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Fernando Pessoa – A Little Sampler ‘On Initiation’

The Eleusinian trio: Persephone, Triptolemus and Demeter

on a marble bas-relief from Eleusis, 440–430 BC.

National Archaeological Museum of Athens


Today’s sharing from the Blue House of Via-HYGEIA, is a selection from the French edition of ‘An Essay on Initiation’ in volume VIII of the ‘Collected Works of Fernando Pessoa, Christian Bourgois, 1992. English translation by Via-HYGEIA-2012-revised 2023. Excerpts are from pages 365 to 375.


Kabbalas are many, and I am at loss to believe that it is impossible to reach the union with God-if this expression has any meaning-unless we know the ‘Hebrew alphabet’.

You have to distinguish the errors of the path, the errors of the Inn and the errors of the cave. It is an error of the path to confuse the path itself with its aim. It is an error of the Inn to take the half way for the path as a whole. It is an error of the cave, that lies at the basement of the castle, for the castle itself (for the hall of the castle).

These errors are common to all these paths, and the gnostic path is not more exempt than any other, let it be mystical or magical.

I can live without ascetism but not without truth, and I refuse to believe that God will not manifest himself if I am not able to sit still for five hours or to breathe naturally at will with one or the other nostril.

But, whatever the path chosen, the fact lies that one must not partake it before having completed the preparatory degrees, the neophyte degrees. Mysticism seeks to transcend the intellect (with intuition), magic seeks to transcend the intellect by might; gnosis seeks to transcend the intellect with a higher intellect. But in order to transcend correctly something, one must go trough the thing in question. The benefit of the gnostic path is that one is less tempted to reach the higher intellect without going through the inferior one-as in both cases there is only a difference of quantity that separates them-than in the mystical or magical paths where there exist more a difference of quality than quantity between the emotion and the intellect, between the will and the intellect.


There is three types of initiation, symbolic or external, intellectual (the outer internal) and vital (internal). In the symbolic initiations, that strengthen the will and are leading as an outcome towards magic, the candidate doesn’t go through phases of comprehension, but intuitive phases, so to say; he constantly stands on the surface, clinging to the appearance of things, and even if he succeeds in reaching the highest degree of an order or of all the orders he walks through, this highest degree doesn’t correspond always (and generally doesn’t correspond) to ‘the-should-be-equivalent’ degree of one of the internal initiations. In the intellectual initiations, that strengthen the intellect and reach, as an achievement, towards mysticism, the candidate go through phases of comprehension, but not phases of life; he may know much, but need not to live what he knows up to the same level of his knowledge. In the vital initiations, that strengthen the emotion and bear as a fruit Alchemy, the candidate lives what he feels and knows.


Initiation means in reality that this very visible world where we live in is symbol and shadow, that this life we know through our senses is death and sleep, or so to say, that what we see is all but an illusion. Initiation casts away, gradually, partially, this illusion. It keeps its path secret because most human beings are not prepared to understand it and would create misunderstanding, havoc and confusion if it were made available to the general public. It is symbolic because it is not about knowledge but about life, and that man must decipher all by himself what the symbols presents, as he will live their life and will not content himself just to learn the words that manifest them.


Vase at the Agora, Athens, October 2011.


The paths of mysticism and magic are paths where trickery and errors are often encountered. Mysticism implies to mainly trust intuition; magic implies essentially to rely on might. Intuition is a work of the mind that allows us to access the results of the working intelligence without using it. Might, in the sense of magical power, is a work of the mind that allows to benefit from the results of continuous effort without indulging in it. Mysticism and magic, even if they need time to work, are shortcuts towards knowledge.

In a way, mysticism and magic are both a confession, an admission of weakness. The mystic knows he doesn’t possess the strength of the mind to access truth through it. The magician senses that he doesn’t possess the strength of the will to access truth or might by the power of his very own will. The idle young adolescent who guesses at things, or guesses something about them, is a mystic in her narrow field, too lazy to try to know. The village woman that seeks to retain the love of her husband with love charms and philters is a magician in the limits of her roof, too ignorant and to weak to strive for it with her own natural charms and by sustained seduction. In both cases, there is an escape from reality.

This doesn’t mean – or doesn’t necessarily mean- that the results of mysticism and of magic are always bad. But it means that there is no indications that a criteria exists allowing us to distinguish a good from a bad result on either paths. In the Gnosis, that mobilizes our intellect, reasoning serves to the least as a ballast; like this we can compare a result to another and verify if they contradicts in themselves or between them. It is possible that we may reason poorly, but at last we do reason. If we are making a mistake it is because we are making a mistake, not because we are mistaken like in the two other paths. One may compare this to the calculation mistakes, where the mistake is not about calculation but about poor calculation. Calculating still is the adequate manner to obtain a result.

The first temptation to overcome to avoid the errors met alongside the path is the World. The second temptation to overcome to avoid the errors met alongside the Inn is the Flesh. The third temptation to overcome to avoid the errors of the Crypt is the Devil. Temptations are common to all paths, but the mystics are more exposed to the temptation of the World, the magicians to the temptation of the Flesh and the gnostics to the temptation of the Devil.


Vase at the Agora, Athens, October 2011.


How someone in search for Initiation must prepare? He should start by getting acquainted with the philosophical systems and the philosophies that the most recent scientific discoveries have, legitimately or not, fostered. Once he is well rooted in their fundamentals, he must ponder and compare, confront systems to systems, theory to theory and a part of a system with the other parts. This is how he will develop his abstract intelligence-without it the intuition he seeks to develop will be nothing but just a loose emotion.

He must then also first to detach himself from all dogmatic prejudices, from all that he has been indoctrinated by customs and education. One doesn’t access the path of initiation through the gates of one church, one must cross all the gates of all the churches at the same time or pass through none. He will then get deeper acquainted with all kinds of religious systems, all kinds of philosophical systems, etc…

He will then elaborate, from the best he can, slowly built with the help of all he learned, his own system, without necessarily writing it, a system of interpretation of the universe as consistent as possible on the three planes of truth, beauty and ethics.

He will have then to abandon the system he has built. He would be, understandably, attached to it, but it will be the time for him to recognize that even his philosophical system is no better than the ones he compared and rejected in establishing his very own.

Like this, he will have crossed the 4 stages that are the temptation of the World:

Dogma, Concrete Intelligence or Science, Abstract Intelligence or Philosophy and Critical Intelligence.

Dogma that ties him to others. Science that ties him to Nature. Philosophy that ties him to the mind of others. His own Philosophy that ties him to himself. The World is all of that. Once he will have crossed these four stages of the first level- that of the Neophyte, he is ready for initiation.

It imparts to him then to chose the path by which he access it- mystical, magical, gnostical. It is more accurate to say, that which he begins it, as the complete initiation at the second level-that of the Adept, includes them all three: At the first stage of the Adept level he will take the path he chose against the others and will follow it to its end. At the second stage, he will take one of the two paths remaining. At the third stage, he will follow the last one left.

He will have to overcome the three temptations that rules the Flesh- the desires that are quenched by mysticism, the procrastinations that are overpowered by magic and the lures that are defeated by gnosis. He must prevail.


One may object that I make Initiation a very difficult task.

I do, as it is so.

Why should it be easy?


Demeter, enthroned and extending her hand in a benediction toward the kneeling Metaneira, who offers the triune wheat that is a recurring symbol of the mysteries (Varrese Painter, red-figure hydria, c. 340 BC, from Apulia).


More about Fernando Pessoa:
Fernando Pessoa – A Little Sampler ‘On Initiation’

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