Monday, April 24, 2017
Alchemy & the Holy Grail, by Harold Bayley (1906 Lecture)
ALCHEMY AND THE HOLY GRAIL by Harold Bayley
A LECTURE DELIVERED BEFORE THE BACON SOCIETY, DECEMBER 20TH, 1906.
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ALCHEMY is a subject variously defined by various writers. According to some it is a pretended science, having for its object the transmutation of the baser metals into gold, and those practising it were either dupes or fools. Others maintain that the Alchemists were not in pursuit of material objects at all, but were, in reality, the philosophers and reformers of their period, whose true Ars Magna, disguised under a jargon of symbolism, was a conversion of the baser elements of humanity into the gold of goodness.
The most convincing exponent of what I will call the ethical theory is E. A. Hitchcock, an American writer, who died some fifty years ago. I am fortunate in possessing what there is reason to believe is the author's personal copy of this rare and long out-of-print book. It contains pencilled revisions and notes which I have found to be extremely suggestive. Hitchcock, however, pushes his theory so far as to maintain that the genuine Alchemists were never experimental chemists at all, nor are we indebted to them for any of the casual discoveries with which science credits them. Least of all were they in pursuit of gold, although their writings, wrongly interpreted, misled many into that vain and chimaeric quest.
There can, however, be no reasonable doubt that chemical experiment, if not the essence of Alchemy, was at all events an important side issue, and before proceeding to deal with the ethical theory I will instance a few of the seemingly numerous cases where there is good reason to suppose the physical transmutation of metals was achieved.
Of these, perhaps, the best known and the least comprehensible is that of Nicholas Flamel, who died somewhere about 1419. From the position of a poor scrivener Flamel sprang suddenly into great opulence. In his will he left a detailed account of the events which led to his possession of the great secret of transmutation, and he concludes with the words:—
"Before the time when I wrote this discourse which was at the latter end of the year of our Lord 1413 after the death of my faithful companion [Perrenelle, his wife] whose loss I cannot but lament all the days of my life, she and I had already founded and endowed with revenues fourteen hospitals, three chapels, and seven churches in the City of Paris, all which we had new built from the ground and enriched with great gifts and revenues with many reparacions in their churchyards. We have also done sit Boulogne about as much as we have done at Paris not to speak of the charitable acts which we both did to particular poor people principally to widows and orphans."
These enormous benefactions, as the records of several churches in France can divulge, were undoubtedly made. Within the past 150 years statues of Flamel, and the remains of some of his buildings, inscribed with hieroglyphics, were still standing, and to this day I understand the M.S. of his book, entitled The Treasure of Alchemy, is reposing in what was the Royal Library. Another seemingly well authenticated instance of gold making is recorded among the Acta of the Judicial Faculty of Leipsic. The case came into the law courts, owing to a curious legal question which arose out of it. One evening the Countess of the Castle of Tankerstein was besought sanctuary by a stranger, who, by inadvertence, had killed one of the Royal deer, and thereby forfeited his life. Struck by the noble appearance of her visitor, the Countess gave him protection, and in gratitude the mysterious unknown transmuted all the plate in the castle from silver into gold. On hearing of the sudden wealth of his wife, her husband, the Count, who was a spendthrift absent at the time from home, sued for possession of the gold on the ground that, as owner of the soil, he was entitled to all treasure found thereon. The Countess contended that artificially-produced gold could not justly come under consideration of the law applied to buried treasure, and she craved to be permitted to remain in undisturbed possession. The records show that the Court decided in her favour.
What is apparently conclusive proof of the possibility of transmutation is to be seen in Vienna. It is a silver medal preserved on the Imperial Treasure Chamber partly changed into gold by Alchemical means. It is, however, not my intention to enlarge on this side of the subject. There is a scepticism born of ignorance, and in these surprising days of X-rays, frozen air and radium, there are probably few who will deny the possibility, even the probability, that here and in the past advanced minds may have hit upon processes of which the secret has been lost. The better class of Alchemists deprecated the gold-gropers as "money-loving sots," maintaining that the true search was to satisfy their intellectual capacities and their spiritual yearnings. "Would to God," exclaims the author of _An Open Substance_, "that all men might become adepts in our art, for then gold, the common idol of mankind, would lose its value and we should prize it only for its scientific teaching." It is the constant reiteration of sentiments such as this which have led Hitchcock and others to the suspicion that the writings of the Alchemists were, in the main, symbolical, and that under the words gold, silver, lead, salt, sulphur, mercury, antimony, arsenic, orpiment, sol, luna, wine, acid, alkali, and a thousand and one other words and expressions, may be found the views of the several writers upon the great questions of God, Nature and Man. I cannot do better than present this idea in Hitchcock's words. "The Alchemists," says he, and he supports his assertion with an imposing array of evidence, "were Reformers in their time, obliged to work in secret, but nevertheless making their impression on the public. They lived for the most part in an age when an open expression of their opinions would have brought them into conflict with the superstition of the time, and thus exposed them to the stake— where, indeed, many of them perished, not having been sufficiently guarded in their language. They were religious men when the spirit of religion was buried in forms and ceremonies and when the priesthood had armed itself with the civil power to put down all opposition and suppress all freedom, intellectual, moral, civil and religious. It was in that midnight of darkness that a light from heaven as it seemed was treated of in books for the initiated, as The El1x1r Of L1fe, The Water Of Life, The Universal Medicine, and The Philosopher's Stone. The volumes in which this thought of the time was enshrined were written in symbolic form to hide the subject from the crowd and to screen the authors from persecution."
I propose this evening, ladies and gentlemen, to bring to your notice a group of facts, some of which are, to the best of my belief, new to the extent that they have never hitherto been brought into correlation. Some of these seem to me to go some way towards the substantiation of the ethical theory of Alchemy, and they constitute, I think, tangible evidence of the wide-spreading influence exercised in the past by a class of thinkers whom we have for the most part dubbed "charlatans " and "impostors."
Tradition claims that what we now term Alchemy had its origin from the semi-mythical philosopher Hermes Trismegistus, whence the name "Hermetic" Science. Until the sixth or seventh century of our Era it was known as the Sacred Art, the Divine Science, the Occult Science, the Art of Hermes.
The precise object of the quest has never yet been satisfactorily defined. We find this mystical something described as The One Thing, The Essence, The Philosopher's Stone, The Stone of Wisdom, The Heavenly Balm, The Divine Water, The Virgin Water, the Carbuncle of the Sun, The Phoenix, and other terms equally bizarre. The suggestion of the ethical theorists is that all this jargon is merely a veiled mode of expressing the state of divine wisdom and eternal beatitude which is the result of self-conquest and self-culture.
Certainly it cannot be denied that Alchemistical writers perpetually warn their readers against the literal interpretation of their words. "The philosophers," says one, "ever discourse in parables and figures." "Let the studious reader," says another, "have a care of the manifold significance of words, for, by deceitful windings and doubtful, yea, contrary speeches (as it would seem), philosophers unfold their mysteries with a desire of concealing and hiding the truth from the unworthy." It is universally admitted that, to prevent their works being thumbed by the illiterate, mediaeval writers took very extraordinary pains. "The cause of this concealment among all wise men," says Roger Bacon, "is the contempt and neglect of the secrets of wisdom by the vulgar sort, who know not how to use those things that are most excellent. Or, if they do conceive any worthy thing, it is altogether by chance and fortune, and they do exceedingly abuse that their knowledge to the great damage and hurt of many men, yea, even of whole societies; so that he is worse than mad that publisheth any secret unless he conceal it from the multitude, and in such wise deliver it that even the studious and learned shall hardly understand it." This is not very promising, but we must bear in mind that it was only when veiled, and very closely veiled, that in those days Truth dared venture out of doors. "Some," continues Bacon, "have used characters and verses, and diverse other riddles and figurative speeches," and then he proceeds to enumerate certain other excellent devices. "I deemed it necessary," he explains, "to touch these tricks of obscurity because haply myself may be constrained through the greatness of the secrets which I shall handle to use some of them."
The Elizabethan dramatists well appreciated the figurative character of Alchemy. In Ben Jonson's play, _The Alchemist_, the sceptic of the piece, in reply to a staggering volley of technicalities, is answered that, "these are named,
"Intending but one thing; which art our writers
Used to obscure their art."
Then he asks:—
"Was not all the knowledge
Of the Egyptians writ in mystic symbols?
Speak not the Scriptures oft in parables?
Are not the choicest fables of the poets,
That were the fountains and first springs of Wisdom,
Wrapped in perplexed allegories?''
It is astonishing in view of such staring assertions that so few serious attempts have been made to unravel these perplexed allegories and extract the kernels from the husks.
St. Paul's warning that the letter killeth but the spirit giveth life was repeated by the great Alchemist, Cornelius Agrippa. "Whatever we read," says Agrippa, "about the irresistible powers of the Magic Art or the wonderful sights of the Astrologers will be found to be fables and lies as soon as we take those things in their external and literal meaning. Their external forms cover internal truths, and he who desires to see those truths must be in possession of the divine light of reason which is in possession of very few."
In Alchemical works we encounter many references to what is sometimes termed lingua magica and sometimes lingua angelorum. "This tongue," says the author of An Easy Introduction to the Philosopher's Gold, "is not only absolutely necessary and wisely fitted to veil Nature's secrets from the unworthy and prophane, but is also bravely proportioned to the intellectual imaginations of man." This secret angel's language was without question the language of symbolism, an art more ancient than the hills. It was evolved from the belief that the material universe is nothing but a manifestation of a spiritual counterpart whence it derives its existence. "The sages," says Michael Sendivogius, "have been taught by God that this natural world is only an image and material copy of the heavenly and spiritual pattern; that the very existence of this world is based upon the reality of its heavenly archetype."
It is because this doctrine of correspondence is the key which unlocks so many of the doors of Alchemy that I desire to impress it upon you. From it was constructed an elaborate language of symbolism by means of which it was comparatively simple to communicate ideas which, expressed literally, would have involved the authors in destruction. Allusions to their brutal and sanguinary surroundings are of constant occurrence among Alchemical writers. "I dare affirm," says one, "that I do possess more riches than the whole known world is worth, but cannot make use thereof because of the snares of knaves." Clearly he is referring to the Treasure of Heaven, for he continues, "I disdain, I loathe, this idolizing of gold and silver by the price and vanity whereof the pomp and vanities of the world are celebrated. Ah, filthy evil! ah, vain nothingness! Believe ye that I conceal these things out of envy? No, surely, for I protest to thee that I grieve from the very bottom of my soul that we are driven, as it were, like outcasts from the face of the Lord throughout the earth. We travel through many nations just like vagabonds, and dare not take upon ourselves the care of a family, neither do we possess any fixed habitation. And although we possess all things, yet can we use but a few. What, therefore, are we happy in, excepting speculation and meditation only. Many do believe (that are strangers to the art) that if they should enjoy it they would do such and such things; so also even we did formerly believe, but being grown more wary by the hazard we have run, we have chosen a more secret method. For whosoever hath once escaped imminent peril of his life, he will, believe me, become more wise for the time to come." I have cited this passage because it is a very simple specimen of esoteric writing, for which, indeed, it assigns the reason, and also because it is so perfectly obvious that the writer is not discussing the manufacture of physical gold.
One small Alchemical Treatise bears the significant title, _Zoroaster's Cave, or the Philosophers' Intellectual Echo to One Another from Their Cells_.
The author of _The Troubadours, Their Loves and Lyrics_, tells us that "The body of the learned, or the inner circle of that body, seems to have formed a secret society, whose purpose was to keep as much knowledge as possible confined to itself, after the manner of the Druids, or the Egyptians and Chaldasan sages; when compelled to put the more occult portions of their scientific acquirements into a more permanent form, they adopted one perfectly unintelligible to the vulgar." It does not appear to have struck this writer that the Alchemists might possibly be a branch of the learned who had adopted a secret jargon under which they could with safety, and without interference, exchange ideas.
It is conventional for historians to ignore the many secret associations which were at work in the twilight of the dark ages, but the treatment of the Alchemists seems to have been many degrees worse than mere neglect. If not dismissed as charlatans and impostors, they stand condemned for the "mystical trash " which they are alleged to have let loose upon Europe. Hallam is conspicuous in his denunciation of that "unworthy innovator," Paracelsus. He tell us that Agrippa had drunk deep at the "turbid streams of cabalistic philosophy." According to him the system of Agrippa was the "mere creed of magical imposture," and in general influence the Alchemistical theories were, we are told, more pernicious than the technical pedantry of the Schools. You will bear in mind that I have already read you a passage from this same Agrippa warning against the literal interpretation of his writings, and with the exception of the treatment which has been meted out by posterity to our great Englishman, Bacon, I know nothing more unjust or so infinitely pathetic as the shallow judgment which has been passed upon the Alchemystical philosophers.
The motto of Fenelon was, "Love to be Unknown," and in studying the under-currents, one queries, with Sir Thomas Browne, "Who knows whether better men have not been forgot than stand recorded in the book of time, who nevertheless may be registered in the Book of God?" The true history of the Alchemists and of their forerunners and successors will, I am persuaded, if it ever come to be written, prove to be nothing less than the record of the moral and intellectual evolution of Europe.
I invite you to examine some of the facsimiles of paper-marks shown herewith. They are representative of thousands and thousands of similar character, which any seeker may find for himself. It is generally assumed by orthodox bibliographers that paper-marks were the trade signs of paper-makers, but an investigation of this theory proves it to bristle with technical difficulties which render it untenable. Driven into a corner by the logic of facts which I need not here discuss, but shall be happy to do should anyone care to challenge my conclusions, Orthodoxy has fatuously suggested that the "curious shapes" which are assumed by these mysterious marks were due to the workmen having varied them for their own amusement. As a matter of fact, the great majority of paper-marks in mediaeval literature are not trade signs at all, but symbols of the many secret and invisible associations which were at work sowing seeds of sweetness and light, and risking their existence in the attempt to shake off the nightmare of ecclesiasticism. For the purpose of illustration I have selected merely two or three of the hundreds of philosophic symbols which prove the reality and the extent of ethical Alchemy. Just as the fossil is a positive proof of former life, so these curious marks in paper seem to me tangible evidence of the energy and virility of the "mystical trash" condemned by Hallam. The first object that I have chosen to point this suggestion is the paper-mark of a jug or pot. There are two ideas underlying these figures, both springing from the Legend of the Holy Grail. "We cannot be sure," says Mr. Alfred Nutt, "how this or that writer conceived the story as a whole, or in what sense he figured the Grail to himself." It is true we cannot define the exact meanings which were attached by particular writers, but the forms in which these writers figured the Grail are depicted in infinite variety in the paper-marks of the period. Of these many are necessarily crude, but you must bear in mind that they were impressed upon wet paper pulp by being designed in wire and then stitched to the paper-maker's tray or mould.
Most of us are familiar with the Legend of the Grail in the form which was grafted on to it by Christian writers, but as a symbol it is very much older than Christianity. The Rev. Baring Gould describes it as "the mysterious relic of a past heathen rite," and Mr. Alfred Nutt terms it "a mythic talisman of increase and plenty."
The Rev. Baring Gould quotes an old British poet as his authority for the claim that the St. Grail "inspires poetic genius, gives wisdom, discovers the knowledge of futurity, the mysteries of the world, the whole treasure of human sciences. That this vessel of the liquor of wisdom," continues Mr. Gould, "held a prominent place in British mythology is certain from the allusions made to it by the bards." "Taliesin, in the description of his initiation into the mysteries of the basin, cries out, 'I have lost my speech,' because on all who had been admitted to the privileges of full membership secrecy was imposed. This initiation [continues Mr. Gould] was regarded as a new birth, and those who had once become members were regarded as elect, regenerate, separate from the rest of mankind, who lay in darkness and ignorance."
Jacob Behme leads off in Chapter I. of _De Mysterio Magno_ with the words:—"If we would understand what the New Birth is and how it is brought to pass, then we must first know what Man is."
Now Hitchcock, who derived his opinions from the study of upwards of 200 works on Alchemy, sums up his conclusions as to their real object by saying he could liken it to nothing better expressive than the experience known in religion as The New Birth. He adds: "There are many signs in Alchemical volumes of a secret society in which possibly the language used was conventionally determined. I have at times thought that some members of the Masonic fraternity might have found the secret language of the Alchemists a convenient mode of publishing, or rather circulating, among the initiated doctrines which they had taken an oath not to speak directly or to make known except to a brother."
In these independent extracts we thus find correlated the ideas of the exhaustless vase of wisdom, secrecy, and the New Birth. It is my conviction that the vast movement which, when it appeared above the surface of History was known, or, at any rate, is to-day known, as the Rena1ssance or New Birth, was merely the effect of which the secret and unrecognised efforts of the Alchemists and other kindred reformers were the direct cause.
You will find a great deal of information on the Holy Grail in Mr. Alfred Nutt's book, and I would also refer you to Mrs. Cooper Oakley's Traces of a Hidden Tradition in Masonry and Mediceval Mysticism. Mrs. Oakley says: "Gathered round the Holy Grail are the Knights and Guardians of the Grail Kingdom, led by Titurel the mystic King, to whom is entrusted the Holy teaching. Then later we find the Knights Templar taking up the sacred mission. But everywhere and always is there the inner doctrine for the few who seek the Holy Grail, for it is invisible to all but those who form the inner circle. The chief function of the Grail Kingdom was to supply a constant type of a divinely governed Society, a Society ruled from the inner and spiritual planes, and to train in the Kingly art of ruling leaders for such communities as needed them. It was destined to be a practical civilising power as well as a Palace spiritual; not a passive force only, but active and powerful for the suppression of all evil on earth."
Who that is at all familiar with the works of Francis Bacon can doubt that he was a leader among the many very perfect Grail Knights of his period?
Mr. Alfred Nutt tells us that, "although caught up to very Heaven, though filled with the essence of Divinity, still the Grail retains the material characteristics of an increase and plenty talisman." Mrs. Cooper Oakley, who approaches her subject from a totally different aspect, sums it up as her conclusion that in the Grail myth "we are face to face with a symbol of man; man who is the Temple of the Holy Spirit. The chalice or cup is but another way," says she, "of denoting the coats of skin, the veils or vestures which garment man on earth, robes woven by the Nature powers in which and through which the divine spark has to dwell, until in process of time the vestures or chalice become permeated through by the divine light within."
Now Hitchcock and other ethical interpreters of the Alchemists are convinced that it was Micocosmos, the little world of Man, which was the real stone upon which they were experimenting and working to transmute into gold. In his Lives of the Alchemystical Philosophers, Mr. A. E. Waite quotes an anonymous writer who states that "the publication of the writings of Jacob Boehmer caused the Alchemists who were his contemporaries to fear that their art could not much longer remain a secret, and that the mystic vase in particular would be shortly revealed to all. This vase is the vas insigne electionis, namely, Man, who is the only all-containing subject, and who alone has need to be investigated for the eventual discovery of all." We thus see that in all probability the pot water-marks which you have before you emblemise the very essence of Alchemy.
Before passing from these Grail water-marks I would invite you to consider the almost infinite variety with which they are ornamented. Time does not permit me to linger over the symbolism of these decorations, but I should just like to draw your attention to the handles arranged in the form of the double SS standing for Sanctus Spiritus. Also to the variety of initials which appear upon them. These, almost without doubt, are the first letters of the words of certain phrases. They form part of the mystic system of the Cabala known as "notaricon." By this system certain initials came to be perfectly well understood, conveying profound meanings. Rossetti mentions that Dante made frequent use of the method, and there are even to-day many relics of it among us. I might mention the expression Amen, which is a composition word, and the Italian secret society known as the Mafia, said to be so named from the initials of the sentence, Mazzini Autorizza Furti Incendi Avvelenamenti.
The remembrance of the paper-mark we have been discussing has lingered until the present day, and is the origin of the modern technical term "pott," used to denote a certain size of paper. The term foolscap, with which you are all familiar, is likewise the survival of an old paper-mark. The facsimiles which you have before you are typical representatives of it. You will notice the curious sort of pigtail, with a cross on the end. Some years ago I was told that this pigtail was the badge of a jester in the service of an ecclesiastic, but it is only recently that I have struck on what is, I think, probably the explanation. Everyone has heard of the Troubadours, but it is not generally realised that they were heretics under the ban of the Church and driven hither and thither by that relentless antagonist. Their mission, Aroux tells us, was to redress the wrongs of Rome, to take up the defence of the weak and oppressed. They were also represented and celebrated as the true soldiers of the Christ, the exponents of celestial chivalry, and the champions of the poor, attacking under all their forms the monstrous abuses of the Priesthood. It is said that great numbers of the higher classes became Troubadours, wandering from Court to Court and castle to castle, spreading the doctrine of the organisation for which they were acting as emissaries.
This uncanonical "Church of the Grail, "as it has been called, was extraordinarily methodical and extended in its operations. It claimed a higher authority than the official Church of Christendom. Aroux tells us that it had its Priests, Bishops, and Deacons, who wandered far and wide disguised under the hoods of Troubadours. It is said that the frightful persecutions which scattered the Templars were due to the belief that they were Knights of the secret Church of the Holy Grail. You will now see why these Troubadour-jester emblems are distinguished by the clerical badge, and you will appreciate that among the Troubadours were exponents of the same unseen movement to which some of the so-called Alchemists were undoubtedly allied.
Nearly all foolscap water-marks have pending from them a figure of Four, and three circles. The figure Four was held sacred by the Pythagoreans, being the perfect square. It was the emblem of Moral Justice and Divine Equity geometrically expressed. The ineffable Name of The Deity was expressed by this sacred number Four, which was regarded as a most binding and solemn oath by the ancient mystics. The three circles, I think, probably denote the three great principles of Alchemistic Philosophy—Sulphur, Mercury, and Salt, or in other words—Body, Soul, and Spirit.
It is said that Dante was a Troubadour, and that St. Francis of Assisi had been one. Aroux mentions many eminent names and includes among them King Richard of England. "They added," says he, "their voices to those of the Servants of Love to exalt in interests perhaps less religious than political the Mysterious and Perfect Lady who under various names as Star, Flower, Light, was appealed to to cast down to hell the Roman she-wolf, to crush the pontifical serpent." This passage brings me to the last of the emblematic paper-marks which I have set down for discussion this evening. Some time about 150 years ago the Troubadour's head disappeared from paper and in its place there appeared the design you have before you. This emblem has survived until the present day, and enshrines a world of romance and suffering. It is, I think, without doubt a counterfeit presentment of the Troubadour's mysterious and perfect Lady, in other words the Virgin Sophia eulogised by Dante, Petrarch, and a host of poets, among them our Elizabethan Sonneteers.
To introduce this perfect, mysterious Lady to you, I cannot, I think, do better than quote some passages from a letter written by that saint of rationalism—Giordano Bruno. He writes: "I am displeased with the bulk of mankind; I hate the vulgar rout; I despise the authority of the multitude and am enamoured with one particular lady. Tis for her that I am free in servitude, content in pain, rich in necessity, and alive in death. . . . Hence it is even for my passion for this beauty that, as being weary, I draw not back my feet from the difficult road, nor, as being lazy, hang down my hands from the work that is before me; I turn not my shoulders, as grown desperate, to the enemy that contends with me, nor, as dazzled, divert my eyes from the divine object. . . . 'Tis for the love of true Wisdom and by the studious admiration of this Mistress that I fatigue, that I disquiet, that I torment myself."
This, ladies and gentlemen, was the spirit of the Grail which the Inquisition and all the power of the governments of Europe was engaged for many centuries in endeavouring to crush. The result of the suppression was that the Spirit of Truth was idolized and discussed under the protective veils of "Beatrice," "Laura," and a variety of other names to which the imperceptive have more or less vainly endeavoured to fit physical women. I chanced the other day on a coincidence with regard to Dante's "Beatrice" to which I am not aware that attention has hiterto been drawn. We are told in the Vita Nuova (I need hardly draw your attention to the significance of this Alchemistic title) that "Beatrice" was nine years of age when Dante first met her. He remarks, "Many times the number nine hath appeared among the preceding words whereby it appeareth that it is not without reason." He then says that he will assign the reason "why this number was so friendly to her," and explains that three being the root of nine Beatrice was accompanied by the number nine to give to understand that she was a nine, that is a miracle whose root is the wondrous Trinity alone. Then he gives us permission to speculate a little by adding: "Perchance a more subtle person might see in it a yet more subtle reason." A few weeks before reading this passage I happened to have pasted into my commonplace book the following newspaper cutting:
"Sir William Huggins, at the dinner of the Maccabeans, referred to the curious properties of the Hebrew word for Truth. It comes from a root signifying strength—that which could not be moved. The letters of the word are equivalent to the mysterious number nine. When multiplied that figure frequently gives figures so true to each that when added together they again prove the figure nine; thus twice 9 are 18, thrice 9 are 27, and so on."
In England this same spirit of Truth, or spirit of Nature, was invoked under the veils of Phoebe, Idea, Licia, Cynthia, Elizabeth, etc., and numerous sonnets were written in her honour. I think it unquestionable that much of the adulation which is supposed to have been lavished upon Queen Elizabeth by servile poets was never in reality intended for her at all, but for that more mystic Elizabeth of whom we catch a glimpse in Spenser.
The third my Love my lifes last ornament
By whom my spirit out of dust was raised
To speak her praise and glory excellent
Of all alive most worthy to be praised.
Ye three Elizabeths for ever live
That three such graces did unto me give.
One of the lesser-known English sonneteers—Richard Smith—dedicates his sonnet sequence Diana "Unto Her Majesties Sacred Honourable Maids."
It is obvious that it is not the maids of honour of Elizabeth Tudor that are in the poet's eye, for he leads off:
Eternal twins that conquer Death and Time
Perpetual advocates in Heaven and Earth
Fair, chaste, immaculate, and all divine
Glorious alone before the first mans birth.
Rossetti comments at length upon the double and sometimes triple meanings which were placed by the secret schools upon apparently innocent and orthodox words and phrases. I have but little doubt that many of the works dedicated in what is apparently the most fulsome flattery were in reality addressed in a spirit of religious ecstasy to a mystic Elizabeth. I am told that the name El-izza-beth is practically the same as Beth-el of the Old Testament, and means The House of God. This is synonymous with the Temple of the Holy Spirit, and that, as we have seen, was symbolised by the St. Grail. Please take this suggestion for what it may be worth!
The sister figure which now appears upon our coinage as Britannia was I think also originally intended to suggest the same mysterious and perfect Lady of the middle ages. She appeared suddenly about 1676, just when the anti-Papal storm was brewing, which, when it burst, cost James II. his throne. If you will refer to the coin collection at the British Museum you will notice that Britannia has only comparatively recently donned the trident and helmet. On her first appearance she held an olive branch in one hand and a spear in the other. The spear was the attribute of Pallas, the Goddess of Wisdom, and if it is a bad guess on my part it is at any rate an agreeable fancy to believe that a variant of the Virgin Sophia is one of the everyday symbols of our Nation. You will notice that the lady in paper-mark bears a trefoil instead of an olive branch, again the emblem of the three Alchemical principles—Sulphur, Mercury, and Salt.
It is becoming daily more recognised that Elizabethan literature was not a spontaneous and national home growth; rather it was an exotic imported from the continent. Especially was this so in the case of the sonnet literature which was so luxuriant a weed in the reign of Elizabeth. Much of this was directly borrowed; so directly, in fact, that Mr. Sidney Lee holds up his hands in pained perplexity. He denounces Lodge as a scandalous example of the literary thief, and it was in a sonnet sequence entitled "Phyllis" that, according to Mr. Lee, Lodge sank most deeply into "the mire of deceit and mystification." Now I have shown elsewhere that practically the whole of Elizabethan poetry is a symphony and that there must have existed at that time a very abnormal system of collaboration; further, that the facts point unmistakably to Francis Bacon as the hinge upon which that system turned. It is significant that the birth of English literature coincides with the birth and career of Francis Bacon. In Europe, letters had been flourishing for many centuries, but they had awaked no answering enthusiasm from our semi-barbarous island. I therefore infer that it was Bacon who introduced into this country, and cherished with his influence, the vast literature of Europe. With this must have come the methods of the mystic schools to which much of it was due, and I regard, therefore, all these alleged pilferings and plagiarisms not as proof of bad faith but of the existence here of the same system as was at work elsewhere. The beautiful and mystic theories figured in the book emblems and paper emblems of the period seem, so far as I can gather, to have sprung originally from the East, whence they were revived by Pythagoras. Of the Troubadours, the Templars, the Alchemists, the Rosicrucians and other Idealist schools, the philosophy of Pythagoras was undoubtedly the nursing mother. "Virgil," says W. F. C. Wigston, "takes up the lighted torch of Homer and hands it on to Dante, who passes it to the genius behind the Shakespeare mask—Francis Bacon. Thus the handing on of the 'Lamp for Posterity' has been kept going by a chain of giant poets, who, like the distant peaks of some mighty range of Alps, beckon and nod to each other o'er the cloudland of ignorance and above the mists of the ages."
Through these mists I have sometimes thought to have perceived glimpses of the Palace of Wisdom upon which these great master masons were at work, but I feel to-night very like the poor fool who brought a brick as a sample of the house he wished to show. I thank you very much for lending my remarks such patient attention.
See also The Legend and Quest of the Holy Grail - 50 Books on CDrom and Alchemy, the Philosopher's Stone and the Esoteric - 100 Books on DVDrom
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