Dante and the occult sciences and secret societies

Arguments will be listed for further commentary in sequence. The dialectic involved is shown here as a proposition and in the further commentary a criticism will be elaborated

 I-Rene Guenon L’Esoterisme de Dante

Hernani Donato, who in my opinion made the best translation to our portuguese language of the Divine Comedy, makes the following statement in the Preface to the edition sponsored by Nova Cultural in its Circulo do Livro, 1993, under the title “News about the author and the work”, pag. XII, and I transcribe:

“There is also – and supported by a large bibliography – the idea that postulates an occult purpose for Dante’s Poem. The Brazilian book, Dante – Six hundred Years of Doubts, by Edmundo Cardillo, goes along with this line of thought: The occultists based their thesis on the verses 60/62 from the chant IX of Hell: ‘O ye who have opened the intelligence, seek to perceive the exact meaning which in these verses sometimes is hidden’:
Quoting Rene Guenon (L’Esoterisme de Dante). Cardillo informs about the existence in Vienna of a medal with the effigy of Dante and bearing on the reverse the letters FSKIPFT, which Arturo Reghini (L ‘Allegoria esoterica di Dante) plays: Frater Sacrae Kadosch, Imperialis Principatus, Frater Templarius and quoted Guenon translated by Fidei Sancte. .. by the “historical fact” (says Cardillo) that Dante Alighieri was the head of the Fede Santa organization, one of the Orders of Templar affiliation, which would justify (…) The poet, made as his guide Saint Bernard (Paraiso , XXXI), who established the statutes of the Order of the Temple. ” This affiliation, with the consequent effort to disclose “hidden” truths, would support the composition of the poem and the allegories of which it is replete “
I imagine that Hernani Donato did his research in an epoch before the Internet and did not have had contact with Rosicrucians, who today claim for themselves the alignment of Dante with their ideas. In this sense, the strongest arguments they use and which circulates on the Internet are the following:

II – Numerology – Tree of Life

There is an obscure argument based on numerology, in which the fact that there are 3 parts to the Divine Comedy, or 33 cantos, or so many circles of hell are given a Kabbalistic significance. Here is an excerpt that makes a Kabbalist interpretation of Dante’s Inferno: (You have first to take look above in the Tree of Life article)

There are 9 Circles plus the Well of the Giants; 9 + 1 = 10. There are 10 sefirot on the Tree of Life. The Tree also has a 9 + 1 = 10 structure: Keter + Chakhmah + Binah; Chesed + Gevurah + Tiferet; Netzchah + Hod + Yesod; Malkhut (alone). The Tree has a division between 6 upper and 4 lower sefirot. They are divided by the Veil. Dante’s scheme has 6 Circles in Upper Hell and then 3 Circles plus the Well of the Giants, in Lower Hell. Looking only at the lowest Circles, they have 3, 10 and 4 sub-divisions. There are 3 pillars on the Tree of Life, 10 sefirot and, depending upon how we look at it, 4 sub-divisions of the Tree (which correlate to the 4 Worlds). If Dante is making a cryptic reference to the Tree of Life, then the 32 internal paths lead inevitably to the external 33rd and to Lucifer, the Light Bearer. All 33 cantos describe Dante’s experience in the metaphysical place of Earth; Aristotle’s alchemical element of Earth.

Now Virgil conducts Dante across the alchemical Water and to the outskirts of Purgatory. Eventually, after meeting 4 classes of Tardy Penitents, they arrive at St Peter’s Gate. The penitents and the gate are all located in the alchemical element of Air. Dante falls asleep and dreams for the first time. They meet the gatekeeper, an angel who strikes Dante 3 times on the chest and paints 7 “P’s” on his forehead. This is clearly an initiation ritual. In mystery religion terms, he has entered the Pronaos of the Temple. He has moved to the alchemical element of Fire.
Let us pause and note the numbers: 4 classes of penitents correlates to the 4 Worlds of the kabala; 3 + 7 initiation marks correspond to the 3 + 7 division of the Tree of Life. The 3 Supernal sefirot are divided from the 7 lower sefirot by the Abyss. Thus the 3 above are qualitatively different from the 7 below; as blows are different from painted “P’s”.
As in the case of the rose, why resort to this very obscure and overly complex interpretation when standard Christian numerology will suffice? For example, we all know that 3 is a symbol of the Trinity, 12 of th Apostles, 5 of the wounds of Christ, 9 of the Beatitudes, 7 the virtues, etc. But let us take the number 33 – Purgatorio and Paradiso each contain 33 cantos; in traditional Christian symbolism, 33 has stood for the number of years our Blessed Lord was on the earth. This is common knowledge. But here is the Kabbalistic spin:
So what does 33 mean? Obviously, it alludes to the age of Christ at his crucifixion and resurrection…However, 33 also alludes to the kabalistic Tree of Life. There are 32 internal paths on the Tree and then there is the external 33rd path that leads to God.  
Now, is 33 “obviously” alludes to Christ, then why invoke the “32 internal paths” of the Kabbalist “Tree of Life”? Why search for occultic Jewish explanations when Dante’s classical Christian numerology is well known and well attested? At some point, Ockham’s Razor has to come into play – why multiply these obscure explanations for Dante;s number schemes when conventional Christian numerology satisfactorily explains them all and fits in much better with what we know about Dante and his faith? Like the case with the rose, I think many fail to realize that medieval Christianity had its own very complex economy of symbols – numbers, flowers, animals and even rocks all had symbolic meanings relating to Christ and the Church (see here for an introduction to medieval “Bestiaries and Lapidaries”). This knowledge would have been intuitive to the medieval; perhaps with the strong iconoclastic reaction against symbolism that occured in the 16th and 17th centuries during the Protestant upheaval. In an effort to cleanse the church of statues, symbols and icons, many of these medieval symbols have passed into obscurity.

III – The Celestial Rose

In Dante’s Divine Comedy, the Paradiso Canto XXX, Dante beholds the throngs of the blessed surrounding the throne of God arranged in the shape of a great white rose, memorably portrayed in the famous 1868 engraving by Gustave Dore:
celestial rose G. Dore

IV – Perception of Reality and Beliefs turned to Symbols

I repeat the article here and suggest the reader to think about it. The fact behind that is to me what it seems a blue print for the Opening of Dante’s Inferno:
Not only to Secret Societies or in the works of Occult Sciences, but spread all over the Middle Ages and even before there were some beliefs which played a lot in the imagery involved to express such perception.
Caves held a lot of power in the imagination of people, specially when you know that there was no electricity and the kind of light you get with open fire.
As I alredy quoted from Matilde Battistini, in Astrology, Magic and Alchemy in Art

 Magic Portals

 “In ancient times, the cave was believed to be a membrane for passing from the sub lunar world to the heavenly dimension and vice versa, the door through which gods or immortals souls could reach the Earth. Many archaic myths place the birth of the initiatory gods inside or near a cave, whose esoteric function was also retained in Christianity in the image of the Bethlehem grotto. Leonardo da Vinci, in his Virgin of the Rocks, draws upon that tradition, associating directly the mystery of the birth of Jesus with the infernal and aquatic world of caves and minerals.
Virgin of the Rocks Da Vinci
Among the ancient Greeks, the solstices were two heavenly gateways (Tropic of Cancer and Tropic of Capricorn) that allowed communication between the human and divine spheres and the souls that were destined to be reincarnated in a body with those that had been released from the process of earthly  rebirths. In The Odyssey, Homer locates these esoteric passages in a cave on Ithaca, attributing to Odysseus the initiatory role of the solar hero capable of joining the temporal to the eternal dimension. Traces of these astral cults were retained in the Christian summer solstice feast of St. John the Baptist (June 24) and the winter one of the Nativity (December 25th), for both dates were believed to be times of passage between the different dimensions of nature and existence. In the Hebrew Kabbalah, the magic door is the original point, a synthesis of light and darkness that gave birth to the universe.”
The highlighting is mine. This whole thing sounds like a description of what Dante had in mind at the opening gate of Hell. Let’s see Hell, canto I

The Divine Comedy opens with Dante lost in a dark wood in a fearful valley. Finally he sees a hill on which the sun is shining, and his heart fills with hope. But as he starts his climb, he is confronted by three beasts.

First comes a leopard, that, while not really frightening him, does block his path. Then comes a ferocious, ravenous lion followed by a she-wolf. Dante is terrified and is losing all hope of climbing the hill when a man appears. It is Virgil, the Roman epic poet. He has been sent by Beatrice (the woman Dante loved and who inspired him to write) to lead him on a journey of discovery through Hell, Purgatory and Paradise.

To explain the allegory: Dante, busied about the affairs of the world, has wandered from the path of righteousness. He tries to find the path back but is diverted by worldly pleasure (the leopard), worldly ambition (the lion), and by avarice (the she-wolf). Virgil, who represents reason, has come to lead Dante to Beatrice, who represents Divine revelation and the state of grace.

Notice the Christ-like pose and appearance (diaphanous robes, flowing locks) of Virgil, and the exaggerated ‘terror pose’ of the fleeing Dante. Notice also that the three beasts hardly look terrifying at all. Blake, in fact, seemed to have difficulties depicting wild animals.

Magic Portals play a very important role in initiatic ceremonies for secret socities, being crucial for Templars and Rosicrucians. In England and in America there are several examples.

Royston cave

Cave of Kelpius Philadelphia

V – Secret Societies

Again, I quote from Matilde Battistini, in Astrology, Magic and Alchemy in Art

“Secret societies and esoteric circles were born for the purpose of fostering the spiritual renewal of restricted elites through the recovery of arcane forms of knowledge and a total ban on divulging the principles and the alphabet of the secret doctrines to the asses. The Knights Templar, whose secret goal was to rebuild the Temple of Solomon, were one of the first esoteric orders of the Christian Wes. The Rosicrucian Society, derived from the Fedeli d’Amori (The Faithful of Love) to which both Dante Alighieri and the author of Le Roman de la Rose belonged, intended to free the spirit of the adept from slavery to earthly temporal powers (the senses and passions, public ambition, and political institutions). The mystical flower of this sect, the rose, symbol of beauty, love and live, in fact, expresses striving toward spiritual elevation and yearning for a return to a natural religion founded on the knowledge of the harmonious correspondences that fill the many realms of reality. Finally the Free masons worshiped light, equality, and the brother hood of man. During the Renaissance, many cultural and political circles, such as the Florentine Neoplatonic Adacemy and the court of Elizabeth I, queen of England, also hid esoteric interests.”

A more complete list of all secret societies should be as follows:

In a book, published in 1897, the_secret_societies_of_all_ages_and_countries-george_redway-vol1-1897-798pgs-pol-sml, by Charles William Heckethorn, there were then 160 Organizations as such in the world,  which  he classified as follows:

  1. Religious – such as the Egyptians or Eleusinian Mysteries 78, 79, 185
  2. Military: Knights Templars 9,11,51, 47-50, 208, 302, 303
  3. Judiciary: Vehmgerichte 328
  4. Scientific: Alchymists missing
  5. Civil: Freemasons 8, 9, 73, 100- 105, 106-109, 116,
  6. Political: Carbonari 157-177
  7. Anti social: Garduna missing

In the page following, you can see by then what the author thought about it.  If you press on, you can see how it shows up at Internet today.

He warns, though, that the line of division is not always strictly defined, some that had scientific objects combined theological dogmas therewith – as Rosicrucians, for instance; and political societies must necessarily influence civil life. We may therefore more conveniently range secret societies in the two comprehensive divisions of religious and politic.

Rosicrucians are explained, as the author saw then at the end of the 19th century, as extremely influential in the past, but finished by then. (Page 219)

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