All You Need is Love
editorial by J.S. Kupperman
Love is, of course, a many splendored thing, but in English, at least, also a relatively loosely defined word. As much as esotericsts often delight in playing word games, many, especially those influenced by Platonisms of varying kinds, understand that words have meaning, are important, and, when properly understood and utilized, have power. Of course, P.R. firms know the same thing. This being the case, the fact that Giordano Bruno, whose esoteric work revolves around the use of eros, is one of the originators of what we today call mass marketing, should come as no surprise.
There is often, in western esoteric and religious thought, an interplay between eros and agape, two Greek words for love. That interplay, however, changes over time. Sometimes it is quite positive, with one supporting the other. Sometimes it is negative, with the two functioning in opposition. At other times still, the words are given the same meaning. While all this is true, it is also true that those more influenced by pagan thought, such as Neoplatonism and Hermetism, often favor eros over agape, and those not exactly the opposite.
What do these words mean? Is eros selfish and self-centered sexual love? Is agape pure and divine, anagogic love? Although they are often portrayed this way, especially in modern times, the language of love, and the power behind it, is much more complex. This is laid out for us in the Journal’s two offerings for this season. The first, by Alex Rivera, is about the role of the Hellenic god Eros in the Gnostic tract On the Origin of the World. Here we see the importance of the pagan god Eros in an early Christian text. And yet while Eros’ role is extraordinarily important here, it is also approached cautiously. There is seemingly a recognition of the dangers of Eros. The second paper explores the use of the idea of eros by the 6th century Christian Neoplatonist known as pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite. This work embraces eros as a term equivalent to agape,and discusses how it may be employed anagogically. Dionysius also recognizes the power of eros, but has made it fully in service of God.
The study of eros and agape in terms of esoteric thought is an important field. For instance, many of the classical hermetists and Neoplatonists, upon whom many modern traditions are based, saw eros as the force connecting all levels of reality. While this idea appears to have originated, or at least been largely developed, in Plato’s Symposium, there has been much development over the 2500 or so years since Plato. If love truly is a primary mode of approaching the divine, then this opens a new path of study for modern esotericists, who often neglect its importance.