the Veil
The Mystics

Jacob Boehme (Jacob Behmen), the "Teutonic Theosopher" was born on or soon before April 24, 1575 in Altseidenberg, near Görlitz in eastern Germany. Following apprenticeship, he set up his own shop as a shoemaker in Görlitz, where he resided (except for a period of exile in Dresden) until his death on November 17, 1624. After a profound mystical experience at the age of twenty five (1600), while remaining active as a shoemaker and later a merchant, he embarked on a remarkable career of independent scholarship and writing. Though censured for heresy and silenced for seven years by his town council, he eventually produced some twenty nine books and tracts on philosophical theology, and gained a growing following among the nobility and professional classes of the day.

The end of the 20th century is witnessing a crisis of relevance of traditional church doctrine, and rapidly waning ecclesiastical influence. In western culture, spirituality has literally broken out of the churches, to seek expression in a wide variety of ways, especially through explorations of eastern and primal traditions, nature mysticism, and transcendental psychologies. Jacob Boehme was a 17th century shoemaker whose radical and mystical theology is consistent with modern knowledge of the relationship of the physical world to nonlocal reality, and of the dynamics of the psyche. His Renaissance emphasis on individual transformative spirituality is in tune with the renaissance of spirit of our times. It thus has much to offer to churches and other spiritual communities seeking to meet the spiritual needs of modern people.

Jacob Boehme (1575-1624) was the son of peasant farmers, a shoemaker by trade, and had only a rudimentary education. One morning, watching the sunlight play on a pewter bowl, he experienced an extraordinary spiritual illumination, and started writing books -- Amazing books!! Scholars at the great German Universities were astounded that an unlearned craftsman could produce works like "The Three Principles of the Divine Essence" and "The Threefold Life of Man".

But Jacob Boehme explains:

I never desired to know anything of the Divine Mystery, much less understood I the way how to seek or find it. I sought only after the heart of Jesus Christ. In this my earnest Christian seeking and desire, the gate was opened unto me, so that in one quarter of an hour I saw and knew more than if I had been many years together at an University.

For I saw and knew the Being of all Beings, the Byss and Abyss; also the eternal generation of the Holy Trinity; the descent, and origin of this world, and of all creatures, through the divine Wisdom. I knew and saw in myself all the three Worlds; namely, the Divine, Angelical, and Paradisical World and then the Dark World, the original of the Nature to the Fire; and then thirdly, the external, visible World, being a Procreation, or External Birth, from the two internal and spiritual Worlds. I saw, and knew the whole working Essence in the evil, and in the good; and the mutual origin, and existence of each of them; and likewise how the fruitful bearing Womb of Eternity brought forth.

Presently it came powerfully into my mind to set the same down in writing. Thus now I have written, not from the instruction or knowledge received from men, not from the learning or reading of books; but I have written out of my own book which was opened in me, being the noble similitude of God. The book of the noble and precious image (understand God's own similitude or likeness) was bestowed upon me to read; and therein I have studied, as a child in the house of its mother, which beholdeth what the father doth, and in his child-like play doth imitate his father; I have no need of any other book.

I thank you, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and prudent, and have revealed them to babes. (Matt. 11:25)
For it is written, "I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent." Where is the wise? where is the scribe? where is the disputer of this world? has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? (1Corinthians 1:17-31)
For thus says the high and lofty One Who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: "I dwell in the high and holy place, with him who has a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones." (Isaiah 57:15)
Marvel not that I say to you, You must be born again. The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from or where it goes: so is everyone who is born of the Spirit. (John 3:7-8)
Truly I say to you, Unless you are converted, and become as little children, you shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 18:3)

I know well that I can do Nothing in my own Might or Strength. But Faith, which can receive where there is Nothing, can do it: If I cast my Will into God’s Will, then GOD believes in My Will; and then I can receive, for nothing is Impossible to Faith: I can receive to myself the Incarnation of Christ; if My Will wills it - yet I cannot do it, but God can do it in and through me.

I know nothing, and desire to know nothing, nor have I at any time sought any skill or knowledge; for I am a child in knowledge, and a nothing; I want to know nothing, that I might in knowledge be dead and a nothing, that God in the Spirit of Christ may be my knowing, willing, and doing, that I may run in his knowing and willing, and that not I, but he; that I may be only his Instrument, and he the Hand and the Labour.

These things we speak, not in words which man’s wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual. But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. But we have the mind of Christ. (1 Corinthians 2:13-16)

The rational Man understands nothing in reference to God. The true Understanding must flow from the inward Ground, out of the living Word of God. In which inward Ground, all my Knowledge concerning the Divine and natural Ground, has taken its Rise, Beginning, and Understanding. I am not born of the School of this World, and am a plain simple Man; but by God's Spirit and Will I am brought, without my own Purpose and Desire, into Divine Knowledge in high natural Searchings.

All our disputations and intellectual speculations in regard to the divine mysteries are useless; because they originate from external sources. God's mysteries can be only known by God, and to know them we must first seek God in our own center. Our reason and will must return to the inner source from which they originated; then will we arrive at a true science of God and His attributes. Man's will and imagination have become perverted from their original state, Man has surrounded himself by a world of will and imagination of his own. He has therefore lost sight of God, and can only regain his former state and become wise if he brings the activity of his soul and mind again in harmony with the divine Spirit.

How To Read Jacob Boehme

Boehme's writings have been described as "a picnic to which Jacob brings the words and the reader brings the meaning." That is a good tip. Many readers, having been warned of the Teutonic Theosopher's "obscurity," approach their first Boehme book the same way they would approach, say, Kant's Critique of Pure Reason; assiduously scribbling notes and diagrams, wracking their brains over the diction, rereading and rereading difficult passages, and finally hurling the book across the room.

The key is to read his books in exactly the same way you read poetry. No brain-wracking required. I sometimes read a few pages of Blake before turning to Boehme, just to get the poetic cadence going. His books are, as translator John Sparrow said, "Hard at first, easy at last." If you find yourself floundering in a passage about sulphur, mercury and sal, and the interaction of planets, just skim ahead until your head is above water again.

He used terminology from alchemy and astrology because it was the only scientific language available to him. This vocabulary seems strange and occultic to modern readers, but contemporary transdisciplinarians like Basarab Nicolescu have found in Boehme a template for the sought-after Unifying Language that would enable communication between our increasingly balkanized branches of knowledge. Boehme could move from theology to physics to botany to astronomy to psychology to biblical exegesis without changing vocabularies. This vocabulary would not be utile to modern scientists, but the shoemaker's mastery of language is hailed by transdisciplinarians as "a triumph of human thought."

The shoemaker himself put a low premium on "human thought."

"He that will learn to understand the true Way, let him depart from and forsake his own reason. My knowledge is not mine, but God knowing in me. Reason must yield up its own Hearing and Life, and give itself up to God, that God may live in the Understanding of Man, else there is no Finding in the Divine Wisdom. All that is taught and spoken concerning God, without the Spirit of God, is but Babel."

Now we do speak wisdom among the mature, but not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are perishing. Instead we speak the wisdom of God, hidden in a mystery, that God determined before the ages for our glory. None of the rulers of this age understood it. If they had known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. But just as it is written, “Things that no eye has seen, or ear heard, or mind imagined, are the things God has prepared for those who love him.” God has revealed these to us by the Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. For who among men knows the things of a man except the man’s spirit within him So too, no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have not received the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things that are freely given to us by God. And we speak about these things, not with words taught us by human wisdom, but with those taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual things to spiritual people. The unspiritual (natural) person does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him. And he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned. The one who is spiritual discerns all things, yet he himself is understood by no one. For who has known the mind of the Lord, so as to advise him. But we have the mind of Christ. (1 Corinthians 2:6-16)

In Boehme, "reason" is synonymous with "self." This doctrine may ring a strange note in our ears, but if we pursue the thought that "reason" and "self," "intellect" and "ego" are different words for the same thing, it will open a new path toward self-understanding. Reason, like fire or water, is a good servant and a bad master. People who insist on being "governed by reason" end up being...governed by reason. Rationalism consigns us to the tiny, dark dungeon of the ego.

Reason is a faculty, and Boehme did not despise it any more than he despised eyesight, but in our fallen condition, human nature stands in disarray. The center of the personality is the reasoning ego, which worships as idols the formulations of reductive logic. Systematic Theology ("God in a teacup") is a fearful example how, when reason usurps Spirit, darkness falls and idolatry prevails. Whereas our ancestors shaped gods of wood, stone and metal, religious rationalists fashion gods out of mental fabric. The resulting doctrinal warfare is as boring and pointless as it is unwinnable and endless, but that has not stopped over 1500 authors from publishing books titled Systematic Theology.

From Boehme we learn the "Art of Conciseness": simply proclaim the truth and let the Spirit bear witness, instead of piling up arguments and proof texts to try and force all the world to agree with us.

Faith is a faculty of perception immeasurably greater than reason, and the sole purpose of Boehme's writing is to awaken this sleeping giant. When faith awakens, living conscious union with God will follow. It may come like a sunburst or it may dawn gradually. Our first experience of God-consciousness may bring shock to the physical body and humiliation to the intellect, but we soon get acclimated to this new world, and communion with God becomes free, easy, natural and devoid of any sort of religious formality. "Shall I, a gnat that dances in Thy ray, dare to be reverent"

God is apprehended by love, not reason. "Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. And if anyone thinks that he knows anything, he knows nothing yet as he ought to know. But if anyone loves God, this one is known by Him." (1Corinthians 8:1-3)

"Jacob Boehme was not a messenger of anything new in religion, but the mystery of all that was old and true in religion and nature, was opened up to him, the depth of the riches, both of the wisdom and knowledge of God."

The learned theologian, Willam Law

"To make therefore a right use of his writings, you should, for a sufficient time, keep solely to that part of them, which opens the ground and foundation of the powers that work in grace and nature, till by a self-evident sensibility it is opened in you, and your heart stands in a conformity to it, and true working with it: for it is your own heart, as finding the working powers of nature and grace in itself, and simply given up in faith to work with them, that is to be your key and guide to that knowledge you are to have of them; whether it be from the Holy Scripture, or the writings of this author. For to this end, he tells you, he has written all; viz. to help man to seek and find himself; what is his birth, his state and place in nature; what he is in body, soul, and spirit; from what worlds all these three parts of him are come; how they came to be as they are at present; what his fall is, and how he must rise out of it."

"Therefore, if, in order to seek and find this ground in yourself, you were, for some sufficient time, to read only to the 10th chapter of his "Three Principles", or to the 6th or 8th chapter of his "Threefold Life"; and proceed no farther, till this ground had made itself manifest in you, and your heart stood in a strict conformity to it, and working with it; you would then be in a true fitness to read farther, and reap the full benefit from any other of his books, that should fall into your hands; whether it was the "Way to Christ", or the book upon "The Incarnation". But, above all things, remember this advice, as of the last moment to you, Be no reasoner upon the mystery; seek for no commentaries, or rational explications of it, to entertain your reason with: for, as soon as you do this; then, however true and good this mystery may be in itself, it is, with regard to you, of no better use than that very vain philosophy, and science falsely so called, condemned by the apostle. It will only be the same snare and delusion to you, that other learning and philosophy is to other people. For if there is nothing good or divine in you but the faith, and hope, and love, and desire of your heart turned to God; if nothing can do any good, be any blessing or happiness to this faith, and love, and desire turned to God, but only God himself in his holy being; and if nothing can communicate God to you, but God himself; and if God cannot communicate himself to you under a notion, or an idea of reason, but a degree of life, good, and blessing, born or brought to life in your soul; then you see, that to give yourself up to reasoning, and notional conceptions, is to turn from God, and wander out of the way of all divine communications."

An excerpt from: "The Way to Divine Knowledge", by William Law

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