From Cædmon.


THE mystic tradition in Christian Times is preserved, apart from all questions and traces
of Instituted Mysteries, in the literature of Christian Mystical Theology; it is a large and
exceedingly scattered literature; some of its most important texts are available in no
modern language; they stand very seriously in need of codification, and--if I may be so
frank--even of re-expression. But if, for other reasons, they are in their entirety a study
which must be left to the expert, there is no person now living in Europe who has not
close at his hands the specific, simple, isolated texts--much too numerous to name--which
are sufficient to give some general idea of the scope and aims of the tradition. If I were
asked to define the literature shortly and comprehensively as a whole, I should call it the
texts of the way, the truth and the life in respect of the mystic term. It is not only full but
exhaustive as to the way--which is that of the inward world, recollection, meditation,
contemplation, the renunciation of all that is lower in the quest of all that is higher--but
perhaps the most catholic word of all would be centralisation. It is very full also on the
fundamental truth, out of which it arises, that a way does exist and that the way is open.
The truth is formulated in all simplicity by the Epistle to the Hebrews--that God is and
that He recompenses those who seek Him out. I have cited this testimony on several
occasions in the same connection, and I do so here and now without a word of apology
and with no sense of repetition, since it can never be a matter of redundancy to remember
after what manner the Divine ways are justified to humanity, when humanity is seeking
the Divine. The literature,

p. xxxii

in fine, is full as to that which it understands in respect of the life, but this is the Divine
Life; it is grace which fills the heart; it is the Holy Spirit of God which makes holy the
spirit of man; it is life in God. There is no doubt that in its formulation it was presented to
the mind of Christian Mysticism as the life which was hidden with Christ in God, and this
ineffable concealment was equivalent to the presentation in open teaching of that mystery
of emblematic death which lies behind all the pageants of initiation. This was the state,
and the dogma from which the state depended is defined by that Johannine Epistle which
affirms: (1) That God hath given to us eternal life; (2) That this life is His Son; (3) That
whosoever hath the Son hath life; (4) That whosoever is without the Son is without life
also. These points follow naturally enough from the testimony of the Fourth Gospel: (1)
In the person of the Divine Voice, saying--I am the Way, the Truth and the Life: I am the
Resurrection and the Life: I am the Bread of Life; (2) In the person of the witness, saying:
In Him was life and the life was the light of men.

There is no doubt, in the second place, that the Divine Voice was incarnate for Christian
Mysticism in Jesus of Nazareth, and we must cast out from us the images of those false
witnesses who from time to time have pretended that the masters of the hidden life in the
Christian centuries had become far too enlightened spiritually to tolerate the external
cortex of their faith and creed. This point is of much greater importance than it may
appear in the present connection, for I am not doing less than establish a canon of
criticism. I will take two typical examples, one of which is moderately early and the other
sufficiently late to serve as a distinction in time. The anonymous Cloud of Unknowing
belongs, I believe, to the early part of the fifteenth century, and it is to be classed among
the most signal presentations of the conditions and mode of the Union which I have met
with in Christian literature. It offers an

p. xxxiii

experiment in integration which seems to me more practical because it is more express
than the great intimations of Dionysius. The integration is grounded on the identity of our
essential nature with the Divine Nature and our eternal being therein: "That which thou
art thou hast from Him, and He it is"; and again: "Yet hath thy being been ever in Him,
without all beginning, from all beginning, from all eternity, and ever shall be, without
end, as Himself is." There is sufficient kinship on the surface of these statements for the
casually literate and not too careful reader to speak of them as a simple presentation of
the pantheistic doctrine of identity; but they are saved herefrom by the important
qualification that--this state of eternal Divine indwelling notwithstanding--man had "a
beginning in the substantial creation, the which was sometime nothing." This beginning
signifies the coming forth of man's spirit into the state of self-knowing in separateness, or
some more withdrawn condition to which we cannot approximate in language--I mean in
language that will offer a satisfactory consideration to the higher part of our
understanding. If it is conceivable that there is a possible state of distinction in Divine
Consciousness by which the true self of our spirit became self-knowing, but not in
separateness, then it is this state which is called in The Cloud of Unknowing "a beginning
in the substantial creation." It will be seen that I set aside implicitly the suggestion that
the passage is a simple reference to the soul in physical birth. I do not think that the
mystic whose chief flowers are of all things exotic would offer a distinction like this as a
qualification of the soul's eternity by integration in the Godhead, or, more correctly, by
substantial unity. That which I take, therefore, to have been present to the writer's mind
was the implicit pre-existence of all souls in the Divine Being for ever, and secondly their
explication--as if the living thought became the living word; but there are no
commensurate analogies. In this manner there arose "the substantial

p. xxxiv

creation, the which was sometime nothing," and we know of all that has followed in the
past and continued ages of our separateness. This state is our sickness, and the way of
return is our healing. That return, according to The Cloud and its connections and
identities in the great literature, is "the high wisdom of the Godhead ... descending into
man's soul ... and uniting it to God Himself." The path is a path of undoing, though it is at
this point that so many mystics stand in fear of the irresistible consequences which follow
from their own teachings: it is the returning of the substantial creation into nothing; it is
an entrance into the darkness; an act of unknowing wherein the soul is wholly stripped
and unclothed of all sensible realisation of itself, that it may be reclothed in the
realisation of God.

It may well seem that in this House Mystic of ineffable typology all the old order has
passed away. The secret of attainment does not lie in meditation or in thinking, in the
realisation of Divine qualities, in the invocation of saints or angels; it is a work between
the naked soul and God in His uttermost essence, in an essence so uttermost that "it
profiteth little, or nothing at all, to think upon the loving kindness of God, or upon the
holy angels and saints, or else upon the glory and joys of heaven." That, and all that, is
fair work and square work, good and true work, but it is not materials for building the
Most Secret, Most Holy Temple, into which God and the soul go in and one only comes
out. Yet is the old doctrine the true doctrine still; there is nothing abrogated and there is
nothing reduced. In all but the deepest paths, it is meet and right and salutary to seek the
interceding angels and the communion of saints, to dwell upon the Passion of Christ, and
so forth. The old histories also are truly understood in the old way; the Passion was no
shadowy pageant; Christ died and rose in the body; in the body He ascended into Heaven,
and no less and no differently in that body He sitteth at the right hand of the Father

p. xxxv

And yet these references to doctrine and practice, to symbol, rite and ceremony, are only
like the hills standing about Jerusalem, and into the city mystic, into the central place of
debate, they do not enter anywise. They have not been expelled-they are simply not there,
and the reason is that there they do not belong. Once more, it is between God and the
soul. It is as if the ways were filled with the pageants of the Heavenly and Ecclesiastical
Hierarchies; as if the Masses and the Matins and the Vespers celebrated in marvellous
and stately measures the Holy Trinity, the dilucid contemplation of the Persons, the
ineffable secrets of the hypostatic state and the super-incession of Divine natures. But
after all these wonders, rank after rank of the Blessed Angels, after all visions of the
Great White Throne, it is as if a quiet centre opened unawares and through an
immeasurable silence drew down the soul-from the many splendours into the one
splendour, from the populous cities of the blest, from the things that are without in the
transcendence into the thing that is of all within--as if the soul saw there the one God and
itself as the one worshipper. But after a little while the worshipper itself has dissolved,
and from henceforth and for ever it has the consciousness of God only. This is the
knowledge of self, no longer attained by a reflex act of the consciousness, but by a direct
act in the unity of the infinite consciousness; in this mode of knowledge there is that
which knows even as it is known, but such mode is in virtue of such an union that the self
does not remain, because there is no separateness henceforth. It follows that the Divine
Union, as I have sought to give it expression apart from all antecedents and warrants of
precursors-I think indeed that there are none-is something much deeper and higher than is
understood by the Beatific Vision, which shines with all the lights of noon and sunrise
and sunset at the summit of the mountain of theology. That Vision is more especially of
St. Thomas, the Angelic Doctor, the mighty Angel of the

p. xxxvi

Schools, expounding the Transcendence to himself in the most resplendent and spiritual
terms of the logical understanding. The intervening distinction between it and the term of
all is that the one is the state of beholding and the other is the state of being; the one is
seeing the Vision and the other is becoming it. Blessed and Holy are those who receive
the experience of God in the dilucid contemplation, but sanctity and benediction and all
in all is that state wherein contemplation is ineffably unified, by a super-eminent leap
over of love, with that which is its object; and in that love and in that joining together
there is no passage longer from subject to object. But this is the Godhead.
These considerations have got so far beyond even The Cloud of Unknowing, that it seems
almost a fall into matter to speak, as I had intended, of Molinos and his Spiritual Guide,
which is in no sense really comparable to the older work. It is a more ascetic treatise, and
by its asceticism is a little hindered; it is a less catholic treatise, and it suffers here and
there from the particular sense. Yet it bears the same testimony of a full and complete
intention--much too complete and too full to carry anything of the concerted air--to
maintain the veils of doctrine, to speak the high and orthodox language of the official
Church; but again it is like a moving, yet all remote, echo from a world which has almost
passed out of knowledge. What is there left to the soul that it should say of the Holy
Humanity, of the Precious Blood, of the five wounds, of the dolorous death and passion?
It is not that all this has been swallowed up in the glories of resurrection, but that those
who have entered "where God keeps His Throne and communicates Himself with
incredible intensity"--and those who have obeyed the last precept "to be lost in God"--
have entered into a new order; the ships that carried them have dropped out of sight with
the tide, with the breeze, in the sunshine.

p. xxxvii

Now, the secret of this is--not that Dionysius and Ruysbroeck, with all their cohæredes et
sodales, had become unitarians, but that the term of the Christian dispensation, to each of
them personally, had been fulfilled in each. Christ had been born and lived, had taught
and suffered and died, had risen and ascended and reigned in them. So that Divine life, in
fine, carried them to its last stage. It was not Dionysius or Ruysbroeck, the author of The
Cloud of Unknowing, or the soul of the poor imprisoned Jesuit Molinos, but the Christ
nature within each and all of these, within ten thousand times ten thousand of their peers,
in all ages and nations and faiths and climes, which entered into the incredible intensity;
and that which is termed the act or state of being lost in God is that which I have
elsewhere described in a perfection of all similitudes--which is of my adaptation but not
of my making--when Christ delivers up the Kingdom of each soul to His Father, and God
is all in all.

This is the state which is beyond the state when it is said that "they shall see His face."

Hereof is the mystic tradition in Christian Time; it has been perpetuated in an unbroken
line from the beginnings of the new dispensation until this now. It is of course in itself the
most secret, exotic and incomprehensible of all languages, though at the same time it is
the most open, universal and simple. The understanding of it is a question of experience,
and the experience is attained in sanctity, though--as I have said, but also elsewhere--the
intellectual light concerning it belongs rather to the dedication out of which sanctity may
at length issue than to the state of saintship itself. The technicalities of the occult sciences
may seem hard to the beginner, and they are actually hard like the wilderness, because
they are barren wastes, but they are in words of one syllable if compared with the little
catechisms of eternal life, which are exclusive to the children of God.

p. xxxviii

Behind this Open Entrance to the Closed Palace of the King--which is so like the eye of
the needle--there is the concealed tradition in and behind the mysticism of Christian
Times. About this it is scarcely possible to speak here, and it will require some care not to
confuse the image with which I have opened my statement. The Open Entrance of course
leads to the Palace, but at a certain point there is found an exceedingly hidden postern
and a path beyond, which is absolutely unattainable except through the lawful entrance,
because, although the Kingdom of Heaven tolerates a certain quality of enlightened and
loving violence, the sanctuary of all its sanctuaries responds only to the violence of that
man who knows how to lay hands on himself, so that he may carry none of his extrinsics
to the most intrinsecus place in all the world of God. This postern is hidden deeply on the
deepest side of tradition, but by what can be traced concerning it, I think that there has
been such a going to and fro upon the Ladder of Jacob that something more of the states
which are not the term, but are perhaps penultimate thereto, has been brought back by
those who have accomplished the next but one to all of the Great Work. I think further
that they have gone so far that they have seen with their own eyes some intimacies of the
term itself--being the state of those who go in and do not evermore come back.

These are aspects of the Secret Tradition in so far as it has declared itself on the side of
God. It remains now to be said that there is a tradition à rebours, and though it may seem
very hard to put it so roughly and frankly, I have not taken all the consciousness of the
inward man for my province to smooth or reduce any of the distinctions between the loss
and gain of the soul. The tradition a rebours is definitely and clearly that of miraculous
power in the quest and attainment thereof. It is summarised by the ambition of the Magus
in its contrast with the desire of the eyes and the hope which

p. xxxix

fills the heart of the true mystic. I am not intending to suggest that the Magus as such is
of necessity at issue with the decalogue, or that he is under judgment by this sole
standard, whether for vengeance or reward. As the position is capable of dogmatic
statement, and as such is without any subjection to vicissitude, I will express it in dogma
as follows: Whosoever goes inward to find anything but the Divine in his centre is
working on the side of his own loss. As there is the height of Kether in Kabalism, so there
is the abyss which is below Malkuth, and those who are seeking to exercise the powers of
the soul apart from its graces are treading the downward path. The operation of grace is
so utterly catholic, and there is correspondingly so much of the Divine prevention
operating everywhere, that in most instances the experiments come to little and the
frittering does not continue from the mere weariness of its business; but the quest of
miraculous power--and I use an unscientific phrase of set purpose, because I am dealing
now with the most inexact of all subjects--is that which is usually comprehended by the
term occult science, and the occult sciences, speaking generally, are the sciences of the
abyss. I except astrology, which--only through the accident of many associations--has
been taken by force into the category: it is not an occult science, and notwithstanding a
few negligible claims on the part of a few sanctuaries, it has no secret mode of working
whatsoever. It is the calculus of probabilities on the basis of experience in respect of
empirical things. Putting it aside, on the fringe of the whole circle there are further a few
score of follies which one would not term the grades of preparation for the abyss unless
there were a solid reason for being preternaturally serious. I have characterised these
sufficiently in the text, and here I Will say only that all paths of folly lead to the Houses
of Sin.

There remains the question of Magic. As to this, I am aware that the professors, who are
many, and the

p. xl

amateurs, who are many more, may be disposed to intervene at this point and call
attention to the ancient and honourable distinction between White and Black Magic. But
with this also I have dealt so fully in the text that I question whether the entire work is not
an illustration of my thesis that, except in a very slight, verbal and fluidic sense, no such
distinction exists--I mean to say that it is unrooted in the subsoil of the subject. Lest I
should appear, however, uncritical over things of sufficient importance to be regarded in
their several phases, it is necessary to make two further distinctions on my own part. One
of the secret sciences is of course Alchemy, and so far as this was the mode, mystery, or
art of transmuting metals, of healing material human disease, of prolonging human life by
certain physical methods--to this extent it is, as it was always, a matter of learned
research; and though I should not say that the students of the old literature are in the least
likely to discover the secrets from the books, there is such an excusable and pleasant air
about the quest and its enthusiasm, that it is rather a consolation to know that it is of more
danger to the purse than it will ever be to the soul of man.

Alchemy has, however, another and if possible a more secret side, from which it enters
the science of the soul. I distinguish it at once and entirely from occultism and all its
ways; it is approximately and almost literally identical with that postern within the first
entrance of the Closed Palace which I have already mentioned. The postern, however,
stands for several manners of research which are not in competition with and are without
prejudice to each other.
We shall come presently to a third distinction which is much nearer to our hands and feet
than are the two others, and will call for some courage on my part in consequence. I will
leave it for this reason to such spur of necessity as may arise at the end-to which indeed it
belongs otherwise.

p. xli

As there is a door in the soul which opens on God, so there is another door which opens
on the recremental deeps, and there is no doubt that the deeps come in when it is opened
effectually. There are also the powers of the abyss, and this is why it has been worth
while to look at the subject seriously. Being thankful to say that I am, and hoping under
God to continue, without first-hand experience in these departments, it must be
understood that I speak here under the reserves of derived knowledge. It should, I think,
be understood that there is no sublimity in those deeps; they are the cesspools of spiritual
life and the pit of the second death; their powers are those of the pesthouse, and they are
as remote from the sombre terrors and splendours of Dante's Inferno as are the gold bars
of heaven and the stars and lilies of the Blessed Damozel far--and how far--away from
the Vision and the Union.

There is no especial reason to suppose that there is a Black Sanctuary, a Hidden Church
of Hell opened to Christians; but it may be, and in the analogy it would seem that there
must be, a communion of self-lost souls, as there is a communion of saints. I should
imagine that the Lords of its Convention are to be feared in a certain manner, like the Red
and the Black Death. But the versicles and aspirations and formulæ which must be strong
enough at any moment to undo all the gates of hell and to cast down all its citadels have
been taught us almost at our mothers' knees. I should think that the Noctem quietam et
finem perfectum concedat nobis Dominus omnipotens would be sufficient to disperse
cohorts and not only the isolated negotium perambulans in tenebris. The Pater noster,
moreover, is worth all the Golden Verses of Pythagoras, all the Commentary of
Hierocles, and every oracle of Zoroaster, including the forged citations. And, in fine, I do
not think that there is any power of the abyss, or any thrice-great Magus, or any sorcerer
in final Impenitence who has charm, talisman, or conjuration which could look in the face
without perishing that one loving supplication:

p. xlii

Custodi nos, Domine, ut pupillam oculi; sub umbra alarum tuarum, protege nos.
It is improbable that there is any hidden science in respect of Magic, whether Black or
White, but it should be noticed that the occult sciences with which I am concerned here
are reducible under this especial head, as it is the greater which includes the lesser. Its
processes lie on the surface, and the so-called sanctuaries of occultism may extend the
codices but are unlikely to increase the efficacy. In respect of Black Magic, so far as there
is a textual excuse for separating it from that uterine sister which was reared on the same
milk, I have indicated that there is nothing to suggest one touch of sublimity in diabolism.
In its, so to speak, pure state, but absit verbum--I should rather have said undiluted--it is
the simple ambition and attempt to compel demons, and observe here that it is Satanism
to deal, ex hypothesi, with the abyss, for whatever purpose. In its worst state it is the
Grimoires and the little books of wicked and ultra-foolish secrets. The difference between
the Grimorium Verum and the Key of Solomon is that the one deals openly with the devil
and his emissaries, and the other with spirits that are obviously of the same category but
are saluted by more kindly names. If it were possible to formulate the motive of Black
Magic in the terms of an imputed transcendence, it is the hunger and thirst of the soul
seeking to satisfy its craving in the ashpits of uncleanness, greed, hatred and malice. It is
exactly comparable to the life of that Chourineur in The Mysteries of Paris who lived
upon diseased offal and grew to be satisfied therewith. But this unfortunate could not
help himself exactly, while the soul of the black magician has usually sought evil for its
own sake.

I recur therefore for a moment to that door of the soul which, as I have said, opens on
God, and it is that which by a necessary but somewhat arbitrary distinction must be called
the door to the heights. In their proper understanding, the deeps are holy

p. xliii

as the heights, and of course in any true philosophical sense there is neither height nor
deep, for these are not journeys made in space and time. However, that symbolic door is
the golden way of satisfaction; but it is not of magic, of divination, of clairvoyance, of the
communication with spirits, of what order soever; it does not offer the fabled power over
Nature of which the Magus is said to be in search and to which lying rituals have from all
time pretended that he can attain. It is the hunger and thirst after sanctity and the
overfilling of the soul therewith.

The word clairvoyance brings me to the last point and to the third distinction which I
have promised to mention.

The office of occultism is of course comparable to the empirical science of the psychic
side of things which is being followed at the present day with circumspection and
keenness all over Europe and America. It is a poor compliment in one way to institute the
comparison, because that which has passed through the alembics of occultism is the dregs
and lees of thought, intelligence, motive, and of all that goes to make up the side of action
in man. Psychical research, on the other hand, has throughout been actuated by an
honourable--often by a pious--motive; it has adopted a scientific method, so far as the
subject would permit; it has put forth no claims and abides judgment by results. It is of
course, from my point of view, very far from the term. I do not believe for one moment
that anything responds to its methods from the unseen side of things which can bring
good to man by the intercourse. But it has to be remembered that every supramundane or
abnormal fact which is registered by this kind of research is so much evidence added to
the dossier of occult science. If the phenomena of psychism are as psychical research has
registered, the old processes of Magic may be unquestionably veridic processes within
their own lines. They did not put the operator in communion, on the highest supposition,
with Raphael, Gabriel and Uriel, or with Astaroth and Belial and Lucifer, on the lowest,
any more than

p. xliv

psychical research and spiritism have ever established intercourse with the souls of the
faithful departed. But both have produced the extraordinary pathological condition and
the phenomena of the soul manifesting. The distinction between the two methods is that
one was usually the result of personally induced hallucinations, complicated by the
frequent intervention of abnormal psychic facts-the whole following a more or less
maniac ceremonial--while the other is the scientific investigation of similar and
analogical states in predisposed subjects whom the operator may seek to control. I have
no reason to suppose that the sober, ordered and well-judged methods of such
experimental research will succeed in taking the subject into any grade of certitude which
will be of permanent value to man, and the question closes here so far as I am concerned.
The indications--such as they are--gather rather on the other side. The path of certitude is
in the inward man, as it stands to all reason that it must be, if God and His Kingdom are
within. There is thus, on the best and most temperate hypothesis, no object in going
towards any other direction than thither wherein is contained the All.

Two things only now remain to be said: It will be seen, in the first place, that from that
part of the Secret Tradition in Christian Times, with the summary details of which I
opened the present conference, there could have never been any derivation to occult
tradition and so-called occult science. In the second place, the work which hereafter and
now follows shall permit the Rituals of White and Black Magic to speak for themselves
as to the tradition therein and its value.

The Book of Ceremonial Magic

Grimoires Section

Main Library