The Outlaw Spirit: Giordano Bruno
By coincidence, an article by Brian Logan appeared this morning in The Guardian newspaper that very much illustrates what I wrote about yesterday in “The Outlaw Spirit” in connection with Francis Bacon’s fateful question whether science or magic (that is, Natural Philosophy or Hermetic Philosophy) were best for the mind’s mastery of its circumstances. The end result, after four centuries, has been that “scientia” is now equated with “rationalism” (therefore “realist” and truthful) and “magic” trivialised as illusionism and trickery.
It’s an example of how language, definition, and meaning fell as spoils to the victors in the contests and agonies of the early Modern period and the Late Middle Ages — the transitional age. Rationalism has merely constructed its own sacrosanct dogmas and heresies and self-justifying mythologies on the model of its theocratic predecessor. These are now, as then, the conventional wisdom and the prevailing “common sense” — even the measure of sanity. But Mr. Logan’s representation of the issue has next to nothing to do with how even Sir Francis Bacon understood the question of “science or magic” for forming the philosophical foundations of his New Age — his “New Atlantis”.
This may also be a good thing, paradoxically.
By way of illustrating the falsification and even suppression of the historical record I want to summon the spectre of Giordano Bruno (1548 – 1600), today deemed a “martyr of science” for his trial and execution by the Inquisition for holding heretical views. That Bruno was definitely a “Free Thinker” is not in dispute. But today’s rationalists do wrong to appropriate Bruno as a persecuted precedent for themselves and an authority for their own traditions, for he belonged to that very “magical” mode of consciousness that was rejected by Bacon and by the heirs of Bacon and Descartes and which was subsequently suppressed by them as “occult” or “mystical”. Bruno was an outlaw spirit — an embodied contradiction — to the authorities of both the Age of Faith and the Age of Reason.
Giordano Bruno first came to my attention in reading a brief mention of him in an essay on the history and philosophy of science. The author of that essay provided a summary of Bruno’s method — “to know the thing, you must become the thing you want to know”.
Only later did the full import of that “method” of cognition and perception occur to me. It is the essence of empathy, of course, and so I have come to call it “empathetic epistemics” — a way of knowing through empathic identification. This is the basis of the teaching of the affinities or what is also referred to as “coincidentia oppositorum” or “conjunctio oppositorum” which is the core teaching of all Hermetic Philosophy — coincidence of opposites or conjunction of contraries. What that means is that the part and the whole share an essential identity or “affinity”. This affinity in latter days came to be called participation mystique.
The precedent for that is Heraclitus, who taught coincidence of opposites also. Heraclitus was also an “outlaw spirit” in the context of early Greek rationalism, so much so that he was called “Heraclitus the Dark” or “Heraclitus the Obscure”.
The doctrine of affinities or “coincidentia oppositorum” is the basis of the magical structure of consciousness and of shamanism, a way of knowing through empathic identification. That is the meaning of this particular cave drawing of a shaman that I retrieved from the book Space, Time and Medicine.
The doctrine of the affinities or “coincidentia oppositorum” was also taught by Nicholas of Cusa (called Cusanus) who lived from 1401 to 1464, and who is also a somewhat familiar name in the history of philosophy. His De Docta Ignorantia (“On Learned Ignorance”) lays out the teaching of the affinities and the coincidence of opposites, and is still available in translation online. The core of the teaching of the affinities or coincidence of opposites is contained in the saying that “God is a circle whose centre is everywhere, and whose circumference is nowhere”, or the identity of the part and the whole which makes knowledge of the whole by the part possible at all.
This is the shape of “magical consciousness”, and that is what Bacon was referring to in his opposition of science and magic. By “science” (or the experimental philosophy) he meant “objective knowledge” — knowledge of the phenomena gained by experiment and observation. By “magic” he meant knowledge of essences attained by immediate insight through empathetic identification (which has now come to be called “mysticism”). Empathetic epistemics, or teaching of the affinities, is the same “mystical” mode of cognition and perception that we find in Rumi’s poem “Say I am You”
I am dust particles in sunlight.
I am the round sun.
To the bits of dust I say, Stay.
To the sun, Keep moving.
I am morning mist,
and the breathing of evening.
I am wind in the top of a grove,
and surf on the cliff.
Mast, rudder, helmsman, and keel,
I am also the coral reef they founder on.
I am a tree with a trained parrot in its branches.
Silence, thought, and voice.
The musical air coming through a flute,
a spark of stone, a flickering in metal.
Both candle and the moth crazy around it.
Rose, and the nightingale lost in the fragrance.
I am all orders of being, the circling galaxy,
the evolutionary intelligence, the lift, and the falling away.
What is, and what isn’t.
You who know, Jelaluddin,
You the one in all, say who I am.
Say I am you.
This is knowledge of essences, or what I call “empathetic epistemics” — realised identity of the part and the whole. In principle it is the same mode of perception and cognition that Giordano Bruno promoted as true and essential knowledge — to know the thing, you must become the thing you want to know.
This is what William Blake also taught in his poetry: “Eternity in love with the productions of time” or “Heaven in a Wild Flower and Eternity in the hour”, “the universe in a grain of sand” are statements of coincidentia oppositorum and of the affinities. What Blake means by “Imagination” or “Vision” is direct knowledge of essences through empathetic epistemics, or what today is weakly called “intuition” (weakly because suppressed and undeveloped).
This is basis of one of the charges of heresy brought against Bruno by the Inquisition — that he taught an heretical doctrine of “metempsychosis” or “transmigration of souls” or “supernatural magic”. Metempsychosis is really another name for what we call “shamanism”, magical consciousness or “empathetic epistemics”. Giordano Bruno resembles, in that sense, the Sufi poet and martyr Mansur al-Hallaj (858 – 922 A.D.), tortured and executed for blasphemy after running through the streets shouting “I am Truth!” Before his execution, al-Hallaj reputedly penned these lines…
Now stands no more between Truth and me
Or reasoned demonstration,
Or proof of revelation;
Now, brightly blazing full, Truth’s lumination
Each flickering, lesser light.
We may say that this verse expresses completely “coincidence of opposites”, the perfectly realised identity of part and whole, and therefore the most intimate, most complete form of knowledge itself.
Given this, it is quite false of our contemporary rationalists to claim Giordano Bruno as “a martyr to science” and the Free Thinker. He was that, of course, but not in the way they understand it, because his “method” is the complete contrary of the objective attitude of “disinterested inquiry” that is considered the only valid truth. Bruno’s method of what we might call “active imagination” was even completely rejected by the leading scientists of his time — Galileo and Kepler.
The word “occult”, as previously noted, only dates from this time also, and came to mean illicit or “unreal” knowledge not gained by observation or “disinterestedness” — “seeing is believing”. Bruno’s method of empathetic knowing — as was the method of the Hermeticists generally and Blake also — is the exact contrary of this “objective attitude”. So, for contemporary rationalists to claim Bruno as a precedent for themselves is completely fraudulent. He is as much their contradiction as he was a heretic to the theocrats.
Knowledge of both inner and outer aspects are both necessary for complete knowledge — identification and differentiation are the rhythm of full consciousness, and both are valid. We have, unfortunately, cut ourselves off from knowledge of inner worlds by our amputation of the power of empathy or “intuition”, and the result is, today, the “culture of narcissism” and the degeneracy of reason as revenge effect and perverse outcome.
But, we also have Carl Jung to thank also, in part, for setting the record straight on the meaning of “alchemy” or “magic” as empathetic epistemics, and which is becoming more and more acceptable as a valid way of knowing, even in the form of quantum non-locality, “synchronicity”, and the holographic universe. That is the reason for the “strange friendship” of Carl Jung and the quantum physicist Wolfgang Pauli explored by Arthur I. Miller in Deciphering the Cosmic Number.
The suppressed Hermeticists and their doctrine of affinities and coincidentia oppositorum may yet have the last laugh on “the Age of Reason”.