Category Archives: Metaphilosophy

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)


“”The ancestors. They are in our bones. Remember.”

“When societies lose their initiation practices, new ones emerge, for rites of passage are hardwired in the human psychological formula.”

“The classic tarot deck is a great representation of this, as it parallels the esoteric Jewish Kabbalah, in symbolically showing us the four levels of magickal morphogenesis through the suits of the wands, cups, swords, and disks. An idea begins in the archetypal ethers, funnels into the realm of dreams, visions, and emotions, moves down into the realm of thought and mental activity, and then finally becomes manifest reality.  Initiation, because it is such a psychically impactful experience, can affect all four realities at once in impressive and synchronistic ways, leading to a revived belief in apophenia. [the experience of seeing patterns or connections in random or meaningless data.] Again, initiatory experience is about reconnecting the separated aspects of the psyche. Ideas, emotions, thoughts, and physical things may quickly shift, as the psyche attains a new level of integration.”

via 21st Century Guide to Cross Cultural Initiation | Reality Sandwich.

P.D. Ouspensky: Strange Life of Ivan Osokin – Ivan-Osokin.pdf

“At six years of age Ouspensky was reading on an adult level. Two books made a strong impression on him—Lermontov’s A Hero for Our Time and Turgenev’s A Sportsman’s Notebook. Lermontov’s book is noteworthy since the ideas it expresses—the plasticity of time and questions of predestination, fate and recurrence—are those that would occupy Ouspensky throughout his life. As a young boy Ouspensky disliked school, finding the work dull. At sixteen he discovered Nietzsche, whose idea of eternal recurrence would remain a lifelong interest. He left school the same year. In 1905, at the age of seventeen, his mother died. That year he wrote his only novel (not published until 1915), The Strange Life of Ivan Osokin.”


Strange Life of Ivan Osokin – Ivan-Osokin.pdf. old link didn’t work – updated to add working link

Strange Life of Ivan Osokin is a novel by P. D. Ouspensky. It follows the unsuccessful struggle of Ivan Osokin to correct his mistakes when given a chance to relive his past. The novel serves as a narrative platform for Nietzsche’s theory of eternal recurrence. The conclusion fully anticipates the Fourth Way Philosophy which typified Ouspensky’s later works. In particular the final chapter’s description of the shocking realization of the mechanical nature of existence, its consequences, and the possibility/responsibility of working in an esoteric school.” – wiki

The Rose of The World – The Metaphilosophy of History by Daniel Andreev


Gamayun is a prophetic bird of Russian folklore. It is a symbol of wisdom and knowledge and lives on an island in the east, close to paradise. Like the Sirin and the Alkonost, the Gamayun is normally depicted as a large bird with a woman’s head.

In his esoteric Christian-Buddhist cosmography Roza Mira, Daniil Andreev maintains that Sirins, Alkonosts, and Gamayuns are transformed into Archangels in Paradise.

Wiki tells us “Roza Mira (Full title in Russian: Роза Мира. Метафилософия истории, literally, The Rose of the World. The Metaphilosophy of History.) is the title of the main book by Russian mystic Daniil Andreev. It is also the name of the predicted new universal religion, to emerge and unite all people of the world before the advent of the Antichrist, described by Andreev in his book. This new interreligion, as he calls it, should unite the existing religions “like a flower unites its petals”, Andreev wrote. According to Roza Mira, there are no contradictions between different religions, because they tell about different aspects of spiritual reality, or about the same things in different words. Daniil Andreyev compares different major religions to different paths leading to one and the same mountain peak (which is God). Andreyev names five world religions, which are Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism and Zoroastrianism. Andreyev believes in the Trinity of God, but the third hypostasis, instead of being the Holy Spirit, is claimed to be the Eternal Femininity.”

Daniel Andreev, was a Russian poet and religious thinker of the middle of the XX century. His best known book “Roza Mira” (“The Rose of the World”, “Роза Мира”)  is about religion in the modern world. Along with world religions such as Christianity, he also considers mythical revelations of different cultures which together compose the “religion of total”, the Rose of the World. For Daniel Andreev, the Rose of the World is a spiritual flower whose roots are in heaven: each petal is an unique image of the great world religions and cultures, and the whole flower is their joint co-creation with God.

It was while in a Soviet prison that Daniel Andreev wrote the first drafts of The Rose of the World, as well as Russian Gods –a collection of poetry -and The Iron Mystery — a verse play. He had been arrested in April 1947, along with his wife and many of his relatives and friends. He was sentenced to twenty-five years of prison (by some chance the death sentence had been temporarily suspended in Soviet Union around the same time) and his wife was given twenty-five years in a labour camp. All of his writing done previous to his arrest was destroyed.

The Rose of the World and Andreev’s other works had a tremendous impact on contemporary Russian society, with its thirst for a spiritual approach to life. The Daniel Andreev foundation was founded in 1992, and numerous small groups and societies have formed in connection with his works.

In the Introduction to this work he writes:

THIS BOOK WAS BEGUN at a time when the threat of an unparalleled disaster hung over the heads of humanity—when a generation only just recuperating from the trauma of the Second World War discovered to its horror that a strange darkness, the portent of a war even more catastrophic and devastating than the last, was already gathering and thickening on the horizon. I began this book in the darkest years of a dictatorship that tyrannized two hundred million people. I began writing it in a prison designated as a “political isolation ward.” I wrote it in secret. I hid the manuscript, and the forces of good—humans and otherwise—concealed it for me during searches. Yet every day I expected the manuscript to be confiscated and destroyed, just as my previous work—work to which I had given ten years of my life and for which I had been consigned to the political isolation ward—had been destroyed.
I am finishing The Rose of the World a few years later. The threat of a third world war no longer looms like dark clouds on the horizon, but, having fanned out over our heads and blocked the sun, it has quickly dispersed in all directions back beyond the horizon.
Perhaps the worst will never come to pass. Every heart nurses such a hope, and without it life would be unbearable. Some try to bolster it with logical arguments and active protest. Some succeed in convincing themselves that the danger is exaggerated. Others try not to think about it at all and, having decided once and for all that what happens, happens, immerse themselves in the daily affairs of their own little worlds. There are also people in whose hearts hope smoulders like a dying fire, and who go on living, moving, and working merely out of inertia.
I am completing The Rose of the World out of prison, in a park turned golden with autumn. The one under whose yoke the country was driven to near exhaustion has long been reaping in other worlds what he sowed in this one. Yet I am still hiding the last pages of the manuscript as I hid the first ones. I dare not acquaint a single living soul with its contents, for, just as before, I cannot be certain that this book will not be destroyed, that the spiritual knowledge it contains will be transmitted to someone, anyone.
But perhaps the worst will never come to pass, and tyranny on such a scale will never recur. Perhaps humanity will forevermore retain the memory of Russia’s terrible historical experience. Every heart nurses that hope, and without it life would be unbearable.

I’ve only copied a brief passage of the introduction, but the remainder, and the full English text can be found here: