Saturday, February 20, 2010

An abridged piece on lost memory systems from 'Shakespeare and Occult Neoplatonism' in Winter Pollen by Ted Hughes:

Frances Yates suggests that Dante's Commedia is virtually a memory map of the Inferno, Purgatorio and Paradiso, furnished with a sequence of charged images, historically defined figures and self-evident, graphic episodes which become the mnemonic symbols, and lexicon, of the poet's vision, encompassing his entire intellectual and spiritual universe. The whole work serves as a complete Catholic meditation, formulated like a liturgy, raising Dante (or the reader) from a commonplace, profane condition (the worldy fear of the call) to ecstatic contemplation of the Divine Source ...

The Cabbalist's Tree of Life ... becomes a model of the nested hierarchies of the universe, a contrivance for imagining the ordered universe - in other words, a means of organising the psyche by internalising the knowable universe as a stairway of God. Climbing in meditation through the stations, on the path of the Serpent of Wisdom, the practitioner endeavours to raise his consciousness, step by step, towards union with the Divine Source...

The practitioner mounts the ladder, locking his meditation into overdrive (the furor of love) by various procedures of ritual magic (that would now be called techniques of self-hypnosis.)


Hughes argues that Shakespeare's Loves Labours Lost deals with how to include women and the love of women within this scheme, as well as adding austerity and visiting the sick.

Its magical theory and practice was too easily accused as diabolism by the Catholicism and Protestantism which it aimed to dissolve, and as a result even the pictographic imagery of its memory systems disappeared, anathema to Puritan society.

The battle between the two systems can be seen in Shakespeare's The Tempest (whose Prospero is the very image of a Neoplatonist) and Johnson's The Alchemist.

By the time of Newton, 'Truth' had 'radically purged itself of human subjectivity, emerging like a new, brassy sun as stern cosmic dualism, a supernal conjunctio of atomic materialism and mathematical law. The Goddess... had been violently and finally defeated... and converted ... into the inert, material domain of her conqueror, while her 'magical' and 'divine' creative powers had been expropriated, aboriginal-style, as his 'science.''

Only to reappear at times of revolution - Goethe, Blake, Yeats.

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