THE ROSICRUCIAN EMBLEMS OF DANIEL CRAMER: THE TRUE SOCIETY OF JESUS AND THE ROSY CROSS
By way of a commentary to this book, I would like to outline one particular interpretation or way of working with these emblems, which I believe will help to throw some light on their significance as a symbolic system illustrating a process of spiritual development. This commentary, however, is not intended as a complete statement of the content of these emblems, but should be seen as only one interpretation, one facet of approach to this series. As with other systems of Hermetic symbols, the Cramer Emblems are multi-dimensional, they allow many different ways of working with their symbols. Indeed, it was part of the training of the Hermetic student to work, in inner imaginative meditations, through various patterns of interpretation. The essence of the symbolist tradition in Hermeticism lay in the fact that it conveyed its message on many different levels, and communicated above the one dimensional world of the intellectual, analytical facet of consciousness.
With the proviso that the interpretation outlined here is merely one way of working with these emblems, I suggest that we begin by analytically breaking down the whole series into parts, then synthesizing these parts into a whole.
We note that the series breaks down naturally into twenty paired emblems that reflect and complement each other, both through their pictorial elements and also the meaning assigned to them. Two obvious examples are Emblem 18 (I am nothing) and Emblem 19 (I outweigh) in which we see a polarity. Most of the pairings are, likewise, quite obvious and straightforward, but a few are more subtle, such as Emblem 31 (He who is thirsty will drink) and Emblem 34 (Neither on this side nor on the other). Here the underlying element is the balancing of forces. In 31 we see the human figure drinking in the spiritual nourishment which he then gives out through his heart, and achieves a balance between the receiving and the giving of spiritual forces. The balancing element of 34 is more obvious pictorially. The complete set of these pairings of the Emblems is as follows:
Meditation on these pairs will give rise to an awareness of the essential polarities in these symbols.
Next, after this analysis, we have to unite these pairs together into larger units, and ultimately into a totality. We find that they form quaternities united by a common element, either by an obvious pictorial aspect or by a more inner connection, which involves the meaning of these emblems. When these are followed in a particular order we find that there is outlined a process of inner spiritual development through a series of ten stages. The heart of man undergoes, through this process of inner development, a series of experiences that are pictured in these ten stages. The 'heart' here refers to the indwelling spiritual self of Mankind, the spiritual core, which finds its inner home in Man's soul being, in the heart-center, the central chakra of the soul.
The readers should follow this interpretation in the same manner as did the Hermetic students of earlier times, by working these symbols into their inner imaginative world through meditative exercises so that they can easily call them up before their inward eye.
The first stage is the awareness that the heart or spiritual self must have of the EARTHLY SNARES, of its being bound to the limitations of the worldly realm. This we find pictured in the four emblems of this stage -- 27 (I endure mockery) and 36 (O Vanity!); 32 (Dirt: Filth) and 39 (Death is a gain). Here the uniting concept is conveyed in the meaning of the symbols rather than in a direct pictorial manner. In this first stage, the heart of humanity is bound and limited, but will become conscious of these limitations.
In the second stage, the stage of ASPIRATION, the heart seeks to escape the limitations of the worldly realm. We see this expressed in Emblem 3 (I seek the heights) and Emblem 37 (I must leave), both of which show the heart flying and seeking a new realm. The other two emblems of this quaternity are 40 (Thus am I nourished), which shows the heart being nourished on the body of Christ (including the Christ heart) which bears the five wounds, and Emblem 38 (I sigh) indicates the soul of mankind being inspired to climb towards the cross shown within a heart-shaped radiance.
Then follows the INWARD DEVELOPMENT stage described by the quaternity of emblems -- 6 (I am illuminated) and 15 (I meditate); 1 (I am softened) and 23 (I am predestined). These describe inner experiences of the heart as the spiritual self of man sets out on the quest for his spiritual source. In Emblem 6, the eye in the heart signifies that the seeker has achieved a consciousness of the heart center, an illumination. He meditates, and we see in Emblem 15 the heart lying upon the altar of the self between an hourglass and a book, meditation requiring both time and a content, a substance for the meditation. In Emblem 1, the hand of the spirit beats the heart with a hammer and softens it, making it inwardly responsive to the illumination of the spirit, and in 23 the hand of the spirit inscribes the name of Jesus upon the heart of Man. We note that in all four of these emblems the heart rests upon a solid object: a book, altar, or anvil.
The being of Man having now made some development, a certain solidity or INNER FOUNDATION is established during the next stage. The pair of emblems 9 (I am freed) and 16 (I am redeemed) both show the heart being freed by the hand of the spirit from entanglement in the earthly realm. The other pair in this quaternity, Emblem 7 (I am constant) and Emblem 28 (I am faithful), have a fourfold solidity in their pictorial form. The heart-center here has achieved an inner foundation.
Then follows the stage of the WARMING of the heart-center through the pair 24, (I am tried in the fire) and 33 (To suffer is to learn), both showing the heart being placed in a furnace. Emblems 4 (I love) and 8 (I breathe) both reveal the hand of the spirit dropping a balm or incense upon the heart, which is placed over a fire. The inner warmth of the spirit is woven into the heart-center from without. This marks the fifth stage of the whole process, and this engendering of inner warmth brings to a close its first half.
The second half of the process opens with the sixth stage, that of the BALANCING OF OPPOSITES. The heart has so far experienced various polarities and now must bring these together as it achieves more awareness of its spiritual foundation. Thus the pair of emblems, 31 (He who is thirsty will drink) and 34 (Neither to one side nor to the other), incorporate this balancing as described earlier (note also that in Emblem 31 the stream of spirit flowing from the heart nourishes a rose, a further Rosicrucian reference). The other pair in this quaternity, Emblem 12 (I am healed) and Emblem 25 (I am cooled), also picture this balancing of polarities. In 12 we see the heart both wounded by the sword and healed by the balm from the hand of the spirit (and perhaps this illustration has some connection with Rosicrucian writer Robert Fludd's idea of the weapon salve). Similarly, in Emblem 25 the hand of the spirit pours a cooling libation on the heart which is being heated on a fire.
During the next stage of the process which we may call the GROWTH-DEVELOPMENT, we find in Emblems 21 (increase) and 22 (I am not wounded) the heart lying in a nest of dead thorns; but new growth is sprouting through the heart. In 18 (I am nothing) the heart is overcome by the weight of the law of Moses, but in 19 (I outweigh), with the cross and chalice of the blood of Christ, it outweighs the old law. Inner development and growth can then occur.
The SHIELDING-PROTECTIVE stage follows in which the heart must be shielded from the external forces in order that its inner essence may unfold: thus 5 (I am shielded) and 26 (I am protected). The other pair shows the heart endangered by the storm and the watery element; thus in Emblem 13 (I am endangered), and in Emblem 20 (I build myself up) the heart has built itself up above the waves on a pillar, secure and safe from the storm.
In the CRUCIFIXION stage following, we see in Emblem 17 (I become sweet) the sweetening aspect of the Cross, with the bees making honey. In Emblem 35 (The simple wisdom) the Cross serves to array various symbols of the simple wisdom of the spirit. The heart consciousness on the one side is balanced with the head consciousness on the other limb of the Cross, represented by the eye. The Dove of peace within the soul balances the serpent rising from below. The other pair in this quaternity, Emblem 14 (I am crucified) and 21 (I am absolved), reflect two well-known aspects of this stage. The spiritual heart of Man undergoes at this stage of spiritual development an inner crucifixion.
The RESURRECTION or RENEWAL stage shows in Emblems 10 (I come alive again) and 11 (I live) the restoration to new life, the dead skull rising as the winged living heart. Emblems 29 (I fear Hell) and 30 (I hope for renewal) show two birds perching upon the heart, the Vulture of the infernal realm and the Dove of spiritual peace, which holds within its beak the new sprouting branch, and the allegory of Noah's flood is indicated by the appearance of the Ark upon a hill in the background.
We find in this series of emblems an integrated process of spiritual development taking place through ten stages, and we can also see that the process as outlined here has many parallels with the Alchemical process of inner development, and also with symbols familiar in Western mysticism. The interpretation outlined here represents only one way of working with these symbols and the reader will recognize connections between the emblems other than those focused on here. A series such as this is capable of many levels of interpretation, and Hermetic students once worked to explore their inner world through meditative exercises based on emblems such as these. This series of emblems, in common with others produced during the early 17th century, are really maps of the inner world -- tools for exploring the psyche -- and as such they are subtle tools with many edges and facets, capable of multiple levels of interpretation.
I hope that in putting this work into circulation again, people will be encouraged to work through into an inner awareness of the content of these symbols. They speak so directly to us, even some four centuries after they were created, that one feels convinced that the authors here touched upon an archetypal level, an eternal reality in the human soul, that makes their symbolism resonate and resound in our souls today. A work as profound and as simple as this can never die, but must always be a vital source of inspiration.