Category Archives: Heidegger

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)

Flashes in the field of being

No one could be more reserved than me before any attempt to employ Being to think theologically about God. There’s nothing to expect from Being here. I believe that Being can never be thought as the ground and essence of God, but that nevertheless the experience of God and of his manifestedness, to the extent that the latter can indeed meet man, flashes in the field of Being, which in no way means that Being can be seen as a possible ground for God.

— Heidegger


Last autumn I went to Todtnauberg in the Black Forest with a friend to see Heidegger’s hut. What to say about it? It seems an obvious thing to write about: one those trips you think about writing about while you’re doing it. Maybe that’s why I haven’t: it puts me off. So what to say about it, now that it’s popped into my head again?

It was an ordeal to get there in a rental car from Basel Airport. We drove across the border and around a roundabout three times before we got onto the right motorway. Then on to the mountains as it got dark. By the time we got to the hotel I’d booked – which, it turned out, was half an hour’s drive from where we were supposed to be – they’d stopped serving food and we’d fallen out. The receptionist was a little scared by our argument. We ate fruit and nuts and slept in the same room.

The next day we made it. There’s no information about Heidegger in the village, not even in the tourist office: a big building with old pictures of the region. This is a tourist destination now, a skiing resort in winter. No wonder they don’t advertise him, I say.

Most of the restaurants and BnBs are closed. We walk around until we find one of those pointed pathway signs that says Heidegger-Weg. The path appears to run along the hills and around the village, which lies in a valley and doesn’t seem to have changed too much since Heidegger’s time, judging from the pictures in the tourist centre. Beautiful, imposing landscape; you can start to see where he came from. It’s not my bag exactly – I prefer flatlands.

We pass a couple of signs. We end up near what looks like the hut from the cover of a book my friend is carrying. We’ve read it’s private land, but we go up anyway. This isn’t it, I say, the cover’s wrong, it’s not the same as on Google images. For once I’m right. It turns out the hut is round the hill, more hidden. A slightly shabby cabin in a faultless location, it makes sense. How did he get his books and things up here, I wonder, it’s steep. A carpenter has put a wooden star on the top of the well, a copy of the one on his grave in Messkirch.

On the way back we stop at a Gasthaus and ask an old-timer in overalls sitting on the porch if they have a room. He shouts for the landlady, who comes out and says it’s only available for a week at a time, mostly in the winter. She seems suspicious, as Germans often do. We get talking, and it turns out this man knew Heidegger and his family well, and that this house is where Heidegger wrote part of Being and Time. He goes in and a minute later brings outs a plastic folder with old newspaper clippings and letters written in Heidegger’s hand. We make our standard middle-class noises, but the man isn’t impressed. He was all right, Heidegger, he says, polite and part of the community, but as far as his Denken went, it was null. No one cared that he was a philosopher. The only odd thing about him was that he always wore a suit and got some foreign visitors. As my friend was taking pictures of the letters, the landlady popped her head out and told the man to be careful about showing people those documents. He didn’t seem to care. We went on our way and I found a place on Airbnb, a newbuild with a sauna, designed for people on skiing holidays.

Ultimate matters

I am aware that some readers will be surprised or puzzled by the suggestions in these pages that the later Heidegger’s reflections often leaned in the direction of a refashioned “metaphysical” outlook; but as I see it, the texts themselves tell the tale, and I am hopeful that readers will join me in attending closely to what they have to say. Moreover, I gently remind readers that genuine thinking, by whatever name, is inevitably led to consider, in one way or another, all things and ultimate matters. Heidegger’s vision of Being was, in the end, simply too far-reaching and all-embracing to be limited to the sphere of the human. We are part of the story, to be sure, but not the whole story of what he poetically described – inspired especially by Heraclitus’s sayings – as this “shimmering kosmos.”

— Richard Capobianco, Heidegger’s Being

Being is everlasting, but also on the way into its own truth.


There is nothing higher, nothing more primordial, nothing more present, but also nothing more inapparent and nothing more indestructible that can be thought than being itself.

— Heidegger, via here

Every leaf seems to speak

Hermeneutical thinking in general is focused on the human being “hearkening” to other human beings and engaging in “dialogue,” in good faith, in the pursuit of a (finite and fragile) shared understanding. Yet Heidegger is clear in this lecture course (and in many other places) that our legein, our “gathering” (the “knowing” and “wisdom” spoken of in Heraclitus’s sayings), is first and foremost a matter of the silent (and obedient) hearkening to “the voice” of Being as the primordial Logos, “the primordial fore-gathering” (242–6, 383). It would seem, then, that from his perspective the primary focus in Hermeneutics on “dialogue” among human beings (as constitutive and important as this surely is) is misplaced because such conversation cannot have the proper depth and discovery unless we have first listened attentively to the “saying” of the Being-way itself. It is our attunement to Being that matters in the first place, and – let us put this plainly – this does not require social or communal discourse. As he remarks in the lecture course, our “highest possible relation” is with Being, a relation that “grounds all other human relations to human beings and to things” (294). For the later Heidegger in particular, the rich solitude of silent listening to Being-physis-Logos as it unfolds is the primary way. Yet paradoxically, it is also the way that leads to perhaps the richest kind of community – the “community” of all mortals and beings and things as they come forth from out of the Being-way and go forth the same way. Arriving, lingering, departing; everything “breathing in and out.” We might add, and only gently so, that this meditative way appears to be increasingly lost or forgotten in the contemporary world, not only in our intensely “connected” culture, but also in the various recent versions of hermeneutical thinking that focus almost exclusively on the linguistic, the social, and the political.

[…] We may move closer to Heidegger’s way of thinking by considering the ways of those who have been imbued with a deep reverence for Nature, someone like the great American naturalist John Muir:

When one is alone at night in the depths of these woods, the stillness is at once awful and sublime. Every leaf seems to speak.

Every leaf seems to speak. In stillness, we “hear” the leaf and the flower, the wind and the rain, the sun and the moon “speaking.” Muir’s words resonate with us, but more often than not our way to a fuller understanding and appreciation of them is blocked because we are so accustomed in the contemporary world to think that the human being is the source and measure of all “saying.”

— Capobianco, Heidegger’s Way of Being

‘Being is still waiting for the time when It itself will become thought-provoking to the human being.’

— Heidegger, ‘Letter on Humanism’ (tr. Capuzzi)


Our everyday experience of things, in the wider sense of the word, is neither objectifying nor a placing over against. When, for example, we sit in the garden and take delight in a blossoming rose, we don’t make an object of the rose, nor do we even make it something standing over against us in the sense of something represented thematically. When in tacit saying we’re enthralled with the lucid red of the rose and muse on the redness of the rose, then this redness is neither an object nor a thing nor something standing over against us like the blossoming rose. The rose stands in the garden, perhaps sways to and fro in the wind. But the redness of the rose neither stands in the garden nor can it sway to and fro in the wind. All the same we think it and tell of it by naming it. There is accordingly a thinking and saying that in no manner objectifies or places things over against us.

Heidegger, ‘Phenomenology and Theology, Some Pointers with Regard to the Second Theme’, tr. Hart and Moraldo

Perhaps philosophy shows most clearly and persistently that human beings are beginners. Philosophising ultimately means nothing other than being a beginner.



But the message of the pathway speaks only as long as there are people (born in its breeze) who can hear it. They are hearers of their origin, not servants of their production. Humans try in vain with their plans to bring order to their globe if they don’t heed the message of the pathway. The danger looms that today’s people can’t hear its language. They have ears only for the noise of media, which they consider to be almost the voice of God. So man becomes distracted and pathless. The Simple seems monotonous to the distracted. The monotonous brings weariness. The annoyed find only the uniform. The Simple has fled. Its quiet power is exhausted. There are fewer and fewer people who still recognise the Simple as their hard-earned possession.

— Heidegger, ‘The Pathway’