ASCENT AND DESCENT
The logic of a pregenetic unity to the cosmos requires that we adopt some principle of real or apparent division of aspects, entities and qualities in existence. Metaphysically, this principle is found in the concept of a triad of divine aspects. Arithmetically, the number 1 gives the notion of number, 2 the idea of duplication, and 3 the concept of elaboration, that is, permutation and combination. Geometrically, the point and the line can generate a triangle, the simplest enclosure of space in a plane. But the idea of rotation – in this case, the rotation of an isosceles triangle about an axis from the apex through the centre of its base – produces the cone or vortex, the origin of three-dimensional space. Ontologically, the triad implies an inner side (called Spirit by A.E.), an outer side (the material medium of spirit) and a dynamic principle which draws the two together. Theosophically, this third element is sometimes called Fohat, the active aspect of spirit from the standpoint of matter, and the energetic aspect of matter from the standpoint of spirit. If effects can never be completely alienated from their causes, the unity present at the advent of existence will be found at every level of its unfoldment, and a fortiori the triad is implicit in everything from a universe to a grain of sand.
The spiritual alchemy of the Renaissance was rooted in the premise that every base metal was essentially gold ab ovo made gross by the infusion of a chaotic, derivative, aqueous element – metalline organization obscuring gold's archetypal structure. Transmutation is the process of purifying the base metal of the aqueous element until only the natural gold remains. Alchemists knew well that aurifaction is shadowed by aurifiction, the production of a metallic substance which assumes some of the external characteristics of gold, usually by mixing minute quantities of gold with lesser metals. Along with transmutation, decisive tests for genuineness of results were performed. Moral aurifiction will be exposed on the psychic plane by its fascination with images and on the plane of action by the projection of appearances. Both may contain a golden residuum in a crude alloy, but unless the tests for gold are known, one will as likely seize upon the lesser as the true metal. The concept of transmutation (along with a constellation of interrelated and supporting ideas) can apply mutatis mutandis to the cosmos, the psychic nature of man and the path to illumination. Spiritual alchemy enunciates the view that there is a correspondence between physical and spiritual nature, and a continuous interaction between them.
A.E. perceived the purest spiritual nature within and throughout the grossest material nature. To the extent that a particular permutation of the two natures imposes itself, under law and circumstance, upon our consciousness it becomes real to us. Similarly, the degree of will we apply to a particular level of the interrelated aspects of the Unknowable determines the clarity of appearance which that level must assume. The psyche, as a complex of thought, will and feeling, changes under these internal and external impulses, and each psychic state is strictly correlated with some level of substance. If the senses are instruments of the power of perception, then there are senses for different levels of being and consciousness that can be experienced. The mystic path is the conscious and willing activation of subtler senses so that the psyche may become fully aware of what it always implicitly reflects.
The ascent and descent of the psyche is the illumination of the soul at different levels and interstices. The psyche aspires; the nous inspires.
The transient ascents of the psyche are not ephemeral events, for the illumination of the psyche works a change in its nature. True rapprochement of the psyche with the divine root clarifies its obscuration so that it reflects the higher light more adequately. "Our inspiration will be as our aspiration."
A.E.'s convictions sprang from his own experience and a steadfast concern to make use of the analogies and correspondences which flooded into his awareness. Ordinary waking thought is insufficient to provide the existential and experimental basis for understanding the process of consciousness.
Unaware of the elemental denizens pervading waking consciousness, much less the specific effects of collective and individual patterns of thought upon ourselves, we cannot discern their nature. In the subjective dream state, however, we make discoveries.
The psyche, when released through withdrawal from the constraints of concrete matter, operates upon a subtle material medium commensurate with itself. Psychic substance readily takes the impress of intellect and the psyche witnesses instant presentments and elaborations. The seer is unaware of doing anything, and therefore one suspects a superior intelligent force operating in this medium.
A.E. knew from his Theosophical studies that at least seven kinds of dreams could be distinguished, and that the dreams he frequently experienced intimated a higher awareness than he found readily accessible.
The last state – Turiya – is outside the order of the other three, and is that in which Spirit is at once seer and creator, and where seeing is the activity of shedding the light that is the prima materia of creation. Since all four states are implicit at every level of consciousness, the perceptive mystery of creation is present in every dream. When the psyche is unobscured by preconception and fascination, it is illuminated and hence becomes the seer – a condition more readily recognized in the dream state than in either waking consciousness or deep and traceless sleep. The seer in the psyche cannot see the creator precisely because it is that creator itself. Since its activity is less pellucid than pure spirit, it is the channel of both seership and creation. Poetry can emerge from states of varying illumination because this light of conscious awareness is also the sound of understanding. The Voice of the Silence addresses one who has become a master of samadhi – the state of faultless vision – in terms of light and sound.
When this sovereign state of consciousness free from all change and interruption is reached, the text declares:
A.E. never claimed to achieve in consciousness such irreversible and transcendent heights. But he touched chords in the psyche which evoked deep spiritual resonances and gave meaning to the Upanishadic teaching.
Like Socrates, who taught the way to beauty itself by recounting the words of Diotima, A.E. took sufficient steps on the Path of Infinite Promise to be able to affirm it with confidence.
A.E.'s meditations were all intent on the discovery of the nature of soul and spirit, and his own poetic singing constituted an array of oracles from the psyche – partial, eclipsed by external trappings of phrase and circumstance, and bound by limited vision.
The consciousness of the seer, when controlled and focussed by a profound philosophical and psychological framework, could import glimpses of pure and undiffused light from loftier realms.
Within the aurifiction of his varied visions and dreams, A.E. perceived the possibilities of the aurifaction of true seership and touched that great work within the laboratory of his own endeavours. Even more important than the content of his visions is his method for achieving an elusive transforming awareness.
Hermes, October 1979