THE ANNUNCIATION TO MARY
In the first part of this essay, we considered how the human mind, in acquiring spiritual knowledge, is transformed by the practice of and devotion to that which, in the tradition of the monies was called Poverty, Obedience and Chastity. For when the mind is called upon to waive its claim to universal validity and transform self-assertion into a prayerful humility, this is an invitation by the spiritual world to take the vow obedience. And when the praying mind is required to sacrifice its scientific wealth, won in the course of experience in the sense world--that it may income an empty vessel for a new and higher knowledge--this signifies that it has taken the vow of poverty. Lastly, when the mind is to take in marriage the wisdom of the heart, so opposite from its own analytical nature, neither misusing nor denying her, this signifies that he takes the oath of chastity.
So obedience, poverty, and chastity are the three basic prerequisites to partake in happenings of the world beyond the threshold of our physical sense-world. For the mind, however, devotion to these three requirements of moral logic signifies nothing less than its own death. For precisely those qualities of the intellect must be sacrificed which constitute its essential being: the logic based on universal validity and an objective system of laws; scientific progress and the wealth of knowledge it brings; and the analytic method of dissection which tends to grasp and hold fast all movement of thought. For this reason we have named the mysteries of the transformation of faculties of mind into organs of cognition for the contents of the spiritual world: the mysteries of death--and the guardian of the threshold between earthly reason and the spiritual world we have named: the guardian of the mysteries of death.
Now, the transformation and ascent of earthly reason is only one aspect of moral logic. The other aspect consists in the descent of the spirit into the world of everyday consciousness. We will now, with the help of another fresco in St. Michael's Basilica, look at this aspect of the birth of moral logic.
The fresco is called The Annunciation to Mary, and it shows two figures, each standing under an arch; the two arches separated from each other by a slim column. Underneath these two, in the middle, is a third archway which is a real doorway leading to a baptismal font, located in the side-room of the choir of the basilica. There are then three arches, the two which are depicted in the fresco and the third which is a physical reality.
In one of the two painted archways stands a female figure dressed in red standing before a light colored background, whose head and ears are covered by a veil. On her breast a red heart is depicted. She is praying. And while she prays a white dove flies from above right toward her forehead.
In the other painted archway appears a hovering figure dressed in a green cloak with a thrown-back hood. His right hand is raised in greeting: his fore and middle fingers forming a V. In his left hand he holds a white ribbon which reaches across the boundary of the column into the archway of the other figure.
The name given to the fresco is therefore suitable, for the picture contains at first glance the same elements which usually appear in pictures of the Annunciation scene. But, we may ask, is this the only message which the fresco brings? Does it only intend to illustrate a passage from the Gospel of St. Luke, or does it perhaps proclaim some other hidden (esoteric) message from the spiritual world? A more profound meditation on the picture may reveal the answer.
On consideration of the fresco certain questions can spontaneously arise. Why does the dove of the Holy Spirit appear already at the moment of annunciation, when it is written in Luke: "The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall over shadow thee..."(Luke 1.35) thereby clearly indicating the future? Why is Mary dressed in red and the hovering figure in green? Why does the hovering figure have its gaze turned inward, and why are the fingers of his right hand raised in a V? Why has the hovering figure who brings the message no wings, when western iconography depicts the Archangel Gabriel with wings? And why does the fresco show three portals? Let us turn first to the last question!
A door or portal is an opening which joins together two otherwise divided and mutually inaccessible spaces. Every door opens the way from one sphere of life into another--is the transition from one 'world' into another 'world.' Whether we go from the outside to the inside of a house, or in or out of different rooms in that house-- the door is both an exit from one sphere of life and an entrance into another. And, just as a house may be a small 'world' of rooms, so too in the great world there are smaller 'worlds,' also with their portals.
The three doors in the fresco point to these three 'worlds' within one: the physical sense world, the soul world, and the spiritual world. For this reason the fresco shows us three doors. It shows us the door of the physical sense-world, and so the lower door above which the fresco is painted is a physically real door. It shows us the portal of the soul world, and for this reason a female figure with a gesture of reverence and devotion is pictured in the upper left: doorway. And it shows us the portal of the spiritual world, which appears in the upper right doorway as a hovering spirit figure. The first message which the fresco and the place it occupies announces could therefore be summarized as follows:
Remember, 0 Man, when through the door of birth you enter into the earthly world of facts and deeds, that
Above you there exist two other worlds: the world of soul and the world of spirit.
Now these Three worlds do not actually exist side by side, nor spatially abve each other, but rather within each other, for they are expressive of different dimensions of consciousness and their corresponding depths. The physical world may be seen as the outer expression of the soul world, and the soul world as the expression of the spiritual world. And this is indicated to us in the fresco by the fact that the spirit figure appears in front of a background which is of the same color as the garment of the soul-figure on the left.
In order to fully grasp some of the mysteries and questions regarding this fresco, let us now, without further ado, look at what we may call the four stages in the descent of the spirit into the world of day consciousness. A true contribution in the domain of spiritual knowledge--derived from the practice of moral logic--will only be valid in the three worlds we have described and be communicable by means of the written word or scripture, if it is arrived at through the following process and meets the following conditions:
I. It has its origin in the spiritual world; that is, if it has spiritual experience at its root;
II. And that spiritual experience is then reflected in the soul-world.
III. In the subjective soul-world the spiritual experience is recognized and confirmed as objectively true; and, finally,
IV. Once recognized as objectively true, it becomes a communicable message.
Let us look at these points in detail. Why is it that this knowledge must have its origin in the spiritual world, its root in spiritual experience ? The world of spirit is the highest world attainable by thinking. It is the world of thinking's origin and indirectly therefore the origin of all thoughts. It is at the same time, however, according to Hermeticism, the fount of goodness, that is, of morality. If thinking would be moral it must lift itself up to this level, it must leave behind the level of thought as we know it. Because in the spiritual world, thinking finds itself in the process of thought-forming: the essential activity of thinking.
Thinking at this stage now is able to ask itself who it is; who is active in the process thinking, that is, it can seek the subject of pure thinking. At this stage, therefore, a man must lead flunking to the point where it looks into itself and seeks the origin, or cause, which makes its own activity possible. This 'thinker' within thinking, the inner originator of its movement is that which in the Indian spiritual tradition is called purusha, and which in recent German philosophy is called monad (Liebnitz), transcendental ego (Kant), or absolute ego (Fichte, Schelling) but which in the Judeo-Christian tradition and in Hermetic ism is called the Image of God.
What then must happen in order that a man may attain to his God-image? For this to happen, thinking must become, instead of thought-creating, thought-free, must become pure in order to then direct itself toward its own inner origin of being. In other words, it must become contemplative in order to know the divine image in itself.
Great dangers lie along the path of these experiences. For when a man knows himself in his deepest being as the subject of his thinking and thereby as cause or origin of all his thoughts; when he learns that his higher ego is at home in another dimension from that of thinking's stream and the thoughts it carries; when he comes to know his higher ego as if freed and as absolute, then he can all too easily believe that in this freed, absolute, boundless spirit he has before him the Godhead Itself.
So, we see our task needs to lead not only the lower ego (the God-likeness fallen into the earthly world of Maya) to an experience of the higher self, (the God image), but also, and primarily, to a first inkling and ever more conscious experience of how the higher Self contemplates the Godhead and the spiritual world.
The God-image, of course, cannot believe itself to be God, for it lives in a permanent beholding and contemplation of the Godhead in itself and in the spiritual world around it. Rather it is the fallen God-likeness, our empirical ego, which can mistakenly imagine itself as such, when it lifts itself up to contemplation of the higher ego. This error is actually an expression of original sin, as described to us in the Bible, for it contains within itself the pride of desiring to be as God. Our empirical ego always endeavors, as it were, to pull the 'hood of isolation' over the head of our higher ego, and it can only escape this danger if it holds in check its own tendency towards pride.
Therefore the fresco shows us the higher ego as a human, hovering figure without wings, in a cloak with hood thrown back, and an inward-directed gaze and with two fingers raised up to signal the number two. The figure is human--not an angel or another being of the higher hierarchies--therefore it has no wings. It does not melt into a diffuse 'world of spirit,' but knows how to distinguish itself from other spiritual beings--therefore it is wrapped in a cloak which separates it from its surroundings. It is open for communications from other beings of the spiritual world, however, and therefore it has its hood thrown back. It is gazing upon the divine ground of its being and therefore its eyes are turned inward. And it knows that two beings have to be in a state of contemplation--the likeness and the image-- therefore it is making the sign of two with its fingers.
So you see, dear reader, how significant is the distinction drawn by the Christian thinkers of the 12th century, for instance in the School of Chartres, between the Image and Likeness of God. Genesis tells us of the distinction between the higher ego living in continuous vision and contemplation of God--called the Spirit of Man--and the human soul, fallen through the original sin of pride and which, in its capacities for moral action and creative deeds is like unto God, but in its passions and errors has become unlike. Recognizing and experiencing this distinction not only averts the danger of pride, but also prevents the dangerous possibility that, rather than attaining spiritual knowledge, one instead practices only a subjective self-reflection and inner vision.
Thus must the soul establish a right relationship towards the spirit in order that spiritual perceptions and experiences of the higher ego may be reflected in her without lacing either falsified or entirely eliminated. And this is why we spoke of the second essential factor for the descent of a spiritual message into the world. How is the spiritual experience to be reflected in the soul world?
If you, dear reader, had the task of picturing the essential being of concentration, and of the meditation into which it flows, would you not paint the devoted figure of a woman with her head veiled-- the place where ordinary thoughts arise ? Would you not paint a figure which has reduced to silence the noise which the senses make, and stilled her flickering and galloping thoughts in order to direct her gaze, her whole attention, upon something spiritual and hearken to the message which it contains?
" If only once the silence would not break.
If all the frivolous and casual noises were silent, and my neighbor's laughing voices,
if the disturbances that my senses make
did not obstruct my efforts to awake:
Then might I follow you right to the brink,
your being with one myriad thought might think
and have you just as long as lasts a wink,
then give you to all life for good
(By-Rainer Maria Rilke)
Here lives the essence of meditation: It is the ever increasing, ever more profound, in the end, almost complete attention on a message from the spiritual world, whether as symbol, sounding word, or mantric verse. This attention transforms the thinking so that it no longer produces merely an endless stream of everyday thoughts, but rather becomes an organ of perception, a recipient of the lofty light-filled thoughts of the spiritual world which peacefully stream downward, making their impression on the transformed, emptied flow of thinking like the figure of a white dove.
If you, dear reader, wished on the other hand to depict a soul who takes the deepest interest in all the pain and joy of the worlds' living creatures, who participates with her whole heart in everything that meets her, and who in the name of the suffering of all beings speaks these words to God: "Lord have mercy!"--would you not draw a female figure with her hands lifted in fervent, beseeching prayer, and with her heart as if worn openly upon her breast?
This is the essence of prayer; that it flows to the Creator in the name of all creatures with all the heart, with all the love, and with all the strength--in praise or invocation of God--until it reaches and touches the heart of Him who is Love, until God has compassion and answers the prayer. But are we really to expect an answer from the Godhead? Yes, this is exactly what we understand by the words message from the spiritual world or revelation.
Two things then, must work together in order that a message from the world of spirit, a revelation, may be possible: (1) that with the whole heart, with complete love and strength a prayer must be said in the name of all creatures; (2) and that the devoted, silent and reverential mind must earken, in meditation, to the response of the Creator.
Only too often, it seems, we find either prayer or meditation, either a place of prayer or a spiritual school. And may it be that those who pray are primarily awake to earthly needs; while those who meditate, are primarily awake to the spiritual? The one, perhaps, have head and senses entirely unveiled, the others only veiled. For the former speak in the name of the natural world groaning and awaiting redemption, and so it is the earthly voice which fills their soul and cries unto heaven so loudly that it may drown the still small voice whispering an answer.
And the latter, fixing their eyes on the spirit alone, may forget the pain and need of the earthly world: for the veil which they have laid over their ears and head prevents them from hearing the groaning of creation and from thinking of other beings in the world.
And thus it is that there are the blind who must be made to see, and the seers who must become blind. And when it is written in St. John's Gospel: "For a judgement I am come into the world, so that the blind may see and those that see may become blind" (9.39), it signifies that Christianity consists not alone in the practice of prayer (or religious practice) and also not alone in the schooling of knowledge (meditative disciplines) but in justice, that is, in the adjustment of meditation to the questions and pleas of prayer, and in the inclusion of meditative listening and comprehension in the practice of prayer. Thus St. John's Gospel tells us that meditation and prayer, spiritual school and church must cooperate in order that true Christianity may come into the world.
Therefore, Hermeticism respects the veil, which can silence the suffering with, and over indulgence in sympathy with the world, when it would tend to bring nothing but affliction and lead to disbelief in God. It is the veil which makes possible the alleviation of our torments by helping to open our soul-ears and soul-eyes and making us capable of perceiving the answer of God to our questions and pleas.
And therefore Hermeticism guards the secret of the veil, for its right use protects us from lacking compassion and growing cold toward the sorrows, needs and joys of the world. Whether it is a matter of the veil of his as in ancient Hermeticism or the veil of Mary -Sophia as in Christian Hermeticism--always it is the same Being who is guardian of the birth of a spiritual message, and always it is the same veil and its right use which can teach us how compassion and love lead to inspiration and spiritual vision.
If we now look at the third condition, that in the subjective soul-world the spiritual experience is to be recognized and confirmed as objectively true, we can add this: the soul, other own nature, would never attain to objectivity, to the truth of her subjective experience, if something did not enter into her life which, in an almost shocking manner, in a way precluding all doubt, provides certainty to the soul that what she has seen or heard really issues from a higher, spiritual world. This something which enters the pure life of soul from without brings the experience of an enhanced, deepened intensity other own life and of a great clarity, both of which in her ordinary existence she has never known. And while this intensity strengthens the life of the soul, as if adding a new power to it, making it ready to accept the message, at the same time, the soul is led to recognize--by the light of this unaccustomed clarity--all her own weaknesses, defects faults, and errors.
This illumination of her inadequacies, of her lowliness, which accompanies the revelation from above can throw the soul into a state of fear even while she is in the process of hearing the message. And therefore it is written in St. Luke's Gospel with regard to the Annunciation to Mary: "And when she saw him, she was troubled at this saying... and the angel said unto her 'Fear not, Mary...'" (1.29). Here, St. Luke's gospel vividly portrays that Mary's experience was soul-inwardly inspired.
Now, in order to confirm or substantiate the truth of any given revelation of knowledge, two conditions are necessary: (1) the subjective recognition of it's righteousness and, (2) an objective corroboration, sometimes called inter-subjective confirmation. So, a particular revelation of knowledge can only be recognized as true when it has not only been accepted by the discoverer as genuine, but has also been confirmed by others, or has otherwise been proven by life experience to be true.
These prerequisites are valid for scientific knowledge, but are they also valid for spiritual insights? Let us recall that for spiritual knowledge there is a 'logic of the spirit,' that is, there is a valid moral logic. And as this is a qualitative, individualized logic, it cannot depend on the quantity of individuals who confirm the knowledge in question, but only on the fact tliat it is confirmed, for which actually one individuality who, when placed in comparable circumstances to those of the recipient of the message, can act as a worthy witness for both the spiritual and soul worlds (otherwise there may have to be two witnesses: one for the spirit and one for the soul).
Thus does St. Luke's Gospel tell us of the archetype and pattern--or to use Goethe's term, the primal phenomenon--of the reception of a message from the spiritual world, and that she who received it had to go to another personality who was in similar circumstances, so that this other, and the child within her, might confirm the truth of her inspiratory experience. It was not until the boyJohn, and Elizabeth, as witnesses of spirit and soul, had confirmed her subjective inner experience as true, that Mary could speak the Magnificat, could proclaim the full truth of the what she had experienced:
My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Savior, for he hath regarded the low estate of his handmaiden..... and his mercy is on them that fear him from generation to generation..... he hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.... (Luke 1.46-53).
We see here all three elements which form the content of the tliree stages of descent of a message before it comes to birth, that is, before it becomes a communicable fact.
In the fresco the third stage of the descent of revelation from the spiritual world is depicted as the descending dove of the life-giving and illuminating Holy Spirit. In the symbol of the dove everything which we have mentioned as pre-requisite for establishing the truth of a soul-experience is summarized: coming from outside, it brings into the soul the certainty that it is a spiritual message which she has received and that the message is true. The dove is also the witness bringing to the soul the faculty of discrimination.
It is at this stage, at last, that the receptive soul really becomes complementary to the witnessing spirit; notice the female figure is dressed in a red cloak, the soul-complement to the green cloak of the higher ego. Could one choose a more appropriate color than green, the color of the plant carpet of the earth which so faithfully follows the light of the sun, the source of its life, to illustrate this spontaneous bedience in which the higher ego (the Image of God) exists by virtue of its continuous vision and contemplation of the living light within it? And could one, for the soul purified from passion and error (the likeness of God), whose heart and blood are wholly devoted to the spirit that it may e a perfect mirror--could one choose a more appropriate color than the red of purified blood?
The last stage, too, of the descent of a spiritual message is shown to us by the fresco. For no profound Hermetic analogy is necessary in order to identify the white band which floats from the left hand of the spirit being and rolls out past the boundary of the archway in the direction of Mary's forehead and the white dove as the spirit message now become scripture. While it is true of our everyday writings (including those of science) that they are only valid in one world, namely in the earthly world in and out of which they originate, a spiritual message which has become scripture in the earthly world is valid in three worlds. It is valid also in the soul and spiritual worlds. So when you, dear reader, have a written message whose origin is spiritual ( the Bible, for instance), then there are two who bear witness to it, namely, the two worlds which hover, as it were, above the physical script and confirm it. It is born of those two worlds.
We placed at the beginning of this essay the words of St. John's Gospel: "Except a man be born again from above, he cannot see the kingdom of God", and "Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God" (3.3-5). For the pure, silent 'water' of the soul, mirroring the message, and the spirit proclaiming it, are witnesses of the fact that something from above has come into the physical world as a contribution towards its gradual, alchemical transmutation into the kingdom of God. That which originates in the world of the spirit can cross the boundaries and descend, but the human soul must also willingly ascend.
If we wish to summarize according to Christian Hermetic teachings the four stages through which a spiritual communication descends in order to become communicable as Scripture, we find the following points:
i) The first stage of contemplation of the Godhead by the higher self can be described as the stage of Mysticism, of the immediate contact of the human essence with the divine spiritual world. This contact and the experience of the higher ego in relation to it forms the actual substance of the message.
ii) The second stage of the reflection of the message in the soul living in a state of prayer and meditation, we may call Gnosis.
iii) The third stage of the intensification of the message and illumination of the soul's depths, we may call the stage of Magic, to which belongs the confirmation of the truth of the message by others or by life.
iv) The fourth stage, that of scripture, or the summarization of the message in a comprehensible context, can be called the stage of Hermetic Philosophy, for it can be followed by the intelligent mind.
If we were to summarize, however, the corresponding four stages of the soul striving for spiritual knowledge, then instead of the descent of revelation we must speak of an ascent of the soul. And the commensurate four stages would be:
i) The stage of study of the Scriptures which have arisen on the basis of revelation.
ii) The stage of purification of the soul through self-knowledge.
iii) The stage of prayer and meditation, for only the purified soul can develop that intensity and fervor which are necessary for heartfelt prayer, and only she, on the other hand, can possess the peace and balance which are the unwaivable conditions for meditation.
iv) The stage of contemplation which consists in the immediate, direct, and conscious beholding of the divine-spirit world and its intentions.
Three stages, therefore, lie before an earnest human seeker of spiritual knowledge for the attainment of it. And each of these stages signifies a step toward the moral perfection of the soul. The first stage of Study demands perseverance and willingness to learn from each and everything. The second stage of Purification demands readiness of the soul for self knowledge and self-discipline. One can only can reach the third stage of Prayer and Meditation by developing humility and love. And this love and this humility lead in time to Contemplation.
And what is necessary for an enhancement of knowledge in general, holds equally for specifics. Whoever has a question on earth for which the spiritual world may have an answer must make the effort to ascend four stages: First he must find out what other people have or have had to say to regarding his question; then he must make sure that he is not asking the question from mere curiosity, or whether he wishes to misuse the answer for egotistical aims. If he decides that his question has human progress in view and can become a prayer to heaven in the name of all creation, then he must be able to forget all that he has read or learned in connection with the problem or question, so that in silent expectation he may await an answer from the spiritual world.
And because all these requirements belong among the basic prerequisites of every spiritual investigation, Rudolf Steiner gave the following rule (or indication or warning) to every student of spiritual knowledge: Before you take one step on the way of spiritual knowledge, take three steps in the direction of your moral perfection! To this we might add: The stage of Contemplation is preceded by the three stages of Study, Purification, and Prayer-Meditation, just as the three stages of Mysticism, Gnosis, and Magic precede all spoken or written knowledge of the spirit.
Ascent and descent, therefore, according to Hermetic teaching, have their laws, which must be observed if one wishes to become a witness to the spiritual message. But how do ascent and descent, the mysteries of death and of birth, relate to each other? And does there exist, alongside the guardian of the threshold of death and the guardian of the threshold of birth, yet a third guardian who is stationed at the turning point between descent and ascent, between death and a new birth?
END OF PART II