Two Cracks in a Twilit Cave

“Heatherlegh is the dearest doctor that ever was, and his invariable prescription to all his patients is ‘lie low, go slow, and keep cool’ . . . . He maintains that overwork slew Pansay, who died under his hand about three years ago . . . and he laughs at my theory that there was a crack in Pansay’s head and a little bit of the Dark World came through and pressed him to death.” 

Rudyard Kipling, The Phantom Rickshaw (1888)

“So long as he is attached with his will to the external, and regards this world’s good as his treasure . . . he gives his body to the world or to the earth, and his soul to the abyss of the Dark World.” 

Jacob Böhme, The Six Theosophical Points (1620)

Being sons of Adam and daughters of Eve, we are each of us born with a “crack” in our head.  This crack is the original sin that connects us to the Dark World below.  Many of us spend our lives enlarging this crack with the chisel and crowbar of  personal sins.   If we chisel hard and pry without ceasing, this crack will at last be wide enough for us to fall through it and into the Dark World below.  But until that astonishing plunge, our chiseling and prying will be invigorated by the exciting aromas and intoxicating fumes that seep up through this crack.

Kippling’s Dr. Heatherlegh was a modern materialist who diagnosed the psychic aberrations that haunted  Jack Pansay as the meaningless epiphenomena of indigestion.  As he said to Pansay when Pansay asked his advice:

“Eyes, Pansay—all Eyes, Brain, and Stomach.  And the greatest of these three is Stomach . . . . Get your Stomach straight and the rest follows.  And that’s French for a liver pill.”

Against Dr. Heatherlegh’s material diagnosis, the narrator of my first epigraph proposed the spiritual diagnosis that Jack Pansay was haunted by psychic aberrations because Jack Pansay had sinned.  Pansay had sniffed the aroma that seeped through that crack in his head, had been excited and intoxicated by the fumes, and had therefore set to work enlarging this crack with the chisel and crowbar of personal sin.

Jack Pansay was a colonial officer in British India and his personal sin was to seduce and discard a married woman named Agnes Keith-Wessington, who soon thereafter died.  By the time Mrs. Wessington died, this crack in Jack Pansay’s head was so large that her ghost could drive through it in a “phantom rickshaw” and haunt her one-time lover poor Jack Pansay.

That’s how it is with sin.  At first exciting aromas and intoxicating fumes seep up through this crack and invite a man to chisel and pry.  Then, after years of chiseling and prying, the crack is large enough to admit ghastly horrors along with the aroma and fumes.   But the excitement and intoxication remain, the chiseling and prying continue, and the crack is at last large enough for that man to fall through it.

Fall through it into the Dark World that he has so long desired.

* * * * *

Jacob Böhme was a seventeenth-century Christian mystic who said that a man gives his soul to the Dark World when he attaches his will to the external, regards the world’s good as his treasure, and gives his body to the material earth.  This is is precisely what Kipling shows us in the fatal haunting of poor Jack Pansay.   Pansay gave his soul to the Dark World when he shaped his will to approve adultery, when he briefly regarded trysts with Agnes Keith-Wessingtton as his treasure, and when he at last gave his sin-haunted body to the care of a materialist like Dr. Heatherleigh and his little liver pills.

It was not just this original crack in Jack Pansay’s head that caused him to be haunted by the ghastly specter of Agnes Keith-Wessingtton in her phantom rickshaw, and that cause him to at last fall through the crack and plunge into the Dark World below.  It was also his assiduous chiseling and prying and widening of this crack by his persistence in personal sin.  As Böhme puts it:

“Persisteth he in wickedness, then he . . . belongs to the abyss, to the Dark World of anguish, to the dark God Lucifer . . .”

Every one of us has this original crack in our head.  Every one of us has been excited by the aromas and intoxicated by the fumes that seep through it.  But not all of us are so persistent in our wickedness that we widen the crack into a shaft we can fall through.  Not all of us in the end plunge into the abyss of the Dark World and its dark God Lucifer, to which and whom those who do plunge do by then most certainly belong.

* * * * *

Böhme tells us that our ultimate fate is decided by the content of our imagination.  When we sniff those exciting aromas and intoxicating fumes that seep up from the Dark World, we imagine the source of those aromas and fumes.  When we savor these aromas and fumes, we sin and widen the crack.  Our sins are in fact images of the delights that we imagine lie at the bottom the crack, in the abyss of the Dark World.  We widen the crack with the chisel and crowbar of sin because we long to join ourselves with what we imagine lies down below.  As Böhme explains:

“To whatever his will constantly drives him, in that kingdom does he stand; and he is not a man as he accounts himself and pretends to be, but a creature of the Dark World.”

* * * * *

There is, at the same time, a second “crack” in our heads, and through this crack falls a beam of what Böhme calls “God’s light.”  Those who gaze with delight on this beam imagine the source of this light.  The acts of faith, hope and charity with which they widen this crack are again images of the delights that they imagine lie—and that do in fact lie—beyond this crack in the heaven of the Light World above.

If you hold your nose to the first crack and persistently imagine the source of those aromas and fumes, that crack will widen and you will at last fall through it.  The Dark World that you so long “saw in a glass darkly,” you will then see face to face.  If you keep your eye on the second crack and persistently imagine the source of that light, that crack will widen and you will at last rise through it.  The Light World that you so long “saw in a glass darkly,” you will then see face to face.

Thus Böhme admonishes us:

“He should by imagination continually go out again into the light-world for which he was created, in order that the light may give him luster, that he may know himself and see the outer Mystery.”

* * * * *

If you are cheered by the thought that your dreams will come true, you are probably not honest about your dreams.  Each of us does become the image of the contents of our imagination. As Böhme says, “for what life imaginates after, that it receives.”  So each of us will become the dark image of our dark dreams if we persist in creeping like an animal with its nose to the ground, sniffing, snuffling and scratching at that crack in the floor.

This is how we give our soul to the abyss of the Dark World and become a creature of that World.

We will on the other hand become an image of God’s light if we keep our eye on the beam of light that streams in through the upper crack.  To keep our eye on that light, we must first see that light, and to see that light we must take our nose out of the lower crack.

For our imagination to catch the beam of light that streams through the upper crack, Böhme tells us our imagination must be clean.  He offers the image of sunlight dancing on pure and radiant water.  A dirty imagination does not catch God’s light and has no more radiance than a pool of black mud.

 “Now if water be mixed with earth, it no longer catches the sun’s light; so likewise the human spirit or soul catches not God’s light, unless it remain pure and set its desire upon that which is pure . . . for what life imaginates after, that it receives . . . . All that imaginates after the dark world’s essence and property, that receives the dark world’s property, and loses the mirror of God . . . . like as one mixes water with earth and then the sun cannot shine therein.”

* * * * *

Imagine that your head is twilit cave.  In the floor of this cave there is a crack that connects to the deeper Dark World where light has never been.  This crack emits puffs of incense-like smoke that intoxicates the mind with dark dreams and dark desires.  In the roof of this cave there is a second crack that connects to the upper world of sunlight and fresh air that Böhme calls the Light World.  This crack admits a beam of light.  The degree of twilight in this cave will depend on the sizes you have by persistent chiseling and prying given to the two cracks in your head.  It will also depend on the substance you have prepared to receive the beam of light.  If that substance is black slime, the twilight in your head will be very deep and the intoxication of the smoke extremely profound.  If it is a pool of clear water, your head will glow with reflected light, your eye will be lifted to the upper crack, and your imagination will be filled with images of the upper world where there is sunlight and fresh air.

5 thoughts on “Two Cracks in a Twilit Cave

  1. This is very much the Screwtapian version of the illusion that the dark forces try to conjure, and a very good pickup on your part to choose a different metaphor to expand the same thing. “An ever increasing craving for an ever diminishing pleasure is the formula. It is more certain; and it’s better style. To get the man’s soul and give him nothing in return—that is what really gladdens our Father’s heart.” The aroma suggests to our imagination what must be a fabulous (newer meaning) origin. We therefore believe in its probable goodness, as we believe our older sibling talking us into tasting a spoonful of wonderful-smelling vanilla extract. Or Gollum believing there must be great secrets under the mountains. The tricks of appearance we use to convince another we are worth the romance, The hints of the occultist that great mysteries are just waiting to be explored. But in the end, scraps, if anything. It is the diabolic style, as they have only stolen and finite resources to give in return, and so must conserve them ruthlessly.

    • The old formulas chose their words carefully when they spoke of the Devil’s “empty promises.” To the “school of hard knocks” we should add the school of mirage-delights.

  2. This is poetry and like all real poetry goes much more deeply than mere prose. You say, “Böhme tells us that our ultimate fate is decided by the content of our imagination.” This is probably the key to the whole spiritual life but is something generally ignored by the churches. Even more than moral behaviour the success or failure of the spiritual path is determined by imagination which is not to say that right morals aren’t essential but it’s the imagination that points the soul to God and the higher life. Or doesn’t.

    • Thanks, William. I think the causal arrow mostly runs from morality to imagination, although a corrupted imagination will feed back and further corrupt morals. This is one reason I think we should not place so much emphasis on the social utility of morality. I think it was St. Augustine who said that sin darkens the reason, which is true so long as we understand that reason was for him much broader than it is for us.

  3. Pingback: Sunday Morning Coffee 05/15/2022 – A Mari Usque Ad Mare


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