A Meditation on Jakob Boehme’s Fourfold Vision

To your minds there is such a thing as news,
whereas to the inner knowing, it’s all
in the middle of its happening.

Rumi, “Green Ears
Jacob Boehme

Let’s continue today with the theme of the earlier post on “Waring the Whole”, which we can begin to understand through contemplating Jakob Boehme’s famous illustration of what Blake calls “fourfold vision” also. What Rumi means by “it’s all in the middle of its happening” is the view from the centre of this structure, which Rumi calls “the inner knowing” and this is coincident with what Jean Gebser calls “the vital centre”. From this illustration we begin to gain a glimpse, too, of what Gebser means by “time-freedom” and a “pre-existing pattern” in the various transforms of consciousness structures.

The first thing to note about the illustration is that it is a mandala — a very common — even universal — symbol. It is also a symbol of the wheel of time and space. Time is represented in the ancient ouroboros of the recurrence of same which Boehme places on the circumference of the structure which contains the spaces — the four quadrants of the mandala — while the boundaries of the quadrants are designated by the four classical elements — air, earth, fire, water. These are also the principle components of what we call “climate” as atmosphere, lithosphere, biosphere, and hydrosphere and their reflection in the human biological form as respiratory, metabolic, nervous, and circulatory systems.

Essentially, then, the body is also a mandala-like form, and another image of the Tetramorph in those terms, and also in terms of its energetic configuration as mechanical, thermal, chemical, and electrical energies.

So J. Krishnamurti is exactly right in saying “You Are The World” for their is an immediate and direct affinity between the Earth structure and the body structure. For this reason, too, Rudolph Steiner is quite correct — you can come to know Nature and the Earth directly through your own body structure and organisation.

That organisation and structure is a Tetramorph, and is rendered symbolically as the mandala. Wheels within wheels, as in Ezekial’s vision.

A second thing to note about Boehme’s mandala is, you cannot perceive the whole from the periphery or circumference, but only from the centre of the structure. This is often called “the still centre of the turning world”. It’s even imaginable that Lennon and McCartney had Boehme’s illustration in mind when they composed “The Fool on the Hill”.

The circumference, as we have said, represents time and the four quadrants also, then, Ages, what Eastern philosophy calls the Four Yugas or the Four Ages of Man in classical Greece. For Gebser, of course, those four Ages also correspond to four different consciousness structures and civilisational types he calls “archaic”, “magical”, “mythical”, and “mental-rational” and which correspond also to William Blake’s “four Zoas” of “Albion divided fourfold”

Blake: the fourfold human

The circumference of Boehme’s mandala is the wheel of time, which is also what W.B. Yeats calls “the gyre”, as in his poem “The Second Coming”.

Turning and turning in the widening gyre   
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere   
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst   
Are full of passionate intensity.

The falcon the falconer here correspond to what Iain McGilchrist, too, calls “the Emissary” and “the Master” respectively. But when the Emissary loses its roots and connection to the Master, the mandala of being begins to lose coherence and begins to disintegrate. The coherence of mandala structure is crucially (and that word means “cross”) dependent upon a proper relationship between the periphery and the centre of the structure. This is also reflected in Jean Gebser where the centre is called “the vital centre” (or “diaphainon”) and the circumference is described as “distantiation” of the self or mind from the vital centre, which is the meaning also of “time-freedom”.

“Eternity is in love with the productions of time”, as Blake put it. The eye that wares the whole at the centre of the structure does not itself fully participate in time, but preserves a relationship with time through the radii. These are also the faculties constituting the fourfold Tetramorph — thinking, feeling, sensing, willing — all of which are “the emissaries” if you will — all emissaries of the “fourfold Atman” (Aurobindo) or “Albion divided fourfold” (Blake).

Now, Blake places reason on the circumference or the periphery of the mandala structure. And, in fact, his City of the Imagination (Golgonooza) and “New Jerusalem” all depicted as mandalas also, the four gates to each being also the four Zoas who “reside in the Human Brain”. So you can come to understand a very great deal of Blake’s rather enigmatic vision through contemplating the meaning of Boehme’s illustration of the Tetramorph.

Any kind of hyperpartisanship or monomania breaks the bonds that keep this structure coherent. This has the same import as Rosenstock-Huessy’s philosophy of “the cross of reality” as explained in his book Speech and Reality. His remark that “God is the power that makes men speak” is also illustrated by Boehme’s illustration, for it is the centre and its emanations that preserves the integrity of the whole.

Rosenstock-Huessy’s “cross of reality”

In contemporary mental-rational terms, the four directions are represented respectively by conservatism (trajective), liberalism (prejective), socialism (subjective) and environmentalism (objective) or, rendered differently, the family, the individual, the community, or the life-world at large, respectively. So there is already an implicit mandala in the relationships between these four orientations or moods. These bonds (which can also break, “things fall apart”) are also rendered in the indigenous Sacred Hoop symbol, which is both map and pledge, where each of the cardinal directions represent individual, family, community, and the life-world in a stable and harmonious concord.

The centre of this structure, rendered as Boehme’s eye of awareness, is what some refer to as “Eternal Now” and why they encourage “inner Silence” as a way to actualise this sense of what Gebser calls “time-freedom” for it wares the whole and not just the segment, sector, or part.

If we want to make Blake’s “New Jerusalem” effectively real and actual, this is the structure it must take, and this is what Blake calls “fourfold vision” (whose centre is “Albion”) and what Jean Gebser calls equivalently “integral consciousness” (whose centre is the diaphainon). And we are beginning to see moves in this direction, which is what Gebser calls “presentiation”.

Boehme’s illustration makes visible not only what we are in our own essential psychophysical-spiritual configuration — a Tetramorph — but also the structure of all existence itself, and especially the relationship between eternity and time. To the central eye that wares the whole, all phases of the ouroboric cycle — all Ages — become co-present.

“It’s all in the middle of its happening”, as the great Rumi put it.

16 responses to “A Meditation on Jakob Boehme’s Fourfold Vision”

  1. Scott Preston says :

    There is, by the way, a Latin phrase that corresponds to Rumi’s “it’s all in the middle of its happening”. The phrase is *in media res* — in the midst or middle of things or events. We are, in those terms, always *in media res*. And that would correspond to the centre of the mandala.

    *In media res* also could be considered the meaning of Cusanus’s remark that God is a circle whose circumference is nowhere, and whose centre is everywhere. Only today instead of circle we could speak rather of sphere.

  2. Scott Preston says :

    “The End of the Megamachine” by Fabian Scheidler. Seems to be a timely book from the looks of it. That’s a reference, of course, to Lewis Mumford’s extensive analysis of “the Megamachine”.


    • Scott Preston says :

      Scheidler writes about the “four tyrannies” that have been historically realised. An interesting pattern, since the pattern seems coincident also with Gebser’s four structures of consciousness (as civilisational types) and their “deficient mode” of functioning.

    • InfiniteWarrior says :

      This is what [we] don’t understand. [We’re] waiting to get personally punched in the face while ash falls from the sky. That’s not how it happens.

      This is how it happens. Precisely what you’re feeling now. The numbing litany of bad news. The ever rising outrages. People suffering, dying, and protesting all around you, while you think about dinner. If you’re trying to carry on while people around you die, your society is not collapsing. It’s already fallen down.– –>

      Well, it is and it isn’t. It’s not just the collapse of American (or Canadian or any other nation’s) society or Democracy or “Western civilization” or, even, the Biosphere we’re living through. Also among us are all those signs of emergence in the midst of the emergency. And, therein, lies our hopes of a truly prosperous, sustainable, resilient future as a species and a planetary “civilization.”

      “It’s all in the middle of its happening,” indeed.

  3. The Oak of Normal says :

    It might be a little off topic, not sure, been thinking about it a lot lately in my own work and just thought about it again when reading your line regarding if we want to manifest Blake’s “New Jerusalem”/Golgonooza…in a past post you wrote something about breaking free and outrunning the modern mind. Couldn’t remember exactly what was written or what post it was to refer back to. Could you maybe elaborate a bit on that bc it’s very intriguing to me? Willing through the current milieu and not backtracking? Maybe talking about new modes of thinking using it’s own momentum to refuse being co-opted into past, dead structures of consciousness? Any input from you or anyone else would be greatly appreciated.

    • Scott Preston says :

      “outrunning the modern mind” is the subtitle of Rosenstock-Huessy’s book *The Christian Future, or outrunning the modern mind*. So for more extensive treatment of what he means, you can consult that book. He applies his “cross of reality” and grammatical method there as well.

      Basically, I understand it in terms of Blake and Albion’s “Glad Day”, when Albion rises from the “dark Satanic Mill” — the self-referential mental merry-go-round. And that’s what you see David Bohm attempting to do with his own method of thinking. Rosenstock-Huessy calls it “metanoia” or “New Mind”.

      So, “outrunning the modern mind” means, in Gebser’s terms, outrunning the consequences of the “deficient mode” of the mental-rational (perspectival) consciousness structure. Rosenstock-Huessy, in his own terms, describes this deficient mode as “our withering from within” — a withering away of the spirit which is what Blake feared as “Single Vision”.

      • The Oak of Normal says :

        Gotcha, thanks. I’ll have to check out that book, had never heard of Rosenstock-Huessy previous to him being mentioned frequently here.

      • Scott Preston says :

        There’s a lot of talk about “meta-” (like “metamondernism”, “metaxis”, “metanoia”, etc) flying about these days, too. Rosenstock-Huessy has his “metanomics” also. So, this reference to “meta-” is what is meant by outrunning the modern mind. There is an aspiration here to reach out beyond and escape from the system of circular and self-referential logic that is, essentially, the meaning of Blake’s “Urizen” and “the dark Satanic Mill”.

        • The Oak of Normal says :

          Very interesting that meta can mean both being self-referential/referring to itself (enclosed within) and also change, transcend, beyond, higher (open without).

  4. Scott Preston says :

    This looks like it might be an interesting website. Haven’t fully explored it yet myself, but it has some quite interesting takes on the Genesis myth, the meaning of the Tetramorph as the four Rivers of Eden and so on.


  5. Scott Preston says :

    A couple of contemporary icons of the mysteries — kabbalistic symbols, the Tetramorph, the hieros gamos, and so on. I’m unsure of the source for these.

    Contemporary Rebis II

    Contemporary Rebis

  6. Scott Preston says :

    Awareness of what must be relinquished liberates it naturally with that recognition, like a snake’s knot uncoiling.

    ~ Dudjom Rinpoche

  7. Scott Preston says :

    “Biophony” — the orchestral ecology of sound.

    This is quite a beautiful example of Gebser’s “waring the whole”, of emergent new consciousness as integrating perception (we should perhaps emphasise it as process as “integrating perception” rather than as something static as “integral consciousness”. This is what Gebser means by “systasis” or “synairesis” — a process of integrating.


  8. Scott Preston says :

    “In every atom I see oceans of worlds
    Of past, present, and future;
    And I see oceans of buddhas therein,
    And their universal ground of wisdom.”

    Gaṇḍavyūha Sūtra

    Very Blake. Very Gebser, too.

  9. Scott Preston says :

    Dug out my old copy of Alvin Toffler’s *The Third Wave* (the successor book to his famous *Future Shock*). Just wanted to see how well his forecasts stood up since it was published in 1980.

    The demise of “Second Wave” civilisation and the incipience of “Third Wave” civilisation. This is, I think, a book we should all familiarise ourselves with in order to understand some of the transitional symptoms that are running rampant today. It’s stood the test of the last four decades pretty well.

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