Path to the Maypole of Wisdom

A Choice for Spiritual Ethics,Virtues and Uprightness in our times

Path to the Maypole of Wisdom

Polishing your heart, Virtues Ethic for a modern Devotion

Polishing your heart, Virtues Ethic for a modern Devotion in our times

  • Ego rules the world: Anti-“God”, Anti-“Humanity”, Anti-“Nature

Our civilization is in decay. Because we have blown-up our ego. Cosmic Balance has been disturbed. The Origin – Cosmic Womb/Vacuum – “doesn’t tolerate” this. With the help of Her two Cosmic Forces of “Death and Rebirth” (“Stirb und Werde” – “Die and Become”-J.W. von Goethe) She breaks down our ego-accumulations, thus restoring the Original Balance.

see  Crisis of the modern world  and The Sorcerer’s Apprentice

Current decadence, greed, evil, falsehood, corruption, violence, injustice, exploitation, thus have a Cosmic undertone. It is a “Cosmic Law” that civilizations which have become megalomaniacal will inevitably collapse. Because all levels of existence are corroded – including the religious realm – only a Dimension that is beyond – META – God and the world can redeem us.  “God hasn’t created the world out of nothingness, but Nothingness (Cosmic Womb) is giving birth to God and the universe, the latter continuously returning to the Origin”.

One of the many disastrous consequences of an ongoing repression of this trans-personal Ground of Being – and the mistaken assumption of the Absolute by a relative entity or self – is epitomized in our techno-industrial pursuit to convert the earth into one large global factory – reinforced by multinational monopoly. Herein, nature is viewed simply as exploitable “raw material” for a “manufacturing” process aimed at churning out “products” for the “consumer.” This apparent narrowing of human perspective is the logical result of paradigmatic trends linking back to the so-called Age of Enlightenment.

With the advent of Positivist philosophy, Cartesian dualism and the resulting scientific reductionism – and hence an increased denial of all metaphysical realities – these paradigmatic trends were naturally followed by a human failure to correctly grasp the reality of the Divine Absolute and a corresponding inability to perceive nature and cosmos as sacred theophany. These misperceptions and repressions consequently and inevitably created destructive inversions of essential timeless truths, and these distortions now find projection in society as inflated “absolutisms” – psychologically and ideologically perpetuated by the materialist self as it wanders in narcissistic ignorance.

Until humanity attains cognition of the fact that the eternal and unbounded Spirit is primary and hence sovereign to the limited and temporalself, and that every human, and indeed the entire seen and unseen cosmological order, is sustained by this trans-personal Divine Absolute (the true domain of “Greatness,” “Majesty” and “Oneness”), then human vice will continue to be the governing factor in a consequently imbalanced and unjust world. It is important to note at this point that no human has more, or less, Spirit than any other; we just have more, or less, self-ishness masking the divine centre or reality of Being. For example, perceived racial superiority is misguided in the sense that only the Spirit (rûh) is truly superior (al-Azim / al-Mutakabbir) and sovereign (al-Malik) in relation humanity, nature and cosmos. These recognized divine attributes should not be taken out of context and assumed as an appellation or attribute of the relative / temporal self, race or corporate entity. Commercial attempts to “exploit” and ultimately oppress nature in the name of ‘development’ or ‘progress’ and to establish a (now) promethean human species as the only (believed worthy) species in the universe, are clearly reflected in statements of the following kind: Our goal is to destroy, to eradicate the environmental movement… We want to be able to exploit the environment for private gain, absolutely…and we want people to understand [that this] is a noble goal.

Evidently this is a misguided and ultimately destructive reading of the natural environment; a distorted interpretation of the human as “steward” or “guardian” of cosmological order. Not only are our natural landscapes fast being degraded and replaced by overbearing marketing billboards – selling artificial, ever-elusive or impossible dreams – but our bodies and minds are becoming increasingly eroded by seemingly disconnected consumer-related agendas and abstract “post-human” techno-philosophy.

How can the best-fed, finest clothed, most literate, and scientifically nurtured people in history be so miserable? …The notion that human beings are themselves getting better is quite obviously wrong. The quality of human beings is declining, even while the web of man’s infrastructure grows around him. Modern man is a Wizard of Oz, a shrunken soul in a mighty machine. Thus modern man has multiplied his means of communication with mobile phones, satellites, email, SMS – a whole array of devices – but then finds he has nothing to say or no one to whom to say it. He has a diminishing capacity to make any real contacts. He has prolific external means but no inner reality to share. Ours is the age of the space tourist: truly awesome technology devoted to truly trivial human beings

The attempts by marketing interests to hijack and commercially manipulate influential archetypal principles, the resulting corruption of psyche, the lack of meaningful connection to the realm of the divine attributes, and the (conceptual) collapse of the Absolute, find reflection in clinical psychosis, violent crimes both domestically and socially, ongoing ecological destruction and a forever increasing narcissism. In this scenario there is no anchored perspective of ‘self’; no guiding reference to the Divine Ideals (by which, universal law and the cosmological order is governed); no ultimate aspiration towards an inherently unified pure consciousness that is our sacred centre of Being. In other words we seek guidance from the fickle and morally-bankrupt worlds of marketing, fashion, soap-operas and consumer research – all of which are based on adversarial politics and a divisive economics, rather than an ethos of interconnectedness and harmony.

It is thus critical that we do not misread or distort these sacred archetypes and theophanies in unexamined pursuit of entertainment, or hanker after subjective expression within the limited confines of the personal psyche believing this to be the objective goal in life, or lose awareness of the more subtle zones of higher consciousness, all of which is ultimately sustained by the primary, unconditioned and unbounded pure consciousness: the divine ground. Kabir Helminski ( in Soul Loss & Soul Making) brings necessary clarity to the issue:

When it is proposed that modern man has lost his soul, one meaning is that we have lost our ability to perceive through the Active Imagination59 which operates in an intermediate world, an interworld between the senses and the world of ideas. This Active Imagination is the imaginative, perceptive faculty of the soul, which cannot be explained because it is itself the revealer of meaning and significance. The Active Imagination does not produce some arbitrary concept standing between us and ‘reality,’ but functions directly as an organ of perception and knowledge just as real as – if not more real than – the sense organs. And its property will be that of transmuting and raising sensory data to the purity of the subtle, spiritual world. Through the Active Imagination the things and beings of the earth will be made incandescent. This imagination does not construct something unreal, it unveils the hidden reality. It helps to return the facts of this world to their spiritual significance, to see beyond the apparent and to manifest the hidden. …For some, whom I will call the psychological polytheists, the mundus imaginalis is the playground of “the gods.” They have appropriated the concept of the interworld for very limited purposes. The mundus imaginalis is not to be unlocked by either fantasy or intellect, but by the purified heart, understood here as a subtle but penetrating cognitive faculty of mind beyond intellect. [Please note that in the tradition of sophia perennis, this faculty of ‘heart’ is referred to as the (higher) Intellect – not to be confused with what is commonly known as intellect (which is referred to as ‘reason’ or ‘rationation’)60] The function of this power of the soul is in restoring a space that sacralizes the ephemeral, earthly state of being. It unites the earthly manifestation with its counterpart on the imaginal level, and raises it to incandescence. Isn’t this what is sought by most of those who are drawn to paganism, mythologies, and mystical eroticism?

All true spiritual work is based on the unity of these different aspects of our being. An alternative to the conception of the human being proposed by psychological polytheism and other regressive pathways, and one more consistent with the highest wisdom traditions, would be the following model which is based on three essential factors combining to form a whole. The terms that must be used in English are, unfortunately, somewhat vague and imprecise. By defining our terms, however, we can give these terms a more exact meaning within the context of our studies.

1. The “ego” (or natural self, eros), a complex of psychological manifestations arising from the body and related to its survival. It has no limit to its desires, but it can supply the energy necessary to aspire toward completion, or individuation.

2. The “spirit” or “spiritual self” (essential self, essence,logosnous), the center which is capable of conscious reflection and higher reason and is in communication with the spiritual world. The essential self can help to guide the natural self, limit its desires to what is just and reasonable, and, more importantly, help it to see the fundamental desire behind all desires: the yearning to know our Source. It can help to establish presence on all levels of our being.

3. The “soul,” sometimes called “the heart” (including the psychic functions, active imagination, presence), and interior presence which includes the subconscious faculties of perception, memories, and complexes, and which can be under the influence of either the ego or the spiritual self. When we speak about involving ourselves “heart and soul” we are speaking about this aspect of ourselves. Living from the heart, having a pure heart refers to a deep condition of spiritualized passion. Losing one’s soul refers to a condition of having the soul dominated by material, sensual, and egoistic concerns. Such a “heart and soul” is veiled, dim, unconscious. The heart is the prize that the “animal self” and “spiritual self” struggle to win, but when it is dominated by the “animal self” it is not truly a heart at all.

4. The “individuality” (the result of the relationship of the other three). When the spiritual self has been able to harmonize with the natural self, and “heart and soul” have been purified, then the human being exists as a unified whole, fully responsive to the divine, creative will.


  • The Macro-Micro Mirror-play

The Relationship between the Environment and Man

God says in the Holy Qur’an:

We shall show them Our signs on the horizons and in their own souls until it becomes clear to them that He is the Truth … (Fussilat, 41:53)

And: And in the earth are signs for those whose faith is sure / And [also] in yourselves. Can ye then not see? (Al-Dhariyat, 51:20-21)

In these verses, God links His signs in the environment with His signs within ourselves. This means that the Divine Metacosm is reflected in both the microcosm which is man and the macrocosm which is the universe.

In other words, man is like a small world, and the universe is like a large man, and by recognising the signs in either of these worlds we can come to know the Truth of God, for His signs are both within us and within the world.

Moreover, the inherent beauty of the natural order is matched by the beauty of the creation of man:

Thou canst see no fault in the Beneficent One’s creation (Al-Mulk, 67:3)

Surely We created man of the best stature (Al-Tin, 95:4)

But whereas the natural world cannot change itself, man can. Because man has freedom of choice he can choose to disregard God’s commandments. When man does this he becomes the lowest of the low (Al-Tin, 95:5).

This microcosmic corruption is then bound by the inherent mirror-play between the microcosm and the macrocosm to corrupt the world, both literally through man’s actions and spiritually. Thus in the Holy Qur’an, even the Jinn note the changes in the celestial ‘climate’:

And we made for the heaven, but we found it filled with mighty guards and meteors. /

And we used to sit in [certain] places therein to listen in; but anyone listening now will

find a meteor lying in wait for him. (Al-Jinn, 72:8-9)

Thus mankind’s inward corruption is not only reflected in the world’s outward corruption, it is its actual cause, both directly and physically (through man’s pollution of the world and his upsetting the natural balance), and spiritually and existentially (as man’s inner corruption changes the subtle existential conditions of the physical world, by ‘solidifying’ it and cutting it off from the graces of heaven).

This is the real reason why no amount of scientific environmental action can fully work without spiritual renewal within mankind, and why conversely, spiritual renewal needs also environmental action to be successful. This particular insight is what is perhaps most lacking in all the environmentsaving efforts of our day: environmentalists think they know the world and can save it without knowing and saving themselves first.


  • In his book Man and Nature: The Spiritual Crisis in Modern Man



  • In Praise of Folly by Erasmus

In Praise of Folly, also translated as The Praise of Folly (Latin: Stultitiae Laus or Moriae Encomium; Greek title: Μωρίας ἐγκώμιον (Morias enkomion); Dutch title: Lof der Zotheid), is an essay written in Latin in 1509 by Desiderius Erasmus of Rotterdam and first printed in June 1511. Inspired by previous works of the Italian humanist Faustino Perisauli [it] De Triumpho Stultitiae, it is a satirical attack on superstitions and other traditions of European society as well as on the Western Church.

Erasmus revised and extended his work, which was originally written in the space of a week while sojourning with Sir Thomas More at More’s house in Bucklersbury in the City of London.[1] The title Moriae Encomium had a punning second meaning as In Praise of More.

In Praise of Folly starts off with a satirical learned encomium, in which Folly praises herself, after the manner of the Greek satirist Lucian, whose work Erasmus and Sir Thomas More had recently translated into Latin, a piece of virtuoso foolery; it then takes a darker tone in a series of orations, as Folly praises self-deception and madness and moves to a satirical examination of pious but superstitious abuses of Catholic doctrine and corrupt practices in parts of the Roman Catholic Church—to which Erasmus was ever faithful—and the folly of pedants. Erasmus had recently returned disappointed from Rome, where he had turned down offers of advancement in the curia, and Folly increasingly takes on Erasmus’ own chastising voice. The essay ends with a straightforward statement of Christian ideals. “No Man is wise at all Times, or is without his blind Side.”

Erasmus was a good friend of More, with whom he shared a taste for dry humor and other intellectual pursuits. The title “Morias Encomium” can also be read as meaning “In praise of More”. The double or triple meanings go on throughout the text.

The essay is filled with classical allusions delivered in a style typical of the learned humanists of the Renaissance. Folly parades as a goddess, offspring of Plutus, the god of wealth and a nymph, Freshness. She was nursed by two other nymphs, Inebriation and Ignorance. Her faithful companions include Philautia (self-love), Kolakia (flattery), Lethe (forgetfulness), Misoponia (laziness), Hedone (pleasure), Anoia (dementia), Tryphe (wantonness), and two gods, Komos (intemperance) and Nigretos Hypnos (heavy sleep). Folly praises herself endlessly, arguing that life would be dull and distasteful without her. Of earthly existence, Folly pompously states, “you’ll find nothing frolic or fortunate that it owes not to me.” Read here the Praise of Folly

In The Manual of a Christian Knight [1501]

Desiderius Erasmus was a Catholic priest and theologian who clearly had Christ in mind when he penned it in 1501. Although it is over 500 years old, I hope you will appreciate the relevance today of these 22 rules in Erasmus’ Manual of a Christian Knight.

The mortal world a field is of battle
Which is the cause that strife doth never fail
Against man, by warring of the flesh
With the devil, that always fighteth fresh
The spirit to oppress by false envy;
The which conflict is continually
During his life, and like to lose the field.
But he be armed with weapon and shield
Such as behoveth to a christian knight,
Where God each one, by his Christ chooseth right
Sole captain, and his standard to bear.
Who knoweth it not, then this will teach him here
In his brevyer, poynarde, or manual
The love shewing of high Emanuell.
In giving us such harness of war
Erasmus is the only furbisher
Scouring the harness, cankered and adust
Which negligence had so sore fret with rust
Then champion receive as thine by right
The manual of the true christian knight.
Desiderius Erasmus

Here some of the 22 rules:


  • Anima mundi

The world soul (Greek: ψυχὴ κόσμου psuchè kósmou, Latin: anima mundi) is, according to several systems of thought, an intrinsic connection between all living things on the planet, which relates to the world in much the same way as the soul is connected to the human body. Plato adhered to this idea and it was an important component of most Neoplatonic systems:

Therefore, we may consequently state that: this world is indeed a living being endowed with a soul and intelligence … a single visible living entity containing all other living entities, which by their nature are all related.[1]

The Stoics believed it to be the only vital force in the universe. Similar concepts also hold in systems of eastern philosophy in the BrahmanAtman of Hinduism, the Buddha-Nature in Mahayana Buddhism,[citation needed] and in the School of Yin-Yang, Taoism, and Neo-Confucianism as qi.

Other resemblances can be found in the thoughts of hermetic philosophers like Paracelsus, and by Baruch Spinoza, Gottfried Leibniz, Friedrich Schelling and in Hegel’s Geist (“Spirit”/”Mind”). Ralph Waldo Emerson published “The Over-Soul” in 1841, which was influenced by the Hindu conception of a universal soul. There are also similarities with ideas developed since the 1960s by Gaia theorists such as James Lovelock.[citation needed]

In Jewish mysticism, a parallel concept is that of “Chokhmah Ila’ah,” the all-encompassing “Supernal Wisdom” that transcends, orders and vitalizes all of creation. Rabbi Nachman of Breslov states that this sublime wisdom may be apprehended (or perhaps “channeled”) by a perfect tzaddik (holy man).[2] Thus, the tzaddik attains “cosmic consciousness” and thus is empowered to mitigate all division and conflict within creation.

  • Invoking The World Soul
by Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee

And just as we are a physical body with a soul, so is the world a physical body with a soul, and that soul is its spiritual essence.  And as far as I can understand, unless you make a relationship to the soul of creation, to the anima mundi, you are just scratching the surface of life.

How can you heal yourself if you treat yourself just as a physical body?  I mean yes, Western medicine does that, and for some things it’s good, like taking out an appendix, but, as most of us here know, that isn’t really the answer.  We are trying to solve this environmental catastrophe purely on the physical plane, which is missing the whole point.  It is trying to solve the problem in the same way the problem has been created, which is cutting everything off from its sacred source, cutting everything off from its root.

What is very beautiful is that, and I have looked at this very carefully, this transition or transformation does not have to be done on a mass collective consciousness level.  My feeling is that the collective consciousness in the West, and it is now a global West — the whole world has become McDonaldized — is caught in this dream, in this nightmare of consumerism.  When I looked at it, the energy to take the whole collective out of that dream would be phenomenal.  There would have to come some mega-disaster, or an enormous influx of grace, or … I don’t know what, but traditionally, in the past, changes that happened always happened just within small groups.  They never happened first on the collective level. Read more

The Hearing Forest and the Seeing Field: Jeroen Bosch

It is a visual expression in the first instance of the Middle Dutch saying that the wood has ears and the field has eyes. According to a dictionary of proverbs published in 1500, this
means that we are always observed and should not indulge in behaviour we would rather keep to ourselves. A Dutch print of 1545 repeats the proverb and expands on it: ‘The fieldhas eyes, the wood has ears. I want to see, keep silent andhear.’ A treatise titled ‘The Art of Silence’ was published in ’s-Hertogenbosch during Bosch’s own lifetime. The proverb illustrated by the drawing is therefore an appeal to the viewer
to be vigilant. The unsuspecting cockerel who steps into the fox’s earth in the hollow at the foot of the tree would have done well to follow that advice.

The humour lies in the fact that the drawing is a unique and original depiction of a cliché. Bosch has added a Latin quotation above the drawing from a medieval treatise on the
training of apprentices: ‘Poor is the mind that always uses the inventions of others and invents nothing itself.’ The drawing also serves, therefore, as an emblem of Bosch’s artistry and – like the Owl’s Nest but in a different way – is closely related
to the Jeroen van Aken who adopted the professional name of ‘Bosch’ (the ‘wood’ in the title of the work). The way Bosch constructed the image suggests he was playing a game that weaves together the individual, the artist, the name of the city and his personal philosophy.
The composition of the drawing is structured in the same way as the ’s-Hertogenbosch municipal seal, in which the city is represented by a large tree at the centre, flanked by
two smaller ones. The symbol must have been well known to Bosch and his circle. By using that image, combined with the owl – also referred to as a ‘forest bird’ (bosvogel) – Bosch created as it were the coat of arms of his artistry, making this
drawing something of a ‘self-portrait’.

  • Zelige Sehnsucht Blessed Longing, Goethe






In the begin of “Modernity”, Goethe warns us in his poem Zelige Sehnsucht Blessed Longing

Tell no one else, only the wise
For the crowd will sneer at one
I wish to praise what is fully alive,
What longs to flame toward death.

When the calm enfolds the love-nights
That created you, where you have created
A feeling from the Unknown steals over you
While the tranquil candle burns.

You remain no longer caught
In the peneumbral gloom
You are stirred and new, you desire
To soar to higher creativity.

No distance makes you ambivalent.
You come on wings, enchanted
In such hunger for light, you
Become the butterfly burnt to nothing.

So long as you have not lived this:
To die is to become new,
You remain a gloomy guest
On the dark earth.

It is the story of moth and the candle, found first in the Kitáb at-tawasin of the martyr mystic al-HalIáj (d. 922) and then taken over by the poets of Iran and Turkey, that forms the bridge between the poezie worlds of Iran and Germany. Goethe found it in a translation of Persian verses and transformed it into one of the most profound poerns in the German language, Zelige Sehnsucht (Blessed Longing). “Stirb und werde,,‘ “Die and become,” is Goethe’s advice to the reader in this poem, and this idea of dying and being reborn on ever rising levels of existence permeates large parts of classical Persian poetry. It is the song of the never-ending quest, the fulfillment of Love through suffering and deathi expressed in images of the journey through rnountains and deserts to end only in paradise, as Goethe says at the end of the Book of Paradise in the West-Ostlicher Divan:

Bis im Anschaun ew’ger Liebe

wir verschweben, wsr verschwinden . .

Contemplating Love eternal

we float higher and dissolve .

This poem is an example of the “helplessness that sometimes accompanies love.” He offers it as an example of the way passion causes us to surrender our “common sense, rationality and normal serious reserve;” to awaken to the creative energies, the desires and longing emmanating from the heart. see Goethe , the “refugee”

Read Goethe Message to the 21st century







This awakening is the threshold of “salvation.” To make the realization that you are part of something so vast and lovely, it transcends form and time is like falling in love. It IS falling in love…it is seeing “sameness,” recognizing yourself in the other – realizing that you are One with the Other, falling into the universal mystery that is the Love of God! Love is the nature of this cosmic Spirit-relationship. Love is all there is. Love is who you are, where you came from, how you are to live, and that to which you will return.

Love is the truth and the life and the way.

You are “saved” because you realize the eternal nature of this One Love. You are fully awakened and fully attuned to the music of the universe – the creative flux and flow of the divine and its movement through you and around you and before and after you. And you have no choice but to surrender to it, because it is who you are. As a caterpillar dies to become a butterfly and a butterfly is drawn to the light, so do we transcend ourselves for, by, and in Love.

In love we reach outside of our selves, extend ourselves, open, vulnerable and real we willingly fly into the fires of (com)passion and truth. Our need for love draws us to our Lovingness. There may be pain, but it is sacred pain. And the real tragedy would be “to have cautiously avoided these depths and remained marooned on the shiny surfaces of the banal.”

  • Uccello Painting of Hero, Dragon and Woman

Here is an image of the two ways of approaching the dragon – the solar way is to kill it; the lunar way is to establish a relationship with it. A wounded dragon is dangerous and from the wounded dragon in millions of individuals, come all the conflicts in the world today. Could we perhaps see the solar hero myth in a new way, as a quest to heal the deep fissure in our soul, to engage in dialogue with the dragon, to connect with that part of us that has been so feared and despised? It has suffered atrociously during its long exile through our neglect and repression of it.

 Mythology says that the dragon guards a priceless treasure that is to be won by the hero who faces its power and is not overcome by it. I think it is hard for us to realize that our instincts are something massively important and precious. The whole structure of our conscious mind rests on the foundation of instinct, has developed over countless millennia out of instinct. Instinct is the original root of our feelings, our imagination, our intuition, our rational mind. It is instinct which connects us to the great web of life of this planet and beyond that, of the universe. If we reject this vital dimension of our being, we cut ourselves off from the web of life to which we belong. The greater the dissociation within our nature, the greater the distress and disharmony in ourselves and the greater the risk that we will destroy ourselves by attacking each other.

From this distress and disharmony come all our negative projections onto others and the fear and anxiety that reflect our lack of relationship with the deepest level of our soul. We need to approach the dragon with the greatest respect, even awe, for in it we encounter the creative power of life itself. That creative power will remain hostage to the predatory habits that still control us unless and until we free it from the compulsion to repeat the old patterns


In THE LUNAR AND SOLAR HERO A Philosophical and Psychological Approach Anne Baring explains:

During the millennia that solar mythology has been the dominating influence on western culture, we have reached amazing heights of scientific and technological achievement but have also suffered a catastrophic loss of soul, a loss of the ancient instinctive awareness of the sacred interweaving of all aspects of life, a loss of the sense of connection with nature and an invisible dimension of reality, a loss of instinct and imagination. The human mind is now the supreme value – the solar hero – but at the same time, the Cyclops. In its one-eyed, hybristic stance, it has banished the unknown, unexplored, non-rational and feminine aspect of life. Arrogant and dissociated it now stands like a tyrant over and against nature, over and against the earth, over against life and whoever it names as its enemy, seeking ever more power. This leaves the human heart lonely and afraid and the neglected territory of the soul a barren wasteland.

Today there is tremendous pressure on us to interpret the myth of the solar hero in a new way, because the myth itself has become a danger to us. We need to renounce its pathological manifestations and move into a new phase in our evolution where the divided psyche is reunited and the polarized opposites in our way of thinking reconciled. Our solar mind needs to reunite with our lunar soul. The insight we have now developed into our psyche could help us to understand that the root cause of all the splits in our thinking is the original split that has developed between the conscious, rational mind—the hero, and the deep instinctive matrix of our soul that is symbolised by the dragon. The dragon that has been so feared and despised is a vivid image of our unconscious predatory instincts and their power over us. At present we have no understanding of the subtle ways in which this primordial aspect of the psyche can take control of the conscious mind. Paradoxically, the dragon that is such a danger to us is also, as the instinctive matrix of our being, precisely that which connects us to nature, to the life systems of the planet and, ultimately, to the deep ground of life. The dragon could be transformed. It could become a guide instead of a threat to our survival as a species.

As Richard Tarnas suggests at the end of his book, The Passion of the Western Mind , we are in the midst of a great awakening of the soul, one that could see the “marriage” of the masculine and feminine aspects of our psyche, the reunion of the conscious mind with its deepest source and ground:

The driving impulse of the West’s masculine consciousness has been its quest not only to realise itself, to forge its own autonomy, but also, finally, to recover its connection with the whole, to come to terms with the great feminine principle in life, to differentiate from but then to rediscover and reunite with the feminine, with the mystery of life, of nature, of soul.

To accomplish this we need to live the myth of the hero in a different way, reconnecting with the deep ground of life, recognising the oneness and the sacredness of nature, cosmos and soul. Mythically speaking, this is the marriage of solar and lunar consciousness which could lead to the birth of the divine child—that stellar quality of consciousness that was known long ago to Pythagoras and Parmenides and could become available to us now if we could free ourselves from the unconscious compulsion to repeat the patterns of the past. Read more here

  • The Woman of the Apocalypse

The Woman of the Apocalypse (or Woman clothed in the Sun, γυνὴ περιβεβλημένη τὸν ἥλιον; Mulier amicta sole) is a figure described in Chapter 12 of the Book of Revelation (written c. AD 95).

The woman gives birth to a male child who is threatened by a dragon, identified as the Devil and Satan, who intends to devour the child as soon as he is born.[1] When the child is taken to heaven, the woman flees into the wilderness leading to a “War in Heaven” in which the angels cast out the dragon. The dragon attacks the woman, who is given wings to escape and then attacks her again with a flood of water from his mouth, which is subsequently swallowed by the earth.[2] Frustrated, the dragon initiates war on “the remnant of her seed”, identified as the righteous followers of Christ.

The Woman of the Apocalypse is widely identified as the Virgin Mary. This interpretation is held by some commentators of the ancient Church as well as in the medieval and modern Roman Catholic Church. This view does not negate the alternative interpretation of the Woman representing the Church, as in modern Catholic dogma, Mary is herself considered both the Mother of God and the Mother of the Church. Some Catholic commentaries, such as Thomas Haydock’s Catholic Bible Commentary (1859), allow for the interpretation of the woman as either the Church or Mary. The commentary of the New American Bible (the official Roman Catholic Bible for America) states that “The woman adorned with the sun, the moon, and the stars (images taken from Genesis 37:9–10) symbolizes God’s people in the Old and the New Testament. The Israel of old gave birth to the Messiah (Rev 12:5) and then became the new Israel, the church, which suffers persecution by the dragon (Rev 12:6, 13–17); cf. Is 50:1; 66:7; Jer 50:12.”[3]

Read more here

Look also:

 A Disclosure of Wisdom

  • The Green Man

“The Green Man is the threshold of the imagination between our outer natures and our deepest selves and, as he is so closely connected with the Great Goddess, we must also ask, ‘What is the Great Goddess in ourselves?’ In ancient teachings she is Sophia or Wisdom, the wisdom we sorely need and which the Green Man is waiting to transmit to us.” Anderson

One of the most important archetypal figures in Sufism is Khidr, ‘the green one.’ Khidr represents direct revelation, the direct inner connection with God that is central to the mystical experience… Khidr is not an abstract mystical figure, but an archetype of something essential within us. ‘The Green One’ images a natural aspect of our divinity, something so ordinary that we overlook it. To follow the way of Khidr is to awaken to our own natural state of being with God and with life. In this natural state of being we know how to respond to the real need of the moment.” Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee

Three things of this world delight the heart: water, green things, and a beautiful face.” ( Prophet Mohammed)

The most common and perhaps obvious interpretation of the Green Man is that of a pagan nature spirit, a symbol of man’s reliance on and union with nature, a symbol of the underlying life-force, and of the renewed cycle of growth each spring. In this respect, it seems likely that he has evolved from older nature deities such as the Celtic Cernunnos and the Greek Pan and Dionysus.

Some have gone so far as to make the argument that the Green Man represents a male counterpart – or son or lover or guardian – to Gaia (or the Earth Mother, or Great Goddess), a figure which has appeared throughout history in almost all cultures. In the 16th Century Cathedral at St-Bertrand de Comminges in southern France, there is even an example of a representation of a winged Earth Mother apparently giving birth to a smiling Green Man.

Because by far the most common occurrences of the Green Man are stone and wood carvings in churches, chapels, abbeys and cathedrals in Europe (particularly in Britain and France), some have seen this as evidence of the vitality of pre-Christian traditions surviving alongside, and even within, the dominant Christian mainstream. Much has been made of the boldness with which the Green Man was exhibited in early Christian churches, often appearing over main doorways, and surprisingly often in close proximity to representations of the Christ figure.

Incorporating a Green Man into the design of a medieval church or cathedral may therefore be seen as a kind of small act of faith on the part of the carver that life and fresh crops will return to the soil each spring and that the harvest will be plentiful. Pre-Christian pagan traditions and superstitions, particularly those related to nature and trees, were still a significant influence in early medieval times, as exemplified by the planting of yew trees (a prominent pagan symbol) in churchyards, and the maintenance of ancient “sacred groves” of trees.Tree worship goes back into the prehistory of many of the cultures that directly influenced the people of Western Europe, not least the Greco-Roman and the Celtic, which is no great surprise when one considers that much of the continent of Europe was covered with vast forests in antiquity. It is perhaps also understandable that there are concentrations of Green Men in the churches of regions where there were large stretches of relict forests in ancient times, such as in Devon and Somerset, Yorkshire and the Midlands in England. The human-like attributes of trees (trunk-body, branches-arms, twigs-fingers, sap-blood), as well as their strength, beauty and longevity, make them an obvious subject for ancient worship. The Green Man can be seen as a continuing symbol of such beliefs, in much the same way as the later May Day pageants of the Early Modern period, many of which were led by the related figure of Jack-in-the-Green.

The Green Man offers us a new understanding of the relationship between the macrocosm – the universal world – and the microcosm in ourselves.

On the macrocosmic scale he symbolizes the point at which the creative power in eternity is made manifest in space and time. Hildegard of Bingen gave a special name to the manifestation of cosmic energies: viriditas, greenness. On the scale of the human individual, viriditas is the operation of the Divine Word penetrating the soul and the whole body. Her idea has a modern parallel in the conception, much discussed by physicists, of the Anthropic Principle, the theory that intelligence is built into the form of the universe and that the reality of the universe is tied to us and depends on us as observers. It is a theory that may help us to conceive the new scale on which to think of the Green Man.  Read more: NATURE, THEOPHANY AND THE REHABILITATION OF CONSCIOUSNESS

Look also:  THE GREEN FINGERPRINT: Exploring a critical signature in the quest for a renewed and balanced Self

  • The Eternal  Spring

In Chinese painting, the seasons correspond to feelings born of the Invisible, to combinations of yin and yang and aspects of the contemplative heart. The seasons of the miniature are analogous: they manifest a periodization of the soul and an activity of God. Persian painters almost never describe winter; the preferred seasons are spring or autumn, as in Behzad and his school. However, thriving vegetation, bright colors, birds and eggs in the nests, constantly suggest a spring idea of time, and this symbolic choice, which we will analyze here, is eminently revealing of the miniature paradise’s way.

In Islam, as in other civilizations, spring is the emblem of Eden. In Roman antiquity, Ovid spoke of the “eternal spring” of the golden age, and Dante, in the Middle Ages, described the earthly paradise as a spring garden.  Like the medieval troubadours, the Persian poets include in their poems of love or wine, or their panegyrics, an evocation of spring. In the image of a musical mode, this literary convention indicates the symbolic tone of the work and its hermeneutical register. The spring referring to a contemplative time, to the Adamic consciousness, is therefore a spiritual intelligence that will deliver the deep meanings of the poem. This is also true for miniatures: their spring decor is not so much a temporal environment as an Edenic space, a symbolic box, a kaleidoscope of the Spirit. Conversely, autumn can be the season of separation and reflect the pain of lovers, as in the story of Leyla and Madjnun.

Read more: Time of Spring in Sufism, Traditions and Folklores

  • Khidr Al-Khadir

Khidr Al-Khadir (Kh-D-R) – an Arabic term meaning “green” and “verdant” – is the etymological root for a Middle-Eastern character known as al-Khidr: the Green One.

Khidr, Khizr, Khezr or Hizir – all point to a legendary figure who is said to have discovered the “Water-of-Life” (i.e. Spirit / Pure Consciousness) and is considered an eternal prophet. Coleman Barks informs us:

Khidr is connected philologically with Elijah and with Utnapishtim of the Gilgamesh epic. He may be partial source, along with Druidic lore, for the enigmatic Green Knight in the Middle English poem ‘Sir Gawain and the Green Knight’.

It is important to examine the Qur’anic encounter between Moses and Khidr, as it provides critical dimension to our understanding of the Green Man archetype. read the excerpt:Qur’an (18:60-82)

The person referred to as “One of our servants, whom We had endowed with Our grace and Our wisdom” is the figure of Khidr, “the Verdant One” who plays a pivotal role in Islamic mysticism]

Analogous to the chlorophyll within our plants and trees, Khidr (the “Green One”) symbolically images the threshold or interspace (barzakh) between our ‘solar’ (heavenly) and ‘earthly’ (physical) existence [i.e. “where the two seas meet” thus providing our ‘earthly’ consciousness with the connective sustenance and vitality of the divine light of Spirit (i.e. Khidr transcends and refreshes our habitually dry, literalist or dogmatic religious understanding by representing the connective sustenance of direct intellection). Khidr is the spiritual teacher within us, the spark in the heart, our inborn secret… We meet him at the place where the cooked fish becomes alive; where the spiritual tradition becomes a living reality. Read more here

  • Mystical Path of love

Through an initiation experience and a surrendering to the Beloved, the adept moves through various “stations” on the path to wahdat al-wujûd, or unity of existence.
The word Islam, which means “peace,” is a surrendering to the Beloved that initiates one
on the path of devotion.

Devotion is a state described by Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee in Sufism, Transformation of the Heart, as “an opening of the heart to the grace that flows through love”
This profound inner experience as part of the journey back “home” is “a living reality” that every traveler on the spiritual path seeks . Vaughan-Lee tells us that it is through this deep inner experience of spiritual awakening through the heart that “we come to know our connection with the Divine” .

In the Sufi tradition, this deep inner experience of initiation is called Tauba, which is the
experience of Divine Love necessary for the hearts awakening. The “moment of tauba”  often comes upon us as a wounding; a deep inner mystical experience which is both ecstatic and blissful, even as it is profoundly shattering. Vaughan-Lee calls the “state of oneness with God” (i) the unio mystica, and this complete awareness of oneness with the Divine, followed by the sense of profound separation, creates a deep longing to be reunited with God again. Read more here


“Do not take a step on the path of love without a guide. I have tried it a hundred times and failed,” writes the poet Hafiz. The Sufi says that you need a teacher, a guide along the path of love. If you need a guide to cross a desert or unknown land, how much more do you need a guide to venture into the inner world of the psyche, into the depths of the soul? To make the journey from the confines of the ego to the limitless dimension of the heart, you need a teacher, a sheikh.

But the moment we begin the search for a teacher we enter the paradoxical world of the mystic, which presents us with a reality confusing and contradictory. We need to “choose a master,” and yet we are told, “You do not find a teacher. The teacher finds you.” How do we begin on this search in which we do not look but are found? How do we know what to trust? And how can we distinguish between a true and false teacher, particularly when we are told not to judge by appearances? And there is also the spiritual truth that the real teacher is within our own heart, is the light of our own Higher Self.

This whole problem is compounded for the Western seeker by the fact that we do not have a tradition of the relationship with a spiritual teacher in our culture. In India the relationship with a guru has always been a part of the culture, while in the Middle East the Sufi sheikh has been a recognized (if sometimes persecuted) figure of spiritual authority. But in the West the relationship of master and disciple, although imaged in the life of Christ, has never been part of our spiritual landscape.

Note:  Later on this page you can find some examples of this Spiritual landscape in Christianity as in Hesychiasm and in theDevotio  Moderna.  Moderna Devotio was a movement for religious reform, calling for apostolic renewal through the rediscovery of genuine pious practices such as humility, obedience, and simplicity of life. It began in the late fourteenth-century, largely through the work of Gerard Groote,[1][2] and flourished in the Low Countries and Germany in the fifteenth century, but came to an end with the Protestant Reformation.[2] It is most known today through its influence on Thomas à Kempis, the author of The Imitation of Christ, a book which proved highly influential for centuries.[1]  The painter Hieronymus Bosch consacred his life of paintings to this movement.

As a result we are naive and easily misled, and at the same time approach this relationship with the tools of rational discrimination which are valuable in the outer world, but totally inappropriate when we are confronted by a real teacher.

The problem begins because we see the relationship with the teacher through the eyes of duality, and yet this all-important relationship belongs to oneness. The teacher is the one who can take us from the world of duality to the unity that is found within the heart. He (or she) is able to lead us back to oneness because he is immersed in oneness, because he has already made the journey from separation to union. In essence this relationship begins and ends in oneness, only the disciple does not know it. In the Naqshbandi Sufi tradition it is said that “the end is present at the beginning.” The moment the spiritual wayfarer steps onto the path she enters the dimension of oneness, because the essential nature of the path is oneness. The teacher is there to provide a living connection to this oneness.

The work of the teacher is to lead the wayfarer from separation back to union, and on the Naqshbandi Sufi path this is done through impressing a consciousness of oneness into the mind and heart of the wayfarer.

Naqsh in Persian means to “bind or impress:”
Naqsh is the form (i.e. the blueprint) of that which is impressed upon wax or any similar matter; and band, namely the binding, is the permanent subsistence of the impression without effacement.

Through this impression the wayfarer gradually becomes aware of the consciousness of oneness that belongs to the heart. For the skeikh this oneness is always present: it belongs to the closed circle of love that is his relationship with the wayfarer.  Read more here

  •  Animal soul and Human Soul

Man has two souls. One is called Ruhu Hayvani, the animal soul, and the other is Ruhu Insani, the human soul. The animal soul is a created, refined substance which controls life, mind, senses, feelings, emotions, will, and movement of the physical body. And our being, which relates to this animal soul, is called the “animal self,” the self ruled by the desires of our flesh or Nafsi Ammara, the evil commanding self which is the first and lowest of the seven levels of being.

Nafsi Ammara is a manifestation of the animal soul in man, while the six steps above the evil commanding ego are the development of the human soul, which is also called the Nafsi Natiqa, the being who can communicate with speech, or the Rational Being.

The next six levels are: Nafsi Lawwama, when man hears the voice of his conscience and tries to resist his carnal desires; Nafsi Mulhima, when man receives direct instructions through inspirations from his Lord; Nafsi Mutmainna, when man is freed of self-indulgence and finds peace and tranquility in his state of piety and obedience to his Lord; Nafsi Radiyya, when man accepts all that happens to him without any resentment or pain, and when good and bad become equal to him, and he is pleased with his lot; Nafsi Mardiyya when man assumes the Divine Attributes, leaving his materiality, and Nafsi Safiyya, when man reaches the purity of perfect harmony.

  • Polishing your heart

“Dear friend, your heart is a polished mirror. You must wipe it clean of the veil of dust that has gathered upon it, because it is destined to reflect the light of divine secrets.” 


Dust on the Mirror:

 the Soul is like

a clear mirror;

The body is dust on it.

Beauty in us is not perceived,

For we are under the dust



“Everyone sees the Unseen in proportion to the clarity of his heart, and that depends upon how much he has polished it. Whoever has polished it more sees more–more Unseen forms become manifest to him.”


The above quotes by two great Sufi masters describes the concept of “polishing the heart” which can provide valuable information on working on both personal and spiritual growth. Sufism uses the analogy of the human heart being like a polished mirror that reflects the light of the divine. The more polished ones’ heart is, the more of the divine can be reflected. Unfortunately our hearts are usually covered with dust and rust so not as much of the divine can be reflected through us. This dust and rust is our lower unconscious, our shadow side, all those parts of ourselves that we’d rather pretend do not exist. Our job is to polish our hearts so more of the divine attributes can shine through us.

There are two ways of polishing the heart discussed in Sufism: remembrance of God, and recognizing and gaining control over the lower self.

  • Remembrance of the divine: 

Sufism stresses the importance of remembering and experiencing the divine throughout the day. Muhammad said,”There is a polish for everything that takes away rust; and the polish of the heart is Dhiker, the invocation of God“. Dhikr consists basically of the repetition of certain aspects of God over and over again. This is either done in groups or individually throughout the day. A common Dhikr is “la illa ha il allah” which is translated in different ways to mean “there is no God but God“, “there is nothing but God“, or “there is nothing but the divine“. This, or a similar phrase, is repeated over and over throughout the day, always bringing one’s attention back to the divine.

You might find something similar that helps to bring you back in touch with the divine inside of you throughout your day. Quoting Arabic might not fit into your path but perhaps prayer of some sort (following the advice in the Bible to “pray without ceasing” as in Hesychasm) would suit you, or the Buddhist concept of mindfulness, staying aware throughout the day no matter what you are doing. Another way to remember the divine could be noticing the beauty in your life or constantly expressing gratitude throughout your day. Whatever method you choose, remembrance of the divine allows more light to shine through and be reflected in your life.

  • Working with the Lower Self:

In addition to remembrance of God, the Sufis also stress the importance of recognizing and gaining control over the lower self. The lower self is the dust and rust on the mirror that blocks the divine. It’s all those parts of us we’d rather pretend we don’t have. It’s our selfishness, judgementalism, pride, jealousy, envy, laziness, dishonesty, etc… Our lower self are all those parts of us that don’t fit into our concept of who we are as a loving person. Pushing these parts out of our awareness, they become what Jung referred to as our shadow side, so it is essential we look at these parts rather than ignore them. If we ignore the shadow it will pop up in our lives when we don’t expect it. Also, when we suppress a part of ourselves, we put a lot of energy into blocking that part off and it can cause fatigue and various physical or emotional problems.

Bringing these parts into awareness, recognizing the dust and rust on the mirror, is the first step in cleaning up the lower self. It is important to realize that noticing these “not so nice” parts is a positive step in personal and spiritual growth and not an indication that you are backsliding. Many people become discouraged as they move down a spiritual path, feeling close to enlightenment, and “bam” something occurs which reminds you that you are still very, very human. The fact is that as we progress down a spiritual path it gets harder and harder to ignore these parts. It’s similar to the analogy of not being able to see the dust in your home until the sunlight is streaming in the room causing every speck of dust to become much more obvious. The more light in out life, the more aware we become of the darkness.

Once we have begun to notice these obstacles that act as barriers to the divine reflection, it is important to look at them with courage and compassion or we might be tempted to push them out of our awareness again. It takes a lot of courage to do this work. Having compassion for yourself is essential in this process. Often people feel tremendous guilt and shame as these parts are exposed and beat themselves up. Criticizing yourself is not helpful and usually pushes the parts back into denial because it is too hard to look honestly at oneself in an atmosphere of self-judgment.

Exploring the positive intention of the part, what it is seeking, what it needs from you can help one stay in a place of compassion for this part we really would like to get rid of. In my experience I have found that most often this original intention is either to protect us in some way or to help us gain love. Of course the actual behavior never gets the need met but the original intention is important to consider. As a child someone may feel she needs to please others in order to obtain love and bring this hidden belief into adulthood. She may find herself being dishonest or manipulative in order to please others and obtain love. It is important to note that the intention of wanting to obtain love is not bad but the behavior, how this person goes about trying to obtain this love is distorted and must be understood and worked through to clean it off the heart.

Psychological growth and spiritual growth go hand in hand. As one grows spiritually more light comes in and more of the dust and rust on the mirror of the heart become evident. As one does their psychological work they polish more and more of the dust off their heart and more of the light of the divine can be reflected through them.

  • The Prayer of the Heart in Hesychasm and Sufism
    The goblet revealing the universe is the heart of the perfeet man;
    The mirror that reveals the Truth is in reality this heart.
    The heart is the depository of the treasures of the Divine Mysteries;
    Whatever you seek in the two worlds, ask the heart and you shall attain it.
    Shams al-Dïn Lâhïjï, Sharfa-i gulshan-i räz

IT IS A STRANGE FACT of modern scholarship in the field of religion that despite such great interest in dialogue between Christianity and Islam today and the appearance of so much literature on the subject during the past few decades, relatively little attention has been paid to the inner dimensions of these religions as means of access to each other. Even less has been written about the remarkable similarities between the Hesychast tradition and Sufism, each of which lies at the heart of the religion upon whose soil it has flowered.
Note; – A notable exception is F. Schuon, Christianity/Islam—Essays on Esoteric Ecumenism (Bloomington, 1985).  Comparison between these traditions as concerns the prayer of the heart, see F. Schuon, the Transcendent Unity of Religions, trans. P. Townsend (Wheaton, IL, 1984).

Perhaps, however, this dearth of material on such a crucial subject should not be the cause of surprise.It should be seen as the natural consequence of that type of ecumenism which is willing to sacrifice heaven for an illusory earthly peace and which glides over the surface of creeds and doctrines in search of common factors rather than delving into the depth or inner core of religious beliefs, symbols, language and actions where alone commonly shared principles and truths can be found.

Hesychasm is the science of prayer or more specifically the prayer of the heart cultivated within the Orthodox Church. The practices of Hesychasm go back to Christ and this tradition possesses an uninterrupted oral teaching which became gradually formulated and formalized from the eleventh to the fourtenth century by such masters as Symeon the New Theologian, Nikephoros the Monk, and Gregory the Sinaite who established Hesychasm on Mount Athos.The most important work of this tradition and one of the most precious books of Christian spirituality is the Philokalia. Read here the Philokalia, and  the Philokalia on the prayer of the Heart. Other classical works of the Hesychast tradition include The Way of a Pilgrim and The Pilgrim Continues His Way,

As for Sufism, it too is based on an oral tradition going back to the Prophet of Islam, a tradition whose tenets began to become more explicitly formulated some two or three centuries after the birth of Islam by such early masters as Bâyazïd al-Bastamï and Junayd and which had, by the fifth Islamic century, crystallized into the Sûfî orders. On the Sufi tradition, see A. M. Schimmel, Mystical Dimensions of Islam

The remarkable resemblance between Sufism and Hesychasm, especially as far as the prayer of the heart is concerned, is due not to historical borrowings but to the nature of Christian and Islamic spirituality on the one hand and the constitution of the human microcosm on the other. The prayer which revives the heart does so not as a result of historical influences but because of the grace that emanates from a revelation. Likewise, the heart is quickened and brought to life by this grace because it is the locus of the divine Presence and the center of the microcosm which relates it to higher levels of reality.
There is a striking resemblance between Hesychast and Sufi  teachings concerning the nature and meaning of the prayer of the heart itself. In his Ladder of Divine Ascent John Klimakos asserts, “Let the remembrance of Jesus be present with you every breath,” while Saint Diadochos of Photike writes, “The experience of true grace come to us when the body is awake or else on the point of falling asleep, while in fervent remembrance of God we are welded to his love.”

As for the continuity of prayer, he writes, “He who wishes to cleanse his heart should keep it continually aflame through practicing the remembrance of the Lord Jesus, making this his only study and ceaseless task. Those who desire to free themselves from their corruption ought to pray not merely from time to time but at all times; they should give themselves always to prayer, keeping watch over their intellect even when outside places of prayer. When someone is trying to purify gold, and allows the fire of the furnace to die down even for a moment, the material which he is purifying will harden again. So, too, a man who merely practices the remembrance of God from time to time, loses through lack of continuity what he hopes to gain through his prayer. It is a mark of one who truly loves holiness that he continually burns up what is worldly in his heart through practicing the remembrance of God, so that little by little evil is consumed in the fire of this remembrance and his soul completely recovers its natural brilliance with still greater glory.

In Sufism the remembrance of the name of God (dhikr Allah) which is also the invocation of his Name, since dhikr means at once invocation, calling upon and remembrance, is the central method of spiritual realization based on the Qur’än and the Hadïth. The Qur’än states, “Remember (invoke) thy Lord over and over; exalt him at daybreak and in the dark of the night” (3.40). Also, “0 ye who believe, remember (invoke) God again and again” (33.41); and “Remember (invoke) thy Lord’s Name and devote thyself to him wholeheartedly” (73.8). As for the relation of invocation to the heart, the Qur’än states, “The hearts of those who believe are set at rest in the remembrance (invocation) of God; verily in the remembrance of Allah do hearts find rest” (13.28).

As for the sayings of the Prophet, there are numerous references to the significance of dhikr in its relation to the heart, as for example, “There is a means of polishing all things whereby rust may be removed; that which polishes the heart is the invocation of Allah, and there is no act that removes the punishment of Allah further from you than this invocation. The Companion said: ‘Is not the battle against unbelievers equal to it?’ The Prophet replied: ‘No, not even if you fight on until your sword is shattered.’ “

Concerning the spiritual significance of the heart, Schuon writes, “The organ of the spirit, or the principal center of spiritual life, is the heart. But what is more important from the standpoint of spiritual realization is the teaching of Hesychasm on the means of perfecting the natural participation of the human microcosm in the divine Microcosm by transmuting it into supernatural participation and finally union and identity: this means consists of the ‘inward prayer’ or ‘Prayer of Jesus.

The Sufis consider the goal of the person upon the spiritual path to be not only to interiorize the invocation but also to make it perpetual. Such a person is called da’im al-dhikr, that is in constant invocation.

Sufi writings are also replete with such references usually in the form of allusion and in a manner that is less direct than what one finds in the Philokalia although there are some Sufi texts such as the Mif-täh al-faläb of Ibn ‘Atä’ Allah al-Iskandari which deal directly with the subject of invocation and the prayer of the heart.

The Hesychast tradition and Sufism share the belief that one should remember God constantly and with every breath, that this remembrance is none other than the invocation of a divine Name revealed as a sacrament, that this prayer is related to the heart understood spiritually and that the practice of the incantory method must be based upon the guidance of a teacher and master and is accompanied by appropriate instruction concerning meditation, the practice of virtue and other elements of the spiritual life.

Although in the case of Hesychasm the name of Jesus is employed while in Sufism one of the names of Allah is invoked, the teaching of the two traditions concerning the saving power of the divine Name and methods for invoking it display a striking resemblance to each other, bearing witness both to the universality of the method of invocation and profound morphological resemblances between certain aspects of Christian and Islamic spirituality.

The Sufis consider the goal of the person upon the spiritual path to be not only to interiorize the invocation but also to make it perpetual. Such a person is called da’im al-dhikr, that is in constant invocation.

An example of this remarkable resemblance in the two traditions can be found in the doctrine of the heart itself. In Hesychasm the heart (ή καρδία) is the center of the human being, the seat of both intelligence and will within which converge all the forces of human life. Also grace passes from the heart to all the other parts and elements of the human microcosm. This same doctrine is to be found in Sufism which, following the teachings of the Qur’än, identifies the heart (al-qalb in Arabic, dil in Persian) with knowledge as well as the will and love, and which like Hesychasm considers the heart to be the seat of the divine from which the grace of his presence issues to the whole being of man. If one can speak of the locus of the intellect (νους, πνεύμα, al-‘aql), it is the heart, for it is with the heart that man can know the Spirit and “intellect” the supernal realities.

It is when the spirit enters the heart that man becomes spiritualized (πνευματικός, rühäni) and it is with the heart that man is able to “see” reality as it is. That is why the Süfis speak of the “eye of the heart” (‘ayn al-qalb ) as the instrument with which man can “see” what is invisible to the two eyes located in the head.
In both Hesychasm and Sufism the spiritual path begins under the guidance of a master and with a turning away from the world in an act of repentance (επιστροφή, tawbah). To follow the path both contemplation and action are necessary, contemplation (θεωρία, al-nazar) providing the vision and action (πραξις, al-‘amai) making actualization or realization of the vision possible.

The balance between the two and the necessity of both in the spiritual life are emphasized over and over again by the masters of both Hesychasm and Sufism. The intermediary stages of the path are not, however, necessarily the same and even within Sufism, the stages of the path have been enumerated in different ways by various masters. As for the end, the stillness of Hesychasm can be compared to the annihilation (al-fanà) of Sufism and deification (θεώσις) to union (wisâl, tawhïd). There is, however, a major difference at this stage and that concerns the question of the possibility of the attainment of the state of union
in this life.

Whereas in Hesychasm deification can be expected fully in the next life and can only be approached in this life through synergy or cooperation between God and man, in Sufism union is possible in this life.

There are those Süfis who, while in this world, have already passed beyond the gate of death or annihilation and who have experienced already the supreme state of union or unity while still living in this body.

Despite this difference, however, both Hesychasm and Sufism emphasize the significance of the spiritualization of the body. In contrast to certain branches of Christianity, Hesychasm, like Islam in general and Sufism in particular, sees the body as the temple of the spirit and its techniques like those of Sufism accord a positive role to the body which is an extension of the heart.

The breathing techniques connected with invocation in both traditions is very much related to the role of the breast and the body in general as are certain forms of meditation used in both Hesychasm and Sufism. In both traditions it is taught that holiness is connected with “keeping oneself” in the body.

The incantory method can in fact be summarized as putting oneself in the Name and putting the Name in the heart. If only one could keep the mind in the body and prevent it from wandering away while concentrating upon the Name located in the heart one would become a saint. Sanctity in both traditions comes from the coincidence of the heart and the Name with the body playing the role of the sacred temple wherein this miraculous conjunction takes place.

In contrast to certain forms of passive mysticism the spiritual path of Sufism as well as Hesychasm is based on man’s active participation in the quest of God. This active aspect of the path is depicted in both traditions as spiritual combat. In Sufism the constant battle against the passions is called al-jihad al-akbar, the greater “holy war,” which the Prophet of Islam considered to be much more worthy than any external battle no matter how just its cause. In Hesychasm the aspirant is taught to battle constantly against the evil tendencies within himself and one of the classics of Orthodox spirituality is called The Unseen Warfare

Actually jihäd, usually translated as holy war in English, means exertion but it certainly also includes the meaning of waging battle against all that destroys the equilibrium which Islam seeks to establish in human life. See: S. H. Nasr, “The Spiritual Significance oí jihäd,”’
In contrast to much of modern religious thought which has a disdain for the positive significance and symbolism of combat understood in its traditional sense, both Sufism and Hesychasm are fully aware that the peace which surpasseth all understanding cannot be attained save through long and strenuous warfare against those forces within us that prevent us from entering the kingdom of God which is none other than the heart itself.

This is due both to the unprecedented horror and devastation brought about by modern warfare, thanks to modern technology, and a certain type of pacifism which identifies the whole of Christian spirituality with the passive acceptance of the world about us in the name of peace. It needs to be pointed out, however, that liberation theology as currently understood and practiced has nothing to do with the spiritual warfare of which Sufism and Hesychasm speak and represents from the point of these traditions a further surrender to the world and worldliness in the name of justice which is usually envisaged in solely earthly terms.

Finally, in comparing Hesychasm and Sufism one is struck by the significance of light in conjunction with the practice of the prayer of the heart in both traditions. The Hesychast masters assert that God is light (φως) and the experience of his reality is light. Symeon the New Theologian even calls spiritual experience the “incessant experience of divine light.

Divine light is uncreated and identified with God’s energies which he communicates to those who through spiritual practice enter into union with him. As Saint Gregory of Palamas writes in his Homilies on the Presentation of the Holy Virgin to the Temple, “He who participates in divine energy becomes himself in some way light. He is united with light and with this light he sees with full consciousness all that remains from those who do not possess this grace . .. The pure of heart see God . . . who being light dwells in them and reveals to those who love him, their Beloved.”

The Hesychast tradition speaks of grades of light from the uncreated light of the Divinity to the light of the intelligible world and finally sensible light. The practice of the prayer of the heart leads man from this sensible light which surrounds all beings here on earth to the light of the angelic realm and finally the Divine Light itself.

In Islam also God is called in the Qur’än itself the “Light of the Heavens and the earth” (24.35). On the basis of this famous verse, numerous schools of Islamic philosophy and mysticism have developed in which the symbolism of light, (al-nür), plays a central role, the best known of these schools being that of Illumination (al-ishräq) founded by Shaykh Shihâb al-Dïn Suhrawardï. See S. H. Nasr, Three Muslim Sages (Delmar, NY, 1975), chapter 2.

The divisions of light by Suhrawardï and other masters of this school bear a close resemblance to those found in the Hesychast tradition without there being necessarily a historical borrowing although Suhrawardï’s philosophy did have some followers such as Gemistos Plethon in Byzantium. Many Sufi orders also based their teachings on the symbolism of light, especially the schools of Central Asia, such as the Kubrawiyyah order. See H. Corbin, The Man of Light in Iranian Sufism

There is certainly a sense of spiritual affinity between the golden icons of the Byzantine church and certain Persian miniatures where gold, the supreme symbol of the sun and also the Sun, is used profusely. The light that shines in the heart of the practitioner of Hesychasm on the one hand and Sufism on the other is certainly not based on historical borrowing but comes from God and is the fruit of experiences and types of spiritual practice which display remarkable resemblance to each other.

Needless to say, there are also important differences between the prayer of the heart as practiced in Hesychasm and Sufism. One makes use of the name of the message, that is Jesus, and the other the source of the message, that is Allah. One emphasizes love and the other knowledge without either denying the other element. One derives its efficacy from the grace issuing from Christ and the other from the “Muhammadan grace” (al-barakat al-muhammadiyyah). One is largely practiced within the context of monasticism and the other within society at large.
Yet, the similarity and consonance of the two paths remain as an undeniable reality and constitute a most remarkable aspect of the bonds which relate Christianity and Islam and which can bring about better understanding between them. In this age of facile ecumenism, when so much is said on the surface and so little effort is devoted to the depth where the heart resides, the Hesychast tradition within Orthodoxy offers a most precious channel through which what is most inward and central to the Islamic tradition can be better understood.

And this tradition is also a most valuable means of access to what constitutes the heart of the Christian tradition for Muslims who wish to gain a deeper understanding of Christian spirituality.
More than a quarter of a century ago in a conference organized by a group of Catholics in Morocco to create better understanding between Christianity and Islam, the notable French Islamicist Louis Massignon said, “It is too late for conferences; the only thing that matters now is the prayer of the heart.

If it were too late then, it is certainly much too late now to bring about understanding between Christianity and Islam only through outward means. More than ever before what matters is the prayer of the heart which has been miraculously preserved to this day in the Orthodox tradition while it continues as the central practice of Sufïs throughout the Islamic world. To understand the significance of this prayer in Hesychasm and Sufism is to grasp the profound inner resemblances between Christian and Islamic sprirituality.

The Jesus Prayer according to numerous Church Fathers is “essential” to our spiritual growth. The Jesus Prayer proclaims our faith and humbles us by asking mercy for our sinfulness. The Jesus Prayer is thought to be as old as the Church itself.

This prayer song is sung in Church Slavonic language. Phrase is very similar to the Russian language. Church Slavonic is the primary liturgical language of the Orthodox Church in Russia, Bulgaria, Ukraine, Belarus, and some other countries.

In this arrangement, one sentence repeated again and again, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me.” That’s all. Very simple and short. But this is very powerful prayer. If you feel you have lost your peace of mind, or your mind is troubled, or if you need forgiveness, in these cases this prayer (song) gives you a peace of mind, it calms down your restless heart and bring you mercy. For my part, I use this prayer almost every day, continually.

“The Island” is a 2006 Russian biographical film about a 20th century Eastern Orthodox monk. Pyotr Mamonov, who plays the lead character, formerly a rock musician in the USSR, converted to Eastern Orthodoxy in the 1990s and lives now in an isolated village. Film director Pavel Lungin said about him that “to a large extent, he played himself.” Mamonov was first very hesitant to play in the film, but then was urged by his confessor to play the character. After the filming, one of the movie crew staff decided to stay on the island and live there as a hermit.

  • A lifelong pilgrimage. The Mirror of Jheronimus bosch

Bosch makes art personal, on different levels, and thatmakes him modern. He was one of the first artists in the Low Countries to sign his paintings: ‘Jheronimus bosch’. It was plainly important to him that the works he left behind should be traceable to him. The Haywain (cat. 5) too was signed with his standard signature, affixed like a stamp to the bottom right of the central panel. Bosch also made his art personal, however, for those who look at it. The Haywain is so famous nowadays that it is hard to imagine that when he created it no other painting existed with this subject matter or anything remotely resembling it. We do not know of a single visual precursor for either the Haywain or the Wayfarer. Bosch created an image here that is entirely contemporary – hypermodern art from around 1510–15. Despite their moralizing content, the Haywain and the Wayfarer are not dogmatic paintings; they hold up a mirror to their viewers, to teach them to see themselves better. It was important to Bosch to make his viewers aware of how they bumble their way through life, longing for earthly things. He offered them a personal, exploratory way to realize that if they were to avoid hell and damnation they needed to turn to the good. It is also an important shift in emphasis in the approach to the question of what it means to be a good Christian. Bosch’s work is closely related in this respect to the message of the Devotio Moderna.

According to this spiritual movement, which was particularly strong at the time in the Low Countries, human beings themselves are responsible for their actions: they have to reflect and to make choices, and will be held to account for them personally. ‘Modern Devotion’ also believed that everyone should read the Bible in their own language so they could truly understand the Christian message. Bosch painted in such a way that his paintings likewise have to be ‘read’. We are invited to look, reflect, relate the image to ourselves, and to take its moral to heart. Alongside the familiar positive examples, Bosch introduced exempla contraria – ones to be avoided. In these cases, turning to the good was a question of turning away from evil: a long and arduous road, and a lifelong pilgrimage.

A lone traveller has come from somewhere and plods his way somewhere else in a scene that contains all sorts of elusive elements. Hieronymus Bosch did not create this as an autonomous painting: the round image was originally located on two wings which, when closed, formed a vertical, rectangular surface. The join divided the scene in two, running straight through the traveller and the precise point where the wickerwork pack on his back is fastened shut. The interior of the two wings featured the Ship of Fools on the left and Death and the Miser  on the right.

The subject of the now lost central panel is not known. Death is the lone figure’s ultimate destination, as he travels onwards without knowing his future. The road ahead is closed by a gate, while an aggressive dog growls at his heels. The traveller has just passed a house of ill repute, and the landscape in the distance looks barren and desolate. The man’s identity has been left deliberately vague: we cannot see what he has in his pack.

There is nothing to specify that he is a pedlar (as the painting is frequently titled), nor does he wear a pilgrim’s badge. With what few possessions he has, he trudges cautiously, perhaps even hesitantly, through life, looking back over his shoulder and moving ever forwards. Like all of us, he can do nothing else. He is ‘Everyman’ – the literary figure in whom everyone should recognize themselves. The tondo is like a mirror on a wall; the viewer sees life’s pilgrim on his road and like him must choose which course to take without deviating from the true path. Will the traveller open the gate and continue on his way, despite the ox who blocks his path? Or will he wander off into sin and vice? He will ultimately be held to account for the choices he has made, for how he has led his life. Whatever the precise subject of the triptych’s central panel, the message must have been the one Bosch depicts here.

The pig’s trough on the left behind the traveller will immediately have reminded Bosch’s contemporaries of the Parable of the Prodigal Son. Christ told the story of a man who was such a wastrel that he ended up having to tend pigs and envying them their swill. He eventually returned to his father, full of remorse, and was received with great rejoicing (Luke 15:11–32). Yet that is not the story depicted here, either.

The scene Bosch has painted is at once realistic and elusive; it makes the viewer think. All sorts of details contribute to this effect: why is the man wearing a pig’s trotter as an amulet and why is there a cat skin hanging from the spoon on the outside of his pack? Why is there an awl with a loop of thick yarn stuck in the hat he clutches while wearing a chaperon on his head?

There are all sorts of dubious goings-on at the tavern he has just passed: the inverted jug that sticks up from the apex of the gable, the underwear hanging from the window, the little swan on the inn sign, the man urinating round the corner, and the couple canoodling in the doorway are all ominous signs.

An owl high up in the tree has its eye on a titmouse perched a few branches lower, in a visual echo of our own observation of the painting. It is not clear whether the kneeling ox is aware of the magpie at the bottom of the closed gate in front of him, but he probably is. This is all about watching and being watched; human beings too are constantly observed on their life’s path.

The same idea is expressed more explicitly and with detailed commentary in a contemporary German woodcut, in which the principal character is likewise a traveller. While the devil seeks to waylay him, the human being has to travel onwards as a pilgrim until death tears him away from life. He is surrounded by angels offering good advice, while God – shown high in the middle as the Holy Trinity – looks on and will judge. The image as a whole is presented as a mirror, as emphasized by the title and the text in the banderole: ‘Look, see your reflection and take the message to heart.’ Bosch too has painted a mirror showing the hazardous road through life and the choices that humans must make between good and evil.

 mirror-of-understanding Spiegel-der-vernunft :

A Christian pilgrim, identified by his hat, staff, and knapsack, is shown in the mirror. He walks the road of life, symbolized by a perilous, roughly hewn bridge with branch stubs to trip him up. The devil pulls him backward, toward worldly pleasures, while at the far end Death, with a bow and a clock, measures his allotted time. Beyond Death there is resurrection and the Last Judgment. Below the bridge is a grave, and below that a Hellmouth, while at the top of the image the Trinity are shown, along with the Virgin and the Fountain of Life. Behind the medallion with the Trinity are ten spheres, the lowest showing the Moon, Sun, and stars while the other nine illustrate choirs of angels. A crucifix links this heavenly scene with the tableaux of the mirror, while four angels give advice. The central image is related to Bosch’s The Path of Life (the exterior image on The Haywain Triptych) and his Wayfarer tondo, as well as Durer’s Knight, Death, and the Devil.

    • The Ship of Fools

The ship of fools is an allegory, originating from Book VI of Plato’s Republic, about a ship with a dysfunctional crew:

Imagine then a fleet or a ship in which there is a captain who is taller and stronger than any of the crew, but he is a little deaf and has a similar infirmity in sight, and his knowledge of navigation is not much better. The sailors are quarreling with one another about the steering––every one is of the opinion that he has a right to steer, though he has never learned the art of navigation and cannot tell who taught him or when he learned, and will further assert that it cannot be taught, and they are ready to cut in pieces any one who says the contrary. They throng about the captain, begging and praying him to commit the helm to them; and if at any time they do not prevail, but others are preferred to them, they kill the others or throw them overboard, and having first chained up the noble captain’s senses with drink or some narcotic drug, they mutiny and take possession of the ship and make free with the stores; thus, eating and drinking, they proceed on their voyage in such a manner as might be expected of them. Him who is their partisan and cleverly aids them in their plot for getting the ship out of the captain’s hands into their own whether by force or persuasion, they compliment with the name of sailor, pilot, able seaman, and abuse the other sort of man, whom they call a good-for-nothing; but that the true pilot must pay attention to the year and seasons and sky and stars and winds, and whatever else belongs to his art, if he intends to be really qualified for the command of a ship, and that he must and will be the steerer, whether other people like or not––the possibility of this union of authority with the steerer’s art has never seriously entered into their thoughts or been made part of their calling. Now in vessels which are in a state of mutiny and by sailors who are mutineers, how will the true pilot be regarded? Will he not be called by them a prater, a star-gazer, a good-for-nothing





When the triptych opens, the mirror ‘breaks’ and its contents – or rather the view it offers of them – are shown inside. We will begin with what was once the left wing, with its boatload of merrymakers, surrounded by drunkards and lovers. These are people in the flush of their lives, concerned with neither God nor his commandments. They have given themselves over to eating, drinking, swimming and lovemaking, and their most pressing concern seems to be the pie balanced on the head of one of the swimmers, which they are eager to get onto dry land in one piece. Death still seems a long way away. None of the figures realizes what Sebastian Brant declared in the prologue to his Stultifera Navis  ( Ship of Fools , 1497), namely that ‘In the ship, we are separated but three fingers’ breadth from death.’

 Brant’s Ship of Fools  must have been an important inspiration for Bosch’s boatload of carousers. Brant describes his encyclopaedic collection of prints and verses on human folly as a mirror in which everyone can (or ought to) recognize themselves:
They who at writings like to sneer Or are with reading not afflicted May see themselves herewith depicted  And thus discover who they are, Their faults, to whom they’re similar. For fools a mirror it shall be, Where each his counterfeit may see. His proper value each would know, The glass of fools the truth may show. Who sees his image on the page May learn to deem himself no sage, Nor shrink his nothingness to see, Since none who lives from fault is free;  And who could honestly have sworn That cap and bells he’s never worn? Who’er his foolishness decries  Alone deserves to rank as wise
      • The Triptychs and the Devotio Moderna

The name saint of Hieronymus Bosch was the great patron saint of the Hieronymians who had been established in ‘s-Hertogenbosch since 1425, but it is not known whether these Brothers of the Common Life and the movement of the Devotio Moderna had a direct relationship with Bosch’s parents or later with Hieronymus himself. The Brother’s House was indeed an intellectual focus within the town, there were scholars, many books and shortly before Bosch died the brothers themselves were printing books and dealing in them. The spirit of the Devotio Moderna was cultivated and propagated in various ways.

It is remarkable – coincidence appears to be out of the question – that the majority of Bosch’s surviving triptychs are directly and intensively linked to the message of this religious movement.

Hieronymus Bosch’s three most famous triptychs, The Haywain, The Garden of Earthly Delights (Madrid, Prado and Escorial) and The Last Judgement (Vienna), and also Christ Carrying the CrossfVienna) and the Wayfarer (Rotterdam) – it once adorned the wings of a triptych – transcend the traditional iconography of the triptych. It seems that these triptychs were largely determined by the thoughts and religious message of the Devotio Moderna.

The Haywain                        The Garden of Earthly Delights

The Last Judgement      Christ Carrying the Cross

This reformatory movement called on every believer to give his or her own interpretation to Christianity, in a personal perception and individual following of Christ. Every person should follow Christ and the saints as examples and they each should interpret the nature of a good Christian life. Each individual must himself or herself, and in full consciousness of their sinftilness, continually choose between good and evil. Only through intense awareness of human iniquity was it possible, and at the same time necessary, to strive for salvation.

The figure of the wayfarer – both on the outside panels of the two versions of the Haywain Triptych (Prado and Escorial) and the now octagonal panel in Rotterdam – shows an image of allegorical texts in which the whole of human existence is conceived as a pilgrimage. This stems from a powerful Middle Ages tradition that can be seen, for example, in the Middle Netherlands publication entitled Boeck van den pelgherym (Book of the Pilgrim),by Jacob Bellaert which appeared in Haarlem in 1486.

This book explicitly laid down the notion that all people are pilgrims on their way to a heavenly Jerusalem. Bosch, however, did not portray his wayfarer as a stereotypical pilgrim, with all the well-known attributes that would characterize him as such.

The negative associations which people of Bosch’s time had of wandering pilgrims, whether or not they were on their way to a specific place of pilgrimage, could not be associated with this ‘pilgrim of life’.

Indeed, Bosch did refer to plodding, and thus to the idea of humanity making a pilgrimage. Every person as a devoted believer must find his or her own way with God’s help. For this purpose the traveller is equipped with a number ofpractical attributes, such as a strong staff, which is at the same time symbolic. The painter did not portray this staff as the typical long pilgrim’s staff, but as club-like stick with which the marching traveller wards off the threatening dog.

Bosch seems literally to have painted a passage from the Middle Netherlands adaptation of the Speculum Humanae Salvationis (The mirror of human salvation): in many places the pilgrim must journey along back roads and needs a stick to ward off threatening dogs. The staff symbolizes the belief that humanity offers a footing not to stray from the righteous way, and serves him as a weapon.

Bosch’s travelling man has packed his belongings in the big basket on his back and carries this earthly burden along the path of life. He must lead his life in imitation of Christ; he must bear His burdens, contemplating His example from hour to hour and from day to day. Bosch’s interpretation of the toiling wayfarer is established by the title page of an early printed edition of Thomas van Kempen’s famous book De Navolging van Christus (The Imitation of Christ), Antwerp 1505.

The frontispiece is a woodcut with the representation of Christ, as Salvator Mundi, offering a blessing. To the side of the illustration, in both Latin and Middle Dutch, is a sentence from the New Testament: “Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12). These opening words of The Imitation are typical of the whole movement of Devotio Moderna. On the title page Christ offering a blessing is looking sideways at a man in the margin of the page, trudging along among tendrils and monsters. His pack is filled  with plucked grapes, in which the Eucharistic symbolism is, of course, evident.

When opened, the three triptychs The Haywain, The Garden of Earthly Delights, and The last Judgement, each show almost an entire representation of the Christian story, from Paradise to Hell.

Each illustrates the great contrast between the heavenly world that inevitably ends in the Fall and eternal punishment of the sinful man, doomed by the last judgement. The cautionary message, which was the essence of the Devotio Moderna, is transmitted over the entire continuous landscape of the outer tableaux and the main tableau between them.

In ‘Paradise’, the left wing of the triptych The Garden of Earthly Delights, only the creation of the first, still innocent couple is portrayed. The animal world was never free of sin and the lion mauling a deer and the cat with a mouse in its mouth emphasise the inevitability of the approaching Fall. The central panel of The Garden of Earthly Delights depicts multi-coloured, voluptuous and innocent mankind. Only God’s creation is portrayed,  there is still nothing that has been made by man: a vision of an unashamed, tranquil, paradisiacal society. The Hell wing portrays shows what happens – ruin and punishment – when man makes his contribution. Hell is loaded down with man-made instruments. Just as man is responsible for his sins, so is he the maker of the instruments of torture, for which all things, even perfect musical instruments, are deployed.

The creation of the first couple in the paradise of The Haywain triptych is placed once again on the left wing, although depicted far in the background; in the mid-section of this panel we see the Fall and in the foreground the sinful human couple being driven out of paradise; here the sinful couple is the most important aspect. High up in heaven the Fall and the expulsion from paradise are given an extra emphasis and are foretold by the struggle taking place between good and evil, the fall of the angels. The consequences of being driven out of paradise is illustrated in the central panel, where the continuation of the world is shown far beneath the relatively small risen Christ in the clouds above: the sinful course of human existence, the journey of the haywain, followed by people of all ranks and classes, which is travelling in the direction of Hell, of course, the threatened destination for sinful mankind.

The ‘s-Hertogenbosch archivistjan Mosmans, cited earlier in this book, dated The Haywain as being painted in 1494 on the grounds of an extremely precise interpretation of the various dignitaries at the back of the procession. This meticulous identification is not tenable and today has also become unacceptable; dendrochronological dating of both versions of the Haywain exclude such an early dating (Escorial, c. 1504 or later; Prado, 1515 or later) – although an earlier prototype is not impossible. What is clear is that in elements of the procession, in the assemblage of the common folk together with the elite, Bosch was inspired by the parades and processions in the town, such as those that took place at the Joyful Entrances of the Burgundian dukes during religious celebrations.

The Last Judgement triptych is again ordered in the same way: on the left paradise, in the centre the main tableau, on the right hell. The creation of the first human couple in an earthly paradise is again placed wholly in the foreground, while the Fall takes place in the centre and the expulsion from paradise is pushed into the background. High above all this the fall of the rebellious angels takes place under the watchful eye of the Creator. The archangel Michael and his host of angels drive Lucifer and his followers into the depths and later the same archangel drives Adam and Eve out of paradise. The sinful descendents of the first couple largely compose the picture on the central panel, where the Last Judgement takes place. The earth is completely populated by sinners who are being overwhelmed by devils and monsters; in the distance the land burns and on the left hand of Christ as Judge the sky is black. Darkness and all-consuming fire run through to the tableau of hell where the damned remain for all eternity.

The panel of Christ Carrying the Cross in Vienna is the left wing of a triptych that would have had the Crucifixion as its main subject, or possibly a Calvary, a depiction of the Redeemer who had died on the cross. A child at play is painted on the reverse (outside) of this panel. A child would also have been painted on the outside of the right wing of this triptych.

These children could be interpreted as the young Christ and John; various parallel representations have survived in which a cross halo for the Christ child and an ordinary halo for John make such an identification possible. In paintings by Hieronymus Bosch neither person has a halo, thus every believer could identify with the child.

The little windmill and the unsteady walking frame he holds on to appear to indicate the relativity and vulnerability of human existence. The child, the human being, must lead his life in the footsteps of Christ. The child is doing this very literally; windmill in hand he steps out carefully, exactly as the suffering Christ with the wooden cross on the other side of the panel.

On the outside of The Haywain, the triptych which most powerfully shows the sinful course of the history of mankind in all ranks and classes, stands this man, the ‘pilgrim of life’. Similar figures are also shown on the reverse sides of the panels of The Last Judgement in Vienna.

On the left wing St James the Greater is portrayed as a pilgrim and apostle. Here life’s pilgrimage is further elaborated in two small scenes in the background. First, there is a blind man leading another blind man, which represents wandering man who is helpless and, stumbling, must advance in ignorance. Further along a traveller is being robbed – it is a dangerous road. St Bavo, on the other wing, is giving  aims to the poor and as such also has an exemplary function.

Undoubtedly Bavo is also an indication of the original destination or commissioner. The repeated suggestion that this is The Last Judgement triptych that Philip the Handsome made a down payment for in 1504, however, is not tenable. The sophisticated argument that St Bavo was placed here as the representative saint of the Netherlands, opposite James as the patron saint of Spain, is not valid because Bavo never obtained a comparable position and even as a saint was very seldom venerated.

On the reverse of The Garden of Earthly Delights, finally, stands the first beginning; the desolate world that must still be completed.



God the Father as creator is almost ready to set down the animals and, as completion, mankind, after which it will fail because of man’s imperfection.

The outer panels are generally thought to depict the creation of the world, showing greenery beginning to clothe the still-pristine Earth. God, wearing a crown similar to a papal tiara (a common convention in Netherlandish painting),is visible as a tiny figure at the upper left. Bosch shows God as the father sitting with a Bible on his lap, creating the Earth in a passive manner by divine fiat.  Above him is inscribed a quote from Psalm 33 reading: “Ipse dixit, et facta sunt: ipse mandāvit, et creāta sunt“—For he spake and it was done; he commanded, and it stood fast . The Earth is encapsulated in a transparent sphere recalling the traditional depiction of the created world as a crystal sphere held by God or Christ. It hangs suspended in the cosmos, which is shown as an impermeable darkness, whose only other inhabitant is God himself.

Note: The same is to be seen in the Quran with his ” Kun fa-yakūnu” :

Kun (كن) is an Arabic word for the act of “manifesting“, “existing” or “being“. In the Qur’an, Allah commands the universe to “be” (“kun!كن!), so that it is (fa-yakūnu فيكون).

Kun fa-yakūnu has its reference in the Quran cited as a symbol or sign of God’s mystical creative power. The verse is from the Quranic chapter, Surah Ya-Sin. The context in which the words kun fa-yakūnu appear in the 36th Chapter, verse number 82:

Does man not consider that We created him from a [mere] sperm-drop – then at once he is an open disputant? And he presents an (argument of) likeness for Us and forgets his own creation. He asks (in confusion): “Who will give life to the bones when they are disintegrated?” Say: “He will give life to them Who brought them into existence at first, and He is cognizant of all creation.” He Who has made for you, from the green tree, fire. and then from it you kindle (fire). Is not He Who created the heavens and the earth able to create the like of them? Yes Indeed! and He is the Superb Creator (of all), the Ever-Knowing. Surely His Command, when He wills a thing, is only to say to it: Be! and it is!” Therefore glory be to Him in Whose hand is the Kingdom of all things, and to Him you shall be brought back.

The term also appears as part of 117th verse of the 2nd Quranic chapter, Surah Baqara.

(Allah,) The Originator of the heavens and the earth. When He decrees a matter, He only says to it, “be”, and it is.

There are eight Quranic references to kun fa-yakūnu:

  1. “She said: “O my Lord! How shall I have a son when no man hath touched me?” He said: “Even so: Allah createth what He willeth: When He hath decreed a plan, He but saith to it, ‘Be’, and it is!””[3:47]
  2. “The similitude of Jesus before Allah is as that of Adam; He created him from dust, then said to him: “Be”. And he was.”[3:59]
  3. “It is not befitting to (the majesty of) Allah that He should beget a son. Glory be to Him! when He determines a matter, He only says to it, “Be”, and it is.”[19:35]
  4. “To Him is due the primal origin of the heavens and the earth: When He decreeth a matter, He saith to it: “Be”, and it is.”[2:116–117]
  5. “It is He who created the heavens and the earth in true (proportions): the day He saith, “Be”, behold! it is. His word is the truth. His will be the dominion the day the trumpet will be blown. He knoweth the unseen as well as that which is open. For He is the Wise, well acquainted (with all things).”[6:73]
  6. “Verily, when He intends a thing, His Command is, “be”, and it is!”[36:82]
  7. “For to anything which We have willed, We but say the word, “Be”, and it is.”[16:40]
  8. “It is He Who gives Life and Death; and when He decides upon an affair, He says to it, “Be”, and it is.”[40:68]
  • Triptychs Bosch and the ideas of the Devotio Moderna.

On these triptychs Bosch does depict the traditional account of the Creation and Fall – not, however, in the usual manner, but with a very unusual slant and greatly inspired by the ideas of the Devotio Moderna. The main subject is not Christ’s work of Redemption, or the positive example of a holy martyr or confessor, nor help for humanity from intercessors. The central theme in these works by Bosch is the road the soul of the individual believer must travel. The Garden of Earthly Delights, The Haywain and The Last Judgement lead almost exclusively to Hell.

Without any positive prospect the viewer is confronted with his own sinfulness and is thus completely thrown back on himself.

The subject is always the creation of mankind and what mankind makes of it;

then what is waiting for him if he persists in what is ‘typical’ of him, namely sinful behaviour, such as that which was already contained in the paradisiacal beginning.

God created man and God sees how things go wrong; everything takes place under God’s eye. The Christ figure high above the haywain shows by the wound in his side and the wounds of the cross in his hands and feet that salvation is always possible for those who follow Him. The small Christ figure is therefore very important.

Paradoxically he must be as small as possible and partly hidden in the clouds. Indeed, the larger Christ is depicted, the shorter the road that the believing soul must travel is suggested.

The WayFarer, The Ship of Fools and Death of the Miser The WayFarer in Rotterdam strongly resembles the figure pulling the wagon in The Haywain triptych.


Furthermore, examination proved that this painting once was a companion piece together with three other panels. At some unknown point in time two triptych panels with The WayFarer painted on the outer side were split and sawn up. The Ship of Fools, which is in the Louvre. and the Man on the Barrel, which is in New Haven in the United States, formed the inner side of the left wing and The Death of the Miser, which is in New York, was the reverse side of the right wing. Nothing is known of the vanished central panel, but it is certain that the main subject would have been in a programmatic relationship to the wings. In comparison to The Haywain here there would appear to be a question of a reverse programme: here human imperfections – wickedness, unbelief and incomprehension, foolishness – are portrayed on the inner sides of the wings. A reference to the End of Time – a Last Judgement scene or an apocalyptic vision – on the central panel would have led to a similar thematic whole. In foolishness (The Ship qfFools) and transgression (Death of the Miser) every human being sets course to their individual end, and humanity in general to the End of Time (central panel), when the course of every individual’s life will be judged (closed wings).

  • Saint John on Patmos

A small wooden panel “Saint John on Patmos” one of the few works of Hieronymus Bosch, equipped with author’s signature.

“Saint John on Patmos” (1504-1505) belongs to the late, so-called “austere” period of Bosch, when, after the satirical early works and the Mature period, with its almost sinful delight “the garden of earthly delights” the artist from the image of demonic temptation turns to the theme of Holiness.

St John the Evangelist :

Among all the apostles the name of St. John is used in the Bible text most often. The son of the fisherman Zebedee, he was called by Christ one of the first together with his brother Jacob. Jesus called them “sons of thunder” – probably for the impetuosity and vehemence. The authorship of John the Evangelist is attributed to not only the eponymous gospel (4th in a row), but also conciliar Epistles and the Apocalypse is the most mysterious and the most frightening of the books of the New Testament, announcing the end of the world.

After the death and resurrection in 33 ad John preached a long time in neighboring countries, had been subjected to hazards coming into conflict with the pagans, and the Roman emperors Nero and Domitian. Apocryphal texts tell us that John was able to resurrect the dead, but he managed to escape death, even when immersed in a cauldron of boiling water. In the 60 years of the first century ad, the Emperor Domitian banished John to the Isle of Patmos. There John continued to convert the pagans, and then withdrew to a deserted mountain, where, after three days of fasting and continuous prayer through it was to hang the Spirit of God, prophesying about the last days of the world. Recorded prophecies made the Book of Apocalypse (Revelation of John the theologian). Apparently, it keeps the character of Bosch in the knees.

Interestingly, at the time of the writing of the Apocalypse of John, by all accounts, should have been already very old man, but Bosch shows him in keeping with this tradition is quite young. This young, somewhat naive appearance, curly hair, pink vestments to symbolize the inner purity of John.


Winged angel on the hill encourages John to record the visions coming to him. It is made with a certain grace and completely in blue tones – I think that in this way Bosch emphasizes its immaterial, immateriality. However, it is alarming that similar, with pointed wings and a ghostly blue glow in other works of Hieronymus Bosch depicted demons (for example, in the triptych “The hay”).


In the upper left corner, where aspiring view John Bosch depicts a female silhouette. This is the image of the Apocalypse – “the woman clothed with the sun, under her feet the moon, and on her head a crown of twelve stars”. Most often, the image of the wife of Apokalipsa is seen as a symbol of the Christian Church in times of persecution, and from about XII century some theologians began to identify the wife of Revelation with the Virgin Mary. The Bosch she is holding a baby – apparently, this means that Bosch is well familiar with this kind of theological subtleties, takes this analogy.


Why at the feet of John Bosch depicts eagle? The eagle, the traditional iconographic symbol of St. John the Evangelist. In the medieval treatise “Sermons on the Gospels” (1489) contains this description of John: “In comparison with the other evangelists he is like the eagle. As the eagle flies higher than all birds, as he is above all creatures that can look at the sun without damaging our eyes, and Saint John the Evangelist perceived the light of the Lord subtly and clearly, and thus have seen more than this to anyone living before and after him.”

Eagle Bosch exists on the same line as demon. Their views crossed. Between them there is a silent confrontation, such a confrontation between good and evil.


There is a misconception that a demon attempting to steal the theologian ink – a product not so much of the Bible as purely Bolhovskoy demonology. And really, who, in addition to Bosch, could be the mutant, the demon, bespectacled man with a head the sad man and the body of the insect, its chitinous shell, jointed legs and scorpionic tail? But actually this is a direct illustration of the text of the Apocalypse, where it is said “Out of the smoke onto the earth came locusts, she was given the same authority that was given on the ground Scorpios (…) the Locusts looked like war horses, kitted out in battle… their faces were as the faces of men…” (Rev. 9:3-7).

The flip side:

On the back there is another picture made in the technique of grisaille (FR. grisaille – single color image, usually in grey or brown tones). It is considered the face. This confirms the conjecture that the “Saint John on Patmos” – not a separate product, and the fold of the lost triptych. Judging by the direction of gaze of John, the fold was right.

Back image is a double circle, symbolizing the “all seeing eye” or “eye of salvation” (structurally, it is like a circle of “Seven deadly sins”). At the perimeter of the outer circle are the passion of Christ – scenes of the earthly life of Christ; and in the center, in the so-called “pupil” shows the high rock sitting on her bird. A number of associations here, at least, double. First, the rock legitimately identified with the mountain where John was shown the Revelation, and then the bird is, of course, eagle. Second, no less popular version that is depicted here is not the eagle and the Pelican, which, according to legend, feeds nestlings with his own blood, it is logical to associate with the blood of Christ made for all the sons of God, and then depicted Bosch mount – Calvary.

  • Observations on the symbolism of the “pupil” from a painting by Hieronymus Bosch

In a round “eyepiece” by Hieronymus Bosch entitled “Stories of the Passion” , in the center, in the “pupil”, is depicted the Pelican that feeds its young with its own blood, while in the “iris” it is found represented the story of the Passion and Crucifixion of the Messiah on Mount Golgotha.

With regard to this special symbolic correlation between the “Source of Life” (here, by analogy, represented respectively by the wounded chest of the Pelican and by the pierced side of Christ, from which both the living Blood flows), and the “Eye “Divine (Who sees everything in a single timeless present) – let us also observe that also in the Arabic language the word ‘ayn, besides denoting a” source “(‘ ayna d-hayye is the” Fountain of Life “, second the Syrian author Jacopo di Sarūg), also means “eye”.
For Ibn ‘Arabî, in Islamic esotericism, in fact the term’ ayn has a close relationship with the very notion of “universal Man”, for example we read in the part dedicated to the Word of Adam in Kitāb Fusūs al-Hikam I, 2: “Man [insân] is to God what the pupil [insân al-‘ayn, lett. “The man in the eye” is for the eye, since the pupil is the instrument of the gaze “, and again,” […] God contemplates creatures [through the Universal Man and “pupil” of His Look] and give them mercy [inasmuch as He is ar-Rahmân  “.
Even in the Norse Nordic tradition, traces of this symbolism can be found in the well-known episode of the sacrifice of the eye by Odin to the “source of wisdom” [Mímisbrunnr, “the source of Mímir” or “source of memory”; yes see the Greek mimnesco = “memory”] guarded by the wise giant Mímir, on whose “skull” the god Odin relies to know the future.

We have read, again in this regard, a very interesting article which we also report here: by Paolo Magnone, “The master, the pupil and the pupil between India and Greece” in I Quaderni di Avallon, Rimini, 48 (2000), pp.45-58 . The author makes use of several traditional quotations to demonstrate the traditional importance of the cognitive transition between master and student, an intellectual activity that was considered “sacred” by the ancients, and in particular focuses on the etymological value of the word “ pupil »from the Latin pūpa o pūpilla =« little girl »« bambolina ». Indeed, as in the Greek language («kórē»), likewise in the Sanskrit language («kanīnaka» or «kanīnikā»), the «pupil» originally indicated «the figurine reflected in the pupillary disc», that is to say the «little girl» or small image of the beholder who sees himself mirrored in the eye of those in front of us.
For example, the Hindu sacred texts affirm that this “little man” reflected in the eye is – by analogy and in a symbolic sense – the true subject of vision and knowledge, the “Purusha in the eye”, the “Self” (Atmâ), the only Real that cannot be known analytically and distinctly from human reason alone, but which, as “One Knower” (evamvid), can only be inferred, that is, taken directly for synthesis through intellectual intuition in metaphysical realization. «With what can [in fact] be known What with which all this is known? This ātman (the Self) is – which is not so, – which is not so (“neti, neti“) “(Brhadāranyaka Upanishad 4.5.15)

The author then goes on to analyze the traditional ancient Greek sources, which in regard to the famous Delphic injunction which reads: “gnôthi seautón” (“know thyself”), differ almost in nothing from the Indian ones on this symbolism of the eye, when, for example, we read in Plato: “[Socrates:] You noticed that when we stare into our eyes, our figure (prósōpon) appears in the eye that is in front of us as in a mirror, and we call it” pupil “(Kórē, that is” maiden “) because it is like an image of the beholder? … So an eye that looks at [another] eye, and hangs in what [it] has better, with which it sees [i.e. the “pupil”, center and light of the eyes], in this way he would see himself [ie, by analogy, his own inner “spiritual self”], and again, “Therefore the eye, if it wants to see itself , must look at the eye, and that point of the eye in which the visual virtue is inherent … and so too the soul, if it wants to know itself, must look at the soul, and especially that point of the soul in which is inherent in the virtue of the soul: wisdom (sophía) “(Alcibiades 132e-133a and 133b).
Although in the article by Paolo Magnone there is no explicit mention of Islamic comparisons, it is clearly evident that these same theories concerning the «Purusha (or Universal Man) in the eye», as expressed here by the Indian and Greek traditions, have very close ties symbolic with the corresponding Sufi doctrine on the human “pupil”, called precisely in the Arabic language insân al-‘ayn (lit. “the man in the eye”), as seen in the previous quoted passage of Ibn ‘Arabî from Kitāb Fusūs al-Hikam.


Finally, to return to our “ocular” round by H. Bosch in whose “pupil” the Pelican is depicted, which seems to be the true “inner” meaning of the entire historical cycle of the Passion of Christ , even in the This medieval esoteric doctrine of the “Divine gaze” placed on the Universal Man, in such a way that “… God contemplates creatures [through the Universal Man and His” pupil “] and dispenses their mercy … “, at least it certainly was not in Eastern Christianity, judging also by these remarkable words of Macarius of Mount Athos:” … Look at the men in the pupils. Not the eyes, just the pupils. If you look closely, you find the soul in the pupil”.

And if you look at the soul, you meet the Presence, the same Presence in all [that is, the “insân al-‘ayn” of Islamic esotericism, the “Purusha in the eye” of the Hindu tradition, and “He who moves everything. .. »in Dante Divina Comedia Paradiso 33, you really feel it and the frenzy ends. The frenzy ends and the fraternity begins “, where we add, the” end of the frenzy “and the” fraternity “are here the exact religious and moral correspondence of the metaphysical” resolution of the oppositions “and” Great Peace “in the” Invariable Mezzo “and” Centro del Mondo “.

For More Info about the Devotio Moderna read here

  • This pane symbolizing the “all seeing eye” or “eye of salvation” structurally, it is like a circle of “Seven deadly sins

Four small circles, detailing the four last thingsDeath, Judgment, Heaven, and Hell — surround a larger circle in which the seven deadly sins are depicted: wrath at the bottom, then (proceeding clockwise) envy, greed, gluttony, sloth, extravagance (later replaced with lust), and pride, using scenes from life rather than allegorical representations of the sins.[4]

At the centre of the large circle, which is said to represent the eye of God, is a “pupil” in which Christ can be seen emerging from his tomb. Below this image is the Latin inscription Cave cave d[omi]n[u]s videt (“Beware, Beware, The Lord Sees”).

Above and below the central image are inscription in Latin of Deuteronomy 32:28–29, containing the lines “For they are a nation void of counsel, neither is there any understanding in them”, above, and “O that they were wise, that they understood this, that they would consider their latter end!” below.

Each panel in the outer circle depicts a different sin. Clockwise from top (Latin names in brackets):

  1. Gluttony (gula): A drunkard swigs from a bottle while a fat man eats greedily, not heeding the plea of his equally obese young son.
  2. Sloth (acedia): A lazy man dozes in front of the fireplace while Faith appears to him in a dream, in the guise of a nun, to remind him to say his prayers.
  3. Lust (luxuria): Two couples enjoy a picnic in a pink tent, with two clowns (right) to entertain them.
  4. Pride (superbia): With her back to the viewer, a woman looks at her reflection in a mirror held up by a demon.
  5. Wrath (ira): A woman attempts to break up a fight between two drunken peasants.
  6. Envy (invidia): A couple standing in their doorway cast envious looks at a rich man with a hawk on his wrist and a servant to carry his heavy load for him, while their daughter flirts with a man standing outside her window, with her eye on the well-filled purse at his waist. The dogs illustrate the Flemish saying, “Two dogs and only one bone, no agreement”.
  7. Greed (avaricia): A crooked judge pretends to listen sympathetically to the case presented by one party to a lawsuit, while slyly accepting a bribe from the other party.

The four small circles also have details. In Death of the Sinner, death is shown at the doorstep along with an angel and a demon while the priest says the sinner’s last rites, In Glory, the saved are entering Heaven, with Jesus and the saints, at the gate of Heaven an Angel prevents a demon from ensnaring a woman. Saint Peter is shown as the gatekeeper. In Judgment, Christ is shown in glory while angels awake the dead, while in the Hell demons torment sinners according to their sins.

Seven Deadly Sins

Four Last Things




Christ’s gaze in Bosch’s painting draws the viewer’s attention. When a member of the Devotio Moderna looked at the painting during his daily prayers, he underwent serious
self-examination which was possible because “visual images” served as a still more effective vehicle for compassionate meditation.

Devils and the Angel’s Mirrors.

Without the gaze of Christ, the painting would not have as great an impact on its viewer in a time of meditation. When the viewer meditates upon the seven day prayers of the Devotio Moderna, he/she sees the image of Christ as the Man of Sorrows looking at him or her. Through this interaction with Christ, the viewer examines his own morals and keeps his faith in God. The viewer’s world is not the physical environment where he lives but the one that is reflected in the Eye of God. As the viewer prays upon the seven day prayers, he will be guided to the Kingdom of Heaven where he will be greeted by the angels and face Christ without any shame or guilt upon the death of the redeemer. The righteous person will keep his faith in God as he sees the image of Christ in the Eye of God.
The eye creates an eternal exchange of the interaction between the viewer and Christ As the image reflects the ‘inner perception’ of the viewer, Bosch’s painting reflects the viewer’s own consciousness in choosing between right and wrong as he undergoes the daily meditations of the seven day prayers of the Devotio Moderna.

Read more here

Note: Hieronymus Bosch, Painter and Draughtsman: Catalogue Raisonné was published in February 2016 and is based on the findings of the Bosch Research and Conservation Project(brcp). The research reports have been published in full in the present book’s companion volume, Hieronymus Bosch, Painter and Draughtsman: Technical Studies, and can also be consulted online at Bosch online (web application with documentation on all the paintings) and BoschDoc (documents on Bosch and his oeuvre to 1800) can be accessed via the website

Read here: Hieronymus Bosch, Painter and Draughtsman: Catalogue Raisonné part 1 and part 2

Look also Hieronymus Bosch Visions of Genius

  • The Seven Acts of Mercy

Works of mercy (sometimes known as acts of mercy) are practices considered meritorious in Christian ethics.

The works of mercy have been traditionally divided into two categories, each with seven elements:[3]

  1. “Corporal works of mercy” which concern the material needs of others.
  2. “Spiritual works of mercy” which concern the spiritual needs of others.

Corporal works of mercy are those that tend to the bodily needs of other creatures. The standard list is given by Jesus in Chapter 25 of the Gospel of Matthew, in the famous sermon on the Last Judgment. They are also mentioned in the Book of Isaiah [13]. The seventh work of mercy comes from the Book of Tobit[14] and from the mitzvah of burial,[15] although it was not added to the list until the Middle Ages.[16]

The works include:

  1. To feed the hungry.[17]
  2. To give water to the thirsty.
  3. To clothe the naked.
  4. To shelter the homeless.
  5. To visit the sick.
  6. To visit the imprisoned, or ransom the captive.[6]
  7. To bury the dead.[18]

Spiritual Works of Mercy

Just as the corporal works of mercy are directed towards relieving corporeal suffering, the aim of the spiritual works of mercy is to relieve spiritual suffering. The third comes from Ezekiel 33,[19] the fifth comes from the mitzvah of forgiving others before receiving forgiveness from God,[20] and the seventh comes from Maccabees 2.[21]

The works include:

  1. To instruct the ignorant.
  2. To counsel the doubtful.
  3. To admonish the sinners.
  4. To bear patiently those who wrong us.
  5. To forgive offenses.
  6. To comfort the afflicted.
  7. To pray for the living and the dead.[18]

  • Illustrious Brotherhood of Our Blessed Lady

The Illustrious Brotherhood of Our Blessed Lady (Illustre Lieve Vrouwe Broederschap) was a religious confraternity founded in 1318 in ‘s-Hertogenbosch to promote the veneration of the Mother of God. The brotherhood was organized around a carved wooden image of the Virgin Mary in St John’s Cathedral in ‘s-Hertogenbosch.[1][2] The Brotherhood had two types of members: ordinary members and sworn members, also called ‘swan-brethren’ because they used to donate a swan for the yearly banquet. Sworn members were clerics in principle; in fact they were often chosen among the nobility, the magistrates, etc. As a result, the Brotherhood also functioned as an important social network.Read more here

Het Zwanenbroedershuis more info

  • Hildegard of Bingen

Let your eye live and grow in God,
and your soul will never shrivel.
You can count on it to keep you alive . . . awake . . . tender.
—Hildegard, Letter to Archbishop Arnold of Mainz

Humanity, take a good look at yourself.
Inside, you’ve got heaven and earth, and all of creation.
You’re a world—everything is hidden in you.
—Hildegard, Causes and Cures

When a person does something wrong and the soul realizes this, the
deed is like poison in the soul. Conversely, a good deed is as sweet
to the soul as delicious food is to the body. The soul circulates
through the body like sap through a tree, maturing a person the
way sap helps a tree turn green and grow flowers and fruit.
—Hildegard, Scivias

Don’t let yourself forget that God’s grace rewards not only those
who never slip, but also those who bend and fall. So sing! The
song of rejoicing softens hard hearts. It makes tears of godly sorrow
flow from them. Singing summons the Holy Spirit. Happy praises
offered in simplicity and love lead the faithful to complete harmony,
without discord. Don’t stop singing.
—Hildegard, Scivias

Hildegard was born around the year 1098, although the exact date is uncertain. Her parents were Mechtild of Merxheim-Nahet and Hildebert of Bermersheim, a family of the free lower nobility in the service of the Count Meginhard of Sponheim.[9] Sickly from birth, Hildegard is traditionally considered their youngest and tenth child,[10] although there are records of only seven older siblings.[11][12] In her Vita, Hildegard states that from a very young age she had experienced visions.[13]


From early childhood, long before she undertook her public mission or even her monastic vows, Hildegard’s spiritual awareness was grounded in what she called the umbra viventis lucis, the reflection of the living Light. Her letter to Guibert of Gembloux, which she wrote at the age of seventy- seven, describes her experience of this light with admirable precision:

“From my early childhood, before my bones, nerves and veins were fully strengthened, I have always seen this vision in my soul, even to the present time when I am more than seventy years old. In this vision my soul, as God would have it, rises up high into the vault of heaven and into the changing sky and spreads itself out among different peoples, although they are far away from me in distant lands and places. And because I see them this way in my soul, I observe them in accord with the shifting of clouds and other created things. I do not hear them with my outward ears, nor do I perceive them by the thoughts of my own heart or by any combination of my five senses, but in my soul alone, while my outward eyes are open. So I have never fallen prey to ecstasy in the visions, but I see them wide awake, day and night. And I am constantly fettered by sickness, and often in the grip of pain so intense that it threatens to kill me, but God has sustained me until now. The light which I see thus is not spatial, but it is far, far brighter than a cloud which carries the sun. I can measure neither height, nor length, nor breadth in it; and I call it “the reflection of the living Light.” And as the sun, the moon, and the stars appear in water, so writings, sermons, virtues, and certain human actions take form for me and gleam. Read more


Attention in recent decades to women of the medieval Church has led to a great deal of popular interest in Hildegard’s music. In addition to the Ordo Virtutum, sixty-nine musical compositions, each with its own original poetic text, survive, and at least four other texts are known, though their musical notation has been lost.[53] This is one of the largest repertoires among medieval composers.

One of her better-known works, Ordo Virtutum (Play of the Virtues), is a morality play. It is uncertain when some of Hildegard’s compositions were composed, though the Ordo Virtutum is thought to have been composed as early as 1151.[54] It is an independent Latin morality play with music (82 songs); it does not supplement or pay homage to the Mass or the Office of a certain feast. The most significant part of this entire composition is, however, that the Ordo virtutum is the earliest known surviving musical drama that is not attached to a liturgy.[6]

  • Ordo Virtutum by Hildegard von Bingen

Ordo Virtutum (Latin for Order of the Virtues) is an allegorical morality play, or sacred music drama, by St. Hildegard, composed c. 1151, during the construction and relocation of her Abbey at Rupertsberg. It is the earliest morality play by more than a century, and the only Medieval musical drama to survive with an attribution for both the text and the music. The subject of the play is typical for a musical drama. It shows no biblical events, no depiction of a saint’s life, and no miracles.[3] Instead, Ordo Virtutum is about the struggle for a human soul, or Anima, between the Virtues and the Devil. The idea that Hildegard is trying to develop in Ordo Virtutum is the reconnection between the “creator and creation”[4]

The piece can be divided as follows:[5]

Part I: Prologue in which the Virtues are introduced to the Patriarchs and Prophets who marvel at the Virtues.

Part II: We hear the complaints of souls that are imprisoned in bodies. The (for now) happy Soul enters and her voice contrasts with the unhappy souls. However, the Soul is too eager to skip life and go straight to Heaven. When the Virtues tell her that she has to live first, the Devil seduces her away to worldly things.

Part III: The Virtues take turns identifying and describing themselves while the Devil occasionally interrupts and expresses opposing views and insults. This is the longest section by far and, although devoid of drama or plot, the musical elements of this section make it stand out.

Part IV: The Soul returns, repentant. Once the Virtues have accepted her back, they turn on the Devil, whom they bind. Together they conquer the Devil and then God is praised.

Part V: A procession of all the characters.

The Soul (female voice)
The Virtues (sung by 17 solo female voices): Humility (Queen of the Virtues), Hope, Chastity, Innocence, Contempt of the World, Celestial Love, Discipline? (the name is scratched out in the manuscript) Modesty, Mercy, Victory, Discretion, Patience, Knowledge of God, Charity, Fear of God, Obedience, and Faith[6] These Virtues were seen as role models for the women of the Abbey, who took joy in overcoming their weaknesses and defeating the Devil in their own lives.
Chorus of the Prophets and Patriarchs (sung by a male chorus)
Chorus of Souls (sung by a women’s chorus)
The Devil (a male voice –[7] the Devil does not sing, he only yells or grunts: according to Hildegard, he cannot produce divine harmony).[8]

For more info look here, translation of Ordo Virtutum here

500 years ago, the b. Niklaus von Flue saved the Swiss Confederation from collapse in the so-called “Stanser Kommommnis” and entered the history of Switzerland as the “Father of the Fatherland”. Niklaus von Flue brought it from farmer to captain, councilman and judge and then lived as a hermit for 20 years. Winfried Abel, a young, poetically gifted pastor in Kasset, has attempted to decrypt the visual testament of Brother Klaus, and we are astonished and grateful to find out what God foreshadowed and revealed to the little ones. Here is bread for the soul, according to which the person threatened by the emptying of meaning is starving as never before.A Message of Peace for our Times! look also Retreat Caravan of Love 2018

  • Dear Beloved Son / Ayyuhal Walad   Al Ghazali  

  product_thumbnail.jpg 2     I seek Allahs refuge from the knowledge which is of no benefit”. This disciple of Imam Ghazali (RA) kept thinking along these lines for a few days and then wrote a letter to Imam Ghazali (RA) with the view of getting an answer to his dilemma along with some other questions. Furthermore, he asked in his letter to Imam Ghazali (RA) for some advice and to teach him a supplication that he could always recite. He wrote in his letter that although Imam Ghazali (RA) has written numerous books on this issue,this weak individual is in need of something that he could always study and always act upon its injunctions. In reply to his letter, Imam Ghazali (RA) sent him the following advices. free download

  • The Skills of Soul Rapture

Who better than Sultan Valad could explain to us the teachings of his father? Rumi’s eldest son was his intimate friend and confidant. For seventy years, says Aflaki, he illuminated the words of his father and master, miraculous, eloquent, in deciphering the mysteries and interpretation. The Master awakens the sleepy soul of the student and allows him to climb the ascending steps to Paradise. He describes us the Skills of Soul Rapture. Mawlana Rumi himself says: “I have studied a lot of science and have worked hard to offer rare and valuable things to researchers and scientists who come to me, it is God the Supreme who has decided so”.  He said also to his son: “O Bahâ-ud-Din, my coming into this world has come to prepare yours, for all the words that I say are speeches, but you, you are my action.” It is a message for all times, a revelation of wisdom for our time. free download

  • The Polished Mirror


The polished mirror is an image that unites these two ethical traditions, philosophy and Sufism. One finds it mentioned repeatedly as a way to describe a receptive self-perfection, whether that be the perfection of the human intellect, heart, or soul. It tells us that there were similarities in these ethical models, which often relied on symbols of light, reflection, the removal of imperfections, and patterns of emanation. Perhaps the Neoplatonic sympathies of both traditions brought this image to the fore. As Aaron Hughes illustrates, the metaphor of the imagination as a polished mirror appears in the writings of the ancient philosopher Plotinus (d. 270) and aligns with the model of imagination prevalent among Muslim and Jewish philosophers.57

For an example from philosophy, the polished mirror in Avicenna’s writings has noticeably ethical significance. According to Avicenna, the rational soul goes through a process of refinement, trading base character traits for excellent ones and shedding vile habits for noble ones, becoming purified through the knowledge of God. When that is the case, the soul “becomes like a polished mirror upon which are reflected the forms of things as they are in themselves without any distortion,” achieving the ability to reflect all the intelligibles—the pinnacle of human achievement in Avicenna’s philosophy.58 Avicenna also uses this image of the “polished mirror” in a manner reminiscent of Sufi writings, to describe the penultimate stages of the “knower” (al-ʿārif) of “the Real.”59 (This recurring designation, “the Real” or al-Ḥaqq, signifies God in Himself, as the Absolute, abstracted from conceptions of Him and from His relationships to creation. It becomes common among those claiming to have privileged knowledge of God.)

In Sufism, Ibn ʿArabī begins his Bezels of Wisdoms (Fuṣūṣ al-Ḥikam) by comparing Adam’s capacity for reflecting all of God’s attributes to a “polished mirror.”60 Before him, Ghazālī had famously used the image in the context of comprehending the Qurʾan: “The heart is like a mirror; desires are like rust; and the meanings of the Qurʾan are like forms that appear in that mirror, so that ascetic practice, by extirpating the lower desires, does for the heart what polishing does for a mirror.”61 The trope of the polished mirror elicits an image of ultimate human perfection as a matter of removing deficiencies—as opposed to acquiring the good. This is a common “end” to virtue ethics in both philosophy and Sufism, as will be discussed in Chapter Nine.


The reader will also notice an emphasis, especially throughout the first half of the book, on the four humors. To understand the centrality of the humors to premodern ethics, consider by way of analogy the place of psychology in contemporary language. Modern psychology so informs our way of thinking that we have difficulty noticing it humming in the background of our assessments of self and others. Every time we, as Americans or Westerners, think of a moral action as “unhealthy,” we speak in psychological terms. Moreover, phrases such as “Freudian slip,” “inner child,” “anal retentive,” “acting out,” or “OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder)” have become a part of everyday English, even if such usage often does not conform to the phrase’s scientific meaning. Psychology is, after all, for many moderns, an important—if not the most important—standard of measurement for the wellbeing of the human mind and, in many ways, life as a whole.

Premodern Muslim writers inherited a view of the soul–body relationship that was just as influential for them as modern psychology is for us. Their view posited that the human body thrives through a balance of the four humors, the balancing of which also affects one’s psychological states and even one’s dispositions for character. Ethics strove to bring order to imbalances in the soul influenced by the contending forces of the body. This assumed a cosmological pattern of emanation from unity to disunity, perfection to imperfection, such that the observable world revealed mixtures and multiplicities that had their origins in perfection and unity. While not as widely accepted as humoral medicine, alchemy too ensued from theories about a hierarchy of elements, one part of the overarching hierarchy of being. Thus, one often finds alchemical metaphors in writings on virtue ethics.

One might locate original Muslim interest in the ethical implications of the soul–body relationship in the Qurʾan.62 Yet it was in philosophy—especially in the pursuit of health for both body and soul—that the groundwork for “humoral” virtue ethics was laid. Works like Hygienics for Bodies and Souls (Maṣāliḥ al-Abdān wa-l-Anfus), written by a student of al-Kindī named Abū Zayd al-Balkhī (d. 934), treated vices in explicitly medical terms.63 There is also the Spiritual Medicine (al-Ṭibb al-Rūḥānī) of Abū Bakr Muḥammad ibn Zakariyyā al-Rāzī (d. 925 or 935), or “Rhazes,” as he was known in Latin. While Rhazes was critical of certain core axioms in the theory of humors, he nevertheless saw ethics and medicine as intertwined, having been largely influenced by the ancient philosopher-physician Galen (d. ca. 216).64 Al-Fārābī, like the philosophers studied here, also saw parallels between moral philosophy and medicine.65

An important caveat is that all the virtue ethicists discussed here agree that the major achievements of the soul lie beyond the basic humoral virtue ethics aimed at justice. The loftiest expectations for the human soul, however, even for the Sufis, often assumed a humoral substructure. Thus, this applies not only to Ghazālī, but also to the major Sufi thinker, Ibn ʿArabī. Ibn ʿArabī inherited centuries of insights from Sufi masters about states and stations, and his ethics is a complex web of illuminations about Islamic law and scripture. Yet even he says that “in most cases, the soul is ruled forever by the property of its constitution.”66


Among the common threads that knit together Sufi and philosophical virtue ethics, arguably none is more illuminative than storytelling. After all, the interchange between Sufism and philosophy was often more apparent in storytelling than, say, in specialized treatises, polemical texts, or Qurʾanic commentaries. Allegorical tales—one major example of the phenomenon of storytelling—were a form of writing common to masters of both sciences. Moreover, it seems that Sufis and philosophers, or sometimes those who were Sufi-philosophers, engaged in narrative exercises often motivated by the need to communicate theory and practice in a way more inclusively “human.” Classical Arabic and Persian storytelling allowed abstract ethical theory to materialize as a part of human narratives, daily life, social norms, personal longings, and edifying entertainment. Throughout the book, I will continue to explore adoptions, shared ends, and contrasting premises in Sufism and philosophy using this “common thread,” that is, storytelling as virtue ethics exemplified.

From the beginnings of Islam, storytelling had a central position in Islamic learning, especially moral learning. The premise that righteous conduct could be found in the great figures of the past prevailed not only in the Qurʾan and in pre-Islamic Arabian narratives, but even in the Biblical and extra-Biblical narratives that served as Qurʾanic commentary, as John Renard explains.67 Tales of ancient prophets, such as those told in the collection of Aḥmad ibn Muḥammad Thaʿlabī (d. 1035), presented an audience with models of behavior while also reaffirming the veracity of the Qurʾan, which alludes to details in the lives of those prophets.68 One of the roles of the earliest qāḍī (judge) was not only to administer law, but also to tell stories of those who exemplified worthy character traits, most especially the Prophet Muhammad. Many such judges held a second official position as “storyteller” (qaṣṣ, plural quṣṣāṣ).69 The role that storytellers played in expanding the Hadith corpus was later lamented by scholars of Hadith.70 Yet even collections of Hadith verified as reputable can be treated as literary texts saturated with narrativity.71

Modeling virtue became a pattern adopted by Hadith narrators, philosophers, Sufis, and other Muslim writers. For Sufis especially, models of behavior were and still are an evident part of the tradition. In a seminal study, Vincent Cornell argues that hagiographies (stories of saintly lives) follow patterns of “typification,” a term that describes the way in which institutions acquire identity by directing attention to certain actions by certain representative actors. Concentrating on Sufi sainthood in Morocco, Cornell outlines how the saint’s special relationship with God assumed patterns of moral authority, often through narratives surrounding that saint.72 Idealized behaviors were recorded in hagiographical collections. They then became remembered as historical fact—as real standards. Idealized roles embodied by saints of the imagined past, therefore, “were played by real people in Muslim society.”73 In that way, accounts of the lives of saints (and the lives of saintly philosophers) meld storytelling, history, and virtue to communicate how ethics might be lived.

Muslim ethicists used storytelling of many varieties to convey normative standards of virtue. In fact, the concept of “literature” itself surfaced in an ethical context for Arabic (and Persian) readers. This can be seen in the Arabic word adab, which our authors would have known to mean both a category of “wisdom literature” and “proper conduct.” Adab also included knowledge of the literary arts such as grammar by which one attained such conduct.74 It referred to the specialized training and values of the well-to-do, for whom “literature” and “proper conduct” were inseparable.75 Being able to quote a saying or lines of poetry most apropos to the context at hand; displaying a wide range of knowledge; communicating with grammatical rigor; and exuding both wit and grace in one’s speech, writing, and conduct; these were all signs of the adīb, that is, the person with adab, the “lettered” person. One can see how these qualities came together in the example of al-Tawḥīdī, a polymath versed in philosophy, Sufism, and Islamic law. Al-Tawḥīdī communicates the cardinal social virtue of friendship (ṣadāqa) by means of a letter that not only highlights the grace of his pen, but also relies on narratives about those he knew, narratives that contextualize wisdom about good behavior.76 In Sufism, such “lettered” conduct or adab had special significance, for it affected the way one learned from a master, interacted in spiritual companionship, or cohabitated in lodges.77

Storytelling appears in each chapter of this book in part because contemporary virtue ethicists have made a compelling case that, in the words of Alasdair MacIntyre, “man is in his actions and practice, as well as his fictions, essentially a story-telling animal.”78 MacIntyre argues that only a “narrative selfhood,” in which humans envision their actions and identities within the context of narratives with intelligible ends, will have lasting effects on individuals and societies.79 Both ancient and contemporary virtue ethics take each individual human narrative into account, as opposed to Enlightenment theories that sought to offer universal norms. What is virtuous differs in different circumstances. Unlike axioms, narratives can capture the contextual nature of virtuous and vicious habits and choices. This has led to interest in the study of literature as ethics, or even what might be called “literary ethics.” Literature, according to Martha Nussbaum, can reveal human character, examine “the relevant passions with acute perception,” and offer a picture of “what it means to organize a life in pursuit of what one values.”80 Novels as constructions of human experiences and human striving for good in specific contexts of choice and limitations can convey a lived “Aristotelian ethical thinking.”81

Yet even beyond an Aristotelian framework, narratives seem distinctively able to reveal values, situations, decisions, character, and the relationship between them all. A modern reader might take delight in a novel and might even say that she has “learned” from it because it so often presents events in the moral universe through the prism of an individual’s circumstances, emotions, point of view, and development. Even bad choices or complete moral indifference in narrative form tell us something about the experience of being human, that is, the experience of being in an individual situation with enough universal relevance to merit its being communicated. To include premodern Muslim literary and ethical writings in these discussions expands the scope of the search for lived and situated human experience.82


The chapters that follow might be divided into two uneasy halves, one half largely concerning Islamic philosophy (beginning with “humoral ethics”), and the other half largely concerning Sufism. This division is an uneasy one because, as you will see, sometimes the lines between these two sciences are blurred. Certain philosophers held an allegiance to Sufism. Certain Sufis, even those opposed to philosophy, made use of philosophical terms and teachings to make their point. Chapter Ten should be considered a case study that blends together themes mentioned throughout the book within the context of storytelling. In it, preceding discussions are applied to the narrative poetry of Jalāl al-Dīn Rūmī (d. 1273).




























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