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The Chaldćan Oracles

FRAGMENTS AND COMMENTS.

THE MOTHER-DEPTHS.

The Bosoms or Gulphs (? Vortices, Voragines, Whirl-swirls, Ćons, Atoms) are also called Depths - a technical term of very frequent occurrence in all the Gnostic schools of the time. The Great Depth of all depths was that of the Father, the Paternal Depth. Thus one of our Oracles reads:

Ye who, understanding, know the Paternal Depth cosmos-transcending.

(K. 18; C. 168)

This Paternal Depth is the ultimate mystery; but from another point of view it may be regarded as the Intelligible Ordering of all things. It is called super-cosmic or cosmos-transcending, when cosmos is regarded as the sensible or manifested order; it is the Occult, or Hidden, Eternal Type of universals, or wholes, simultaneously interpenetrating one another, undivided (sensibly) yet divided (intelligibly). We are told, therefore, concerning this super-cosmic or trans-mundane Depth, that

It is all things, but intelligibly [all].

(K. 19)

That is to say, in it things are not divided in time and space; there is no sensible separation. It is not the specific state, or state of species; but the state of wholes or genera. It is neither Father nor Mother, yet both. It is the state of “At Once”; and perhaps this may explain the strange term “Once Beyond” - that is, the At-Once in the state of the Beyond, beyond the sensible divided cosmos. Proclus and Damascius speak of it as “of the form of oneness” and “indivisible”; and an Oracle characterizes it as

That which cannot be cut up; the Holder-together of all sources.

(K. 19)

As such it may be regarded as the Mother-side of things, and thus is called

Source of [all] sources, Womb that holds all things together.

(K. 19; C. 99)

The Later Platonic commentators compared this with Plato's Auto-zōon, the Living Thing-in-itself, the Source of life to all; and thus the That-which-gives-life-to-itself; and, therefore, the Womb of all living creatures. The Oracles, however, regard it as the Womb of Life, the Divine Mother:

She is the Energizer [lit., Work-woman] and Forth-giver of Life-bringing Fire.

(K. 19; C. 55)

“She fills the Life-giving Bosom [or Womb] of Hecatē." - the Supernal Mother's self-reflection in the sensible universe - says Proclus, basing himself on an Oracle, and:

Flows fresh and fresh [or on and on] into the wombs of things.

(K. 19; C. 55)

The “wombs of things” are, literally, the “holders-together of things." They are reflections of the Great “Holder-together of all sources,” of the fourth fragment back. This poetical expression for the Mother-Depth and her infinite reflections in her own nature of manifoldness, was developed by the Later Platonic commentators into the formal designation of a hierarchy - the Synoches. That which she imparts is called

The Life-giving Might of Fire possessed of mighty power.

(K. 19)

This is all on the Mother-side of things; but this should never be divorced from the Father-side, as may be seen from the nature of the mysterious Ćon.

 

THE ĆON.

On the ćon-doctrine (cf. H., i 387-412), which probably occupied a prominent position in the mysticism of our Oracle-poem (though, of course, in a simple form and not as in the overdeveloped ćonology of the Christianized Gnosis), we unfortunately possess only four verses.

One of the names given to the Ćon was “Father-begotten” Light, because “He makes to shine His unifying light on all,” as Proclus tells us.

For He [the Ćon] alone, culling unto its lull the Flower of Mind [the Son] from out the Father's Might [the Mother], possesseth [both] the power to understand the Father's Mind, and to bestow that Mind both on all sources and upon all principles - both power to understand [al., whirl], and ever bide upon His never-tiring pivot.

(K. 27; C. 71)

The nature of this Ćonic Principle (or Ātmic Mystery), according to the belief of the Theurgists, is described by Proclus. But whether this description was based upon our poem or not, we cannot be certain. We, therefore, append what Proclus says, in illustration only:

Theurgists declare that He [Duration, Time without bounds, the Ćon] is God, and hymn His divinity as both older [than old], and younger [than young], as ever-circling into itself [the Egg] and ćon-wise; both as conceiving the sum total of all numbered things that move within the cosmos of His Mind, yet, over and beyond them all, as infinite by reason of His Power, and yet [again, when] viewed with them, as spirally convolved [the Serpent].

(C. 2)

The “ever-circling” is the principle of self-motivity. On the spiral-side of things there is procession to infinity; while on the sphere-side beginning and end are immediate and “at once.”

With this passage must be taken two others quoted by Taylor, but without giving the references:

God [energizing] in the cosmos, ćonian, boundless, young and old, in spiral mode convolved.

For Eternity [the Ćon], according to the Oracles, is Cause of Life that never falleth short, and of untiring Power, and restless Energy.

(C. 3 and 4)

 

THE UTTERANCE OF THE FIRE.

In connection with the idea of the Living Intellectual Fire as the Perfect Intelligible, Father and Mother in one (both creating Matter and impregnating it), conceived of sensibly as the “Descent into Matter," we may, perhaps, take the following verses:

Thence there leaps forth the Genesis of Matter manifoldly wrought in varied colours. Thence the Fire-flash down-streaming dims its [fair] Flower of Fire, as it leaps forth into the wombs of worlds. For thence all things begin downwards to shoot their admirable rays.

(K. 20; C. 101, 24)

The origin of matter and the genesis of matter is thus to be sought for in the Intelligible itself. The doctrine of the Pythagorćans and Platonists was that the origin of matter was to be traced to the Monad. The Flower of Fire is here the quintessence of it.

 

LIMIT THE SEPARATOR.

To the same part of the poem we must also refer the following:

For from Him leap forth both Thunderings inexorable, and the Fireflash-receiving Bosoms of the All-fiery Radiance of Father-begotten Hecatē, and that by which the Flower of Fire and mighty Breath beyond the fiery poles is girt.

(K. 20; C. 66)

Those who have studied attentively the Mithriac Ritual (Vol. VI.) will feel themselves in a familiar atmosphere when reading these lines. The “Thunderings” are the Creative Utterances of the Father; the “Bosoms” of Hecatē are the receptive vortices on the Mother-side of things. Yet Father and Mother and also Son are all three the Monad. She is “Father-begotten," and He the Son is Mother-begotten - the Monad perpetually giving birth to itself. The Son is the that which “girds” or limits or separates, the Gnostic Horos or Limit, the Form-side of things, which shuts out the Below from the Above, and determines all opposites. It is the Cross, the “Undergirding” of the universe, as we have seen in The Gnostic Crucifixion (Vol. VII., pp. 15, 43 ff.).

The commentators, however, with their rage for intellectual precision, have turned this into a technical term, making it a special name; but in the Oracles Hypezōkόs is used more simply and generally as the separator.

Proclus characterizes this Hypezōkόs as the prototype of division, the “separation of the things-that-are from matter,” basing himself apparently on the verse:

Just as a diaphragm [hypezōkόs], a knowing membrane, He divides.

(K. 22)

The nature of this separation is that, of “knowing” or “gnostic” Fire. The

Epicurćans called the separation between the visible and invisible the “Flaming Walls” of the universe. Compare the Angel with the flaming sword who guards the Gates of Paradise.

So also with the epithet “inexorable” (ameίliktoi) applied to the “Thunderings”; these have been transformed by the over-elaboration of the commentators into a hierarchy of Inexorables or Implacables, just as is the gorgeous imagery of the Coptic Gnostic treatises of the Askew and Bruce codices.

The simpler use may be seen in the following two verses:

The Mind of the Father, vehicled in rare Drawers-of-straight-lines, flashing inflexibly in furrows of implacable Fire.

(K. 21; C. 17)

This seems to refer to the Rays of the Divine Intelligence vehicled in creative Fire. It is the Divine Ploughing of primal substance. Straight lines are characteristic of the Mind.

It is the first furrowing, so to speak, of the Sea of Matter in a universal pattern that impresses upon the surface a network of Light (as may be seen in protoplasm under a strong microscope) from the Ruler of the Sea above. It is the first Descent of the Father, and the first Ascent or Arising of the Son; it suggests the idea of riding and controlling. The epithet “rare” or “attenuated” suggests drawn out to the finest thread; these threads or lines govern and map out the Sea; they are the Lines on the Surface; they glitter and look like furrows of the essence of Fire.

 

THE EMANATION OF IDEAS.

In close connection with the lines beginning “For from Him leap forth,” we may take the longest fragment (16 lines) preserved to us:

The Father' s Mind forth-bubbled, conceiving, with His Will in all its prime, Ideas that can take upon themselves all forms; and from One Source they, taking flight, sprang forth. For from the Father was both Will and End.

These were made differentiate by Gnostic Fire, allotted into different knowing modes.

For, for the world of many forms, the King laid out an intellectual Plan [or Type] not subject unto change. Kept to the tracing of this Plan, that no world can express, the World, made glad with the Ideas that take all shapes, grew manifest with form.

Of these Ideas there is One only Source, from which there bubble-forth in differentiation other [ones] that no one can approach - forth-bursting round the bodies of the World - which circle round its awe-inspiring Depths [or Bosoms], like unto swarms of bees, flashing around them and about, incuriously, some hither and some thither, - the Gnostic Thoughts from the Paternal Source that cull unto their lull the Flower of Fire at height of sleepless Time.

It was the Father's first self-perfect Source that welled-forth these original Ideas.

(K. 23; C. 39)

With this “culling” or “plucking” of the Flower of Fire compare the ancient gnomic couplet preserved by Hesiod

Nor from Five-branched at Gods' Fire-looming

Cut Dry from Green with flashing Blade.

(O. et D., 741 f.)

As has been previously stated (H., i 265, n. 5), I believe that Hesiod has preserved this scrap of ancient wisdom from the “Orphic” fragments in circulation in his day among the people in Bśotia, who had them from an older Greece than that of Homer's heroes; in other words, that we have in it a trace of the contact of pre-Homeric Greece with “Chaldća.”

These living Ideas or creative Thoughts are emanations (or forth-flowings) of the Divine Mind, and constitute the Plan of that Mind, the Divine Economy. They are more transcendent even than the Fire, for they are said to be able to gather for themselves the subtlest essence or Flower of Fire. “At height of sleepless Time” is a beautiful phrase, though it is difficult to assign to it a very precise meaning. The “height of Time” is, perhaps, the supreme moment, and thus may mean momentarily - not, however, in the sense of lasting only the smallest fraction of time, but referring to Time at its limit where it touches Eternity.

The Thoughts of the Father-Mind are on the Borderland of Time. They are living Intelligences of Light and Life, of the nature of Logoi.

Thoughts of the Father! Brightness a-flame, pure Fire!

(K. 24)

 

THE BOND OF LOVE DIVINE.

Next we may take the verses referring to the Birth of Love (Erōs), the Bond-of-union between all things.

For the Self-begotten One, the Father-Mind, perceiving His [own] Works, sowed into all Love's Bond, that with his Fire o'ermasters all; so that all might continue loving on for endless time, and that these Weavings of the Father' s Gnostic Light might never fail. With this Love, too, it is the Elements of Cosmos keep on running.

(K. 25; C. 107)

The Works of the Father are the Operations of the Divine Mind - the Souls. The same idea, though on a lower scale, so to say, may be seen in the Announcement of the Monarch of the Worlds, sitting on the Throne of Truth, to the Souls, in the Trismegistic “Virgin of the World” treatise:

O Souls, Love and Necessity shall be your Lords, they who are Lords and Marshals after Me of all.

(H., ii 110)

The Marriage of the Elements and their perpetual transmutation was one of the leading doctrines of Heraclitus. The Elements married and transformed themselves into one another, as may also be seen from the Magian myth quoted in Vol. V of these little books, The Mysteries of Mithra (pp. 49-52). The idea is summed up in the following fine lines from a Hymn of Praise to the Ćon or Eternity, in the Magic Papyri:

Hail unto Thee, O Thou Beginning and Thou End of Nature naught can move! Hail unto Thee, Thou Vortex of the Liturgy [or Service] unweariable of Nature's Elements!

In close connection with the above verses of our poem we must plainly take the following:

With the Bond of admirable Love, Who leaped forth first, clothed round with Fire, his fellow bound to him, that he might mix the Mixing-bowls original by pouring in the Flower of his own Fire.

(K. 25; C. 23)

In the last line I read έπιχώυ (“pouring in”) for έπισχώυ. The Mixing-bowls, or Kratēres, are the Fiery Crucibles in which the elements and souls of things are mixed. The Mixer is not Love as apart from the Father, but the Mind of the Father as Love, as we learn from the following verses:

Having mingled the Spark of Soul with two in unanimity - with Mind and Breath Divine - to them He added, as a third, pure Love, the august Master binding all.

(K. 26; C. 81)

Compare with this the Mixing of Souls in “The Virgin of the World” treatise:

For taking breath from His own Breath and blending with it Knowing Fire, He mingled them with other substances which have no power to know; and having made the two - either with other - one, with certain hidden Words of Power, He thus set all the mixture going thoroughly

(H., iii 98)

This Chaste and Holy and Divine Love is invoked as follows in the Paris Papyrus (1748):

Thee I invoke, Thou Primal Author of all generation, who dost out-stretch Thy wings o'er all the universe; Thee the unapproachable, Thee the immeasurable, who dost inspire into all souls the generative sense [lit., reason], who dost conjoin all things by power of Thine own Self.

(K. 26)

Elsewhere in the same Papyrus (1762), Love is called:

The Hidden One who secretly doth cause to spread among all souls the Fire that cannot be attained by contemplation.

What men think of as love is, as contrasted with this Divine Love, called in our Oracles, the “stifling of True Love.” True Love is also called “Deep Love,” with which we are to fill our souls, as Proclus tells us (K. 26). Elsewhere in the Oracles this Love was united with Faith and Truth into a triad, which may be compared with another triad in the following verse quoted by Damascius:

Virtue and Wisdom and deliberate Certainty.

(K. 27; C. 35)

So far we have been dealing with the Divine Powers when conceived as transcending the manifested universe; we now come to the world-shaping, or economy of the material cosmos, and to the Powers concerned with it.

 

THE SEVEN FIRMAMENTS.

As we have seen above, in treating of the Great Mother (p. xx), it is she who, as the Primal Soul, “all at once ensouls Light, Fire, Ćther, Worlds” (K. 28; C. 38).

The Later Platonist commentators regard this Light as a monad embracing a triad of states - empyrean, ćtherial, and hylic (that is, of gross matter). They further assert that the last state only is visible to normal physical sight (K. 31).

These four thus constituted the quaternary or tetrad of the whole sensible universe. This would, of course, be somewhat of a daring “philosophizing” of the simple statement of the original poem, if the verse we have quoted were the only authority for the precise statement of the commentators. But we are hardly justified in assuming, as Kroll appears to do throughout, that if no verse is quoted, therefore no verse existed. The Platonic commentators had the full poem before them, and (like the systematizers of the Upanishads) tried to evolve a consistent system out of its mystic utterances. There were also, in the highest probability, other Hellenistic documents of a similar character, giving back some reflections from the “Books of the Chaldćans”; and also in the air a kind of general tradition of a “Chaldćan philosophy.”

The Sensible Universe was thus divided by them, basing themselves on the pregnant imagery of the Oracles, into three states or “planes” - the empyrean, ćtherial, and hylic. To these planes or states they referred the mysterious septenary of spheres mentioned in the verse:

The Father caused to swell forth seven firmaments of worlds.

(K. 31; C. 120)

This Father is, of course, Mind of Mind, and the “causing to swell forth” gives the idea of the swelling from a centre to the limit of a surround.

The most interesting point is that those who knew the Oracles, and were in the direct line of their tradition, did not regard these seven firmaments or zones as the “planetary orbits.” One of the seven they assigned to the empyrean, three to the ćtherial, and three to the gross-material or sublunary. There was thus a chain or coil of seven depending from the eighth, the octave, of Light, the Borderland between the intelligible and the sensible worlds. All the seven, however, were “corporeal” worlds (K. 32). The three hylic (those of gross matter) may be compared with the solid, liquid and gaseous states of physical matter; the three ćtherial with similar states of ćther or subtle matter; and the seventh corresponds with the atomic or empyrean or true fiery or fire-mist state.

Moreover, as to the hylic world or world of gross matter, which had three spheres or states, we learn:

The centres of the hylic world are fixed in the ćther above it.

(K. 33)

That is to say, presumably, the ćther was supposed to surround and interpenetrate the cosmos of gross matter.

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