Saturday lunchtime I brought home two paperbacks from the Antikvariat on the street where I live. I normally enjoy browsing in second-hand bookstores, but I’m not so keen on this place. Its proprietor is altogether too solicitous: ‘Are you looking for anything in particular?’ he asked, & I replied that no I was just browsing, and that I knew where the English books were to be found. So I browsed, but sensed the man’s impatience, as I had on previous visits to his shop, and so didn’t feel quite comfortable just browsing, and then, after no more than fifteen minutes, when I selected my two volumes, and handed them to him, he made a comment to the effect of ‘So, at last, you have found something you wanted,’ as if to indicate dissatisfaction at my unhurriedness.
Anyway, one of these two books, the one I am currently reading, is a splendidly obscure thing by the title of The Behmenists and the Philadelphians: a Contribtion to the Study of English Mysticism, written by one Nils Thune, apparently as his doctoral dissertation, published (in English) at Uppsala in 1948. A Behmenist, by the way, was a follower of the thought of the Teutonic theosophist Jacob Böhme (1575-1624). The Philadelphians (in this context) were a society of Behmenists in 17th/18th-Century England centered around the figure of Mrs Jane Lead (or Leade, 1624-1704).
I’m reading this book even though I hadn’t finished either of the two novels I’d been pecking away at before: Michael Cisco’s The Tyrant and Gil Courtemanche’s A Sunday at the Pool in Kigali, which, as unalike as they are, could both still be described as varieties of horror story, I suppose. And I’d started reading those after having gotten bogged down in Peter Eszterhazy’s novel The Celestial Harmonies it’s been weeks since I’ve found myself at the end of a book.
I don’t know what it is about a mystic like Böhme that appeals, superficially at least, to an atheist like me: perhaps it’s the aesthetic dimension to his thinking, and its imaginative power. In his book, Thune concedes that Böhme is perhaps more of a poet than he is a philosopher, that his thinking, whilst it derives from a state of profound inspiration, is untidy, unsystematic and sometimes inarticulate, in the sense that he seems often to lack the right words to communicate the intensity of his experiences.
What is still concealed? The true teaching of Christ? No! But the philosophy and the deep Ground of God, celestial bliss; the revelation of the creation of angels; the revelation of the horrible fall of the Devil, which is the origin of evil; the creation of this world; the deep Ground and mystery of man and of all the creatures of this world; the last judgement and the metamorphosis of this world; the mystery of the resurrection of the dead and of eternal life - Jacob Böhme, quoted by Nils Thune.
It was Böhme’s ambitious project to explain the insights he had claimed he had been granted into these subjects…
According to Böhme, the drama of the Creation came forth from an eternal stillness, an apparent nothingness which nevertheless contained everything, ‘the Abyss,’ as Böhme termed it, in which there arose an ever increasing longing in God to be conscious of Himself. The eternal abysmal Will, from which everything created has its origin, ‘expressed’ itself, in Böhme’s words, ‘in a longing to reveal Itself.’ As this longing intensified, the divine Will turned inward on itself, as if in introspection, and in so doing, God ‘made a mirror for Himself’, and beheld the wonders concealed within Him, giving rise to a second yearning, one which would see these wonders realised. And so on to the creation of the Angels, and of the World, and of Man, and the twin catastrophes of Lucifer’s rebellion, and Adam’s temptation: interestingly, earthly sexuality, and, presumably, Eve, are consequences of the Fall of Man as Böhme tells it.
Böhme wrote dozens of books, so that’s just the tippy-top of a very large & complex iceberg. The images above, by the way, are details from a series of frontispieces (and other illustrations) from the works of Böhme as collected in a 1682 publication of his collected Theosophical Works and reproduced in Stanislas Klossowski de Rola’s book, The Golden Game (previously mentioned here). To see the complete images from which these details were cut, click here, here, here and here.Posted by misteraitch at September 21, 2004 09:31 PM | TrackBack