Quintessence:

A Glass Bead Game

for Mary Lynn Richardson

I wanted to write a Game that was somewhat closer in format than my WaterBird and TenStones Games to Hesse's original Glass Bead Game. This "solo" game is the result.

The basic structure here is akin to a fugue in music: a theme is introduced in move 1, consisting of five related parts; a second theme, also in five parts, is offered in counterpoint to the first in move 2; more 3 is a variation on the first theme; move 4 a variation on the second; and the final move hopefully draws both themes together in a synthesis.

Charles Cameron


Move 1: "Sir John Davies, Orchestra, 1596"

Text:

Dancing, bright lady, then began to be
When the first seeds whereof the world did spring,
The fire, air, earth and water did agree
By Love's persuasion, Nature's mighty King,
To leave their first disordered combating
And in a Dance such measure to observe
As all the World their motion should preserve...

Items:

Fire, air, earth, water, cosmic dance

Commentary:

This move introduces the first theme, that of the four elements and a fifth, as Sir John Davies portrays them at the moment of Genesis. Here the elements are seen in primordial strife / chaos, until Love (cf the spirit brooding upon the waters) breathes the dance (life itself, conceived as a harmonious movement of each with each) into them.

Compare Isaac Newton in his Commentarium writing that "our work" of alchemy:

brings forth the beginning out of black Chaos and its first matter through the separation of the elements and the illumination of matter... the mode of which... was adumbrated in the creation of the world.

*

Move 2: "The Interpretation of Torah"

Text:

According to the cabalist Moses de Leon, there are four levels at which the Torah can be interpreted -- and the name by which they are remembered is pardes, paradise:
Each consonant of the word PaRDeS denotes one of the levels: P stands for peshat, the literal meaning, R for remez, the allegorical meaning, D for derasha, the Talmudic and Aggadic interpretation, S for sod, the mystical meaning.
See Gershon Scholem, On Kaballah & Its Symbolism, p 61.

And what of the "totality" of the meaning of Torah? As Scholem remarks in Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism p 210:

In the last resort, the whole of the Torah... is nothing by the one great and holy Name of God.

Items:

Peshat, remez, derasha, sod and Pardes

Commentary:

The second move introduces our second theme -- the four levels of meaning (and a fifth) that can be found in Torah, in counterpoint to the theme of four elements (and a fifth) explored in the previous move. The cosmos, too, can be read as a sacred text (Torah), at each of these four levels.

Dante, writing to his patron, Can Grande della Scala, uses a four-fold explication of a passage from Torah as his example to illustrate the levels of meaning to be found his Divine Comedy:

The meaning of this work [DC] is not simple... for we obtain one meaning from the letter of it, and another from that which the letter signifies; and the first is called literal, but the other allegorical or mystical. And to make this matter of treatment clearer, it may be studied in the verse: "When Israel came out of Egypt and the House of Jacob from among a strange people, Judah was his sanctuary and Israel his dominion". For if we regard the letter alone, what is set before us is the exodus of the Children of Israel from Egypt in the days of Moses; if the allegory, our redemption wrought by Christ; if the moral sense, we are shown the conversion of the soul from the grief and wretchedness of sin to the state of grace; if the anagogical, we are shown the departure of the holy soul from the thralldom of this corruption to the liberty of eternal glory. And although these mystical meanings are called by various names, they may all in general be called allegorical, since they differ from the literal and historical.

*

Move 3: "Christ amid the Elements"

Image:

Bartholomaeus Anglicus, De proprietatibus rerum, tr. by John Trevisa (Westminster, Wynken de Worde, 1495), sig. e iii.

This image can be conveniently found in BJT Dobbs, The Janus Faces of Genius: The Role of Alchemy in Newton's Thought, Cambridge: CUP, 1991, p. 85, or SK Heninger, Jr., The Cosmographical Glass: Renaissance Diagrams of the Universe, San Marino: Huntington Library, 1977, p. 100.

Items:

Fire, air, earth, water, the divine Logos

Commentary:

This move offers a variation on the first theme. Here Christ -- rather than the cosmic dance -- is seen as the quintessence of the four elements. Note that for Newton, too, Christ is God's "Viceregent" in the alchemical process of creation, for "as he is now gone to prepare a place for the blessed so in the beginning he prerpared and formed this place in which we live" (cited in Dobbs, p. 82). It is thus the pre-existent Christ as Logos, rather than the incarnate Christ, who is portrayed here.

*

Move 4:

Text:

There is a Talmudic story (B.T. Hagigah 14b) of four rabbis who entered the paradise of Torah by means of one of the levels of meaning above: Ben Azzai, Ben Zoma, Aher (Elisha ben Avuyah) and Rabbi Akiva. In Gershon Scholem's telling of the tale, Ben Azzai saw Paradise and died, Ben Zoma saw and lost his reason, Aher corrupted the young, and only Rabbi Akiba "entered in peace and came out in peace."

See On Kaballah & Its Symbolism, p 57.

Items:

Four rabbis and Paradise.

Commentary:

In this variation on the second theme, the four levels of Torah interpretation find their equivalence in four rabbis, each of whom "reads" Torah at one of its four levels. Note that any one of the modes of reading Torah is sufficient to enter paradise, but that only when the mystical reading is present is the human mind able to cope with the experience and "integrate" it successfully afterwards.

*

Move 5: "Last Supper"

Text:

Sun, wind, rain, soil are his ingredients,
a round of seasons, millstone and winepress:

flesh and blood, staple and inebriant God.

Items:

Sun, wind, rain, soil, and the real presence

Commentary:

This move is drawn from a poem entitled Vanishing Point, by this player, on the topic of the celebration of Mass.

"Sun, wind, rain, soil" are the elements of our first theme: fire, air, water and earth. In this move, they are again joined by Christ as "fifth" -- but this time the incarnate Christ as figured under the forms of bread and wine at the Last Supper and in the Mass.

With these elements and "a round of seasons," both wheat and grape come to fruition. The "millstone and winepress" follow -- in a procedure that is not without pain -- to produce bread and wine, flesh and blood. Note that the "round of seasons" too -- which is to say, time itself -- grinds and presses all the living, wearing down all form to dust, extracting the essence that is within all form... A staple food, bread, and an inebriant drink, wine, are now present to figure the "staple and inebriant" qualities of God. Compare Rumi: "In Shams al-Din-i Tabrizi you will discover a heart which is at once intoxicated and very sober."

The second theme is also present here, both in the sense that the stanza can be read in the four ways -- mystically or anagogically, "sun" would be the divine radiance, "wind" would be the holy pneuma spirit, "rain" would be mercy (cf Shakespeare, "The quality of mercy is not strained, it droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven"), and "earth" would be the world of matter and hence of the incarnation -- and in the sense in which Jesus can be viewed as a rabbi who reads Torah and enters Paradise...

This leaves only the element of dance in the first theme unaccounted for: and dance does indeed figure in the Last Supper. According to the apocryphal Acts of John (c. 130), after the Supper was ended, Jesus invited his disciples to join him in a Round Dance and hymn. (Gustav Holst, using his own translation of the text, wrote a very fine setting of this piece, entitled "The Hymn of Jesus"). The text of the hymn includes the following:

Grace dances; I will to play on the pipe - dance, all! Amen.
The Dodecad Above dances in time! Amen.
Whereon the whole begins to dance! Amen.
He who does not dance knows not what is going on! Amen.
He who dances understands what I am doing...


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