Heidegger and the hermetic traditions

There is much to be said concerning “Heidegger and the Hermetic Traditions,” […] and we need to include the many different Western traditions of thinking that I broadly refer to as the Hermetic/Gnostic/Neoplatonic/Alchemical/Mystical traditions.

Of course, there are many such non-Western traditions as well, but for this note, I limit consideration to the traditions that no doubt influenced Heidegger—but about which he largely remained silent. These are, in name, “metaphysical” ways of thinking, but certainly not “onto-theological,” and this crucial distinction was often not made explicit by Heidegger. In fact, perhaps one of the weakest features of his “history” of “onto-theology” is how he sometimes could be dismissive of, for example, the long and rich Neoplatonic traditions of thinking as “onto-theology.”

For some reason, Heidegger refused to wrestle with the Neoplatonic “metaphysics” that was precisely not “onto-theological” insofar as it insisted that the One is beyond (epekeina) any such categories as substance, essence, subject—indeed, beyond all categorization.

We could say, perhaps, that Heidegger’s focus was on “overcoming” specifically dominant onto-theological ways of thinking, and especially the Aristotelian-Thomistic substance metaphysics and the Descartes to Husserl subject metaphysics. 

Nonetheless, we need to take a fresh look at Heidegger’s thought, and especially his later thought, in order to recognize major themes that revive or at least echo many of the themes of the heterodox and variant “metaphysical” and “spiritual” traditions. Thus, let us make a helpful list of such Heideggerian themes (not exhaustive, of course):

1. Being as the gleaming, shimmering Light that is the “Source” (Ursprung) of all lights and that shines “ungraspably” through all things. This is the Light (Clearing) of light and darkness.

2. Being as “gold” in his readings of Pindar’s Odes.

3. Being as “beyond” all beings, but yet the Source of all beings.

4. The thinking of Being not limited to “reason” and “logic” and even “the principle of non-contradiction.” Being as approachable in thought as a kind of coincidentia oppositorum.

5. Being as “mystery” (Geheimnis); Being as the “Source” that holds itself in “reserve”; Being as aletheia or A-letheia.

6. Being as “beyond” “God” and “the gods”—and instead Being as “the Holy,” “the Source,” “the Joyful One,” and even as the clearing of “the Godhead of God” (die Gottheit des Gottes).

7. Being as “invisible” and “inapparent” (aphanes) in relation to beings.

8. Being as ultimately beyond language and “inexpressible”—and inviting our “silence” as the highest response or “cor-respondence.”

 9. Being as “round” and as “circle” and “sphere.”

10. All beings “breathing” in and out in Being.

11. The emphasis on our human task to peel away the many layers of philosophical and theological thought-forms to allow for a radical openness and transparency and “hearkening” to Being.

12. The call for our “releasement” (Gelassenheit) from our ego-prisons of control in order to be “free” for the appeal of Being.

13. The boundless “depth” of the human “soul” (psyche) in relation to Being.

14. The “closeness” and “proximity” of Being to the human being—the “nearness” of Being that has been “forgotten.”

This list provides us with a starting point for a richer and deeper meditation on all the ways that the variant “metaphysical” and “spiritual” traditions of thinking influenced Heidegger’s own thinking of Being and his understanding of the “relation” of the human being (and all beings) to Being. 

And this list also raises for us the intriguing question of why Heidegger was mostly reticent about this influence. Could it be that he had also well-learned the Hermetic lesson that “The lips of wisdom are closed except to the ears of understanding”? Might this help us better understand why he always insisted that what he was saying about Being was “intimated by only a few”? Perhaps.

In any case, my suggestion is a simple and modest one: Let us follow this particular path of inquiry, and we may be surprised at what we find—and maybe also richly rewarded.

— Richard Capobianco, note (references removed; see also Ch. 15 of Capobianco, Heidegger’s Being: The Shimmering Unfolding)

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