The Heart of the West

Why do most Christians not remember the past? Because they do not love the past. One has to love the pagan past. ~ Valentin Tomberg

Marsilio Ficino, writing in 1471, provided the following list of the founders of the Hermetic Tradition. By building on earlier thinkers, this progression produced a body of profound and sublime thought that has served as the background of Western intellectual right up until modern times. Instead of relying on some arbitrary modernist canon, those seeking to understand or recreate the West as a spiritual entity ought to start with this list. The goal is not to learn what to think but rather how to think, specifically, how to align one’s mind with the spirit of the Heart of the West.

There are some points about this list:

  • Egypt is the ultimate source of Western civilization, not India.
  • Scholars may reject the schema because of the lack of a paper trail. This is not unexpected, since Hermetic teachings were passed on orally and in systems of symbols.
  • Extant writings represent a school started by one of the figures, although gathered, edited and modified by later students.
  • There are those who can only see occult or New Age ideas in these thinkers. This only shows how far we have drifted from the intellectual roots of the West.
  • The beginnings of Hermetism was geographically located in what later became the Roman Empire.

Hermes Trismegistus

An Egyptian priest, Hermes was the founder of Hermetic philosophy and science. Early Christians considered Hermes to be a prophet of Christianity. They recognized in him the existence of a Primordial Tradition whose doctrines are incorporated in all true religions.

Orpheus

He brought music, poetry and literature to the Greeks, all distinctive to the West. He also brought them knowledge of the mystery religions.

Pythagoras

Pythagoras was a Greek who studied in Egypt and then founded an esoteric school in Greece. Mathematics served as the base for his philosophy. The use of number in esoteric symbolism is characteristic of the Western races.

Philolaus

Philolaus continued the work of Pythagoras through his use of mathematics and music. He recognized the existence of ideal forms which define the material world.

Plato

Plato developed the Pythagorean philosophy in great detail. He is the most influential of Western philosophy and Christianity is, as Whitehead famously said, “Platonism for the masses.” Despite the great deal of written material available, Plato’s most important teachings were given orally in the Academy.

Apollonius

Apollonius was a Pythagorean philosopher, teacher and miracle worker.

Plotinus

Plotinus was an Egyptian philosopher who developed the more esoteric aspects of Platonism. Although a pagan, his philosophy was adopted by some of the most important Christian theologians. He spent his life in Rome, thus completing the circle from Egypt to Rome.

27 thoughts on “The Heart of the West

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  4. above–mercantilism “is” triumphing…
    Also whatever reservations some people might have about Christianity, they would do well to remember that if children do not attend Church, they might end up turning to guns…One of my colleagues at work was upset that his wife wanted to send his daughters to a Christian school, they are going to be “brainwashed” he said, which struck me as odd, as what is the alternative? I have often wondered what is the reason for people denigrating religion altogether on the basis of a limited thinking?
    Also religious changes occur gradually and not suddenly, many of the larger changes are quite beyond an individual’s control, it is best people respect the traditions they have and not be too rebellious in my opinion while at the same time keeping an open mind…

  5. Also when I believe the heritage of the West is Greco-Roman, I am not denigrating the role of Christianity, which indeeded took a lot from the Greco-Roman civilization to be able to have the impact that it did. Of course, it is sad to see mechanism and materialism dominating… how nice it is to see houses with Christmas lights here, reminds me of our festival of lights! The big cities seem to be cutting down on Christmas lights as I have observed over the years (it is almost as if pure mercantilism are triumphing), it is sad there are not as much lights in the cities during this season as there used to be…
    The problem is spiritual authority which is often wanting these days, and mobilizing people around that which counters excessive mechanism and materialism….

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  7. This is not to say that modern mathematics is not mostly European in origin. How can you expect Hindus to have continued learning, when they lived for centuries under Islam which does not allow for creative thinking, but takes the learning of others and makes it its own? No civilization can grow without the flow of ideas, the British ended this stoppage of the flow of knowledge (under centuries of Islam, which destroyed centers of learning and built nothing apart from palaces, gardens, mosques…not a single institution of learning…), despite the colonialism…
    The fact that India still produces a Ramanujan despite the fact that he was a genius who had no formal training in mathematics shows that something is still there in the people…

  8. Also it is worth noticing that the first book on grammar, was by the Sanskrit grammarian Panini, and grammar is related to logic in terms of syntax…Sanskrit being a meticulously rule governed language, so as to be able to recite properly, also the alphabet is arranged according to labials, dentals, palatials and so on, not haphazardly like a, b, c, d,,,,

  9. “Pythagoras was a Greek who studied in Egypt and then founded an esoteric school in Greece. Mathematics served as the base for his philosophy. The use of number in esoteric symbolism is characteristic of the Western races.”

    Again a general statement.
    Again this is not limited to Westerners in antiquity. Consult the Sulba Sutras related to fire altar construction. You see the pythagorean triangles used before Pythagoras. I do not mean to say that the HIndus created this, merely that it existed before Pythagoras, and as for the vegetarianism of Pythagoras, it denotes eastern influence…especially the non-matetialistic aspects…

    The HIndus loved numbers as well, it’s not just a “Western” trait, we get our number system as well as zero (sunyata) from them…Unfortunately Arabs get credit, as Europeans got the system through them (naturally as they occupied the regions between East and West and prevented the spread of ideas and information to our part of the world from the West, while taking our knowledge on the other hand… and initiated the beginning of our dark ages…)

    Even an amaetur wiki entry will show how much numbers meant to HIndus in their philosophic thinking…
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indian_mathematics

  10. “It’s gone nowhere if we only look at quantity.”

    You have avoided the biggest problem with your thinking with a pseudo-guenonian one-liner that doesn’t even apply to the situation, since quantity has nothing to do with preservation of a valid and effective initiatic order of which there are none from the hermetic line surviving today. Until someone provides a real solution all this talk is just romanticism and book learning with a bit of lone mysticism thrown in.

    On another note, Hinduism and Buddhism have influenced Western and Eastern civilizations, especially the Greeks, and so have Western pagan traditions. To declare Greco-egyptian hermetism the heart of the west misses the point entirely. Hermetism is not and never has been a complete tradition. And since it hasn’t survived today in an unbroken chain it makes no sense whatsoever to call for its revival.

  11. Please address the points in the article and then get back to me.

  12. Sorry for diverting the discussion; lately the Church has been on my mind. I’ve been slowly reading Tomberg, and I will have a look at Solovyov.

    It occurs to me: why no mention of Melchezidek?

  13. Mea culpa. I was reading all the comments about Catholicism and confused the post with the comments.

  14. Unfortunately, Will, you are so eager to make your point that you miss the point. In a post titled “The Heart of the West”, I referred to seven metaphysicians, none of whom were Christian. Nevertheless, you somehow conclude that the point is that Christianity is “ours”.

    The real point — and I do hope some of our readers got it — is that the West does indeed have a “prisca theologia”. If anyone chooses to look elsewhere, go right ahead.

  15. Cologero,

    The notion that Christianity is “ours” (the West’s) and that the Vedic tradition is “theirs” (India’s) is somewhat relative. Two thousand years ago, paganism was ours and Christianity was someone else’s. But things change over time. Also, if we accept the idea of a Primordial Tradition, or Ficino’s notion of a Prisca Theologia, then what is important is the shining through of primordial metaphysical truth. I’m not saying that Westerners shouldn’t be Christians, or that we should become Buddhists or Hindus, but the fact is that Christianity is dying demographically while Eastern traditions are growing here. There are a lot of problems with this, which I’ve written about on this site, but it is happening nonetheless. I don’t know what this will mean for the future, but it seems to me one possibility is that these Eastern traditions will become Western in a manner similar to the way Christianity became Western.

  16. 11.@above –I confused the archaeologist Evans who discovered linear B and Ventis who deciphered it (it has been a long time since I read Greek) and about these people….…

  17. @above –I am confused the archaeologist Evans who discovered linear B and Ventis who deciphered it (it has been a long time since I read Greek)…

  18. Unfortunately I cannot participate in the sacraments, because I am not Catholic. The traditional Eucharistic liturgy certainly sounds, on paper, profound and valid. In practice, I’ve yet to sense an effective transubstantiation, which may bespeak only my own shortcomings. Do you feel that the changes issuing from Vatican II have invalidated the sacraments? The sedevacantists are rather shrill on this point, some calling the Church the whore of Babylon.

  19. @Cologero
    “Egypt is the ultimate source of Western civilization, not India.”
    This is absurd! Greece is the source of Western civilization. I think only charlatans would say that India is the source of Western civilization. India is the source of Indian civilization which went only westwards (towards China, Japan…) after the Mid-East cults, especially Islam arose, China is the source of what is distinctly known as Chinese civilization and so on…
    Why do Westerners need to derive their civilization from Egypt? Do the philosophers and sages of Greece not provide sufficient material on which a spiritual edifice is erected? I remember reading a while back a biography of Julian–Plato and his native Greek religion seems to have been enough to make him a man of high principles, that is, noble. The smart Greeks seemed to have read philosphy and the others participated in all kinds of community religions; the same with the Hindus, you have high philosophy existing side by side with the most primitive nature worship and so on. There is no contradiction as people will understand as their intellect is broad enough for them to understand, so the understanding of the sophisticated ones will be deeper and that of others will be as their intellect allows…Christianity simplifies it greatly by making a “common” religion for all…But even the Church fathers need to reconcile it with Greek philosophy to satisfy the philosophically inclined who are not likely to be satisfied by such simplifications…
    Now it is true that Hermes Trismegistus is the synthesis of the Greek god Hermes and the Egyptian god Thoth. But why is this surprising? This occurs in the Hellinistic period of Egypt when the Greeks had colonized Egypt. The ancient religions, being syncretic had no problems assimilating the religious practices of others, without losing their own identities…So you have the cult of Mithras (which is an Indo-Persian) popular among the Roman soldiers. I believe even today in Rome you can see a Church constructed directly above a Mithraeum, which is quite symbolic. Many of the Greeks concepts infiltrated Christianity such as through Orphism, Elusinian mysteries and so on…
    No doubt when the Greeks first settled in Greece (2100-1900), they brought in their Indo-European gods. An analysis of Greek mythology shows us that gods like Hermes have an origin prior to when the Greeks settled in Greece and brought in their language and completely submerged the “Aegean” languages, although few words and survive from the old language such as Korinthos, Parnassos (etc.). The two cultures merge (that of the Indo-European Greek speakers and the culture of the non-Greek languages of Greece) and give rise to what is called Hellenic culture. Now obviously Egypt at the time was a big cultural influence; Minoan art and architecture owes a lot to Egyptian influence. Linear A tablets (a non Greek language) have not been translated, unlike linear B (early Greek language) which was translated by an amateur who was a computer scientist, I believe, by the name of Evans. We are still waiting for the genius to decipher linear A.
    Now the Greeks while absorbing the a great deal of the influence of the civilization of the near East, developed something that is distinctly Greek–and it is to this distinctly Greek feature that we identify Greece as a civilization quite different from the Egyptian…What the Greeks developed is quite unlike what was there in the Near East–the philosophy, the metaphysics and so on. Egypt is not known for a sophisticated system of philosophy and metaphysics, it never produced an Aristotle, or Plato or the tragedies and so on…
    A study of Greek, Latin, Sanksrit and old Persian shows linguistic similarities, and if you analyze the Greek Gods, the oldest of them, are from a time when Greeks are not familiar with sea-faring, the association of the sea comes much later, such as in the case of Hermes who the German philologists have shown to hail from a much earlier nomadic time–
    In short, civilization is not a matter of simplifications such as “Western civilization came from Egypt” and so on…The influences on civilization are far and many. The Greeks travelled everywhere. Curiously, Greek women guarded the gates of kings of India, which is interesting. A professor told me of the existence of an old Kashmiri manuscript which detailed the women of the red light district of the times. It says, no one liked the Yavana (Greek) as she spoke a “hissing” language (it sounded like that to them as the Greek words ends with os and so on..)! But if language is the “house of being” as Heidegger says, then it is not surprising to find equivalient philosohpical terms in Greek, old Sanskrit and old Persian…Even equivalent myths. You find the orpheus myth, the exact same in tale of Damayanti…When the Buddhists took a great deal of Buddhist ideas from India to China, there were no equivalent Chinese terms owing to the differences of language, so new Chinese equivalences had to be coined to render these ideas…Language is important in how a peoples percieve the world and their capacity to philosophize. The indo-European languages are extremely rich in this as opposed to say a langauge like Hebrew which is quite simple in comparison…
    That is why a study of language is fascinating. Moreover, we have libraries of all these languages–the Greek and Latin canon, the Sanskrit which is four times as large (as the Greek and Latin put together)….
    and some of the Persian remnants (most of it was destroyed by Muslims)…
    And even if the Greeks took a lot of ideas from Egypt, Greece in the West is the land of metaphysics just as in the East, the Indians were the metaphysicians par excellence. And in mathematics, both people have been precocious.
    As for myself, I believe that the European heritage is Greco-Roman not Judaeo-Christian….Even the semitic myths seems to be taken a great deal from the Zoroastrian (Persian) ideas…the virgin birth, saviour and so on…
    Moreover, there were migrations into India from Central Asia, but we do not think of Central Asia as the home of our civilization…
    The great works are composed in India, and our ancestors speak of Himalayas not the Caucus.
    Similarly, wherever the Greeks came from in 1900 BC to Greece, they speak of Greece, and whatever other cultures influenced them from the Near East, they developed something uniquely Greek….So there is no need to say the origins of Western civilization is in Egypt…

  20. Perhaps the Vedanta is the gold standard for metaphysics, but that is like complaining that your neighbour’s wife is more attractive than your own.

  21. Welcome to the Kali Yuga, GF, no one is going to do it for you. Religion is now reduced to moralism and sentimentalism, as Guenon pointed out. There are two resources available for Christian Hermetists.

    One is Vladimir Solovyov’s “Lectures on Divine Humanity”, which is a metaphysical reconstruction of Christian dogma. In an intriguing footnote he writes:

    Although the close inner connection between Alexandrian theosophy and the Christian doctrine is one of the firmly estalished theses of Western scholarship, for one reason or another, this perfectly correct thesis does not enjoy common acknowledgment in our theological literature. Therefore, I consider it necessary to devote to this question a special appendix, where I will touch upon the significance of the native Egyptian theosophy (the revelations of Hermes Trismegistus) …

    Unfortunately, that appendix never appeared. That is why Gornahoor is taking up this task.

    The other resource is Valentin Tomberg’s “Meditations on the Tarot” which, despite its faults, is a worthy attempt to reintegrate the Hermetic tradition into Church theology and practice. It is good for its spiritual exercises and its radical reinterpretation of Christian concepts; it is weaker in its understanding of metaphysics.

    Both these books will gain traction and attention, but will never become the majority opinion. There are good and necessary reasons for this.

    As far as participation in the Mass, Tomberg considers the sacraments to be valid and effective (at least for the Tridentine mass). But since that is in the realm of mystery, it cannot be proved or disproved on the Internet. That remains your personal decision.

  22. For Orpheus, start with Fabre d’Olivet, in particular, the “Hermeneutic Interpretation of the Origin of the Social State of Man”. There is an ancient biography of Appolonius available.

  23. It’s gone nowhere if we only look at quantity.

  24. GF, this is exactly what I’ve been saying. Using Christianity as the basis for a renewed western tradition is good only in theory but in practice you stand alone. Trying to insert metaphysical or spiritual ideas into the average Christian is a practice of smashing one’s head against the wall. Their interest only includes petty doctrinarian moralism and sentimental historical absurdities. The Church, which is at the heart of the corruption of Christianity, dangles Jesus before the masses and then demands that no one become like him spiritually, only morally, while at the same time, the Vatican displays no such morals itself, molesting children and laundering money for the mafia and crooked businessmen.

    As for the hermetic tradition, it all comes down to accessibility. Since there is no order present today which has preserved a valid chain of hermetic initiation (modern occultist groups don’t count) then how can one carry on a tradition which no longer exists? So far, all those who talk about this love for the past have never put forth a solution other than some Evolian mysticism which excludes initiation and has gone absolutely nowhere.

  25. Yes, gentlemen, we have a difficult job ahead of us.

    I’ve been attending Mass; among the religious, let-alone the atheists, the material we have to work with is discouraging. Opinionated, irreverent, and soft, is how I would describe them. They are interested in a ‘lunar’ and democratic “God is my friend” spirituality.

    I must ask, Cologero, what is your relationship to the Church? Do you attend Mass? – Novus Ordo or Tridentine? Do you spend time with the other Church-goers? Whenever I go I’m hounded by old ladies, and rather silly teens inviting me to their youth group. I tried going to the men’s group, thinking it would be somewhat better – at least more amenable to serious ideas – but they weren’t. A discussion on how to prepare spiritually for Christmas went very badly; I tried to introduce the notions of rhythmic mental prayer, fasting before mass, and practicing a bit of chastity, but they seemed to feel that actually imitating Christ or the Saints would be somehow arrogant – their way of saying “eh, I’d rather not”. They wound up talking about making a small donation to an international charity. The fact that they also recently participated in prayers at a nearby Synagogue left me feeling disgusted. I’m ready to grapple with the real world, and try to heal it, but this feels like a waste of time.

  26. I have begun to compose and work through a Western tradition reading list. The others are on there, but what would you recommend in terms of reading for Orpheus, Philolaus and Apollonius?

  27. Excellent post. For years, scholars and archeologists dismissed the idea that Hermetism actually came from Egypt, believing instead that either the Greeks or the Renaissance Italians like Ficino simply made it up. Then, someone discovered a piece of Egyptian writing containing the phrase “Thoth Great Great Great.” Thoth of course is the Egyptian name for Hermes, and ‘Thrice-Great’ is his title in Hermetism.

    While I agree that the West historically goes back to Egypt and not India, it seems to me that Indian doctrine is very important for our future. Our holy language in the West is Greek, and to a lesser extent Latin. The holy language of India is Sanskrit. Beginning in the 1800s or so, it began to dawn on people that these languages all have a common root. To me, this linguistic connection is emblematic of a deeper connection. Also, Guenon seemed to regard the Vedic tradition, up to and including Advaita Vedanta, as the gold standard against which to measure all other traditions or metaphysical systems.

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