The fundamental aim of the French Hermetic Tradition, insofar as it is infused with Martinism, is Reintegration, that is, the restoration of the wholeness of man that was broken as a result of the Fall. In other words, it seeks the return to the Primordial State of Adam. Since the first task in the accomplishment of any task is the statement of its goal, it behooves us to try to understand more fully what that state would be like. Here we rely on the metaphysical teaching on the soul as well as the testimony of mystics and initiates.
A valuable resource that I am relying on here is the book Occult Phenomena in the Light of Theology by the Trappist monk Alois Wiesinger. This work is a thorough and fair discussion of preternatural and occult phenomena including topics on psychoactive drugs, telepathy, clairvoyance, telekinesis, ghosts, possession, hypnosis, the subconscious, magic, astral travel, inter alia, which perhaps will deserve a separate review sometime. However, for our present purposes, we are more concerned with his teachings on the soul and its workings, on the inner experience of Adam, and the effects of the Fall. It is not necessary to adhere to a particular theology to gain from his discussion, but rather a commitment to the metaphysics of tradition and on personal experience.
First of all, Fr. Alois has to establish the structure of the soul. Here he relies principally on St Thomas Aquinas, although not in the abstract way of the philosophers, but as one who has understood the soul in his own interiority. In particular, as we have described here many times, there is the body, the vegetative, sensitive, and intellectual souls. However, the parts of the soul act together as a whole which, as such, is the form of the body. That is, the body, down to its cells and atoms, is shaped by the soul, or is its material manifestation. This teaching has consequences, which we cannot go into here; specifically, it means that manifestations such as one’s sex, family, nation, etc., are not arbitrary and incidental, but rather are the reflection of something arising from the depths of one’s spirit. This is the opposite of the modern view which would regard differences in talents, abilities, capacities, and so on, as cosmic injustices that require political and social interventions to rectify.
Along the way, Fr. Alois dismisses several other viewpoints. First of all, we can disregard materialism as incoherent and incompatible with common experience. Furthermore, he rejects
(1) Platonic and Cartesian dualism with the two substances of body and soul
(2) Trichotimy, which then separates the soul and spirit
(3) Anthroposphy and Theosophy, which likewise identify even more substances with their various bodies
The fault of these conceptions is that they deny the integrality of the human being because of they regard the parts as separate substances. The Thomist (and we certainly don’t restrict this solely to Thomas) view certainly incorporates the insights of these rejected views while accepting and even emphasizing the unity and indivisibility of the human substance. Were that not the case, then Reintegration would be impossible.
The soul, or psyche, thus described in “body-bound”. Hence, the way it knows is through the bodily senses and the images created in the mind. Fr. Alois then identifies another part that rises above the corporeal part of the soul, which he calls the anima spiritualis or “spirit-soul” or nous. This spirit-soul can, in certain circumstances, withdraw from the body-bound part of the soul and “allow its activity to reach out beyond the body. From this there result phenomena such as we encounter in occultism and to some extent in the mystic life.”
There is a tendency in contemporary philosophers to restrict Thomas’ teaching to the body-bound soul, which is certainly not his full teaching. This would reduce Thomism to effective materialism on the one hand; on the other hand, by denying the possibility of the spirit-soul, it falls into the Gnostic error of regarding material existence as a prison from which we need to escape for spiritual realization. It is true that ascetical practice, however, is necessary to free the spirit-soul from being totally body bound. Another way that the spirit-soul can perform its proper function is during the sleep state; this is a teaching of St Thomas and Fr Alois. This is why revelation or prophecy often comes in the form of dreams.
Fr Alois criticizes certain theologians who deny that there can be spiritual communication without the mediation of material sensations or images. To the contrary, God and angels do communicate with men directly; this is a dogmatic truth as well as the common experience of men from different traditions and cultures. Angels do communicate with men through thoughts; actually, this is the ordinary method, as angelic visions and materializations are the extraordinary. Similarly, the spirit-soul, since it is effectively the equivalent to the angelic consciousness, can conceivably communicate with other spirit-souls through the medium of thought. This is actually the correct teaching of Thomas, since the soul is not completely submerged in the body, so it has possibilities that are not just those of the body.
Fr Alois points to several specific precursors of the idea of the spirit-soul, not to mention the various unnamed seers, visionaries, and magicians. Plato in the Phaedrus tells how men “through divine madness become partakers of true prophecy,” and mentions true dreams coming in the sleep state in the Republic. He also points out that “Aristotle knows of an exalted state of the soul in sleep, in which it withdraws into its own nature and has power over the future.”
The Stoic Posidonius of Apameia wrote: “there is another method of prophecy that proceeds from nature; this proves how great is the power of the spirit, when it has been released from the sensual organs of the body. This occurs especially in sleep and in ecstasy.” Readers may recognize that the state of deep sleep is one of the states mentioned in the Vedanta, that of the causal body (i.e., the intellectual soul).
Eudemos also wrote on prophecy, claiming that the lower soul “partakes of the divine in ecstasy and in dreams.” The Delphic high priest Plutarch declares the daimonion to be the guardian spirit which, unlike the soul, is not completely united to the body, but reaches out beyond it and sometimes loosens its connection with it to wander abroad and communicate immediately with gods and spirits, whence it derives the gift of prophecy”. Fr Alois claims the daimonion to be the spirit-soul. In Guenon’s terms, this guardian angel is a higher state of man. Compare this to the episode in Acts 12:15 where the disciples believe that it couldn’t be Peter at the door but “it must be his angel”; they just took that possibility for granted.
He concludes with the Neoplatonists, especially Plotinus’ attainment of the highest states four times. All accepted that, when transcending the body, the soul could function as a pure spirit, could contemplate God, apprehend truths prophecy, experience second sight, etc. This was the consistent teaching of antiquity and therefore the starting point of the Church fathers.
Unfortunately, that understanding was allowed to lapse into oblivion, and was replaced with a “confused belief in demons”. That is the situation today, where the occult phenomena described by Fr Alois are ignorantly and indiscriminately considered the products of the devil and are feared. However, this limited view arises from the lack of understanding of the powers of the spirit-soul.
Thus, attempts to revive such teachings tended to become marginalized, despite the positive writings of Thomas Aquinas (who recognized the power of clairvoyance) and other saints. Hence, Fr Alois then mentions figures such as Swedenborg, Cornelius Agrippa and Paracelsus who accepted certain occult powers as arising from the nature of man.
In our time, we see a small movement to reclaim these teachings as legitimate and necessary. The teachings of the soul are perfectly fine. Unfortunately, they have become desiccated, left to the philosophers, and divorced from the inner experiences that bring them to life and demonstrate their truth. On the other side, since the figures who have attempted to maintain that knowledge have been marginalized, and even condemned, such teachings have been set free from their traditional supports and often devolve into pseudo-mysticism and various aberrations.
That is why a Guenon or a Schuon insist on the attachment to a legitimate tradition, or why a Tomberg tries to bring Hermetism within the umbrella of the Tradition of the West, or a Mouravieff brings Fourth Way teachings back into Orthodoxy.
Part II will deal specifically with the Primordial State