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     ( Part  II )




Looking at the outline of Dante’s journey we note how evident are the symbols of the hermetic-alchemic tradition: the centre of the Earth, the Mountain, the Sky (the stars)

The beginning of the Divine Comedy describes how Dante, at a certain point in his life, finds himself lost in the dark woods.
This spiritual crisis is common to many searchers who, having undertaken an inner journey by their own efforts, sooner or later find themselves at a dead end, in a situation of anguish and desperation.

Dante says: “How first I entered it I scarce can say, such sleepy dullness in that instant weighed my senses down, when the true path I left” (Inf. I, 10-12)
Here, what is sleeping is his consciousness, a state in which we normally live without realising it, indeed, believing that we are awake.

After this terrible experience, Dante recovers a little, but realises that he cannot proceed alone: he is prevented from doing so by the three beasts that represent the three poisons of the ego (lust, pride, greed). Only with the help of a Master can he go on, and in fact the meeting with Virgil takes place (when the disciple is ready, the Master arrives).

With Virgil’s guidance, Dante enters the Inferno, in other words, he begins his journey to the centre of the Earth, experiencing what the alchemists called VITRIOLVM (visit the inside of the Earth, by rectifying you will find the hidden stone, true medicine) [a Latin acronym – Tr.].

This is the hermetic black phase, a dangerous operation whereby the structure of the individual, the personality, must dissolve, the soul-essence must cut loose from the individual body, tied to time and space (the world). In order for this work to succeed, it must be undertaken with a pure heart, with the right intention and accompanied by a guide.

In this phase of the work on himself, the searcher must face up to his own shadows, his inner demons, the infernal side of his passions.
The historical characters that Dante meets during his descent through the infernal rings symbolically represent these aspects.
The damned are completely absorbed in the dimension of their own sin, blocked in that one single sentiment and psychological disposition, in an endless repetition of that same situation.

All of these characters have been burned by their passions, and that is not to be understood in a moral sense, but existentially: we think, for example, of Paolo and Francesca, who arouse sweetness and compassion in Dante, not condemnation, but who nonetheless have been overcome by a force that they have been unable to transform.

So the inferno is the dimension of chaotic nature, and if we look carefully we can see it around us every day, both within and without ourselves, albeit with differing tones and shades.

The episodes narrated in the thirty-four cantos of the Inferno are innumerable, and we could go on recounting them forever: we would like to emphasise the fact that the devils, the monsters that Dante meets (Cerberus, Minos, Pluto etc.), should from our point of view be understood as psychic realities; they are our demons, which we must recognise and gradually get over.

This perilous descent into the Inferno comes to a climax in the meeting with Lucifer (the XVth Tarot): what does he represent?

The Devil is radical egotism, that part of each of us that is the root of our ego, a point of extreme condensation; indeed, Lucifer is surrounded by ice, and not fire.
And yet, right in the darkest corner of the Inferno the transformation takes place, that rectification cited in the VITRIOLVM formula.

In various traditions and in many fables, the Devil often guards a treasure that the hero must succeed in robbing from him.
He is the warden of the Mysteries (indeed, Lucifer means bringer of light).

The Devil can only be faced with the deep humility that comes from being aware of one’s natural imperfections, otherwise we fall into our pride and get lost.

By passing the Devil’s test, Dante conquers the chaotic force of matter: here we see a change of state, AN OVERTURNING, which takes place tight at the centre of the Earth, the place “where weights are drawn from all sides”.

In the hermetic tradition it is said that at the end of the black phase the Star comes into sight, announcing the White phase.

We quote the closure of the Inferno… “we mounted up, he first and I the second, till I beheld through a round aperture Some of the beauteous things that heaven doth bear; thence we came forth to rebehold the stars,” (Inf. XXXIX, 136-139).

Let us now look at what is represented by Purgatory: as we have said, in Alchemy, the black phase is followed by the white phase, the purification of the dross.

Dante describes this experience as climbing a mountain, a highly important symbol in all traditions, the climb that is initially exhausting, but gradually gets easier.

The climb is preceded by a baptism of water, significant for both hermetic and Christian interpretation; later, our poet will also experience a baptism of fire (canto XXVII). It is the fire that does not burn, the Alchemic Fire.

Dante and his guide will have many encounters along their journey: the souls in Purgatory still retain a strong and complex tie with earthly life. But now they fully see the sense of things, they understand their human limits and aspire to heavenly perfection.
The atmosphere here is completely different from in the inferno, here, suffering assumes a different meaning because it is the prelude to liberation.
In the work on ourselves, we call it voluntary suffering.

I wanted to focus on three points of great interest from an esoteric point of view:

Firstly: in the beautiful Canto IX, the Angel guarding the entrance to Purgatory lets Dante pass, opening the door with two keys, one silver, the other gold. A mysterious explanation is given of the meaning of these two keys: “One is more precious but the other needs much art and skill before it will unlock, that is the key that must undo the knot” (Purg. IX, 124-126).

In terms of consciousness, what is represented by Silver and Gold? The first is a symbol of consciousness that is already detached from the material plane (which we could match up with the experience of ecstasy) whilst Gold represents complete rebirth, the birth of an indivisible I.

Let us remember that in Alchemy the white phase leads to the production of Silver, whilst the Red phase leads to the production of Gold.

Gold is more valuable, but Silver is far more difficult to obtain, by travelling through the centre of the Earth and succeeding in separating one’s two natures (earthly and heavenly).

Secondly: the angel marks Dante’s forehead with seven ‘P’s, which are often interpreted as the symbol of the seven deadly sins; but in a hermetic sense they represent the seven levels of initiation, corresponding to the seven planets and the seven metals of Alchemy. As he climbs the seven cornices of the mountain, Dante is purified, and the seven ‘P’s are removed one by one from his face.

In the Enneagram we find the representation of this symbolic and operative journey through the seven Planets which leads us to discover and transform our inner universe.

Thirdly: Having passed through the baptism of fire, Dante enters the Garden of Eden.The imagery with which he describes this experience is wonderful: here his master Virgil leaves him, so that he can meet the new guide who will lead him through the higher dimensions: Beatrice.

For Dante, the meeting with Beatrice is the return to his Essence, to that divine spark found in every human being, which the great poet had already recognised in himself as a child (at the age of Nine), describing the experience in La Vita Nova [“The New Life” – Tr.].
Unfortunately, our earthly life leads us all to move away from the essence, whilst at the same time the personality develops, and we then have to work hard on ourselves in order to find our way back to the Path that leads us to our true being.

Beatrice, the essence, admonishes Dante for having gone away from her, despite the fact that she, with her Voice, had tried to remind him of the Love that he had felt in his youth.

Then he is forgiven (in other words, reconciled with his essence) and he bathes in the two rivers of Eden, the Lethe and the Eunoe, concluding his journey through Purgatory “Pure and made apt for mounting to the stars” (Purg. Canto XXXIII).

Paradise, the red phase.

Dante begins this new experience by stating that: “I was within the heaven that receives more of His light; and I saw things that he who from that height descends, forgets or can not tell” (Par. I, 4-6).

The spirit, which has by now become part of the divine vital fluid, climbs to the highest levels of consciousness. Paradise is the apotheosis of light, of the expansion of the spirit that Dante describes using words like “transhumanise” and “deifying” (becoming God), inadmissible for official religion.

Paradise is all that lies above the sphere of fire; it is divided into nine concentric heavens, gradually increasing in size.
These are the contents of Empyrean, where God is found, although his presence is also manifest throughout the rest of the Universe.
The souls in Paradise are arranged in the Rose of the blessed: they all enjoy the vision of God, but not all equally. There is an invisible hierarchy, determined by the varying capacity to receive divine light.

Within the Empyrean is contained the ninth heaven (or primum mobile) to which divine power is transmitted like “the rapidest of movements”, differing gradually in intensity in the other heavens.

In Gurdjieff’s teaching we are told that the two higher centres (higher emotional and higher intellectual centres) are extremely swift.
We could hypothesise that contact with the higher emotional centre is described by Dante in the vision of the Virgin (Canto XXXI), when divine Love is seen as an indescribable joy.
Whereas contact with the higher intellectual centre could coincide with the vision of God in canto XXXIII, where Dante penetrates the mystery of the Trinity and of Incarnation.

In these supreme experiences Dante is accompanied by a new guide, Bernard of Chiaravalle, founder of the order of the Knights Templar.

The first master, Virgilio, guided Dante through the first fundamental stages of the inner work, until his essence was freed.
The essence, in the form of Beatrice, guided the poet to Divine knowledge, and finally Saint Bernard, symbol of the supreme Master, brings him to the direct experience of Totality.

In Paradise, Dante’s poetry transports us way beyond any imagination, towards “that Love which moves the Sun and other stars”.

In this subject there are innumerable matters meriting closer investigation, and we have briefly touched upon just a few of the most important aspects. We hope that this brief study may awaken in some the desire to reread this work, so fundamental to our cultural and spiritual tradition.

To conclude I would like to make a wish, to all genuine seekers of the true Self, that they may find along their path of seeking the Way that leads to that Love which moves the sun and other stars.


Copyright Andrea Bertolini - Jubal Editore 2004




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