In Response to 'The Sacred Salmon' Article in The Heretic Magazine

Photo from The Heretic Magazine

Original Article by Andrew Gough

I recently finished reading 'The Sacred Salmon' article from Issue 7 of The Heretic. I would firstly like to express how grateful I am that Mr. Gough published this live on his website ( Ever since September of 2007, I have been reading Gough's articles. In the fall of 2007, I started reading heavily into astrology and the symbolism of animals. This was mainly because of a college professor who inspired me to start reading about several different philosophers and “thought leaders” such as Goethe, Victor Hugo, Carl Jung, Nietzsche, and so on. I began to gather and keep track of the birthdays of these thinkers, just mostly for the hell of it, and see if their astrological animals symbolized or matched what they did in life (perhaps the other way around). My professor heavily believed that we are “in the animal's image” not God's. In other words, we modeled ourselves after what we saw animals doing in the wild; not just how a wolf hunts, but how it raises its family, for example. I began to see trends in the birthdays, and after recording the zodiac sign of close to 1500 philosophers, occultists, esoterics, etc., I came to realize that most were fish. Roughly one tenth (150) of the philosophers are born under the sign of Pisces. That doesn't seem like a huge number, but when it is spread out over twelve other signs it's the highest number on the list. I also started collecting zodiacs from other cultures, including the Sumerian zodiac, the Celtic Lunar Zodiac, and the Native American (specifically Algonquin) zodiac. Each one had something in common: the salmon was the sign for the summer. Where Leo is in our zodiac, the Salmon exists in every other zodiac where the fish was prominent and symbolic. I will never forget this phrase in Fionn legend:

The salmon lives in a fathomless well of wisdom where it swirls up ripples of knowledge from which the righteous may drink.

Long before Gough came out with this article, I was studying the importance of the salmon on my own. I found that the salmon as Leo actually had, ironically, the least amount of names on my list. However it did have some big players:

Madame Blavastky, Carl Jung, Sir Walter Scott, Henry Steel Olcott, Valentin Weigel, Claude Fayette Bragdon, Max Heindel, Marcel Proust, Marcel Duchamp, Napolean, and George Bernard Shaw to name a few.

Now logically this means nothing as astrology doesn't necessarily decide who you are (though I know some of you will disagree, which is fine). I couldn't help get caught up in all the coincidences though, especially when you consider the greatness that is Pisces (at least in the wisdom/esoteric part of things):

Copernicus, Albert Einstein, Montaigne, Michelangelo, Constantine, Victor Hugo, Arthur Schopenhauer, Herbert Silberer (alchemist), Jean-Baptiste Alliette, George Herbert Palmer, Jane Ward Leade, Count Jan Potocki, Ovid, Diogenes of Sinope, Camille Flammarion, James Churchward (Island of Mu), Botticelli, Manly Palmer Hall, Albert C. Mackey, Dom Anthony-Joseph Pernety, George Clymer, Giovanni Pico della Mirandola, Johann Georg Gichtel, William Scott-Elliot, W.H. Auden, Geoffrey Hodson, Maurice Magre, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Edgar Cayce, Rudolf Steiner, Peter D. Ouspensky, and Jean Overton Fuller to name a really small amount compared to the actual list.

I remember seeing a show on PBS quite a few years ago about a place on the Pacific Northwest coast. It is home to the legendary “Spirit Bear,” a mutation in the black bear line that causes them to have translucent (white-looking) fur like a polar bear that is caused by a recessive gene leftover from the last big Ice Age. It is also home to a plethora of other wildlife that each year rely on the salmon run to survive. Biologist studying the wildlife and forest there decided to do a genetic test on the pine trees of the park, some of which where 500+ years old. They found that needles collected from the top of the tree showed evidence of salmon molecules in their DNA. Meaning the trees were actually “eating” the salmon that lay dead on the river beds after spawning, absorbing their nutrients into their roots. The salmon drove the entire ecosystem and even caused other animals to adapt around hunting them. The wolves in the area are not like other gray wolves in Canada. Rather than having a “fluffy” bulky coat that we are used to, their fur is more like an otter's, allowing them to swim extraordinary long amounts of time. Some wolves have mean sighted swimming eight miles out to sea fishing for salmon. The salmon are the keystone species wherever they go, so it's no wonder the ancients saw them as important. Coincidentally, the wolf is aligned with Pisces in the Algonquin zodiac and is also seen as a sign of wisdom in many cultures.


The legends of the salmon far outweigh its own existence. In the Otter Can legend ( the fish, likely a salmon, is the source of light and life (Copied from Hotcak Encyclopedia, retold by Richard L. Dieterle):

Earthmaker created an otter. In the direction of the east he placed a lodge of Light and Life in the middle of the Ocean Sea. Earthmaker concentrated his mind upon it. Otter's old woman came to know of it: "Earthmaker has thought something, that Hare is going to look for Life on behalf of his uncles and aunts. He will go towards it there." The first thing that he did, once he was ready to go out, was to go around his fireplace four times. He made it shimmer with Light and Life. Once he had made the light beautiful, he started to go out. He strode out onto the water, taking four steps across it. Then, after he dove into the water there, he came up and laid out the sand that he had brought back with him, and then an island appeared there. And then he strengthened himself with his power and dove back in. He brought something up and laid it out, and it was a fish-chief that he had retrieved and set down. And then he made his lair itself his plate. Then the center of its body became imprinted with light, and on the fourth time he bit into it, the light increased. And that woman took hold of the very white bones and filled it. The plate became imprinted with Light and Life. That's how it was.
Then they went out walking on the water of the Ocean Sea, and as big as it was, it became like what could fit on a little plate. Then after he had been walking, he came ashore. He placed the stopping point there. Again he got ready, making himself frail from holiness. Then he did this: he dove into the water. When he and his woman got to come out, there could be seen four children between them. So he did this, and then the male turning back in the water, scooped something up. Once he had come out, he laid down a gray fish-chief that he had in his mouth. And after they had made the lair the plates, the male started for it, and smeared the center of his body with Light and Life. And the fourth time that he seized it, he caused the day to be extended. Then he took hold of the woman together with these children. He made the plate very white by marking it distinctly with the light.
Then, as they started out walking, they took four steps as the went towards the Creation Lodge. There he tried his arrow. He shot a very large tree that was there. When he got there, he saw that it was there in the center of the core. He was pleased with it. Then again there he did it. Again he tried to send something forth. There was a very large Female Spirit, and he sent a shot there. When he got there and saw it, there it had gone its center. He was pleased with it. He took it up, and there he tried once more. Then he sent a shot to the protruding corner of a white cloud. There he did it, and it worked in its core. He was pleased with it. Then he did this: he took it up and for the fourth try, he sent it. It was the Creation Lodge. He who Stands in the Center of the Lodge was unopposable. There he sent his shot. When it got there, it did its work upon the core of the fire. He was very pleased with it.

(Still Copied from Hotcak Encyclopedia)
The otter in this story is told in connection with the otter skin pouch which is used to shoot shells into initiates in the Medicine Rite. When the initiate is hit with such a shell, he falls over as if killed, only to arise later reborn (remind you of something?). The Hočąk is ho-hųk, literally, "fish-chief," which Radin translates as "kingfish." The term "kingfish" in English denotes several varieties of salt water fishes, and is therefore not likely what ho-hųk means. Since it is unattested elsewhere, we do not know what kind of fish was meant, if any. It may be that it is the chief of fishes. The domain in which he is chief is that of water, which is ni in Hočąk. A homonym for this word means "breath," and by extension, "life." Water is also the domain of the Hero Twin known as "Ghost." And, as among the Christians (for many non-overlapping reasons), souls are often made homologous to fish. Therefore, a fish-chief is at least symbolically a ruler in the domain of souls. Eating such a fish is eating the spiritual power by which control over souls is obtained. When the otter bites into the fish-chief, the consumed fish is translated into Light and Life. This is a "translation," made by an animal that can transpose himself from the world of water to that of land. The Medicine Rite allows the master of its principles to gain control over his own soul, and to achieve the power to resurrect himself, rather than being an eternal captive in the realm of souls. He becomes, by consumption of its nature, a fish-chief himself.

In another version of the story, the otter comes out of the water twice, each time with a fish of which he bites and out come the Light and Life of the world. Assumingly, the fish represent Pisces, which makes sense when you consider many Native American stories are based off celestial events.

Jasper Blowsnake's Account of the Medicine Rite, in Paul Radin, Winnebago Notebooks (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, n.d.) Freeman #3876, Winnebago II, #6: 166-169 (the original handwritten interlinear text); Freeman #3886, Winnebago III, #6: 357.65-361.86. For a loose English translation, see Paul Radin, The Road of Life and Death: A Ritual Drama of the American Indians. Bollingen Series V (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1973 [1945]) 255-257.
2 Radin, The Road of Life and Death, 342, nt. 13.
3 Radin, The Road of Life and Death, 342, nt. 21.

Thank you to Andrew Gough for your many articles that have inspired me over the years. Thanks too to Greg and TDG for everything you do for us heretics.

Please forgive my lack of sources. When I upgraded to Windows 7 in 2012 I lost a lot of my research and I am still trying to recover it by what I saved on CDs. Most of it was scribbled on philosophy class notes. When I find them I will update accordingly.

Happy New Year

Happy new year to everyone.

I miss hanging out here and discussing things, especially the folks that I don't agree with :)

Be good, or be bad, but be safe.

A Shamanic Kundalini Awakening

Some of you might be interested in my new book, A Shamanic Kundalini Awakening. Some of the experiences also feature in Mike Clelland's Owl book, featured at the top of the page:)

Something Something in Bangalore

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Historical Basis of King Arthur

Ok, everybody is out watching the new Star Wars movie, so this post is probably pointless!

Ralph Ellis emailed me recently to let me know about his new book on King Arthur and the Grail. So, that got me thinking about this topic again.

Schematically, I think it should be quite obvious that King Arthur, Guinevere, Sir Galahad and Lancelot were based on leading royal figures in the run up to the Fall of Rome in the 5th Century.

King Arthur associates very well with King Arcadius, as their names are closely related. Arca and Arthur both have the meaning of "Bear".

Guinevere is based on the contemporary royal heiress Aelia Galla Placidia daughter of the Roman Emperor Theodosius. The names of Placidia and Guinevere are closely synonymous.

Arcadius besieged Rome (under his Gothic alias of Alaric) and extracted Placida from her "fortress/tower" (ala Joshua had Rahab and Alexander had Roxane).

However, the Grail story provides an explanation for why Arcadius did not succeed, as expected, to propagate the royal line through Placidia. At the very least it explains why Arcadius did not propagate the royal line by default. Other royal males had to be given the opportunity to produce royal children. That was the royal culture.

Placidia had a scandalous affair with her half-brother Honorius. The royal family increasingly attempted to disguise such relationships, but in this case they failed to do so, or just failed to exercise discretion.

The name of Placidia's mother had been Galla. (Galerian and Gallus were the names of former Roman Emperors.) The Grail character name of Galahad must have derived from this royal Roman historical name. If Gallus was not a name applied to Honorius, then there was also a prince named Constantius Gallus during this time period.

The name Lancelot links to the other major contemporary "knight" of the Era, namely Stilicho. Stilicho can be parsed as "(Man) of Steel" or "Little (Man) of Steel". Stilicho is also similar in form to the modern day fashion weapon, the Stiletto ("Little Steel").

Does it need to be more complicated than this???

And We Are Not Gods

"We are no other than a moving row Of Magic Shadow-shapes that come and go Round with the Sun-illumined Lantern held In Midnight by the Master of the Show."

-Omar Khayyam

“[Puppets] are unreal. When they are in motion, we know they are moved by an outside force. When they speak, their voices come from elsewhere. Their orders come from somewhere behind and beyond them. And were they ever to become aware of that fact, they would collapse at the horror of it all, as would we.”

-Thomas Ligotti, from The Conspiracy Against the Human Race

We were talking the other night about predestination. That is to say, fate or destiny. Predestination is the idea that our lives are planned out for us and we only think we're calling the shots. But unbeknownst to us all we're doing little more than treading the colorful threads of a grand tapestry whose design and ultimate purpose we can only guess at. Or more likely, we’re unaware a tapestry exists at all.

I think most people when they consider predestination imagine a deity, a religiously envisioned creator like the Judeo-Christian god as its architect. But that needn't be the case for predestination to be feasible. We think of god as the originator of destiny because if fate does exist then there must be an outside force directing it toward an end point with an intended purpose in mind. Designs, simple or complex, must have a designer, after all.

Enter the great and powerful deity.

But I think of it this way: imagine a video game, one of your son's games, for example. It's populated by all manner of characters traipsing through various digital landscapes. This game took teams of designers years to draw and paint and code and program and tinker-with. And that doesn't begin to address the storylines unfolding within the game—someone had to write those, too. A sprawling crew was involved in the production of, say, Halo 4. And that is but a single game in a prolific industry. Now imagine those characters are not so dissimilar from you and I. Imagine them endowed with consciousness, self-awareness, that they are plagued with an incurable sense of curiosity--just like us. And like us, they begin asking questions about their environment, and the meaning of their lives, questions about why they are so different from the creatures around them, and how they—the characters at issue—came to exist at all. Some would undoubtedly conclude there must be an unseen god behind it all who fashioned them from unformed clay and breathed into their fragile bodies the magic of life. And maybe the skeptics in their ranks scoff, and laugh at them for fools, and say: "You're so stupid. We evolved from primordial goo that bubbled beneath the earth for eons untold, till one day we stood erect, and walked, and fornicated, and demanded ten dollar cappuccinos from fashionable cafes." But all the while these digital puppets, completely oblivious to reality, are being manipulated by your son, sitting OUTSIDE their contrived environments, controller in hand, making these characters bob and weave and parry and thrust.

And here's the point of this talk: We know your son is not a god. He knows it, too. But the characters in the game?--they know nothing of the kind. And if they could construct a magic window into his world they would undoubtedly see him as a superior being. And they would be right. But they might also make other assumptions about him. They might conclude, for instance, that he must be a god. But we know he's just a kid playing a game. We also know the game they inhabit was brought about by professionals who design many such games, and that they do so only for the profit they bring. The game's designers care not for their digital creations. Not in any personal sense as, say, a mother would love her child. Their creators may value the game for the artistic challenge its fulfillment offers, for the intellectual satisfaction of fabricating something so technically demanding. But love? What's that got to do with it?

So, I'm using video games to illustrate how predestination could be feasible without a deity. By an outside force the gaming characters in this scenario are being directed toward a predetermined goal. Their lives are not their own. And, of course, we know that the characters populating the game?--they are not real. Or at least not real in the sense they think they are. Binary code is real in that it’s a thing that exists. Programming codes are real, too. It’s simply digital information strung together into a coherent and usable form. But digital information is not alive. Not like you and your son are alive (?) And the complex information employed in creating these worlds and characters is fashioned by intelligent designers—beings like us. And we are not gods.

The Riddle of the Grail

I’ve long been interested in perplexing mysteries: the pyramids of Egypt, UFOs, Atlantis. If it was mysterious I was all over it. And if no one knew the answer—as they inevitably did not—then the mystery intrigued me all the more. Because that meant my answers were likely to be as right as anyone else’s. The best mysteries are democratic like that. So, naturally, tales of King Arthur, Merlin, and the Knights of the Round Table was precisely my kind of thing. My real attraction to Arthurian legend, though, was not so much Arthur or even the wondrous Camelot. Rather, it was the great enigma pursued by the king and his knights: the riddle of the Holy Grail.

Over the years I had done a lot of reading on the subject. As one might guess there are all kinds of theories and fantastic speculations about the Grail and its origins. In at least one of those traditions the Grail is not a cup at all but a stone, and this stone is associated with Lucifer. This particular tradition maintains that a sacred gem was dislodged from Lucifer’s crown upon his Fall from heaven. Lucifer, contrary to later Christian tradition, is associated with wisdom, the attainment of knowledge, and enlightenment. This is reflected in the Genesis story of the Garden of Eden. For this reason a number of secret societies, who down the ages also sought enlightenment, honored Lucifer as their patron. In Latin the name Lucifer translates as Bearer or Bringer of Light.

But I stray from my point.

It was about five years ago that I happened across a Grail story I had not encountered before. It was about sir Galahad. In this tale Galahad finds himself on a remote island. The island was called Sarras. On that island was a city which was also called Sarras. It was here in the city of Sarras that Galahad, after years of questing, had at long last laid hold of the object for which he had searched. He takes up the cup, gazes into it, and is instantly spirited up to heaven. He dies on Sarras having successfully completed his arduous quest. But it’s funny how quirky little things can sometimes lead us to great answers. In this case it was a grammatical quirk in the story. I noticed the word “Sarras” was a palindrome, and although I found that interesting it was a few days yet before an idea would occur to me. I wrote down the word on a piece of paper. I took a pair of scissors and cut the word in half right between the two Rs. I then took a hand mirror and placed one half of the word against the mirror. Because Sarras is a palindrome what the mirror revealed was the other half of the word, thus completing the word entire—SARRAS. This experiment led to an insight.

Upon reading the Galahad story the reader is left to ask a question. The question is: What did Galahad see when he peered into the Grail? The insight from the mirror revealed that what he had witnessed in the cup was his own reflection staring back at him. Galahad discovered in that moment that he is divine and immortal. Thus, he realized Christ's words in the Gospel of John: “Is it not written in your law, I said, Ye are gods?” This, of course, is a reference to a similar passage in Psalms.

Many of the Grail stories we’re familiar with today were significantly shaped—though not originally derived—starting around the 12th century and were heavily influenced by Gnostic traditions; traditions which held that all people bear within them the spark of divinity. But it is up to the people, these same traditions tell us, to realize this truth for themselves. The idea of the Holy Grail serves as a tool to lead those who quest after it to this realization. But what the quester also discovers is that a literal cup is unnecessary and never existed in history. The Grail is a spiritual concept to be grasped rather than an object to be obtained. It's the stories that are important, for it is through the stories that the mystery has been preserved and passed down to posterity.

I believe there is yet another pivotal concept underlying the Grail myths, an idea clamoring for its day in the sun. It was for the heretical nature of this idea that the Albigensians, the Gnostic-steeped Cathars of southern France, were in the early 13th century put to the sword by the prevailing religious authorities. Its time is not yet arrived. But if the suggestive smoke signals on the Mythicist horizon is any indication of things to come, its day under a glorious sun is fast approaching.

Kubrick's Cube

Kubrick's Cube. Any way you turn this it zings off in another direction. Classic Kubrick hall of mirrors stuff.

See video

Scientists discover life 8,000 feet below the ocean floor printable article
Originally published December 11 2015
Scientists discover life 8,000 feet below the ocean floor
by David Gutierrez, staff writer

(NaturalNews) Life has been discovered in an environment with no oxygen, no light and almost no nutrients -- 8,000 feet below the surface of the ocean floor. The findings came from the International Ocean Discovery Program (IODP) and were presented at the America Geophysical Union 2014 Fall Meeting.

The samples were collected from the deepest ocean drilling expedition in history. Even in such an extreme environment, the researchers found single-celled microbes with incredibly slow metabolisms that essentially feed on coal.

"We keep looking for life, and we keep finding it, and it keeps surprising us as to what it appears to be capable of," said researcher Elizabeth Trembath-Reichert, of the California Institute of Technology.

Completely hostile environment
In 2012, researchers sunk a drill to the ocean floor off the coast of Japan's Shimokita Peninsula -- a depth of more than 1,000 m (3,000 ft). They then drilled 2,446 m (8,024 ft) into the bedrock, further than had ever been drilled before. The environment they penetrated -- a deep sea coal bed -- is thought to be completely lightless and anaerobic (lacking in oxygen). Yet, even though nearly all forms of life require either light, oxygen or both, and even though there is nearly no water or organic material in the depths sampled, life was still found.

In order to analyze the mysterious organisms, the researchers tried feeding them various chemical compounds to figure out what they might be eating.

"We chose these coal beds because we knew there was carbon, and we knew that this carbon was about as tasty to eat, when it comes to coal, as you could get for microbes, " Trembath-Reichert said. "The thought was that while there are some microbes that can eat compounds in coal directly, there may be smaller organic compounds -- methane and other types of hydrocarbons -- sourced from the coal that the microbes could eat as well."

The experiments showed that the organisms were in fact digesting methyl compounds. Perhaps due to their sparse environments, they have incredibly slow metabolisms -- using the absolute minimum amount of energy needed to keep themselves alive.

Discovery raises new questions, possibilities
The researchers next hope to discover how diverse the deep sea coal bed ecosystem is -- does it contain a wide variety of species, or just a handful? They also hope to discover how life managed to colonize such a remote and hostile biological niche.

"Were these microbes just in a swamp, and loving life in a swamp, because there is all sorts of carbon available, oxygen, organic matter... and then that gets buried?" Trembath-Reichert said, referring to the terrestrial habitats that, over the span of geological time, eventually turned into oceanic coal deposits.

"It could be that they didn't get a chance to escape -- they couldn't exactly walk out. So is it that they were there to begin with and then they could maintain life? Or were they like microbes that were able to travel down to those depths from the surface?"

The discovery of the organisms also calls into question the conventional wisdom about the earth's carbon cycle. The deep-sea microbes were discovered to digest hydrocarbons and turn them into methane, and thereby contribute to emitting greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. This may cause researchers to reassess the role played by the ocean in regulating the planet's climate.

Research into "extremophiles" -- organisms that live in extreme habitats -- is also considered to have significant implications for the search for life on other planets. Each discovery pushes the boundaries for what types of planets could potentially support life.

In 2012, scientists discovered life in the lightless, freezing waters of an Antarctic lake covered by more than 60 feet of ice, six times saltier than sea water and with levels of nitric oxide high enough to poison nearly all known life forms.

Sources for this article include:

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The Secret Teachers of the Western World

This is an excerpt from my new book, The Secret Teachers of the Western World,a look at the history of the western esoteric tradition as seen through the lens of new developments in split-brain theory and  the evolution of consciousness.

My central argument is that the western esoteric tradition has been the victim of a smear campaign, conducted by the left brain against the right. Yet despite the efforts of reductionist minds to eradicate it, the western esoteric tradition remains and throughout the book I show how its insights and intuitions have informed some of the most important figures in western culture and thought. The following section shows how Dante's Divine Comedy can be read as a key text in what the poet and William Blake scholar Kathleen Raine calls "the learning of the imagination."


Dante’s Inner Voyage

Like all great masterworks, The Divine Comedy can be read on several levels, and Dante himself, in his adoption of four levels of reading – his “polysemous interpretation” that we can trace back to the Neoplatonists – tells us that there are different ways to understand his account of his inner journey. In a letter to his benefactor, Can Grande (“Big Dog”) - to whom he dedicated The Divine Comedy  - Dante spelled out  what he meant. There were, he said, two basic ways of reading, the literal and the symbolic, a distinction we have come across before. But symbolic reading itself has gradations, what Dante called the allegorical, the moral, and the anagogic.

The literal reading of Dante’s journey, he told Can Grande, is simply the state of the soul after death. His narrative can be read simply as a Christian vision of what happens to the soul when we die. “Allegorical” in Dante’s time had a particular meaning, and had to do with showing how events in the Old Testament prefigured those in the New Testament, thereby showing that the Old Testament is a “pre-echo” of Christ’s coming, and how He is its fulfilment. The moral sense is a kind of psychological reading; it tells us of the state of the soul. So while the literal sense of Dante’s opening line “Midway along the journey of our life/I woke to find myself in a dark wood,” tells us that, at around thirty-five, Dante found himself in a dense forest, the moral reading means that Dante found himself in a state of alienation, of uncertainty about himself and his life, what we call a “mid-life crisis.”

All of these different levels are important, but the level of interpretation that concerns us most here is the anagogic, that is, the spiritual, which, in modern terms, we can say relates to changes in Dante’s consciousness. “The inner journey of the poet” that Dante undertakes is, as Kathleen Raine puts it, “an exploration of the psyche, of the inner worlds and states of the poet himself.” And as Swedenborg would say some centuries later, the hells Dante enters are not literal places of torment, but “states” of the soul, constricting circles of selfishness and egocentricity which the poet must confront before he can be free of them. Here the literal, left-brain approach to reading must be abandoned and a more metaphorical tack taken, something Dante told Can Grande in his letter. And while The Divine Comedy is full of Dante’s personal animosities, his political views, and some fairly orthodox Christian teaching, it is also an attempt to synthesize all the knowledge that was available to him at the time, of both the spiritual and the secular worlds, into a universal vision, an attempt, that is, at unifying our two disparate cognitive halves into a coherent whole.

It is not too difficult to find signs that Dante’s inner journey shares in many of the esoteric themes encountered in this book. The three main settings for his inner voyage – hell, purgatory, and paradise – can be seen as the basic blueprint for spiritual awakening. Hell, then, is the material world we find ourselves in, with its allurements and traps and restrictions. It is a kind of false, half- life, and like many of us, when Dante awakens to the fact that it is leading nowhere, that its temptations are hollow – when, that is, he finds himself in the dark wood - he is disturbed, and seeks a way out of it.

Purgatory represents the initiatory trials, the purifications and spiritual struggles necessary to free the soul from the weight of  matter and prepare it for its spiritual awakening. This happens in paradise, when the soul, hitherto lost in darkness, has risen in the light of the divine, and having been freed from false desires and vision, shares in the brilliance of the true light and beholds the unity of all creation. That it is the Virgin who grants Dante the supreme vision, and that this consists of an “exalted light,” tells us that his mystical experience is in the Sophianic and Neoplatonic tradition; Dante even tells us that when Dionysius the Areopagite thought of the “angelic orders,” he named them “true and best.” That Dante’s journey takes place from Good Friday to Easter links it to similar “rebirth” narratives we have looked at, and that he sees God as three concentric circles symbolizing the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit reminds us of one of Plotinus’s few concessions to imagery, when he depicts the One, the Intellect, and the World Soul in the same way.

 Dante’s inner geography is also in line with the different but similar ontological ladders we have encountered so far. The journey from the circles of Hell, up through Mount Purgatory and Paradise, leads to the same celestial trajectory as the Hermetic “journey through the planets.” Having passed from the earth, Dante must travel through the “seven heavens” (the planets) that will lead him to the “eighth” and “ninth heaven,” rather as the Hermetist travelled to the “eighth” and “ninth sphere,” or as the kabbalist worked his way through the sephiroth. Here, the seven deadly sins of hell, after being transformed through Dante’s struggles in purgatory, become the cardinal virtues in service to the divine order, just as the Hermetist transmuted the heavy weight of the planets into spiritual energies transforming the soul.

At the top of this mystical spiral, Dante has a vision of the transcendent God, of the Neoplatonic One, the “tenth heaven” that is beyond time, space, and matter. Here Dante is beyond words; he has reached the union with the divine sought by those who walk the via negativa. Yet Dante asks the “Light supreme” to relent a little, so that he is not entirely overcome and so that in his words “may burn/One single spark of all Thy glory’s light/For future generations to discern.” Like all writers, Dante wants to communicate his experience, to capture it so that it will not disappear, “as the sun melts the imprint on the snow.” The ultimate experience of the divine may be beyond expression but Dante the poet, a traveller on the via positiva, knows that man needs beauty, images and symbols in order to truly love. We should be thankful that the divine granted Dante his wish, and dimmed its glory, so that we can share in some small part of it.

This plea for the need for images and symbols links Dante to the Imaginal World, to Suhrawardi’s intermediary realm, through which the reader of The Divine Comedy has just journeyed. Like “the stranger” in Suhrawardi’s “initiatory tales”, Dante meets an inner figure who will serve as his guide, something C.G. Jung would also do some centuries later when he embarked on his own descent into the underworld during his own “mid-life crisis” following the breakup of his friendship with Freud. In the first two parts of Dante’s voyage, through hell and purgatory, his guide is Virgil (70 B.C. – 19 B.C.), the Roman poet who, like Homer before him, and like Orpheus before Homer, made the journey into the underworld. Yet Virgil, who represents the best of the classical world, can only take Dante so far. When he reaches the limits of the earthly realm Virgil must hand over his charge to Beatrice, who will take Dante further: we can say that philosophy and reason (the left brain) must allow insight and intuition (the right brain) to take charge now. In order to reach Beatrice, Dante has had to climb through Mount Purgatory, much as “the stranger” in Suhrawardi’s initiatory tales must make his way up the difficult slopes of “Mount Qâf,” the “cosmic mountain,” in order to find his true self and reach the “spiritual city,” Hūrqalyā.

The outskirts of Hūrqalyā, we’ve seen,  start at the “convex surface” of the “Ninth Sphere, or Sphere of Spheres” which encompasses the whole cosmos, much as the Primum Mobile or “Ninth Heaven” of Dante’s geocentric system is the last layer of materiality before the transcendent realms of the unmanifest source. In pointing out these similarities between Dante’s journey and Suhrawardi’s account of his own inner voyages, I am not suggesting that Dante somehow knew of Suhrawardi’s work, although we have seen that there is good reason to believe that the Arabic and Sufi versions of central Neoplatonic themes  most likely informed the Sophianic tradition within which Dante worked. More important and initiatory in its own right, is the recognition that Dante and Suhrawardi’s accounts are similar because they both journeyed to the same place, to the “inner worlds and states of the poet himself.” That is, into the human mind or, as we have already called it, the mundus imaginalis, the Imaginal World that resides within and without all of us.

Although Dante’s and Suhrawardi’s inner worlds are decorated, so to say, with the symbols and iconography of their own particular place and time – Catholic and Islamic as the case may be – the basic terrain, the fundamental geography is the same. We can say that both share a kind of similar topography of the imagination. This is a tradition, not in Guénon’s sense of a specific doctrine handed down through the ages, but in Kathleen Raine’s sense of a “learning of the Imagination.” It is a tradition that has its source, not in a “secret teaching,” revealed to mystic sages at the dawn of time, but in the human mind itself.