Saturday, March 16, 2013

The Hermeticist Next Door: Part II

The Hermeticist Next Door

Part II:
C. S. Lewis, Undiscerning Christian Leaders,
and the Western Esoteric Traditions


Hermes Trismegistus,
Supposed Founder of
Earlier articles in this blog have often focused upon problems with the teachings of C. S. Lewis and the other Inklings, but in this, the second part of our Hermeticist Next Door series, we will look deeply at the historical stream of which he and the influences surrounding him were a part. As we understand their philosophical, religious, and literary roots, their true nature will become clearer.

Lewis is deeply rooted in what is known as the Western Esoteric Traditions (or Tradition). This term describes a number of important movements and practices that have occurred over many centuries—powerful influences that have been very significant in the history of Christianity, right down to our present age. Yet sometimes these influences have gone completely unnoticed by the majority of Christians.

What exactly are the Western Esoteric Traditions?

The Western esoteric traditions have their roots in a religious way of thinking, which reaches back to Gnosticism, Hermeticism, and Neoplatonism in the Hellenistic world during the first centuries A.D. In the Renaissance, the rediscovery of ancient texts led to the scholarly revival of magic, astrology, alchemy, and Kabbalah. Following the Reformation, this spiritual current gave rise to theosophy, Rosicrucianism, and Freemasonry, and the modern occult revival extends from nineteenth-century spiritualism, H. P. Blavatsky’s Theosophy, and ceremonial magic orders to twentieth-century esotericists such as Rudolf Steiner, Alice A. Bailey, and George Ivanovitch Gurdjieff, and the analytical psychology of Carl Gustav Jung. [The Western Esoteric Traditions: A Historical Introduction by Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke, Introduction. Oxford University Press, 2008. Kindle edition location 62,]

The book Western Esotericism by Antoine Faivre and Christine Rhone offers four definitions of esotericism, but we’ll just go with the first and most common one:

Five Meanings of the Term Esotericism

1.  Meaning 1: A Disparate  Grouping

In this meaning, which is the most current, esotericism appears, for example, as the title of sections in bookshops and in much media discourse to refer to almost everything that exudes a scent of mystery. Oriental wisdom traditions, yoga, mysterious Egypt, ufology, astrology and all sorts of divinatory arts, parapsychology, various “Kabbalahs,” alchemy, practical magic, Freemasonry, Tarot, New Age, New Religious Movements, and channeling are found thus placed side by side (in English, the label used in the bookshops is often Occult or Metaphysics). This nebula often includes all sorts of images, themes, and motifs, such as ontological androgyny [the belief that man was originally made a hermaphrodite], the Philosopher’s Stone, the lost Word, the Soul of the World, sacred geography, the magic book, and so on. [Western Esotericism by Antoine Faivre and Christine Rhone. (Suny Series in Western Esoteric Traditions). State University of New York Press, 2010. Kindle edition location 115.]

The Romantic Movement, which I have written about extensively in this blog, is just one element in the much greater movement of the Western Esoteric Traditions.

To study the Western Esoteric Traditions as they manifest among non-Christians is strange, but not nearly as strange as seeing how people calling themselves Christians have played a major part in these traditions and have defended them as a valid part of Christianity. After Christ rescued me out of my involvement in that esotericism (and I definitely did not consider myself as a Christian until after my rescue), I found to my surprise that people were accepting aspects of it as totally valid and very positive for Christians to participate in. This was very difficult for me with my life experience to cope with.

For example, when I was a new Christian and waiting in a church lobby to see a pastor, I got into a conversation with a lady who was also waiting. She began sharing about her involvement with a well-known occultic figure named Rudolf Steiner. She said that she didn’t talk about it with most other Christians because they always thought Steiner was very weird and condemned her. (Steiner created a type of subdivision of Theosophy called Anthroposophy.) At the time I had been reading a book by C. S. Lewis in which he said there were some positive aspects about Anthroposophy, so, therefore, I didn’t become alarmed about what this woman was telling me. Later, I learned that Anthroposophy was actually just like the evil non-Christian occultism I had left behind. But because C. S. Lewis had approved of it, I didn’t warn this woman of the danger she was in.

Another time I got into a conversation with another student at the University of Oregon. I was sharing with him how positive I thought C. S. Lewis was and that I’d been reading his space trilogy, especially the last book called That Hideous Strength. I said quite innocently that I was a little disturbed because its ending scene reminded me of my previous occult involvement. In the scene, a group of Anglicans prayed for help against evil forces and through their prayer raised up Merlin the Magician from a long sleep. Merlin then led animals—bears and such—to attack the evil people. The other student was very shocked and annoyed that I’d think something was wrong with the occult. He was an avid reader of C. S. Lewis, and I believe he considered himself a Christian.

After years of studying historically the role of the Western Esoteric Traditions in Germany, Great Britain, and other countries, I have come to see how intricately all of these strange ideas and practices are connected with certain types of literature that many people consider Christian; and, furthermore, how more and more often this literature is being considered Christian by Evangelicals who used to be wary of literature but are now experiencing a literary renaissance with an explosion of fantasy writing under the label of “Christian fiction.”

These are just a few examples of why I am so disturbed about what is happening among Evangelicals today and feel compelled to keep speaking out.

I do think it can be positive that Evangelicals are more open to historical and cultural influences, but there must be discernment because some of these influences definitely are evil, and to look upon them without discernment is very dangerous. Church history has proven what a stumbling block for Christian thinking and living that pagan thinking and fantasy can be.

Furthermore, there is a massive occult explosion happening right now all around us, and many Christians—and especially young Christians—are being swept into tremendous bondage by these forces and influences. Perhaps one of the worst aspects of this explosion and its effects on the Church is the lack of discernment by some major Evangelical leaders and the influence they exert on their followers.

Undiscerning Evangelical Leaders
And Their Influence

This is an age in which many Evangelicals are caught up in certain aspects of the Western Esoteric Traditions while thinking they are really good, desirable, and innocent, and enable us to be alive in Christ.

One major influence comes from the Inklings and the support of the Inklings given by some Evangelical leaders.

John Piper. The most popular example is John Piper, who is currently giving lengthy and enthusiastic apologetics for Lewis, and encouraging people to read all of Lewis’s works. The bizarre nature of Piper’s approach is evident in his online video, “Lessons from an Inconsolable Soul.” He first lists the many problems and dangers with Lewis’s thinking and then extols his work as wonderful for Christians. He even subtitles the video, “Seems I Shouldn’t Find Lewis so Helpful.” Indeed.

John Warwick Montgomery. Another modern example of a supposed Christian leader introducing Hermeticism to Christians is John Warwick Montgomery, who as an apologist for the Inklings in his defense of Charles Williams, made appalling statements about the “usefulness” of Tarot cards for Christians.

In his book, Principalities and Powers (Minneapolis, MN: Bethany Fellowship, 1973), Montgomery claims that writers “such as T. S. Eliot (The Waste Land) and Charles Williams (The Greater Trumps) have employed its [the Tarot] imagery so effectively both in describing the lostness of the human condition and the Christian redemptive solution” (p. 131). He states, “Because the cards are so potent symbolically, they are also most dangerous when misused or perverted.” Misused? Perverted? They are essentially already dangerous occult techniques of divination and should never be used at all.

Montgomery also described Arthur Edward Waite as a Christian. Waite was a co-creator of a Tarot deck, wrote many occultic books, and was in the hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn in England.

Temple of the Rosy Cross
Teophilus Schweighardt Constantiens, 1618
Montgomery wrote his Ph.D. thesis defending the man who wrote the basic documents of Rosicrucianism, trying to dismiss them as just a joke. (See his Cross and Crucible: Johann Valentin Andreae (1586-1654), phoenix of the theologians, Volume 1.) (Founded in the 1600s by Christian Rosenkreuz, Rosicrucianism is an occult philosophy and part of the Western Esoteric Traditions.) 

Basically, Montgomery has been introducing Hermeticism to Christians.

Regent College, a graduate school in the Anglican tradition located in Vancouver, B.C. (where J. I. Packer has taught for years), has been republishing the works of Charles Williams, an open hermeticist. 

Speaking of Regent College evokes memories of our trip there around 20 years ago when we were exploring the possibility of attending. What we experienced was like a scene out of a novel. First we met with a professor and his wife whose office was like a cave out of The Hobbit. Then we met with the founder, John Huston, who treated us as though we were generic ciphers and who, after we had explained our ministry of many years, dismissed it and said that what we really needed was spiritual formation (his big focus). Then we met J. I. Packer, who staunchly defended psychology as a means of sanctification. So it’s not surprising that Regent is republishing the works of Charles Williams. (We decided not to attend.)

George MacDonald. Because C. S. Lewis has so greatly extolled George MacDonald, his writing has emerged from obscurity and become mainline Protestant literature. Lewis called MacDonald his “master” and stated that through reading MacDonald’s works, he experienced a “baptism” of his imagination. MacDonald, while appearing seemingly innocent, is actually very deceptive. MacDonald had been a Scot Calvinist preacher, but when he was removed from the pulpit for unorthodox doctrines, he began writing stories. 

MacDonald was strongly influenced by Novalis, a 19th century hermeticist who was part of the Romantic Movement. (Novalis was his pen name; his real name was Georg Philipp Friedrich Freiherr von Hardenberg.) MacDonald translated some of Novalis’ works into English and quoted him in some of his own books. (See my article, “’Christian’ Romanticism, the Inklings, and the Elevation of Mythology” for more details; also, the book Romantic Religion: A Study of Barfield, Lewis, Williams, and Tolkien by R. J. Reilly. Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 1972.)

                                 A Historical Perspective

A good way to grasp what the Western Esoteric Traditions are all about is to look at the historical figure of Jacob Boehme (1575-1624), who influenced Charles Williams. 

Boehme was a leading Protestant mystic and a member of a Lutheran church in a region in Germany rich in Hermetic tradition. He presented an esoteric psychology based on alchemy, Kabbalah, and astrology, which placed him firmly within the Western Esoteric Traditions. This weird mixture is typical of the ways esotericism has been combined with Christian practice. Orthodox pastors rebuked him and forbade him to write, but he wrote secretly and gained many followers. (See The Western Esoteric Traditions: A Historical Introduction by Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke. Oxford University Press, 2008, Kindle edition, location 1712.)

There’s a direct connection between Boehme’s “theosophy” and Charles Williams in that William Law, a disciple of Boehme’s teachings, was very influential upon Charles Williams, who then was very influential upon C. S. Lewis. This is one example of how these occultic traditions have been passed along. In fact, Lewis considered Williams [a Hermeticist] as one of the holiest men he’d ever met. (See other posts in this blog discussing the problems with Williams.) Williams was also a Neoplatonist. Lewis apparently confused holiness with mysticism.

C. S. Lewis and the Cambridge Platonists

Lewis’s fascination with the occult is apparent in that he wanted to write his doctoral thesis on Henry More, a known alchemist and one of the most important of the Cambridge Platonists (1600s), but he decided to go into literature instead of philosophy so he changed the focus of his thesis.

As I showed in my earlier post, “The Hidden War,” Lewis actually was a Platonist and was teaching Platonism in his children’s stories. Frederick W. Baue, in his article, “It’s All in Plato: An Examination of C. S. Lewis’s Worldview,” revealed how strongly Platonism and Neo-platonism influenced Lewis’s worldview right up to his death. As I pointed out in that article, and believe it is important to stress, Lewis’s work has become so accepted that there is a universal blindness to the philosophy embedded in it.

The Cambridge Platonists were professors at Cambridge University who, though considering themselves Christians, incorporated Hermeticism and Neoplatonism with their Christian practices and thinking. And, of course, these practices and philosophies are contradictory to the teachings of the Bible, which warns against vain philosophies and witchcraft.

See to it that no one takes you captive to hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ.
Colossians 2:8

 "Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city. Outside are the dogs, those who practice magic arts, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idolaters and everyone who loves and practices falsehood.

“I, Jesus, have sent my angel to give you this testimony for the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, and the bright Morning Star.”
Revelation 22:14–16


Today the resurgence of Hermeticism and its blind promotion by many Christians is shaping modern Evangelicalism in powerful and disturbing ways. This article is a mere beginning in showing how very strong and alive the spiritual battle is of the temptation to be a “magical” Christian and how very destructive it is of a solid Christian life.

It is also a strong warning to be careful about whose writings we are following and ingesting into our thinking. Having our minds shaped by Biblical teaching is of the greatest importance. The Bible does not have to be the only book we should ever read, but it should be the canon—the measuring rod—of what we are reading and hearing. It is the very unique Word of Truth. 

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