Man is a part of the whole we call the universe, a part limited in space and time. He experiences himself,
his thoughts and feelings as separate from everything else – a kind of optical illusion of consciousness.
This delusion is a kind of prison for us, as it limits us to our own preferences and to affection for a few close ones.
Our goal must be to free ourselves from this prison by expanding the horizon of our compassion until it encompasses all living beings,
all of nature in all its beauty.
One of my ancestors went to sea for half of his life before becoming very successful in a trading business. He carried a compass with him on all his voyages – no one can remember ever finding out about its origin – which now has a permanent place in the library which was also my father’s study in his parents’ house and is regularly dusted off. An old piece of wood and brass. Since we haven’t lived on the coast for many years, the compass isn’t needed, it’s also far too old-fashioned, if a compass can be old-fashioned at all. The interesting thing about these things is that they work all the time, they don’t need electricity or any other kind of drive, they just work. That always fascinated me, as it did many boys. One fine, clear summer day, an old, retired colleague of my father’s, a distant relative, Uncle Hans, came to visit us, and as he took a seat in the study – they had some complicated legal matters to discuss – his eyes fell on the compass. He stood up, looked at it, grinned, “Kurtl, you know what it is about this piece in particular; I see that it is cleaned regularly?” My father looked at him with questioning eyes, and then the old friend carefully lifted the metal piece out of its mahogany surround and showed us a saying engraved on the bottom that stood out clearly through well-preserved paint:
I, your compass needle do not go astray,
will always point you in the right direction,
but only if you know how to use me.
If the sun behind the suns,
the earth behind the earth is your goal,
then I will be your help,
wherever you are,
there is help you can rely on
in the difficult times.
“I wonder what that means, it’s most interesting”? was my father’s comment in a more conversational tone. The uncle raised his eyebrows and smirked, “come, let’s go over your problems.” But to me – I must have been around twelve or thirteen at the time – the saying gave me no peace and as I lay in bed, the sentences the old man had read out resonated within me; what does that mean, earth behind the earth, sun behind the sun? I was still brooding, pictures from books, explorers, foreign coasts, the compass rose on every sea chart … and then I fell asleep; but I woke up again and again, with my heart pounding and drenched in sweat … Only fragments of dreams remained in the memory, volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, people running back and forth in panic; somewhere an island collapsed into the sea – but behind it all a light, a still, radiant light, like a theatre where the old scenery, now no longer usable as the play is played out, is burnt …
Decades later, during an illness which, although never life-threatening, left me very weak for a long time, the memory of that evening suddenly resurfaced; the saying at the bottom of the compass cassette, Sun behind the Sun, Earth behind the Earth was washed into my consciousness from the depths of memory after a long time, or was it a room which lay in darkness and suddenly became bright after a door to the outside simply opened … I asked my old father on the phone if he could remember that evening and the saying at the bottom of the cassette? After a short pause, he answered in the affirmative and I asked him to check whether the name of an author was there. “I’m sorry, I can only find this saying; what made you think of that?” – “I’ll tell you some other time when we meet again.” In any case, it must have been someone who knew.
For some time now a restlessness had been nagging at me, a dissatisfaction with everything and everyone, with my life in particular, and now that I was weak and more or less confined to bed due to my illness, I decided to seriously investigate this restlessness … during those days a book fell into my hand, Sons of Light, a novel, and at the very back of the explanations of the words, the word Vitriol was found, more precisely V. I.T.R.I.O.L. As a chemist, I still work in an office for environmental protection and have been familiar with vitriol since the days of chemistry lessons at school. Vitriols, compounds, salts of sulphuric acid with metals. But there was something completely different: Visita Interiora Terrae, Rectificandoque Invenies Occultum Lapidem – Go into the interior of the earth and by purifying yourself you will find the philosopher’s stone, actually the hidden stone. When I read these words, there was no astonishment, no wonder in me – it was clear that this was how it had to be. Only what to do, how to do it?
At that time, this was the departure into a New Life, marked by bringing this mysterious compass inscription into harmony with the vitriol. Chemistry, I soon understood, was one of the children of a great universal mother, Al-Chemistry. –
A busy research began that brought me to the myths surrounding the New Earth – as they are presented to us in many tales, fairy tales and traditional writings from all cultures and times. And all these traditions want to be understood by people, no, it’s not just about me, about my person; if it’s about the centre of the earth – doesn’t the whole of humanity have to be affected by it? Since I did not fully recover from my illness at that time, I had to let go of many things that used to be important to me. Instead, I now had, as they say, chance meetings with people who were also searching for something else, like a secret that has been slumbering in the depths of our soul for an unthinkable amount of time, has been kept asleep, but is now beginning to stir again. That which is the earth behind the earth cannot be anything other than paradise, nirvana or whatever you want to call it – and it cannot be found anywhere else than IN us, actually it is the centre – in the bottom of the heart. If it is found there, then it is recognised everywhere. I had to think of my father’s old friend again, his eyes visited me, his understanding smirk, and now the meaning of many words stood before me, as in an open book … this Above-All, truly above the universe; what else should the New Earth be than the one behind the earth, illuminated by the hidden sun, which is also Above-All … Could it be that everything we see in this way is scenery, simple staffage, comparable to stalls from the fair?
Renaissance from day to day
People have been meeting me differently lately, friendlier than usual, more agreeable; even my former adversaries have stopped pricking me; a dark thought occurred to me that all this might have something to do with me. A young colleague who is to become my successor, also a chemist, brought me books on alchemy, and there were more of them than I had ever imagined … and there, how could it be otherwise, the name of Hermes Tresmegisto appears again and again, the thrice-great one who became known anew in the Renaissance, above all through Marsilio Ficino. Is not the timeless, eternal renaissance, the rebirth into a burning, even flaming here and now, our actual goal, which is why we were sent to this planet, in order to renew everything through the mysterious light, even to let a New Earth arise?
And so I struggled from one to the other, or perhaps better, it was not I who had to reach out for this or that; it is different: there is a force, it remains mysterious, it attracts what may be needed for the next steps; and then these lines by Marsilio fell into my hands:
“Do you wish to see the face of goodness? Take a look at the whole world filled with sunlight! Look at the light in the matter of the world, how it is filled with all the forms of all things and how it is mobile; take away the matter and let the rest exist. Then you have the soul as incorporeal, all-formed, unchanging light.
This light shines infinitely because it shines from its own nature and is not limited by the admixture of other things.
It extends through all things because it is in none, so that it can equally shine through all.
It lives from itself and gives life to every being, while its shadow, namely this sunlight here, also gives life to corporeality.
Marsilio Ficino, Conversations between God and the Soul, quoted from: Von Spiegeln und Schatten (Of Mirrors and Shadows), Rosenkreuz-Verlag.
Roger Peyrefitte, Die Söhne des Lichts (The sons of light), Verlag Stahlberg