pessoa on the language of spiritual masters


I’ve always felt an almost physical loathing for secret things — intrigues, diplomacy, secret societies, occult sciences. What especially irks me are these last two things — the pretension certain men have that, through their understandings with Gods or Masters or Demiurges, they and they alone know the great secrets on which the world is founded.

I can’t believe their claims, though I can believe that someone else might. But is there any reason why all these people might not be crazy or deluded? The fact there are a lot of them proves nothing, for there are collective hallucinations.

What really shocks me is how these wizards and masters of the invisible, when they write to communicate or intimate their mysteries, all write abominably. It offends my intelligence that a man can master the Devil without being able to master the Portuguese language. Why should dealing with demons be easier than dealing with grammar? If through long exercises of concentration and will power one can have so-called astral visions, why can’t the same person — applying considerably less concentration and willpower — have a vision of syntax? What is there in the teachings and rituals of the Magic Arts that prevents their adherents from writing — I won’t say with clarity, since obscurity may be part of the occult law — but at least with elegance and fluency, which can exist in the sphere of the abstruse? Why should all the soul’s energy be spent studying the language of the Gods, without a pittance left over to study the colour and rhythm of the language of men?

I don’t trust masters who can’t be down-to-earth. For me they’re like those eccentric poets who can’t write like everybody else. I accept that they’re eccentric, but I’d like them to show me that it’s because they’re superior to the norm rather than incapable of it.

There are supposedly great mathematicians who make errors in simple addition, but what I’m talking about here is ignorance, not error. I accept that a great matematician can add two and two and get five: it can happen to anyone in a moment of distraction. What I don’t accept is that he not know what addition is or how it’s done. And this is the case of the overwhelming majority of occult masters.

Fernando Pessoa, The Book of Disquiet (section 256). I remember typing (parts of) this section before, posting it on waldorf critics. Don’t think I ever posted these passages on this blog though. In section 258 he goes on to say that to ‘have touched the feet of Christ is no excuse for mistakes in punctuation.’


10 thoughts on “pessoa on the language of spiritual masters

  1. Amazed you posted this … as you know, I am out of town dealing with chaotic family affairs … this was the book I chose to bring along :)

    Pessoa is a wonderful antidote to Rudolf Steiner, for anyone needing a serious palate cleanser after reading too much Steiner. Pessoa wasn’t unspiritual himself, by any means, but he’s quite edifying if you’ve gotten bogged down in spiritual pretension and faux-grand spiritual theorizing (e.g., Rudolf Steiner).

  2. No, definitely not unspiritual, I’d say he’s one of the most spiritual people I’ve read.

    This book is an eminent choice in chaotic situations. It really is. Not just as far as content goes, but it can be reat in a chaotic manner. Open any page, if it’s not the right stuff at that moment, try another page, another section. Perfect!

  3. Oh, I can’t write like Pessoa (much less like Pessoa in Portuguese, naturally); he’s a pure genius.

    Look at how I spell ‘read’: ‘reat’.

  4. But, you do have a gift for the fluent unfolding of an argument and a nice line in wry humour and teasing. You often create beautiful descriptions of what you experience in nature and express very affectingly your feelings about yourself and things that are important to you. Don’t underestimate your own gifts Alicia.. I have never come across Pessoa before but I will now seek out his work

  5. Thank you, falk!

    Yes — read Pessoa! He’s so worth it! The English translation by Richard Zenith is very good (not that I can compare with the original, but it’s known for being brilliant). The Book of Disquiet is the one I’d recommend (he also wrote other texts, and poetry). It’s available in Penguin paperback. I think there are other translations as well — but I’d go for Zenith’s because I love it!

  6. There’s a Pessoa quote to the right —————>

    And here’s another one I have on my fb profile:

    “Let’s act like sphinxes, however falsely, until we reach the point of no longer knowing who we are. For we are, in fact, false sphinxes, with no idea of what we are in reality. The only way to be in agreement with life is to disagree with ourselves. Absurdity is divine.” (Pessoa, The Book of Disquiet)

  7. You’re quite right about Pessoa, Alicia. I brought it on this trip for just those reasons: everything about my trip is disquieting (I am cleaning out and selling the home I grew up in) and The Book of Disquiet can indeed be read by opening it at random and following along for a few pages more or less by whim.

    I hate to say so, but the page I opened to late last night was Pessoa’s argument for the existence of God …

    I read that passage about the false sphinxes the other day (“false sphinx” is such a great phrase), and I immediately thought, “‘False sphinxes’ sounds like a post on Alicia’s blog …” If I were an anthroposophist, I would probably conclude that I am clairvoyant, but I must have been remembering seeing the quote on your facebook page.

  8. Maybe I have posted it on the blog too, I just don’t remember if I did.

    My parents sold their house last fall and we spent a long time packing, cleaning, and shoveling snow. There was so much snow. Insane amounts of snow. And on the day of the move we needed to make sure the movers could get the stuff out of the house. The snow piles around the enterences were 2 meters high. (The day before the move, though, the weather changed — it all started to melt. Oh dear.) Anyway. I didn’t grow up there, not only there; we moved there when I was 7. (The waldorf school was not far away. What stupidity.) I moved away when I was 18. We have a packing related chicken ‘crisis’ six months after the move: — I remember seeing the chickens, and I wish I was clairvoyant enough to find them now… ;-) It’s not disquieting — more humourous actually — though the packing/moving experience probably was more disquieting than I thought at the time. As I wrote to you in an email (I think it was an email, and not on the blog…), I keep having bizarre dreams about packing and moving. And I didn’t have the responsibility you have now; I was just there to help.

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