April 25, 2013

Hegel's View of Böhme And The Hermetic Tradition

Jakob Böhme (probably April 24, 1575 – November 17, 1624) was a German Christian mystic and theologian. He is considered an original thinker within the Lutheran tradition, and his first book, commonly known as Aurora, caused a great scandal.
While Böhme was famous in Holland, England, France, Russia and America during the 17th century, he became less influential during the 18th century. A revival, however, occurred late in that century with interest from German Romantics, who considered Böhme a forerunner to the movement. Poets such as John Milton, Ludwig Tieck, Novalis and William Blake found inspiration in Böhme's writings. Coleridge, in his Biographia Literaria, speaks of Böhme with admiration. Böhme was highly thought of by the German philosophers Baader, Schelling and Schopenhauer. Hegel went as far as to say that Böhme was "the first German philosopher."
Below is an excerpt from Glenn Alexander Magee's book, "Hegel and the Hermetic Tradition." 2001. Cornell University Press: Ithaca. Pg. 103-04.
"Hegel's speculation, as I have characterized it, is a sophisticated, post-Kantian reappropriation of the memory magic and "active imagination" of Hermetic thinkers such as Bruno and Böhme. The doctrine of a perennial philosophy or of a "collective unconscious" was an Hermetic commonplace. It now becomes clear why and how Hegel could take alchemy and the Kabbalah, and the thought of such men as Böhme, seriously. He saw them as expressions of the unconscious wisdom of Spirit-in-itself, of the perennial philosophy. In this respect, Hegel was very much in tune with the spirit of his time, in which, "There persisted a strong sense of the possibility that embedded in the accretions of alchemical literature lay important truths expressed in symbolic form."

Hegel's attitude toward the Hermetic tradition was cautious, but cautiously approving. Hegel saw the Hermetic tradition as a manifestation of unconscious wisdom, of the perennial philosophy, struggling to transcend its purely sensuous form. This explains his strongly positive attitude to Böhme, even though Böhme grossly violates Hegel's prohibition on "picture-thinking." Hegel's claim is that Böhme comes close to the truth, even though he is caught in "the hard, knotty oak of the senses." What accounts for Böhme's inspiration? My contention is that Hegel would have to admit that eternal truth simply happens to "well up" in certain special individuals, in the form of certain archetypal forms of expression. Hegel refers to religions as "sprouting up fortuitously, like the flowers and creations of nature, as foreshadowings, images, representations, without [our] knowing where they come from or where they are going to" (LPR 1:196; VPR 1:106). Hegel states that "Religion is a begetting of the divine spirit, not an invention of human beings but an effect of the divine at work, of the divine productive process within humanity" (LPR 1:130; VPR 1:46). Recall the Zusatz to the Encyclopedia Logic quoted earlier: "It should . . . be mentioned here that the meaning of the speculative is to be understood as being the same as what used in earlier times to be called the 'mystical.' "