Sunday, November 23, 2014

A visit to the ‘Mundus tenebrosus’ with Samuel Pordage

Back again to Samuel Pordage’s Behmenist poem of 1661, Mundorum explicatio, his explanation of the worlds of Wrath and Love. Much of the poem consists of a lengthy contrast between a black magician and a practitioner of theurgical magic. My set of extracts with commentary will focus on the evil magician, as it all touches on witchcraft.

The episode of the black magician getting the full endorsement of Lucifer as his representative on earth involves Lucifer prompting the process, the temptation of the bad magus into wicked use of magic, and then, once he is far enough involved or corrupted, a very elaborate visit to hell, where the Faust figure (Faustus is alluded to as one of the mages that had trodden this way before) sees what is going off in hell, learns about the familiar spirits of witches (‘Teter spirits’, Pordage mysteriously calls them). On his visit, the origin of hell is explained, by way of theodicy, and the dark adept finally meets Lucifer (a most unsavoury presence), who grants him the right to eat the fruit of the Tree of Death.

Pordage, a wordy writer, spins it out, but his easy couplets are not hard to read, and I will quote quite a few extracts. Here’s how he starts, with a striking proposition to the reader:

   Suppose the mighty Prince of darknesse wou’d 
   Himself incarnate, vail with with fleshly Hood 
   His Stygian Face; to shew the power, and might 
   Of the vast Kingdom of Æternal Night, 
   Upon this Earth: He finds a man propense 
   From genial starres to ill; a mind immense 
   After abstruser prying; piercing Wit 
   Grave look and studious; such a Man is fit 
   For this his high design.

   Himself incarnate, vail with with fleshly Hood 
   His Stygian Face; to shew the power, and might 
   Of the vast Kingdom of Æternal Night, 
   Upon this Earth: He finds a man propense 
   From genial starres to ill; a mind immense 
   After abstruser prying; piercing Wit 
   Grave look and studious; such a Man is fit 
   For this his high design.

A good start, this, though it’s a promise unfulfilled, we do not get to hear any more about Lucifer incarnating himself in a man’s body for some dire purpose. What happens when Lucifer has identified a suitable adept is that he sends agents from his hellish recruitment agency. Ceremonial magic is required by Lucifer, in his familiar role as the ape of God:

   He fastings, vigils, doth command him; nor 
   Lesse prayers than the other World requires, 
   Washings, and Ceremoies he desires: 
   And also that he should be Celebate, 
   Thus like an Ape he God doth imitate 
   In all his biddings, th’ better to beguile 
   Man, with his high deceits, and cunning vile. 

The black magician has to carry on like this for some years, until
         at the last he [Lucifer] doth bequeath 
   To him the fruits of the black Tree of Death. 

To this purpose, a solemn invitation from Lucifer is delivered by a prince among devils:
   My soveraign Leige, hath sent me unto you 
   His faithful servant, with his leave to shew 
   Our Kingdom’s glory

The adept of the dark arts is delighted, and is ready to leave the instant he hears about his opportunity. The theme is B-text Faustian, really: that rather surprising eagerness (in the circumstances) to get a preview of hell and its torments. It is explained to the evil mage that he doesn’t need a traveller’s staff, for the journey will be in the spirit:

        only make fast your Closet door 
   That none may enter to disturb you: for 
   Your Body here shall lye: Then shall you see, 
   How nimble Spirits without Bodies be. 

So, it is the demonologist’s notion of the ecstatic journey of the witch. Pordage has already explained to us that the “Man whose Soul’s drench’d in the Stygian pool; / Thinks not Hell’s worst deformed spirits foul.” 

 On his visit to hell, the magician is not going to be given any reaction to what he sees: in effect, he’s simply there to be expounded to by his demonic cicerone, as Pordage gives his (or maybe his father’s) view of what Hell is. A Behmenist theodicy operates here in which God is both Wrath (by his first) and Love (by his second) principle. Lucifer and his fellow fallen angels simply preferred wrath to love, and, leaving heaven, populate a Hell God never intended to create, but which comes into being through the fiery wrath of the fallen angels who are present, as sparks are generated off a cold grindstone, as Pordage has the expository demon explain.

But what was of interest to me here was the way this evil Dante figure and his guide see all the lesser devils thronging outside hell proper. These are, it is explained to the epopt of black magic, the evil spirits that have commerce with witches:

   These palpable dark clouds they enter; where 
   He doth a thousand shreeks, and howlings hear, 
   Cursings, Blasphemings, swearing, murmuring voyces, 
   Bellowing, with a thousand ugly noyses …

With a slight shudder of demonic class odium, the evil spirit guiding the adept explains:

              What you did hear 
   Caus’d was by Spirits that inhabit there, 
   Who sporting were together: Teter haggs 
   In th’ outward World feed these with shriv’led baggs, 
   The which they suck …

The OED is no help with ‘Teter’, though it seems clear that Pordage is applying the word to those aged female witches that feed demonic familiar spirits through supernumerary teats. Immediately afterwards, the informant tells the visitor about the sexual relations such lower spirits have with the hags:

 There dwell the Incubi, 
   And Succubi; deformed Spirits lye 
   By millions there; those who desire to feed 
   On humane morsels; such who shed their seed 
   Into old Haggs: and these are those which they 
   Call down to their assistance: these obey 
   To teter charmes, oyntments, perfumes, and these 
   Appear to them in various shapes

The last reference is to familiar spirits in a variety of forms. What is difficult to measure here is the author’s attitude. Pordage is completely committed to the spirit world: there’s no doubt about that. This whole episode of the black magician visiting hell will be mirrored by an honorific account of the upwards spiritual journey undertaken by the true magus. Pordage believes spirits are everywhere.

The hellish informant is matter-of-fact about familiar spirits (he or it simply would be). What Pordage thought about witchcraft is the point here, the point where all these airy dreams of massively populated elements and other worlds coincide with the real human world with the most potential to do harm.

The passage that follows immediately on from the last quotation is the usual jumble of trivial and more serious malefice that witches, aided by such spirits can produce:

                             and please 
   Them with their antic Tricks: make hoggs to dance 
   On hinder feet, platters to skip, and prance, 
   With such like sports; make Cows, and Cattel languish, 
   And mortal men strike too with pain, and anguish: 
   And these old haggs command, unlesse they are 
   By the other World resisted, then they dare 
   Not do’t. These are our slaves, we them command, 
   And when we need them on our errands send. 

‘These’ lower spirits are commanded, we seem to be told, by both the hags and the more princely sorts of devils: a limit to the commands of the witches is implied in that reference to resistance from ‘the other World’, which one supposes means good in general. It seems to be left ambiguous whether the commands to the spirits of the superior devils can be resisted with equal success.

The informant now turns (after talking about familiars, demoniality and malefice) to the nocturnal ecstatic flight (the adept has arrived at hell by just such means, but has a superior evil spirit as his pilot):

   In these th’ old Haggs delight, for often they 
   (Such power they have) their Bodies do conveigh 
   From place, to place; and often meet their sp’rights, 
   Their Bodies left: where fed with grosse delights, 
   They back return: These are our Prince’s slaves 
   Who bring him many Souls, when that the graves 
   Their Bodies take: But oft times these do flye, 
   And tear in pieces as in sportful play 
   Those whom they serv’d, when that their date is out… 

The last part of the passage is about the familiar spirit finally turning on the witch it has notionally served.

Being from further up the diabolic hierarchy, the demon talking wants it known that old hags certainly cannot command princely devils of his type. It’s a re-write of Mephostophilis explaining to Faustus about who is really in charge:

   Now we are Princes, and alas but flout 
   Those pouting Witches, when with charms they think 
   To call us down t’obey their dreiry wink. 
   No, we stir not, but when our mighty Prince 
   Imposes his Commands; then wend we hence 
   Into the World. When that you do return 
   These Sp’rites you heard shall all obey your charm; 
   Nay we; and if our Prince that power gives, 
   But yet that power has no man that lives: 
   For to call down, an Angel of his Throne, 
   He first with him must have high union. 

The silent and undaunted black magician then gets a tour of the torments hell has for the wicked. It’s the usual extreme cold/extreme heat treatment, the kind of thing a set of damned Swedes might take to:

         presently they are arriv’d upon 
   The burning Banks of fiery Plegeton. 
   In here they souse them: Cries, and shrieks they make, 
   But hard-heart Devils can no pity take: 
   Over, and over here they plunge them, then 
   To cold-stream’d Styx they bear them back agen, 
   And thus by turns these torments, with delight 
   They give...

Before we get to the centre of hell and meet Lucifer, the devilish tour guide pauses for an exposition of how all this gruesome mechanism of punishment was set up. There is a God, he solemnly assures the magician, and God involves two principles, Wrath and Love. Hell is just an accidental by product of His wrath: God did not create hell or devils out of that divine anger: the fallen angels generated it out of their own nature after their fall:

   Think not that God in Wrath did us create, 
   Or that for damned Souls he made this state, 
   For to torment them in: He did not Will 
   That there a Hell should be: or any ill. 
   Thus then it came. God from Æternity 
   Did generate two Principles, which be 
   Contrary to each other. God alone 
   Cannot (but by these Principles) be known. 
   These generate he did Æternally, 
   Both in, and by himself, a mysterie 
   Not to be comprehended. Neither tho 
   Is God; yet he’s the Root from whence they flow: 
   This Principle in which we make abode 
   Is call’d the first: An ang’ry, zealous God 
   And full of Wrath, Vengeance, and Ire, here 
   To mortal Men, and us he doth appear. 
   In th’other Principle of Love, and Light, 
   To men he doth appear quite opposite: 
   The nature of our Principle is this, 
   It full of raging, anxious prickling is, 
   An harsh, sour, tart, fell, eager essence, and 
   Of bitterness, and stinging full; we stand 
   In this. The other Principle is quite 
   Another nature, to this opposite, 
   We know no more of that: this I can tell 
   That accidentally is the cause of Hell. 

The narrative pauses again for another analeptic account of Lucifer’s fall:

   Our Prince more bright, than your light-giving Sun 
   In glorious Rays of Heavn’ly Light out-shon 
   All other Angels, sat upon the Throne 
   Of God, and like a God himself did reign. 
   Out of both Principles compos’d we were, 
   As Man’s Soul is; and other Angels are: 
   The first recluded was, and we were made 
   I’th second, there we should for aye have stay’d: 
   But our brave Prince (I must commend him for’t) 
   Did bravely Lord it in a Kingly sort 
   Over the heart of God; that meekness scorn’d, 
   Did higher fly, and his high Spirit turn’d 
   Into the fiery property; that Rage 
   And fiery flash which Love could not assuage 
   He there begat. We as our Master did, 
   Raged as he; and so defiance bid
   To Love 

And from here Pordage goes to his notion of how Hell generates itself:

       that great rage, and burning of the Wrath, 
   This Fire you see we live in then hurst forth, 
   Which from our selves proceeds, and which is made 
   By that strong enmity which doth invade 
   Us, 'gainst the adverse Orb of Light: and know 
   This Fire doth from bitter harshness grow; 
   As when you rub your flint upon a wheel 
   Which turneth round, and is compos’d of Steel, 
   You see from bitter grating Fires proceed, 
   So our harsh grating Spirits Fire breed, 
   Which is the same you see; This is the pain 
   That we, and all the damned in remain.

Does this theology, which must be Behmenist in its basic outlines, absolve God? If it does, it does so at the cost of some diminishment to the divine omnipotence. If the principles of Wrath and Love start with God, and apply in different degrees to all beings, God seems unable to control the consequences of His own nature. Pordage’s talkative, well-meaning God often seems to be doing His best with outcomes He didn’t intend, and the gruesome sadism of Hell looks out of control

There follows Pordage’s major invention, the vision of the Tree of Death in Hell, on which the black magician feeds to complete his installation as hell’s number one magician on earth. First, we finally meet Lucifer, who is bearing up quite well and holding on to some dignity despite his unfortunate appearance:

                                  Great Lucifer 
   A sable Crown upon his head did bear, 
   One hand a Scepter held, the other bore 
   A hissing Snake, upon his back he wore 
   Nothing but griesly hair, more black than Night, 
   Under his supercilious brow a Light 
   Like burning coals came from his saucer eyes: 
   His rugged cheeks like Rephean Rocks did rise, 
   With dented Vallies: every time he spoke 
   From’s hellish mouth came clouds of pitchy smoak, 
   Which intermixed were with flakes of fire. 
   His breast beset with hair as stiffe as wire, 
   Bore two great duggs, from whence like spring-lets fell 
   Ereban Nectar , or the milk of Hell, 
   More black than pitch, and bitterer then soot 
   It was, from whence unto h’s cloven foot 
   He was beset with hair, a shaggy Beast 
   Thus sat in state to entertain his guest. 
   Behind his Throne Hel’s Armes were plac’d which were 
   A Dragon guils, with wings erect i’th’ ayr, 
   A wreathed tail, his mouth flames proper yield, 
   Holding a Banner, in a sable Field. 
   Earth’s solid Globe was on the other part 
   Pourtrai’d; where stood grim Griesly Death, his Dart 
   Piercing a tender Lamb, who yields his breath 
   And Life, unto the cruel stroke of Death.

Pordage makes all his supernatural beings voluble, so Lucifer is given plenty to say, interrupted by an infernal belch:

   Welcome my Son unto these glowing parts, 
   I have considered thy great deserts, 
   For which I did permit that thou might’st see, 
   My Kingdom’s Glory, and my Majesty. 
   Here is a Throne, and here a Crown lies by 
   For thee, when it shall be thy destiny 
   To leave the prison of thy Soul: I do 
   In the meantime my power confirm on you; 
   Thou shalt my great Magitian be, and show 
   Strange uncouth Wonders in the Orb below. 
   Hau---Let this blast imbue thy fetid Soul, 
   Accept my power, and let none controul 
   Thy might, and force. Go to the Tree of Death, 
   Eat of the fruit, and so confirm my Breath: 
   Choose what thou pleasest, there is choice, nay all 
   If thou canst use them in the earthly Ball, 
   For our great Glory. Our great Mysteries 
   When thou hast eaten, thou wilt better prize: 
   When thou shalt be confirm’d: Love then shall fly, 
   None in thy Heart shall ever reign but I. 
   This said, he nodded to the Prince that brought 
   Him thither, who conceiv’d his Princes thought: 
   Doing obeisance both withdrew: and strait 
   Towards the Tree of Death they ambulate. 

So, having been given the Satanic nod for the go-ahead, they amble over to The Tree of Death, and Pordage gives it the full works descriptively:

   Thorow the midst a pitchy stream 
   (The which from Styx and other Rivers came) 
   Runs; this they follow till they saw it shoot 
   Its sooty waters, at the very Root 
   Of the mortiferous Tree; in there it fell 
   Conveighing thither all the dregs of Hell. 
   By which that Tree is nourished: He now 
   Lifts up his eyes, and that strange Tree doth view. 
   The trunck more hard than solid steel, for mosse, 
   With filthy spawn of Toads inclosed was, 
   Poyson of Asps instead of shining gum, 
   Thorow the bark from every limb did come. 
   Thrice fifty Cubits scarce could close about 
   Its mighty bole: on every limb stretch’d out 
   Hung crawling Vipers, sucking with delight 
   The juyce of Henbane , and of Aconite 
   From off the leaves, which gave a filthy stink, 
   And were more black than Pitch, or blackest ink. 
   An horrid blast arising from the ground 
   Concusse the leaves, which make a dryery sound 
   In their forc’t Kissing: Bitterer then soot 
   Mixed with Gall, and Wormwood’s juyce, the fruit 
   Was, which thick sparsed here, and there did grow, 
   In sundry colours on each sable bow. 
   A while he views this Tree: Hel’s horrid Fiend 
   From’s smoky throat at last these words doth send. 

   Seest thou this stately Tree, those Fruits I wis 
   Are our Ambrosia; and our Nectar is 
   That humid juice you see; no other food 
   But what grows here our Prince esteemeth good. 

The Tree of Death closely follows the characteristics of the trees in Paradise: it has no seasons, but bears its horrible fruit continuously:

   No Winter with its nipping frosts bereaves 
   This lurid Tree of there his sable leaves: 
   Nor leaves, nor blossoms adds the spring unto’t: 
   Nor yellow Autumn robs it of its Fruit, 
   It thus continues as it is, and tho 
   We daily feed thereon it doth not grow 
   Barren of Fruit, for tho we cul apace 
   Others supply straitway their vacant place, 
   And should we off the Fruit we see now pull, 
   Next moment renders it again as full. 
   We need not fear but here is choyce enough, 
   For every Prince hath here his several bough. 
   Yon’ fair-spread arm whose fruit so rarely dy’d, 
   Spec’t like the Peacock’s tail, yields food for Pride . 
   Yon Snake-betwisted bow, Toad-specled fruit 
   Doth best the slavering Chaps of Envy sute. 
   Yon’ sire-coloured Pome loves mighty wrath : 
   Lust thinks that jetty Apple better worth. 
   Yon’ mighty Limb which beareth Apples thrice 
   As big as all the rest, Loves Avarice ; 
   Yon’ juicy Fruit which liquor doth express 
   Thorow the skin loves beastly Drunkennesse . 
   And those two thick fruit-pressed limbs close by, 
   Belongs to wantonness, and gluttony . 
   On that feeds sloth, and that arm which you there 
   Behold doth serve the Table of despair. 
   Yon’ strange-shap’d Fruit, which on that bow you see, 
   Is suck’d upon by foul-mouth’d Perjury: 
   It’s endless to name all: Rare Fruit beside 
   All these, we have upon the other side. 

As in Pordage’s account of the Temptation of Eve, the devil is keen to draw attention to the tempting nature of the fruit itself:

   Step hither, look! here’s gallant Fruit indeed; 
   Here ‘tis, and if you please, that you shall feed; 
   These are the Fruits will ope your dimmer eyes, 
   Will make you subtle, and exceeding wise. 
   These, these will shew the virtue of this Tree; 
   And I will tell you what those Apples be. 
   Seest that fair one with Crimson-circles deckt, 
   And here and there with Characters bespec’t? 

After that rather tedious passage about the fruit the tree bears for allegorical qualities like Perjury, Envy, Lust, there is rather more interest in the fruit which the Tree of Death bears for the ambitious academic, in more or less any subject discipline:

   Should’st thou eat that as good a linguist strait 
   Should be, as he that seven years had sat 
   Poring on books, enduring cold, and pain 
   A Language, or some Rhetorick to gain: 
   The juice of this fine fruit did Herod lick, 
   When he a God was styl’d for’s Rhetorick. 
   And that round apple, which hangs dangling there, 
   Will make you be a cunning Sophister. 
   Yon apple which is so variegate, 
   Will make you cunning in mechanicks strait. 
   This Apple here which hangs so fair to view; 
   With Mathematick cunning will imbue; 
   See what Cylindres, and Rhomboides 
   What Quadrats, Diagramms, Isoce’les 
   With other lines, and figures printed in 
   Black, red, and yellow streakes upon the skin; 
   These shew its Nature. But yon with a Star 
   So fairly mark’d, makes an Astrologer : 
   Should’st thou eat this which hangeth over us 
   More cunning then was Æsculapius 
   Thou’ldst be; and skilfull too in Chiron’s art 
   If that, which hangeth on that bow a th’ wart. 
   But yon fair fruit which takes up so much room, 
   Will make you know before what is to come: 
   Of this did Baalam often feed, when he 
   Did by our divination Prophesie? 
   In former time this Apple was in use 
   Much, when Delphean Priests did suck the juice: 
   And on the next they fed, when they in verse 
   Their Oracles did usually reherse. 

   But yon five Apples which I shew you now, 
   And which do triumph on the upper bough, 
   Shall be thy food: See here I’ll reach them down, 
   Make much of them, for now they are thine own, 
   Well may’st thou prize them, Heav’n nor Earth such fruit 
   Can give, which may so well thy nature suit. 
   These with thee take, and feed upon below: 
   But first to thee I will their virtues show. 

   This purple colour’d one more cold than Ice, 
   Or Riphæan snow, extinguish in a trice 
   Will that Scintilla Love hath plac’d in thee: 
   Then shalt thou wholly from his chains be free. 
   Floods of temptations, nor whole streams of sin, 
   Nor pleasures, which the World may draw you in, 
   Are strong enough to dout that little spark, 
   Which closely gloweth in thy hollow ark. 
   Well may they cloak it that it may not flame, 
   But ‘tis this fruit that must put out the same. 
   This next although more black than pitch it be, 
   Will firmly glew together Hell, and thee: 
   A thousand chains shall sooner break, than this 
   Resolve thee, of so strong a nature ‘tis. 
   With all Hel’s Peers, and our great Prince you wil 
   By it hold highest Correspondence still. 
   By this third, snaky-colour’d one, below 
   Thou shalt most strange-amazing Wonders do. 
   Th’ Eternal flames which wend above the sky, 
   Unto the Earth thou may’st call by and by: 
   The Hyperborean sconce thou mayst command, 
   To oestuate the Sea to Mountains; and 
   Mayst at thy bidding Taurus rend in twain: 
   Or Atlas fling into the Western main. 
   This reddish one bespotted thus with jet, 
   The lock’d gates of thy senses ope will set; 
   Your quicker eyes although on Earth you stand 
   Shall pierce the Centre of our darker Land: 
   Then shall you see us when you please, and know 
   How that your Prince, and we your Brothers do: 
   Our shriller voices shall assault your ear: 
   Your nose shall smell the sulphur of our Sphear: 

   And our hot breaths, feel blowing in your face; 
   Our Kingdom’s dainties tast in every place, 
   Banquet and deeply drink with us: so you 
   May be on Earth, and in our Kingdom too. 

The final fruit of the Tree of Death loops us back to witchcraft as described by Pordage earlier in the poem: it is a ‘Teter’ fruit, that enables you to call up evil spirits. Simon Magus and Doctor Faustus were previous consumers, the fruit having of course regenerated after they had partly glutted themselves upon it. And this is the one the unnamed, never un-nerved magician takes and eats, so completing his investiture into his role as chief magician of hell:

   By this last teter one, all evil Sprites 
   That b’longs to Hell, to please you with delights 
   You when you please may call, nay if you will 
   Ten thousand Legions shall attend you still. 
   All that belongs toth’ Necromancy Art, 
   And Conjuration ‘twill to you impart; 
   That at your beck from hence you may adjure, 
   The blackest Fiend to be your servitour. 
   Jannes and Jambres, Simon and Faustus eat 
   (Tho not to fill them) of this pretious meat. 
   See now what power thou’rt indued with, 
   By these rare fruits pluck’d from the Tree of Death: 
   The gold of In’d, nor Peru, not the Seas 
   Rich Treasure purchase may such Fruits as these, 
   The fabuliz’d Hesperian fruit of old, 
   Were dirt to these, although they were of Gold. 
   Come now thou great Magitian thou shalt go 
   Unto the Body, which remains below; 
   Our Pomp, and Power, thou hast seen, and I 
   To you our Kingdom’s nature did descry: 
   You need no conduct hither now, for when 
   You please, you may come visit us agen. 
   This said: he strait his body reassumes, 
   And thus Hel’s great Magitian becomes. 

Pordage’s poem would probably have been more important if the teachings of Boehme had taken off in England like, say, Methodism did. He has no obvious poetic merits beyond fluency. His vocabulary occasionally throws up some quirky latinate monstrosity – ‘pinguitude’, ‘anguiferous’, ‘ambulate’, ‘mortiferous’. It’s interesting that the various rival brands of Christianity in the 17th century produce competing Creation-Fall poems: Pordage’s Behmenism, Lucy Hutchinson’s Calvinism, alongside Milton’s epic
, which Anglican orthodoxy, braced by the music of Haydn and the criticism of Johnson and Addison could accept (though attentive readers can spot where the cracks have been papered over).

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