The plurality and duality of civilizations
from Julius Evola, The Hermetic Tradition (Chapter 1)

 

Recently, in contrast to the notion of progress and the idea that history has been represented as the more or less continuous upward evolution of collective humanity, the idea of a plurality of the forms of civilization and of a relative incommunicability between them has been confirmed. According to this second and new vision of history, civilization breaks down into epochs and disconnected cycles. At a given moment and within a given race a specific conception of the world and of life is affirmed from which follows a specific system of truths, principles, understandings, and realizations. A civilizations springs up, gradually reches a culminating point, and then falls into darkness and, more often than not, disappears. A cycle has ended. Perhaps another will rise again some day, somewhere else. Perhaps it may even tale up the concerns of preceding civilizations, but any connection between them will be strictly analogical. The transition from on cycle of civilization to another – one completely alien to the other – implies a jump, which in mathematics is called a discontinuity.[1]

Although this view is a healthy reaction to the superstition of history as progress – which came into fashion more or less at the same time as materialism and western scientism [2] – nevertheless, we should be cautious, for in addition to a plurality of civilizations we have to recognize a duality – especially when we limit ourselves to those times and the central structures that we can embrace with some measure of certainty.

Modern civilization stands on one side and on the other the entirety of all the civilizations that have preceded it (for the West, we can put the dividing line at the end of the middle-ages). At this point the rupture is complete. Apart from the multitudinous variety of its forms, pre-modern civilisation, which we may as well call “traditional”[3], mean something quite different. For there are two worlds, one of which has separated itself by cutting of nearly every contact with the past period. For the great majority of the moderns, that means any possibility of understanding the traditional world has completely lost.

This premise is indispensable for the examination of our subject. The hermetico-alchemical tradition forms part of the cycle of pre-modern “traditional” civilization and in order to understand its spirit we need to translate it inwardly from one world into the other. Who undertakes this study without having acquired the ability to rise above the modern mind-set or who has not awakened to a new sensitivity that can place itself in contact with the general spiritual stream that gave life to the tradition in the first place, will succed only in filling his head with words, symbols, and fantastic allegories. Moreover, it is not just a question of intellectual understanding. We have to bear in mind that ancient men not only had a different way of thinking and feeling, but also a different way of perceiving and knowing. The heart of the matter that will concern us is to re-evoke, by means of an actual transformation of the consciousness, this older basis of understanding and action.

Only then will the unexpected light of certain expressions dawn on us and certain symbols be empowered to awaken our interior perception. Only then will we be conducted through them to new heights of human realization and to the understanding that will it possible for designated “rites” to confer “magical” and operant power, and for the creation of a new “science” that bears no resemblance to anything that goes by that name today.

 

Notes

[1] The best known exponent of this concept is O. Spengler (The Decline of the West). Since de Gobineau this theory has had futher developments in connection with the doctrin of race.

[2] In fact, the extraordinary idea of a continuous evolution could have been born of an exclusive contepmplation of the material and technical aspect of civilizations, completely overlooking their qualitative and spiritual elements.

[3] The source for the precise concept of “traditional civilization”, as opposed to “modern” in Rene Guenon’s The Crisis of the Modern World (London 1942).

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