The Reign of Quantity and the Signs of the Times
The Reign of Quantity gives a concise but comprehensive view of the present state of affairs in the world, as it appears from the point of view of the 'ancient wisdom', formerly common both to the East and to the West, but now almost entirely lost sight of. The author indicates with his fabled clarity and directness the precise nature of the modern deviation, and devotes special attention to the development of modern philosophy and science, and to the part played by them, with their accompanying notions of progress and evolution, in the formation of the industrial and democratic society which we now regard as 'normal'. Guinon sees history as a descent from Form (or Quality) toward Matter (or Quantity); but after the Reign of Quantity-modern materialism and the 'rise of the masses'-Guinon predicts a reign of 'inverted quality' just before the end of the age: the triumph of the 'counter-initiation', the kingdom of Antichrist. This text is considered the magnum opus among Guinon's texts of civilizational criticism, as is Symbols of Sacred Science among his studies on symbols and cosmology, and Man and His Becoming according to the Vedanta among his more purely metaphysical works.
The Symbolism of the Cross
The Symbolism of the Cross is a major doctrinal study of the central symbol of Christianity from the standpoint of the universal metaphysical tradition, the 'perennial philosophy' as it is called in the West. As Gunon points out, the cross is one of the most universal of all symbols and is far from belonging to Christianity alone. Indeed, Christians have sometimes tended to lose sight of its symbolical significance and to regard it as no more than the sign of a historical event. By restoring to the cross its full spiritual value as a symbol, but without in any way detracting from its historical importance for Christianity, Gunon has performed a task of inestimable importance which perhaps only he, with his unrivalled knowledge of the symbolic languages of both East and West, was qualified to perform. Although The Symbolism of the Cross is one of Gunon's core texts on traditional metaphysics, written in precise, nearly 'geometrical' language, vivid symbols are necessarily pressed into service as reference points-how else could the mind ascend the ladder of analogy to pure intellection? Gunon applies these doctrines more concretely elsewhere in critiquing modernity in such works as The Crisis of the Modern World and The Reign of Quantity and the Signs of the Times, and invokes them also to help explain the nature of initiation and of initiatic organizations in such works as Perspectives on Initiation and Initiation and Spiritual Realization.
East and West
In East and West Guenon diagnoses the fundamental 'abnormality' of Western civilization vis-a-vis the traditional civilizations of the East, suggests avenues by which the West might be 're-oriented' toward the fundamental metaphysical principles it has largely abandoned, and outlines the possible role of a restoration of true intellectuality in this task. Of course, East and West are no longer what they were in Guenon's time. The aggressive rationalism and materialism of post-Christian Western culture has become a worldwide phenomenon, and no longer corrodes the philosophical and cultural underpinnings of the West only: it has infiltrated distorted forms of Eastern spirituality and metaphysics, incited fundamentalist reactions the world over, and, thanks to the pervasive internet, wields previously unheard of influence. And so today we have an East largely inflamed with a desire to surpass the West in materialism, and a West sodden with moral and spiritual degeneracy. Nonetheless, fruitful exchanges between traditional Christianity and Eastern religions have also taken place on an unprecedented scale, though marred by an ongoing temptation to ill-informed syncretism. recent decades, delivers a stunning intellectual punch. But the East is always the East: the place where the sun rises, the point of recollection and return to the Source. And the West is always the West: the place of the full manifestation of possibilities (including the most degenerate), of the tendency to dissipation and dissolution; the point where the sun sets. In postmodern, global culture, we are all more or less forced to be 'Westerners' outwardly; our only recourse under these circumstances may be to become 'Easterners' within.
The Crisis of the Modern World
It is no longer news that the Western world is in a crisis, a crisis that has spread far beyond its point of origin and become global in nature. In 1927, Reni Guinon responded to this crisis with the closest thing he ever wrote to a manifesto and 'call-to-action'. The Crisis of the Modern World was his most direct and complete application of traditional metaphysical principles-particularly that of the 'age of darkness' preceding the end of the present world-to social criticism, surpassed only by The Reign of Quantity and the Signs of the Times, his magnum opus. In the present work Guinon ruthlessly exposes the 'Western deviation': its loss of tradition, its exaltation of action over knowledge, its rampant individualism and general social chaos. His response to these conditions was not 'activist', however, but purely intellectual, envisioning the coming together of Western intellectual leaders capable under favorable circumstances of returning the West to its traditional roots, most likely via the Catholic Church, or, under less favorable ones, of at least preserving the 'seeds' of Tradition for the time to come.
Symbols of Sacred Science
In Symbols of Sacred Science, Guinon, a master of precise, even 'mathematical' metaphysical exposition, reveals himself as a consummate exegete of myth and symbolism as well, superior in many ways to Mircea Eliade, and comparable perhaps only to his respected friend Ananda K. Coomaraswamy. This extraordinary text unveils the cosmological meanings of root symbols organized under such general headings as: The Center of the World, Cyclic Manifestation, Symboic Weapons, Axial Symbolism and the Symbolsim of Passage, The Symbolism of Building, and The Symbolism of the Heart. Far more than a simple catalogue of myths and symbols from many traditions, Symbols of the Sacred Science lays the foundation for a universal esoteric symbology. In this work, Guinon demonstrates the fundamental unity-across all cultures and ages-of the images with which the Absolute clothes itself in its cosmic self-revelation.
Perspectives on Initiation
The present volume, first published at the close of World War II, and based on a series of articles on initiation originally written between 1932 and 1938 for Le Voile d'Isis (later renamed tudes Traditionnelles), is unique in giving a comprehensive account both of the conditions of initiation and of the characteristics of organizations qualified to transmit it. Gunon's distinction between the initiatic and the mystical paths-the first requiring a formal relationship with a master, a set of specific contemplative techniques, and a chain-of-transmission stretching back to the origin of the tradition in question, the second generally lacking these elements-led to some controversy between those who accept this distinction and others who believe that initiatory and mystical spirituality are one and the same. The book presents such central principles as the dangers and barrenness of syncretism, the often dire consequences of fostering 'psychic powers', and the superiority of sacerdotal initiation (into the Greater Mysteries) over 'royal' initiation (into the Lesser Mysteries), though both are necessary parts of the initiatic path. This last point precisely defines the rift between Gunon and Julius Evola, whose elevation of royal initiation over sacerdotal must be seen, according to Gunon's criteria, as a modern-day echo of the ancient revolt of the warrior caste against the priestly one. Whoever follows Gunon's argument will realize that a romantic warrior mysticism held no fascination for him, and is in fact explicitly contrary to his principles. But pre-eminently, Perspectives on Initiation provides indispensable points of reference for anyone attempting to distinguish between 'initiatic', 'pseudo-initiatic', and 'countert-initiatic' spiritualities in these profoundly uncertain times.
Spiritual Authority and Temporal Power
Deals with the normal relationship between the spiritual and the temporal powers implied in a healthy traditional civilization, that is, the supremacy of knowledge over action, of the sacerdotal over the royal caste. Touching first on India and the medieval West, Guenon then illustrates his point by citing quarrels over investiture and disputes of certain French kingswith the papacy as evidence of a deviation in Christianity.
The Multiple States of the Being
The Multiple States of the Being is the companion to, and the completion of, The Symbolism of the Cross, which, together with Man and His Becoming according to the Vedanta, constitute Reni Guinon's great trilogy of pure metaphysics. In this work, Guinon offers a masterful explication of the metaphysical order and its multiple manifestations-of the divine hierarchies and what has been called the Great Chain of Being-and in so doing demonstrates how jqana, intellective or intrinsic knowledge of what is, and of That which is Beyond what is, is a Way of Liberation. Guinon the metaphysical social critic, master of arcane symbolism, comparative religionist, researcher of ancient mysteries and secret histories, summoner to spiritual renewal, herald of the end days, disappears here. Reality remains.
Ren Gunon (1886-1951) was the founder of the Traditionalist School. Along with Ananda K. Coomaraswamy and Frithjof Schuon, he reintroduced traditional metaphysics and esoterism into the Western world after a lapse of centuries, and was perhaps the first to present the doctrines of the Vedanta, Taoism, and Sufism not as Eurocentric orientalists or occult fantasts had done, but strictly in their own terms. To the 'mathematical' precision of Gunon's metaphysics, cosmology, and esoteric history, Frithjof Schuon (1907-1998) added a poetic or 'musical' element, inspired by his close relationship to the Divine Feminine. He also presented the spiritual path as a concrete praxis, involving the spiritual virtues and 'stations of wisdom', that was not so prominent in Gunon's writings. On the other hand, Gunon's prophetic eschatology, especially in The Reign of Quantity and the Signs of the Times, as well as his analysis of the 'counter-tradition', gives him a unexpectedly contemporary 'edge' that is perhaps less prominent in Schuon's more aesthetic approach. Ren Gunon and Frithjof Schuon illuminate each other, both through their unanimity and the specific points where they differ. Each is almost the only means of taking the other's measure. Questions of who was greater, who more traditional, are finally less interesting than the tremendous vision of human reality and spiritual truth that emerges from their shared role as renewers of traditional metaphysics and religious understanding. Schuon, as the younger man, was in a position to compose an evaluation of his early intellectual master, and in view of his long and illustrious career as an author after Gunon's death, Schuon's central essay Ren Gunon: Some Observations is also his profoundly appreciative as well as pointedly critical declaration of independence (though simultaneously a declaration of collegiality) from the man who, more than anyone else in the modern world, opened to him a fundamental view of 'principial' reality.