This summer I visited with my former dissertation mentor and dear friend, Dr. Rudolf Siebert, and his vivid Saturday intellectual circle in Kalamazoo, MI, which meets weekly and discusses mutual ideas and Dr. Siebert’s publishing projects. Some of the circle members, after having read my poetry, surprised me with the question asking me, am I an occultist?
Not sure why I was so shocked with the question, but I had never even thought about myself as such. My natural response was for those who would have known me during my Ph.D. program: “No, I am not an occultist, but, yes I am deeply inspired with the tradition of the Renaissance alchemy, the esoteric philosophies including all the Neoplatonic schools, and my comprehensive exam specializations were in the studies of the Jewish mysticism–the early Mercaba, the Kabbalah tradition, and Early Christianity, with an emphasis on Gnosticism and the role of women in Early Christianity. Also the reason for studying the Jewish mysticism has been in correlation to my training in the Renaissance Italian and Croatian tradition in Literature and Philosophy.” Somewhat I was offended with the idea that one’s inspiration with the mystic, esoteric, and alchemical symbolism makes me like a “flying witch.” I do not have the broom, but a swifter floor cleaner.
I still think that there is a fine line of distinction between the intellectual inclinations to alchemy as a form of transformative symbolism often aligned with the traditional metaphysics and the extraordinary visual stimuli to one’s mind, than the highly specialized occultist practices which employ the initiation rituals, magic, divination, or shamanism–specialized aspects of accessing the sacred and, therefore, the secret spiritual disciplines. While I do respect various aspects of the spiritual practices and their secret knowledge, I am more occupied with the freedom of expression and transparency of my actions in living everyday, busy life. I do write in free time and associate with various professional projects which are empowering for the community or persons who seek further spiritual or intellectual growth. The Ancient Greek philosophers of virtue ethics—Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, have emphasized that one’s true life is not only in theorizing, but in the fulfillment of a flourishing person mirrored in his/her praxis. Considering this, I do have my time fulfilled in expanding horizons of knowledge and acting in the way to realize this knowledge in a form of practice through teaching, writing, and community projects. Only the light of knowledge, thorough research, and personal spiritual growth could combat the dark shadows lurking from a struggle of the existential life in the context of the contemporary complex society that focuses more and more on improving means of the social control, developing steadily the platform for the future artificial “hive consciousness” with means of the transhumanism–transforming humanity through the technological dependencies on computers and machines, instead searching for empowering the human potentials and acceptance of the human unique paths of freedom.
To explain my views on the alchemical symbolism, I will share with you my recent book review on alchemy written by Richard and Iona Miller, “The Modern Alchemist,” where I envision alchemy as a doorway for new Metaphysics.
The Phoenix’s Alchemy: a Doorway for New Metaphysics?
Richard and Iona Miller’s book, “The Modern Alchemist,” is an empowering read that engages a person into the profound experience of the inner, psychological, journey guided by their interpretations of the symbolic forms such as the dragon, unicorn, Great Mother, Wise Old Man, marriage of opposites, son-father model, “prima materia,” “ultima materia,” “anima and animus,” represented in the mystery of the sixteen century alchemical text “The Book of Lambsprinck.” Every chapter of the book begins with this old, poetically encrypted text followed by the authors’ reflections on the same. Additionally, the Miller’s book is coded with a patina of an exceptional art—from the spectacular seventeen original engravings “rendered into pen-and-ink drawings specifically for this book by Seattle artist Joel Radcliffe,” accompanying the text translation from original old German, to the original, well informed interpretations.
The authors’ key to interpretation enmeshes Carl Gustav Jung’s psychoanalysis and his theory of archetypes. Every chapter is written in a way to instigate one’s participation encouraging the reader to decode his/her own mysterious subconscious through identifying the repressed symbols, which are already realized in one’s mind and dreams. This process is also presented as a search for the art, where art is viewed as a quest for the highest expression of the self–becoming aware of who we are and what we stand for “γνῶθι σεαυτόν.” This art is not only the skill that could be gained by training in the specific art expression, but is rather the “axis mundi,” the art which feeds itself from the cosmic consciousness or the whole of the world. My suggestion is to read this book slowly and to take time to contemplate on every chapter as long as one needs before moving any farther in the text.
Whichever way the alchemist or esoteric philosophers interpret the transformation from the matter (prima materia—the subconscious pull of life forces) to the consciousness–traditionally referred to as the soul and spirit–this qualitative change represents the perennial symbol of the inner struggle for preservation of the life-powers that would lead a person to the enlightenment and a self-governed, balanced life. Richard Alan Miller states that traditional, organized religions have failed to offer a deeper spiritual search for the believer by imposing too many restrictions on how to understand or access “the spirit,” which always resides in the realm of freedom without any boundaries. This boundless “spirit” is the source of all human genius of imagination, so no one should restrict this access to the source. The boundless spirit is the best presented in Baruch de Spinoza’s metaphysics as “natura naturata”—the material and created nature which shines as alive in “natura naturans”—nature that expresses itself as creation in a continuous process. In traditional metaphysics the active mind is always presented as the self-growth into an ecstatic state of conscious where one can sense the whole of reality, where the matter becomes the light and the thought, the mind. The pinnacle point of the self-growth is achieved when a person acts morally, ethically, and reaches the virtuous plane, as Baruch de Spinoza, pointed to—expressing love, compassion, and awe, or as in Eastern spiritual traditions expressed “bowing to the superiority” and surrendering to the boundless source (Tao-te-Ching, Yoga traditions, Buddhist meditation techniques). Miller’s focus on the esoteric tradition offers for the spiritual seekers the study and practice that in our time corresponds not only with the spiritual traditions of the Humanities disciplines, philosophy, and arts, but also tunes a person to understand better the discoveries of a New Science, which recognizes the importance of micro and macro worlds inter-connectiveness in Physics and brain studies, empowering psychology unlike psychology as pathology only, and necessity of rich interdisciplinary connections.
The authors’ “alchemical” path explains well why it is important for a person to collapse upon his/herself false, cave-like dwellings and become a phoenix, expressing the urge and necessity to renew one’s life depending on the person’s psychological needs.
This is the second book I have read written by R. A. Miller, and each time it happens that the read is a step to magic; whilst reading the book, I equally create prospective realities. The majority of academic philosophers today would agree that Metaphysics is only the matter of past–history, but with the awaking of a New Science and the re-interpretation of the symbolic, alchemical texts in terms of new holistic psychology offered by R. A. Miller and authors of the same direction such as Dr. Nick Begich (Towards a New Alchemy: The Millennium Science, 1996), Metaphysics again shines a new lite—the only way to understand the world around us as the system and our finite existence is to transform matter into the individual’s active mind, which recognizes all levels of reality whilst not losing the uniqueness of our personal life powers aligned with “ethos.”