A DIFFERENT DA VINCI CODE:
THE MISSING PIECES OF LEONARDO'S PUZZLE POINT TO PLAIN AND SIMPLE HERMETICISM
"A Conversation with Professor Nemo”
The intellectual influence of Renaissance Hermeticism on art, rather than a depiction of Mary Magdalene at the Last Supper, is the basis for A Different da Vinci Code.
This is an alternative explanation of Leonardo's symbolism, which proposes the typical use of transgender figures in various artworks of the period as a veiled reference to the alchemical androgyne (cf. Sophia/Baphomet), representing the keenly anticipated rebirth of classical knowledge and culture. Similarly, Leonardo's use of the up-pointed finger of Mercury/Hermes, also referred to as the John Gesture, is proposed to denote the universal Hermetic motto, “As above; so below.”
Finally, it is proposed that the manner in which this symbolism is used in the artist's works also supports by illustration the contention that Leonardo may have, at some point in his life, championed the Johannite cult of Gnosticism, frequently associated with the Knights Templar, rather than the Cathar cult of Mary Magdalene as alleged by others.
Chi disputa allegando l'autorità, non adopra
l'ingegno, ma piuttosto la memoria.
~Leonardo da Vinci
(Whoever refers to authorities in disputing ideas, works with his memory rather than with his reason.)
Q: Why did Leonardo da Vinci depict the Apostle John in his The Last Supper as feminine? Is Dan Brown right in suggesting in The Da Vinci Code that it represents a wifely Mary Magdalene? And why do we see so many of Leonardo's art figures pointing up?
A: The figure that Leonardo da Vinci depicts in his Last Supper is neither solely John the Apostle nor solely Mary Magdalene, but a typical androgyne representation of a mysterious character revered for eons and fully conceptualized long before Mary Magdalene ever drew breath… We simply need to take a closer look at the same secret Hermetic/Gnostic traditions that have gotten so much attention recently from this very controversy. Of these two related traditions, Hermeticism is particularly ignored or only poorly understood today although it pervades our culture through and through. It can, however, quickly and easily explain Leonardo's substitution.
Q: Why would Leonardo want to substitute a totally different character?
A: Many in the Renaissance movement loved science, sought knowledge and were repelled by the corrupt, luxurious, ignorant and highly inquisitorial churchmen of their day. The Hermeticist dreams nostalgically of a mythic golden age of peace, wisdom and technological wonders in a lost ancient past. It might be called Atlantis, Lemuria, Shamballa, or just the Golden Age. The movement has always been shrouded in secrecy and has used coded symbols when necessary to protest against hostile powers-that-be.
Q: But didn't working for the Church represent Leonardo's livelihood and pay his bills?
A: Yes, but like other great artists, Leonardo worked at servant status, often for a wealthy patron, and he had to put up with plenty of b.s. from a religious overseer that he did not respect and delighted in bearding with hidden jabs.
Q: How did he do that without being found out?
A: He used code in his art that only like-minded Hermeticists would recognize, and he's gotten away with it for centuries! That same feminine angel so sharply counterpoised in a V shape as if in protest against the figure of Jesus in The Last Supper can be seen elsewhere as well. Look carefully, for example, at St. Anne in Leonardo's sketch (cartoon) for St. Anne with the Virgin and
Child and the Infant St. John. (Very few reproductions do it justice)… She has a startling wide-eyed face, and a very knowing, almost, wicked smile. It's hardly surprising that this sketch is among the designs that were never completed…. It is his best, most detailed, and least "restored" representation of the inner nature of the Hermetic Angel, and it would be truly astounding in oils or if skillfully digitized… Contrast St. Anne's face with the profound innocence depicted in the same sketch on the face of her daughter, the Virgin Mary… St. Anne also resembles
Leonardo's own facial proportions, foreshortened since she is facing down, with a more projecting (masculinized) brow and forehead, a wider chin and deep set almond eyes…more stunningly handsome than conventionally pretty… and, oh yes…like certain other figures in Renaissance art, and most particularly those of Leonardo, St. Anne points upwards!…and most provocatively at that!
A: As with Leonardo's John the Baptist, another figure sometimes blurred into the Hermetic Angel…and check out The Last Supper itself…pointing upward is code for the great and universal Hermetic motto: " As above, so below"… Raphael has the whole phrase depicted in the very center of his The School of Athens where Plato (painted with Leonardo’s face) points up while
Aristotle gestures down. This has always been explained as a philosophical statement contrasting their viewpoints…but it's also a really neat way to emblazon the Hermetic motto on a Vatican wall!…and with the correct attribution as well! As you will see, the “either or” plausible deniability tells the whole story of this secret code.
Q: Is there any proof that links these Renaissance figures pointing upward with the Hermetic tradition?
A: Just take a look at Giovanni da Bologna's bronze of the Roman god Mercury … If you don't have an art history handy you might remember seeing him as a table decoration in your favorite Italian restaurant…or as the trademark of a popular florist network.
He holds the caduceus, that mysterious serpent (or serpents) on a stick that has always represented healing. Moses made one and healed with it … Don't look at me that way… it's in Numbers. 21: 8-9… Now tell me, what do you notice about the statue?
Q: He's pointing to the sky. But what's so special about the Roman god Mercury?
A: Mercury to the Romans was the same god as Hermes in the older Greek mythology. This figure is often depicted pointing up (cf. Botticelli's Primavera). With so much evidence at hand, perhaps you would agree that what is frequently referred to as the "John gesture" is in fact the Hermes gesture!…Hermeticism is a vast topic and can't be summarized in just a few words, but its effects on world culture from early times until today are well documented and deserve more attention than they get. One practical outcome is the modern science of chemistry following the work of generations of alchemists. Culturally, they enriched several languages with Arabic word-forms such as alkali, alcohol, and even alchemy itself. Their distinctive red, white, and blue color scheme symbolized stages in the death and rebirth mystery that they read into the "chemical marriage" of various elements such as mercury and sulfur into a succession of compounds with predictable colors.
Q: Chemistry…okay, but how do we get into da Vinci's art?
A: During the darkest part of the medieval period, Arab scholars were preserving and elaborating upon ancient classical texts of all kinds. Science reentered Christendom as philosophia… literally, the love of wisdom, and as you can see from the chemistry example, it was very different from the mechanistic science of today. From the Middle Ages until the French Revolution, all who dabbled in science dabbled perforce in Hermetic mysticism as well. Hence, it is easy to include the great early scientists among the brotherhood, regardless of their true beliefs. Hermeticism as an intellectual movement hit the Renaissance early on and like a ton of bricks.
In poetic terms, I suppose Hermes was the angel of the rebirth of classicism and the dawn of science. However, this updated Hermes was an enhanced version of the familiar messenger of the gods… He had morphed into the occult superstar, Hermes Trismegistus (or the thrice greatest, since he knew the magic of numbers…of the stars…and of medicine). He was a fusion of the old Greek Hermes with his ancient Egyptian counterpart Toth. He had also gained an adversarial relationship with the God of the Bible through the influence of Gnosticism, an early Christian heresy with-guess what?...“secret knowledge”…and his cult had absorbed the mysticism and numerology of the Jewish Kabbalah.
Among Renaissance occultists, Hermes Trismegistus was believed to have been a contemporary of Moses….So you see, Hermes 3 was truly a god for all seasons, and now in the Christian era, his relationship with Jehovah resembled that of the Titan Prometheus with the Olympian Zeus… You will recall that Prometheus stole fire from Zeus to give to man… Melville's Captain Ahab is an archetypal Hermetic protagonist with significant Zoroastrian symbolism cleverly woven throughout the story. Ahab, named for a wicked and idolatrous king of Israel, is consumed with resentment for the unstoppable majesty of his lofty adversary, Moby Dick, the great white whale…. and Melville knew exactly what he was trying to say…. You heard some of Ahab's shrillest lines in Star Trek: The Wrath of Kahn.
Q: Literary appreciation? Let's move on. But I did see Prometheus at Rockefeller Center when I visited New York City last year.
A: Yes… That's Prometheus at the famous landmark skating rink. How appropriate for the Fire Bringer to sprawl before the mighty RCA Building, a beacon of the dawn of electronic communications technology. There would be no modern technology without the gift of fire that enabled our ancestors to smelt metals. To Hermeticists, fire can represent "enlightenment" of all kinds, including Sophia, that all-encompassing Greek personification of knowledge and wisdom. Hermetic-style benefactors are always very clever and knowledgeable. Moderns would probably count them as humanists who proffer illumination and technological benefits in order to gain influence… During the Italian Renaissance, men like Leonardo da Vinci sensed in their bones that narrow-minded medievalism could not compare with the ages that left those lovely Roman ruins. Such men yearned to emulate their own revered pagan ancestral tradition, and Hermeticism has always represented, as it does to this day, the enduring embodiment of man's primordial religious impulse with its quest for power over nature and self through mystic rites, secret knowledge, and magic.
Q: Professor Nemo seems to be getting back on track. Is there more?
A: Indeed… The Renaissance fell in love with ancient pagan culture in its quest for knowledge, and that, my friend, was a big no-no!… Hermeticists amongst the arty crowd took out their peevishness by sneaking messages even into religious art through symbols and figures that were stalking horses for their hero. But don't look for this in their writings or discourses…it would have been playing with fire, literally…inviting an appointment to be burnt alive at the stake. That's exactly what happened to the scientist, philosopher and slightly careless Hermetic luminary, Giordano Bruno.
Q: But why the substitution of feminine figures for characters who were clearly understood to be men?
A: Hermes is more than just a hero, he is immortal, angelic in nature and distinctly gender-bending; as is his son Hermaphroditus, whose dual nature may have blended back as an additional halo effect that might appeal to the artistic imagination. Angels are often depicted as beautiful women; among these, let's not leave out the divinely feminine Sophia, Hermes' Gnostic alter ego. Hermes is also the cosmic jokester, the Till Eulenspeigel of the gods, full of tricks and hoaxes. So Hermes can quite appropriately appear as an almost male John the Baptist, the subject of an important branch of the cult, pointing upward, as I mentioned, in Leonardo’s representation, and
looking like dead ringer for Leonardo's androgyne Angel in the Flesh (who, you might notice, is pointing up as well). Hermes might also appear as a more or less feminine archangel which was pretty safe to portray, or as any other man or woman such as St. Anne, or as the stealth intrusion of a feminized Hermes in place of John the Apostle, seated most importantly at the right hand of Jesus in The Last Supper, and lunging away so very pointedly and uncharacteristically of John… like a similarly charged object in an electric field! And by the way that whole painting is an electric field!...and a mine field of messages…Among these, the feminization of John in itself plus his body language provide the
clue that another Hermeticist would quickly spot and understand. If any doubt remains, there is an in your face hand pointing up like a Hermetic signpost on the other side of Jesus… Can you also see an extremely awkward sign of the conflict between the Hermetic Angel and the Church, represented, of course, by St. Peter?…And to think that legions of art teachers have extolled the "perfect" design of arguably the most hacked up true masterpiece ever created… Ah, the genius of Leonardo!…And while we're on the gender thing, let's also check out Donatello's bronze David. It's simply a much more feminine form of the same speedy delivery
florist guy (Mercury/Hermes) we just saw. And remember, there is not the slightest need for transparency or consistency in any of this because it's all a big fat secret, and something of a sneering joke as well… Get it?
Q: Yes, I see where you've been trying to go. It's a case of I know something you don't know. Now clear up this motto business, "As above, so below." What does it mean?
A: Frankly… Professor Nemo doesn't have a clue. The motto is purposely cryptic of course…but I think it means whatever you want it to, and plenty of conventional definitions exist which you can easily find on your own. The Prof. is not a Hermeticist, but just reporting in a …you know…fair and balanced way.
Q: Aw, come on. Don't leave us here. What do you think it means?
A: Well… It certainly sounds like "Thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven" doesn't it? But then again it could mean…everything they have up there we should have down here as well…or perhaps it means with enough "enlightenment" we could make our own Heaven…. Come to think of it, that interpretation sounds a lot like John Lennon's Imagine… it's certainly an anthem for his personal vision of a purely man-made utopia.
Q: It sounds as if there are many Hermeticisms. Do they at least share a similar origin?
A: Hard to tell. Perhaps the various manifestations of the daring benefactor theme had their debut as the deification of some early hero, perhaps the legendary Nimrod, Noah's great grandson. According to plenty of tradition, Nimrod founded human civilization in the area that was to become Babylon. He might have been seen as the one who inspired those who built the tower of Babel, perhaps in the imagination of his day to storm the heavens.
Pagan cultures seem to turn all their old heroes into gods, then divide them into more gods and even recombine them into new gods. I think one day someone will discover that the root of Babylonian paganism influenced a truly amazing number of the world's prehistoric religions. That's why the sun god Bel, traceable all the way back to the Sumerian era, was also worshipped by the ancient Irish on May Day at the Beltane (Bel's fire). Similarly, there is no shortage of Hermes clones amongst the ancient mythologies…they pop up in the strangest places.
But you can't safely ask most historians how this happened, since they seem to detest blurry edges … By the way, the obelisk, which also points to the sky, is a symbol for Hermes which evolved from far less subtle phallic boundary stones called herms. He'd be pleased to see himself and his estimable prowess honored in so many truly grand locations!
Q: I'm still looking for a way to pull this together. Can you tie it up neatly?
A: As I mentioned before, these gods, who have been called by many names at different times and places, are all associated with fire or light, which typically has a metaphoric association with knowledge or illuminating wisdom, including all areas of science and technology which were magical arts. Like Sophia, the enlightening god of Gnosticism, Hermes is an androgyne…in fact, there is so much overlap between the two movements that we might as well consider them inseparable. Today, Gnosticism gets all the attention, but leaving out Hermeticism is like throwing away half of the puzzle pieces. One Hermes or another appears at various crossroads of ancient history, for example at the dawn of the high Egyptian Civilization. Much like the mysterious brain-boosting Black Slab in Stanley Kubrick's movie 2001, these figures always herald a new era of awareness and technological advancement.
They also seem to have a particular interest in intervening in the fortunes of men… Amongst such, we certainly must include the Angel of Light who morphed into the Serpent of Genesis. Moses is credited with writing Genesis…and as a prince of Egypt, he would have certainly been an adept of the Hermetic mystery schools of his day… The Serpent offered unauthorized knowledge to Eve, and the result may represent a biblical judgment on the Hermetic tradition as a whole… After all, knowledge often comes at a price. Adam and Eve appear to have found that out. Most people today would probably agree that we'd be better off knowing nothing of atomic bombs, or even those hollow snacks we eat out of cellophane wrappers.
Q: Wait a minute. Let's back up. Are you trying to tell me that Leonardo was a Devil worshipper?!
A: I have no reason to believe that he was. Being frustrated at religion's failings is not the same as rejecting God, although we all know people who have had bad experiences with religion and end up blaming God for the failings of man. Devil worshippers, such as some modern Satanists, admire evil. Hermeticists, on the other hand, revere a bringer of knowledge and try to discover hidden wisdom. They seek to prosper and make things generally better while perfecting themselves in the process by overcoming wickedness and ignorance. They often worship God as well, simply mixing in a bit of occultism with it and not seeing any contradiction.
Leonardo was clearly spiritual but kept his deepest thoughts to himself. He was also whimsical and could enjoy being mischievous. It's hard to tell when that kind of genius is just having fun!…Hermeticisms today are heirs to many ancient initiatic cults and mysteries, but are often so low-profile or diluted that you might live your whole life associating with one without understanding anything about its origins or secret doctrines… To traditional Christians, they might appear naively deceived, as were Adam and Eve. I'm forced to jump in and out of matters of faith here, but it's the patterns behind the whole story that I'm trying to get at in the most familiar terms at hand.
Q: How does the secret Templar cult get into all of this?
A: The historically well-known but shadowy Templar cult referenced in The Da Vinci Code appears to be Hermetic/Gnostic through and through, and in all its forms, whether old or freshly minted. It's another outfit with-here we go again-big secrets. However, the notion that these knights unearthed proof of Mary Magdalene's purportedly "holy blood" offspring founding the family that eventually became the long-haired Merovingian dynasty is quite a stretch… Yet, it's exactly what Gnostic proponents of the Magdalene cult throughout the last two thousand years would have done just about anything to be able to put across. It's also what the Da Vinci Code movement is really all about today.
This controversy itself has opened a fresh chapter in the movement. It should hence probably be called neo-Hermeticism or new millennium Gnosticism or something like that… Incidentally, it really boosts the notion that a fabulous world leader with amazing powers…perhaps a bit like Neo, the chosen one of The Matrix… might arise from the royal blood of Europe, claiming to be from Jesse through King David and Jesus…an impressive set of credentials to be sure! But wait a minute…might he not be another impostor like one of Leonardo's mercurial changelings? If the pattern holds, he would claim to be from the king producing Tribe of Judah, while more likely being descended from the irretrievably lost Tribe of Dan…if we take some hints from biblical clues, as do some prophetically-minded and literalist Christian opponents of the Mary Magdalene "holy" bloodline.
Q: You're beginning to lose me again. Can you throw me a rope here?
A: Sorry…too large and fuzzy a topic to squeeze in. However, it may have happened once before…as before, so again! Oh well… This is going to be a fast and wild ride…are you ready? The false apostle Judah Ish (man) Kerioth (from Kirjath Jearim) was apparently from the one town in Judah that the Tribe of Dan was permitted to camp behind on their way north to their new home at the top of Israel and subsequently out of the Promised Land altogether. It is tempting to speculate that Judas Iscariot may have represented a wild oat y-chromosome going back through Dan and sown there generations before. Samson is the great hero from the Tribe of Dan, which never forgot the magical power of unshorn hair or about Samson's Riddle of the Bees, even after they forgot about the God of their fathers. Jacob referred prophetically to his son Dan as a "serpent by the way".
Q: Is that as ominous as it sounds?
A: Possibly…but there's also a less obvious additional understanding of this term as a bringer of knowledge who is "wise as serpents"…in other words, a potential culture builder. Dan's progeny disappear even in Old Testament times, and just try to find a single Danite among the 144,000 person tribal restoration mentioned in the Book of Revelation. Some believe that the idolatrous, and seafaring Tribe of Dan, which blended into the Phoenicians and liked to name places after their illustrious forefather, gradually proceeded across the DarDANnelles to the DANube, proliferating and spreading along the ancient routes of Europe . Remember that before organized farming, the relatively sparse populations of Europe were largely scattered bands, often roaming about in search of food and subject to various depopulating hazards.
Merchants and traders must have had an edge, even with dangerous peoples. Think of the great explorers like Captain James Cook. The Danites would have been wealthy, sophisticated, and battle-hardened. They could have mingled with and eventually dominated other cultures, perhaps as the Normans did much later in Britain. Tantalizing snippets of history also seem to link the sons of Dan with the Spartans, who as warriors often did not cut their well coiffed hair or their beards and apparently claimed descent from Abraham. Danites are also reputed to have founded some royal dynasties in Europe and the British Isles …
Q: You're right about one thing-this is pretty fuzzy stuff. Are you going somewhere with all this?
A: Just waiting for you to ask!..Those who subscribe to the DaVinci Code premise may claim that the Merovingians, who did not cut their hair, etc., were holy Nazarites, i.e. strictly consecrated Jews, a hilariously Hermetic-style canard for these self-proclaimed sons of Odin who had to be coaxed toward monotheism…(Gnostic Nasoreans perhaps, definitely not Nazarites! But that's another matter…) Nevertheless, a quite respectable medieval scholarly tradition links Odin, or WoDAN, with important flesh and blood refugees from the region of Troy (as in Timeo DANaos et dona ferentes. I fear the Greeks [ i.e. the Danaen Spartans] even when they bring gifts).
These travelers from the east (from the region of Troy, which is now part of Turkey became the Aesir gods of Norse Mythology i.e. those from Asia. They included the fatherly warrior Odin, also known as the full-bearded World Wanderer, and another curious import as well, a charmingly familiar, shape-changing trickster, the fire god, Loki… So, were the Merovingian kings (one of the princes was even named Samson), simply into grunge or perhaps emulating, by long clouded tradition, the one great, if seriously flawed, cult hero of their irrepressible, culture-building forefathers, the hirsute Samson himself, a true Nazarite and a son O’Dan, whose representatives had been formidable and had come from the sea.
Q: So you're saying that we can actually see the process that turns a cult hero into a legend, and a legend into a god, and a god into a "holy dynasty" with divine rights?
A: Ah…that's for you to decide. Did cultural memories of the heroic Samson of the lost Hebrew Tribe of Dan inspire the Spartans of the Peloponnesus? Might Samson also have been memorialized as the mythic Dardanus of the Trojans…hence proceeding on to other glories, and ultimately to Valhalla?… As you can see, it's possible, if you favor this explanation, to think of the Trojan War as a Danite family feud!
What we know for sure is that the Hebrew and Greek alphabets certainly do match up beautifully, although historians do their best to make it sound insignificant…. Now there's a counterpoint to the DaVinci Code that's just about as radical...but please remember, the hypothetical Danite lineage for the Merovingian kings, which I've barely touched upon here, is only intended to offer one alternative to the even more tenuous Merovingian "holy blood" claim, somehow involving an amorous gill breather!…and to show how easy it is to weave a great story from very few facts.
Q: That is quite a story. Did you make the whole thing up or are the lost Danites simply a missing chapter of history?
A: Oh, they were very real, definitely went somewhere, and blended into the scenery like the kid book figure Waldo. Professor Nemo does find this theory particularly intriguing, however, because the presumptive Danite wanderings begin from the same Phoenician environs to be made so occultically famous by King Hiram of Tyre. These peregrinations and many of their details are certainly evocative of the Templar/Masonic allegories. This might also strengthen the argument that Gnosticism, like Hermeticism goes far into the pre-Christian past, and that it flourished in ancient Greece, that elegant melting pot of math and mysteries, where the spiritual traditions of Babylon, Persia, and Egypt were resifted and amalgamated in the white hot intellectual crucible of the classical era.
It is also in Greece and subsequently in Rome that we can sense the light and heat of a novel transmutation, a chemical marriage with desert monotheism, crystallizing over many centuries into the complex enlightenments of our modern world!… Professor Nemo tries his best to point out many things that others may not; after that, you're on your own. Remember, this is all about Hermeticism…so it should contain signs and symbols that are hidden in plain sight, suggest pathways for the mind beyond any that it reveals, and speak to such as have ears to hear… But enough! Let's leave the delightful realm of speculation and return to the totally historical Hermes cult of the Italian Renaissance!
Q: My head is spinning. I'm almost sorry I asked. I was happier at the beginning when I thought you were going to talk about those expensive handbags. Just tell me about the Big Secret. Did this cryptic Hermes crowd know anything that we don't?…and let's cut to the chase.
A: Science has far surpassed all the secret technologies, despite the stuff you hear on all-night radio. The Hermetic Tradition is obsolete in the sense of true knowledge or unknown wisdom, but it gave inquiry quite a boost. It still influences various religious groups and has greatly influenced world culture. Like many spiritualist movements, it often introduces itself with familiar philosophical platitudes enveloped in a froth of very grand and mystical verbiage. Hermetic cults have always told their initiates that there's a big secret awaiting them, but they keep the initiate toiling so long to be worthy that they never really have to deliver… You must remember, even when revered, Hermes can't help being a little tricky and perverse.
If the big secret, as I suspect, is that Hermetics are not exactly on board with traditional Judaic or Judeo-Christian beliefs…I think this has been no secret for quite some time… Nor is it any secret that Hermeticism has been able to attract many of the most brilliant minds…like that of Leonardo…minds that can think inductively, intuitively, creatively. Such minds have danced circles around their plodding adversaries throughout the past…and appear to be doing just fine today. It's so much easier to consign brilliant radical thinkers to the flames than to mount an intelligent response when you can't quite seem to connect the dots… But if you look a little closer at this present tidy plot, a child of six...as they say…can see that every element of the DaVinci Code premise has a profound Hermetic/Gnostic linkup, from coded Renaissance art to the Templar cult, to the Gnostic writings and the various legends they may have spawned. If we are observant, the hidden Hermes unmasks himself behind every episode, just like the furtive mastermind who appears as Doctor Miracle in Offenbach 's opera, The Tales of Hoffman.
Q: Does that make The DaVinci Code a bad story?
A: No!..It's great for the story, just questionable for the premise. When all elements in a belief arise out of the same stew, so to speak, we may suspect a certain conspiratorial circularity, perhaps with Hermes somewhere in the details!…The revelations that one generation of believers discovers may have been planted for them by their predecessors.
For example, early French Gnostics, feeling the way they did about traditional Christianity and venerating Mary Magdalene, might easily have claimed that her child, real or invented, was "special" and had been amongst them. This will always remain a matter of belief, since it is beyond proof either way. There is also a claim that Joseph of Arimathea brought the Holy Grail to the British Isles, only there it was a cup.
In fact, we have a surplus of grail contenders, although it's obvious that the French label is the one that stuck. There were also enough pieces of the True Cross for sale in the Middle Ages to rebuild Noah's Ark. There is even a current hypothesis that the famous Shroud of Turin was an early photography experiment by, and possibly even a self-portrait of… guess who?… our old friend Leonardo. Did we mention that he knew something about chemistry?…He studied light-sensitive compounds of silver….fascinating!
Q: Why do I get the feeling that Professor Nemo is not quite ready to join in the stampede?
A: Simply because at this distance the proof that a Mary Magdalene holy bloodline must turn upon can never be produced outside of direct testimony from Jesus, and is not even a part of the larger context. If the early Church did indeed downplay the well-evidenced importance of Mary Magdalene to the Christian movement… or even if it revised the Jewish cultural norm of Jesus possibly being a married person, this may well have been a desperate attempt to counter the pervasive Gnostic influences of its spiritual environment. If so, it's all part of that same turbid stew… To whatever extent the early Gnostics were thinking Hermetically, they would have been looking for alternate spiritual figures and incorporating them into their spiritual writings. Later, similarly minded Gnostic groups would have a ready-made "secret gospel truth" to show their recruits during the Renaissance.
There have been as many wildly differing ancient religious accounts as there were biases, and conspiracy theories raged in the past just as they do today. We tend to forget that ancient does not necessarily mean true, and that there is no view without point of view… The human hunger for spiritual power and fulfillment is truly boundless and has always provided a good livelihood for those inclined to take advantage of it.
That's precisely why we must never permit faith of any flavor to become a mask for ignorance. Choice is only that when we know exactly what we are choosing… Most importantly, the promise of "secret proof" in matters of faith is, logically speaking, an inanity and the stuff of hoaxes, since faith and proof are contradictory concepts. It would be like jumping into a swimming pool blindfolded, simply because someone tells you that it has been filled with water… But isn't that exactly what mystery cults are really all about?…You can also be quite sure that any secret text in France that promoted Gnosticism would have surfaced in the wake of the fierce anticlericalism of the French Revolution… The most compelling evidence we have at hand is that of Jesus' own sayings from all available sources. Nothing anywhere indicates a desire or anticipation of founding a hereditary dynasty, even though all accounts, including the Gnostic ones, were written well after Jesus' death….This is critical because the whole biblical tradition is based on the foretelling of all major events, and Jesus certainly referenced prior messianic prophecies continually.
Q: So, is that it?
A: It is for me. I've made sure to leave plenty of loose ends for you to check out on your own so you can see for yourself just how much this secret tradition has shaped your world. You will find reams of facts, endless opinions, bewildering hocus-pocus, crass commercialism, and a long word-list of newer occultisms that will truly make your head spin. The hard part is trying to figure out how much of anything you read is true so that you can make up your own mind. Try not to get lost, as many do, in attempting to make sense out of six odd millennia of complex mysticism. Like an onion, it's much the same thing, layer after layer…You may also wish to check out the works of other Renaissance age artists for similar "deep secrets"…so what if that problematic and highly exclusive Priory of Sion suddenly needs a larger place to meet!
You see… Leonardo had no need to be a Grand Master knight with a secret text in order to encode his message… He just needed to be a Renaissance Hermeticist…. In fact, looking at his work strongly indicates that Leonardo was pro-John the Baptist rather than a pro-Mary Magdalene. This Hermetic-style Gnostic cult, known as Johannites, to which Leonardo is rumored to have belonged and which is also closely linked to the Knights Templar, apparently goes all the way back to the Mandaeans of the Middle East, a group with "secret knowledge." Johannites believe that John (High King of Light ) got a raw deal, having been supplanted by Jesus, who also perverted his teachings. From this religious perspective, Hermes and John the Baptist may very easily become intermingled as mutual opponents of Jesus.
Q: Are you trying to say that we should look for signs of conflict between John the Baptist and Jesus portrayed in Leonardo's work?
A: Take another look at the sketch with St. Anne, recalling that psychologists have amply demonstrated that our minds tend to see what we permit them to see. Is the infant Jesus caressing the infant John under the chin while blessing him? Or is Jesus stiff-arming the young John the Baptist, while clutching the incredibly
powerful arm of the mysterious angel, the one with the huge hand pointing up? (Notice also that a female figure plus Hermes always becomes more male.) This type of paradox is the essence of Hermetic symbolism in Renaissance art; do we see this, or do we see that?… (Look carefully!)… Is Jesus piously blessing, or boldly seizing the reins of power? The artist had a robust sense of humor and so should we, as well as an awareness that visual ambiguity was never more cleverly manipulated than by the incomparable Leonardo da Vinci. In fact, he still can bamboozle to this day. If you think that rugged ol' John the Baptist at the high point of his career should look like the Angel in the Flesh, just because of some artsy Renaissance canon that Leonardo used to explain away his obsession for sneaking in an androgyne Hermes wherever possible, then congratulations, you've been hoodwinked by the best!
I can only hope this has been illuminating, a glimpse down some of history's dimmer corridors. As far as logically evaluating this all-for-one Hermetic explanation, it appeals to the principle of parsimony since it requires no seafaring deus ex machina or arcane missing pieces of evidence. It's simply obvious from what we have always known but have ignored, and what we have always looked at but refused to see. It's prospects, however, must be rated as commercially disappointing. I am, nevertheless, hoping for the day when Hermes can enjoy his own National Geographic Special. The Professor might just be watching too.
This text, while copyrighted is open to be quoted or reproduced in full other than for profit. It was first published on the Web at MENTAL KUDZU on 9/11/2005, and revised 9/27/2005. This edition is dated 11/7/05 and reprinted here on the date of post. Thanks for stopping by!
David M. White (aka Professor Nemo et al. and in keeping with the time honored tradition of Hermetic anonymity) is a retired educator and developer of commercial educational media materials. A graduate of New York University, he has an M.A. in Science Education, and has served as a faculty administrator at Allan Hancock College and Oregon Institute of Technology.
THE FOLLOWING COMMENTS ARE PART OF THIS ARTICLE:
Been checking out A Different da Vinci Code as background for a project. I think I see at least some of what Professor Nemo says is hidden in plain sight. He says to look for signs of Jesus-John conflict if DaVinci was actually a Johannite Gnostic. If so, DaVinci would have been promoting the cult of John the Baptist instead of pushing the Mary Magdalen connection as claimed in the DaVinci Code.
Well...baby Jesus seems to be giving baby John a familiar arm over arm gesture of disrespect but adapted amazingly to blend in with the design. I know that this gesture is well known in Italy, and like the familiar figa, represents the inserted penis. But here's the strange part. The closer I look, the more baby Jesus' outstretched arm actually looks like the penis it's supposed to represent by the gesture. Do you know if this arm over arm symbol has a name? Anyone else see what I see?
Kind of hard to miss once it’s pointed out - you're referring to a very popular gesture called the Italian arm salute or gesto dell'ombrello. Being so overstated, it probably goes back a long way in cultural history. The typical version has one arm extended with a fist, and the other over the elbow as if hanging an umbrella handle on it.
Variations include arm over wrist, and even over the shoulder to suggest the really big insult. It is frequently accompanied by a ubiquitous Italian epithet recently in the news, since it was uttered in church by Justice Antonin Scalia, referring to his honor's detractors.
The work of art by Leonardo da Vinci, which is featured in the article, is also known as the Burlington House Cartoon. It was drawn by Leonardo just after he completed the Last Supper and has long been considered puzzling and controversial by art historians. As we have all learned, it's hard to figure out the mind of Leonardo, and he did create various sketches that included sexual anatomy.
I tried to get some more feedback from Professor Nemo, but all he would add was..."As Leonardo might have said, 'Chi cerca trova' or seek and you shall find. Leonardo never stopped seeking and neither should we."
Way awesome MizH! After 500 years Mr. Leo gets the last say and last laugh from beyond…might be smiling right now and wondering how either side…money mad print mongers or pompous prelates, will ever manage to DECODE THIS!
Guess we can forget counting hands, plates, apostles, whatever…and being snotty about the artist's last name. Time to go beyond like MizHeloise does! Mr.Leo was trying to break out of a religious straightjacket and always getting his handlers mad at him. All he could do in this situation..Hello!…was to make the OBVIOUS say something ELSE at the SAME TIME! Gimme a break!…we're talking torture and torch'em Christianity here.
BTW anyone notice that the androgyne known as Baphomet/Sophia, and associated with the Templars is typically depicted by occultists as giving the full "John Gesture" with one arm up and one down ("As above, so below" according to Prof. Nemo).
WHY???...Denoting prophecy? Looking for Jesus? Empty Cross? Can't mean any of that here…guess again art experts!..or ask a Hermeticist to explain this totally occult gesture. And how could you all have missed it from the up-pointing Mercury/Hermes himself?
And then there's those "Holy Saints John of Jerusalem" so revered in Masonry. I dug a little and found that in the Johannite cult, John the Disciple, yes…the sleepy effeminate John of Renaissance art may represent the feminine aspect of a masculine John the Baptist with complementary achievement. For possibly gay and definitely X-RATED Leonardo, working in a city (Florence) synonymous with sodomy and enchanted with Hermeticism and Alchemy, these female-male aspects of John might come together most conveniently in the symbol of the androgyne Hermes/Sophia who actually may represent both Holy Saints John at Leonardo's Last Supper. Mr. Leo's very Bacchic John the Baptist (Angel in the Flesh with strategic obfuscation) seems to tell the same story…Hermetic Androgynes rule in Mr. Leo's world and may even have a thing or two to tell the guys down at the Lodge.
Many of us need to check out all the artwork again. Something religious is obviously going on here, and it isn't just "Saint Leonardo" preaching the Gospel with an Italian arm salute thrown in to make his hometown buddies smile.
Jennifer Emick of altreligion.net says:
The Bacchic JTB wasn't limited to just Leonardo, either, although art historians seem to go out of their way to impress upon us that it was a result of over-painting and not 'intent.' But I've seen one after another with the same attributes, including several renaissance-era versions with reclining, hermaphrodite Johns wrapped in Ivy. I can only guess at what the artists meant by them (JTB/Bacchus as spiritual tradition, and JTA as revelation?), but the Masonic Johns do make an interesting connection.
Durer, for example, throws hints about solar imagery in his paintings, with eclipses and solar calendar-crosses, which are another hint to the esoteric meaning of the Johns. Botticelli's paints 'truth' as a hermaphrodite, just like his "Venus."
In a sense, it's all very 'obvious,' but it will never be definitively settled in the public mind because everyone wants miracles, treasure, scandal. The best mysteries defy all attempts at rational or mechanical explanation, because they require a deeper understanding.
Lyla Torricelli says:
Here’s the essence of how all this Hermetic symbolism would work in Leonardo’s Adoration of the Magi:
The carob tree is a long established symbol representing John the Baptist. Behind it we see a palm, supposedly representing the Tree of Life. Guess what that makes the carob tree? What else could it be if not the Tree of Knowledge, in this case, the tree of the secret Johannite Gnosis.
Here, John the Baptist, as stand-in for the Alchemical Androgyne, is given a symbolic penis as well...it resides at the base of the carob tree in the Adoration of the Magi, where it masquerades as a common natural feature of carobs, a wood spur. The strategery of placement here between two " legs" is what's simply astounding:
It has been pointed out that there seem to be two groups of worshippers here, one surrounding the infant Jesus, and the other appearing to venerate the carob, and by extension, John the Baptist. Those worshipping Jesus are gaunt, downcast, and apprehensive (perhaps burdened with medieval Christian guilt, and fear of Hell). The group around the symbol of John (King of Light) are plump faced and happy, because they possess the Gnosis!
This occult version of John is an androgyne, not unlike the Egyptian mother goddess Mut (the one that Freud mentioned), with breasts and erect penis. This duality actually represents the balance of male and female in the familiar universal cosmology of the Orient. The imagery is primarily doctrinal rather than pornographic, but nonetheless creates the perfect patron saint for randy “Florenzers.”
Beside the “penis” at the base of the carob, another wood spur further up echoes the “as above” Hermetic gesture of the figure behind the tree. (Let’s remember that the ancient phallic herm stone that long ago became the obelisk is the original steeple meme.) Now, if we drop a vertical line downward from the “as above” gesture it will pass through the gift being presented to the Christ Child and beyond to a hand on the ground that signals “so below”. This symbolism is so pervasive in Leonardo’s art, it’s almost child’s play to find it.
BTW, the problem with the constructs of Dan Brown, et al., is not that conspiratorial occult doctrines did not abound, simply that they all picked the wrong branch of Gnosticism for Renaissance Italy. On the other hand, traditionalists liberally ascribe any pleasant Sunday school theme to Leonardo’s symbolism without question.
Thanks to all for your info and comments. I've heard that plenty of other x-rated material by this artist has been lost or purposely destroyed, and some clumsy prude even tried to erase the bizkit off the "Angel in the Flesh." I agree that Leonardo da Vinci was obviously not the pious plaster saint we've been treated to by the Church and the clueless "experts." If he were around today he'd probably be drawing hemisected sketches of the Popcorn Trick. But I'm actually more interested in the bigger picture from all this, and I've been finding out all kinds of new stuff since I started this comment topic.
The Da Vinci Code got everyone thinking, no wonder this incredible man of mystery still rocks our world. But I just saw a new TV special exploring Sir Isaac Newton's fascination with Alchemy. Wow! Perhaps help is on the way, and we will finally be able to see our old world with new eyes instead of ignoring what had to be hidden from fear of persecution. I wonder too if those guys mentioned in the comment about the Masonic Lodge know that Hermes is the same name as Hiram? That outrageously sexy alchemical androgyne does seem to connect to everything, and even makes me wonder if those male and female aspects of the two Saints John aren't the secret identity of the two riders on Beauseant, the Templar's piebald horse. What a perfect battle flag, a secret Baphomet (denoting an even more deeply hidden Sophia); one that they might be honored and inspired to follow if they really were Johannite warriors riding on to glory and death.
Here's another curious thought about the Hermetic/Atlantean connection: Thirty five hundred years ago Santorini blew up ending the remarkable Minoan (Atlantean?) civilization with its surprising technology. Might the same tsunami and ash which entombed an island as far away as Crete, have also vacated important coastal real estate on mainland Greece as well? Might the now super occult mythic kingdom of Arcadia (Peloponnesus) have subsequently been dominated by newly empowered non-Minoan "Sea peoples" (Phoenicians blended with Danites?) with stories of a fabulous lost kingdom to tell. This general area, including Sparta, was later reclaimed as their ancestral possession by the "descendants of Herakles" in the Dorian Invasion. A hero of superhuman strength, Herakles (known as Hercules in Rome and in Tinseltown) greatly resembled Samson from the Tribe of Dan in personality and character, and also tended to do everything in a very big way. Heracles impregnated fifty royal maidens, possibly in a single night…kind of a Princesses Gone Wild thing!… Sounds as lustfully extravagant to me as Samson's hapless obsession with Delilah. Even more curious, might this legend also represent a more down to earth alternative for the spot where the "Sons of God beheld the daughters of men," setting the stage for the miracle that was ancient Greece? Both Samson and Herakles killed a lion with their bare hands, and both were temporarily deprived of their hair during their adventuresome lives. Just coincidence… or variations on a theme?
Hermeticism was a new hope of intellectual freedom for Renaissance artists. Sir Isaac Newton and many other notable thinkers also explored all the same possibilities as Leonardo da Vinci...and the possibilities are endless, involving symbols and meanings throughout this tradition, as I'm beginning to find out. I appreciate your responses.
Following on this discussion of Leonardo's mischievous ("x-rated") use of visual representations, I think we can easily see another sly Hermetic message hidden in plain sight in the Louvre's version of his Virgin of the Rocks. The article tells us that these coded messages can be something of a sneering joke, and this one certainly seems to be just that. Here, the Virgin Mary is giving us the identical "As Below" gesture that we see Aristotle using in Raphael's School of Athens. And it's right over the head of the infant Jesus!
At the same instant, we see an unmistakably androgyne representation of the Archangel Uriel, quite archly glancing backward at us. Art historians love to tell us effeminacy was all the rage, but their silence is deafening as to why this is so. If the answer for Leonardo includes Hermeticism, this figure is clearly the all-important Hermetic Angel stand-in, the character who usually delivers the message. True to form, Uriel is giving us the "As Above" pointing finger sign. The joke here is that the finger is pointing right at the infant John the Baptist!
These two hand gestures form a compositional juxtaposition that immediately draws our eyes. If Leonardo just happened to also be a Johannite believer who used and adapted this Hermetic iconography, the message would be inescapable that John the Baptist is above or greater than Jesus (As above: So below). If, in addition, the alchemical Androgyne happens to introduce some aspect of Mary Magdalene as it may in the Last Supper, perhaps we need to check out the Johannite viewpoint on who or what she represented in this unusual, important, and decidedly patriarchal movement that apparently influenced so many others. Perhaps the Different da Vinci Code suggests an alternative characterization of Mary Magdalene as well.