The Major Arcana and Psalm CXVIII

Represented by the letters of the Hebraic alphabet, the twenty-two Major Numbers are known in the Christian Tradition, where they are not associated with images but are systematically revealed in King David’s Psalm CXVIII –  Gnosis Volume III: Esoteric Cycle, Boris Mouravieff.

Now Christian Hermeticism also associates the twenty-two Major Numbers with the twenty-two Major Arcana of the Tarot. It may be fruitful to meditate on the Major Arcana as they correspond and are revealed in King David’s Psalm CXVIII. Saint John of Kronstadt Press publish an English translation of Saint Theophan the Recluse’s commentary on the Psalm, available here.

Concerning Mouravieff’s thoughts on the Psalm, I post them here for others consideration. Taken from Gnosis Volume III, we read:

The problem of absolute Knowledge is raised from time to time in writings dealing with esoteric questions or concerned with man’s possibilities of attaining it. Apart from the Gospel, which attributes this Knowledge to Jesus and through Him to His Disciples, we may find a few careful allusions here and there in the Philokalia and in certain other early writings. Yet the specialized literature does not tackle the problem directly, but only gives vague hints about a few people belonging to the ancient world who are supposed to have possessed this kind of Knowledge. Hermes Trismegistus, Pythagoras, Plato and certain others are named in this context, but the student is not offered any practical means that could lead him to a solution of the problem. Hardly any mention is made of King David or his 118th Psalm, which contains a concise yet precise expose of the question; to our knowledge, only one authorized commentary exists on this Psalm: it is by Theophan the Recluse, whose writings we have quoted more than once.


I: The Magician


Blessed are the undefiled in the way, who walk in the law of the Lord.

Blessed are they that search his testimonies: that seek him with their whole heart.

For they that work with iniquity, have not walked in his ways.

Thou hast commanded thy commandments to be kept most diligently.

O! that my ways may be directed to keep thy justifications.

Then shall I not be confounded, when I shall look into all thy commandments.

I will praise thee with uprightness of heart, when I shall have learned the judgements of thy justice.

I will keep thy justifications: O! do not thou utterly forsake me.

II: The High Priestess


By what doth a young man correct his way? by observing thy words.

With my whole heart have I sought after thee: let me not stray from thy commandments.

Thy words have I hidden in my heart, that I may not sin against thee.

Blessed art thou, O Lord: teach me thy justifications.

With my lips I have pronounced all the judgements of thy mouth.

I have been delighted in the way of thy testimonies, as in all riches.

I will meditate on thy commandments: and I will consider thy ways.

I will think of thy justifications: I will not forget thy words.

III: The Empress


Give bountifully to thy servant. enliven me: and I shall keep thy words.

Open thou my eyes: and I will consider the wonderous things of thy law.

I am a sojourner on the earth: hide not thy commandments from me.

My soul hath coveted to long for thy justifications, at all times.

Thou hast rebuked the proud: they are cursed who decline from thy commandments.

Remove me from reproach and contempt: because I have sought after thy testimonies.

For princes sat, and spoke against me: but thy servant was employed in thy justifications.

For thy testimonies are my meditation: and thy justifications my counsel.

IV: The Emperor


My soul has cleaved to the pavement: quicken thou me according to thy word.

I have declared my ways, and thou hast heared me: teach me thy justifications: and I shall be exercised in thy wondrous works.

My soul hath slumbered through heaviness: strengthen thou me in thy words.

Remove me from the way of iniquity: and out of thy law have mercy on me.

I have chosen the way of truth: thy judgements I have not forgotten.

I have stuck to thy testimonies, O Lord: put me not to shame.

I have run the way of thy commandments, when thou didst enlarge my heart.

V: The Pope


Set before me for a law the way of thy justifications, O Lord: and I will always seek after it.

Give me understanding, and I will search thy law; and I will keep it with my whole heart.

Lead me into the path of thy commandments; for this same I have desired.

Incline my heart into thy testimonies and not to covetousness.

Turn away my eyes that they may not behold vanity: quicken me in thy way.

Establish thy word to thy servant, in thy fear.

Turn away my reproach, which I have apprehended: for thy judgements are delightful.

Behold I have longed after thy precepts: quicken me in thy justice.

VI: The Lover


Let thy mercy also come upon me, O Lord: thy salvation according to thy word.

So shall I answer them that reproach me in any thing; that I have trusted in thy words.

And take not thou the word of truth utterly out of my mouth: for in thy words, I have hoped exceedingly.

So shall I always keep thy law, for ever and ever.

And I walked at large: because I have sought after thy commandments.

And I spoke of thy testimonies before kings: and I was not ashamed.

I meditated on thy commandments, which I loved.

And I lifted up my hands to thy commandments, which I loved: and I was exercised in thy justifications.

VII: The Chariot


Be though mindful of thy word to thy servant, in which thou hast given me in hope.

This hath comforted me in my humiliation: because thy word hath enlivened me.

The proud did iniquitously altogether: but I declined not from thy law.

I remembered, O Lord, thy judgements of old: and I was comforted.

A fainting hath taken hold of me, because of the wicked that forsake thy law.

Thy justifications were the subject of my song, in the place of my pilgrimage.

In the night I have remembered thy name, O Lord: and have kept thy law.

This happened to me: because I sought after thy justifications.

VIII: Justice


O Lord, my portion, I have said, I would keep thy law.

I entreated thy face with all my heart: have mercy on me according to thy word.

I have thought on my ways: and turned my feet unto thy testimonies.

I am ready, and am not troubled: that I may keep thy commandments.

The cords of the wicked have encompassed me: but I have not forgotten thy law.

I rose at midnight to give praise to thee; for the judgements of thy justification.

I am partaker with all that fear thee, and that keep thy commandments.

The earth, O Lord, is full of thy mercy: teach me thy justifications.

IX: The Hermit


Thou hast done will with thy servant, O Lord, according to thy word.

Teach me goodness and discipline and knowledge; for I have believed thy commandments.

Before I was humbled I offended; therefore have I kept thy word.

Thou art good; and in thy goodness teach me thy justifications.

The iniquity of the proud hath been multiplied over me: but I will seek thy commandments with my whole heart.

Their heart is curdled like milk: but I have meditated on thy law.

It is good for me that thou hast humbled me, that I may learn thy justifications.

The law of thy mouth is good to me, above thousands of gold and silver.

X: The Wheel of Fortune


Thy hands have made me and formed me: give me understanding, and I will learn thy commandments.

They that fear thee shall see me, and shall be glad: because I have greatly hoped in thy words.

I know, O Lord, that thy judgements are equity: and in thy truth thou hast humbled me.

O! let thy mercy be for my comfort, according to thy word unto thy servant.

Let thy tender mercies come unto me, and I shall live: for thy law is my meditation.

Let the proud be ashamed, because they have done unjustly towards me: but I will be employed in thy commandments.

Let them that fear thee turn to me: and they that know thy testimonies.

Let my heart be undefiled in thy justifications, that I may not be confounded.

XI: Force


My soul hath fainted after thy salvation: and in thy word I have very much hoped.

My eyes have failed for thy word, saying: When wilt thou comfort me?

For I am become like a bottle in the frost: I have not forgotten thy justifications.

How many are the days of thy servant: when wilt thou execute judgement on them that persecute me?

The wicked have told me fables: but not as thy law.

All thy statutes are truth: they have persecuted me unjustly, do thou help me.

They had almost made an end of me upon earth: but I have not forsaken thy commandments.

Quicken thou me according to thy mercy: and I shall keep the testimonies of thy mouth.

XII: The Hanged Man


For ever, O Lord, thy word standeth firm in heaven.

Thy truth unto all generations: thou hast founded the earth, and it continueth.

By thy ordinance the day goeth on: for all things serve thee.

Unless thy law had been my meditation, I had then perhaps perished in my abjection.

Thy justifications I will never forget: for by them thou hast given me life.

I am thine, save thou me: for I have sought thy justifications.

The wicked have waited for me to destroy me: but I have understood thy testimonies.

I have seen an end of all perfection: thy commandment is exceeding broad.

XIII: Death


O how I have loved thy law, O Lord! is it my meditation all day.

Through thy commandment, though hast made me wiser then my enemies: for it is ever with me.

I have understood more than all my teachers: because thy testimonies are my meditation.

I have understanding above ancients: because I have sought thy commandments.

I have restrained my feet from every evil way: that I may keep thy words.

I have not declined from thy judgements, because thou hast set me a law.

How sweet are thy words to my palate! more than honey to my mouth.

By thy commandments I have had understanding: therefore I have hated every way of iniquity.

XIV: Temperance


Thy word is a lamp to my feet, and a light to my paths.

I have sworn and am determined to keep the judgements of thy justice.

I have been humbled, O Lord, exceedingly: quicken thou me according to thy word.

The free offerings of my mouth make me acceptable, O Lord: and teach me thy judgements.

My soul is continually in my hands: and I have not forgotten thy law.

Sinners have laid a snare for me: but I have not erred from thy precepts.

I have purchased thy testimonies for an inheritance for ever: because they are the joy of my heart.

I have inclined my heart to do thy justifications for ever, for the reward.

XV: The Devil


I have hated the unjust: and have loved thy law.

Thou art my helper and my protector: and in thy word I have greatly hoped.

Depart from me, ye malignant: and I will search the commandments of my God.

Uphold me according to thy word, and I shall live: and let me not be confounded in my expectation.

Help me, and I shall be saved: and I will meditate always on thy justifications.

Thou hast despised all them that fall off from thy judgements; for their thought is unjust.

I have accounted all the sinners of the earth prevaricators: therefore have I loved thy testimonies.

Pierce thou my flesh with thy fear: for I am afraid of thy judgements.

XVI: The Tower of Destruction


I have done judgement and justice: give me not up to them that slander me.

Uphold thy servant unto good: let not the proud calumniate me.

My eyes have fainted after thy salvation: and for the word of thy justice.

Deal with thy servant according to thy mercy: and teach me thy justifications.

I am thy servant: give me understanding that I may know thy testimonies.

It is time, O Lord, to do: that have dissipated thy law.

Therefore have I loved thy commandments above gold and the topaz.

Therefore was I directed to all thy commandments: I have hated all wicked ways.

XVII: The Star


Thy testimonies are wonderful: therefore my soul hath sought after them.

The declaration of thy words giveth light: and giveth understanding to little ones.

I opened my mouth, and panted: because I longed for thy commandments.

Look thou upon me, and have mercy on me, according to the judgement of them that love thy name.

Direct my steps according to thy word: and let no iniquity have dominion over me.

Redeem me from the calumnies of men: that I may keep thy commandments.

Make thy face to shine upon thy servant: and teach me thy justifications.

My eyes have sent forth springs of water: because they have not kept thy law.

XVIII: The Moon


Thou art just, O Lord: and thy judgement is right.

Though hast commanded justice thy testimonies: and they truth exceedingly.

My zeal hath made me pine away: because my enemies forgot thy words.

Thy word is exceedingly refined: and thy servant hath loved it.

I am very young and despised; but I forget not thy justifications.

Thy justice is justice for ever: and thy law is the truth.

Trouble and anguish have found me: thy commandments are my meditation.

Thy testimonies are justice for ever: give me understanding and I shall live.

XIX: The Sun


I cried with my whole heart, hear me, O Lord: I will seek thy justifications.

I cried unto thee, save me: that I may keep thy commandments.

I prevented the dawning of the day, and cried: because in thy words I very much hoped.

My eyes to thee have prevented the morning: that I might meditate on thy words.

Hear thou my voice, O Lord, according to thy mercy: and quicken me according to thy judgement.

They that persecute me have drawn nigh to iniquity; but they are gone far off from thy law.

Thou art near, O Lord: and all thy ways are truth.

I have known from the beginning concerning thy testimonies: that thou hast founded them for ever.

XX: The Judgement


See my humiliation and deliver me: for I have not forgotten thy law.

Judge my judgement and redeem me: quicken thou me for thy word’s sake.

Salvation is far from sinners; because they have not sought thy justifications.

Many, O Lord, are thy mercies: quicken me according to thy judgement.

Many are they that persecute me. and afflict me; but I have noted declined from thy testimonies.

I beheld the transgressors, and I pined away; because they kept not thy word.

Behold I have loved thy commandments, O Lord; quicken me thou in thy mercy.

The beginning of thy words is truth: all the judgements of thy justice are for ever.

XXI: The Fool


Princes have persecuted me without cause: and my heart hath been in awe of thy words.

I will rejoice at thy words, as one that hath found great spoil.

I hath hated and abhorred iniquity; but I have loved thy law.

Seven times  day I have given praise to thee, for the judgements of thy justice.

Much peace have they that love thy law, and to them there is no stumbling-block.

I looked for thy salvation, O Lord: and I loved thy commandments.

My soul hath kept thy testimonies: and hath loved them exceedingly.

I have kept thy commandments and thy testimonies: because all my ways are in thy sight.

XXII: The World


Let my supplication, O Lord, come near in thy sight: give me understanding according to thy word.

Let my request come in before thee; deliver thou me according to thy word.

My lips shall utter a hymn, when thou shalt teach me thy justifications.

My tongue shall pronounce thy word: because all thy commandments are justice.

Let thy hand be with me to save me; for I have chosen thy precepts.

I have lined for thy salvation, O Lord; and thy law is my meditation.

My soul shall live and shall praise thee: and thy judgements shall help me.

I have gone astray like a sheep that is lost: seek thy servant, because I have not forgotten thy commandments.

January 28, 2019  Leave a comment

“Yes, but…”

And rising up, he rebuked the wind, and said to the sea: Peace, be still. And the wind ceased: and there was made a great calm. – Mark iv: 39

And he asked him: What is thy name? And he saith to him: My name is Legion, for we are many. – Mark V: 9

But let your speech be yea, yea: no, no: and that which is over and above these, is of evil – Matthew v: 37

“Because virtue is boring and vice is disgusting. But that which lives at the foundation of the heart is neither boring nor disgusting”. – Unknown Friend


The garment that is our inner life looks strikingly like a patch-work quilt. Where the amalgamation of each of the different patterns and shades of cloth lend our life an overall appearance of shape and continuity. Upon closer inspection, however, it’s discontinuous nature betrays the initial impression. The entire ensemble, gaudy and ill-replete, betrays our latent possibilities. This patch-work, we are told, is the result of a mechanical process working away within ourselves.

Throughout the course of our daily lives we experience various shocks and disturbances: situations and circumstances which either challenge or further entrench our existing notions, habits, and securities. Over the particular course of our lives these shocks and disturbances slash and tear away at the inner garment. Given the nature of these shocks our internal response tends to be one of either avoidance or attraction. It is these actions – automatic and mechanical – that make up these various patches and shades of cloth.

We live in a constant state of patching things up.

The process of ‘patching things up’ is akin to a lie. A lie we perpetually tell ourselves. As Mouriavieff says, and I paraphrase, that if our positive and negative deeds and attributes were totaled their sum would be almost equal. As to their amount: infinitesimal. We are, when we lie to ourselves, morally bankrupt. Zero. Tending towards death.

And we lie to ourselves constantly. Why? Continuity. Given the legion of voices that live inside us at any one time: the little ‘I’s’ that constitute the various impulses, desires, justifications etc. Every man has recourse to three means of establishing and maintaining the veneer of shape and continuity that we have come to associate with our lives: our name, the memory of our experiences, and (of course) the lies we tell ourselves.

These lies typically occur as some form of rationalization which serves to mitigate the shocks and disturbances experienced, thereby perpetuating the mechanical response of ‘patching things up’ which in turn maintains the veneer of continuity. As the above passage from Saint Matthews Gospel alludes to, these justifications are typically comprised of two parts or movements: first, the acknowledgement (often superficial) of the shock experienced; then comes the rationalization, thereby placating the personality and rendering any chance of self-knowledge potentially gleamed within the first movement null and void. Or, put most simply: “Yes, but…”.

However, to begin to admit these lies and catch the process of rationalization signifies an awakening conscience. And to cease entirely: an awakened one. This should be our ideal; our practice.

August 5, 2018  Leave a comment

For the interim, I reiterate

On Wisdom and Hierarchy:

The process of learning involves interpretation, and the fewer particulars we require in order to arrive at our generalization, the more apt pupils we are in the school of wisdom.

– Richard Weaver.

I find it all too easy to get bogged down and distracted in the minutiae of factoids and trivial pursuits. More so when such knowledge is tied to my sense of pride and self-worth. Sheer quantity can never be a substitute for quality; a dung heap is still a dung heap no matter how large.

Since subversive activity is the taking away of degree, it is logical that conservatives should treat as enemies all those who wish to abolish the sacred and secular grounds for distinctions among men. The proposal of the subverters is, however, impossible in practice, and the quarrel turns out to be over principles of selection. History thus far indicates that when the reformers get their turn, they merely substitute a bureaucratic hierarchy—and this because they discover that they do not wish society to collapse at all, but to continue under their conception of man’s good.

– Richard Weaver.

It appears, when all rhetorical flourish is swept aside, that men cannot bear being equal. One may also note that neither pride nor humility presuppose equality: to esteem oneself as being either better or worse then another is to instantiate difference.  As Weaver has written, the battle lines are drawn over the principles of selection: the value-judgements and principles from which we make our distinctions. All things not been equal.

To reflect further on the above notion concerning hierarchy and equality, I believe it is prudent to quote here at length our Unknown Friend from his Meditations on the Tarot. Taken from the first letter concerning the Arcanum the Magician:

…all are fellow pupils and each is master of each in some respect – just as each is a pupil of each in some other respect. We cannot do better than to follow the example of St. Anthony the Great, who…  subjected himself in all sincerity to the pious men whom he visited and made it his endeavour to learn for his own benefit just how each was superior to him in zeal and ascetic practice. He observed the graciousness of one, the earnestness at prayer in another; studied the even temper of one and the kindheartedness of another; fixed his attention on the vigils kept by one and on the studies pursued by another; admired one for his patient endurance, another for his fasting and sleeping on the ground; watched closely this man’s meekness and the forebearance shown by another; and in one and all alike he marked especially devotion to Christ and the love they had for one another. Having thus taken his fill, he would return to his own place of asceticism. Then he assimilated in himself what he had obtained from each and devoted all his energies to realizing in himself the virtues of all. (St. Athanasius, The Life of Saint Anthony, ch. 4; trsl. R. T. Meyer, Westminster, 1950, p.21)

On Love and Friendship:

I hold this to be the highest task of a bond between two people: that each should stand guard over the solitude of the other. For, if it lies in the nature of indifference and of the crowd to recognize no solitude, then love and friendship are there for the purpose of continually providing the opportunity for solitude. And only those are the true sharings which rhythmically interrupt periods of deep isolation . . . .

– Rainer Maria Rilke.

Deep silence between friends, we are told, is the mark of true friendship. More so between lovers.  To respect the dignity of an other, it seems, lies in ones ability to let others be as they are. To resist the urge, born of loneliness or worse, to impose oneself upon an other. The incessant flatterer in their seductive quest betrays, firstly, their own solitude, and consequently the dignity of the other. Grasping the low-hanging fruit is their perennial temptation and sin. In friendship and in love patient deliberation, not cunning, is key.


…and here below one meets only fellow pupils; and they recognise each other by the fact that they “love one another”.

– Unknown Friend

For where there are two or three gathered together in my name, there I am in the midst of them.

– Mathew xviii, 20.

Aelred of Rievaulx begins his reflections on friendship with an exclamation and succinct expression of the essence of spiritual friendship: “Here we are, you and I, and I hope a third, Christ, is in our midst”. For Aelred no true nor profitable friendship can exist which does not have its begining, continuation, and perfection in Christ.

Following Cicero’s De Amicitia – a work which had a profound influence upon the young Aelred – He continues by examining the foundations of what is typically called friendship: noting that friendships tend to flourish between those who share opinions, and aspirations, within a climate of mutual charity and benevolence. A harmony between individuals of affect and deed.

It is here that Aelred now draws our attention to the etymology of the latin word amicus (friend), which has its root in the word amor (love), and their relation to the word amicitia (friendship). For friends, we are told, are the guardians of love and of spirit. They are those who endure our defects, rejoice in our joys, and weep with our sorrows. The sweetness of true friendship having the duration of eternity.

For “effort in great things, is great itself”, we are reminded. And if true friendship has the duration of eternity the constant reorientation of our efforts and desires is necessary: “Ask, and it shall be given you: seek, and you shall find”. This constancy of charity and benevolence, of affect and deed, in imitating Christ is loyal even unto death, as “greater love than this no man hath, that a man lay down his life for his friends”.

Now Aelred brings us down from the lofty heights so as to offer counsel upon some of the more attenuated forms of friendship that bind man to one another. This is done so as to contrast them against spiritual friendship, bringing the latter into relief, thus rendering it more desirable.

The first of these attenuated forms is what Aelred has deemed carnal friendship. Where the bonds of men are established through the fetters of iniquity: “… a worldly existence… acting as partners in some form of vice”. The falsity of such a bond being all too apparent for Aelred, “for he that loves iniquity does not love, but hates his own soul”, and one who hates his own soul can never truly love the soul of another.

The second less noble form of friendship, as Aelred continues, is deemed worldly friendship, “which is born of a desire for temporal advantage or possessions”. The child of deceit and deception, it seeks only fortune and profit, lacking constancy and benevolence. Hence, we are told: “for there is a friend for his own occasion, and will not abide in the day of thy trouble”.

When compared to spiritual friendship, these bonds seem like the shifting winds of the sea, filling the sails of a ship homeward bound. Now blowing east, then west, they have little care for its course, direction, or the welfare of its crew. For true friendship, we are reminded, is born of mutual opinions and aspirations in a spirit of harmony, having its beginning, continuation, and perfection in Christ.

To Reiterate:

As any frequent reader of this blog may note, this current entry is a rehash of one past. Due to some personal circumstances reoccurring posts will be infrequent. I humbly ask for your prayers at this time.

August 16, 2015  Leave a comment

Of Knowledge and Power

The kingdom of God cometh not with observation: Neither shall they say: Behold here, or behold there. For lo, the kingdom of God is within you – Luke xvii 20-21.

The desire for certainty – and preceding that, knowledge – represents a perennial human need. Our minds seek understanding not only about ourselves as individuals, but also the world and the experiences we collectively inhabit. The accumulation and dispensation of knowledge, be it words written on a page, or represented through the use of mathematical symbols and formulae project an edifice of control over ourselves and the world, subsuming them under a guise of reason, rationality, endowing them with  a relative degree of predictability.

The annals of mans intellectual history bear witness to the relative power of rationality and predictability, where our greatest minds have furnished our libraries with countless tomes on psychology and sociology, with the hope of laying bare the individual and communal soul of Man, and the ongoing speculations and explorations of mathematics and the so-called hard sciences, as they seek to explicate the soul of Nature. But this search for knowledge, and the technological power derived from its pursuit – regardless of the assumed nobility of this endeavour – rests upon the assumption that the truth of Man and Nature can, in the last question, be reduced to the predictability of a theory or formula; and that such an achievement is ultimately possible or even desirable.

The above thesis thus presents a problem for the aspiring Hermeticist. As knowledge of the truth of Man and Nature is precisely that which we seek, a crucial distinction therefore needs to be made regarding the nature, content, and purpose of such knowledge.

Technological Knowledge

Our ordinary logic is a logic of retrospection – Henri Bergson

We make inferences based on concepts and ideas that we have previously encountered, and what our minds have already grasped. Novelty, if we accept the aforementioned as true, does not exist, to our ordinary minds, as that which is truly new; but rather as the product of compounding already existing concepts and ideas. Clarity, as the understanding of a seemingly new idea or concept, is simply an extension of the above logic. It occurs when the novel concept is juxtaposed with elementary ideas already grasped by the intellect. It is the arrangement of pre-existing concepts into seemingly new and increasingly complex orders of meaning. The act of understanding in some way entails a return to, and building upon, already “familiar ground”. Scientific and technological knowledge, therefore, are the children of abstraction and duration – the aggregates of time. Its purpose is to reduce the reality of the world, and living beings, to concepts and ideas.

Hermetic Philosophy

That which is absolutely subjective must objectivise itself in consciousness and be accepted as true, then prove to be certain by its objective fruits… – Unknown Friend

To the Hermeticist, mysticism is the essential source and nature of all knowledge. Contrary to ordinary logic, it is the suspension of all pre-existing inferences, and concepts – not their product – where true knowledge begins. It is the spontaneous apprehension of reality. Gnosis furnishes the intellect with the content of such knowledge by reflecting the spontaneous experience of mysticism. Thus rendering the experience comprehendible – as opposed to the juxtaposition and arrangement of pre-existing concepts. This process could be likened to that of understanding. Where understanding is (and I paraphrase Boris Mouravieff): knowledge plus something imponderable. Magic, therefore, is the child of the Real and the Eternal. Its purpose is to bring that which is truly novel into the sensible world, working with, and in service of, life itself.

May 13, 2014  Leave a comment

Of Frithjof Schuon: Transcendent Unity of Religions

Conceptual Dimensions:


Ideas, when entering the mind – even initially – presuppose some level of understanding. However, to completely grasp the meaning of such an idea, a greater understanding will necessarily entail examining the idea from several different viewpoints,  thereby exploring it in greater dimensions. When applied to the spiritual life, and of spiritual realisation in particular, this gives rise to a plurality of dimensions and theoretical conceptions, and in the particular instance of religion, doctrinal expression.

The philosophical dimension in man, Schuon notes, has a tendency to absolutize these theoretical conceptions, or ‘mental schemes’; however, from the view of Spirit (the Absolute), these theoretical conceptions exist as mere representations. Like all speculative thought, though, these mental schemes, having some intimations of truth, may serve as ‘keys’ to opening up the soul to metaphysical thought, and knowledge; of course, given philosophy’s transitive nature, like all discourse, leaves it fundamentally limited in its apprehension of truth.

Dogmatism, it could be said, is the tendency to absolutize one particular conception, or mental scheme, at the expense of other conceptual forms. This, Schuon tells us, is characteristic of the religious point of view. Religious dogma, however, when understood in light of its inherent truth; where the particularities that give it form are acknowledged as simply that: particularities and theoretical frameworks embodying intimations of truth, are able to overcome the limitations imposed by the dogmatic tendency. This acknowledgement, Schuon informs us, is the beginning of all esoterism and metaphysical thought.

Exoterism/Esoterism Distinction: 

Schuon now demonstrates, by way of an analogy, the difference between the exoteric, and therefore dogmatic perspective, and the esoteric, or metaphysical perspective.


Suppose, for a moment, that the two points depicted on the circumference of this circle represent two seemingly contradictory statements, or theoretical positions. Where the dogmatic position, as necessitated by its very nature outlined above, isolates only one individual point, or perspective. And, taking this perspective as its primary and exclusice point of reference, it cannot admit the possibility of any congruity between these two positions. The esoteric, or metaphysical position, however, given its transcendent mode of Knowledge, allows the contradiction to stand, seeing their inherent unity along the circles greater circumference.

Limitations of Exoterism:

The primary concern of exoterism, as Schuon begins, is the individual over the entire “cycle of existence”, concerning both his terrestrial and spiritual life. Which is to say mans salvation. Given this concern towards the salvation of the individual, exoterism is, as we previously noted, limited.

Religious dogma has two aspects: 1) the outward, or exoteric; and 2) the inward, or esoteric; a limited form, manifested in a mental scheme or concept, and as an unlimited symbol, a kernel of Truth. An example of this, provided by Schuon, is the dogma surrounding the “Unicity of the Church of God”; which, existing as dogma, necessarily excludes the validity of other religious confessions. Because universality lacks comport with the goal of a particular individual’s salvation. Indeed, such a position may incite religious indifference. Symbolically, or metaphysically, however, the idea of religious universality exists, for example, in the dogma of the Mystical Body of Christ in Christianity, or the Chosen People of Judaism.

Dogma, insomuch as it confers upon an individual the means of his salvation, is supremely important; however limited (in relation to the Absolute or Truth) it may be. Of course, the dogmatic viewpoint must not be conflated with its functional aspect, or “spiritual means”. And, when taken in this light, allows one to move beyond the Form, to the Formless. Thus, Schuon identifies, the exoteric may serve two ‘functions’: 1) facilitating the aforementioned transposition, where the individual may pass from the Form to the Formless, 2) and as a means of regulating, or orientating an individual towards the spiritual life, and his own salvation.

Schuon now identifies another limitation of the exoteric aspect of religion. Namely, its dependence upon the esoteric core. By which, as our Unknown Friend has eluded to in the first and second of his letters, religion is vivified through mysticism and gnosis, or metaphysical knowledge. The descent and ‘unfolding’ of which, in time, giving birth to the foundations of dogma, theology, tradition, etc. Whence this esoteric aspect ceases to exists, literalism, sentimentality, and heresy tend to flourish.

November 1, 2013  Leave a comment