BLTC Press Titles

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Through the Looking Glass

Lewis Carroll

Darby O'Gill and the Little People

Hermenie Templeton Kavanagh

Esoteric Buddhism

A. P. Sinnett

The Worm Ouroboros

E. R. Eddison

Jacob Boehme: his life and teaching

by Hans Martensen


IT is not with Bohme that Theosophy makes its first appearance in history. It dates back to pre-Christian times, and is found already among the Hebrew people. "Not only salvation, but also wisdom comes from the Jews," says Franz Baader. We are alluding to the Jewish Kabbala, a theosophic tradition, which has propagated and developed itself by the side of the historical revelation. It dates back to the patriarchs, to Moses, who must have had a deeper knowledge of the mysteries of God than was entrusted to men in general; and it has been augmented throughout the ages. The writings themselves belong, for the most part, to a later period. Some of the books were not composed until the time of Christ. One important work, "Sohar," or "Lustre," which contains the theosophical conversations of Rabbi Simeon with his disciples, was commenced in the second century after Christ, and was not completed until the twelfth century. But it must here be observed that from the composition of the books at a later period no certain conclusion can be drawn as to the antiquity of their contents. A doctrine may be orally transmitted for long periods of time before being committed to writing, although in the Middle Ages it was liable to be coloured by more distinctly Christian influences.

The Kabbala has a theoretical and a practical division. The theoretical portion consists of traditions with regard to the Being of God, Trinity, the Fall of the angels and of the devil, the origin of darkness and matter, the Mosaic history of creation, which the Kabbala regards not as a history of creation in the most absolute sense of the term, but as the history of a renovated cosmic order, a restitution of the world which had been transformed into chaos (Tohu Vabohu) by the Fall of the angels. It treats of the creation and fall of man, of Redemption, and of the consummation of the world by the Messiah. The practical portion has for its subject the cleansing of souls, sanctification, and union with God.

The religious philosophy of Philo of Alexandria may also be classed with Jewish theosophy.

Although some have regarded the heretical Gnosticism, with which the early Church had to contend, as a species of Christian theosophy, we must maintain that these systems are rather to be viewed as caricatures of Christian theosophy, as rank offshoots, which have not borne, nor can bear, any fruit for the Christian spirit. They are medleys of Greek and Oriental Paganism with the admixture of distorted Christian and Kabbalistic ingredients.

The germs of a genuine theosophy are to be found, however, in the Middle Ages, in the great John Scotus Erigena, blended, it is true, with Neoplatonic and Areopagitic speculation, also in Thomas Aquinas. But the Middle Ages were more propitious to the culture of subjective mysticism than to that of Theosophy properly so called, although the latter is not left without witness among the more speculatively-gifted Mystics. We must mention as special forerunners of Bohme the whole band of German Mystics, Eckart, Tauler, Suso, and the author of the " Theologia Germanica," who may also be said to have contributed to the Reformation. Impossible as it may be to ascertain whether Bohme had read their works, still, an indirect influence from mediaeval Mysticism, as well as from the Kabbala, which about the time of the Reformation had come into more general knowledge (Pico of Mirandola, Reuchlin), can scarcely be denied.


But a leading postulate for Bohme is his epoch itself, and the multifarious agitation that was taking place in the minds of men, an agitation that had begun long before Luther, and which continued after him. Not only the religious consciousness, but the general consciousness of man, had been emancipated. And, simply to lay stress upon what relates to our present subject, the human mind was not only searching the Holy Scriptures, for the contents of which a new sense had been revealed; it was also searching the book of nature with new and vigorous scrutiny, which indeed may be done in various ways. Here, then, must be mentioned the great Bacon of Verulam, who gave such powerful impulses to the whole natural science of modern times, which is based upon the inductive method, upon observation, and experiment. Still, it is not Bacon who must be regarded as a presupposing cause for Bohme, whose contemporary he was, and to whom he furnishes the most pronounced contradiction. Bohme had a quite different postulate for his interpretation of nature. During the period of transition to the Reformation, and subsequently, there had sprung up a natural philosophy, which assumed, among many of its votaries, a theosophic stamp, and remained in cohesion with ideas that had arisen during the Middle Ages. This mystical natural philosophy, which is strongly influenced by the Kabbala, busies itself with subjects which, as a rule, wholly evade experimental and exact research, on which account they are usually regarded as chimerical by natural inquirers of the Baconian school. One characteristic feature of this Natural Philosophy is Magic, on which subject Agrippa of Rettesheim wrote a large treatise, "Philosophia Sacra." What Mysticism is with regard to the soul's relation to God, Magic is with regard to the mind's relation to Nature. Just as Mysticism seeks to place itself in relation to God without means, so Magic would set itself in relation to the penetralia of Nature without material means. Magic is a Nature-Mysticism in which man places himself in immediate relation with the spirit in Nature, with the mysterious Divine forces, and, indeed, with God Himself, whose mystery is the innermost thing in Nature.

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