In this phase of the life of The Oddest Inkling, I am posting summaries of each of CW’s books in chronological order. These are punctuated by related posts on themes, events, and people in his life as they relate to those books or to where we are on his timeline, or by news announcements.
Book Summary #6: Windows of Night, 1925
In addition to all the themes discussed in the previous post, I expected to find many references to the occult in Windows of Night–specifically, material drawn from the Rosicrucian rituals that Williams had been engaged in for about 7 years when he wrote this book. Indeed, the years 1917-1924 were perhaps the period of most involvement with the F.R.C.
He was particularly involved in 1924, when he climbed to a higher stage of Adeptship. He served as Master of the Temple (essentially the functional priest of that particular Order), performing the rituals from memory, for six months in 1921 and another six months in 1924. For this information and more details, see R.A. Gilbert’s book A. E. Waite: Magician of Many Parts, chapter 16 “Frater Sacramentus Regis and His Fellowship of the Rosy Cross”; this book is cited in my bibliography of secondary works.
This is just to say: one would expect a book published in 1925 to contain many references to Rosicrucian ritual. Yet it does not. I count only five such references, and they might even be a bit of a stretch. Let me take you through those references.
1. The first is in the poem “Gnostic Apologue on the Parable of the Talents,” pp. 33-35. This is really a stretch, because the only “occult” reference is in the title—“gnostic” means secret or esoteric knowledge—and in the basic premise of the poem, which is the telling of a secret story about another man who was given one talent and hid it away. So the only occult feature here is the idea of secret knowledge passed down by word of mouth. And that could very well be just a creative idea, not gleaned from the F.R.C.
2. In “On Seeing the New Moon: Palinode,” p. 100 (a beautiful example of the True Myth principle), CW writes about “holy ritual” that occurs everywhere. This poem seems to invoke the esoteric principle: “As Above, So Below.” The Emerald Tablet of Hermes is an early, important hermetic text. You can read it here. One of its principles, in Madame Blavatsky’s translation, is “What is below is like that which is above, and what is above is similar to that which is below to accomplish the wonders of the one thing.” This is the principle of correspondence, or of the microcosm/macrocosm. This principle is subtly operative throughout many of CW’s works.
3. The sonnet “Saint Michael,” p. 135, refers to “the hierarchic mystery” and positions the Archangel Michael as a light guiding twelve great ships through the heavens—and those ships are “The twelve huge ships of the moving Zodiac.” The Zodiac takes on increasing importance in CW’s thought, culminating in the great visual mythology of his Arthuriad. For a detailed exposition of the symbolic importance of astrology in the imagination of the Inklings, see Michael Ward’s virtuosic study Planet Narnia: The Seven Heavens in the Imagination of C.S. Lewis (Oxford University Press, 2008) or his more popular version, The Narnia Code. I will summarize Planet Narnia later on this blog. For now, you should just know that the Inklings, especially Lewis and Williams, were fascinated with the metaphorical and spiritual possibilities of astrology—and it is likely that Williams took it quite seriously during his ten years in the F.R.C., practicing horoscope readings and other astrological rituals.
4. and 5. The final two occult references are to the Tetragrammaton: the unspeakable Name of God in Hebrew. There has long been a practice in Judaism that God’s own personal name must not be spoken aloud, for it is too high, holy, and precious. This name is written in Hebrew with the letters yod—he—waw—he. It looks like this:
Whenever a Hebrew person was reading the Bible out loud, when he came to this word he would not pronounce it. Instead, he would say “Adonai,” which is just the title “The Lord.”
There are two references to this Name in Windows of Night. The first is in “On her singing the Gloria,” p. 67.
The second is in “In Time of Danger,” p. 76.
If this is merely an ancient Jewish tradition, why am I including it in this discussion of the Occult? Well, because of an occult, mystical Jewish tradition that handles God’s name in another way altogether from the mainstream religion. This is the esoteric discipline of the Kabbalah or Qabbālâ (there are many different transliterations of the word). It emerged in the 12th century, although (like all occult traditions), it claims to have been passed down since the earliest times. Here is a little introductory article that discusses Qabbalah in a simple fashion. It explains that there are three kinds of Qabbalah: the theoretical, the meditative, and the magical. The magical “concerns itself with altering and influencing the course of nature. It also uses the Divine names, incantations, amulets, magical seals and various other mystical exercises.”
In the Qabbalistic tradition, then, meditations on and incantations with God’s name, and even just the letters of God’s name, is an important mystical and/or magical practice. A google image search for “tetragrammaton” will reveal all kinds of patterns and designs illustrative of this kind of meditation. This kind of meditation was certainly practiced in A. E. Waite’s Fellowship of the Rosy Cross; Williams probably led the initiates in some kind of chanting meditation or incantation on the Tetragrammaton during his time as Master of the Temple.
Now, the two references in Windows of Night do not make clear whether they are referring simply to God’s name as it appears in the Old Testament—a perfectly orthodox usage for an Anglican—or whether they are hinting at the esoteric usage. I am interpreting, based on my knowledge of CW’s biography at this point. Could I be wrong? Could he be using “the unnameable name” just the way any good Christian might? Sure, he could. But I don’t think so. Am I imposing my interpretation on his writings to make him seem ODDER than he really was? It is possible–but seems to be to be unlikely. Just wait until we get to his novel The Greater Trumps. Then you’ll see what he could do with the four letters of the Name of God!