Prerequisite Essays

Contemplative Dialogue

Theurgical Dialectic



Perennial Tradition Embodiments

      Esoteric Wisdom Teachings comprise one of several embodiments of the Perennial Tradition, 1 the secret legacy, the single stream of initiatory teaching flowing through all the authentic schools of philosophy and mysticism.

      Perennialist concepts and teaching methods are the outcome of creative adaptation to contemporary needs by initiated teachers of the identical stream of Perennialist truth. Each representation of the Perennial Tradition emphasizes specific facets and themes, 2 using special teaching procedures that distinguish it from other embodiments. For example, the theme of Beauty was emphasized by both Plato and the Gothic Cathedral Philosophy, though in diverse ways. The procedure of theurgical dialectical interchange was addressed by only one of the Perennial Tradition embodiments: Neo-Platonism.

      In this essay we're exploring the Wisdom Teachings epitomization of the Perennial Tradition, which emphasizes these themes:

  1. The spiritual element named Sophia [σοφια] (which means wisdom in Greek ) and is usually represented as a feminine force within the Godhead

  2. Inner dialectical interchange between the initiate and the persona Sophia (Lady Wisdom)

  3. Establishment by Sophia of an inner spiritual world within the initiate ("new heaven and new earth") in which the initiate and Sophia interact and commune

  4. Development of a progressively more intimate and comprehensive relationship between Sophia and the seeker, ending in the unitive state of Divine Marriage

"The dialectic method endeavors to arrive at the One itself, always employing for this purpose steps of ascent, and at last, beautifully ends in the nature of the good."
Proclus (411-485 CE), The Theology of Plato

      As we see from Proclus' statement, the Neo-Platonists emphasized dialectical interchange in their transmutational teaching procedures within the Perennial Tradition--one of the important components of the Wisdom Teachings. However, the first Perennialist teacher who initiated and developed all facets of the Wisdom Teachings was Anicius Manlius Severinus Boethius (480-524 C.E.), including in his teachings and life experience each theme and emphasis we've outlined above.

While in prison, Boethius communes with the Lady Sophia through dialectical interchange       While in prison awaiting a ghastly death, Boethius had experienced a definite inner dialectical interchange between his soul and Lady Philosophy (the spirit of the love of Wisdom). The narrative account in his Emboldenment of Philosophy discloses how Boethius achieved transformation and self-understanding while communing with Lady Sophia in an inner spiritual domain. Boethius' book combined verse and alternating dialogue between himself and Lady Philosophy, organizing his narrative into different stages of his spiritual healing and transmutation. Lady Philosophy communes with Boethius in his inner being, bringing into the dialectical interchange others who were true devotees of philosophy: those who love and seek Wisdom.

     Plato, who originated the disclosure of the Perennial Tradition titled philosophy: love of wisdom: [philo (φιλο) love of sophia (σοφια) wisdom], taught select students how to attain a state of higher discernment called Wisdom through dialectical interchange. Instruction in attaining this state was named philosophia, the love of and the search for Wisdom.

"Dialectic is the only philosophical method which seeks for Wisdom by anagogically 3 transporting our foundational underpinnings so that our Higher Self ascends to the Origin."

Plato, The Commonwealth VII, 533d

      The Wisdom Teachings emphasize personal, inner dialectical interchange with the feminine personification of Wisdom [Sofia], the heightened state of consciousness associated with this experiential reality, and the higher discernment capabilities associated with it.

Counterfeit Judeo-Christian Wisdom Tradition

      Within orthodox Judaism and orthodox Christianity there is said to be a Wisdom Tradition associated with the Old Testament figure of Solomon. When we examine the writings of this so-called tradition [Proverbs, Job, Ecclesiastes, Ben Sirach (or Ecclesiasticus), and Wisdom of Solomon] in detail we discover that it consists of nothing more than a series of writings that in some respect refer to the concept of wisdom. Most of the writings are merely collections of potted 4 aphorisms. 5 In these counterfeit lines of teaching Sophia is misidentifed as the Hebrew sephira (number or pattern) Chokmah (wisdom) and the Roman Catholic Virgin Mary.

      We will, therefore, distinguish clearly between this counterfeit Judeo-Christian "Wisdom Tradition" and the genuine Wisdom Teachings we're here exploring. By regenerating the Wisdom Teachings in this way we gain, among other benefits, a clearer understanding of who Jesus of Nazareth really was: a Galilean peasant itinerant progressive Wisdom teacher.

"It is possible for any man or woman to enter into that ancient fellowship of those who seek to become the servants of the great preservers of the secret records of antiquity. Krishna taught Arjuna in the fourth chapter of the Bhagavad Gita that after the greatest--now forgotten--civilizations of long ago came and went, 'the mighty spiritual art' was lost. Pythagoras Though it was lost, collectively speaking, it was never lost to all because these hierophants assiduously preserved it. It has been called the Wisdom-Religion. It is the divine wisdom maintained by those few who embody it, who are its self-conscious custodians, tribeless and raceless, genuinely free men proud to belong to the family of man. They differ from the exhaustless potentiality of the Divine Mind only as divine thought differs from divine ideation. It is the difference between a library and men who in using the library and in reflecting and ideating upon its books, magically bring them to life. . . The faculty of self-conscious awareness in the human being never seems to be exhausted, even by the whole catalogue of abuse of that power."

D. K. Mavalankar, "Order and Chaos"

John Pordage
      We've previously explored Boethius' outstanding Perennialist work: The Emboldenment of Philosophy. In this essay, we'll concentrate on the seventeenth century Wisdom Teachings adept: John Pordage (1607-1681).

      Pordage is representative of a number of persons associated with the Wisdom Teachings during this period: Jacob Boehme (1575-1624), Jane Leade (1623-1704), Johann Gishtel (1638-1710), Georg von Welling (1655-1727), Friedrich Christoph Doetinger (1702-1782), Louis-Claude de Saint-Martin (1743-1803), and Franz von Baader (1765- 1841).

John Pordage's Wisdom Teachings: An Exercise

\       I've chosen Pordage's teaching because it's not only the freest from irrelevant references to Judeo-Christian allusions and scriptures but because it is one of the most powerful exhortations to and step-by-step training in the genuine Wisdom Teachings.

      In what follows, we'll examine Pordage's thought in detail, drawing out his conceptions and procedures. All quotations are taken from Pordage's Sophia: The Graceful Eternal Virgin of Holy Wisdom, or Wonderful Spiritual Discoveries and Revelations That the Precious Wisdom Has Given to a Holy Soul, 1675.

      I suggest you read the quotations aloud to yourself and then use the commentary as points of contemplation. If you approach this exercise in the appropriate frame of mind, you'll be able to experience the extraordinary power of Pordage's teachings, attaining a definite awareness of a spiritual domain within you 6   in which you can interact and commune with Sophia, the Spirit of Wisdom.

"Every soul that thinks to attain Holy Wisdom must first have a strong desire for her, and unceasingly persevere in prayer, whereby one will be moved and stirred through the contemplation of her high excellencies and wonderful beauty and especially through remembering her as a true knower of the mysteries of the knowledge of God both in and outside nature and a lover of all His works. Hereby in the Ground of the Soul will awake a strong and sharp desire [for] this spirit of Wisdom with all earnest investigation and seeking . . .

"Nevertheless, this may take a long time, indeed, continuing so for twenty and more years (in some cases), persevering and proposing marriage to this heavenly Virgin of holy Wisdom before she really appears and reveals herself to the soul-spirit in stillness and peace to quiet, to entrust, and to strengthen, and to still the strong impulse of its consuming hunger.


Earnest desire for spiritual union with Wisdom is neither something we can assume we already possess nor assume that it is inessential. We must pray for and meditate on Wisdom's "beauty": her knowledge of the divine mysteries in both the transcendental and terrestrial domains. Such contemplation of Wisdom's discernment creates a genuine desire in our soul for union with Her.

Attaining spiritual discernment and union with Divine Wisdom is not something we can rush; it requires perseverance and patience. Sophia is slowly yet effectively quieting the disturbing hubbub of our mind and spirit. She is preparing us for the disclosure of her illuminating, penetrating Wisdom.

The individual seeks for Wisdom and implores Sophia to come "herebelow" and dwell in his soul. But he erroneously seeks by ascending out of himself to break through the wall separating him from divinity, thereby becoming discouraged and exhausted. Through repeated failure the soul realizes that it must seek by descending, "sinking into one's own inward ground, and no longer seeking to rise out of oneself." (paraphrase)

"Whereupon the soul now thus sinks into itself and before it the gate of Wisdom's depths is opened directly and in the blink of an eye, and it is led into the holy eternal principium of the lightworld . . . in the new magical Earth wherein the . . . Virgin of God's Wisdom appears and announces her message."

"Now after my eternal will-spirit with the eye of my heart was turned inward, I really experienced in me the reigning power that my spirit sought. Because I felt a mighty-working power that made all my working powers and qualities mighty and my spirit earnestly was impelled to seek; also, words and material lay in the mouth and all my . . . soul-powers were salved with a precious oil which made them peaceful and gentle.

But who this was that I sought I knew not, who this Driver was I understood not. I felt . . . a penetrating power, . . an animating impulse in and through all powers and qualities in my inward and eternal man . . . I knew not what name I should giver Her . . . Still I felt it as a moving impulse . . . that gently and lovingly worked in me and stilled the fierceness of my hunger and the gruesomeness of my thirst . . . also She taught and assured me that She would advance her work and wouldn't fail to bring her plans with all delight and joy into the day. This sudden change astonished my eternal spirit so much I wondered if I was dreaming, and still I waited between hope and fear."

  The seeker tries everything he can think of to attain unity with the Divine. He assumes that if he persists he will ultimately break through the wall separating him from Sophia. He seeks outside himself, presuming that what he is looking for is there. Finally, after much frustration, he realizes he must look within himself if he is to find the Divine Sophia.

He stops seeking outwardly and searches for divine union inwardly. Wisdom's gate opens to allow him entrance into the holy eternal quintessence of the lightworld, the new Eden in which he finds the Divine Sophia speaking to him.

Turning his search inward and awakening his spiritual senses and will, he begins to experience inner soul-powers which he had long sought, empowering all his actions and communications. This new-felt power impelled him to further searching. He becomes peaceful and gentle, no longer frenzied as before.

He does not understand this new, inner power but experiences it as a driving force within all his eternal being. He realizes this is a divine force but doesn't know what to call it. He feels this new impulse as a positive force that has gently and lovingly stilled his prior grimness and delirium.

The new force begins to instruct him, assuring him that She will pursue and complete her efforts in his transformation. He is startled by all these changes but waits expectantly.

"This invisible spirit in prayer thus said to me: I am in you here descending: I am come in your nature; I penetrated through your brass gate and have broken through all your iron bolts; and you are come upon my power, my wholesome oil, such flowing into your eternal sensible and understanding powers and capacities, forms, and qualities . . . I am come to manifest my new creation in you, to make a new heaven and earth in you, in which nothing other than righteousness, namely, the right nature of myself, should dwell."

"I am come to make such in you yourself and this new invisible creation, inwardly in you, and not constructed outside you. I am come to make a new philosopher out of you and to teach you the true fundamentale and hidden principia of the holy and heavenly philosophy. You should listen to me and learn how I will form this new creation in you yourself. Your eternal spirit should stand by me and you should see this with your eyes. Because I am come not to advance in an apparition nor to make known in a revelation but rather through my creating word actually work it and bring it forth. Because I am come to really manifest it through my creating Fiat and you should see the art and way, how I through my magical art will accomplish this in you. And you should see it done with your own eyes. Thus began this speaking power in this way to form the new creation."

  As he is meditating, Divine Wisdom tells him that She has descended into the special spiritual world that she has created within his soul and awakened all his natural powers through her ministrations.

She tells him he is to experience this spiritual domain as she is manifesting and realizing it. Within it, she tells him, are divine laws: the correct ways to express her Wisdom.

Divine Sophia tells him that she is going to teach him about union with Wisdom through creating within his soul, right before his spiritual eyes, a new invisible universe in which she will comingle and commune with him.

Sophia is going to make of him a new lover of and seeker of Wisdom (philosopher). She is teaching him the essence of the holy and heavenly philosophy (love of wisdom).

By listening to and observing Her, he will learn how she is realizing this invisible creation in him. He should watch carefully how she is creating this new inner spiritual domain. "Do not," she warns, "misinterpret and misidentify this invisible creation as a mere mental or imaginary chimera."

"There exists a faculty in the human mind which is immeasurably superior to all those which are grafted or engendered in us. By it we can attain to union with superior intelligences, finding ourselves raised above the scenes of this earthly life, and partaking of the higher existence and superhuman powers of the inhabitants of the celestial spheres.

"By this faculty we find ourselves liberated finally from the dominion of destiny, and we become, as it were, the arbiters of our own fates. For, when the most excellent parts in us find themselves filled with energy; and when our soul is lifted up towards essences higher than science, it can separate itself from the conditions which hold it in the bondage of every-day life; it exchanges its ordinary existence for another one, it renounces the conventional habits which belong to the external order of things, to give itself up to and mix itself with another order of things which reigns in that most elevated state of being."

Iamblicus, The Egyptian Mysteries

  "Therein will I wander and talk with you; therein will I truly have communion with you; therein will I be your truest friend; therein will I reveal myself to you and my love made real. Outside this holy ground and this my paradisiacal garden I will not permit myself to be found; you may outside it seek but never find; because in your holy land alone will I wander with you. In this your paradisiacal ground or garden grow no forbidden fruit; no seeds of mortality; but rather trees, plants, and herbs through which flow eternal life and immortality."

"Don't imagine that this is some imaginary earth, an idealized earth, a mere shadow: it is a real land, a real ground, an essential, independent earth, into which one goes and can wander. This is called a magical earth; because it is an essential, true, and independent earth, hence its spirituality or subtile essentially only appears as an invisible, immaterial earth."

"It appeared to be both within and without me; and can both move and remain still, and also in the power of its subtility and spirituality spreads through this whole visible earth, so that it is closed out of no place, not held to any one place; where also my spirit was, there I was in this new central-earth, and it penetrated everywhere in this whole visible earth."

  "Here in this paradise," Sophia tells the seeker, "I will walk and talk with you and we will become special friends. I will interact with you so that you know me and my love will become real to you.

"I am not available in the external, terrestrial world, but only in this invisible garden. When we are together here we will only speak of and deal with Forms, the eternal, unchanging realities such as Goodness, Truth, and Beauty."

Divine Wisdom warns the seeker not to construe the invisible paradise that she has created as a merely imaginary earth. It is a genuine spiritual domain, independent of human belief or imagination. It is a domain that Wisdom has created through her powers and its being does not depend on human thought or faith.

The invisible inner domain is experienced both within a person's soul but also in the external, terrestrial world as well. The seeker learns to sense the spiritual universe as imminent in whatever aspect of the sensuous world he is experiencing. Sophia or Wisdom can manifest in whatever earthly phenomenon She chooses.

The Lineaments of the Wisdom Teachings

      When we experience the genuine Wisdom Teachings--in images (as immediately above) or in words--we sense the loveliness of the Divine Sophia. As we study and contemplate the writings of authentic teachers of Wisdom such as Iamblicus, Boethius, Pordage, Boehme, Suhrawardi, and others, we learn to engage in an inner dialectical interchange with Sophia. As we advance in awareness and understanding of Divine Wisdom, we're able to realize (apprehend and make real) the actuality of the spiritual domain within us.

      Use these additional Wisdom Teachings from its adepts as points of contemplation.

"It is the life that is lived in accordance with Higher Intellect and that cleaves to spiritual beings that we must train ourselves to live; for this is the only life which admits of the untrammeled endowment of the soul, frees us from the bonds of necessity, and allows us to live a life no longer mortal, but one that is divine and filled by the will of spiritual beings with divine benefits."

Iamblicus, Letter to Macedonius (On Fate)

      " One can develop to the point that one can leave one's physical form whenever one wants and go to the world of Divine Majesty, where one's ascent reaches the highest horizons. . . . Then, whenever one looks at one's essence one delights because one sees the light of God radiating upon oneself. This stage, however, is still incomplete.

     "When one goes still further one passes beyond even this stage, one becomes such that one does not think of one's own essence and one's consciousness of self is obliterated. This is called Major Annihilation. When one forgets oneself and forgets forgetting, it is called Annihilation in Annihilation. . . . One reaches perfection only when cognition is lost in the object of cognition, for whoever delights in the act of cognition as well as in the object of cognition has, as it were, two objects. One is 'abstracted' when one leaves behind cognition for the object of cognition. When the last traces of corporeal humanity are expended, it is the state of Obliteration . . ."

Shihab al-Din al-Suhrawardi, The Mystical and Visionary Treatises

      "The disciple said to his master: 'How may I come to the supersensual life so that I can see God and hear Him speak?'
    The Master said: 'When you can leap for a moment into that where no creature dwells then you can hear what God speaks.'

     "Disciple:'Is it near or far?'
    Master: 'It is within you. Could you halt volition and thought for but one hour then you could hear God's inexpressible words.'

     "Disciple: 'How can I hear when I stop volition and thought?'
    Master: 'When you stop willing and thinking self then the eternal hearing, seeing and speaking will be revealed within you, and God will see and hear through you. Your ego-centric hearing, willing and seeing hinders you from seeing and hearing God.'"

Jacob Boehme. Of the Supersensual Life

"Often have I been alone with my soul and have doffed my body and laid it aside and become as if I were naked substance without body, so as to be inside myself, outside all other things. Then do I see within myself such beauty and splendour as I do remain marvelling at and astonished, so that I know that I am one of the parts of the sublime, surpassing, lofty, divine world, and possess active life. When I am certain of that, I lift my intellect up from that world into the divine world and become as if I were placed in it and cleaving to it, so as to be above the entire intelligible world, and seem to be standing in that sublime and divine place. And there I see such light and splendour as tongues cannot describe nor ears comprehend. When that light and splendour overwhelm me and I have not strength to endure it, I descend from mind to thought and reflection. When I enter the world of thought, thought veils that light and splendour from me and I am left wondering how I have fallen from that lofty and divine place and am come to the place of thought, when my soul once had the power to leave her body behind and return to herself and rise to the world of mind and then to the divine world until she entered the place of splendour and light, which is the cause of all light and splendour. Wonderful it is too how I have seen my soul filled with light, while she was still in my body like her appearance, not leaving it."

The Theology of Aristotle speaking of Plato's mystical experiences

"What hinders men from seeing and hearing God, is their own hearing, seeing and willing; by their own wills they separate themselves from the will of God. They see and hear within their own desires, which obstructs them from seeing and hearing God. Terrestrial and material things overshadow them, and they cannot see beyond their own human nature. If they would be still, desist from thinking and feeling with their own self-hood, subdue the self-will, enter into a state of resignation, into a divine union with Christ, who sees God, and hears God, and speaks with him, who knows the word and will of God; then would the eternal hearing seeing and speaking become revealed to them. "

Jacob Boehme (1575-1624 C.E.)

      "This world is as real and objective, as consistent and subsistent as the intelligible and sensible worlds; it is an intermediate universe 'where the spiritual takes body and the body becomes spiritual,' a world consisting of real matter and real extension, though by comparison to sensible, corruptible matter these are subtle and immaterial. The organ of this universe is the active Imagination . . ."

Henry Corbin, Alone With the Alone:
Creative Imagination in the Sufism of Ibn 'Arabi

"People used to be like animals. They ceased being so when man began to value woman's beauty. . . At that time everything was decided by force. Having begun to value woman's beauty, man took her as his own. She became his property, his chattel. This was the reign of Astarte.
"When man developed further, he came to value woman's beauty more than ever and began to worship her. But woman's consciousness wasn't yet fully developed. He valued her only for her beauty. She was able to think only those thoughts that she heard from him. He said that he was a human being but that she wasn't; she still viewed herself as a splendid treasure belonging to him. She didn't consider herself human. This was the reign of Aphrodite.
"But soon the consciousness that she too was a human being began to awaken in her. . . Man still didn't want to have her as a companion for himself, other than as his slave. . . This is the sorrowful reign of the Virgin. . .
"She existed before people were created. . . Man became wiser; more and more, woman strongly perceived herself as a human being equal to him. And the time came, and I was born."
          Nikolai Chernyshevsky, What Is To Be Done?


1 See the author's recently published book, The Perennial Tradition

2 These themes are discussed in chapter two of the Perennial Tradition.

3 Anagogical: from the Greek anagein: to lift up; the word denotes any element (entity or experience) through which a person's actions, thoughts and feelings are lifted up from worldly sense experience to realize an experiential participation in the spiritual realm.

4 Briefly and superficially summarized, dull, pedestrian

5 Aphorism: A terse, often superficial and dull, formulation of a truth or sentiment

6 In a previous series of essays we explored how our conscious, deliberate attainment of Higher Consciousness expands into the experience of an independent, supersensible world of its own substance. Our spiritual self-consciousness finds itself in an actualized realm filled with spiritual Beings and events.