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Ascent and Descent

ASCENT AND DESCENT


Not even the light which comes down nearest to the earth from the sun is mixed with anything, nor does it admit dirt and defilement, hut remains wholly pure and without stain and free from external influences among all existing things.

EMPEROR JULIAN

 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.

 In that mysterious journeying from time to eternity, where the soul moves on to ever higher planes of its own being, there must be many transformations of the psyche. Something I think goes with it from this world to that other. "The gods feed upon men." Something comes back with it from Heaven to Earth. "The gods nourish us."

Song and Its Fountains

 The ascent and descent of the psyche is the illumination of the soul at different levels and interstices. The psyche aspires; the nous inspires.

 As our aspiration is, so is our inspiration. The higher nature takes our fragmentary knowledge, thought, experience, and our aspiration, which is sacrifice, and it is transfigured, made whole and returned to us. What is earth-born is lifted up and perfected, shot through and through with the light of that higher world where the psyche nigh to its divine root imagines the perfection or truth in all things. Much must be lost of that transcendental lucidity and beauty of the heavenly consciousness when the psyche sinks through murky clouds of desire back to the body again. But something returns.

Song and Its Fountains

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.

 Intuition, feeling, thought are too swift in their coming and going, too elusive for a decisive argument over their nature. Though they may shake us by what they import, though what they in an instant hint at may be sacred to us, their coming and going are too swift for precise thought about themselves. In normal thought the fusion between inner and outer is so swift that it deceives the most attentive sense into the idea of unity, and we come to believe that there is no other creator of thought than the thinker who resides in the brain, who is with us from moment to moment, and we do not know what rays from how many quarters of the heavens are focussed on the burning point of consciousness.

Song and Its Fountains

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.

 In dream there is a dramatic sundering of the psyche. One part of us is seer and another is creator. The seer of dream is unconscious of creation. He looks on the forms which appear as he might look on a crowd drawn together by impulses not of his creation. He does not think all this when he dreams, but, when he wakens and remembers, he knows that the creator of dream had a magical power transcending anything which he could do in his waking state. It can project crowds of figures, set them in motion, make them to move with perfect naturalness, and wear the fitting expression for the deeds they do. Yet in the waking state of the dreamer, let him be given canvas, paints and brushes, and he might boggle as a child would over the drawing of a figure. The creator in dream is swift inconceivably. What seems a long dream to the seer of dream often takes place in an instant, and may be caused by sound or touch which wakens him. Transformations, too, take place in dream which suggest a genius to which psychic substance is instantly malleable.

Song and Its Fountains

 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.

 The seer in dreams is apart from the creator. It is not unreasonable to surmise an intellectual creator able to work magically upon psychic substance. Sometimes, indeed, at the apex of dream I have almost surprised the creator of it peering in upon me as if it desired by these miracles to allure me to discovery of itself. In the exploration of dream we acquire some knowledge of the working of the psyche. And at times in the making of poetry I have been able to discover the true creator of the poem withdrawn far within from the waking consciousness. The poem seemed like an oracle delivered to the waking self from some dweller or genie in the innermost.

Song and Its Fountains

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.

 Whence come vision and high imagination? I think they come from a centre of consciousness behind the sphere of dream. Here I pass from experience to rely on intuition and the wisdom of others. It is to the seers who wrote the Upanishads I turn for illumination. They speak of four states of soul – waking, dreaming, deep sleep and spirit waking – the last a state in which the spirit is unsleeping in its ecstasy of infinite vision.

Song and Its Fountains

 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.

 And now, Lanoo, thou art the doer and the witness, the radiator and the radiation, Light in the Sound, and the Sound in the Light.

When this sovereign state of consciousness free from all change and interruption is reached, the text declares:

 Behold! thou hast become the Light, thou hast become the Sound, thou art thy Master and thy God. Thou art THYSELF the object of thy search: the VOICE unbroken, that resounds throughout eternities, exempt from change, from sin exempt, the Seven Sounds in one, THE VOICE OF THE SILENCE.

 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.

 But for a moment I understood what power might be in sound or incantation. It made me understand a little those mystics who speak of travelling up a Jacob's Ladder of Sound to the Logos, the fountain of all melody. I found later if meditation on the Spirit is prolonged and profound enough we enter on a state where our being is musical, not a music heard without but felt within as if the soul itself had become music, or had drawn nigh to the ray of the Logos, the Master Singer, and was for that instant part of its multitudinous song.

Song and Its Fountains

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.

 I am a far exile from that great glory, and can but peer through a dusky transparency to a greater light than the light of day. That greater light shines behind and through the psyche. It is the light of spirit which transcends the psyche as the psyche in its own world transcends the terrestrial ego. The psyche has a dual nature, for in part it is earth-bound, and in part it clings to the ancient spirit.... While I could comprehend a little about the nature of the psyche, I could not apprehend at all the spirit which transcends the soul, for, as the seers said of it, it is eternal, invisible and universal. Yet because it is universal we are haunted by it in every motion of mind. It is at the end of every way. It is present in sunlight.

Song and Its Fountains

 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.

 Yet they themselves may pay reverence to the voices of conscience or of intuition which also are oracles out of undiscovered depths in their own being, and intuition and conscience may utter themselves in song as well as m fugitive illuminations of mind, heart or will.

Song and Its Fountains

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.

 Just as the needle-point of a nerve in the eye is sensitive to light from the whole of the heavens spread above us, so at moments we feel that all knowledge is within us. But we have not yet evolved mind to be the perfect instrument to mirror universal mind as the eye mirrors infinitudes of light and darkness. But out of that centre in us through which all the threads of the universe are drawn there may come at times flashes of supernature.

Song and Its Fountains

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.

 I do not think we shall ever come to truth otherwise than by such gropings in the cave of the soul, when with shut eyes we are in a dim illuminated darkness, and seek through transient transparencies to peer into the profundities of being.

Song and Its Fountains

Hermes, October 1979
by Raghavan Iyer

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