Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Seven Sermons to the Dead

The story begins with three wise men. Sound familiar? Except in this case, the men get together to discuss the mysterious and newly translated book by eminent psychologist C. G. Jung. The year is 1949, and two of these men have fled from nearby Hungary to safer climes in Austria. One of the men is a Roman Catholic priest, once a member of the Jesuit order, and the youngest professor to hold a seat in the University of Hungary. This man, though a priest, is also an expert on Existentialism, and knew Sartre personally.
The second man is the author himself, at this time wet behind the ears and just getting into philosophy—not to mention maybe someday the priesthood.
The third man, the man who brings the book, is another priest about which not much is known. Because the book was for Jung’s close friends, it had been passed along for almost forty years just between a few men and in that way the third man encountered The Seven Sermons to the Dead.
The “sermons” themselves are baffling poetry, credited to Emperor Basilides—a seventeenth century alchemist and Gnostic who taught extensively in Alexandria—the ancient world’s most progressive and mystical city, located in Egypt (where east meets west). The book itself was beautiful—expensively bound, hand-written in German, and with a long unused Gothic typeface.
Dr. Jung, writing in the voice of ancient Basilides, published the rare little volumes in 1916. He kept it quiet because to be Gnostic, or even associated with such philosophy, was long considered heretical throughout history. No doubt, Jung felt he could not come forward with these as his specific beliefs.
“The dead came back from Jerusalem, where they did not find what they were seeking.”
Thus starts the Seven Sermons, the “dead” being those who have not reached individuation i.e. knowledge of the self. These are lost people, who conform to society rather than embrace their own unique and dichotomous spirits. Jung, in the voice of Emperor Basilides, continues throughout to “teach”, because he is implored, about the mysteries of universe, man, god, and spirit.
The first sermon deals with the “pleroma” or that which surrounds and fills all things. This ether has no qualities because it is all qualities. In general, I think he’s talking about space and the essence of the universe itself. The nameless and intangible something in which we are all suspended and out of which we are all created. By definition, as unique beings, we must by nature differentiate ourselves from this pleroma, this nothing and everything in which all qualities are contained. If we were to let ourselves become absorbed even in thought about it, we should cease to be.
”All things which are called definite and solid are but relative, for only that which is subject to change appears definite and solid.”
“We die to the extent that we fail to discriminate.”
“But if we know how to know ourselves as being apart from the pairs of opposites, then we have attained to salvation.”
It is implied in this first sermon that this endless potentiality of pleroma can influence a man to become either extreme on a spectrum of opposing forces—light/dark, good/evil, masculine/feminine. Instead, by transcending these forces and disallowing the projection of our own ideas on what is basically a faceless universe, a man can become truly what his nature has designed for him to be. All it takes, is listening to the self’s true desires and not letting anyone or anything stand in the way of progress to that growth.
To this day, these sermons have not been fully explored and there is too much to go over each individually or I would risk writing a novel myself. I recommend this book for anyone who is tired of the traditional “faith” around them--someone who is seeking a harmonious and balanced way of looking at the universe and our place in it as essential and unique beings. And also, someone who wants to consider an idea which allows for the attainment of their full potential.