Tag Archives: Mytho-poesis

Mytho-Poetic Returns and the Fine Art of Grey Truths: Robert Cochrane’s Letters to Robert Graves

Like any true craftsman, he was able to mold raw material into a magical synthesis, creating a marvellous working system, at once instinctively true and intrinsically beautiful.” -  Shani Oates on Robert Cochrane, Founder of the Clan of Tubal Cain

Who tells your story? Is it the fallen leaves that line your door speaking of your past travels, the lines etched by experience on skin and bone, or do you stand ready to relate the world through words that you alone craft with care?

While digging in to Judika IllesField Guide to Witches, one of the latest in Weiser’s Field Guide series*, I ran across a familiar name that’s intrigued me since I first encountered him while researching contemporary Pagan traditions years ago.

Robert Cochrane (born Roy Bowers) is an enigmatic figure in the world of emergent beliefs. While claiming a hereditary lineage to the “Old Religion” as the impetus for his Clan of Tubal Cain traditions, he  worked studiously to support, develop and literally create his beliefs whole cloth through research, ritual and practice. His teachings were built on fragments of myth, religion and suppositions based on archaeological evidence, all filtered through an active ritual practice that shaped the interpretations put on the underlying ideas.

As with many spiritual explorers and would be leaders, Cochrane’s life was not void of controversies, however, he is one of those rare few whose ability to weave stories, traditions and innovations that connect to the deeper truths, move him beyond charges of fraudulent intention and into the realm of true storytellers capable of bringing their “lies” to life.

All That’s Old is New Again

Critics have often questioned the legitimacy of Cochrane’s (and really all Neo-Pagan) claims to tradition. The historian Ronald Hutton’s research seems to discredit the idea that any vestiges of pre-Christian belief were able to maintain an organized foothold in the Western world through 2000 years of dedicated persecution by Roman, Christian and secular authorities. 

This is a legitimate question for historians, but I would argue it is not necessarily important to the value of these practices and beliefs. In the Judaic traditions this process of invention is clearly detailed in the Torah and Tannak during the many “rediscoveries” of G-d’s word throughout the history of the Hebrew people. In Christianity this process formed the basis for the religion itself, with the early Christians utilizing Jewish, Greek, African and Eastern sources to formulate their basic understanding of the events that provide the basis for their beliefs.

Islam, Buddhism, Taoism, all have their basis in this process of reworking older traditions. Hinduism is perhaps the most stark example of this with it’s foundation resting in British Colonial experiments to unify a diverse system of local beliefs with overarching religious systems developed by the upper castes of Indian society.

Mytho-Poetic Returns

One of Cochrane’s sources for the development of his ideas was the poet Robert Graves. The White Goddess – A Historical Grammar of Poetic Myth, which Graves published in 1948, claimed to explore the true nature of poetry as a devotional practice to a Neolithic Goddess. Exploring these ideas through Celtic mythology and the interpretation of archaeological clues Graves created a vision of a long hidden tradition rediscovered during a time of crisis and change. 

Published shortly after the end of World War II, The White Goddess provided the public with a reassessment of the very same quest for tradition and archaic continuance that had been the basis for much of the Fascist propaganda in Italy, Japan and Germany during the war years. Academic historians, however, were quick to point out the inaccuracies, speculations and quite bluntly, lies, used to prove Graves’ thesis.

To judge the work in such a harsh light misses one of the key elements that Graves was working with, poetry. While academics handle facts with some amount of precision, poetry and practicality are not areas that they move through as easily. Graves work, while being factually inaccurate, was  practically relevant and in turn actionable in a way that historical facts are not.

Action at a Distance

The same questions can be raised today for groups working with the ideas of alchemy, myth and storytelling to guide society towards sustainable solutions. Did Medieval alchemists concern themselves with the triple bottom line? Would they recognize contemporary concepts that are labeled alchemical? Probably not in the way we would hope, but they might recognize within our contemporary understanding the seeds that can give birth to true transmutation if properly cared for and watered.

In a text attributed to Edward Kelly, the conman and seer who assisted Dr. John Dee, there is a personal reflection that fits well the path of Cochrane, Graves and all those who seek to renew the body of truth through fragments of the past:

“My mind, remaining unbound, has all this time exercised itself in the study of that philosophy which is despised only by the wicked and foolish, but is praised and admired by the wise. Nay, the saying that none but fools and lawyers hate and despise Alchemy has passed into a proverb.”

So who tells your story? Is it hedged in by historical facts? Lost in the lingering legalism of shortsighted lawyers? Have you taken it upon yourself to craft your own tale?

Or, is it built on conversations, letters from friends, tale tellers and poets?

Dear Robert Graves,

I have read and re-read your book, ‘The White Goddess,’ with admiration, utter amazement and a taint of horror. I can see your point when you write of inspirational work, and realise that it must have resulted from quite an internal ‘pressure,’ since from my own experience, that is the way she works…” from Robert Cochran’s Letters to Robert Graves

*Note: The folks at Red Wheel/Weiser were kind enough to provide us with copies of their Field Guide Series to spur our creativity and give us some meat for the Mythic fires. Article originally posted at openmythsource.com

Axes to the Ladder of Light – Wrecked Rungs & Missed Opportunities

“As our most ancient Stone is not derived from combustible things, you should cease to seek it in substances which cannot stand the test of fire. For this reason it is absurd to suppose that we can make any use of vegetable substances, though the Stone, too, is endowed ‘with a principle of growth.

If our Stone were a vegetable substance, it would, like other vegetables, be consumed by fire, leaving only a certain salt. Ancient writers have, indeed, described our Stone as the vegetable Stone. But that name was suggested to them by the fact that it grows and increases in size, like a plant.

Know also that animals only multiply after their kind, and within their own species. Hence our Stone can only be prepared out of its own seed, from which it was taken in the beginning; and hence also you will perceive that the soul of an animal must not be the subject of this investigation. Animals are a class by themselves; nor can anything ever be obtained from them that is not animal in its nature.” - from The Golden Tripod, by Basil Valentinus

“The study of the organs will not teach us about the inner essence of man any more than the mere observation of the letters in a sentence can convey its meaning to one who does not know how to read. The only possibility of knowledge lies in sinking into one’s own interiority in order to follow from there the mysterious ways leading toward the material body.”from First Steps Toward the Experience of the “Subtle Body,” in Introduction to Magic, ed. Julius Evola

“Seek and ye shall find…”

The questions presented to the truth seeker are simple, “What truth is it that you seek?” and “Why do you seek it?” Science, as understood up until the triumph of rationalism, was a study of the unity of being. With such an understanding any starting point leads towards self study, the same mechanics that exist in the celestial domain are applicable to the individual consciousness if the proper meditation is followed.

There is much scholarly debate over whether the alchemists went beyond early chemistry, if their Art was more than a coded form of chemical lab work. This question seems to ignore the mindset of those who sought the Stone. Spiritual alchemy i s the Art of ancient chemistry applied to the development of the human spirit. It’s historical basis is implied in the thoroughness of the ancient conception of the universe and it’s unity.

What we all too often miss in historical analysis is that the end of the Great Work is the restoration of unity, the solution is succinctly given by Socrates, “Know thy self.” This self knowledge, however, is unified  with the knowledge of the whole.

Even if chemistry were the sole end, a deeper understanding of the Art always leads back to an understanding of ourselves. This is all too often lost in contemporary science, this sense of an in depth understanding of our own place in the discovery. The focus on material ends used to be known as vulgar mathematics, the study of number for material ends outside of contemplation.

Alchemy has been so overladden with alternative narratives, be they psychological, theosophic, therapeutic or general new age, it’s a welcome change that the historical roots are being more clearly exposed. The difficulty is in maintaining a clear picture of the Art and not allowing historicism to take away from it’s full exposition.

Every Art holds the potential to act as a ladder to enlightenment, but it’s very easy to take an axe to the rungs by cutting out the steps leading up to the end or by limiting the reach of the ladder. Every angle of analysis has to be properly aligned; giving too much weight to one over another creates an imbalanced view. Historicism is valuable for tracing the roots of ideas, for gaining a better understanding of their development, their affects over time, however it can be very damning to the search for the application of those ideas in practice.

Similarly too much focus on practice and self revelation can limit the full flowering of an idea. Without a clear view of the whole, including historical antecedents, we remain outside the organic development of life that can be traced through looking at the past. False teachers set themselves up on our lack of historical memory and much confusion comes from not understanding the basic origins of an idea.

We all too often throw out what could be reused or reawoken. I was recently struck by an article that Peter Stockinger posted regarding Raymond Lull’s Art of Memory. In it Chiromancy, or palm reading, is turned into a mnemonic device. Similarly when reading Richard Tarnas’ Cosmos and Psyche, what I found most revealing was his concept of reinvigorating the astrological cosmology with a sense of psychology, reformulating what is commonly considered superstition into a powerful cultural mnemonic device capable of acting as a tool for psychological therapy, very close to what Giordano Bruno recommends in his work, The Expulsion of the Triumphant Beast.

In any interpretation the answers given to the questions presented to the truth seeker provide a guide to what will be discovered. We should be careful that our answers and our methods of seeking don’t blind us to the revelations that lay close at hand.

Fouling the Water – Impotent Imagination & Poison Myths

Mytho-poesis is like a gun, you can take it out and train yourself through the controlled application of fire and force, or you can walk into a mall and expose your impotence in a violent and irresponsible act. Any time you attach an image to a conceptual framework and distribute that little package to the populace you’re playing with the cultural narrative. This can be used to help or hinder society, and when it’s done as an act of spite from an unrefined consciousness it starts to foul the collective mental waters.

Under the auspices of popular voices like Joseph Campbell and Carl Jung, we talk a lot about positive myths, myths that uplift us and invigorate our lives. For scholars whose diet is strict and indulged in the company of profound minds past and present, this may be a proper perspective. When we consider, however, that there are other conversations that come to the community on the same neutral terms of mytho-poesis it becomes necessary to recognize that there are irresponsible ways to mix the voice and vision.

I was recently reminded of the “Flying Spaghetti Monster” trope used by folks who feel burned by the mismanagement of organized religion. With all this mytho-poetic theorizing going on I suddenly realized that the FSM was actually a poisonous entity. It’s vacuous nature, devoid of any potent conceptual purpose, houses itself in the cultural narrative, creating a meaningless negation where growth could be found.

It’s the flip side of mystery, an infantile image aligned to a zombified corporate rationalism. Upheld as an image of intellectual freedom it exposes the impotent imagination of it’s exponents and their inability to reach a true  illumination of the intelligence.

A deep sense of compassion reaches out to these hurt intellects festering under the sway of a poisonous mythos. Lacking all beauty, empty of a Hermetic humor, the FSM is a cold cell for bitter hearts. With all the archetypes of critical intelligence to choose from, to center in on such a sad thought form represents a frantic misstep on the road to reason.

So take heed when your bile rises and your creativity is sparked. Aid in the movement of truth and resist the urge to create empty vessels that set sail to suck meaning from the collective consciousness.  The passage is fit with enough trials, we don’t need any more impotent arguments to foul the water.

The rules of the field, the pasture and prairie…

By Vincent Starrett

First Published in The International – Vol XI, Issue 11


In a dim grotto of the wood, they said,
Great Pan lies dead;
And then they flew
Laughing across the sand, but paused anew,
Clad in white chastity, upon the brink —
Shy fawns at drink,
Half-frightened by
The murmuring treetops and the water’s sigh —
Viewing the wood with half-alarmed grimace
For a strange face.
The goat-eared Pan,
They said in bravado, is not a man
But a dead god; an antique legend sung
To charm the young.
And then the sea
Robed them in living jewels lavishly;
Clasped his wet arms about them — ah, so slim! —
Drew them to him.
Beware, old sea!
Dost thou not fear Pan’s maddened jealousy?
Dost thou think, too, that Pan is dead and cold,
Deep in the gold
Dead leaves of fall,
Leaving all this to thee as seneschal?
Long since thou heard the cloven hoof resound
Upon the ground;
Since thy pale glass
Gave back his image. Ah, the years may pass
But Pan lives yet, for love is more than death.
Hear’st thou a breath
Hot in the wood,
Where in thy youth the shaggy lover stood.


The rules of the field, the pasture and the prairie, the laws of the deep wood, have been usurped by the civilizing forces of human law. Gentle pastoral moments of reflection, the raw release of energy  between predator and prey, the procreative force, all fit poorly in a society organized for commerce and progress. Pan, god of panic, nature unbound, seems to have no place in our new world.

Our visions of life’s potential, filtered through the lens of law, fail to capture the living mythology the surrounds us, the truths that lie undying in the depths of our stories.

There are some, however, who sense the faint stirring of rebirth, a green face in the field, a word in the wind. Divine madness stirs the leaves where it will.

“Hear’st thou a breath hot in the wood….”

*Commentary originally posted in a slightly different form at [ open myth source ]. Special thanks to John G. Bell, Chief Librarian and Curator, of The Hermetic Library at hermetic.com for putting Vince Starrett’s poem up online and drawing attention to it. If you have some time I highly recommend checking out the rest of the wonderful jewels that lie hidden on the site.


This is the world where Raven stole the Sun for us all: A Critique of the Fantasist, by Zac Odin

As we, as a culture or as a counter culture, attempt to reclaim our past, our worlds, our realities, we are turning quite rightly to myth.

This is an obvious and admirable decision; the searchers look and the searchers define but it seems as if they are often looking in the wrong places and defining the wrong things.

There has been recent discussion of science fiction and fantastic literature as the repository of our living mythology.  This is a mistake; world-building fantasists are not engaging in real myth, but an empty rather truncated form. Myth is the Reality in which the culture lives.  It is Reality.  Period.

Do you think that the Kwakwaka’wakw of Canada’s Pacific Coast (http://www.civilization.ca/cmc/exhibitions/aborig/nwca/nwcam25e.shtml and http://www.umista.org/) thought they were involved in some so banal as world building?  No.  Obviously they were (and are once more) participating in the mythical world, a world more real, a foundational world, a world that built their world.

The dance is a supernatural dance, mythical beings representing abstractions of realities (supernatural birds, ‘The Listener’ from the Dance of the Forest Spirits – making physical abstract concepts) and solidities (bear, other forest animals – abstracting and mythologizing the physical), and all the people were seeing it as it was.  Real.

This is not cosplay; there is no suspension of disbelief here, no LARP emptiness, but pure Reality.  Because this is the world in which they lived.  The Listener was in the Forest Dance because the Listener really is in the Forest.

This is the world where Raven stole the Sun for us all.  The people saw Raven every day as a constant reminder of the mythological foundation of their world, the First Time was a different time, celebrated in myth.  It was a time when animals and humans were indistinguishable from each other.  It is this world:

“I will talk about the middle between our world and the upper side of what is seen by us, the blue sky where the sun and moon and stars stay, that is what I mean, the names of the various birds of the Rivers Inlet tribe, the Crooked-Beak of Heaven and the Huxwhukw of Heaven and the Screecher of Heaven and the Ugwa’xta’yi, and many others whose names I do not know, the various birds above the clouds”. (http://www.umista.org/)

And it is this world at exactly the same time.  There really is no difference.

So where are our myths?  I don’t think we can find them in the world building of science fiction.  Our myths are so much a part of our reality that we are unable to disentangle them enough to study them.  But sometimes, if you look hard enough, you can see.

In this case the impulse that leads us to play at world creators is mythic, not the world that has been created.  Just because Tolkien references the Jungian Shadow with Sauron does not make The Lord of the Rings mythic on a level like the Kwakwaka’wakw dances.  Not even close.

That which leads us to create worlds, that drives us to be Apes of God, is the Myth. It is playing at Demiurge, every writer an Ialdabaoth.  That is the Myth not the content.

Borrowed Traditions, Rediscovered Paths – Neo-Platonism and the Reunion of Western Philsophy

While doing research for an Open Myth Source article on the concept of Mytho-poesis, which is, roughly understood, the use of poetic reasoning to interpret and activate mythological ideas, I remembered an essay I had seen by Hazel Twiggs discussing the development of terminology in contemporary astrology. Her analysis of the break from historical antecedants in contemporary astrology, and the reinterpretation  of certain common terms, provides further insight into some of the processes involved in the development of many of our current intepretations of ancient ideologies and practices. – D. Metcalfe

Borrowed Traditions, Rediscovered Paths – Neo-Platonism and the Reunion of Western Philsophy, by Hazel Twiggs

Practitioners of modern astrology are quite used to using language that they assume are understood by their peers and contemporaries. Such words seem to be used with impunity and few appear to define them with rigor, depth, or attention to historical antecedent. Words like “soul 1,” “spirituality 2,” and “karma 3″ are used so often by people who practice and are interested in astrology and similar contemporary philosophical systems that one would assume these ideas are not only commonplace but that they have some historical precedent in Western culture and thought. Many of these well-meant but essentially nebulous ideas—when they are traced to their inspirations—are very often the product of a loosely conceived yoke between Western astrological concepts and what is more or less watered-down Eastern (meaning Hindu or Buddhist) philosophy. In fact, few astrologers who consider themselves to be “evolutionary 4″ or involved in healing the “spirit” can avoid borrowing Eastern ideas such as the chakras 5  for the very reason that for the past 1700 years Western spirituality has been dominated by monotheist and increasingly materialist6 Christianity, a Christianity whose basis is a strict dependence on an external force for the salvation of one’s soul.

When the heavily loaded word “soul” is used it summons from the shadows of Western religious and philosophical history myriad references which can be summarized thusly: from the Christian point of view 7 soul is both particular to human or sentient life and is also an eternal force which resides in the living body and which is assumed to outlive corporeal death; from a scientific point of view8 the soul is that which is immeasurable, incalculable, and immaterial, existing within time but not space, while what can be known of soul must by scientific terms be limited to sensory understanding. At any rate, the idea of the soul is replete in modern astrological lore. That it is an ephemeral concept requiring philosophical approach, it is “esoteric,” or “confined to and understandable by only an enlightened inner circle.9″ At the heart of these introductory comments is the intention to reveal that while the philosophical foundations for an expansive, innovative, modern, and “esoteric” astrology are consciously, though imprecisely, embedded in 19th and 20th century developments such as theosophy, there exists deeply hidden within Western thinking an esotericism which modern esotericists and scholars appear to have missed. Whether due to the rift in Western philosophical history created by scientific materialism or not, modern astrologers seem to believe that “Eastern” philosophy is their only means by which the numinous may be known or approached.

This is most evident in the works of Alan Leo, founder of the Theosophical Society of the Astrological Lodge of London in 1915,10 and Alice Bailey, both authors of treatises entitled Esoteric Astrology.11 Leo’s book, first published at the close of the 19th century, is a document that entirely represents the adoption by Western spiritualists of Eastern ideas in an attempt to deepen, broaden, and personalize their spirituality. Leo’s preface begins with a reference to his meaningful travels to India and relates to the reader that his conversion to such Eastern ideas as reincarnation was prompted at age 17 when he was present during a discussion between his Puritan mother and “a gentleman of the same religion” on that subject. (Leo, v-vi) Such inspiration resulted in Leo’s creation of a philosophy of astrology that reflects the notion that “God sends forth from Himself certain spiritual embodiments of power, love and wisdom. The planetary Spirits or Intelligences who carry out His will are manifestations of His consciousness” which “produce certain vibratory energies known as planetary influence…” (Ibid, xvii) Directly after these comments and throughout the text thereafter, each philosophical principle underlying Leo’s “esoteric” approach to astrology is a direct reference to Hindu principles and terminologies, beginning with the Gunas and including such concepts as the caste system.12

Bailey’s text, first published in 1951—two years after her death, also well documents that the attempt to formulate an “esoteric” astrology is meant to be Eastern and “intuitional” (as opposed to Western and rational) and that its development represents a “return to the knowledge of that ancient science which related the constellations and our solar system.” (Bailey, 3) Sprinkled throughout her text are co-opted Eastern ideas and references to “energy” sans any overt recognition of a conventional or scientific meaning of such. She gives an explanation of “The Twelve Creative Hierarchies” in which several constellations relate to specific shaktis, while each of the twelve signs represent an “energy” of some sort. (Ibid, 34-35) Yet nowhere does Bailey seem to actually address directly what is meant by these descriptions other than that esotericism in general “teaches (and modern science is rapidly arriving at the same conclusion) that underlying the physical body and its comprehensive and intricate system of nerves is a vital or etheric body,” which is “an integral part of that entity which we have called the human family,” which, in turn, “is an integral part of the planetary etheric body,” and constitutes, “along with the etheric body of the sun…the body of the solar system.” (Ibid, 10-11) The reader is, apparently, supposed to have some familiarity with the concept of “ether” in this passage, as well.13

Whether these or other modern, esoteric, astrological doctrines are self-conscious of the seeming lack of continuity between their innovations and the philosophical conventions of Western culture which lead up to the 19th and 20th centuries or not, their ideas actually can be traced back to an epoch of the Western tradition which developed uninterruptedly up until the 3rd century CE and has served as the primary foundation of Western thought, culture, and politics to this day. In fact, the tradition to which 19th and 20th century esoteric ideas like “ether” and “planetary energy” draw upon the 6th century BCE dictum of the pre-Socratic philosopher Thales: “all things are full of gods.”14 Plato’s 4th century BCE description of the ensoulment of the “corporeal universe” in the Timaeus in which “all the stars which were necessary to the creation of time… had become living creatures having bodies fastened by vital chains” (emphasis added)15 not only fits the modern esoteric astrological paradigm but is also the arguable progenitor of it. Plato’s argument in Book VI of the Republic in which he explains the four-fold division of the visible and intelligible worlds is also well known. In it he explains that the realm of invisible archetypes— what Bailey and Leo and other esotericists call “vibrations” or “emanations”—”make use of the visible forms and reason about them”16 and convert into images the ideals perceived only by the Mind which they resemble.

So, from this formative period of Western philosophy, where did the lineage of the intuitive Mind’s supra-sensory apprehension of a universe replete with gods become merely a field of physical substance subject to fate? It is unsuitable in a brief paper such as this to give a rounded, dutiful description of the entire history of Western thought that followed Plato. However, it suffices to say that Aristotle’s inheritance of Plato’s metaphysics closely followed by the development of Stoicism began this obfuscation and was later used for political ends. This turn of events attuned the study of reality to the causal, material realm and eventually denied entirely the direct detection of a Western mysticism astrologers such as Bailey and Leo sought. A description of Stoicism according to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy supports this view:

“Stoic logic is, in all essentials, the logic of Aristotle. To this, however, they added a theory, peculiar to themselves, of the origin of knowledge and the criterion of truth. All knowledge, they said, enters the mind through the senses. The mind is a blank slate, upon which sense- impressions are inscribed. It may have a certain activity of its own, but this activity is confined exclusively to materials supplied by the physical organs of sense. This theory stands, of course, in sheer opposition to the idealism of Plato, for whom the mind alone was the source of knowledge, the senses being the sources of all illusion and error. The Stoics denied the metaphysical reality of concepts.”17

The involvement of materialist metaphysics in politics referenced above is incredibly important because it was a vital force which supported the rise of Christianity and the subsequent obscurity of Platonic mysticism. Julius Firmicus Maternus, a Christian writer and notable astrologer who lived during the reign of Constantine I18, wrote in the 4th century CE19 of the 3rd century CE teachings of Plotinus, generally regarded as the founder of Neoplatonism,20 that he “severely reproves men who fear the decrees of Fortune when he claims that the control of our lives is entirely within our own power. He attributes nothing to the force of the stars, nothing to the necessities of Fate, but says everything is in our power.” (Bram, 23) Rather than observe power as an emanating force that may govern Fate, Maternus exhorts his readers to “concede that nothing is placed in our power, but the whole is in the power of Fate. Whatever we do or suffer, the whole thing happens to us by this same judgment of Fortune.” (Ibid, 28) What is this control over one’s life Plotinus claimed? What precedent might it have had in classical culture and why was its veracity so disputed? In the Gospel of Thomas21, an apocryphal, non-Canonical text dating to the 1st or 2nd century CE, Jesus is reported to have said, “If those who lead you say, ‘See, the Kingdom is in the sky,’ then the birds of the sky will precede you. If they say to you, ‘It is in the sea,’ then the fish will precede you. Rather, the Kingdom is inside of you, and it is outside of you. When you come to know yourselves, then you will become known, and you will realize that it is you who are the sons of the living Father. But if you will not know yourselves, you dwell in poverty and it is you who are that poverty.”22 (emphasis added)

While canonical Christianity marched forth from the 3rd century, several traditions—namely the Gnostic23, Hermetic, and Neoplatonic—managed to survive formally until around the 6th century, but fading out primarily due to the closing of the Platonic Academy in Athens by the Emperor Justinian.24  This school was the last orchestrated dominion wherein such esoteric ideas as the “role played by the stars in the dissemination of divine ‘energies’ throughout the universe”25 flourished following in the tradition of Iamblichan theurgy. (Fowden, 91) Iamblichus (3rd  century CE), student of the Neoplatonist Porphry, put into ritualized form the Middle Platonist mixture of Stoic and Pythagorean philosophy that had been “common coin” in the 2nd century CE. (Ibid, 135) He was “convinced that he had found…a supreme authority and universal way in a synthesis of Chaldean,26  Egyptian, and ‘philosophical’—that is Greek—doctrines” whose purpose was “to invoke the assistance of the gods, in order to liberate the soul from the body and the bonds of sympathy, and bring about its ‘theurgical union’ with the divine.” (Ibid, 132) In fact, what could have been the salvatory delight of 19th and 20th century seekers of esoteric truth in the Western tradition is that Iamblichus deprecated his teacher’s “reliance on reason in order to arrive at the conviction that the gods exist, for this is an intuition  that was planted within us (sic) before we ever learned to judge and choose.” (emphasis added) (Ibid, 133) The primary point here is, of course, that Leo’s and Bailey’s books on esoteric astrology may have never been necessitated by a dearth in the Western tradition of such spiritual practices had ideas such as these survived the political motivations of the Cannon and the rise of orthodox Christianity and the consequent evolution of materialist science.


1 In this and the following three footnotes examples of contemporary ways the terms in question have been used.  http://www.soulastrology.com/astrology/soul.html

2 http://www.spiritual-astrology.com/index2.htm

3 http://www.karmastrology.com/ast_faq.shtmlwhatiska

4 http://www.mauricefernandez.com/eng_whatis.html

5 http://www.innerself.com/Astrology/chakras.htm

6 The recent film The Passion of the Christ and such developments as the Holy Land theme park in Orlando, Florida (http://www.theholylandexperience.com/) are ample evidence of the ways in which a strict interpretation of Biblical stories are interpreted literally, and, subsequently, materially.

7 http://www.wlsessays.net/authors/V/VogelOTSoul/VogelOTSoul.pdf can be referenced for these ideas.

8 That modern science is a result of Protestant Christianity and Renaissance Humanism is the topic of another, much longer paper. For the sake of brevity we will assume the reader is comfortable with the idea that the evolution of Western thought is inextricably due to its philosophical and religious history. Here Bertrand Russell’s 1926 essay entitled “What is the Soul?” is used by way of contrast to typical Christian thinking: “I think the opponents of materialism have always been actuated by [the desire to] to prove that the mind is immortal, but our power is very strictly limited. We cannot at present do anything whatever to the sun or moon or even to the interior of the earth, and there is not the faintest reason to suppose that what happens in regions to which our power does not extend has any mental causes. That is to say, to put the matter in a nutshell, there is no reason to think that except on the earth’s surface anything happens because somebody wishes it to happen.” (http://cscs.umich.edu/~crshalizi/Russell/what_is_the_soul.html)

9 http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/esoteric

10 http://www.astrolodge.co.uk/astro/info/lodgehistory.html

11 Bailey, Alice. Esoteric Astrology. London: Lucis Press, 1997; Leo, Alan. Esoteric Astrology. Rochester, VT: Destiny Books, 1989.

12 Chapter 4 addresses “The Significance of Caste and Social Distinctions.”

13 On the previous page Bailey describes “the ether of space” as “the field in and through which the energies from the many originating sources play.” (9)

14 Frost-Arnold, Greg. “On Thales’ “all things are full of gods”.” University of Nevada, Las Vegas. 20 Sep 2007 . Frost-Arnold writes, “We believe Thales said that all things are full of gods primarily because of one passage from Aristotle’s de Anima. If we examine that passage closely, it does not give us strong reason to believe Aristotle was certain Thales…believed everything was ensouled…. The claim that everything is ensouled…is Aristotle’s own conjectural…rationalization for Thales’ dictum.”

15 Jowett, Benjamin. “Timaeus by Plato.” The Internet Classics Archive. Massachusetts Institute of Technology. 20 Sep 2007 .

16 Jowett, Benjamin. “The Republic by Plato.” The Internet Classics Archive. Massachusetts Institute of Technology. 20 Sep 2007 .

17 Baltzly, Dirk. “Stoicism.” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. 13 Dec 2004. Stanford University. 20 Sep 2007 .

18 The emperor Constantine I laid the foundations of post-classical European civilization through his legalization and support of Christianity. Several things went along with what has been called this “Constantinian shift”: citizenship in the state became equivalent with membership in the church which was no longer voluntary, a move from to the power of priesthood in the church hierarchy, and a shift of emphasis toward concern about the fate of each individual’s soul. Barrett, Lois. “Thinking Theologically about Church and State.” 25 Oct 1996 Religion-online.org 21 Sep 2007 .

19 Bram, Jean Rhys, trans. Julius Firmicus Maternus. Matheseos Libri VIII. Ancient Astrology: Theory and Practice. Park Ridge, N.J.: Noyes Press, 1975.

20 Gerson, Lloyd. “Plotinus.” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. 30 June 2003. Stanford University. 21 Sep 2007 .

21 Elaine Pagels, author of Beyond Belief: The Secret Gospel of Thomas (NY: Random House, 2003), relates a comment made by the Roshi of the Zen Center in San Francisco: “…had I known the Gospel of Thomas, I wouldn’t have had to become a Buddhist!” (74)

22 Schenk, Greg. “The Gospel of Thomas.” 17 June 1992. Internet Sacred Text Archive. 21 Sep 2007 .

23 This tradition, though arguably a dark and imprisoning philosophy, is included here due to its cosmological view that there exist lower powers called “Archons” who are led by a demi-urge (in the tradition of Plato’s Timaeus) which seem to relate to the planetary powers though their aim appears to be “the enslavement of man.” Jonas, Hans. Gnostic Religion: The Message of the Alien God and the Beginnings of Christianity. Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 1958. (42-44)

24 Moore, Edward. “Neoplatonism.” 2006. The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. 21 Sep 2007 .

25 Fowden, Garth. The Egyptian Hermes: A Historical Approach to the Late Pagan Mind. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1986.

26 Given that Leo sought to bring oriental ideas into Western astrology, there is some irony in the theurgical desire “to emphasize these oriental connections that gave their oracles their epithet ‘Chaldean’.” (Fowden, 135)