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The Divinity of World and Man: Introduction to Jacob Boehme’s

Theosophy
By Jo Hedesan. Published in Esoteric Coffeehouse on Jan 9, 2009

I have spent my last few weeks researching the German theosophist Jacob Boehme,
and I thought – why not write an introduction to this esotericist who has influenced so
much of modern thinking, including Romanticism, Hegel or Schopenhauer?

Boehme (1575-1624) is mostly known and revered today as the forerunner of modern
theosophy, a major esoteric movement made famous by Helena Blavatsky, Rudolf
Steiner and Krishnamurti (the latter two in their early years). As conceived by
Boehme, theosophy was an eclectic mixture of Christian theology, natural philosophy
and mysticism. He perceived the Bible as containing esoteric knowledge about God
that he felt he had a duty to reveal.

It all started with a mystical revelation. In 1600, at age 25, Boehme was a rather
prosperous shoemaker in the eastern German town of Gorlitz. He had just married,
acquired his license to practice shoemaking, and all was set for him to become a
respected and average citizen of Gorlitz. But, the legend goes, Boehme was not a
happy man; he was depressed and often fell into melancholy. One day, however, as
Boehme was sitting at home, he suddenly saw the light of the sun reflected in a tin
dish. In one flash, Boehme experienced a mystical vision of God which changed his
life forever.

Moved by such a powerful revelation, Boehme began to write his first book, Aurora,
which he only finished twelve years later. He never abandoned his ‘day-job’, so to
speak: he continued to work as a shoemaker until l613, when he began a yarn
business. Yet his mystical-esoteric side got him into trouble with the local Lutheran
church, which pronounced him a heretic and forbade him to write. That, of course, did
not happen; his Aurora became very popular in several influential circles and
subsequently Boehme wrote more than fifteen thick books, which expanded on the
first revelations of Aurora.

Boehme’s writings are very complex and difficult to read. In fact, his legend is far
better known than the content of his thought (1). One reason for this is that our world
today has lost the intellectual background behind Boehme’s speculations, which
mixed a thorough knowledge of the Bible with Neoplatonic and Hermetic philosophy,
alchemy and German mysticism. For Boehme, it all came together in one grand vision
of God as the self-created Creator.

Boehme is a profoundly religious thinker for whom only God can give meaning to
existence. Therefore, the main subject of Boehme’s books is God, or more
specifically, God making himself known (2). God in His essence is completely
inaccessible to humanity – a complete darkness. He dwells in Himself. Yet, God’s
desire, the engine of all existence, is to be known. Hence, at the beginning of time,
God springs from Himself, creating this world out of his own Being. Here is where
Boehme contradicts other theologians: he does not believe God created universe out
of nothing, because in this sense ‘nothing’ would then be another kind of God.
Instead, God creates from Himself (3). Perhaps all this speculation sounds a bit
remote for us, but to Boehme it validated a fundamental idea: that our world is divine.
The universe, nature, and our own lives are full of God, except he is hidden inside of
things.

When He began His creative work, God first made the angelic world (4). Boehme is
very concerned with the angelic kingdom, because he believed this was the land
where the first human, Adam, was made. Adam was an angel just like Michael,
Gabriel and Lucifer. If it were not for the corruption of Lucifer – the Devil – we
would still be living rapturously in a beautiful heaven. Falling prey to the Devil,
Adam condemned humanity to live in a demonized world. Lucifer’s betrayal of God
was a cataclysmic event, not only for humanity, but for the entire universe: it set the
wheel in motion for the creation of our own world, which is a fallen version of the
angelic world. Facing the destruction of all his divine creation, God had to ‘lump’ the
universe corrupted by Lucifer together and expulse it outside of the heavenly realm
(5). Hence we are living in a deformed version of the universe, somewhere at the edge
of divinity.

This may sound rather bleak, but it is not. Boehme recognizes that, while our world is
a pale image of the divine creation, it is still formed by God. The ‘seed’ of God
remains well hidden inside the corrupted universe, and it is up to us to uncover it. To
do this, we are called to the ‘Heart of God’, Jesus Christ, who can heal us through
pure Love (6, 7). Our world is one of contradictions, conflict, pain and anger; but
Christ can pour his healing Love on it and restore it to its rightful divinity.

This, of course, is a ‘Cliff Note’ version of Boehme’s philosophy. His thinking is


extremely profound and complex, and there are changes of emphasis between his
different books. Yet Boehme’s vision remains extremely compelling. For one, it is his
stalwart, unwavering belief in divinity. He does not even conceive of a world without
God: that to him is an absurdity. Secondly, there is his powerful view of the world as
fundamentally divine: we may today think of our lives as devoid of God, but, he says,
that is only a misconception. Divinity traverses all mundane affairs, albeit
inconspicuously. He is just inch-deep behind the apparent worldliness of the every
day. Thirdly, Boehme evokes a dynamic, creative universe where things continuously
change, but the divine substance remains constant in itself. As opposed to many of us
today, he would not be frightened by change, be it globalization, job security or what
have you. He would say that change is in the natural order of Creation as God made it.
Since He is at the center of all things, He provides the solidity to withstand any
spinning.

References

(1) Weeks, A. (1991). Boehme: An Intellectual Biography of the Seventeenth-Century


Philosopher and Mystic. New York: SUNY Press.
(2) Deghaye, P. (1992). ‘Jacob Boehme and His Followers’, in Modern Esoteric
Spirituality, ed. Antoine Faivre and Jacob Needleman. New York: Crossroad.
(3), (6) Boehme, J. (1764). The Three Principles of the Divine Essence, trans. and ed.
by William Law. London: Richardson.
(4) Boehme, J. (1764). Aurora: The Day-Spring, or, The Dawning of the Day in the
East, trans. and ed. by William Law. London: Richardson.
(5), (7) Boehme, J. (1764). Signatura Rerum, trans. and ed. by William Law. London:
Richardson.