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The Chaldæan Oracles

FRAGMENTS AND COMMENTS.

THE WAY ABOVE.

Such a man should begin to know the nature of the regions unto which he is being brought, and so understand the mystic precept:

Let the immortal depths of thy soul be opened, and open all thy eyes at once to the Above.

(K. 51; C. 174)

It is proper to follow the “great” passions and desires of the soul, provided the “eye,” or true centre of the mind, be fixed Above; for then the passions are sure to be pure, and not personal attractions, not little bonds of feeling and sentiment.

This “opening of all the eyes” concerns the mystery of the Æon. In the Depths of the New Dawn every atom of the man must become an eye; he must be “all eye.” As vehicle of Sounding Light he must become an Æon - “a Star in the world of men, an Eye in the regions of the gods.”

But to be clothed with this Royal Vesture, this Robe of Glory, he must strip off the “garb of the servant,” the bonds of slavery, the “earthy carapace”:

The mortal once endowed with Mind must on his soul put bridle, in order that it may not plunge into the ill-starred Earth but win to freedom.

(K. 52; C. 175)

“Endowed with Mind” is the Trismegistic “Mind-led.” This Spiritual Mind, or Great Mind, is the Promethean, or Foreseeing, Mind in man (as Proclus tells us), who plays the part of Providence over the life of reason in us - that is, the rational man or animal - that this life may not be destroyed by being -

Dowsed in the frenzies of the Earth and the necessities of Nature.

(C. 190)

This is quoted by Proclus from our poem, for he adds: “As one of the Oracles says.”

This “dowsing,” or baptism, of the soul in the waves of the Ocean of Genesis, or Generation, the Watery Spheres, is referred to several times in the Trismegistic fragments (K. 52, n. I), and is the converse of the Spiritual Baptism or “Dowsing in the Mind,” as we read in the Divine Herald's Proclamation, in the treatise called “The Cup” or “Mixing-bowl” - the Monad.

Baptize thyself with this Cup's Baptism, what heart can do so, thou that hast faith thou canst ascend to Him who hath sent down the Cup, thou that dost know for what thou did'st come into being” (H., ii. 87).

Of similar purport are the verses:

Unto the Light and to the Father' s Rays thou ought’st to hasten, whence hath been sent to thee a soul richly with Mind arrayed.

(K. 52; C. 160)

“Hasten” is a mystery-word, suggesting activity without motion. The soul must be lightened and stripped of its gross garments of matter (hylē).

For things Divine are not accessible to mortals who fix their minds on body; ‘tis they who strip them naked [of this thing], that speed aloft unto the Height.

(K. 52; C. 169)

These are the true Naked, the real Gymnosophists, as Apollonius of Tyana would have called them, who strip off the “form of the servant,” the rags of the lower nature. Compare with this the early Jewish commentator in the Naassene Document, who was evidently well versed in the “Books of the Chaldæans”:

For this Mystery is the Gate of Heaven, and this is the House of God, where the Good God dwells alone; into which House no impure man shall come. But it is kept under watch for the Spiritual alone; where, when they come, they must cast away their garments, and all become bridegrooms, obtaining their true manhood through the Virginal Spirit.

(H., i. 181)

If this transmutation be effected, and the “rags” changed into the shining garments of the pure elements, the “wedding garments” of the Gospel parables, the soul by its own power wins its freedom. Such a man is characterized by Proclus as “having a soul that looks down upon body, and is capable of looking Above, ‘by its own might,’ according to the Oracle, divorced from the hylic organs of sense” (K. 52).

 

PURIFICATION BY FIRE.

The Path of Return, or Way Above, was conceived as a purification of the soul from the hylic elements, and therewith an entry into the purifying mystery of the Baptism of Fire, which in its highest sense is the “Dowsing” in the Divine Mind of the Trismegistic teaching.

For if the mortal draw nigh to the Fire, he shall have Light from God.

(K. 53; C. 158)

Speaking of the “perfecting purification,” Proclus tells us that it was operated by means of the “Divine Fire,” and that it was the highest degree of purification, which caused all the “stains” that dimmed the pure nature of the soul, through her converse with generation, to disappear. This he takes directly from the Oracles.

 

THE ANGELIC POWERS OF PURIFICATION.

In this purification certain Divine Powers, or Intelligences, take part; they are called Angels (Messengers or Mediators). They are the higher correspondence of the infernal Daimones in The Vision of Aridæus (p.33 ff.), in which the “stains” of the souls are graphically depicted.

The part played by these Intelligences, however, is not external to the soul, but an integral part of the transmutation; it is the Angelic portion of the man that leads the soul Above.

It is this, as Proclus tells us, from the Oracles, that “makes” the soul “to shine with Fire” - that is, which itself shines round the man on all sides; it rays-forth, becomes truly “astral” (augo-eidés or astro-eidés), rays-forth with intelligence.

It is this Angelic power that purifies the soul of gross matter (hylē), and “lightens it with warm spirit” - that is, endows it with a true impersonal or “cosmic” subtle vehicle, tempered by means of that “temperature” or “blend” which the Mithriac Ritual (p. 19) tells us depends entirely on the Fire.

The original poem seems, from Proclus’ comments, further to have contained verses which referred to certain Angelic Powers who, as it were, made to indraw the external protrusions of the soul which it sympathetically projects in conformity with the configuration of the limbs of its earthy prison-house; their function, therefore, was to restore it to its pure spherical shape. To this may refer the very corrupt and obscure verse:

The projections of the soul are easy to unloose by being inbreathed.

(K. 53; C. 88)

 

THE SACRED FIRES.

Breath (Spirit) is said mystically to be the Spouse of Fire (Mind); and so we find Proclus speaking of “perfecting the travail of souls and ‘lighting up the Fire’ that lead them Home”; all of which, for the mystic, can refer to nothing else than the starting of what are called the “sacred fires” of spiritual transformation. These “fires” are intelligent transforming currents that re-form the soul-plasm into rents that re-form the soul-plasm into the “perfect body,” that is, the “body of resurrection,” as the Mithraic Ritual (p. 19) informs us. And so we read:

Extend on every side the reins of Fire to [guide] the unformed soul.

(K. 53; C. 173)

That is, constrain the flowing watery nature of the soul by the fiery breath or spirit of the true Mind. And this seems also to be the meaning of the difficult fragment:

If thou extendest fiery Mind to flowing work of piety, thou shalt preserve thy body too.

(K. 54; C. 176)

This seems to mean that, when by means of purification and by dint of pious practices, the soul is made fluid - that is to say, is no longer bound to any configuration of external things, when it is freed from prejudice, or opinion, and personal passion, or sentiment, and is “with pure purities now purified,” as the Mithriac Ritual (p. 20) has it - then this re-generated soul-plasm, the germ of the “perfect body,” can be configured afresh according to the plans or symbols of the true Mind.

Then shall the re-generate souls have Gnosis of the Divine Mind, be free from Fate, and breathe the Intelligible Fire, thus understanding the Works of the Father.

They flee the reckless fated wing of Fate, and stay themselves in God, drawing unto themselves the Fires in all their prime, as they descend from out the Father, from which, as they descend, the soul doth cull the Flower of Empyrean Fruit that nourisheth the soul.

(K. 54; C. 90)

It is hazardous to say what this may mean with any great precision, for in all probability the text is corrupt in several places. Taking it as it stands, however, we may conjecture that the first line refers to the state of the souls in subjection to Fate; they are figured elsewhere as leaving the state of sameness and rest, and flying forth down into the hylic realms of Genesis, or repeated birth and death. This is winging the “shameless” (or reckless) “wing of Fate”; and yet this too is “fated.” They who return to the memory of their spiritual state once more rest in God and breathe in the “Gnostic Fires” of the Holy Spirit - the true Ambrosia, that which bestows immortality (athanasía).

 

THE FRUIT OF THE FIRE TREE.

This Fruit of Life - that is, the Gnosis, or Gnostic Son of God - as may be seen from The Great Announcement, of the Simonian tradition, based on Mago-Chaldæan mystic doctrines (see The Gnostic Crucifixion, pp. 40 ff), was figured as the Fruit of the Fire-Tree. The Church Father Hippolytus summarizes the original text as follows:

And, generally, we may say, of all things that are, both sensible and intelligible, which he [the writer of the Announcement] calls Manifested and Hidden, the Fire which is above the Heavens, is the Treasure, as it were a Great Tree, like that seen by Nebuchadonosor in vision, from which all flesh is nourished. And he considers the manifested side of the Fire to be the trunk, branches, leaves, and the bark surrounding it on the outside. All the parts of the Great Tree, he says, are set on fire by the devouring flame of the Fire and destroyed. But the Fruit of the Tree, if its imaging hath been perfected, and it takes the shape of itself, is placed in the Storehouse, and not cast into the Fire. For the Fruit, he says, is produced to be placed in the Storehouse, but the husk to be committed to the Fire; that is to say, the trunk which is generated not for its own sake but for that of the Fruit.

(Ref., vi 9)

See further my Simon Magus (p. 14). The original form of this Great Announcement is in all probability a pre-Christian document (see H., 184, n. 4), for the early Jewish commentator in the Naassene Document is acquainted with it. Now in this Document the pre-Christian Hellenistic initiate writes:

Moreover, also, the Phrygians say that the Father of Wholes is Amygdales [lit., the Almond-Tree].

And this is glossed by the same Jewish commentator, who knew The Great Announcement, as follows:

No ordinary tree; but that He is that Amygdalos the Pre-existing, who, having in Himself the Perfect Fruit, as it were, throbbing and moving in His Depth, tore asunder His Womb, and gave birth to His own Son.

(H. i 182)

 

THE PÆAN OF THE SOUL.

But to return to the Oracles; Proclus evidently bases himself upon a very similar passage to the last-quoted verses of our poem, when he writes:

Let us then offer this praise-giving to God - the becoming-like-unto-Him. Let us leave the Flowing Essence [the River of Genesis] and draw nigh to the true End; let us get to know the Master, let all our love be poured forth to the Father. When He calls us, let us be obedient; let us haste to the Hot, and flee the Cold; let us be Fire; let us “fare on our Way through Fire.” We have an “agile Way” for our Return.” Our Father is our Guide,” who “openeth the Ways of Fire,” lest in forgetfulness we let ourselves flow in a “downward stream.”

(K. 54)

The lust of generation is said to “moisten” the soul and make it watery; the Fire dries it and lightens it. The Hymn, or Praise-giving, which the souls sing on their Way Above is called by Olympiodorus, quoting most probably from the text of our poem, the “Pæan” or Song of Joy (C. 85); it is a continual praise-giving of the man who turns himself into harmony with the Music of the Spheres. (See The Hymns of Hermes, p. 17 ff. and 57 ff).

 

THE MYSTERY-CULTUS.

The cultus of the Oracles is, before all else, the cult of Fire, and that, too, for the most part, in a high mystical sense rather than in the cruder form of external fire-worship. The Sacred Living Fire was to be adored in the shrine of the silence of the inner nature. These inner mysteries were in themselves inexpressible, and even the very method of approach, it seems, was handed on under the vow of silence.

Our poem was thus originally intended to be an apocryphon (in the original sense: of the term), or esoteric document; for Proclus tells us that its mystagogy was prefaced by the words:

Keep silence, thou who art admitted to the secret rites [mỳsta].

(K. 55; C. 51)

And elsewhere he says that the Oracles were handed on to the Mystæ alone. As a way of approach to the innermost form of the rites, which was indubitably a solitary sacrament like the dynamis of the Mithriac Ritual, there was an inner ceremonial cultus. Thus from one fragment we recover the following instruction to the officiating priest:

But, first of all, the priest Who doth direct the Works of Fire, must sprinkle with cold: wave of the deep-sounding brine.

(K. 55; C. 193)

There was, therefore, a ceremonial ritual. The consummation of the innermost rite, however, was solitary, and of the nature of a Mystic Union or Sacred Marriage.

 

THE MYSTIC MARRIAGE.

Thus Proclus speaks of the soul

according to a certain ineffable at-one-ment, leading that-which-is-filled into sameness with that-which-fi1ls, making one portion of itself, in an immaterial and impalpable fashion, a receptacle for the in-shining, and provoking the other to the imparting of its Light.

This, he says, is the meaning of the verse:

When the currents mingle in consummation of the Works of Deathless Fire.

(K. 55; C. 21)

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