Gustav Meyrink – From the ‘Green Face’
‘The Green Face’, cover of the 1975 French edition,
Illustration by Raymond Moretti.
Today’s sharing from the Blue House of Via- HYGEIA, is an excerpt from ‘The Green Face’ published in 1916 by Gustav Meyrink, here in its English translation by Mike Mitchell, Dedalus Books & The Art Council of England, 2018. Gustav Meyrink is part, with Herman Hesse & Mikhail Boulgakov, of the tutelar triad of our adolescence, the storytellers-initiators who walked us through the silver gates of the magical world of Imagination. His works, especially the ‘White Dominican’ and the ‘Green Face’, left an enduring impact- still felt up to now! Something was definitely ‘in the air’ at that time, with Khidr-Hızır-Chidher-the-Green also being an essential part of the story…
Part I-Watch out !
‘‘Hear now what I have to say to you: Arm yourself for the time that is to come!
Soon the world’s clock will strike twelve; the number on its dial is red, is dipped in blood, and by that you will recognize it. And a storm wind shall precede the new first hour.
Be watchful, that you are not sleeping when it comes, for those that cross over into the new dawn with their eyes closed will for ever be the animals they were before; never more can they be wakened.
There is a spiritual equinox and the new dawn of which I speak is the turning point when the Light shall be equal to the Darkness.
For a thousand years and more men have learnt to understand the laws of nature and put it to their service. Happy are they that have understood the meaning of this labor, namely that the spiritual laws are the same as the physical laws, only an octave higher, for they shall enjoy the fruits of their labor whilst the others continue to toil, their faces turned towards the earth.
The key to power over spiritual nature has been rusting since the flood. It is: Wakefulness. Wakefulness is all.
Man thinks himself secure in his belief that he is watchful and yet, in truth, he is caught in a net he has woven himself from sleep and dreams. The more closely meshed the net, the stronger the power of sleep; those that are caught in it are they that sleep, that go through life like the lamb to the slaughterhouse, unknowing, uncaring, unthinking.
The dreamers among them see the world split into segments by the meshes of the net; all they see are misleading scraps and they act upon them, not knowing that these images are merely meaningless parts of a mighty whole. These `dreamers’ are not, as perhaps you think, the poets and visionaries, but the active ones of the earth, never idle, never resting, eaten up with the worn of industry; they are like busy, ugly beetles climbing up a smooth pipe: when they reach the top, they fall into it.
They think they are awake, but in reality their life is all a dream, a dream that is predetermined down to the last iota, and that they cannot influence at all.
There were – and there still are – a few among men who knew very well that they were dreaming, pioneers who reached the ramparts, behind which the eternally wakeful spirit is hidden: visionaries such as Goethe, Schopenhauer and Kant. But they did not possess the weapons necessary to stone the stronghold, and their war-cry did not wake the sleepers. Wakefulness is all.
The first step towards it is so simple that any child can take it; only the over-educated have forgotten how to walk and are lame in both feet because they refuse to let go of the crutches they inherited from their forefathers. Wakefulness is all.
Be watchful in all that you do. Think not you are already so. No, you are asleep and dreaming.
Stand firm, gather up your thoughts and force yourself for one single moment to send the sensation coursing through every fiber of your body, `now I am awake.’
If you manage to feel that, then you will recognize that before you were drugged with sleep.
That is the first, faltering step on the long road from slavery to omnipotence. It is the road I take and each new awakening takes me farther forward.
It gives you power over all thoughts that torment you; they are left behind and cannot reach you; you tower above them, as the crown of the tree soars above the dry brushwood round the bole.
When you reach the stage where the wakefulness takes hold of your body as well, pain will drop away from you like withered leaves.
The ice-cold baths of the Jews and Brahmins, the night-long vigils of the disciples of Buddha and the Christian ascetics, the tortures the Indian fakirs underwent to stop themselves falling asleep, they are all externalized rites; like fragments of columns, they tell the searcher here in the dim and distant past stood a mysterious temple to wakefulness.
Read the sacred books of the peoples of the earth: like a thread running through them all is the hidden teaching of wakefulness. It is the ladder of Jacob, who wrestled for the whole `night’ with the Angel of the Lord until the `day’ came and he prevailed over him.
Sleep, dream and stupor are the armory of Death; if you would overcome Death, you must ascend rung by rung into ever brighter states of wakefulness.
The very lowest rung of this ladder, that reaches up to heaven, is called `genius’; what names shall we find for the higher ones! They are unknown to the common mass of people, they are assumed to be legends. But the story of Troy was for centuries thought to be a legend, until finally someone found the courage to dig.
The first enemy you meet on the road to wakening will be your own body. It will fight you until the first cockcrow; but if you should see the dawn of eternal wakefulness, which will remove you from the company of the eternal somnambulists, who believe they are men and know not that they are sleeping gods, then for you the sleep of the body will be gone and the universe will be subject to you.
Then you will be able to perform miracles, if you want; no longer will you be like a sniveling slave, awaiting the pleasure of a cruel idol, to reward you or to chop off your head.
There is, though, one comfort that will be denied you: the comfort of the faithful, tail- wagging hound, who knows he has a master whom it is his privilege to serve; but ask yourself, would you, as the man you are now, change places with your dog?
Do not let yourself be put off by the fear of failing to reach your goal in this life. Anyone who has once started out on our road will keep coming back to earth on an inner journey which will permit him to continue his work: he will be reborn as a `genius’.
The path that I show you is strewn with miraculous experiences: dead friends you knew during your life will rise again before you and talk with you. They are but images! Beings of light, wreathed in a blissful radiance, will appear to you and bless you. They are but images, formed of the exhalations of your body as, under the influence of your transformed will, it dies a magic death and turns from matter into spirit, just as the hard ice, under the influence of heat, dissolves into ever changing cloud-shapes.
Only when you have purged your body of all trace of the corpse can you say, `Now sleep has left me for all time’.
Then will the miracle be complete that men cannot believe, because they are deceived by their senses and cannot understand that matter and force are the same; the miracle is that, even if you are buried, there will be no corpse in the coffin.
Only then, and not before, will you be able to distinguish what is of the essence from mere appearances; anyone you meet then can only be one who has taken the path before you. All others will be shadows.
Until then at every step it will be uncertain whether you are to become the happiest or the unhappiest of beings. But fear not, none who have trodden the path of wakefulness have ever been abandoned by the guides, even if they have gone astray.
There is a sign I will give you by which you shall know whether a vision you have is of the essence or a delusion: if it should appear to you and your mind is clouded, and the things of the physical world seem unclear or invisible, then trust it not. Be on your guard. It is part of you. If you cannot understand the metaphor concealed within it, then it is only a ghost and without substance, a specter, a thief that sucks out your life from you. The thieves that steal the strength from your soul are worse than earthly thieves. Like will-o’-the-wisps, they tempt you into the marshes of false hope, to leave you behind in the darkness and disappear forever.
Do not let yourself be blinded, not by any miracle that they appear to perform for you, nor by any sacred name they adopt, nor by any prophecy they pronounce, not even if it should be fulfilled: they are your mortal enemies, spewed out from the hell of your body, and you are wrestling with them for mastery. Know, now, that the miraculous powers they possess are your own, which they have wrested from you in order to keep you enslaved. They can only live by preying on your life, but if you can conquer them, they will be reduced once more to mute, obedient tools, which you can use at your will.
Countless are the victims, which they have claimed among mankind; look at the history of visionaries and sects, and you will see that the path of self-control that you are following is strewn with skulls.
Unaware of what it was doing, mankind built a wall to keep these visions out: materialism. This wall is an impregnable defense; it is built in the image of the body, but it is also a prison wall that blocks the view outside.
Today, as this wall is slowly crumbling, allowing our inner life to rise on new wings like a phoenix from the ashes, in which for centuries it lay as if dead, the vultures of another world are also stretching their wings.
So beware. Only the balance in which you weigh your mind can tell you whether the visions you see are ones you can trust; the more awake it is, the more the scales are being tipped in your favor.
If a guide, a helper or a brother from a spiritual world wishes to appear to you, then he must be able to do so without battening upon your mind, as do the others. Like Doubting Thomas, you can thrust your hand into his side.
It would be easy to avoid the visions and their dangers, all you need to do is to be like an ordinary man. But what is the advantage of that? You will remain captive in the prison of your body until Death, the executioner, drags you to the block.
The longing of mortal men to see the celestial beings in visible form is a cry that also wakes the specters of the underworld, because such longing is not pure, it is greed, not longing, because in some way or other it wants to `take’, instead of crying out to learn to `give’. Everyone who feels the earth is a prison, every great soul that longs for deliverance: unconsciously, they all call up the world of ghosts. Do you likewise. But consciously!
I do not know whether there is some invisible hand to aid all those that call up the ghosts unconsciously by forming islands for them in the marshes they blunder into. I do not dispute it, but I doubt it.
When, on the path of awakening, you pass through the realm of ghosts, you will gradually come to see that they are nothing but thoughts, which have suddenly become visible to your sight. That is the reason why you see them as beings, and also why they seem strange, for the language of forms is different from the language of the brain.
That is the time when the strangest metamorphosis that can happen to you will take place: the people around you will turn into ghosts. All that you have loved will become phantoms, your own body as well. It is the most fearful solitude imaginable: a pilgrimage through the desert, and anyone who does not find the spring of life will die of thirst.
Everything I have told you here, can be read in the writings of the holy men of all peoples: the coming of a new kingdom, the awakening, the overcoming of the body, the solitude; and yet there is an unbridgeable gap separating us from those holy men: they believe the day is approaching when the good will enter paradise and the evil be cast down into the pit.
We know that a time is coming when many will awake, and they will be separated from the sleepers like the lords from the slaves, because the sleepers cannot understand those that are awake; we know that there is no good and no evil, only ‘right’ and ‘wrong’; they believe that staying ‘awake’ is keeping their eyes and their senses open and their body alert during the night, so that they can say their prayers; we know that ‘waking’ is the awakening of the immortal self and that the sleeplessness of the body is its natural consequence; they believe that the body must be despised and neglected, because it is sinful; we know that there is no sin; the body is our starting-point, we came down to earth to transform it into spirit; they believe they should take their body into solitude to purify the spirit; we know that our spirit must first go into solitude to transfigure the body.
It is up to you to choose your path, ours or the other. It should come of your own free will.
I cannot advise you; it is better to pick a bitter fruit of your own choice, than to take another’s advice and find a sweet one, that is too high on the tree.
Do not be like the multitude that know that it is written, `All test, then take the best’, but yet go and do not test and take the first that comes to hand.’’
Part II- The Phoenix
“This day you have been accepted into our community; from now on you are a new link in the chain that stretches from eternity to eternity. With that my task is finished, it will be taken over by another, whom you cannot see as long as your eyes still belong to this earth.
He is infinitely far away from you and yet close by; he is not separated from you by space, and yet is farther away than the farthest comers of the universe; you are surrounded by him, just as someone swimming in the ocean is surrounded by water, and yet you are not aware of him, just as the swimmer will not taste the salt if the nerves on his tongue are dead.
Our symbol is the phoenix, the symbol of renewal, the mythical Egyptian eagle with red and gold feathers which makes a pyre of its nest of myrrh and rises anew from its ashes.
I told you that the body is our starting point; once you know that, you are ready to begin your journey. Now I will teach you the first steps.
You must detach yourself from your body, but not as if you wanted to abandon it; you must release yourself from it as if you were separating light from warmth.
Here the first enemy is already lying in wait for you.
If you tear yourself away from your body, in order to fly through space, you are following the path of the witch, who merely draws a ghostly body out of the coarse, earthly one and rides on it as on a broomstick to the witches’ sabbath.
With a sound instinct, mankind has erected a bulwark against this danger in the smile with which it greets any suggestion that such black arts should be taken seriously. You no longer need the protection of doubt, you already possess a better sword in what I have given you.
The witches believe they are attending the devil’s sabbath, when in reality their bodies are lying on their beds, rigid and unconscious. They merely exchange earthly for spiritual perception, they lose the better part to win the worse; it is impoverishment instead of an enrichment.
That alone should tell you that it is not the path of awakening. Men commonly believe they are their bodies, and to come to understand that this is not the case, you must learn what weapons the body uses to maintain its mastery over you. At the moment, of course, you are so deep in its power that you are plunged into darkness whenever it closes its eyes, and your life would be snuffed out if its heart should stop beating. You believe you make it move, but that is an illusion: it moves itself, using your will as a lever. You believe you create ideas; no, it sends them to you, so that you think they come from yourself and do everything it wants.
Sit upright and resolve not to move at all, to remain as motionless as a statue, and you will see how at once it will attack you furiously to try and force you to submit to it. It will shower you with missiles until you allow it to move again. And its fury and the haste, with which it shoots dart after dart at you, will tell you, if you pause to think, how fearful for its mastery it must be and how great your power must be if it is so afraid of you.
But there is another ruse in all this: it wants you to believe that it is here, in physical control, that the decisive battle for the scepter is fought. But that is only a skirmish, which it will let you win, if necessary, only to have you even more firmly under its yoke. Those who win such minor affrays become the most wretched slaves; they imagine they are victorious and on their brows they bear the stigma: ‘a man of character’.
Taming your body is not the goal you are seeking. If you forbid it to move, then you only do that in order to acquaint yourself with the forces it has at its command. There are hosts of them, they are so numerous as to be almost unconquerable. If you insist on continuing with the apparently simple test of sitting still, it will send them out against you, one after the other first of all the brute force of the muscles, which want to twitch and tremble; then the seething of the blood which covers your face in sweat; the thumping of the heart; the shivering of the skin until your hair stands on end; the unexpected jerk of the body, as if gravity had suddenly changed its axis – all of this you can overcome, apparently through your will; but it is not your will alone, there is already a higher wakefulness that stands invisible behind it.
This victory, too, is of no value. Even if you could control your breathing and your heart-beat, that would only make you a fakir, and what does that mean in our language but `a poor man’.
`A poor man’, that says it all.
The next warriors your body will send out against you will be thoughts, whirring round you like a swarm of flies. Against them, the sword of will-power is of no use. The more you strike out at them, the more furiously will they buzz around your head; even if you do manage to drive them off for a second, you will just fall asleep and will have been defeated just the same.
It is impossible to command them to be still; there is but one way of escaping from them: by fleeing to a higher wakefulness. What you must do to achieve that, you must find out for yourself. All I can tell you is that you must be firm and decisive and at the same time feel your way tentatively with your heart.
Any advice anyone else might give you for this agonizing struggle is as poison. You are faced with a precipice and no-one can help you overcome it but yourself.
The important thing is not to rid yourself of these thoughts for good, the purpose of your battle with them is to enter the state of higher wakefulness. Once you have achieved that, the realm of ghosts, of which I have already spoken to you, will be near. You will see apparitions, both terrible and radiant, that will try to make you believe they are beings from another world. They are merely thoughts in visible form, over which you do not yet have power.
The more sublime they appear, the more lethal they are, remember that!
Many a mistaken belief is founded on such apparitions, and has dragged mankind down into darkness. In spite of that, each one of these specters conceals a deeper meaning. They are not mere pictures; irrespective of whether you can understand their symbolic language or not, they are signs of each stage of your spiritual development.
The transformation of your fellow human beings into ghosts which, as I told you, will follow this stage, contains, like everything else in the spiritual realm, both a poison and healing power. If you do not get beyond the point where you see people solely as ghosts, then you will drink only the poison and will become like those, of whom it is said, `though they speak with the tongues of men and of angels and have not love, they are become as sounding brass’. If, however, you find the ‘deeper meaning’ concealed within each of these spectral people, then you will be able to see with your spiritual eye not only their living core, but also your own. Then will everything that was taken from you be returned, as to Job, a thousand fold; then you will be – back where you started, as the foolish say in their mockery; they do not know that it is one thing to stay at home, and quite another to return home after one has been abroad for a great length of time.
No one can say whether, after such a long spiritual journey, you will be granted miraculous powers, such as the prophets of antiquity possessed, or whether you will be allowed to enter into eternal peace.
Such powers are the free gift of those who guard the keys to these mysteries. If they become yours to use, then it is only for the sake of humanity, which stands in need of such signs.
Our path leads finally to the journey; if you reach that stage, then you are worthy to receive that gift. Will it be granted you? I do not know. But however that might be, you will have become a phoenix; it is in your power to enforce that.”
Part III-Chidher the Green
Before I take my leave of you, there is one more thing you should learn: the signs by which you shall know, when the time of the ‘great equinox’ is come, whether you have been called to receive the gift of miraculous powers, or not.
One of those who guard the keys to the mysteries of magic has remained on earth, to seek and gather together the elect. He cannot die, just as the legend surrounding him cannot die.
Some say he is the ‘Wandering Jew’; others call him Elijah; the gnostics maintain he is John the Evangelist; but each one who claims to have seen him, gives a different description of his appearance. Do not let yourself be disconcerted if, in the burgeoning days of the future, you should meet some who talk of him in this manner. It is only natural that each person should see him differently. A being such as he, who has transformed his body into spirit, cannot be bound to a single fixed form.
One example will suffice to show you that his form and his face can only be images, ghostly reflections of his true essence, so to speak.
Let us assume he appears to you as being of a green color. Although you can see it, green is not a real color, it arises from a mixture of blue and yellow; if you thoroughly combine blue and yellow, you will get green.
Every painter knows that; but few people realize that the world we live in stands likewise under the sign of green and thus does not reveal its true nature, namely blue and yellow.
From this example you can see that if he should appear to you as a man with a green face, his true countenance has still not been made manifest.
But if you should see him in his true form, as a geometrical sign, as a seal in the sky which only you and no other can see, then know: you have been called to work miracles.
I met him in physical form, as a man, and it was allowed me to thrust my hand into his side.
His name was…Chidher the Green.’’