A Rosicrucian Visit to Xanadu Fra. Donald W. Heller, VII°
3 May, 2014
It is amazing and amusing to observe just how
much one's point of view color one's beliefs. It is especially revealing to
observe how much people consider their beliefs to be facts, not subject to
examination. Leonardo da Vinci claimed that the greatest deception men suffer
is from their own opinions. From a scientific point of view, there really are
no facts, only models. People often exult in their clinging to opinions. For
example, Existentialists believe that, just because they cannot conceive of the
meaning or purpose of life, there is
no meaning or purpose. Of course, everything I write here is my own opinion,
based upon my own model, and therefore subject to modification as new data are
discovered. Models are judged by how well they explain phenomena. In this
study, the Rosicrucian model will be applied to a work that has been judged by
every reviewer to be completely inexplicable.
Scientific models are based upon input from the
senses, and therefore can only address matter and energy. They are completely
silent about life and its source, and where matter and energy came from.
Rosicrucian models, on the other hand, are based upon a larger domain. We would
do well to recall the Aim of the SRICF:
The aim of the Society is to afford mutual aid
and encouragement in working out the secrets of Nature; to facilitate the study
of the system of Philosophy founded upon the Kabalah and the doctrines of
Hermes Trismegistus, which was inculcated by the original Fratres Rosae Crucis,
A.D. 1450; and to investigate the meaning and symbolism of all that now remains
of the wisdom, art and literature of the ancient world.
Both the Kabbalah and the doctrines of Hermes
Trismegistus, as recorded in the Corpus Hermeticum, clearly express the idea
that the world is wholly in the Mind of a Supreme Being. Also, that reality is a Living Being, not just created by
One, and expressed via the Holy Trinity of Wisdom, Strength, and Beauty,
represented to us by the three pillars of God the Father (personified by the
Sun and starry universe), God the Mother (personified by the nurturing Earth),
and God the Son (personified by the candidate who is placed exactly between the
here is a summary of scholarly reviews of Kubla Khan, documented in the book, A Coleridge Companion, by John Spencer
Thomas Moore, writing in the
Edinburgh Review (Sep 1816), tartly asserted that the thing now before us, is
utterly destitute of value" and he defied "any man to point out a
passage of poetical merit" in it...
"The poem itself is
below criticism", declared the anonymous reviewer in the Monthly Review
William Hazlitt claimed that
Xanadu demonstrated that "Mr Coleridge can write better nonsense verses
than any man in England"
John Livingston Lowes:
"For Kubla Khan is as near enchantment, I suppose, as we are
like to come in this dull world." While one may track or attempt to track
individual images to their sources, Kubla Khan as a whole remains
utterly inexplicable -- a "dissolving phantasmagoria" of highly
charged images whose streaming pagent is, in the final analysis, "as
aimless as it is magnificent"
Elisabeth Schneider, too,
suggests that a good part of the poem's charm and power derives from the fact
that it is invested with "an air of meaning rather than meaning
The first and, for over a
hundred years, almost the only reader to insist on the intelligibility and
coherence of Kubla Khan was Shelley's novel-writing friend, Thomas Love
Peacock: "there are",
he declared in 1818, "very few specimens of lyrical poetry so plain, so
consistent, so completely simplex et unum from first to last". Perhaps wisely, Peacock concluded his
fragmentary essay with these words, thereby sparing himself the onerous task of
explaining the consistency and meaning of so plain a poem as Kubla Khan.
More recent commentators,
however, have been much bolder. In the
criticism of the last fifty years one may distinguish, broadly, four major
approaches to Kubla Khan: (1)
interpretations of it as a poem about the poetic process; (2) readings
of it as an exemplification of aspects of Coleridgean aesthetic theory; (3) Freudian analyses; and (4) Jungian interpretations. While
recent critics concur in finding a symbolic substructure in Kubla Khan,
there is little agreement among them as to how that symbolism should be
interpreted. (John Spencer Hill, A
It seems to me that all of these reviews are
strongly influenced by the scientific materialistic point of view. All it takes
is a new unbiased reading of Kubla Khan
from a Rosicrucian point of view to reveal the powerful and holy message that
Coleridge was expressing in his poem.
I agree with Thomas Love Peacock. I'm not
surprised that he found it difficult, probably impossible, to explain further.
As the influential philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein said, "There are,
indeed, things that cannot be put into words. They make themselves manifest.
They are what is mystical."
To me, the meaning of the heart of the poem is
obvious. This poem is a love song to
Sophia, the Mother Goddess, Isis, the very Earth we live in (not on!), who is
alive to her most hidden recesses. Any
theosopher would also quickly see to the heart of the metaphor. Not only is the poem beautiful, it is also
reverent and erotic, and illustrative of the light and dark sides of
gnosis. Critics of Coleridge apparently
think his muse was either Euterpe, the muse of music, or else Erato, the muse
of love poetry. When the poem is
understood to its heart, it is obvious that his muse was Polyhymnia, the muse
of sacred poetry.
I would like make the observation that our
current zeitgeist is infused with an obsession with violence, conflict and war,
and is revolted by any display of breasts, even for feeding babies, and any
sexual play, especially by those in power. In a previous essay, it seemed that
the reaction to any mention of orgasm, which is universally an integral part of
animal life, was an uncomfortable and titillating throwback to Victorian
First, I would like to note that the historical Kublai
Khan was impressed by the Tibetan monks, and made Phagspa lama of a Buddhist order
a member of his entourage. Phagspa bestowed on Kublai and his wife a Tantric
For convenience in this exegesis, I have
separated the poem into parts, and will treat each part in turn:
In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure-dome
Where Alph, the sacred river,
Through caverns measureless
Down to a sunless sea.
An ordinary man ordered the pleasure-dome, as if
Nature, the divinely produced pleasure-dome, were not enough. Alph is the source of life (as from the alpha
and omega), but the sunless sea is where Kubla built.
So twice five miles of
With walls and towers were
And there were gardens bright
with sinuous rills,
Where blossomed many an
And here were forests ancient
as the hills,
Enfolding sunny spots of greenery.
He built his paradise, but walled it off, as
earls of the land have always done. This
was Kubla's attempt to create a home-made paradise. But he made nothing, all the goodness was
already there. He just selfishly sealed
it off as if to exclude the rabble.
But oh! that deep romantic
chasm which slanted
Down the green hill athwart a
A savage place! as holy and
As e'er beneath a waning moon
By woman wailing for her demon-lover!
This is nothing less than the sexual heart of
Sophia, the Mother Goddess. The metaphor
of the vulva as savage, and holy, and enchanted. Shows extreme desire; wailing for lover to
return. Demon does not mean Satanic, only non-corporeal. Coleridge needed four exclamation points for
And from this chasm, with
ceaseless turmoil seething, As if this earth in fast thick pants were breathing, A mighty fountain momently
was forced: Amid whose swift
half-intermitted burst Huge fragments vaulted like
rebounding hail, Or chaffy grain beneath the
thresher's flail: And 'mid these dancing rocks
at once and ever It flung up momently the sacred river.
This is a blow-by-blow metaphor of a mighty Holy
Orgasm, the result of which is the sacred river of life. This is a myth of creation. At once and ever means this did not happen
long ago in the dim past, but is a continuous happening then, now, and
forever. Coleridge probably needed to
smoke a cigarette, or more likely opium, after this part.
Five miles meandering with a
Through wood and dale the
sacred river ran,
Then reached the caverns
measureless to man,
And sank in tumult to a lifeless ocean
Meandering (seemingly aimless) with a mazy
motion. The maze seems aimless, but like all mazes it is completely
goal-oriented (τέλος), and leads to the prize at the center if you know how to
follow it correctly. The ocean is
lifeless, as all life is bestowed by the sacred river. Compare this with "Darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the spirit
of God moved upon the face of the waters"
And 'mid this tumult Kubla
heard from far Ancestral voices prophesying war!
The shadow of the dome of
Floated midway on the waves;
Where was heard the mingled
From the fountain and the
It was a miracle of rare
A sunny pleasure-dome with caves of ice!
The evil to come (war) is from man, bringing his
ignorance to the paradise of Sophia, the Mother Goddess. Here is a man-made attempted imitation of
paradise. On the surface, a sunny
pleasure-dome, but at its core, lifeless and cold as ice.
A damsel with a dulcimer In a vision once I saw:
It was an Abyssinian maid,
And on her dulcimer she
Singing of Mount Abora.
The damsel is from Abyssinia, in
its time the oldest state in the world, where the earliest ancestors to the
human species were discovered. It is also evocative of the Goddess singing from
the abyss. In the original manuscript, the line read Mount Amara, thus singing of love, but perhaps Coleridge thought
that would be too heavy-handed, and kept his subtlety more hidden.
Could I revive within me
Her symphony and song,
To such a deep delight
'twould win me,
That with music loud and long,
I would build that dome in
That sunny dome! those caves of ice!
It was so beautiful, that Coleridge desired to
build his own paradise; not actually on earth, but in his dreams. However, he can't quite evoke the memory of
his former vision.
And all who heard should see
And all should cry, Beware!
His flashing eyes, his
Weave a circle round him
And close your eyes with holy
For he on honey-dew hath fed,
And drunk the milk of Paradise.
"Them" refers to the God the Mother,
the personification of Earth, and God the Father, the Creator and Her
lover. Coleridge is in holy awe at this
vision of the Creation. This is so
evocative of Masonic (and similar) rituals, where a blindfolded initiate is led
thrice around the Holy altar.
It is interesting and educational to note how Shakespeare
described a similar metaphor in Venus and Adonis, where she (Venus, the Mother Goddess) is "red and hot
as coals of glowing fire", "trembling in her passion", with the
reluctant Adonis in her arms:
'Fondling,' she saith, 'since I have hemm'd thee
Within the circuit of this ivory pale,
I'll be a park, and thou shalt be my deer;
Feed where thou wilt, on mountain or in dale;
my lips; and if those hills be dry,
lower, where the pleasant fountains lie.
'Within this limit is relief enough,
Sweet bottom-grass and high delightful plain,
Round rising hillocks, brakes obscure and rough,
To shelter thee from tempest and from rain
my deer, since I am such a park;
shall rouse thee, though a thousand bark.'
The "pleasant fountains" are easily
enough read. How more obvious could
Coleridge's "deep, romantic chasm with ceaseless turmoil seething"