Cambridge Centre for the study of Western Esotericism

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Victor Horta


Frantisec Kupka

Call for Papers:publication on western esotericism and art

Romantic art in Germany – Blake – Kupka – Mucha – Horta –
Avant-garde in Prague/Vienna

The planned publication The Initiated Artist. Methodological Introduction to Western Esotericism and Art, 18th-20th centuries (working title) aims to provide an introduction to a new field of academic study. The cross-disciplinary book is scheduled to be published by the Amsterdam University Press in 2009 in cooperation with the Sub Department for the History of Hermetic Philosophy and Related Currents at the University of Amsterdam. A cross-disciplinary mix of PhD-students and professors at Universities in Europe, Canada and the USA, as well as independent scholars, are cooperating on this groundbreaking publication.

Each of the 10 chapters will deal with one particular esoteric current: hermeticism and neo-platonism, alchemy, rosicrucianism, esotericism and philosophy of nature, freemasonry, esotericism and Christian mysticism, spiritualism, occultism, theosophy, anthroposophy and developments after 1900. Each chapter will contain an introductory article on the history and characteristics of that current in relation to art (architecture, visual arts, interior design or theatre design), and is followed by several case studies which further explore the influence of this current on an important current in art, individual artist or specific work of art. As such, the book will be the first accessible standard work on the subject for academics and art lovers. A concept for a spin-off international exhibition has also been formulated.

The deadline for the initial call for papers has passed and the articles to be included have been selected. However, to complement the table of contents, the editors would welcome additional contributions on the following subjects:

– Western esotericism and ‘Naturphilosophie’ in Romantic Art (introductory article, 4500 words);

– Esoteric symbolism in the work of William Blake (case study, 3500 words);

– Esoteric influences on Romantic Art in German speaking countries (case study, 3500 words);

– Freemasonry and Art Nouveau (incl. Alphonse Mucha, Victor Horta e.a.; case study, 3500 words);

– Spiritualism in the Prague and Viennese avant-garde around 1900 (incl. e.g. Frantisek Kupka; case study, 3500 words);

– Anthroposophical concepts in the Visual Arts after 1900 (case study, 3500 words).

Both senior scholars and PhD-students are invited to submit paper proposals of ca. 400 words with a short c.v. and list of relevant publications. Because of the intended international character of the project, proposals from French and Eastern European scholars would be especially welcomed.

Papers proposed should be based on original (cross-disciplinary) research and the current academic discourse on history of Western esotericism.

Deadline for proposals is 1 November 2008. Deadline for submission of first drafts will be early 2009, followed by a tight deadline schedule for the further editorial process. All articles will be peer reviewed by a committee of museum and university experts in relevant fields of study.

(Enquiries from museums interested in the exhibition concept are of course also welcome.)

For the full text of the call for papers, submission of proposals or pre-order of the book, please contact the project editors, dr. Marty Bax & drs. Andréa Kroon, at:


Mrs. Marty Bax, PhD, art historian at Bax Art Concepts & Services, Amsterdam, the Netherlands. Specialist in esoteric currents in art between 1850 and 1940, notably theosophy and anthroposophy. Member of ESSWE, see:

Mrs. Andréa Kroon, MA , art historian at Kroon & Wagtberg Hansen art historical project management, The Hague, the Netherlands ( Specialist in the material culture of freemasonry in the 18th-20th centuries / PhD researcher (University of Leiden). Member of ESSWE, see:

Dr. Marty Bax & Drs. Andréa Kroon, editors.


The CAMBRIDGE CENTRE for the study of WESTERN ESOTERICISM is independent of any academic or esoteric communities, the directors share an interest in the need for a wider dialogue between scholars and practitioners in the field of Western Esotericism and in the establishment of a secular space in which an interdisciplinary network can thrive.. From 2009 CCWE has operated within Lighthouse editions Limited, a small publishing company Directors: Dr Sophia Wellbeloved, Jeremy Cranswick – see



John Robert Colombo Page

See John Robert Colombo’s comments on a new academic study of
“the Alice books” written in light of the tradition of Western Esotericism


at the John Robert Colombo page



August 24, 2008 at 7:48 pm

Posted in books/book news


Lee Irwin of Charleston College South Carolina kindly sent us this calender of events in England.

Sat. 28th. June 2008 10.30am – 6.00pm
Assembly Rooms, Ludlow, Shropshire, UK.

Tracy Thursfield: Eliphas Levi and the French Occult Revival
Robin Cousins: The Travels of John Dee (illustrated)
Julia Phillips: Madeline Montalban
Ken Rees: The Regency
Alan Richardson: W.G. Gray

Plus esoteric bookfair with specialist booksellers. Midian will be
there with an extensive selection from stock including new titles and
rare books.

Tickets £15.00 payable to Verdelet @ P.O. Box 82, Craven Arms,
Shropshire, SY7 8JW


Saturday 6th September 2008
Day session 1100 – 1800
Evening session 1900 – 2200

A day of seminars featuring cutting-edge thinking from pioneers in the
field of magickal practice, followed by an evening of rituals
demonstrating Chaos Magick in action:

Duncan Barford
White Hair and Brown Pants: When Magic Turns Paranormal
Alan Chapman
Magic with a K: How to Spell Correctly
Mary Hoptroff
Codes to the Heart of Power: a Shamanic Perspective
The Kite
The Colours of Wealth Magic
Dave Lee
YourSelves: The Grimoire of Selfhood, part 2
Susan Leybourne
Sex, Magick, and Getting What You Want
Peter Mastin
Life Sculpting
Soror Res
The Noosphere, the Biosphere and the Chaosphere: When Worlds Collide
Julian Vayne
Two Worlds and In-Between: the Changing Concepts & Use of Space in
Modern Magick
Plus Special Guests…

Conway Hall, 25 Red Lion Square, London WC1R 4RL
(nearest tube: Holborn)

Tickets £23 daytime, £10 evening, £30 day + eve

Online ticket sales (subject to booking fee) at
Direct ticket link:
Tickets by phone (subject to booking fee) 020 7267 6148
Snail-mail tickets available – just send a cheque in favour of P.
Mastin to
BM8482, London WC1N 3XX, UK


Saturday 4th October 2008
12:00pm till 1:00am
The Canal Club, Ulfgar Road, Wolvercote, Oxford, England, OX2 8AZ
Tickets £20

There is to be a reunion/revival of the old annual O.G.D.O.S.
International Thelemic Symposium this autumn. Tickets are £20 each, in
cash over the counter at The Inner Bookshop if you are nearby otherwise
email to reserve them, where we
will contact you with regards payment and postage.
There will be no guest list or concessions. The event will consist of
speakers to start with from 12noon till 7pm.
The speakers in no particular order are:

Lon Milo DuQuette – Topic TBA
Constance DuQuette – Topic TBA
Mike Magee – The 5 senses in A.M.O.O.K.O.S. and Tantrik Traditions
Charlotte Rodgers – Taboo & Blood Rites (A Talk with Slideshow Pictures)
Jake Stratton-Kent – Goetic Magick
Melissa Harrington – Thelema & The Feminine Part II
David Beth – Topic TBA

After a break there will then be a fully staged Gnostic Mass to all who
want to take part. It will be performed by the E.G.C. ordained Priest
and Priestess of York. The Eucharist will be administered to all who
take part. During the Mass it will be musically accompanied by Sharon
Krauss and Guests. This will continue after the Mass too with a Live
Musickal performance. After that there will be DJs till 1:00am when a
short bout of thank you speeches will round of the evening.


Includes illustrated talks, performance, interactive presentations and
ceremony, plus Attunement – Enchanting the Sacred Space, followed by
Magical Journey impromptu ritual drama.
Saturday price £20.

Saturday includes:
Gaia’s Revenge led by Cressida Pryor and the Mad Moll Mummers and
Mayers. Olivia’s niece offers a short play that grapples with those
issues that affect us all – global warming and the shopping mall…
Which Goddess Lives Near You? Interactive session led by author,
singer, songwriter and Priestess Caitlin Matthews. Includes song and
oracle work.
Is She Local? with Caroline Wise. Following Caitlin’s theme, we discuss
identifying and communicating with your local Goddess, God, guardian
and genius loci. Includes magical exercises and divination.
The Goddess and the Stars. Andrew Collins unveils dramatic new
discoveries showing a link between the oldest known artistic
representations of the Goddess, the evolution of human spirituality,
and the constellation that spans the Great Rift in the Milky Way.
Honouring the Goddess of the Groves. Priestess and Artist Sheila Broun
invites you to join in making a shrine to Nemetona, connecting us to
the ancient forests.
Who’s That Girl? Lynn Picknett, author of ‘Mary Magdalene,
Christianity’s Hidden Goddess’ shines a light on Mary Magdalene and
looks at her Isian and London connections.
Isis is You Sis (Variation). Performance from Xanthe Gresham. Be
amazed! “Xanthe Gresham speaks like a woman spitting jewels.”

Other presenters to be confirmed.

Tickets: credit card sales or to collect in person: Treadwells
Bookshop, 34 Tavistock Street, Covent Garden, London WC2E 7PB.
Telephone: 020 7240 8906
By cheque: payable to Starfire Publishing, BCM Starfire, London WC1N
3XX, please enclose your address.
A donation will be made to The Friend’s of Bride’s Mound.

Sunday 6th July – Meeting the Goddess
Optional walk in the City to discover the site of the Roman Temple of
Isis and her sisters, with guided meditations and a chance to make your
own links and discoveries.
This will only be open to those attending on the Saturday.
Sunday price £5

JEFFFREY J.KRIPAL’S ESALEN:America and the Religion of No Religion



John Robert Colombo looks at a new book about the Esalen Institute

I am about half a year behind in my reading so it has taken me six months to catch up with the appearance of a mammoth book about the Esalen Institute titled, simply and inevitably, “Esalen.” The title may be one word long but the subtitle is seven words in length: “America and the Religion of No Religion.” The book itself weighs in at 575 pages (roughly 300,000 words, plus notes, bibliography, and index). It is the handiwork of Jeffrey J. Kripal who is identified as J. Newton Rayzor Professor and chair of the Department of Religious Studies at Rice University.

Read complete review at on the J.R. Colombo page

J.R. Colombo’s latest book is “The New Consciousness” (Battered Silicon Dispatch Box), a collection of R.M. Bucke’s papers on Walt Whitman and consciousness studies.


January 28, 2008 at 10:45 pm




Andrew J Brown & John C. Morgan
127 pp
Lighthouse Editions 2007
for The Unitarian Christian Association
ISBN 978-1-904998-03-7

The authors are:
John C. Morgan who has been a minister in America for over twenty five years and writes widely on spirituality, and Andrew J Brown who was a professional jazz and rock bassist before training for the ministry at Oxford, he is now minister to the Memorial Church (Unitarian) in Cambridge England.

Andrew writes: Lighthouse Editions very kindly published this prayer book on behalf of the Unitarian Christian Association and so some readers may well wonder if there is any connection between what is today called ‘Western-esotericism’ and the Socinian/Unitarian Christian tradition from which this book springs.

Well, there were a number of figures within both the Radical Reformation and the later Radical Enlightenment periods who, for a variety of reasons, were particularly interested in neo-Platonism and the Kabbalah. In affirming Jesus’ humanity and the Unity of God the Socinian/Unitarian tradition (initially born out of an interesting mix of Italian Renaissance Humanism and Polish Anabaptism) naturally found some of the fruits of this study particularly interesting because it opened up new theological and philosophical possibilities for a genuine reconnection with Judaism and Islam, both of which also denied the divinity of Christ.

In an age when an increasingly sectarian spirit is abroad in our world this fact alone is, if nothing else, a timely reminder that there always exist routes and influences which cross the religious boundaries that some people like to claim are impermeable and eternal.

This book of prayers and worship for individuals, small groups and house churches is the fruit of the Unitarian Christian Tradition, which cherishes freedom of belief and openness to other insights, while remaining deeply rooted in the core Christian Tradition. It draws on the range of Pietist and Mystical traditions of the Radical Reformation from which Unitarian Christian churches in the UK and USA sprang. These are woven together with more recent thinking, notably the writings of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, to offer a framework for the spiritual life that includes both solitude and community: it includes

• a pattern of daily prayer

• a month of morning and evening prayers

• a plan for individual retreats

• prayers for communal worship


November 27, 2007 at 6:23 pm


sam_harris.jpgThere is a review of Sam Harris’s The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Religion (2004) on the the JR Colombo Review page at that will be of interest to readers of this blog. Comments on this are welcome, send to


November 21, 2007 at 10:32 am

Posted in books/book news



(This diagram should be at the top of p.33)

These ideas came to me over a relatively short period in 2007.
I’m not sure of their origin or their value. They’re free.

karika is a Sanskrit term and means a concise presentation of ideas.



One evening, I went upstairs to check that the children were OK. I have this image very clearly in my mind: a sleeping baby, that lovely open face utterly untouched by the world and therefore having no place, and at the same time completely itself. Nothing that has been invaded by the world, however finely, can even approach that state. I can’t remember now which child it was – and it doesn’t matter, of course. It’s the hit that counts. And like all hits, it obliterated me. I wasn’t there anymore: only that reality was there.

Our dog, Harry, had the same quality. Now you might say, “Look, everybody loves their children and their dog.” True. But I’m trying to get at what that love is – the quality that elicits love.

The way I see it is this. There is something warm and liquid – thicker than water because you can almost pick it up and squeeze it – that is everywhere in the universe, just oozing out of the cracks. I call it ‘custard’. It’s not so different from the Bible’s ‘flowing with milk and honey’ but I prefer ‘custard’ because it’s thicker and just one thing, not two. Its characteristic is that when you meet it, you smile, you feel more solid inside yourself. Why? Because this quality – which certain things and creatures manifest – draws the same quality out of you. That’s why I mentioned Harry. Wherever he went, people were attracted to him, felt more real.

What is it to be true to this hit? Answer: to keep yourself ready for everything soft, open, vulnerable, the things that never advertise themselves, that slip round the corner when your attention is elsewhere.

Our horses used to make a right mess of the field in winter. They were heavy creatures and they pulled the grass out by the roots, so pretty soon there wasn’t much left but mud. But the moor was only a few hundred yards away and we staked them out there during the day. One February morning, we took them out of the stable to go down to the moor as usual. Normally, they were raring to go but it was well below zero and they didn’t feel like trotting. We didn’t have a stick to gee them up so we plodded along in the freezing mist (bare back, rope halter). It was colder than we’d thought and we didn’t have warm enough clothes on. Then, when we got there, I had to move the stakes – great iron things that stuck to my hands and made my fingers throb. “Why am I doing this?” I thought. I just wanted to be beside the fire. But as we turned to walk back, the mist thinned out for a second and the rising sun came through. And there it all was: the horses with their heads down, the hedges beaded with frost, the deep red of the sun, the silence. Then I knew why I was doing it.

The way I see it is this. Everything, however ‘ordinary’, has to be met on its own terms, has to be honoured. ‘Honour’ is an ethical term and that’s why I use ‘nobility’ for this kind of hit. This isn’t nobility in any special sense. If we stay true to any excellence then we also become noble in the proper sense of the term: elevated, fine. And since this is a hit that can come from literally anything, nobility becomes a way of life, a gift even. Just by being alive, you’ve got it. A consummation devoutly to be wished.

I was 18, on the upper slopes of Mt.Olympos with a friend and a Greek soldier. It was mid-summer but we ran into a storm (or it ran into us). Without warning, the lightning and thunder struck, a single explosion with no delay between light and sound. I’d always wondered why Zeus, king of the gods, had nothing more than the thunderbolt as his ‘attribute’. At that moment, I knew. All my senses were obliterated: I couldn’t see, I couldn’t hear, I had no sensation of my body. I hadn’t been physically struck by lightning – but I’d definitely been hit. And in that split second, when, fully conscious, all contact with the world was swept away, I realized that I was without limitation. It changed me on the spot.

The way I see it is this. Before any ‘thing’ exists, including ourselves, there is something else that exists for and by itself – so you can never encounter it in the company of others even when they are right next to you (like my friend and the soldier). You are always on your own. But that’s just the point: on your own is the only place to be.

Now this word duende (which, appropriately, rhymes with bend me). I’ve pinched it from Lorca: “The Duende…will not approach unless he sees the possibility of death.” Traditionally, it is a presence, powerful and implacable, that can transform you – and destroy you. How to be true to it? By abandoning yourself. You can never find what is real by protecting yourself, by trying to keep happiness in a box. You have to go on, not knowing where the path will lead. And there, in the midst of the greatest chaos, and against all computable odds, you will find the simultaneous lightning and thunder that obliterates everything.

The hit precipitates us into the world. (See the three previous pages.) Every world is a gift – but we have to find our way in it. Worlds are dimensional – which means we move on up but we can also get lost. Custard and nobility, colours and sounds, danger, duende: it just gets out of hand.

There are only two responses: ‘That’s it!’ and ‘What is it, really?’ Diving in and pulling away. You can’t have one without the other because that’s what happens when you enter another dimension: you can go in opposite directions.

It’s the imagination which knows that. It’s a glory – and it can be a trial. Why? Because excellence makes demands of us. And that’s the moral realm right there: ‘should’ and ‘ought’ arise when we’ve been touched by excellence and fallen away from it. We can always fall because excellence can only exist in a dimension where descent and ascent are equally possible.

Everything that has a shape also has a shadow. We do. And worlds do. All worlds contain forms – so they come back at us with the laws and forces that hold forms in place. This is the cut: the restriction which is the shadow side of the hit’s precipitation. We’re thrown out and then pulled back in. Reality spreads itself out and folds back in on itself at the same time. Sure, there are gaps and lapses – but love and transgression can cross anything.

You cannot be in a world without an identity. We all know that. We furnish our world with signposts and maps – and ourselves with a passport. Worlds are colonized by names. As soon as we receive the world/identity hit, we’re capable of creating copies and fakes and secrets. We become spies in our own reality.

This is a disruptive business, caught up in confusion and alarms. How could it be otherwise in the game of power and invention? Ultimately, it’s beyond our grasp – which explains why consciousness and the desire to escape it arise together. Freedom and subversion eternally linked.

And that’s the drama right there: reality making us like itself.

I melt, I fade, I dissolve…
Swarming, climbing, groaning, whistling –
My whole life has been a seizure.

Worlds are ambiguous. When they come upon us – those short, bright visitations, those long, turning circles – then we’re touched by a kind of love, a departure from ourselves. The air is still and we know that created things can be other than they are. This pendant world, in bigness as a star of smallest magnitude, hangs on a golden chain close by the moon.

Of course, we’re stretching things a bit far – but you’ve always got to do that. On one side, the angel of life, whose care is lest we see too much at once; on the other, the Buddha laughing with his whole body. The two nod at each other across the arcs of space. We’re in between. What to do? The moment arises, we see the colours running out, hear the great chasms calling. Then we leap. We’re exalted: grace and derangement both. It’s where the dark angels come from when they come to lead us on.

Imagination isn’t reality, I agree. But it prepares us for it. Without imagination there is no reality at all. Why not? Because it’s imagination that enables us to find our way through worlds. That doesn’t mean we won’t get lost. The world is always caressing and mauling us. Lush and intimate, rough and resistant: a transfer of gifts.

And we’re back to the drama – the unfolding of a world. That’s all worlds do. You know: initiation, seduction. Worlds come first; experiences, a split second later. When I say ‘come’, I mean it: worlds surge forth. They occupy all dimensions and create new ones. But they never get in each other’s way. Only experiences do that. Why? Because experiences takes up space and time but worlds generate them. When we’re hit, our lives have pulse and cadence: all those feasts and foibles. And there in the distance a storm is stirring. It looks as if it’s coming our way – but we’re inside it. We always were.

Out of this comes our life. Except that life, you can’t get hold of; death, you can’t escape. Between the ungraspable and the inescapable lies the tumbling destiny of all those that are born.

And there we are: unsealed, unframed, blown. This is hazard in the glorious enterprise. It’s what we do every time we open our eyes.

I saw the opening in the trees
Dark and hooded.
When I went in
Everything was gone
And everything was waiting.

The beyond is always with us. You can’t be aware of something without knowing that there could be something else: bigger/smaller, faster/slower, better or worse. On and on, on and on. Of course, we can be wrong about this beyond – and it may only exist in our imagination – but that’s OK because we can correct our misapprehensions.

Understanding and misunderstanding are inextricably linked. When we ‘get’ something, it becomes meaningful, ‘full of meaning’. And once you’ve got meaning, you’ve got a world – and we’re part of it.

In order to identify something, we have to be separate from it. There has to be a gap between us and it or else there couldn’t be misunderstanding – and there always can be. It’s in that gap that the drama begins.

How to bring a world to life? By metaphor, which carries us beyond ourselves. We have to do that in order to ‘get’ the world. When you have found the kingdom you will likewise find your place in it. Of course, there’s a price to pay: ask any saint or sinner. But it’s the only place to be – even if it isn’t what we thought it was.

‘Getting’ something changes us, obviously: we’ve shifted up a level. We’ve all been through bliss and pain. But we can’t really remember them, only relive them. This embodiment requires imagination: an unruly creature, we know. It gives to forms and images a breath and everlasting motion – which is to say that it fills everything in, given half a chance. But it does ‘get’ things. It knows, for example, that pleasure and pain are close but divergent – like male and female, good and bad.

What is the hallmark of this knowledge? Embodiment: staying in the gaps, filling them in. It’s metaphor with its head up, running. Somebody mimics someone we all know and everybody gets it. It doesn’t matter that the mimic doesn’t look like the person who’s brought to life. We can even embody a quality – impatience or simperingness – that is not linked to any particular person. Just a look, a tone of voice can do it.

But embodiment isn’t just a release: it puts us on the spot. Once we’re in a world we have to live up to it: the invitation, the possibility, is always there. Of course, we may refuse or fail – but these are responses that only pertain to worlds, not to the objects in them (which can be rearranged, even wrapped up and put in our pocket. So convenient – and so easy to lose).

In short, embodiment is a form of transmission. About ten years ago, I went to a party given by a friend who’s a musician and singer. There were about ten people there who sang or played over a couple of hours. It wasn’t a concert – they just got up and did their turn. I was talking to a man who’d already played some pretty nifty jazz piano when a woman of fifty or so was persuaded to sing. She made a small but noticeable fuss. “Oh, I couldn’t possibly…” Quite a lot of that. The pianist and I carried on talking. Suddenly, she started – and the pianist stopped in mid-sentence and looked over at her. She was shaky and slightly off-key – but she’d got us all. She wasn’t saying ‘This is what I can do’ but something completely different: ‘Here I am.’

The only way of getting this transmission – and it’s the same for performer and audience – is to put ourselves in the way of the hit. Which isn’t easy because it displaces us: we find ourselves somewhere else, and we become someone else. And it’s difficult to handle, too. It comes from nothing – both innocent and pure as well as monstrous, alien.

Therefore we will not fear, though the earth be removed.
After the earthquake, a fire; and after the fire, a still small voice.

Anything entered is a mystery. Quite recently, my four-year-old granddaughter leant forward without any preamble and said, ‘Grandad, when you’re dreaming, you’re in your dream! You’re in it!’ And she hunched her shoulders and stretched her fingers wide to reinforce what she was saying. And what was that? That things are not as they seem – they’re both more and less. And we’re lost and found in every moment. That’s why the hit is beyond technique, why it’s a matter of identity, not persuasion or belief. This is a game you play with yourself as a piece.

So we have to stay true. That’s why embodiment is intimately bound up with virtue in the original sense of that term: a power inherent in a supernatural being or god. A lot of people get upset when the terms supernatural or god are used but there’s no need. All they ‘mean’ is that something undeniable is visited upon us. In the Santeria religion, the santeri who are possessed are said to be mounted. And some gods will mount any horse.

This is magic and conspiracy, both – a gift and a steal.

There’s another way of talking about all this: by taking what’s in the middle rather than where we start – the hit – and where we end up – the world. (These two can be reversed, of course.) What’s in the middle is transposition: (re)creating something in another form. It’s the essential principle of human consciousness.

‘Gong’ is a woody word not a tinny one (even though gongs can be made of tin);
Evelyn Ashford, the great American sprinter, running like a mountain stream and molten lava (at the same time);
Loneliness in a song not by an ache in the voice (which would be emotional acting) but in the spaces between the notes (Ella Fitzgerald’s ‘One For My Baby’).

When we transpose in this way, we are aware of simultaneous realities: that ‘this’ is also ‘that’, that ‘here’ is also ‘there’. And it’s this realization that is the origin of the notion of level because the connection between these ‘forms’ is not causal like a seed and a plant (and they’re pretty damn different, after all). It’s an awareness that what we’re ‘seeing’ is not confined to its form – it has other forms. And moving from one form to another is what we do: we jump levels. And in that very act, we are ourselves transposed. It’s the fundamental human experience.

Transposition is thus a kind of metaphor – and that’s where meaning comes from. Something is meaningful when we realize that it goes beyond its ‘form’ – that it is, in a sense, already in other forms. Babies can laugh before they can talk – and that’s because they ‘get’ the movement from one level to another (which is the basis of all meaning, linguistic or not). To transpose in this way is to be human.

There are ‘modes’ of transposition. Yin and yang, the three gunas, the four elements, the five tattvas, are one set, as it were.

Jung’s four types: intuition, thinking, feeling, sensation. (That’s why I put ‘seeing’ in scare quotes on the opposite page. All four
types are modes of being aware. ‘Seeing’ is the sensation mode of transposition but it’s not the only one – or perhaps it would
be better to say that ‘seeing’ has a different sense for each of the four types);
The five virtues and their equivalent vices; Buddhism’s three defilements (kleshas).

All of these modes are also ways of being: how we engage with reality, and embody it and transmit it. (All transposition is a form of transmission.) They are the laws – the means of expression – that govern the active/creative imagination. (And we’ve all got it. It’s not a special gift. It’s what allows us to be stupid and mean, for example.)

Reality is itself transpositional and approximates us to itself.

Transposition is world-making: not just the forms but the relationships between them, and between them and us. It gives immersion and distance at the same time. It also leaves gaps – and we’re in them.

Every world is generated by a mode of transposition.

We can make a grid or mesh that we put over the world, which allows the world through.
We can send a pulse out into the world, which touches it and transmits back to us.
We can advance into the world like a raider and then come back again.
We can advance and then bring the world up to us like a matador.

All of these are incomplete, of course, because something of the world will always elude us whatever mode we use.

We can enter the world like a straight line or arrow, which is direct but narrow and sharp so that things are missed or fall off.
We can swirl out like a ripple, which catches more but is easily absorbed.
We can flash on and off like a cloud of fireflies – easy to start but given to disparateness, unconnectedness.
We can roll forth like a sphere, which gives an even spread but tends to flatten everything.

Transposition reveals and conceals, is given and discovered. It is meta-physical – action at a distance. Transposition always goes beyond. And it’s in the beyond that reality resides.

This is what Alfie (aged 5) said one evening when he was watching the bath water go down the plug: “That water’s like a fairy. She’s wearing a short dress and she’s going ‘Uh-uh’.” (Wiggling his hips.)

The other evening I was looking at Venus all alone in a dark blue sky – the blue that comes up after the sun has set. It
was completely silent apart from the occasional croak of a frog (which made the silence deeper). This transposes into all notions
of an original perfection that is made better by that which is added to it even if that addition is imperfect: an original unity that
manifests an extra dimension while remaining itself (buildings hewn from rock, for instance – Ellora, Petra).

Venus and silence linking with Petra: this is the adult version of Alfie’s wiggling fairy.

Transposition, metaphor, going beyond (and finding ourselves there): all sensations, all feelings, all ‘ideas’ – and all combinations of them – are at our service here. Height and depth, clarity and opacity, weight and lightness, volatility and stability… This is how we make worlds, by going beyond. Jubilation and subversion at every step. Reality is under construction.

Just a little aside. Humboldt made a connection between sounds and ‘feeling values’:

st = enduring, stable
v = uneven or vacillating motion
l = melting, fluid

This is experience as the continual entering of worlds, an initiation.

Inner/outer, substance/qualities: these are not separate entities that have to be joined but interacting worlds created by transposition. When music is transposed into nature – “It’s like snowflakes falling,” “It surges”, and the like – nature is itself transposed. We don’t start with snowflakes and surging, such that, knowing them, we ‘know’ the music. Both snowflakes and music are known through transposition – which is to say, through our entering them (and embodying and transmitting them). Inner and outer are obvious examples and we all go through them. It’s just that we get lost in them as we do so.

When a new dimension is brought into existence, it defines a new set of ‘forms’. At the same time, it changes how all the other dimensions are ‘seen’ or entered; and what the differences between dimensions consists in. Dimensions are immune to causality so one dimension coming into existence ‘after’ others does not imply secondariness. Any dimension can relate all others to itself. They are all equal in this regard.

Since transposition is always a jump between levels, this explains the particular ‘affect’ that goes with it: entering a world in which we find ourselves – and in which we can get lost. There is no finding and no losing like it.

Jumping levels wakes us up.

The difference between virtuosity and musicality: the first is technique, which stays at the same level, however brilliant; the
second is embodiment, which is discovery and failure. The first requires skill; the second, courage.

I remember seeing a man on TV, having lost someone he loved, being asked how he felt. He tried to say – but he couldn’t. And
in that failure was everything – himself above all.

There’s another level of transposition: when we’re aware of the difference between dimensions of the world –

yin and yang, for example,
or sensation and feeling
or grid and pulse

– which are themselves different modes of transposition. This is higher-order transposition. Not that it’s better – just more inclusive. And we all do it, whether we are aware of it or not. When we are aware of it (which is a gift not a skill), the world gets bigger – instantly and wonderfully. That’s what truth does: it makes space and time.

Transposition is self-inclusive, of course – so it has to be transposed itself. This can never be linear or singular. It has to be level-jumping and dimension-entering.

Because transposition is engagement with reality in different forms, it is both given and part of us, something we do. This is the origin of the object/subject distinction – and therefore of identity, who we are.

When Alfie says that the water going down the plughole is like a fairy wiggling her hips, this says something about him (as well as water, smoothness, rippling, wiggling and fairies). Transposition is the ascription of meaning – which is why it’s world-making. Meaning can always be different – and so can we (and the world).

We can always fall into the shadow – because truth and shadow are equal transpositions. Whatever casts the same shadow is the same truth regardless of its forms. Illusion is the shadow of perfection.

Every transposition, whatever its origin, implies all other forms at the same level:

thus surrounded by implies is the centre of;
alongside implies before and after (as well as above and below);
fleshes out implies gives birth to (and hence consumes).

Transposed forms have meaning – because they’re part of a world. ‘Straight’ above and below, which change where things are but not what they are, is simply rearrangement; transposition gives forms new life. And death is life in disguise.

Death is life in disguise is something we can know just by being alive. No special conditions are necessary. By contrast, a great insight like the true successors of Kant are Gauss and Lobachevsky is meaningless without some prior knowledge. The Kant/Gauss/Lobachevsky connection prepares a place for us (which we may or may not occupy depending on our knowledge). Death is life in disguise releases us from place. All truth does – and it’s transposition that reveals it.

Space is constantly trying to fill itself up. How? By the creation of worlds. And what do worlds do? They extend themselves in all directions, ceaselessly, mercilessly; and they fall back in on themselves (to give themselves extra density). We do the same. As above, so below. But we (below) are not straight copies of the cosmos (above). We’re transposed forms of it: recreations in another ‘place’ (and therefore our own worlds).

So there are gaps – and our life, our drama, is us trying to fill them up. All sins are attempts to fill voids. But so are all pleasures. That’s why they are transpositions of each other.

All ‘ideas’ (mental forms) are transpositions – from Locke’s sense of the term to mean ‘that which is picked up by the senses’ to every philosophy and theology ever devised.

NB. that both mental and form are transpositional terms.

What we see when we look aren’t just things but the relationships that exist between things, and between things and ourselves. Every look establishes a relationship with the world. (John Berger)

And here’s an instance of it. A couple of days ago, I went to a concert of three women singing (a capella). One of them
had a voice with a particular quality: it made you aware of the space around the sound she was creating. Another had the
inverse quality: her voice pulled everything into it.

Both of these qualities – the first is liberation; the second, seduction – are transpositional. They are not just alongside
other ‘forms’ but ‘within’ them. They are dimensional. Put the two together and you have something truly magical: both
extending the world and deepening it. (Aretha Franklin can do both at the same time – the real reason (not her power and
timing, which are themselves exceptional) she’s a great singer.)

There are people who can do the same thing with their bodies. The graceful ones make us aware of what’s around them; the potent ones pull us into them. Both of these – grace and potency – are transpositions. (Lauren Bacall and Marlon Brando are examples of those who have embodied the two qualities at the same time. They are the equivalents – the transpositional equivalents – of Aretha Franklin.)

And we can go further. Tragedy pulls in all our losses; comedy allows us to escape. So comedy can be put in the same world as grace and the space around the notes – just as tragedy goes with the deepening of the world and with potency. This is not to say that grace is comic – of course not. Rather, they are both dimensions of release. It is the mark of transposition to reveal such correspondences.

And how about this. “He possessed gifts which were at any moment likely to be visited by plenary inspiration and accomplish things not only unexpected but wondrous.” This could easily be an instance of angelology – itself a transpositional cosmology. The fact that it’s a description of Jim Laker, a great spin bowler, whom you may never have heard of, does not weaken this truth. The world – in the transpositional sense – has more instances of this sort than there are atoms. That’s why it’s irresistible.

One way of putting all this is in the words of Robert Fripp. “Knowing is the ordering of our experience on the outside of our perceptions; understanding is the ordering of our experience on the inside of our perceptions.”

Inside and outside are transpositional terms, of course.

Modes of transposition – the tattvas, the four elements, Jung’s four functions, and the like – are ways of being, ways of engaging with reality. All of them are manifestations of the active imagination.

Their distribution in the world – or rather, their expression – is what give the world meaning: taste, colour, shape, line, depth, harmony, rhythm, body, weight, movement, balance; plus launching forth and holding back, pulling in and putting out. It’s transposition that knows this (although nobody knows where you are – how near or how far.)

When you’re depressed, life loses its colour and taste. When you’re ‘normal’, colour and taste seem secondary qualities, added to the substantial world. But when you lose them, you realize they’re everything – life itself. (Stephen Fry)

There is a special case of transposition when transposition hides itself. So we get the ‘idea’ of something which is non-transposed (= neutral/pure/undistorted) from which the transposed (= biased/impure/distorted) stems. But this ‘idea’ is the very epitome of transposition, not its absence. The greatest act of the imagination is to forget itself.

This ‘idea’ permits certain moves: rearrangement without really changing anything, for instance (which is labelling, itself a sort of binding). It allows us to represent forms while keeping the forms as they are (we think). Then we can carry the world around with us instead of being in it.

Art does not reproduce the visible; rather, it makes visible (Paul Klee). That is, it transposes.

Of course, transposition across the arts is easy. Lamonte Young cites Webern, Rothko and haiku as embodiments of minimalism. It’s when the heart is receptive to all forms that it gets interesting.

When I was 16, I went to Paris and did all the things you’re supposed to do at that age – including visiting the Musée d’Orsay to see the Impressionists. One Cézanne painting – actually, one tiny bit of a Cézanne painting – got me. It was a flower in a still life – and it was a single dab of paint. I remember the sensation to this day: the rush that comes from moving from one level to another. And in that jump were all the other jumps I’d made in my life, and I knew that the world contained an unlimited number of them. I didn’t need anyone to tell me that – the world had been telling me since the day I was born.

Another example. I was watching the rehearsal of an opera with dancers transposing the music into movement. And something happened. A quality of the music – its spread-outness – crossed over to the dancers, and a quality of the dancers – their palpability – leaked into the music. So the dancers acquired an intricacy and the music took on a solidity beyond that which each could have evoked on its own. The transposition of the senses is an essential element in all art. (And it’s the only thing that distinguishes art from earnest striving.) That’s why art enhances life and why life copies it.

Transposition uses the reality it embodies – that’s why it’s true.

Truth, however tiny (a dewdrop), cannot be contained. Uncontainability is ungraspability. Whatever we pour truth into, some of it spills out. So truth is a form of escape. This principle isn’t restricted to ‘big’ or ‘deep’ truths – all truth is like that. Truth and liberation and love are the same – and it’s transposition that reveals it. Everything is transposed; everything escapes. Everything is a gift; everything is ours. This is embodiment, the creation of worlds. A dewdrop is quite enough.

Now try this for size. There is a true, free ‘place’ (though it’s actually space itself) which is the same for everyone: musician, lover, thinker, yogi, acupuncturist, mountaineer, gardener. But this space becomes a ‘place’ when we embody and transmit it as a form. This is transposition into forms – and it’s what makes gardening different from music and yoga different from mountaineering. That is, the forms that come out of the hit are what make it a hit about some particular thing (even though all transpositions, by connecting between worlds, are equal). Then there’s a further transposition: from the individual embodiment and transmission to the level above, which is tradition: the social body which governs how the transposed forms (individual) are themselves transmitted across time. (This tradition doesn’t have to be a ‘high’ one like Hinduism or Islam; it can be any social form – the local allotment association, for example, or a jazz club.)

All of these three – original ‘place’, transposition into forms, and transposition into tradition – exist simultaneously, each on top of the other, and so compressed that we can hardly peel them apart. And we get stuck in that. But we can get out.

The true man or woman yields to the process of experience as to a lover. Such a one does not enter into the realms of experience in a defensive manner – cranky, rigid, full of self and knowledge. Rather, such a one enters into the present moment of experience as an act of love. (Da Free John)

Transposition is magic in the true sense of the term: intention, which is directed, together with active imagination, which fills things in. What things? The world.

The distinction between reality and imagination is itself transpositional.

Transposition, by its very nature, allows that things could be different. So meaning is always shared. That’s where the drama comes from.

Transposition is crossing boundaries – ones that require us to give ourselves up. It’s like loving someone. And that means failure. When it’s part of a mode of being, it’s OK, even necessary. It’s only when failure is on the same level as accomplishment that it’s seen as something to be avoided.

It’s the process of transposition that wakes us up. Yet it is always in need of completion. By the very fact that it ‘jumps’ and ascribes reality, it leaves a gap to be filled (and fulfilled). There has to be a gap for there to be meaning, and for us to be aware of that meaning. But then we’re necessarily aware of the gap, too – and us in it.

Language is transpositional, as is all role-playing. Identity and culture are impossible without it. It’s labelling function (‘Mt.Everest’, ‘my pen’) exists within those forms.

Transposition creates the subject/object distinction. (All the terms in this sentence are transpositional, including ‘the’.)

(a) ‘That is there now’/’I am here now’. Inbetween these two is a world.

(b) a ‘take’ on that realization – what it is for that to be there now and me to be here now.

Both are transpositions, which means there’s a jump and a loss. Out of these comes beauty/distortion – in fact, the very ‘idea’ of quality.

That’s why quality isn’t added on to something (which remains the same). Transposition is the perception of quality – picking it up and thus participating in it. This is just another way of saying that transposition ‘makes’ worlds.

Transposition bestows (and perceives) quality; there is no quality without meaning; and no meaning without ‘judgement’. That’s why we’re bound to live up to the truth: ‘That should go there’.

Transposition is inherently evaluative – and because it’s a form of embodiment, it’s also moral (should/ought). That’s one of the reasons that culture/society is transpositional – why it puts people somewhere (and they accept it).

We can derive experiential esotericism from this. For example, the four elements:

water receiving everything
earth sending forth everything
fire searching everything out
air touching everything

water unable to remain pure
earth unable to remain concentrated
fire unable to remain quiet
air unable to remain concentrated

The first set are metaphysical, the second are ‘non-dharmic’. (This is the connection between metaphysics and ‘virtue’ – that old principle, so misunderstood.)

Virtues are independent of conditions; vices are stuck to them, need them, fed by them. The first is love; the second is attachment (which interferes with love).

Truth is faster than thought – because of transposition. Thought rearranges things; transposition makes them real.

Transposition captures the whole truth (though it cannot be captured). It doesn’t separate it out or ‘place’ it – except that, having transposed it, we find that it is ‘in place’ (and so are we).

I love science and I do not want to give it up. But it is not enough. I am looking for something that is enough.

I had a conversation with my brother, who’s an acupuncturist. He talked about the times when he just knows what to do: the needles find their places, he’s not really doing it. He called it “expressing from the heart with intent”. This reminded me of Ella Fitzgerald’s singing: she’s finding her way through a world – of sound and timing – that she has herself created. She doesn’t have to know what she’s going to sing in the next split second – it just comes to her, like a dolphin swimming. “Expressing from the heart with intent” applies very well. This is freedom – which is precisely what we get from listening to her. She’s free, so we are. Transposition as embodiment yet again – the quintessential human experience.

The opposite of love is fear – the attempt to abandon transposition. But transposition can never be entirely lost – because the heart, which is the origin of transposition, can never stop expressing itself (in some ‘form’ or other). So love will always come back.

‘Here I am’ precedes ‘This is what I can do’. This is the only reason that the unitary precedes the multiple. It’s a matter of level – and of identity. But to be true to that we have to embody it.

Transposition, by its very nature, loses something at the same time that it reveals. So we lose part of ourselves as well as receiving the gift.

Transposition has two allies: will (which fills things in) and imagination (which spreads them out). All time is part of this process – and all stories: our past, present and future.

We are always looking for ourselves – but transposition changes us. That which is lost in the very act of discovery is the bit we want to recover.

Transposition needs confirmation for the same reason that it needs completion – because it has no resting place. Where does this confirmation come from? From other transpositions – and from others (who are themselves transposed).

Transposition is self-referential. What goes out as being about the ‘world’ comes back as being about ourselves. There is no self-awareness without this move.

As above, so below (though that principle is transpositional, of course).

Transposition is entering the drama – the unruly miracle.

All transposition is a ‘form’ of revelation – the hit. But it also sets us up – the cut. Culture – what we do with each other – is a repository of such forms. Traditions simply put them into a shape that we can enter, stay in, fall out of – and go back into again. History, from the shortest memory to the great arcs of cosmic time, is one of these shapes. It always has a place for us somewhere.

If the heart is receptive to all forms, we can enter a world in every moment. How to do that? By holding ourselves open, being present. Out of this come the dewdrops of Zen and the unlimited theophanies of Ibn ‘Arabi and the Ramayana.

This is the highway of joy. Brightness comes forth from the heart and the lords that were certainly expected are moving amongst us. We are making something of what we find. We are being true.

This doesn’t mean that we have anything. The mirror is not the substance of the images in it, only the place of their appearance. The same with us. The world is in us – but it isn’t ours.

The bird of the heart flies out and sings. It’s the only freedom – and that is ours.

p. 33
There is a diagram of the worldview of Plotinus [see above under the title].

The outer circle is the cosmic sphere of all ‘forms’ (including ‘ideas’).
The middle sphere is the ‘world soul’, subdivided by the radii into different ‘ideas’ (which I call ‘modes of being’).
The central sphere is the soul’s ‘idea’ of its own inner unity and totality (which includes all the other ‘ideas’).

It doesn’t matter about the arcane or technical nature of this metaphysics. The point is that all levels of it are transpositional – and that we’re going through them in every thought-moment.

Now you might say, “That’s news to me.” But that’s why I’m writing this: to show that entering a world is a ‘form’ of enlightenment.


These references – quite a few of which are very vague or even non-existent – are simply acknowledgements of those who have put things so well that I couldn’t resist them.

p.5 consciousness and the desire to escape it…: John Gray
I melt…: John Robinson
Swarming…: Goethe
My whole life has been a seizure: can’t remember
p.6 This pendant world…by the moon: Paradise Lost, ii.1052
lush and intimate…a transfer of gifts: David Toop, Ocean of Sound
p.7 tumbling destiny of all those who are born: can’t remember
hazard in the glorious enterprise: Paradise Lost i.89
p.8 When you have found the kingdom…: can’t remember
p.9 gives to forms and images…: Wordsworth, The Prelude
p.10 Therefore we will not fear…: Psalms xlvi.2
After the earthquake…: I Kings xix.12
p.15 reality is under construction: the underlying tenet of Charles Fort in the phrase of Colin Bennett
p.16 Humboldt taken from Ernst Cassirer, The Philosophy of Symbolic Forms
p.22 “He possessed gifts…: Neville Cardus, Wisden, 1957
p.23 nobody knows where you are…: Roger Waters/Pink Floyd, ‘Shine On You Crazy Diamond’
p.30 I love science…: a young man to John Pentland, Gurdjieff’s representative in the USA
p.32 heart receptive of all forms: Ibn ‘Arabi
highway of joy: an acupuncture term
brightness comes forth from the heart: more acupuncture
the lords that were certainly expected: Coleridge, Ancient Mariner
The mirror is not…in it: Henri Corbin (drawing on Sufi sources)
p.33 Plotinus diagram: can’t remember


October 25, 2007 at 9:44 pm

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