Operations of what we conventionally name “inner alchemy” regardless of a specific school or tradition have the same general meaning and follow the same sequence as manipulations of the laboratory Opus.
Separation is an important constituent of Preliminary Work on any alchemical path; when we operate on our own self, we should first separate the observer from the persona, the one who watches form the one being watched.
All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players:
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages…
W. Shakespeare, “As you like it”.
There are banalities that are alike and unchanging because both their author and his admirers are banal. Such banalities are often preserved by many generations of philistines in their dusty larder of ‘worldly wisdom’ as family relics to be dragged out on solemn occasions that mark ‘important life events’ – or, to be precise, those rare bubbles on the surface of the existential slough that can usually be observed when a simian banality is born, marries another, and especially at the time of his or her immersion into the silent mouth of non-existence accompanied by the monotonous voice of a minister and the sound of clods hitting the lid of the coffin that eventually merge with the drumming of rain…
There are, however, banalities of a different sort, those that have earned the title because the arrows shot by their author fly too high and reach the ears of an average citation-lover without touching their heart. Such thoughts and ideas are banal only because the people who fecklessly quote them are banal and they thus resemble the magic lamp in the Arabian tale, accidentally purchased by some fellow in a flea-market, shown to his guests as a curious knick-knack, and then put back in the cupboard with no one ever suspecting its powerful qualities.
The world, according to one of Shakespeare’s characters, is a stage, and on it we play out seven ages.
The Magic Theatre of memory created by philosopher and magus Giulio Camillo Delminio a few decades prior to the birth of the author of the Shakespearean plays (who, like any cultured person of the period, undoubtedly knew about it) contained an amphitheatre of seven sectors laid out in seven rows, each one representing a planet and the system of concepts and qualities pertaining to it. Theoretically, an ‘actor’, standing on the proscenium and seeing that system of loci in front of him with the deities occupying the first row, could, with its help, represent any idea no less clearly than Cicero. However, that was not the main point.
Realizing various ideas through the loci of the Theatre, the actor – which is every one of us, all men and women – could conceive of the unity and meaning of all things and all phenomena set in motion by the sevenfold mechanism of manifestation. That was the magic of Delminio’s Theatre: it was not just teaching rhetoric, it was transforming consciousness. Combinations of images from the Theatre formed tropes that, imprinted in the actor’s memory, were leading him to a true realization of unity, i.e. to the mastering of the one consciousness. Such practices might also have another consequence, marked by the word ‘magic’ (which the system’s creator never dared to openly mention): one who mastered the Theatre well enough could not only freely manipulate its images, but, using their connections with numina, could manipulate reality through them, thus becoming a magus in the real sense.
For another philosopher, Lull’s and Delminio’s intrepid follower from Nola, that secret purpose of mastering reality, achieving power over it, became the main goal.
The basis of his method was laid out in the work De Umbris Idearum (On the Shadows of ideas). The ‘theatre’ of Giordano Bruno was round, not semicircular; its rows were revolving ones, similarly to the circles of Ramon Lull’s Ars Magna. At the point of exhausting all its combinatorics, an ‘actor’ placed in the centre of the circular system could reach the numinal sphere, and, planetary-wise, become identified with the Sun. In astronomy this central role of the Apollonian principle was characteristic of Copernic’s heliocentric system which Bruno eagerly supported although probably not because he was an advanced astronomer or proponent of new scientific methods, but more because he was magus and metaphysician and Copernic’s system fitted his magic art much better than a geocentric one. It is quite possible that his genius could perceive in the new developing science not so much a way of cognizing the world as a tool with which to create new material images, those corresponding to the shadows of ideas in his system, the lower level of reality. Perhaps this approach led too far, though, and, as we know, in time his tongue was tied and fused with tongues of fire…
Let’s return to the Globe theatre that had so much in common with Camillo Delminio’s design. On the stage of its larger copy, the blue globe of Gaia, actors who have received their roles in this incarnation take their places. They peer into the darkness of the cosmic amphitheatre with inquiry, hope or sincere incomprehension, or simply narrow their eyes in complacent boredom… They are us, dear reader. Some are just extras, others play main characters; some, having said their “Sorry” or “Yes, Sir”, quietly leave the stage, while others collapse in the spotlight, pierced by a blade or shot. Some sit on high thrones and deliver significant speeches now and then as others dance and sing, supporting the illusion of life, and then there are those who wear dark overalls and change the sets between scenes. All those mentioned, however, are not static pictures, not the play of tableaux vivants; they are actually part of a developing drama. Every role exists only in its development; each participant has his or her time for appearing and time to play out an on-stage death before disappearing behind the scenes.
Each one of us is a banquet table of the gods, and every age of ours bears the stamp of their games, arguments and battles. There is nothing unusual in the fact that a boy, now playing with toy train and dreaming of becoming a train-driver, will become a poet as a young man and eventually wind up a cold researcher of ancient languages. Much stranger is the boy who dreams of being banker, becomes a banker and dies a banker. A young sympathizer with marginal political groups – left or right – is no less normal than a mature person of moderate views or an elderly philosopher professing apoliteia. However obviously deaf to the voice of gods the person born with ‘left’ or ‘right’ views, living accordingly to those clichés, and intending to die as a ‘leftist’ or ‘rightist’ regardless of the spirit of the age or the changes that these very definitions undergo, turning a blind eye to the treachery of political leaders, discarding any legitimate doubt, such misplaced loyalty is in fact flatness, the inability to deliver oneself from obsession of a sole archetype, the inability to comprehend the harmony of the Theatre and its timing structure, and – ultimately – the inability to break free.
The development and transformations of the roles do not, however, suggest that they are insipid or insignificant and cannot justify negligence in the performance. What if Hamlet dropped his sword before the duel with Laertes saying “Hey, my friend! — It’s just a play… take it easy”? He would be hissed off the stage and the theatre would soon lose its reputation. Each role is to be played to its very end as well as possible and with a full understanding of its theatricality. Only then can the dead Hamlet rise and leave the stage to the applause of a divine audience, and return home.
Act one may be permeated with harmony and sympathy between the characters, and Act four dominated by hostility, chaos and madness, but this does not mean that Act four should be abridged or removed from the script. Each scene and every appearance makes sense in connection with other events in the theatre of the universe, and the task of every actor is to perform his or her role with maximum authenticity, in full harmony of the costume, set, Zeitgeist and Weltanschauung.
One of the main problems for modern man is his susceptibility to losing himself while playing at life. He often becomes inappropriately serious, adds comic effect where it is completely unnecessary or inopportunely bursts out laughing in the dead silence of the audience. The modern world is filled with bad taste and bad acting… Well, such is the current Act of this play along with its accompaniment, the orchestra piping a circus march.
And yet, not all actors are prone to the illness of oblivion. The theatre of life is magical, not mechanical.
Why is it that we can’t stop seeing ‘reality’ in the scenery and behaviour of the other participants and in the ‘death’ that ends our role? Why don’t we understand that the spaceship flying to the moon in an old silent film is not different from the one on the TV news and that the most important thing about that spaceship is not the ‘technical progress’, not even the ‘black magic of modern science’, but the image itself — the shadow of the idea. Why don’t we look beyond the shadows, the ‘realities’ of materialistic mind, and rise to the sphere of the archetypes following Bruno’s example? We could then view the modern world as a milling machine of images for our theatre of memory – images monstrous and grotesque, i.e. those that work best according to the ancient authors. And thus transmuting the lead of technocratic civilization into the quicksilver of magic images and on into the pure gold of ideas, wouldn’t this mean riding the tiger in the strict sense? Why can’t we put on and take off our roles like gloves? If we lay claim to mastery in anything at all, why is it we don’t play with the ease and elegance that befits a master? Our treasure-box is full of curious knick-knacks provided by modern technology, our servus fidelis; the virginal chaos reins in our memory… What an extraordinary age!