Over the last couple weeks I have been exploring the mystical approach to spiritual progress known as the triple way or the threefold path. This is an ancient tradition which stretches back at least as far as Dionysius the Areopagite, who is the main source I draw from in these reflections. You can read a general introduction to the triple way HERE and an exploration of the symbolism of Eden and how it relates to the triple way HERE. Both of these articles will help to give you some context for what I am about to say in this article.
In the writings of Dionysius, the threefold path is associated with the Celestial Hierarchy, which is an intricate understanding of how the angels exist in heaven. This is an idea which may seem alien to many of you, so I hope you can bear with me. In the modern world, we imagine angels to be little naked babies, tall winged warriors with flaming swords, or bizarre monsters covered in eyeballs. Some of our ideas about angels are based on the bible and some of them have arisen within our culture in other ways.
For Dionysius, angels are intelligences who do not have physical bodies. He taught that they are described as people, animals, and mutant eye-ball aliens in the bible so that we can have images and metaphors which allow us to talk about them. In reality, they are pure consciousness. They are the intelligent patterns of the universe. They are the abstract principles of knowledge and skill. They are the harmony of the laws of physics. In some ways, they are like the Platonic forms, except that they are alive and pour forth their love into the world.
The angels are said to exist in a hierarchy with nine orders that are divided into three groups. They are a triple trinity because they are an image of the Triune God. The three groups of the angelic hierarchy are associated with the three stages of the triple way. The lowest orders of angels are associated with purification, the middle orders are associated with illumination, and the highest orders are associated with union.
Not only are the angels made of consciousness, but they actually represent the nature of consciousness itself. Therefore, by understanding the angels and the way they interact with one another, we can learn something about human consciousness in the process. Each order of angels is a level of consciousness, a realm of intelligence, a state of mind. As we progress through the triple way, we participate in these higher levels of consciousness.
To explore this idea I have put together the following poem. It is essentially taken word for word from Dionysius, though I have done a little patchwork in pulling together different passages and have arranged it into a poem made of quatrains. It describes the way that the Celestial Hierarchy operates as a spiral and then relates this to human consciousness. I will interpret it afterwards.
The angels are divine intelligences Which are ranked in a hierarchy With nine orders, three times three An image of the beauty of God The hierarchic order assigns some angels To be purified and others to do the purifying Some to receive illumination and others to bestow it Some to be perfected and others to bring it about This is how the divine intelligences move Firstly, they dance in a circle Because they are at one with the illuminations Which emerge from the Good and the Beautiful Then they move in a straight line when In accordance with divine Providence They come to offer unerring guidance To all of the ranks of angels below them They move in a spiral as they do both Providing for the angels beneath them And turning without ceasing around The One from whom all identity comes The soul also has a spiral movement It moves in a circle when it turns within itself Creating balance and harmony in its own nature Gathering together its intellectual powers The orbit of its circular dance always returns Turning away from the multiplicity of what is outside To gather itself upon itself in unity To participate in the powerful union of the angels From within this union the revolution carries The soul to the Beautiful and the Good Which is beyond all things and is always the same And is without beginning or end The soul moves in a straight line when It receives the enlightenment of divine knowledge By means of discursive reasoning Free from thoughts arising from its own identity First the soul unites with its own intelligent unity This is the circular dance of the self Then the soul proceeds outside of itself to the things around it This is the transcendent flight of the self Finally the soul is uplifted from these outer things Into the spiralling contemplations of the angels
A spiral can be thought of as two different types of movement existing together as one. It is circular and it is also linear. The human soul, as it progresses through the three stages of the triple way, is a spiral.
Our souls are circular when they find harmony within themselves. When we are at peace with ourselves we are complete without any need for validation from the outside. This is the first stage of the triple way because it is about restoring the harmony and balance which are natural to our condition. This circular motion of the soul is the foundation which allows us to move in a linear motion with clarity and purpose.
Our souls are linear when they project outwards from themselves and into others. This is the second stage of the triple way. If you are familiar with The Cloud of Unknowing, it is the arrow of love which is able to pierce the heavens. Dionysius described this movement outside of the self as a kind of discourse. Our consciousness is able to move outside of itself and dialogue with others when it emerges from the circular movement of inner harmony. In this way, we can truly know the creation because we are at peace with ourselves.
A true engagement with that which is outside of us has the potential to lift us up above both. When the circular motion and the linear motion are working together in harmony, we are able to reach the realm where opposites are united. Our linear movement, grounded in our circular movement, lifts us up into contact with the Good and the Beautiful so that we dance a spiralling dance with the angels of heaven.
I will be presenting a talk on the triple way at The Mystics Summit this year. It is a free online event taking place June 18-22, 2023. You can learn more about it and register by clicking HERE. There are a number of excellent people who will be presenting including my friends David Cole and Carmen Acevedo-Butcher. Both of the have written guest posts on New Eden in the past. You can find some of Carmen’ contributions HERE and HERE. You can find some of David’s HERE and HERE.
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