are exploring yourself. The journey to wholeness often begins with a retreat – into oneself, your interior nature.”

From: Working through Depression with Alchemy http://ionamiller.weebly.com/nigredo-depression.html

Evil Twins and Doppelgangers: What Meaning Does the Double Have in Folklore?

(from @FolkloreThurs – link to full article below)
“Norse mythology features a strange type of double in the vardøger. In a weird form of reverse deja vu; the double does everything the real person is going to do before they actually do it. Witnesses report seeing or hearing a person before they physically arrive.The German writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe bumped into his double on the road. Goethe was riding towards Drusenheim, and his double approached in the other direction. This second Goethe wore a grey suit trimmed in gold. Goethe found himself on the same road eight years later, riding in the opposite direction. He was wearing a gold-trimmed grey suit.”

Read the full article at the link below.

Source: Evil Twins and Doppelgangers: What Meaning Does the Double Have in Folklore? – #FolkloreThursday

* Interestingly, I’ve had a couple of episodes similar to both of those described in the short excerpt above. At school, I saw a friend of mine enter the classroom, late for class, and flustered. She closed the classroom door with her back, and approached the teacher to apologise for her lateness. And then… I saw a friend of mine enter the classroom, late for class, and flustered. She closed the classroom door with her back, and approached the teacher to apologise for her lateness, and then she sat down at her desk.  I’ve never forgotten seeing that happen. Not sure if it was “with my own eyes” or what though!
And on another occasion, I experienced something that I cannot explain here, that woke me from my sleep but was inexplicable: then in the exact same place, some years later, an event happened that was exactly what I had thought had woken me up all those years previously. Who knows?!

Anyway, I thoroughly recommend the full article liked to above; wonderful stuff.

image: How They Met Themselves by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, approx 1860-1864

William Stukeley’s 1740 book on Stonehenge online 

Harvard University Library hosts a digitised copy of William Stukeley’s 1740 book, Stonehenge, a temple restor’d to the British Druids. Printed in London in 1740 the book includes more than 30 illustrations showing how Stonehenge appeared when Stukeley visited it in the early 18th century, along with his theories concerning the monument’s origins and use.

Image: Prospect of STONEHENGE from the southwest from William Stukeley’s, Stonehenge, a temple restor’d to the British Druids, Harvard University Library

 

https://iiif.lib.harvard.edu/manifests/view/drs:46626364$68b

Letter from Anton Chekhov To His Brother Nikolay – conditions cultured people must satisfy

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Letter from Anton Chekhov To His Brother Nikolay

Translated by Constance Garnett:

MOSCOW, 1886.

… You have often complained to me that people “don’t understand you”! Goethe and Newton did not complain of that…. Only Christ complained of it, but He was speaking of His doctrine and not of Himself…. People understand you perfectly well. And if you do not understand yourself, it is not their fault.

I assure you as a brother and as a friend I understand you and feel for you with all my heart. I know your good qualities as I know my five fingers; I value and deeply respect them. If you like, to prove that I understand you, I can enumerate those qualities. I think you are kind to the point of softness, magnanimous, unselfish, ready to share your last farthing; you have no envy nor hatred; you are simple-hearted, you pity men and beasts; you are trustful, without spite or guile, and do not remember evil…. You have a gift from above such as other people have not: you have talent. This talent places you above millions of men, for on earth only one out of two millions is an artist. Your talent sets you apart: if you were a toad or a tarantula, even then, people would respect you, for to talent all things are forgiven.

You have only one failing, and the falseness of your position, and your unhappiness and your catarrh of the bowels are all due to it. That is your utter lack of culture. Forgive me, please, but veritas magis amicitiae…. You see, life has its conditions. In order to feel comfortable among educated people, to be at home and happy with them, one must be cultured to a certain extent. Talent has brought you into such a circle, you belong to it, but … you are drawn away from it, and you vacillate between cultured people and the lodgers vis-a-vis.

Cultured people must, in my opinion, satisfy the following conditions:

They respect human personality, and therefore they are always kind, gentle, polite, and ready to give in to others. They do not make a row because of a hammer or a lost piece of india-rubber; if they live with anyone they do not regard it as a favour and, going away, they do not say “nobody can live with you.”

They forgive noise and cold and dried-up meat and witticisms and the presence of strangers in their homes.
They have sympathy not for beggars and cats alone. Their heart aches for what the eye does not see…. They sit up at night in order to help P…., to pay for brothers at the University, and to buy clothes for their mother.
They respect the property of others, and therefore pay their debts.
They are sincere, and dread lying like fire. They don’t lie even in small things. A lie is insulting to the listener and puts him in a lower position in the eyes of the speaker.

They do not pose, they behave in the street as they do at home, they do not show off before their humbler comrades.

They are not given to babbling and forcing their uninvited confidences on others. Out of respect for other people’s ears they more often keep silent than talk.
They do not disparage themselves to rouse compassion. They do not play on the strings of other people’s hearts so that they may sigh and make much of them. They do not say “I am misunderstood,” or “I have become second-rate,” because all this is striving after cheap effect, is vulgar, stale, false….
They have no shallow vanity. They do not care for such false diamonds as knowing celebrities, shaking hands with the drunken P., [Translator’s Note: Probably Palmin, a minor poet.] listening to the raptures of a stray spectator in a picture show, being renowned in the taverns….

If they do a pennyworth they do not strut about as though they had done a hundred roubles’ worth, and do not brag of having the entry where others are not admitted….

The truly talented always keep in obscurity among the crowd, as far as possible from advertisement…. Even Krylov has said that an empty barrel echoes more loudly than a full one.
If they have a talent they respect it. They sacrifice to it rest, women, wine, vanity…. They are proud of their talent…. Besides, they are fastidious.
They develop the aesthetic feeling in themselves. They cannot go to sleep in their clothes, see cracks full of bugs on the walls, breathe bad air, walk on a floor that has been spat upon, cook their meals over an oil stove. They seek as far as possible to restrain and ennoble the sexual instinct…. What they want in a woman is not a bed-fellow …

They do not ask for the cleverness which shows itself in continual lying. They want especially, if they are artists, freshness, elegance, humanity, the capacity for motherhood….

They do not swill vodka at all hours of the day and night, do not sniff at cupboards, for they are not pigs and know they are not. They drink only when they are free, on occasion…. For they want mens sana in corpore sano [a healthy mind in a healthy body].
And so on. This is what cultured people are like. In order to be cultured and not to stand below the level of your surroundings it is not enough to have read “The Pickwick Papers” and learnt a monologue from “Faust.” …

What is needed is constant work, day and night, constant reading, study, will…. Every hour is precious for it…. Come to us, smash the vodka bottle, lie down and read…. Turgenev, if you like, whom you have not read.

You must drop your vanity, you are not a child … you will soon be thirty.
It is time!
I expect you…. We all expect you.

Anton Chekhov

From Project Gutenberg

Title: Letters of Anton Chekhov

Author: Anton Chekhov

Translator: Constance Garnett


Release Date: September, 2004 [EBook #6408]
This file was first posted on December 8, 2002
Last Updated: April 8, 2013

http://www.gutenberg.org/files/6408/6408-h/6408-h.htm#link2H_4_0016

 

Nietzsche on How to Find Yourself – Brain Pickings

How can man know himself?

It is a dark, mysterious business: if a hare has seven skins, a man may skin himself seventy times seven times without being able to say, “Now that is truly you; that is no longer your outside.” It is also an agonizing, hazardous undertaking thus to dig into oneself, to climb down toughly and directly into the tunnels of one’s being. How easy it is thereby to give oneself such injuries as no doctor can heal.

Moreover, why should it even be necessary given that everything bears witness to our being — our friendships and animosities, our glances and handshakes, our memories and all that we forget, our books as well as our pens.

For the most important inquiry, however, there is a method.

Let the young soul survey its own life with a view of the following question: “What have you truly loved thus far? What has ever uplifted your soul, what has dominated and delighted it at the same time?”

Assemble these revered objects in a row before you and perhaps they will reveal a law by their nature and their order: the fundamental law of your very self. Compare these objects, see how they complement, enlarge, outdo, transfigure one another; how they form a ladder on whose steps you have been climbing up to yourself so far; for your true self does not lie buried deep within you, but rather rises immeasurably high above you, or at least above what you commonly take to be your “I”.

Source: Nietzsche on How to Find Yourself and the True Value of Education – Brain Pickings

Encountering the Teachings of Gurdjieff: A Young Man’s Search, by David Ulrich | Parabola

“What Gurdjieff calls the magnetic center represents an inner formation that helps orient us in the right direction, toward what can serve our individual evolution and inner development. Our search is often born from contact with certain kinds of influences—books that may help show the way, other people that touch us in a deeper fashion, inspiring works of art, and one’s own intuition—that, upon reaching a certain force, will attract help to the seeker. Influences that derive from a conscious origin have a different quality, a unique flavor, that resonates with the seeds of consciousness within oneself.

I think of it as a magnetizing force that attracts us to what we genuinely need—and draws what we need to us. It is a reciprocal movement. But, especially in these times, there are dangers at every step of the way. Is this teacher authentic and truly connected to a source of knowledge? Has he or she sufficiently traveled the inner journey, enough to really help us, and not distort or injure our search? Discrimination is essential. And rigorously following the dictates of one’s intuition, and listening to the still voice of our inner senses, is a central challenge in our search. The smorgasbord of spiritual teachings today allows for all manner of distortions and dilutions of great knowledge.

The magnetic center must work with a finer quality of energy than is found in our usual fragmented states of being. The word magnet is very accurate here. We find a resonance with a teaching, a book, a teacher, a work of art that corresponds to something finer in ourselves that we wish to know better and to develop. However, the danger of our search being usurped by our ego is not only ever-present but is prevalent in contemporary times. There is much evidence of a wrongly formed magnetic center or the type of seeking that endeavors simply to become a better, more effective person. Ken Wilber knows this type of spiritual seeking as the “ego in drag.”

The desire for mere self-improvement on an ordinary level, the hypnotic seduction with trance-like states found in shamanism and other exotic rituals, the dangerous work of prematurely opening the “chakras,” the new-age impulse towards abundance and the belief that everything is “divinely perfect,” and that no part of us could possibly be out of step with the divine plan—these are all common manifestations of Chögyam Trungpa’s famous phrase: “spiritual materialism.”

American materialism has affected the spiritual path deeply—manifesting in seeking magical states, instant gratification, and a shallow, results-driven spirituality.

Genuine search places us in the eye of the tiger. It is raw and an anathema to our ego. It demands rigor and discipline, and the striving towards impartial self-observation which brings in its train a certain kind of suffering and discomfort.

Genuine spiritual growth is fundamentally transformative, not merely a rearrangement of our personalities or an increased ability to meet the demands of life. It is learning to serve a different master, our search for higher consciousness and for the awakening of conscience, and placing our ego or our conditioned personality in a secondary, not primary, role.

Awakening exacts a price, and we pay in different ways at different times, at different stages along our path.  The first payment is to follow the dictates of our genuine search, to accept the inevitable struggle and discomfort of turning towards our inner life. We are asked to place our ego and conditioned personality in question, not to blithely follow its insistent voices, but to open ourselves to the deeper impulses that lead us towards the influences that we need, whether in the form of books, people, or a wisdom teaching.

A certain leap of faith is required here, one that we can only resolve from looking deep within.

The seeker in us is authentic; we know by the “taste” of certain influences what it needs, and we must open to those influences and begin to allow them to act on us, like a young plant seeking water and air. And we must stay in touch with the “inner taste” of the influences that we allow into our being. Impressions are food, and to some degree, we are what we eat. Where rigor and discipline is required, is to maintain this discriminating faculty that knows from within what our nascent real selves need for their growth and evolution.” – David Ulrich

Source: Encountering the Teachings of Gurdjieff: A Young Man’s Search, by David Ulrich | Parabola

Hermetic Rebirth and the Cave of Initiation

 

Hermetism is often and wrongly confused with Gnosticism, which similarly originated in Egypt in roughly the same era. For present purposes, a few salient points of contrast will suffice. Like the God of Stoicism, the Hermetic God was omnipresent and omniscient through the material cosmos. In Gnosticism, by contrast, God was transcendent, and the physical universe was an evil place created by an evil Demiurge (van den Broek 1998). Hermetic ethics celebrated the divine within the world; Gnostic ethics were abstemious, ascetic efforts to escape from the world (Mahé 1998).

There were also differences in their valuations of visions. Jonas (1969) drew attention to the fact that the motif of heavenly ascension was originally intended, for example in Jewish apocalyptic literature, as an objective reality, but was subsequently transformed into an allegory of the mystical path. The mystical appropriation of the ascension motif was complete by the second century era of the Alexandrine Christian fathers, St. Clement and Origen (Danielou 1973).

The allegorical tradition was also present in the Gnostic literature of Nag Hammadi, although in a slightly different manner. Referring to experiences of visions in general, The Exegesis on the Soul 34 stated: “Now it is fitting that the soul regenerate herself….This is the resurrection that is from the dead. This is the ransom from captivity. This is the upward journey of ascent to heaven. This is the way of ascent to the father” (Robinson 1988:196). For the Gnostics, as for the Alexandrine fathers, ascension was one among several literary tropes that could signify mystical experiences of highly varied manifest contents.

So far as I know, the Hermetic system was the earliest in the West to propose a mystical initiation, consisting of multiple experiences, that is simultaneously a journey through places and a series of changes in the ontology of the self. Its ascension to the sky compares with Jewish and Christian apocalypticism; but its division of ontological states compares with Neoplatonic distinctions among sensibles, intermediates or divisible intelligibles, and indivisible intelligibles.

This sequence, which can already be discerned in Iamblichus, was eventually formalized by Proclus as three mystical stages of purgation, illumination, and union. However, the Hermetists slotted imaginals into the middle position that Neoplatonism limited to empirically demonstrable arithmeticals and geometricals.

This substitution brought Hermetism to a position on visions that differed from the reductive skepticism of Neoplatonism, which treated visions as ideas that were misrepresented by the senses in the form of images.

The Hermetic position also differed from the pure projections that Gnostics held visions to be. For Hermetists, the imaginal was not a projection whose ever various and impredictable content becomes increasingly pure as one’s mind purifies in its progress toward God. The imaginal was instead topographical, an actual and predictable itinerary in a visionary topos that had ontological integrity and coherence.

Although The Discourse was not transmitted to the West in the Corpus Hermeticum, the Hermetic concept of ontologically distinctive locations along an itinerary has been integral to Western esotericism for centuries. Because the Hermetic tradition survived without apparent interruption from late antiquity to be taught at least as late as eleventh century Baghdad, it is not surprising that a series of initiatory experiences were portrayed as an itinerary across nine mountains in Suhrawardi’s Treatise of the Birds (1982).

Shihab al-Din al-Suhrawardi (1154–1191)

To Suhrawardi, Sufism also owed the introduction of the ‘alam al-mithal, the “world of imagination” (Rahman 1964). The notion of an initiatory itinerary in the world of imagination was formalized, or at least made less esoteric, in the Sufism of Najm ad-Din al-Kubra (Merkur 1991:223, 234-35); and its passage from Islam to western Europe may be assumed.

Interestingly, Widengren (1950:77-85) demonstrated that the ancient motif of ascension to an audience before a heavenly god was replaced, in the Arabic Hermetic literature, by the motif of entering a subterranean chamber where Hermes sits enthroned, holding a book in his hand. Widengren suggested that the descent of Balinas (the Arabic Apollonius of Tyana) to acquire the Emerald Table of Hermes, along with variant narratives, blended the motif of an initiatory ascension with the motif, found in Egyptian and Hellenistic tales, of the discovery of a book in a subterranean chamber.

An illustration from an old collection of stories translated from Ancient Eyptian Literature. This scene depicts the character “Setna”, emerging from a tomb where he gambled to win a magical papyrus, known as the Book Of Thoth, the reading of which would empower him with all knowledge. Setna was based on a real person, Prince Khaemwaset, the fourth son of Ramesses II, who was a Holy Man of the highest order (Sem Priest) and credited as being a great magician. (It was this character from Ancient History that I give all credit to for embarking on my own Hermetic Journey – Jaq) Setna/Prince Khaemwaset

The motif of the cave of initiation, which found its widest audience through the tale of Aladdin in the 1001 Nights, may also have been influenced by Porphyry’s On the Cave of the Nymphs (Taylor 1969), in which a passage in Homer was allegorized as an image of the cosmos. Whatever its sources, the motif of an alchemical initiation by means of a subterranean itinerary is earliest attested in the writings of medieval Arabic Hermetists.

By this route, the motif of ascension in late antique Hermetism was likely historically antecedent not only to such celebrated European alchemical motifs as the Cave of the Philosophers, but also to the climactic encounters in Novalis’ Heinrich von Ofterdingen (1796) and Ferdinand Ossendowski’s Beasts, Men and Gods (1922).

Engraving from Baro Urbigerus Besondere chymische Schrifften, 1705.

Source: Stages of Ascension in Hermetic Rebirth

The Discourse on the 8th and 9th

The Corpus Hermeticum

Shihab al-Din al-Suhrawardi (1154–1191)

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