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FACE OF THE DIVINE: the esoteric roots of physiognomic photography

Sculpture of Hercules, Athens

Greek Sculpture, Diadomenes

Sculpture by Arno Brecker Official Sculptor of the Third Reich

Hans F. K. Günther

This paper, given at the CCWE conference 11 October 2008, is something of a combination project for me – I have been examining photography and its relationships to esoterica for some years (for example spirit photography). In addition I have also examined, as a separate area of research, the use of photography as a definer of race in colonial contexts. Recently I have begun to draw aspects of the two areas a little closer together. This paper is concerned with an examination of the visualisation of an esoteric idea become exoteric as photograph; a visualisation of racial and physiognomic types culminating in the image of the so-called Nordic master race and its antithesis, photographic (and ultimately racial) constructs of what was termed miscegenated and Jewish-types. Although many of these images were made more latterly under the banner of science, part of the hypothesis behind their creation has strong esoteric roots in both divinatory physiognomy, i.e. the art of judging character and fortune from facial characteristics and Pan-German Ariosophy an early twentieth century movement that mixed occult and racist ideas.


Schopenhauer stated:

‘That the outer man is a picture of the inner, and the face an expression and revelation of the whole character, is a presumption likely enough in itself, and therefore a safe one to go on…Photography…offers the most complete satisfaction of our curiosity.’

This paper briefly explores the application of photography (a product of both art and science) to recording the shape and form of the human face in order to create catalogues of knowledge. This journey includes an esoteric connectivity to a mystical ideal or understanding of the self through to an early twentieth century search for a (mystical) purity of race and type in the comparative photography of German scientist and eugenicist Hans F. K. Günther.

From its inception in 1839 the medium of photography was quickly associated with the genesis of an extension of the self, as a fragment of the soul, extended and captured in the silver. Indeed the very process of allowing any image to be produced as likeness was linked to the concept of soul replication. As Sir James Frazer (1854-1941) pointed out in The Golden Bough many peoples believed the soul to lie in the shadow or reflection. The nineteenth-century travelling photographer often discovered as a result that photography was considered a dire threat to the lives of those photographed and the photographer’s reception was often hostile. For example:

When Dr. Catat and some companions were exploring the Bara country on the west coast of Madagascar, the people suddenly became hostile. The day before the travellers, not without difficulty, had photographed the royal family, and now found themselves accused of taking the souls of the natives for the purpose of selling them when they returned to France.

Nor were such ideas confined to the non-western ‘other’. Photography wielded a deep psychological power over those photographed and for those in possession of photographs. This power stems from the fact that rather than the image being a simulacrum – a sketch – the photograph is perceived to be the very image of the sitter, their reflected shade even to the point of bearing a dangerous occult power over the subject.

The apparent veracity that the photographic image provided absorbed nineteenth and twentieth century users and consumers of images and lent it an unprecedented (and often unquestioned) credibility. The camera’s ability to accurately reproduce the world on a two-dimensional surface seemed to stand as proof that the manner in which a subject was recorded was definitive and unquestionable. Despite its shrunken, (often) monotone and two-dimensional appearance, the photograph was held in a position of unparalleled importance as a piece of factual evidence. Even today in this digital age of electronically created and manipulated images, we are still inclined to give credence to an event or subject if there is a lens based record (whether photograph or moving image) that can be presented as evidence of such a situation.

When photography arrived as a culmination of chemistry and optics, it was long anticipated and much desired. From the Renaissance onwards the urge to provide greater and greater accuracy drove artists to use devices like the Camera Obscura.

Giovanni Battista Della Porta, the Renaissance polymath, wrote the first description of the Camera Obscura in his text Natural Magic published in 1558:

If you cannot draw a picture of a man…draw it by these means…Let the Sun beat upon the window, and there about the hole, let there be Pictures of men, that it may light upon them, but not upon the hole. Put a white paper against the hole, and you shall so long sit the men by the light, bringing them neer, or setting them further, until the Sun cast[ing]a perfect representation…shall describe the manner of the countenance.

From around the end of the fifteenth century artists began using optics to gain ever greater accuracy. Utilising more and more accurately made lenses and mirrors, simple devices like the Camera Obscura, allowed artists to produce more realistic depictions of perspective and likeness demanded in an age where empirical measurement was in the ascendancy.

For the newly wealthy and emergent middle classes, there was also a desire to have an image making process that did not rely on the expensive and select process of painting. Devices such as the Camera Obscura led to other machines that could provide simple likenesses such as the shadowgraph, the physionotrace and the Camera Lucida.

In the nineteenth century the ability of the camera to take (as opposed to make) a likeness quickly became enormously popular. Within a year of the invention being announced photographers had begun travelling the globe with their photographic paraphernalia recording all manner of subject areas but most of all, despite the length of exposure often requires, portraits.

The timing of the invention coincided with the ascendance of science. Emergent sciences such as anthropology lived alongside established concepts such as physiognomy where the outer likeness could be read as a measure of the inner man.

Until quite recent times, physiognomy and its descendent ‘sciences’ such as anthropometrics were generally assumed to be true sciences which could, by careful study of physicality, reveal something about the inner person.

The Swiss pastor Johann Casper Lavater is perhaps the most famous of apologists for physiognomy and he helped to revive it as a credible study after it had fallen somewhat into disrepute during the middle ages and Renaissance when it became associated with palmistry and other divinatory practices (Della Porta himself had been hauled before the inquisition after over enthusiastic Neapolitans hailed him as magus). Lavater published his influential essays on physiognomy in German in 1772. Lavater assured his readers that: “The physiognomy is often a sermon on the goodness of God.”

Lavater’s work described how, after careful training, the physiognomist could make such a reading. But Lavater was drawing on a broad tradition. He saw his ideas as confirmed by, and part of, a tradition that included works by Della Porta who had amongst his other publications had also published De Humana Physiognomia in 1586.

Della Porta’s work makes a comparative study between the external characteristics of humans and animals. As with many of the nascent sciences of the Renaissance, Della Porta’s worldview was intrinsically spiritual and magical, a kind of spiritual metaphysics.

Della Porta subsequent investigation by the Inquisition was partly due to the fact that the work was perceived to border too closely on divination.

Many studies followed Della Porta’s such as Richard Saunder’s physiognomy published in 1671 which relates shape and form to planetary influences and readings.

Sir Thomas Brown published his Religio Medici in 1642. Brown stated: “For there are mystically in our faces certain Characters which carry in them the motto of our Souls, wherein he that cannot read A.B.C. may read our natures.”

The study of the human face and body as indicator of links between the macrocosm and microcosm placed men at the centre of creation and his physicality, derived from God, was linked to the cosmos itself.

Brown and Della Porta certainly played a part in influencing Lavater and Lavater ensured the continuing popularity of such understanding through likeness. Nor should the extent of his influence be underestimated. When Lavater died in 1801 the Scots Magazine called him: “For many years one of the most famous men in Europe.”

For Lavater the likeness was a derivation of the mark of the creator, a mystical connection to a higher ideal that through moral degradation led to visual ‘types’.

In his work Lavater claimed that:

The human countenance, that mirror of Divinity, that noblest of the works of the Creator – shall not motive and action, shall not the correspondence between the interiour and the exteriour, the visible and the invisible, the cause and the effect, be there apparent?

Photography and science in the nineteenth century
The empiricist nineteenth century sciences that sought reason over superstition and evidence over faith, nevertheless explored processes of visual examination linked to and born out of Lavater’s understanding of physiognomic reading. Thus when photography was invented it was quickly assimilated as a tool for making such assessments. Certainly by the end of the nineteenth century photography was being applied prolifically throughout emergent scientific fields of study.

Thomas Henry Huxley suggested that by understanding and measuring every aspect of the physical exterior of the body something of the inner man and his history might be revealed. If knowledge could be gleaned from looking then it followed that such measurement and documentation would lead to understanding. As a device of moralising and comparison the photograph was unsurpassed – for as it was so closely linked to reality belief followed. Scientific Naturalism demanded objective study that was independent of the bias of the observer, photography, lenses and chemistry, the product of a machine, was regarded as objective, real. Photography was embraced by emergent social sciences as the epitome of the kind of scientific device that could reveal without interference. But their science was often grounded in ideas which seem rather incredible today.

British scientist Sir Francis Galton, perceived photography to be a scientific and veracious tool and using the medium he sought to study physiologies and understand aspects of their race, class and social position through complex photographic composites.

By making such combination photographs, overlaying images, Galton sought to understand the evolution of the human species and the negative aspects or unhealthy elements to the evolution. Galton coined the phrase ‘eugenics’ in 1883. Galton was most concerned about inaction and the decline through miscegenation of the dominant aspects of the human race (primarily Caucasoid) and specifically the British race. In a lecture given in 1902 Galton argues for the new science of eugenics:

The faculties of future generations will necessarily be distributed according to the laws of heredity….we cannot doubt the existence of a great power ready to hand and capable of being directed with vast benefit as soon as we shall have learnt to understand and to apply it. To no nation is a high human breed more necessary than to our own, for we plant our stock all over the world and lay the foundation of the dispositions and capacities of future millions of the human race.

Esoteric undercurrents and derivations – the mystical Aryan ideal in National Socialist photography

In Mein Kampf (1925) Adolf Hitler wrote: “All great cultures of the past perished only because the original creative race died out from blood poisoning.”

Hitler had become familiar with the concept of an endangered racial heritage through reading texts such as Human Heredity by the German eugenicists Baur, Fischer and Lenz (published 1921), and through his early influences during the wilderness years of his life in Vienna particularly the work of Ariosophist (Aryan occult wisdom) thinkers such as Guido von List and Jorg Lanz von Liebenfels.

The image of the other, the relevance of the difference between groups, became accentuated throughout the nineteenth century as scientific ideas became appropriated and adapted as evidence of a racial problem and as a clarion call to mystical racists who saw a time of coming struggle and survival for the dominant European races.

In central Europe this appropriation occurred as influential elements of emergent Pan-German nationalist groups developed concepts that combined contemporary trends of race science into the ‘Völkisch’ cannon of thought towards the end of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Primarily Ariosophists such as von List and von Liebenfels adapted ideas from a broad range of influences including Helena Blavatsky’s Theosophy, and notions of Aryan racial history as espoused by figures such as Arthur de Gobineau (The Inequality of the Human Races, 1855). Effectively the Social-Darwinian concept of a coming biological struggle for survival of the fittest was accepted and amalgamated with the notion of the inevitable dawn of a mystical and supreme root-race, the Nordic-Aryan.

German race scientist Hans F. K. Günther made extensive use of photographic source materials to make comparisons and collections of ‘types’ in order to substantiate his text as in The Racial Elements of European History (1927).

The use of photography as a comparative means of assessment and identification became paramount during this period not only in scientific documentations but also in popular publications that contained photographs of racial types from around the world displayed in photographic charts.

But what these studies highlighted was not only the geography and range of race but also the admixture and miscegenation that, according to scientists like Günther, posed a threat to German and Nordic race society.

The influence of the Jewish spirit, and influence won through economic predominance, brings with it the very greatest danger for the life of the European peoples and of the North American peoples alike. For what is here at stake is the unhindered development of the bearers of the highest culture of mankind who, if the process of amalgamation with these emissaries of the East goes further, run the risk in mind and body of wandering off these paths which their own genius has marked out for them.

When the National Socialists came to power in Germany in 1933, Günther, who had been a member since 1932 became a leading figure in developing National Socialist racial scientific thought receiving the Goethe medal from Alfred Rosenberg in 1941 for his anthropological work. Rosenberg stated: “Your work has been of the utmost importance for the safeguarding and development of the National Socialist Weltanschauung.”

Rosenberg was convinced that the so-called Aryan peoples had, as a mystical Über-race, advanced into Europe from an Atlantis-like continent in the north and northwest of the European mainland again assimilating Theosophist and Ariosophist ideas. He stated:

“The geologists show us a continent between North America and Europe…[which Rosenberg refers to as Atlantis] on which a creative race raised a mighty wide-ranging culture….[this race] spread out from the North over the entire world…[its culture] borne by a blue-eyed, blond race which, in several massive waves, has determined the spiritual physiognomy of the world…”

I would like now to explore a little further how this racist mystical ideal (and its antithesis) became enshrined in physiognomic photographic images produced in Germany during the National Socialist era images which ultimately emerge from concepts that are both pseudo-scientific and esoteric.

Photography like other modern inventions and ideas was readily utilised in the promulgation of National Socialist thinking. Certainly in terms of the definition of the ideal racial type it was seen as indispensable. Journals such as Volk und Rasse used photographic covers to highlight the ‘ideal’ type.

Nor were such interventions confined to mainland Europe. Like Rosenberg, Heinrich Himmler was fascinated by the concept of a mythical Aryan race that had originated in some northern Ultima Thule.

Under the auspices of Himmler’s Ahnenerbe (Research and Teaching Community of Ancestral Heritage) study projects included an expedition to Tibet, to locate the racial relics of this migratory Aryan elite race.

Artists that remained in the Reich after the National Socialist accession to power in 1933 generally complied with the doctrinal values of the regime. Photography was no exception and photographic artists such as Leni Riefenstahl and Erich Retzlaff made images that promulgated in their work the mystical qualities of an idealised German type.

The pure racial German identity was that of a mystical Volk who like Tacitus’s Germanic barbarians were not simply in the land but were part of it, a Volkish peasant race. Simultaneously the dangers posed by so-called lesser races were also illustrated:

And the representation of the antithesis of the Nordic racial ideal was again based upon a mythological idea of the Jew as the great enemy, the racial descendent of Blavatsky’s Lemuria, the parasitical racial poisoner.

In 1937 an exhibition took place in Munich entitled the Der Ewige Jude or the Eternal Jew. A film of the same name was then commissioned by Goebbels in 1940 which ’demonstrated’ the problems of the Jewish question for Germany.

But in addition to such films and exhibitions photographic slide shows were made that used images such as this in order to demonstrate difference and to aid in identification of unwanted physical traits.

Ominously Hans Günther wrote that in order to avoid what the historian Spengler termed the ‘Fall of the West’ the German race had to decide: ”…whether we have the courage enough to make ready for future generations a world cleansing itself racially and eugenically.”

In the nineteenth-century, the photograph seemed to affirm that science could transcend the confines of raw nature and that through man’s ingenuity photography would be the medium that allowed nature to record itself unfettered by the imperfect mark making of the human hand. Thus captured an image could then be studied as a truthful account of the thing that had been before the lens of the camera.

The connection between the camera obscura space and the uncanny has been prevalent since the inception of the medium. The earliest experiments used terminology such as miraculous, marvellous and magical. The transmutational state where light, the fleeting trace of life, could be codified into image-icon still has echoes of the marvellous even in the twenty-first century. Photography has a history of associations through to the photographic period with its ghosts, soul stealing and evidential structures. The photographic space was credited with the ability to ‘see’ where the human eye could not. It is this power which was applied as both a scientific rationalising tool and a divinatory medium of assessment.

According to Marina Warner in her excellent book ‘Phantasmagoria’:
“When the biological sciences of the enlightenment converge[d] with the quest to grasp the knowledge of the secret life…[there was]…a new emphasis on the face as the repository of individuality…This…[led]…eventually to realistic photography becoming the most convincing available record of the soul, and ultimately the usurper of other material relics. The distinctiveness of the countenance was established as the seat of the individual…”

Thus for a short period at least the scientific ‘truth’ of the medium of photography was applied in a defining search for a mystical-racial and ultimately an esoterically derived, reading of the human face. Photography became a marker by which a specific ‘type’ might be codified in order to set it apart from the so-called inferior races that were perceived to threaten its hegemony.

Dr Christopher Webster
Prifysgol Aberystwyth University
School of Art/Ysgol Gelf



“The philosopher, as conceived by Plato is an ardent Lover. He lives all his earthly life in a trembling hope, and, out of his hope, sees visions, and prophesies.”
(J.A. Stewart, The Myths of Plato.)

As I began to philosophically recontextualize Carroll, the man behind the myths began to emerge. It became obvious that myth, in its most primary sense, was as essential to Carroll as it was to Plato. As I began to see the structure of the myth that Carroll was making, the myths that had surrounded him fell away quite naturally. Rather than merely being the subject of the myths, Carroll became a myth-maker. The myth he crafted, however, was neither social nor sexual…it was spiritual. Many of the myths that surrounded Carroll sprung up, in fact, out of a failure to understand Victorian esoteric trends. What has been referred to as the nineteenth century universality of a fad for child prodigies was not actually a fad at all. The Victorian Cult of the Child was, more accurately, a reappearance of the Orphic theogony for the belief in a divine child. In Orphism, the belief was illustrated by the existence of an actual cult that took the Child for the center of its worship and caused his/her adorers to give to him/her as offerings the sort of gifts that may most naturally be supposed to please him/her, namely children’s playthings. (WKC Guthrie, Orpheus and Greek Religion) In order for the divine child to mature into his/her full potential, initiation was required. The concept of initiation was central to both ancient and nineteenth century mystery schools. The thrust of the initiatory process was for the candidate, through a series of trials, to obtain a direct experience of, as opposed to doctrinal instruction about, divinity. Alice, Carroll’s symbol of the divine child, visited the underworld, as an initiatory candidate, as a part of the process of achieving gnosis.

Carroll had been cultivated toward the priesthood from infancy and was expected, as a condition of his residency at Christ Church, to proceed to holy orders within four years of obtaining a master’s degree. He, however, demonstrated reluctance to do this. After delaying the process for some time, he eventually took deacon’s orders in 1861. When the time came, however, for Carroll to proceed to full orders, he appealed to the dean for permission not to proceed. This violated college rules and he was advised that it was probable that he would have to leave his job if he refused to take orders. Carroll never proceeded to full orders and Dean Liddell, for reasons unknown, permitted him to remain at the college. Although there is no conclusive evidence as to why Carroll declined the priesthood, it is quite likely that he was entertaining serious doubts about the Anglican church. It is most conceivable that his interest and involvement in the nineteenth century Platonic revival, as well as in the subsequent theosophical movement, substantially changed his spiritual direction. The exoteric structure, for him, of the Anglican church may well have been supplanted by esoteric insight. Rather than knowing about (episteme) truth, Carroll chose a path through which he could know (gnosis) Truth. This being so, Carroll chose to sing a new song. Instead of dogmatic liturgy, he sang the theosophist’s intellectual hymn to Love and preached from carefully crafted allegory instead of from a pulpit.

The mystical consciousness considers unity as both an internal and external focus as it seeks the truth about reality. The mystic goes beyond specific religious dogmas, espousing an inclusive and universal perspective that rises above doctrinal differences. Generally approached through a purification process, the mystic seeks to transcend his internal duality that constrains his direct experience of the divine. The potential of a transcendent heroic self was traditionally psychologically detailed in powerful myths such as, for example, Theseus and Odysseus. In his own particular way, Carroll turns Alice into Odysseus journeying home to Ithaca. The hero’s journey always involves
the departure, an initiation and the return. The process of becoming conscious requires forming unity out of a pre-existent state of fragmentation. This is achieved through an integration of the ego with the more authentic self, forming a transcendent wholeness. This struggle to achieve a transcendent wholeness, the act of self-recollection, is the heroic struggle. Similar to the Platonic doctrine of anamnesis, the hero is required to gather together what is scattered, of all the things in him/her that have never been properly related, and to come to terms with him/herself with a view toward achieving full consciousness. Alice, as an alter-ego for Carroll’s transcendent heroic self, underwent a gentle initiation in Wonderland so that Carroll could share, discretely, his secret of gnosis. Heeding the advice, written centuries earlier by Roger Bacon, Carroll concealed his secret carefully, leaving it so that it could be understood only by the efforts of the studious and wise.

Now, let us look briefly at some of those concealed secrets. It is interesting that Alice noticed that “a large rose-tree stood near the entrance to the garden: the roses growing on it were white, but there were gardeners at it, busily painting them red.” The theosophical trend that was the most fashionable during Carroll’s time was heavily influenced by the “meritorious order of the Rosy Cross.” Primarily Rosicrucian symbols, as suggested by the name, were the red rose and the cross, or tree, upon which the Old Testament had prophesied the savior would be nailed. Carroll very definitively calls the plant a rose-tree rather than a rose-bush, “‘Would you tell me, please,’ said Alice a little timidly, ‘why you are painting those roses?’” The gardeners answered, “Why, the fact is, you see, Miss, this here ought to have been a Red rose-tree, and we put a white one in by mistake; and, if the Queen was to find it out, we should all have our heads cut off, you know.” In Greek, the noun for cross is stauros and, in gematria, its number is the same number as that of he gnosis (the wisdom). This would be particularly significant in connection with the fact that the Greek word for Rose is rhodon, and its number is also that of the ekklesia (Church). Rose Cross, therefore, would mean, to the initiated, the “Church of the Gnosis.”

Throughout arcane theosophical literature, various intoxicating substances have been used to symbolize a power that can take one out of the limitations of one’s ordinary consciousness and lift oneself into a higher order of knowing and being. Alice was repeatedly instructed to “Eat me!” or “Drink me!” in order to participate in physical transformations that allowed her to access new experiences. In attempting to enter the garden, Alice “found a little bottle….with the words ‘Drink me’ beautifully printed on it in large letters.” Ingesting the substance reduced her physical size to the point that she was afraid that “it might end…in her going out altogether, like a candle.” In order to eliminate this risk, she seized the opportunity to increase her physical size when she “found a very small cake, on which the words ‘Eat me’ were beautifully marked in currants….”

Carroll here uses same words eat and drink as in the symbolic eucharistic rites of the pagan mystery schools. This being so, it seems probable that eat and drink are used here as symbols for spiritual transformation.

Ancient historic Greece had two religions, one a public expression which eventually became associated with the Olympian deities; the other, a private expression connected with the Mystery schools such as those of Eleusis. In the Lesser Mysteries, the rites and ceremonies presented a dramatic form of wisdom-teaching which explored the nature and destiny of man. In the Greater Mysteries, after more direct instruction, a confrontation was presented between the candidate and his innermost being, revealing a self higher than the daily persona or mask. Comparison of the rituals of the Lesser Mysteries, as practiced in the ancient world with slight variations of detail, all reveal a universal story of the descent into the underworld. The candidate, egoistically, “dies” in the regions of the underworld, the lower spheres, where he meets and conquers a myriad of difficulties. Shedding his impermanent self, he dies in giving birth to mastery. In the Greater Mysteries, the passage into the underworld ceases to be a mere ritual. The candidate must now approach “the confines of death” with full knowledge, and in the garment of soul-consciousness pass beyond the veil of order into the theater of chaos. “It is one of the fundamental teachings of occultism that nothing can be truly known which is not experienced, lived through.” The mystic death consists not only in one’s ability to receive spiritual light, but likewise in one’s power to face with equanimity the ravages of entropic chaos. To weld one’s consciousness with beings in spheres lower than the human is a significant test of the spiritual stamina of the individual. It is, in fact, Persephone’s quest. There is substantial evidence that before experiencing the final soul shattering vision of the Greater Mysteries, initiates drank kykeon, an entheogenic potion made from the Claviceps purpurea (ergot) of wheat or barley cultivated on the famous Rarian plain adjacent to Eleusis. The Eleusian initiates, after drinking the kykeon, then spent the night in a darkened hall, where they beheld a great vision, which was new, astonishing, and inaccessible to rational cognition.

Intoxicating substances, throughout arcane literature constituted a symbol for one being liberated from the limitations of their ordinary consciousness and being lifted into a higher order of knowing and being. Alice’s being repeatedly instructed to eat or drink various intoxicating substances, after having descended into the underworld, was reminiscent of the function of kykeon in the Eleusian mystery schools. The Wonderland mushroom, suggestive of the Amanita muscaria, takes a central position in this context, as the caterpillar instructs Alice to eat it in order to change sizes. Interestingly, the caterpillar is a principal symbol for transformation…the foreshadow of the chrysalis. Thus, the symbol for transformation sits atop the transformational agent, the psychoactive mushroom. After ingesting a Wonderland version of the kykeon, Alice’s subsequent adventures illustrate the mystic’s death, as she summons the power to face, with relative equanimity, every manner of unusual being that the underworld has to offer.

Concomitant with Carroll’s interest in theosophy was an interest in the Anglo-Saxon scholarship of his day. Carroll, of course, would have been aware of the existence, in Oxford’s nearby Bodleian Library, of the great Junian Codex, containing the so-called Caedmonian poems, adorned with line drawings illustrating the Biblical story. The drawings in the Caedmonian poems are entitled Anglo-Saxon Attitudes and depict characters skipping up and down, wriggling and having large hands spread wide apart. When Alice was looking down the road to help the King determine who was coming, she suddenly exclaimed, “’I see somebody now! But he’s coming very slowly—and
what curious attitudes he goes into!’ (For the Messenger kept skipping up
and down, and wriggling like an eel, as he came along, with his great hands spread out like fans on each side.)” The King assured Alice that his attitudes were not strange at all, since “He’s an Anglo-Saxon Messenger—and those are Anglo-Saxon attitudes.” Carroll’s Messengers appear to have behaviors similar to the “Anglo-Saxon Attitudes” in the Codex material. Further, Tenniel’s illustrations of the Messengers, Haigha and Hatta are extremely similar to the line drawings in the original manuscript. The Anglo-Saxon Messengers in Through the Looking Glass, Hatta and Haigha, are Mad Hatter and March Hare from the Tea Party in Wonderland. Tenniel lets us in on the secret by showing Hatta still with his cup of tea, sandwich and high hat.

Carroll’s curiosity in Anglo-Saxon scholarship may, in fact, have been an outgrowth of esoteric interests. It was the Angle, Saxon, and Jute tribes who invaded Britain in the 5th and 6th centuries and became known as the Anglo-Saxons. Having left their homelands in northern Germany, where Apollo was said to have dwelled during the winter, they were purportedly particularly intrigued by ancient mystery cults. Their ancestral lineage was that of the mythical northern Hyperboreans. The exact location of the Hyperborean homeland was much disputed. As early as 1824, F.G. Welcker had become interested in linking the ancient amber route from the Baltic, where archaeological evidence for Greek contact was beginning to emerge, with certain classical myths, among which he cited as a “Celtic” story related by Apollonius in which Apollo, while among the Hyperboreans, wept amber. In Greek mythology, the Hyperboreans were a mythical people who lived far to the north of Thrace. The land, called Hyperborea (“beyond the Boreas [north wind]”), was perfect, with the Sun shining twenty-four hours a day. According to Thule Society mythology, Thule was the capital of Hyperborea, supposedly a legendary island in the far Northern regions, originally mentioned by Herodotus from Egyptian sources. In 1679, Olaf Rudbeck equated the Hyperboreans with the survivors of Atlantis, who were first mentioned by Plato, again following Egyptian sources. Supposedly, Hyperborea split into two islands, Thule and Ultima Thule, which were considered to be the center of an advanced, lost civilization whose survivors lingered in subterranean caverns, or according to some legends, within the hollow earth.

It was said that surviving remnants of Hyperborea preserved ancient secrets, chief among which was the concept of the Vril, a latent source of magical energy which could be mastered by initiates via magical rituals. Although introduced by Louis Jacolliot, the concept of the Vril was then given new impetus by Baron Edward Bulwer-Lytton, in his work Vril: The Power of the Coming Race (1871). Through their mastery of Vril, the Hyperborians, known as the Vril-ya according to Bulwer-Lytton, would emerge from their subterranean sanctuaries and conquer the surface of the earth. [Interestingly enough, Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) began his work Der Antichrist in 1895 with, “Let us see ourselves for what we are. We are Hyperboreans.”] With the work of Jacolliot, Bulwer-Lytton, and Nietzsche in the public arena, the mysticism of theosophy fell on fertile soil. The Thule Society, accordingly, founded in 1918, borrowed ideology from Madame Blavatsky’s Secret Doctrine (1888), maintaining a history of close contact with Blavatsky’s Theosophical Association and followers.

Carl A.P. Ruck, more recently, identified the Hyperboreans as Aryans,and proposed that the Vril was none other than the miraculous soma, the entheogenic mushroom from which the kykeon of the ancient mystery schools had been made. So, again, the possibility arises that Carroll, through utilizing the symbolism of the mushroom and Alice’s descent into the underworld, was mirroring the lineage of the ancient mysteries. The symbolism of the key and keyhole in Alice may, as well, be a reference to ancient mystery practices. Pythagoras, for example, was one of the “veiled” philosophers who revealed his instruction from within a locked chamber behind a curtain. Hence, an esoteric tradition developed that the “keyhole” philosophers or hierophants were the doorkeepers of the Arcanum arcanorum. The privilege was only given to a few to take the gold or silver key and open the bolts that held securely the portals of the domus sancti spiritus. When Alice first arrived in Wonderland she “came upon a little three-legged table, all made of solid glass: there was nothing on it but a tiny golden key, and Alice’s first idea was that this might belong to one of the doors of the hall; but, alas! Either the locks were too large, or the key was too small, but at any rate it would not open any of them. However, on the second time round, she came upon a low curtain she had not noticed before, and behind it was a little door about fifteen inches high: she tried the little golden key in the lock, and to her great delight it fitted!”


The Blind Girl: John Everett Millais



October 18, 2008 at 1:29 pm


To give some idea of the content of the day we will be publishing, over the next few months, when we receive them, papers or parts of papers that were given.

Each one formed a third of the time the presenter had, the rest of their time (thirty minutes) was spent in round table discussion so that ideas, knowledge and questions overflowed from one presentation to the next.

See presentations from:

Sherry Ackerman
Chirstopher Webster


October 18, 2008 at 12:28 pm

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