The Mystical Philosophy of Nature

We have seen that the agnostic philosophy is a preface or prolegomena to that of Mysticism; that the two systems have one basis, and that they overlap each other. Mysticism steps in where agnostics finishes its mission. Mysticism expounds the noumenal, the existence of which can only be indicated by agnosticism. But as, in a sense, agnosticism, so Mysticism interprets the phenomenal, and has thus a consanguineous affinity with another philosophy – that of poetry; for interpretation is the keynote of the life of poetry, and there is the further fundamental connection between poetry and Mysticism, that both deal with the formulation and realization of the ideal. In other words; it gives form and expression to man’s yearning after that which, is higher than himself and better than his environment. It is in this sense, the divine melody of Hermes and the planetary music of the adepts, once expounded by an inspired scrivener of Paris. Mysticism guarantees to this aspiration a field of realization. For that which man would attain and be, read poetry; for that which he can be attain, learn of the Mystics; for that which he is, see life and the world around us.

It is curious to note, at first sight, that the connection between poetry and Mysticism again brings us round to agnosticism. One essential element of poetry is possessed by the agnostic philosophy, and that is mystery – even that is mystery which the vivid limelight of physical science, the progress of invention and discovery, seem almost to have banished out of being. To that faculty which is at the foundation of the poetic faculty does the agnostic philosophy make a distinct appeal, and to that also it offers a new ministry. We speak of the faculty of wonder. It restores mystery to the universe and wonder to the mind of man. It effaces the limitations of sharp and clear outlines bounding the intellectual horizon, and it substitutes the dim, prolonged, and shadowy vistas of unknown possibilities. Under its touch the commonest objects of knowledge are invested with a peculiar and subtle sanctity, and transfigured in a weird dream light. There are not only sermons in stones and books in the running brooks, but there is the ultimate of an infinite mystery behind every stream and pebble. Science may explain to us the laws which regulate the manifestation is no less a mysterious portent speaking from the heart of things – a sign and wonder from a world unknown, enveloped. Like its own halo, in a luminous mist of mystery, projected upon the background of the unknown, as upon an impenetrable height of heaven, and with a profundity of the unconceived beneath it, as of a deep, unfathomed ocean.

Across the altitude which spans that height

The Bird of Hermes wings his flaming flight,

And o’er the waters of the waste below

Doth bright Aurelia flutter to and fro –

That Golden Butterfly which sages know.

In a sense, the light of common knowledge may seem to have belittled all existence, but agnosticism has returned us a rare mystery in everything, full of signs and wonders which dilate and inspire the imagination.

The Mystic regards the entire phenomenal universe as a grand parable or allegory which is destined one day, as we have seen, to give place to a grand reality. In the words of Emerson, the American seer, “The whole world is an omen and a sign.” Thus, even in the natural order, the education of humanity is proceeding by type and by symbol; thus, God is the Great Symbolist, who teaches from behind the veil by signs which He writes upon the veil; the stars are secret ciphers with an interior and divine meaning; everything that exists is an outward sign of an inward thought of God; it is therefore a sacrament, an exterior index of an inner grace and virtue, and the worship of the beautiful in Nature is a homage paid to the perfection of the divine thinking.

When Christ came, He also taught in parables; He established symbolical ceremonies; His life and death are a great symbol which eternally preexisted in the starry heavens. The most divine of all missions to man was fitly the most parabolic of all. The doctrines which have been developed in the churches that bear His name, if rightly understood, are also symbols – they are economies of divine things, and the Mystics, in common with the Grand Symbolist, in common with the Spirit of Nature, in common with the greatest of their Masters, have invariably taught by the eternal method of typology, have ever quickened and fertilized the minds of their disciples by the suggestions of parable and allegory, have ever promoted by these means the culture of the imagination, the education of the faculty of wonder. They have elaborated a tissue of many-sided symbolism – part obscure, part diaphanous – which is like the aureoles of dim gold round the heads of the canonized heirophants.

All mystic symbolism, like that of Nature, has reference to the two interiors, the world which is within man, and that which is within, and veiled by, the visible universe. The Mystic knows that there is “a depth below the depth, and a height above the height,” that “our hearing is not hearing, and our seeing is not sight.” He knows also, could we scale those altitudes, could we sound those unmeasured profundities, could we scale those unmeasured profundities, could we once get behind the veil which is woven everywhere around us in the gorgeous panoply of the phenomenal universe, that there is an actuality we should arrive at, and that the “vision” is He, the King in His beauty, the absolute of the Mystics’ imperative aspiration when he has ascended to the summits of his being, and high above all the splendours of the visible world, above all secondary causes, sends forth the clarion challenge of the soul into the timeless immensity, and cries – no longer as “an infant in the night,” but with the whole strength of his nature – for the desired light, as the spirit in the dread and the stillness pauses before the closed eye of the Unknown Darkness. “Thou art emblazoned,” says the Crown of Flowers, “on the everlasting banners, O thou eye of Sol! Thine eyelid is the night of Chaos, and thy glance is the universal harmony of evolved universes Thy pupil is the stone of the philosophers, even that stone which is beheld by the just man, et sicut palma florebit.”

It is by the Mystics that the veil is dark, but that it is very thin. When we consider the many-folded mysteries with which we are on all sides surrounded, the veil is indeed dark, but if it ne penetrable at a single point, it is sure that it is thin. They say also, “My veil hath no mortal ever lifted.” And the mystic poets describe it, when they have regard to the beauty of the phenomenal universe, as a thing of light and stars. “In the beginning ere man grew, the veil was woven bright and blue… Over his features, wondrous, terrible, the beautiful Master drew the veil… And since the beginning no mortal vision, pure or sinning, hath seen the Face!” This also is true, for the Mystic remembers that the flesh cannot see God. If there be not something within us which transcends mortality; and unites us to all that is permanent in being, the quest after positive truth is a bitter folly. But the Mystic is aware by experience that there is a spiritual world both within and without him – that the other side of life is after all like the house of man – that more than one traveler has returned from that bourne whence it has been falsely said that no traveler returns. He is aware, therefore, that if the mystery is dark, the veil is bright, that it is thin because it is penetrable, and although what is mortal of man cannot lift it, or win entrance to the sanctuary that is behind, there is a spiritual world both within and without him – that the other side of life is after all like the house of man – that more than one traveler has returned from that bourne whence it has been falsely said that no traveler returns. He is aware, therefore, that if the mystery is dark, the veil is bright, that it is thin, or win entrance to the sanctuary that is behind, there is another and a higher man to whom this possibility is granted. “Herein is the coeleste palmetum,” says the Little Office of the Gift of God.

It has been affirmed that analogy is the last word of science and the first of religion, and it is well known that the exoteric or casuistic part of the mystical body of doctrine is based wholly on the analogical doctrine that the visible is a measure of the invisible.

Seven snowdrops

Sister the Pleiads, the primrose is kin

To Hesper, Hesper to the world to come.

Analogy also is the perfection of the poetic method, and the gift of discerning analogies is a part of the “seeing sense,” which is termed otherwise poetic insight. There is a world of false but plausible analogies which is the happy hunting-ground of the inferior poet, and the world of merely sensible impressions is the only terra cognita for most of the children of men, but they are both a terra damnata et maledicta for pure inspiration and true genius. When once it is received as a truth that there are no realities whatsoever outside the sublime order of intelligence, that the spirit of man is placed in a world of purely illusory phenomena for the education of his genius and the regulation of his spiritual evolution, the mind is illumined by a new series of profound metaphysical sensations which are akin to direct revelation, and may well become the golden seed of a regenerated garden of song. In the splendid pageantry of the grand and holy sea, in the divine hush of moonless nights, in the glory of the stellar world, there will be perceived the ministration of a lofty and significant symbolism which exists for man alone, and develops its resources to infinity according to the measure of his investigations. All the discoveries of science, all the outreachings of acute speculation, become new fountains of suggestiveness in the place of new proofs of the realism of material things. The vistas revealed by astronomy, the interplanetary spaces, the star-depths, the overwhelming sense of the immeasurable, the discovery of new worlds quivering on the outposts of infinity, exist only for the nourishment of supreme imagination. By the glass of the astronomer man gazes deeper into himself, by the excursions of the mathematical mind inti “the magical, measurable distance,” he gauges and surveys himself. Nature widens in proportion as it is investigated, for the links in the silver chain of symbolism multiply as we follow them, and the divine dream of the universe deepens and intensifies about us the further we plunge therein. When the spirit sets forth on that mighty sea, it need never fear the desolating disillusion of a limit attained. There is no end to the sublime delusion. The mystical sequence of natural typology is a series without end, as it is without beginning, and the soul can sail for ever. This is the grandeur and the beauty and the glory, and the philosophic joy of idealism. Gabriel de Castagne portrays it in his Terrestrial Paradise under the evasion of a miracle in medicine. The goal is for ever within us; the dream also is within; and the splendor, the meaning, the charm, the witchery, the enchantment, the depth, the height, the distance, are all in a sense within us; for the so-called material universe is only a stage of the soul’s advancement in the development of her infinite self.

It is no sea thou seest in the sea,

‘Tis but a disguised humanity…

All that is interest a man is man.

At a higher stage, a higher symbolism, a wider universe, a deeper meaning, an increased joy, an intensified loveliness, till the supreme spirit in the full possession of itself, having achieved its own creation, shall enter the Summer Land of eternal maturity, the New Jerusalem, the beatific vision, the higher consciousness of Nirvana.

Now, in the order of idealism, beauty and harmony are the touchstone and the test of truth. It is for this reason that false analogies, false images, and deformed conceptions are detestable and revolting things – the perdition of the intellectual soul – for the mind of man creates the universe after its own likeness, and it is pursued by the phantoms it produces. And irregular and diseased imagination will imprison the soul in the Tophet of the false and the monstrous. To the priests and poets of the future be, therefore, all health, and the Christ of God within them for their nature’s sublime exaltation! Theirs be “the scale of the sages,” and the “philosophical garden of Love.” We beseech you, sweet brethren, everlasting friends, by the Crown and the Chrism, by the stars in the eyes of Israel, and by that chaste light – lumen de lumine – which is the jeweled glistening of Lucasta, to purge the world from darkness by the clarity of intelligence, and by the creation of a loftier symbolism to accomplish the evolution of a loftier Ministry of Song. To you, standing “in the foremost files of time,” is committed the Cosmos, as plastic matter, to be fashioned after your own imaginations for the Sons of Futurity, whose faith is in your hands. “The light that never was on land or sea” is within you. It is also in your power to project it over the visible universe, and to accomplish thus the complete transfiguration of the world. For the Cosmos is the inheritance of imagination, the potter’s clay of the poet, to be shaped however he will. It is also an illimitable symbol to be interpreted by his genius.

Teach us no more that the world is dead, that the beats perish, that the departed sleep. But preach unto us, O inspired apostles, commissioned from the Spiritual Parnassus, the evangel of everlasting life, of the permanence, beauty, joy, progress, triumph, and continual ascent of all that lives is! Shew unto the Children of the Poets, the universal humanity, till “Sorga’s stream ascends to Helicon,” that all heights are possible to the spirit of man, who is called to the creation of himself, the redemption of others, and the adoration of the beautiful. Prophesy unto us of “that far off, divine event towards which the whole creation moves.” That end of creation must be one of high-exalted destiny for all its intelligences. What is matter but the support and footstool of spirit, the substance it adapts, and in no way its own end? The universe exists for its intelligences, and as for man, so far as he can use it, it exists for the use of man. The poet is the magician of dreamland. Let him accomplish the realization of the dream by the power of his magical art, and he will be the demiourgos of the life to come.

Who indeed is the demiourgos of the life to come, the paradisus aurcolus Hermeticus, if it be not the prophet of many melodies, clothed with song as in a garment of multitudinous splendours, who has seen, who has proclaimed, who has foretasted and pre-realized, the good and joy to come, in the sublime pre-realization of the ideal? Who is the pontifex, who is the bridge-builder, who is the instrument of communication, between the seen and the unseen, between that which we are and that which hath not yet appeared in us, but which we shall and must be? It is the poet only, the priest of Nature, who is in touch with what is above Nature, who speaks from an ulterior standpoint. We do not exalt him beyond the scope of his vocation; his vocation it is impossible to exalt. He is the instrument upon which the Æolian airs of futurity can alone play. We do not affirm that he can give us the entire harmony; he is the glass of vision; it is, in some respects, a darkened glass, and we see through it darkly with the dim eyesight of an undeveloped intellectuality. The scope of his seeing sense is the earnest – not the full measure – of our sight to come. That which he has dreamed through the ages, it is that which is to be revealed to us and in us. When we would shape in our thoughts the future of the human race, and the perfection which is to appear through evolution, the blossoming of Eden’s bower, and the “reign of Saturn revived,” he must be our guide. He interprets ourselves to us, and he interprets the world to ourselves. He sees deeper than official philosophy into the heart of things, for his inmost nature is in contact with the great universal heart.

The supreme poet of the century, the Chief Interpreter, who is also, par excellence, the grand Mystic of this age, more grand because his Mysticism is of the unconscious order, not perhaps realized formally and philosophically by himself, much less by his literary critics, as the highest innocence is also unconscious – this excellent and wise master, to whose laurels we have added a coronet instead of a tiara, has condensed the philosophy of the phenomenal universe into a single versicle:-

There is no object too significant to lead us into absolute truth, could we only know it well. But no sage, no chemist can tell us what principles are at work behind the outward appearance of the humblest lichen or fungus, and so what we call science can reveal to us nothing of the noumenal world. “Rift the hills and roll the waters, flash the lightnings, weight the sun” – yes, it may do all these, but it can say nothing of the true and the real. Who is there that would impeach science? It has recognized its own limitations, it has affirmed its own inadequacy, and has guaranteed to us, in so doing, the validity of its credentials within its proper sphere. Honour to the way of knowledge, and to the progress made therein! It has told us that the phenomenal world is the veil of a grand reality. When the science of the West was in its manger in the Bethlehem of the dark ages, the Mystics knew that, and they aspired to the “truth and beauty ever ancient and ever new.” They called it the Mysterium Magnum. Now, the Mystic was a philosopher modified by poetry, and the true poet is a Mystic, possessing the “accomplishment of verse.”

But if the phenomenal universe be a veil in analogical language, it follows from the analogy itself that it can suggest to us the outlines of the concealed reality. It does hide and it does distort; it has its inherent defects, and these are what we call evil, with its consequences of sin and misery; but, as veils will have, it possesses its own grace, and it hints at the grace within, we must interpret the unrealizable beauty of that which is behind the veil, by the graciousness of the veil. In this matter the poets are our only interpreters – that is, legitimately – because the problem is outside ordinary philosophy, because ordinary philosophy has affirmed that the reality is unknowable; and the best conclusions form analogy are to be learned of the masters of analogy, of the kings of interpretation, of those who see furthest, who possess that intuition which is the deepest instrument of supersensual research, and is in fact that higher faculty, that sixth sense, at which we have already hinted, which we now openly affirm is par excellence the mystical instrument. Those only who are in touch with poetry can have part in the life to come. It is therefore eminently, and before all things necessary, that we should see after the manner of the poets, and the mystical philosophy of Nature is to found in them. In all things which concern man and his environment, the difference between that which is actual in life, and that which is conceived by them, is the measure of our falling short of excellence; it is the distance that we have to climb in the course of our evolution; and then beyond that point achieved, and another grand ascent. The possession of the spirit of poetry is thus an indispensable condition of achievement; it is the agent of transfiguration; it is the philosophic stone which transmutes the world and man. How does poetry interpret Nature? What is its message from the future? These are the questions which we have to answer. It is a practical enquiry because it is a proposal for the realization of the ideal. If in another sense it be not practical, let us take that to our hearts and be comforted, because it offers to all who need it a refuge from the sordid motives of a mean environment.