Nestor 'n Minerva
Alessandro di Cagliostro was born at Palermo, Sicily, in 1743. It is recounted that he traveled to many sacred sites in Egypt, Rhodes, Greece and Persia and was initiated into a number of mystery schools. He studied alchemy and the occult sciences and gained widespread notoriety as a thinker and healer.
There is also no one individual who has become so black and white. The biographers have chosen sides and he was either an immoral charlatan or a remarkable beacon of Light. This writer personally aligns himself with the latter view - although this is based on a gut reaction. Perhaps Cagliostro was both rogue and luminary but the credible historical accounts of his life bespeak a man who gave of himself to others.
Crowds at that time who had heard of his powers would swarm him when he was passing through their towns. The record stipulates that he healed countless people and that he was able to make himself visible in two locations simultaneously.
Louis XVI of France took Cagliostro under his wing - convinced of the man's powers - and this obviously afforded the sage acceptance into that society's upper class.
So here was an individual who was lauded by both rich and poor, who was involved with strange cures and even more secretive 'occult' rituals, and had the alchemical knowledge to transmute base metals into gold. How could such an individual not attract enemies - especially those within the hierarchy of the Roman Church?
Cagliostro was falsely accused in the well-noted diamond necklace incident and, even though the defense prevailed, he was imprisoned in the Bastille anyway. From there he was able to flee to England where he wrote of the corruption he had witnessed. This only aggravated the situation and he had to go on the run again - this time to Switzerland, and then eventually to Italy.
In 1789 Cagliostro was arrested for his involvement in organizing Freemason lodges in Rome. He was sentenced to life imprisonment and died two years later at the age of fifty. All of Cagliostro's research manuscripts and philosophical treatises were confiscated by Church officials - the same bureaucrats and religious functionaries who no doubt had a hand in ensuring that tainted biographies of this 'people's martyr' would work their way into mainstream publications.
Cagliostro - truly an enigma; a man of complexity, learning and mystery.
Moslem thinkers were a vital link between the civilizations of the past (Egyptian / Greek) and the Renaissance. One of the most famed was Avicenna (Abu Ali al-Husayn Ibn Abdallah Ibn Sina born 979 A.D.).
Avicenna was a Persian philosopher / physician who was reared within the intelligentsia and exposed to philosophical and mystical ideas in his early childhood. Before he even reached his teens he was already studying the Koran, mathematics and medicine. At seventeen years of age he healed the Samanid leader Ibn Mansur and, in the process, managed to secure a court position. The royal library afforded him the knowledge and discernment he was so avidly seeking and he soon developed and became known as one of the most percipient minds of that era.
Avicenna was influenced significantly by Aristotle and a major focus of his life's work was the wish to harmonize religion and philosophy. He visited much of the civilized world and spent the final decade of his life as court physician to Ala Addaula.
He wrote over 100 books and his Canon Of Medicine was translated into Latin - becoming the cardinal medical treatise in Europe until the 17th century. His alchemical studies led Avicenna to father new compounds and medicines and his Book of Healing (Kitab al-Shifa) was a compilation of the knowledge of the ancient world.
"In medicine we ought to know the causes of sickness and health. And because health and sickness and their causes are sometimes manifest, and sometimes hidden and not to be comprehended except by the study of symptoms, we must also study the symptoms of health and disease". Avicenna
Jacob Boehme was born in 1575 (Bohemia), the son of illiterate peasant stock. He did learn to read and write but left school to become a shoemaker's apprentice.
At the age of 25 he had his first in a series of 'illuminations' and it was from these experiences of Cosmic Consciousness, if you will, that he amassed his knowledge of the Divine order of nature.
He wrote numerous treatises about the revelations that he had apperceived in the 'Light' and, as a consequence, severely angered the local clergy. Boehme and his family were ostracized by the citizens of Goerlitz and he was even banished for a period of time until he agreed to stop writing.
Boehme did cease and desist for about seven years but then resumed his work. The personal attacks by the religious community (especially a parson named Gregorious Richter) recommenced and Boehme was hounded until the day of his death at the age of 49.
Boehme took his rightful place within the heart of Christian mysticism. He saw a unified existence where the 'dark' energies were not evil but simply on a course towards transmutation. Man's knowledge of eternal self was latent within - and not lost. Every atom of creation held within itself the entirety of creation and the mind of man was forever connected to its transcendent matrix. And we created our reality with our thoughts and actions and then also modified and utterly transformed what we had just generated.
"Man is a product of three worlds. His spirit is of God, his soul from the constellation of the astral elements, his body from the elements of the terrestrial plane. In each of these aspects he partakes of the attributes of the principle from which he has originated. As a spirit he is, and has been, and will always be, immortal; and is even now in heaven, from which he has never departed. As a product of the astral plane, he is subject to the conditions existing therein, while his physical form must dissolve again into the elements to which it belongs. With whatever of these three states man identifies himself, that state will be his own". J. Boehme
Phillipus Aureolus Theophrastus Bombast von Hohenheim was born in 1493. His father, a famed physician and metaphysician in his own right, tutored him in the fundamentals of alchemy and medicine. At the age of 16 he enrolled in the University of Basel, Switzerland, to further his education.
Manly Hall has referred to Paracelsus as "the precursor of chemical pharmacology and therapeutics and the most original medical thinker of the 16th century".
Paracelsus traveled quite extensively throughout Europe, Russia and the Far East. He was initiated into various mystery schools in the Orient (Constantinople) and imbibed wisdom / arcana from a number of Arabian adepts.
When he returned to Europe he eventually took a position as a professor of medicine at the University of Basel and his fame as a healer spread throughout the land. Unfortunately his unorthodox ideas, cures, methods and personal behaviours did not go over very well with the medical establishment. He was forced yet again into a nomad's existence.
Jealousy, resentment and conflict with his medical peers followed him throughout his sojourns in Colmar, Nuremburg, Hungary and Austria. He was excoriated wherever he went but his ability to heal also spawned an army of admirers who accorded him the respect and devotion befitting a man of his extraordinary metaphysical prowess and craft.
"We have no right to call a disease incurable; we have only the right to say that we cannot cure it. A physician who trusts only in his own science will accomplish little, but he who has faith in the power of God acting through him, and who employs that power intelligently, will accomplish much". Paracelsus
The Knights of the Temple came into existence around 1120 A.D. This Order was established during the Crusades (when European Christians were attempting to take back the Holy Land from the Moslems).
There has been much written about the Templars and, in point of fact, there were different facets to this congress of knights. They were affiliated with the Roman Church. They did battle the Moslems but their primary function was to safeguard pilgrims visiting the Holy Land. It is said that many of them became wealthy bankers / moneylenders. But at the core of the Order was their study of the Cosmic / mystical laws of the universe. The fame of the Templars was so widespread that it was the heartfelt aspiration of untold young men, poor and advantaged, to be accepted into this organization.
Jacques de Molay was born in 1243. His family was well-to-do and the young de Molay joined the Knights Templar in his early twenties. Although he did journey to Syria he was much more enthralled by the metaphysical purposes of this Order and spent many years in study, contemplation and spiritual exercise. After about 30 years in service (1297 A.D.) he was elected Grand Master.
At this time the Order was a very affluent and influential entity. It was becoming far too liberal as far as the monarchy and the religious establishment were concerned (stressing freedom of thought, for example) and it became more than Philip IV of France could bear.
The king summoned de Molay to court and leveled charges of treason and immorality. De Molay defended the Order and appealed to the Pope but, nevertheless, was imprisoned. Many knights were also accused of heresy by various panels of the Inquisition and were then tortured and/or jailed.
Pope Clement aligned himself with Philip IV and de Molay and many Templars were convicted of heresy and sentenced to life imprisonment. De Molay continued to defend himself and the Order and, fearful of all the public empathy that he was attracting, the French king ordered the Grand Master to be burned at the stake. Jacques de Molay died true to his ideals and his life-long mystical quest.
Hildegard of Bingen has been called by her admirers "one of the most important figures in the history of the Middle Ages," and "the greatest woman of her time." Her time was the 1100's, the century of Eleanor of Aquitane, of Peter Abelard and Bernard of Clairvaux, a century which saw the rise of great universities and the building of the Chartres cathedral.
The daughter of a knight, she was born in 1098 in Bermersheim, a town which is now part of Germany. When she was eight years old she was sent by her parents to be educated at the Benedictine monastery in Mount St. Disibode which followed the Celtic tradition of housing both men and women (in separate quarters). At the age of eighteen she became a nun. Twenty years later, she was made the head of the female community at the monastery. During the following four years, she had a series of visions and devoted the years from 1140 to 1150 to writing them down, describing them (including drawings of what she had seen) and commenting on their interpretation and significance. A commission from Pope Eugenius III found her teaching orthodox and her insights authentic and reported this to the Pope who sent her a letter of approval. Her response was a letter to the Pope urging him to work harder for reform of the Church.
When the community of nuns at Mount St. Disibode outgrew the facilities there Hildegard moved them to a location near Bingen and founded a monastery for them completely independent of the double monastery they had left. She oversaw construction of the monastery which included features such as water pumped in through pipes, something not common at that time.
Hildegard travelled throughout Germany, into Switzerland and as far as Paris, preaching. Her sermons deeply moved the hearers and she was asked to provide written copies.
She died on September 17, 1179. Her surviving works include more than a hundred letters to emperors, popes, bishops, nuns and nobility. Many persons of all classes wrote to her, asking for her advice, prompting one biographer to call her "the Dear Abby of the twelfth century". She wrote 72 songs including a play set to music. Many consider her a musical genius and certainly her compositional style is like nothing else from the twelfth century. The play set to music is called the Ordo Virutum which shows us a human soul who listens to the Virtues, turns aside to follow the Devil, and finally returns to the Virtues, having found that following the Devil does not make one happy.
Hildegard left us about seventy poems and nine books. Two of the books are of medical and pharmaceutical advice, dealing with the workings of the human body and the properties of various herbs. The information in these two books is based on her observations and those of others, not on her visions.
Her major works are three books on theology: Scivias (Know the paths!), Liber Vitae Meritorum (on ethics) and De Operatione Dei. They deal with the material of her visions. These visions, as she describes them, are often enigmatic but deeply moving. Many who have studied them believe that they have learned something from the visions that is not easily put into words.
Many readers of Hildegard's works have found in her visions, or read into them, themes that seem to speak to many modern concepts.
Although she would have rejected much of the rhetoric of women's liberation, she never hesitated to say what she thought needed to be said, or to do what she thought needed to be done, simply because she was a woman. When Pope or Emperor needed a rebuke, she rebuked them.
Her writings bring science, art and religion together. She is deeply involved in all three, and looks to each for insights that will enrich her understanding of the others.
Her use of parable and metaphor, of symbols, visual imagery, and non-verbal means to communicate makes her work reach out to many who are totally deaf to more standard approaches.
She wrote and spoke extensively about social justice, about freeing the downtrodden, about the duty of seeing to it that every human being, made in the image of God, has the opportunity to develop and use the talents that God has given him/her, and to realize his/her God-given potential. This strikes a chord today.
Hildegard wrote explicitly about the natural world as God's creation, charged through and through with His beauty and His energy - entrusted to our care, to be used by us for our benefit, but not to be mangled or destroyed.
One of the most beloved deities in Buddhism, Quan Yin is the embodiment of compassionate, loving kindness. As the Bodhisattva of Compassion she hears the cries of all beings and enjoys a strong resonance with Mary, the Mother of Jesus, and the Tibetan goddess Tara.
Quan Yin, a true Enlightened One, vowed to remain in the earthly realms and not enter the heavenly worlds until all other living things have completed their own enlightenment and thus become liberated from the cycle of birth, death and rebirth.
The Goddess of Mercy is unique among the heavenly hierarchy in that She is so utterly free from pride or vengefulness that She remains reluctant to punish even those to whom a severe lesson might be appropriate.
Numerous legends recount the miracles which Quan Yin performs to help those who call upon her. Like Artemis, she is a virgin Goddess who protects women, offers them a religious life as an alternative to marriage and grants children to those who desire them.
Quan Yin is depicted in many different ways, often shown carrying the pearls of illumination or pouring water, the "Water of Life", from a small vase. With this water all living things are blessed with physical and spiritual peace. She holds a sheaf of ripe rice or a bowl of rice seed as a metaphor for fertility and sustenance. The dragon, an ancient symbol for high spirituality, wisdom, strength and diving powers of transformation is a common motif found in combination with the Goddess of Mercy. Sometimes she is represented as a many armed figure, with each hand either containing a different cosmic symbol or expressing a specific ritual position or mudra. This characterizes the Goddess as the source and sustenance of all things.
The many stories and anecdotes featuring this Goddess convey the idea of an enlightened being who embodies the attributes of an all pervasive, all consuming, unwavering loving compassion and who is accessible to everyone.
Contemplating the Goddess of Mercy involves little dogma or ritual. The simplicity of this gentle being and Her standards tend to lead Her devotees towards becoming more compassionate and loving themselves. A deep sense of service to all fellow beings naturally follows any devotion to the Goddess. As a result of this way of thinking the world slowly and inevitably becomes a better place.
In certain historical circles he has been called - the world's first individual - and his contribution to us all rests on the fact that he was one of the initial mortals of note, if not the very first, to advocate the worship of one god (monotheism).
He started a religious revolution from the moment he sat on the throne, castigating the priests of Oman and their idol adoration and deification. He symbolically looked to the Sun as the font of Divine Light, called it Aton, and characterized it as a golden disc with its rays pictured as extending hands.
Aton was to him the true creator of all life. Amenhotep changed his name to Akhnaton ("Aton is satisfied") and abolished the worship of other gods. He erected a new Egyptian capital city (Akhetaton - the horizon of Aton - with the site later being known as Tell-el-Amarna). The location was chosen because of its powerful position on the earth's energy grid. Many buildings and temples were constructed. Akhnaton and his wife Nefertiti devoted themselves to Aton and to nature and to the arts.
Because of his intrinsic pacifism Akhnaton did not continue in the footsteps of his empire building forefathers. He neglected foreign affairs and in the process started losing huge chunks of the Egyptian dominion (Syria and Nubia, for example). The priests of Amon, who had resented the pharaoh from the beginning and who certainly were not going to accept their loss of power and status, began their campaign to re-establish their "tradition" and moved the country's capital back to Thebes. Using all available means, including the shaky economy, they managed to literally erase every reform Akhnaton had made and the light of Akhetaton was extinguished so that years later it was almost impossible to tell that a city had even existed there.
"Thy dawning is beautiful in the horizon of the sky, O living Aton, Beginning of life. When thou risest in the eastern horizon, Thou fillest every land with thy beauty". Akhnaton
Nagarjuna was born in Andhra, India, approximately 100 A.D. Most of the details surrounding his life are speculatory and subject to debate - depending on which historian you wish to believe.
It seems that Nagarjuna became a novice monk at a fairly early age and was tutored in both meditation and medicine by an individual names Saraha. His intellectual prowess combined with his psychic abilities translated into his emergence and then eminence as a widely celebrated physician.
Legend has it that he once cured a king and in gratitude was permitted access to the Prajnaparamita - treatises hidden from the general public by Buddha himself over 500 years hence. Nagarjuna spent years studying this ancient knowledge and his translations of same became the foundation of Tibetan metaphysics.
In the field of medicine he indited the Sushruta Samhita - which became the cornerstone of the Indian materia medica. And he also became a master alchemist, not only adept in the art of gold-making, but also contributing immeasurably to the development of Tantra (inner alchemy).
Legend also states that Nagarjuna lived for a long time but was then murdered by a jealous crown prince. It is said that he knew of the assassin's plan but true to form, because of his empathy for others and his disattachment to his own physical being, chose not to intervene with the prince's machinations.
Louis Claude de Saint-Martin was born in 1745 in Amboise, France. Blessed with intellect and piety during his youth he graduated with a legal degree, turned his back on it, and embarked on the mystical path while still in his early 20's. His spiritual quest led him to Don Martines Pasqually de la Tour.
Pasqually was the founder of the Order of the Elect Cohens, an organization engendered by a number of time-honoured sacred fraternities. He schooled Saint-Martin through the stages of ritual, initiation, awakening - and upon his demise in 1774 the door was left open for eager student to eventually lead this metaphysical lodge (later to become known as the Martinist Order).
Saint-Martin then composed his most noted tome - Of Errors And Of Truth - and became the persona grata not only of the occult / mystical fraternity but elect French society as well.
Saint-Martin attracted countless individuals to the spiritual path via his writings and leadership before passing through transition in 1803. The Traditional Martinist Order survives to this very day.
Ramon Llull was born around 1235 A.D. in Palma de Mallorca, just off the coast of Spain. He led a courtly life of privilege, prominence and wealth and became a bit of a rake, even after he married.
Around the age of thirty he suddenly abandoned his libertine life, renounced the material world and his possessions, and imagined a new path for himself as a converter of Moslems to the Christian way of life. However, his message was going to be one of peace and enlightenment.
Llull's philosophical foundation most likely was birthed on Mount Randa in 1272. Here he experienced illumination, the oneness of all things, the reflection of Divine Essence in all that was. In his seminal work - the ARS MAGNA - he was to write about the "Dignities of God" - of Goodness and Virtue and Truth, and the existence of these qualities in all of creation.
Although the Moslem conversion that he had laboured for obviously did not materialize, his mystical / Sufi way of thinking was a noble, profound steppingstone towards the honourable fixed purpose of universal understanding and harmony.
Hermes Trismegistus (Hermes the Thrice-great) lived during the 18th Egyptian dynasty, around 1400 B.C. Who he really was is a matter of speculation - perhaps the actual father of Alchemy and mystical philosophy, or the compiled writings that are left to us (albeit retranslated many times) being the end product of a group of sages, or perhaps Hermes was simply a myth. Some have written that he was the teacher of Abraham or an Atlantean who was deified as Thoth.
We can attempt to trace some of the history. Alexander the Great established the most celebrated and illustrious library of its time in Alexandria and much of the extant ancient wisdom was rendered into Greek. The main translator was said to be a temple priest by the name of Manetho. As we all know this library was obliterated from the face of the earth and we can only surmise as to the profundity and depth of scholarship it may have contained.
Some of Manetho's work then seemed to resurface during the early centuries of Christianity and was alternatively praised or damned, depending on which Church Father was assessing its worthiness.
In the eleventh century a Greek scholar by the name of Michael Psellus obtained an ancient copy of some of the work and these writings were eventually amassed under the heading of Corpus Hermeticum. The initial printed material was in Greek and Latin. The first English edition arrived around 1650 and was entitled the Divine Pymander of Hermes Mercurius Trismegistus.
The 19th century witnessed a rejuvenated fascination in alchemy and the Hermetic works. The wisdom was republished by various men / women of letters (the Emerald Table, Kybalion).
Whoever Hermes was, there is no question that the original treatises that came to light have become the bedrock of esoteric / alchemical thought and have certainly furthered our collective spiritual discernment.