Green Hermeticism

excerpts from Green Hermeticism: Alchemy and Ecology by Peter Lamborn Wilson and Christopher Bamford

The health, and even future, of our Earth (which is not other than our humanity) seems under attack. Certainly, it is threatened. But our present scientific and philosophical approaches to nature, though noble and well intentioned in their aspirations, seem able to provide only short-term, band-aid responses that alleviate the symptoms, but provide no fundamental remedy. "Problems" addressed in one area become only more widespread and virulent elsewhere. Meanwhile, we persist in the behaviours and attitudes that caused the crisis in the first place. The situation only worsens. Loss of topsoil, extinctions of species and habitats, wars, droughts, famines, oppressions and toxic pollutions proliferate. It is almost more than a heart can bear.

"How much this actually affects Gaia-Sophia herself is of course unknown. She may even be waking up as some visionaries attest. Certainly many experience that nature appears more transcendentally beautiful with each passing year. Nevertheless, even if that is the case, and great evolutionary "earth changes" are underway, it is clear that we are being called to learn to think and be in another way, one more in harmony with our Mother, the beauty of our world, who is also cosmic nature, that Earth in the largest sense, which is for Christians the body of the Christ."

[…] Above all, of course, we lack knowledge of Life—not just biological life, but also indivisible, invisible Life that animates the cosmos: Cosmic Life. For all its effectiveness and technological range, modern science remains a science of what Rudolf Steiner calls "sub-nature," which is dead and not of "Nature," which is whole, alive, and filled throughout living beings: with Life. "Sub-nature"—the world of physics, chemistry, and technologically applied mathematics—is cute off from nature. Sunk far below nature, it has descended into a virutally autonomous lifeless realm of its own. To redeem requires that we move proportionately upward—toward Life. The right orientation for any true path of knowledge.

This has always been known. A sacred science of Nature or Life has existed from the beginning of humanity's spiritual journey. Self-less, dedicated to healing and harmony, and resting upon non-dual experience, it has accompanied, sustained, and underlain each religious epoch and every revelation.

Called alchemy, or. loosely, in the west, Hermetism. it is the ancient. primordial, sacred science of nature. Present in all historical cultures from India to China in the east to the Abrahamic West and always adapting its practice to its context. Its origins are lost in the depth of prehistory. In a sense, it is the primal cosmological revelation. Nevertheless, in the great revival of mystical, esoteric traditions and practices during the last century, the tradition has—except for a few specialists—been largely ignored or simply read as a psychology.

In fact, not only alchemy, but nature herself has been largely ignored. In the great revival of mystical, esoteric traditions and practices during the last century, the whole question of sacred or spiritual science has been left to one side. Although we have studied and practiced the teachings of the saint and sages of past ages assiduously, we have passed over their sciences of nature in silence. Perhaps, therefore, it is time to explore the relevance not only of our masters "inner" science, but also their science of Nature, which, because it is whole, includes, transcends and erases seperations such as inner and outer.

The other science is vast. Its worldview is uttery different to our own, for it seeks to understand nature in itself, for itself out of itself, as our sacred, holy, even divine source. It is therefore a path of praise, love, and adoration, of Knowledge and as a donum dei, a gift of God.

Contemporary science, for its part, contrary to what we might assume, is not in any sense a path of knowledge. It does not know what it deals with. Indeed, in a way, it renounces knowlege. It is not concerned with truth but only with what works and false theories, especially with a great deal of money behind them , can be extraordinarily fecund.

True knowledge on the other hand, is a spiritual reality, a cognitive spiritual state of enounter.

From the perspective of consciousness, the shift from science to technology may thus be seen not only in terms of a movement from unity to multiplicity, but also, as has been said, the degeneration of Love unto utility. To confuse utility with love is a fundamental loss of orientation, for love resides at the core of all as the tradition bears witness…

Mind-control technology, such as the new science of Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (which has validated much of the work of Anton Mesmer, who was of course a Hermeticist), or the various "psychic discoveries behind the Iron Curtain," MKULTRA, remote viewing…all this belongs to a world that has always been half-hermetic, half-military/intelligence, ever since John Dee advised Queen Elizabeth and Walsingham her Spymaster on cyphers, propaganda, consciousness-management and image magic.

Modern advertising, public education and other mass media emerge from a shadowy world of brainwashing, spin doctoring, opinion control and perception-distortion that Giordano Bruno would've recognized immediately as magical.

The new Hermeticism is ideally sited to operate in this world, to turn it upside down, to use the 'hieroglyphic critique' against it, to challenge all forms of consciousness-enslavement, to liberate from the image through the image, to teach the masses about image magic and take over the means of imaginal production—"the Gray Room" as William Burroughs called it.

On the level of technology, Hermeticism should lay claim on an empirical basis to everything it can use—once its been subjected to the basic Luddite test: whether or not it "harms the commonality." "Alternate technology" in other words. Huge advances have been made here since the 1960's and 1970's, but the implications are always crushed by Capital (which simply cannot use any tech not conducive to perpetual economic growth).

John and Nancy Todd call this alt. tech the "New Alchemy", and their own work in biofiltering systems for polluted water certainly deserves to be considered a perfect example of Neo-Hermeticism. Here we arrive at a real hard science, not only because its elegant, but also because it works. It's not as "efficient" as power-driven sewage treatment because it doesnt waste resources to make huge profits for corporations.

Hermeticism provides methods for direct intiation by angels and spirits. It has no need of authoritarian cults, but also no need to reject the traditional authentic on ideological or dogmatic grounds.

It can be practiced alone, in groups (the Alexandrian and Rosicrucian model) or congregations (viz., the Swedenborgian New Church)—openly or in secret—as part of any religion or outside them all—without violating its traditional integrity.

You can say that such initiation is orthodox within the tradition, which is not a religion but a movement of great complexity. It can be practiced without formal training (I knew an alchemist in Iran who learned what to do by dreaming), but not without direct experience.

Religious and magic writing—perhaps all writing—assumes the form of a mountain that never stops growing, that extends into vast Borgesian cosmo-libraries and overflows with words upon (or beneath) word, like the famous anagrams of de Saussure, which drove him insane.

Tibetan experts in Terma and Taoist exegetes of spirit calligraphies find yet more writing in nature itself, inscribed in primordial rock or encased in trees or discernable in flows of cloud or water.

Nature nature-ing (natura naturans) is mirrored by writing, as if human effort alone could never account for the infinitude of the mountain of words. Language languages; or as Chuang Tzu put it, language speaks without speaking.

Pentecostal glossolalia and Taoist spirit-writing cults are still producing scripture even today; and Hermeticism still reveals similar dreamlike outpourings of inspired and anonymous text.

The Emerald Tablet, the foundational script of Hermeticism, has neither human author nor original edition; it simply appears in Arabic and then Latin. It is a mountain that floats, like certain peaks in Taoist landscape paintings, on a sea of mist or magical erudition, a vagueness of wandering motifs, stolen words, misappropriation and re-appropriation, fortuitous mistranslations and apocrypha.

The presumed Greek original of the Emerald Tablet is "lost", so perhaps the original was in Egyptian hieroglyphs. It is not found in the Corpus Hermeticum but may well antedate that compendium. It belongs equally to Sufism, Kabbalah and alchemy.

Hermes Trismegistus himself (the divine author) is a syncresis of Babylonian Nebu, Egyptian Thoth, Greek Mercury, and some deified Egyptian alchemist of school or series or family of Egyptian Alchemists. In Renaissance pcitures he appears as an oriental sage, robed and bearded.

Hermeticism passed from it's cradle-land (Egypt) onward in time and space to Judaism, Christianity and eventually Islam, as well as Hinduism and even Taoism. Since it's neither a religion or a science in the narrow sense, but an Art. it can be reconciled with any religion—or with all religions (or none.) Modern science can be seen as the "suppression and realization" of Hermeticism, or perhaps the theft of it's secrets by such keen but closeted alchemists as Isaac Newton.

If modern science's origins lie in Hermeticism then post-modern science now begins to sound like alchemy again, with it's cyclotronic transmutation, quantum leaps and chaotic attractors. Hermeticism seems relevant also in the ecological and environmental sciences—because Hermeticism has always been "green."

"As Above, So Below," the Hermetic doctrine of correspondences between micro- and macrocosm, derives from The Emerald Tablet of Hermes Trismegistus, a Greco-Egyptian text preserved only in Arabic.

Emerald Green is the heraldic color of Prophetic Islam. In Sufi alchemy the "highest" color, that of the Philosopher's Stone, is gold-green. The Hidden Prophet Khezr is the Green man of Sufism, an immortal adept of vegetation and the water of life. Wherever he walks, flowers and herbs spring up in his footsteps, and he patronizes the hermetic arts.

The eight century Iraqi Shiite (or possibly Manichaean) alchemist Jabir Ibn Hayyan (called Geber in the west) first developed the famous dyadic principles of Sulphur and Mercury. This occidental yang/yin symbolism spread as far as China and lies at the heart of alchemy's worldview.

The great sixteenth century Swiss alchemist-physician Paracelsus inherited the Sulphur/Mercury concept but realized that it required completion by a third term: Salt. Sulphur is soul, Mercury is spirit, and Salt is body.

In one sense, this constitutes a trinitarian solution to the problem of dualism. In another sense it represents a discovery of the dialectic. (The mystic Jakob Boehme picks this up from Paracelsus and passes it on to later German philosophers, eventually to Hegel and Marx — minus all magic.)

Paracelsus also shifts the focus of alchemy from transmutation of metals to the art of healing. Both plants and metals are used in this new medical alchemy, which he calls Spagyria, but the emphasis falls on herbal tinctures and distillates.

The goal of spagyrics, an elixir of perfect health, is sometimes called the Vegetal Stone (as opposed to the Mineral Stone): the Lapis philosophorum seen as green, as a living emerald.

Paracelsus is remembered by academic historians as the weirdo who invented Laudanum (tincture of Opium) and the mercuric cure for Syphillis. But he should be honored as the major source for Rosicrucianism, Northern Romanticism, and it's "Romantic Science" (including Swedenborg, German Naturphilosophie, Goethe, and Erasmus Darwin, neglected genius grandfather of Charles Darwin.)

Spagyria is still practiced in Europe. Paracelsus also enjoyed vast influene in the Islamic world. Homeopathy and Bio-dynamics are basically Neo-Paracelsian sciences.

Eliphas Levi (Ritual and Dogma of High Magic) was a follower of Charles Fourier. The great demi-messiah also influenced Gerard de Nerval, Baudelaire, and Rimbaud. The nineteenth century Hermetic Left leads directly to Surrealism. Similarly a Romantic Left existed in Germany and England—think of Godwin, Shelley, Byron and Heine.

Influenced by the vulgar materialist Marxism, the Left has sadly tended to repress the memory of its own spirituality. But many radicals now no longer believe in "Progress" and the technological fix. Now that the USSR is dead not even Marxists believe that the only important question about the means of production—technology—is "who owns it?"

What's left of the Left returns now to other ancestors, ecologists like Kropotkin and Thoreau, or even the Marx who loved to read about the American Indians.

We need to bury the myth that Magic and Romanticism are somehow inherently reactionary—a myth deliberately sponsored both by Stalinists and "democratic" cultural historians (like Isaiah Berlin) as a form of triumphalist absolutism.

Now that Marxism has crumbled, one victor holds the field: Enlightenment Rationalism's greatest victory: The Free Market as inexorable law of nature. The only possible dialectical negation of this thesis, i think, must come from the long-abandoned and even repressed Hermetic Left, and from Romantic Science, and from Spirituality. Green Hermeticism.

Protean, centrifugal, multiform, elusive Hermeticism has long since accomodated and informed and encompassed many traditions. First it can be called Shamanic. Shamanism is not a religion but an art, ; Astrology and Alchemy have clear Paleolithic and Neolithic shamanic roots (as Mircea Eliade makes clear), and the very structureless structure of hermeticism reflects that of shamanism: the secret society or autonomous solitary praciticoner, mystic and doctor, mediating the world of spirits (consciousness) and the world of Nature via an empiricism of the imagination.

Moreover, historical Hermeticism met and mingled with shamanic traditions, for instance in seventeenth and eighteenth century Scandinavia and America. Second Hermeticism appears in its proper form as paganism, specifically the Greco-Egyptian synthesis of Antiquity. The inherent syncretism of paganism led in Late Antiquity to a delerium of interpretation ("Interpretatio") wherein all forms of polytheism were conflated—the Celtic and Norse, Roman, Persian, Indian and even Chinese pantheons were identified with eachother and exchanged memes across vast geological advances linked by Alexander, the Silk Road, the sea lanes from East to West and Vice Versa.

Third, Hermeticism is monotheist. Jewish: it's present form cannot be understood without a grounding in Kabbalah and Angelology. Hermeticism is Christian (e.g. Rosicrucian); it is Islamic (The Ikhwan al-Safa, Jabir Ibn Hayyan, the Shiite gnostics, the guild, magic, etc.) Then Hermeticism extends into yet more polytheisms: Hinduism shares it's syncretisms, and even China adopts the sulphur-mercury theory of alchemy… or perhaps originated it. Who knows?

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