Why do symbols lend different meanings depending on the discipline from which they are analyzed?
Today it is said that laboratory alchemy and philosophy/theurgy do not recognize each other’s existence. We could hypothesize that bringing them together in a single piece of knowledge shouldn’t be a great effort, since the common basis is physics. Instead, we have to admit that the only meeting point for these two disciplines would be something they both detest: magic. However, magic has taken a path that takes it a thousand miles from where it began.
To enumerate the different versions of the same symbols according to the different disciplines is very stressful. A Sisyphean effort that greatly increases incommunicability, while we should honestly admit that the first, laboratory alchemy, prepares for the second, theurgy. And together they are magic.
This primordial essentiality should get at a meeting point which is instead a starting point: everything boils down to the principles of physics.
Are there any books or authors that could describe the entirety of the path?
There are few books and authors that could describe this indispensable scale. For example, in my opinion, Hypnerotomachia Poliphili is clearly divided into two parts and, in the beginning, two different charts are presented which summarize and exemplify the two phases. The same can be said of Daniel Cramer’s Emblemata Sacra.
What if we realize we are bogged down in a maze of dead-end symbols?
If at a certain point a symbolic sequence contradicts our knowledge or leads us to no man’s land, then we are the problem. We simply have to admit that our erudition is limited.
A test case is the interpretation of ancient mythologies, which at a certain point become incomprehensible to the too specialized in a single branch. For this reason, it is essential not to decontextualize a symbol from a sequence at will.
Can we fix a historical moment in which a division of knowledge became definitive?
Yes, when the Athenian school, the Harranian school, the Zoroastrian school, the Syrian school, and the Alexandrian school began to be channeled into different rivulets. Not surprisingly, in that period – more or less during the Octavian Augustus’ reign – for the first time they heard of alchemy, science, magic, theurgy, philosophy, and religion: because those disciplines had already become separate branches.
What about the so-called Gnosis, then? It is talked about so enthusiastically.
I call it the tombstone above an ocean of total confusion and sapiential anarchy. Gnosis was everything and the opposite of everything. This was the situation perceived by those who went to seek the ancient wisdom – and the new one – in Alexandria in the age of Diocletian.
What about the mysterious Métis
Her name meant Wisdom, but also a skill – or the intelligence of cunning – and was exercised on very different levels, but always for practical purposes: the bricklayer, the politician, the helmsman, the weaver… all protean realities that did not lend themselves to the immutable reasoning of abstract philosophical conjecture, and one which philosophers hastened to reject as ‘non-knowledge.
What about divination? Today so much reviled.
Too often today divination is dismissed as “the will of the gods”. But I guess it’s because of the distorted view we have of the word “deity”. Once divination was conceived as getting in touch with one’s ancient memory.
Ask a physicist what particle memory is.
Why is it more difficult to decipher the Theurgical symbolism than the Alchemical?
Theurgical symbolism is much older than that of laboratory Alchemy. In fact, it dates back to a time when there were no symbols as we conceive them today. This says a lot about the “youth” of Alchemy. Have you ever wondered how they could operate in Alchemy before they had any tools or just some primordial object, but only had their body, moon, stars, trees, and the solar ecliptic?
What about Tradition?
All the masters have added details, and conversely, all of them have omitted details, inevitably, all have adapted to cultural and social changes. The others have bent the disciples to blind obedience. One wonders what was more harmful.
Outside is loneliness. And that’s when the “natural school” begins.
You who are Italian, what about the Renaissance?
In fact, the Italian Renaissance could only arise in Italy amidst the subterfuge of art collecting and classic erudition. Translators from Greek carefully avoid translating Plato’s Phaedo and Parmenides and his commentators – for example, Damascius, the last master of the school of Athens, was unknown. Marsilio Ficino could translate Iamblichus’ De Mysteriis Egyptiorum since it was considered a blunt weapon. Porphyry was paradoxically judged much more dangerous. De Simulacriis was not translated from Greek in the Neoplatonic era but was already circulating in the Latin version before Manutius opened his printing house.
As for who should have been their persecutors, the Roman church pontiffs of the Renaissance time all belonged to the aristocratic families who had encouraged the new wave of Neoplatonic academies. But with the social changes of the late sixteenth century and the consequent election of popes among the small nobility and the commercial bourgeoisie, the episodes of death sentences of intellectuals who did not enjoy high-ranking protection became more and more frequent and these circles of culture had to close definitively.
Were Templars, Rosicrucians, and neo-Platonist Academies spread evenly across Europe?
Not at all. European culture of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance era was still largely separated and thrived within narrow regional boundaries. Consequently, speaking of Templars or Rosicrucians in Italy is inaccurate: the Rosicrucians are a German phenomenon, the Neo-Platonist academies an Italian phenomenon imported from the Greek islands, the Templars a Celtic area phenomenon, Jewish and Islamic culture still an exclusive phenomenon of the Iberian peninsula, and the same can be said of Norse mythology in Scandinavia.
Of course, cultural pioneers have always existed, such as Desiderius Erasmus; Ciriaco D’Ancona; the Templars and Hospitallers during the crusades; Paracelsus who made a journey among the Byzantium physicians; the Greek manuscripts dealers in Venice; or someone like Gerardus Cremonensis who, already in the Middle Ages, went to Spain to directly translate the Arab treaties; the Egyptian community in Naples or the rabbinical schools of Rome and Venice. But these were pioneering episodes that resulted in total secrecy. For a decisive cultural switch, it was necessary to wait for the social changes due to generational swaps. A fairly homogeneous esoteric culture was possible only in the second half of the eighteenth century with the spread of Freemasonry.