Tag Archives: Plotinus

All Teems with Symbol

All teems with symbol; the wise man is the man who in any one thing can read another, a process familiar to all of us in not a few examples of everyday experience.

Plotinus. The Six Enneads

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Plotinus – First Ennead, Tractate III: On Dialectic [The Upward Way]

In this tractate, Plotinus discusses how a metaphysician should apply the philosophical practice of dialectic to assist in gaining an understanding of God, essentially raising one’s consciousness so as to become more godlike.

The Oxford Dictionary defines dialectic as the “inquiry into metaphysical contradictions and their solutions.” Plotinus goes into a deeper explanation of how dialectics are applied in the search for ultimate Truth and knowledge of the Divine.

It is the Method, or Discipline, that brings with it the power of pronouncing with final truth upon the nature and relation of things—what each is, how it differs from others, what common quality all have, to what Kind each belongs and in what rank each stands in its Kind and whether its Being is Real-Being, and how many Beings there are, and how many non-Beings to be distinguished from Beings.

Dialectic treats also of the Good and the not-Good, and of the particulars that fall under each, and of what is the Eternal and what the not-Eternal—and of these, it must be understood, not by seeming-knowledge [“sense-knowledge”] but with authentic science.

This is a lot to digest, so let’s identify the key points.

First, according to the dialectic method as applied to metaphysics, the only way to come to an understanding of divine Truth is through careful analysis and comparison between two opposites. Think of the yin and yang symbol. The whole is made up of two different halves, each the opposite of the other, yet containing a seed of the other. So, when Plotinus is talking about understanding Being by comparing Real-Being with non-Being, it would seem that he is describing the comparison between the Forms as posited by Plato with the manifestations of those archetypal Forms in this reality.

But then Plotinus takes this to the next step, which is knowledge of God, or as he states, the Eternal. In order to come to a complete understanding of God, one must experience direct contact with God and compare that with that which is not God, presumably the Soul which exists within each of us, the Soul being from God, but not God.

This is probably enough for today. Meditate on this a little and I will have another installment up soon.

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Plotinus – First Ennead, Tractate II: On Virtue

In this tractate, Plotinus describes how virtue enables us to become godlike.

He begins by asserting that while “virtue is one thing, the source of virtue is quite another.” The source of virtue is the Supreme God, but since the Supreme is perfection, virtue does not exist within the realm of the Divine.

So with us: it is from the Supreme that we derive order and distribution and harmony, which are virtues in this sphere: the Existences There, having no need of harmony, order or distribution, have nothing to do with virtue; and, none the less, it is by our possession of virtue that we become like to Them.

Plotinus goes on to state that “our concern is not merely to be sinless but to be God.” Since “man is the very being that came from the Supreme,” the goal of being virtuous is to purify our being and return to our divine state.

Plotinus concludes this tractate by pointing out that we should not model ourselves and our virtues on the examples of virtuous people, such as saints. Instead, we should look directly to the source of virtue in order to return to our divine nature.

For it is to the Gods, not to the Good, that our Likeness must look: to model ourselves upon good men is to produce and image of an image: we have to fix our gaze above the image and attain Likeness to the Supreme Exemplar.

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Plotinus – First Ennead, Tractate I: The Animate and the Man

This tractate explores the connection between the body and the Soul, focusing on the question of where emotions and experiences reside. Basically, determining whether emotions like fear and courage are experienced by the Soul or by the physical body.

Plotinus establishes that the Soul is immortal, and since it cannot be threatened by the physical danger, it cannot be the source of these emotional states.

Now what could bring fear to a nature thus unreceptive of all the outer? Fear demands feeling. Nor is there a place for courage: courage implies the presence of danger. And such desires as are satisfied by the filling or voiding of the body, must be proper to something very different from the Soul, to that only which admits of replenishment and voidance.

Plotinus then goes on to argue that humans possess what he terms the Animate, which is essentially a combination of a physical body with the immortal Soul.

Now this Animate might be merely the body as having life: it might be the Couplement of Soul and body: it might be a third and different entity formed from both.

Plotinus later explores the question of perception, inquiring into whether the Soul can perceive things in the physical realm. He posits that the Soul perceives sympathetically, essentially picking up reverberations from what the body experiences on the physical plane.

The faculty of perception in the Soul cannot act by the immediate grasping of sensible objects, but only by the discerning of impressions printed upon the Animate by sensation: these impressions are already Intelligibles while the outer sensation is a mere phantom of the other [of that in the Soul] which is nearer to Authentic-Existence as being an impassive reading of Ideal-Forms.

Based upon this quote, it appears that the Soul, being divine in origin and immortal, has direct knowledge of the Platonic forms. The Soul thereby is able to identify the sensations from the physical world because of their connection to the ideals existing within the realm of forms. This reminds me of how, in music, a string will vibrate when a note of the same key is played on a different string. For example, if you play a D note on the A string, the D string will also vibrate.

That’s all I have for this tractate. We will look at the next one soon.

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“The Six Enneads” by Plotinus: Introduction

I have been considering doing a blog series on Plotinus for a while. Now seems like a good time to do so. I had previously read some of his work, but never the complete Enneads, which was something I had endeavored to do. I was first introduced to Plotinus in college when I was fortunate enough to study W.B. Yeats under the guidance of the late Prof. Phillip Marcus, who was considered to be “one of the world’s leading Yeats scholars.” Prof. Marcus assigned passages from Plotinus to the class to help us better understand the complex occult symbolism in Yeats’ work.

Here is a little background information for those who are unfamiliar with Plotinus.

Plotinus was a major Hellenistic philosopher who lived in Roman Egypt. In his philosophy, described in the Enneads, there are three principles: the One, the Intellect, and the Soul. His teacher was Ammonius Saccas, who was of the Platonic tradition. Historians of the 19th century invented the term neoplatonism and applied it to Plotinus and his philosophy, which was influential during Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages. Much of the biographical information about Plotinus comes from Porphyry’s preface to his edition of Plotinus’ Enneads. His metaphysical writings have inspired centuries of Pagan, Jewish, Christian, Gnostic, and Islamic metaphysicians and mystics, including developing precepts that influence mainstream theological concepts within religions, such as his work on duality of the One in two metaphysical states.

(Source: Wikipedia)

Prophyry was a disciple of Plotinus. Prophyry stated that Plotinus’ goal was “’…intimate union with the God who is above all things’ and testified that during the time he knew him Plotinus ‘attained this end four times.’” Union with God once in a lifetime is amazing; four times is almost unfathomable for me.

At this point, it is worth considering the structure of this work. I think this is important because I suspect there is a mystical symbolism in the structure of the text itself.

The word “enneads” comes from the Greek word “ennea,” which means nine. So essentially, an ennead is a group of nine. Each of the six enneads contains nine tractates, which, as we have seen already deal with the three metaphysical principles (the One, the Intellect, and the Soul ) that comprise Plotinus’ philosophy. This gives us a 3-6-9 structure. Now, I am not going to go into detail about the mystical significance of this number combination, but suffice to say that Nikola Tesla asserted that “If you only knew the magnificence of the 3, 6 and 9, then you would have the key to the universe.”

I think this is enough of an introduction for now. Going forward, I will be publishing a blog post for each of the tractates, which should be a total of 54. If you have any interest in following along, I will be using the translation by Stephen MacKenna and B. S. Page. Hopefully, some of you will read along and join in a discussion.

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“Tao Teh Ching: Chapter 42” by Lao Tzu

Image Source: YouTube

Tao gave birth to One,
One gave birth to Two,
Two gave birth to Three,
Three gave birth to all the myriad things.

All the myriad things carry the Yin on their backs and hold the Yang in their embrace,
Deriving their vital harmony from the proper blending of the two vital Breaths.

What is more loathed by men than to be “helpless,” “little,” and “worthless”?
And yet these are the very names the princes and barons call themselves.

Truly, one may gain by losing;
And one may lose by gaining.

What another has taught let me repeat:
“A man of violence will come to a violent end.”
Whoever said this can be my teacher and my father.

As I began reading this passage, my mind was spinning with mystical symbolism. The first stanza, in my interpretation, presented occult idea of emanation as expressed in kabbalah, in Plotinus, in Christian mysticism, and so forth. I immediately began formulating my blog post in my mind, but as I reached the end, I knew that I would have to shift the focus of this post.

“A man of violence will come to a violent end.” How true. And it is a message that has been told over and over: “Those who live by the sword, will die by the sword.” “We reap what we sow.” “Instant karma’s gonna get you.” And yet, we still read about mass shootings on a regular basis. Violence and weapons proliferation have never been successful deterrents against aggression. And violence is not limited to gun violence against other people; it is also violence against our planet and the environment. If we continue to decimate the earth, we will ultimately decimate ourselves. We will reap what we sow. Personally, I would rather sow something beneficial.

Thanks for reading my musings. May you do great things.

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“Tao Teh Ching: Chapter 38” by Lao Tzu

1579 drawing of the Great Chain of Being from Didacus Valades

High Virtue is non-virtuous;
Therefore it has Virtue.
Low Virtue never frees itself from virtuousness;
Therefore it has no Virtue.

High Virtue makes no fuss and has no private ends to serve:
Low Virtue not only fusses but has private ends to serve.

High humanity fusses but has no private ends to serve:
High morality not only fusses but has private ends to serve.
High ceremony fusses but finds no response;
Then it tries to enforce itself with rolled-up sleeves.

Failing Tao, man resorts to Virtue.
Failing Virtue, man resorts to humanity.
Failing humanity, man resorts to morality.
Failing morality, man resorts to ceremony.
Now, ceremony is the merest husk of faith and loyalty;
It is the beginning of all confusion and disorder.

As to foreknowledge, it is only the flower of Tao,
And the beginning of folly.

Therefore, the full-grown man sets his heart upon the substance rather than the husk;
Upon the fruit rather than the flower.
Truly, he prefers what is within to what is without.

This is an extremely challenging passage, and I can only interpret it based upon other mystic/occult ideologies with which I am somewhat familiar. Specifically, I see this as a parallel with the concept of emanation as put forth by Plotinus.

Emanationism is an idea in the cosmology or cosmogony of certain religious or philosophical systems. Emanation, from the Latin emanare meaning “to flow from” or “to pour forth or out of”, is the mode by which all things are derived from the first reality, or principle. All things are derived from the first reality or perfect God by steps of degradation to lesser degrees of the first reality or God, and at every step the emanating beings are less pure, less perfect, less divine.

(Source: Wikipedia)

So in emanationism, the Divine One is in the center of all existence, and then there are series of emanations moving away from the source, each being less divine than the previous. I see Lao Tzu’s example as being similar: the Tao is the divine center, and all other virtuous forms that emanate out are less and less like the Tao, until we get to the point where there is nothing but a shell of what was once the Tao.

If this is the case, we can use this hierarchy as a map to get back to the Tao, or center. If we begin by practicing ceremony, we may attain morality. If we continue living moral lives, then we may reach humanity. Once humanity is incorporated, we can work towards gaining Virtue. Finally, as we reach the state of High Virtue, we can step across the threshold to the Tao.

This is some very heady stuff, and I again emphasize that this is only my interpretation. For me, it makes sense, but I am open. If you have other insights into this passage, I would love to hear them. Feel free to share your thoughts in the Comments section below.

Blessings, and thanks for stopping by.

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“Ulalume” by Edgar Allan Poe

Illustration by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Illustration by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Then my heart it grew ashen and sober
As the leaves that were crisped and sere —
As the leaves that were withering and sere,
And I cried — “It was surely October
On this very night of last year
That I journeyed — I journeyed down here —
That I brought a dread burden down here —
On this night of all nights in the year,
Ah, what demon has tempted me here?
Well I know, now, this dim lake of Auber —
This misty mid region of Weir —
Well I know, now, this dank tarn of Auber,
This ghoul-haunted woodland of Weir.”

(excerpt from poem)

This is a fairly long poem, and I debated whether to include the entire text here. I decided to include some excerpts and a link to the entire text. Click here to read the poem on the Edgar Allan Poe Society website.

This is a poem about being haunted by the loss of a loved one, not unlike “Annabel Lee” or “The Raven.” It is set in October and incorporates seasonal metaphors symbolizing death, such as withering leaves, ashen skies, and cypress trees. But for me, the most intriguing aspect of this dark poem is the exploration of the subconscious mind.

The protagonist describes travelling with his Psyche, or Soul, through the boreal regions of the north.

Here once, through an alley Titanic,
Of cypress, I roamed with my Soul —
Of cypress, with Psyche, my Soul.
These were days when my heart was volcanic
As the scoriac rivers that roll —
As the lavas that restlessly roll
Their sulphurous currents down Yaanek
In the ultimate climes of the pole —
That groan as they roll down Mount Yaanek
In the realms of the boreal pole.

As I read this, I envision the frozen northlands, the Aurora Borealis, and vast expanses of wilderness coated with ice and frost. These represent the speaker’s subconscious mind, where memories and dreams lie frozen in an area that is difficult to reach. He enters this realm with his Psyche, the part of his consciousness connected with the realm of dreams, imagination, and memory. There is also an active volcano, which symbolizes fiery and painful passion and emotion surging up to the surface from deep within. It’s an incredibly powerful image and captures the deep sorrow that the protagonist feels.

While in the deepest recesses of the subconscious, Poe describes the appearance of the goddess Astarte.

At the end of our path a liquescent
And nebulous lustre was born,
Out of which a miraculous crescent
Arose with a duplicate horn —
Astarte’s bediamonded crescent
Distinct with its duplicate horn.

Astarte is a goddess of fertility and sexuality, often associated with Venus. I interpret this as the protagonist envisioning the soul of his departed love having merged and become a part of the divine feminine. It’s an interesting idea, that male souls emanate and return to the masculine aspect of the godhead, while the female souls emanate and return to the feminine aspect of the divine. It is almost like a dualistic version of Plotinus’s theory of divine emanation. I suspect this is something I will be meditating on for a while.

Overall, this is a beautifully crafted and evocative poem that works on many levels for me. While I don’t think it’s as popular as some of Poe’s other poems, I feel it is as good if not better.

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Black Science: Issue #3

BlackScience_03

In this third installment, the writer introduces a cool name for the inter-dimensional travelers: dimensionauts. Very nice! I like that a lot.

Anyway, I had expected (based upon how Issue 2 ended) that this one would focus on the techno-shaman, but not so much. There was a little with the shaman, but not a lot. This issue’s emphasis is on building the back story, which works well. Much of the issue is a flashback to where Grant McKay shows his kids the Pillar, which is the name for the inter-dimensional transport device that he built.

There is a great section where McKay describes how the device works.

“So here it is. The tool we will use to acquire, well—anything. The cures for cancer. Rare minerals. Unimaginable technology. Anything you can imagine exists on some layer of the Onion.”

“The Onion?”

“The building block of infiniology. The theory that anything you can imagine exists in some layer of the eververse. We call this construct ‘The Onion.’ Layer upon layer of parallel dimensions. The Pillar is the tool that pushes through these layers, allowing us to travel to these other worlds.”

“Wow.”

“Each layer represents an immeasurable number of realities, each created from the choices made by every living being in the universe. Once we map them, we can find the solution to every problem mankind faces.”

“If it is like that, layers built upon layers—what’s at the center of it?”

“That’s a damn good question, Nate. We all have our theories, but it’s just speculation. One day, some dimensionaut will travel deep enough into the Onion to find out. Maybe it will be you. Whatever is at the core, it’s the first dimension, the first life that made the first decision that then broke off into other dimensions.”

“So it’s like God?”

As I read this, I could not help thinking about Plotinus’ theory on emanation. Simplified, the theory posits that the divine source (or God if you will) exists as the center of all creation. Everything that exists is emanated from the divine source, becoming more fragmented and less divine the farther out it is emanated. The metaphor of the Onion in this comic is a great representation of Plotinus’ idea. If the center of the Onion is the divine source, then every creative thought or emanation from the first being has added a layer of reality. This is then compounded by the thoughts and actions of every living thing that came after, exponentially adding layers of reality to the universe.

So far, I really love this series. As someone who is fascinated by mysticism but at the same time loves science and technology, this comic offers the perfect blend of both. If you’re a comic geek, I highly recommend that you take the time to explore this series. Check back for my review of Issue 4 in about a month.

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“A Descent into the Maelström” by Edgar Allan Poe

DescentIntoMaelstromThis is one of my favorite short stories by Poe. I remember feeling overwhelmed the first time I read it. The imagery is so vivid and the symbolism so powerful that it made a lasting impression on me. It was over 20 years ago that I read this story last, so I decided to read it again today. I have to say; it was even more intense this time than when I read it all those years ago.

The tale is actually a story within a story, where an old man tells a younger man about an event that occurred while he was fishing. A hurricane came upon his boat while at sea and the ship was pushed into a vortex. They were drawn down into the swirling whirlpool and he was the only survivor.

In this story, the maelström is the central symbol, although there are many other symbols that Poe incorporates; such as storm, the moon, mountains, just to point out a few. For me, there are several things that the maelström represents. On one level, it is a symbol for the subconscious mind. It also represents the passage between dimensions, such as the tunnel connecting this life with the afterlife, or the passage between Heaven and Hell. Finally, on a grander scale, the maelström is God: powerful, terrifying, and beautiful all at the same time.

Water and the ocean are common symbols for consciousness: fluid, undulating, shifting. In this story, Poe uses the whirlpool as a metaphor for spiraling downward into the unseen depths of one’s consciousness. It is a terrifying experience when one loses the connection with normal reality and descends into the uncharted regions of the mind.

It could not have been more than two minutes afterward until we suddenly felt the waves subside, and were enveloped in foam. The boat made a sharp half turn to larboard, and then shot off in a new direction like a thunderbolt. At the same moment the roaring noise of the water was completely drowned in a kind of shrill shriek—such a sound as you might imagine given out by the water-pipes of many thousand steam-vessels letting off their steam all together. We were now in the belt of surf that always surrounds the whirl; and I thought, of course, that another moment would plunge us into the abyss, down which we could only see indistinctly on account of the amazing velocity with which we were borne along.

Once inside the maelström, the protagonist describes the images he sees while suspended. Above, the full moon emanates rays of light; below, darkness and mystery. The words conjure images of an Heironymus Bosch painting. He is suspended between two worlds, or two realms of existence. Floating between the two worlds, he has a unique vantage of each realm.

Never shall I forget the sensation of awe, horror, and admiration with which I gazed about me. The boat appeared to be hanging, as if by magic, midway down, upon the interior surface of a funnel vast in circumference, prodigious in depth, and whose perfectly smooth sides might have been mistaken for ebony, but for the bewildering rapidity with which they spun around, and for the gleaming and ghastly radiance they shot forth, as the rays of the full moon, from that circular rift amid the clouds which I have already described, streamed in a flood of golden glory along the black walls, and far away down into the inmost recesses of the abyss.

Gustave Dore

Gustave Dore

When faced with the manifestation of God, the protagonist becomes aware of his insignificance in the cosmic scale of existence. He is awed by God’s power and experiences what could almost be described as rapture, as his fear is replaced by the wonder of gazing into the unfathomable depths of the Divine.

It may look like boasting—but what I tell you is truth—I began to reflect how magnificent a thing it was to die in such a manner, and how foolish it was in me to think of so paltry a consideration as my individual life, in view of so wonderful a manifestation of God’s power. I do believe I blushed with shame when this idea crossed my mind. After a while I became possessed with the keenest curiosity about the whirl itself. I positively felt a wish to explore its depths, even at the great sacrifice I was going to make; and my principal grief was that I should never be able to tell my old companions on shore about the mysteries I should see.

While in college, I was introduced to Plotinus while taking a course on Yeats. One of Plotinus’ concepts which continues to fascinate me is that of emanation. He asserts that the Divine source is the center of all existence. Emanating from the source are concentric circles, each populated with forms emanated from the source. As forms are emanated farther and farther away from the Divine center, they become more and more fragmented. Poe includes this imagery in his depiction of the maelström, where fragments are caught in the concentric circles of the vortex.

Looking about me upon the wide waste of liquid ebony on which we were thus borne, I perceived that our boat was not the only object in the embrace of the whirl. Both above and below us were visible fragments of vessels, large masses of building-timber and trunks of trees, with many smaller articles, such as pieces of house furniture, broken boxes, barrels and staves. I already described the unnatural curiosity which had taken the place of my original terrors. It appeared to grow upon me as I drew nearer and nearer to my dreadful doom. I now began to watch, with a strange interest, the numerous things that floated in our company.

Poe was undoubtedly a master in the art of the short story. Sadly, though, I feel that this story is eclipsed by his more popular works. I hope that you take the time to read this story, if you have not done so already, because it truly is a masterpiece of short fiction.

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