Author Archives: Frater Obnoxion


In the bright crystal of your eyes
Show the havoc of fire, show its inspired works
And the paradise of its ashes

Paul Eluard

In her “Blake and Antiquity”, Kathleen Raine, the eminent scholar of William Blake, writes in the chapter “The Nether-World of Alchemy”, about Blake’s paracelsian influences. Perhaps one could take it as a mark of Blake’s genuine Gnosticism that in his visionary world, nature and forests are always symbolic of evil. His shadowy female, Vala, roams “in forests of eternal death, and shrieking in hollow trees”.

The forests especially are associated with smoke and fire. According to Kathleen Raine, Blake is here following the ideas of Paracelsus on nature’s Great Mystery. Here nature is seen as in eternal flame, always burning as it grows, endlessly returning to the nothing from which it emerges. Thus all of nature is essentially but a heap of ashes, and her creatures but fumes and smoke. Thus the dark female spirit of the woods, the personification of “the ever-growing, the ever-consuming mystery of nature”, is called The Demoness of Smoke.

In India, there is also a fierce Goddess, called Durga, who, like Vala, is dressed in red and associated with forest fires. Like the demoness Vala, who shrieks in the hollow trees, Durga is originally, in her earlier form as Shakambari, a devouring goddess of vegetation from whose body the different plants grew, and who has Her home in the ghostly-looking sheora tree, that is a traditional habitant of demonesses in India. But although Durga is a mother of demons, she is also, and most prominently, the slayer of demons.

In the 2nd chapter Devi Mahatmya, dedicated to Mahalakshmi, the gods are losing their battle against the demi-gods, when they bring forth Durga from their combined anger, giving each Her their signature weapons, and a lion for Her to ride on into the cosmic battle field. Here are two examples of Her association with forest fires from the Devi Mahatmya:

Her lion mount, shaking its mane in fury, stalked among the throngs as fire rages through forest. (2.52)

In an instant, Ambika led that vast legion of foes to its destruction, as quickly as fire consumes a heap of straw and wood. (2.67)

The scope of this cosmic forest fire is lucidly clarified by Brahmas’ words in the 1st chapter:

By you is this universe supported, of you is this world born, by you it is protected, O Devi, and you always consume it in the end. You are the creative force at the world’s birth and its sustenance for as long as it endures. So even at the end of this world, you appear as its dissolution, you who encompass it all. You are the great knowledge and the great illusion, the great intelligence, the great memory and the great delusion, the great goddess and the great demoness. You are the primordial matter, differentiating into threefold qualities of everything. You are the dark night of periodic dissolution, the great night of final dissolution, and the terrifying night of delusion. You are radiant splendor; you reign supreme yet are unassuming; you are the light of understanding. Modesty are you, and prosperity, contentment, tranquility and forebearence. (1.75 – 79).

As the fiery renewal of nature she is both the protecting Goddess and the annihilating Demoness, and the dark nothingness from which the woods grow up and into which they return, ever in unseen flames. The paraclesian realization that all nature and creatures are but ashes is echoed in the old Shaiva vow of the Pashupata sect from the Atharvasiras Upanishsad, in which the initiate confirms that everything is ash – but sacred ash, for fire makes holy.

A similar realization is found in the alchemical interpretation of the sign reading INRI attached to the wood above the head of the crucified Christ:” Igne Natura Renovatur Integra”, that is Latin for “through fire nature is reborn whole”. This invisible fire is not unlike a presence in all nature. The beginnings and the endings of the myriads of worlds can be found from a dim glow of the will-o-the-wisp by night. She becomes a companion, inspiring such reveries as Gaston Bachelard’s in his “The Psychoanalysis of Fire”:

Death in the flame is the least lonely of deaths. It is truly a cosmic death in which a whole universe is reduced to nothingness along with the thinker. The funeral pyre accompanies him in his passing.

Bachelard, Gaston: “The Psychoanalysis of Fire”
Foster, Damon, S.: “A Blake Dictionary”
Kali, Devadatta: “In Praise of the Goddess – The Devimahatmya and Its Meaning”
McDaniel, June: “Offering Flowers, Feeding Skulls”
Raine, Kathleen: “Blake and Antiquity”

Abrahamic Immanence of the Philosophical Monsters – A Consideration of Max Beckmann’s “The Night”

As we are not here considering Art History, but instead the universal distribution of archetypical ideas, we can just state that Max Beckmann (1884 – 1950) was a German Expressionist and a New Objectivist. He was, also, a traumatized veteran of the First World War. That Max Beckmann was indeed all these things, seems obvious when viewing his 1919 large oil paint masterpiece, “The Night”.

The painting depicts a scene of three thugs breaking and entering a gothic garret, and violating the inhabitants. The painting is crammed tight with angled distortions, conveying simultaneously dynamisms and frozenness. Objects become alive with unbearable morbid emotion, and the overall milieu of the painting reminds one of the psychological settings of some German Expressionist films – not least The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920).

Although the horrible happenings in the painting can be related to some of the severe social upheavals of the 1919 Germany, the artist himself has insisted that when considering “The Night”, one should not overlook “the metaphysical in the objective”. To be more precise, Beckmann wished to give “human beings an image of their destiny”, that is, a memento mori.

What makes this memento mori especially haunting is its quality of Abrahamic Immanence. This means that the painting distributes us Biblical characters, as archetypes inhabiting the eternal present, and vitally inherent in each passer-by we chance to meet. In the case of this painting, we meet here characters from the history of Christian painting

The man being hanged at the far-left side of the painting, has his facial expression and the twisted leg borrowed from Matthias Grünewald’s Christ in the artist’s early 14th Century Isenheim Altarpiece. The two figures are actually mirroring each other, with their head and foot twisting in opposite directions. Beckmann saw Grünewald as one of “the four great painters of manly mysticism”, the other three champions of this unsentimental religious art being Malesskircher, Bruegel and Van Gogh.

At the far- right of the painting we encounter a stereotypical brute, sporting a horseshoe moustache and a peaked cap. He is holding open the window with one hand, and crabbing a surprisingly serene looking female with the other. This ruffian is lifted straight from a detail in 13th Century Italian gothic fresco called “The Triumph of Death”. After inspecting this same horseshoe-mustached face first in a the 13th Century gothic apocalypse (at the lower right corner of the fresco, dressed in blue), and next, intruding from the outer darkness of the Weimar Republic night, and through a disturbingly angled window, to snatch away a dreamy blonde, one cannot help but to be overwhelmed by the feeling of the uncanny. Has Abrahamic Immanence ever before produced such a shadowy and timeless presence!

From the same gothic fresco, we find a depiction of a well-known Medieval memento mori -theme, The Meeting of the Three Living and the Three Dead (at the lower left corner of the fresco). It was told that there were three kings who lost their way in the forest during a hunt, and met with three living corpses, who reminded the kings of their mortality, and warned against life devoted solely to pleasure. Now, we meet similar living dead in Charnel Grounds of Buddhist Religious Art. The equally well-known characters are the executed corpses, the walking skeletons and the zombies. These are creatures that many have encountered only in horror fiction. But the monsters in the Charnel Grounds are not fictional, but philosophical; The corpses that are impaled or hanged or dismembered represent false ideas of the self, the zombies exemplify the realization of no-self, and the skeletons are symbols of the inherent emptiness of all things.

In the same way, the monstrous men inhabiting the almost Lovecraftian angles of Beckmann’s “The Night” are Philosophical Monsters. They are images of human destinies, immanent and uncanny through the centuries. But, although there is a universal aspect to these Philosophical Monsters, each one of the monstrous manifestations in art is also unique. The interesting question is, I think, what is the individual message of these specific monsters, the Philosophical Monsters of Max Beckmann’s painting. This is a question I leave to you, dear reader.

Beckmann has told that he once saw in his dream William Blake, who spoke these words: “Have faith in objects; do not let yourself be intimidated by the horror of the world”. Perhaps these words shall profit us, too, in our contemplation of “The Night”


This article has been partly inspired by two books: “The Spiritual Dynamic in Modern Art” (Palgrave Macmillan) by Charlene Spretnak, and “Expressionism” (Taschen) by Norbert Wolf.

Spelling Thusness

It was one of the poet Arthur Rimbaud’s most inspired ideas to formulate a system where vowels were associated with colours – “A Black, E white, I red, U green, O blue”. The basics of such systems of correspondences are quite familiar to modern occultists, as there must be at least a dozen books dedicated to such tables of correspondences alone. What I find mostly lacking, though, is the poetic fancy to bring these lists alive.

In Rimbaud, however, we find no such lack.

From the blackness of “A” Rimbaud conjures up an image of jacket made of flies, held together, it seems, by a variety of foul stenches, or “Gulfs of shadow”. And from his blue “O” he lets out an uncanny sound of that noisome instrument, the trumpet, only to introduce us in his next sentence to a plurality of silences, “crossed by Worlds and Angels”. And so forth.

With his wild variety of seership, Rimbaud manages, I think, to express something of the inexpressible. He seems to find some queer angle through which he is able to cause a response from the very thusness of a vowel. Now, it is not the essential meaning of the thing that he teases out. Rather than that, he seems to harass a vowel’s thusness, until the very power of that thusness causes a verbal shockwave to explode. And how immense is the power of a thusness! It is almost as if Rimbaud touches the core of the vowel, and with a dirty fingernail splits an atom therein.

Now what are vowels, unless the very building blocks of our minds and our experiences – our Angels and our Worlds. How much more subtle, and how much more powerful, then, is the thusness of a vowel? So much so, that the quest for it cannot be confined to modern poetry, but it must be a spiritual quest.

What, then, could be for us a good example of a spiritual quest? Buddhism, in all her different forms, could be described as a spiritual quest. And certainly, at least in her most sober core, Kabbalah is a spiritual quest. So let us look for a short path – a left-hand path – to thusness in these two noble quests, by simply looking closely at the meanings of the word “thus” in both traditions respectively. If Rimbaud found it in a wovel, could we not discover at least something of it in a whole word?

It is said that every Buddhist Sutra begins with the words “Thus have I heard…” (Evam maya srutam…) Now, the unsuspecting reader might think this is just a customary way to begin a story, not unlike our “Once upon a time there was…” The first, and perhaps the most obvious meaning of these words is, that the Sutras were heard from the mouth of the Gautama Buddha by the ear of his faithful cousin Ananda. But as we are dealing with a genuine holy writ, we are actually plunged into fathomless depths of meaning from the very first word: “Thus”, or, in Sanskrit, “Evam”.

The word is composed of two sacred syllables, the E and the VAM. This word, evam, is called The Casket of Buddha-Gems, and in it are united all the Buddhas and all the Dakinis, expressing the essence of all the Sutras and all the Tantras. This means that in the word “thus” are united the syllable E, which is the Bhaga, that is, the Kteis; and the syllable VAM, which is Kulisa, that is, the Phallus. And again, E is the wisdom of female emptiness, and VAM is the compassion of the masculine principle of the skillful means. To quote the Vajra Garland:

E is emptiness it is taught
Likewise, VAM is compassion.
The bindu results from their union.
This union is the supreme marvel
Embracing the 84,000 dharma teachings.
In short, it is the seal of the dharma.

This sort of elaborate world of meanings unfolding from such a simple and unsuspected word as “thus” is not an exception. This same word, “thus”, when used in the Hebrew Scriptures, is actually even more pregnant with meanings. These meanings are dealt with in depth by the 11th century kabbalist Rabbi Joseph Gikatilla in his masterful treatise “The Gates of Light” (Sha’are Orah).

Here the word “thus” or koh is understood as a formula for an aspect and an attribute of God. Koh is called the Gate of Prayers, through which death, sickness and barrenness are transformed into life, mercy and fruitfulness. Koh is blessing received from the highest spiritual source of Kether, the highest sephira.

When God in Genesis 5:15 took Abraham outside at night and invited him to count the stars if he could, God made an obvious comparison between the countless number of the stars and the numerous people to whom Abraham would become the venerable founding father. But when God pronounces “Thus (koh) will be your offspring”, we find out from Rabbi Gikatilla that the word koh opens much deeper vistas from His words than a mere prophecy.

We are told that the sentence is practically an empowerment, and by koh is meant a divine attribute of the Kether Elyon, that is, the source of the movement of the wandering stars. And by this divine attribute, which Abraham shall pass on to his offspring, he should be able to enter the “source of all sources” – the sublimity of the Thusness. This experience is described as a profoundly healing one.

The idea that koh is the way to the source of movement in the Universe,  corresponds with the Tantric meaning of the Sanskrit word evam. For it is the interplay of the E and the VAM, the female and the male principles, that is the source of vibration that animates the Universe, or makes everything move, so to speak.

Although we have only scratched the surface of much deep contemplation on the words evam and koh, we leave off the spiritual quest for now, and return to the poetic one. In the end it is this very interplay of the subtlety of thusness and the robust vitality of the manifest form that makes poetry so terribly alive. When one is really aware of this constant vibration in seemingly static things, even the sight of a blank page can become almost unbearably energizing experience; one letter is like a chariot of fire; one word like a rain of mountains from the sky; one sentence like hearing the footsteps of God in a garden of speaking serpents.