Jacob Böhme and Friedrich Nietzsche have a few things in common, according to Colin Wilson. Both men wanted to get at the same thing: ultimate reality. We have learned that Böhme is every bit as much an existentialist as Nietzsche:
As we read him, we discover that many of the things he says are not new to the student of existentialism. There is frequently a Nietzschean note; what could be more Nietzschean than this?
If thou art not a spiritual self-surmounter, then let my book alone. Don’t meddle with it, but stick to your usual affairs.
In Zarathustra, Nietzsche had written: ‘Not the height, but the drop is terrible. That drop where the glance plunges down and the hand reaches up. . . .’ And in Morgenröte, Böhme writes: Now I am climbed up and mounted so very high that I dare not look back for fear a giddiness should take me. . . . When I go upward I have no giddiness at all; but when I look back and would return, then am I giddy and afraid to fall. 1
These two great men are filled with the will to power. As long as they are exercising that power to become whole, to become self-realized through their own strength and will, they are human dynamos. Böhme tells us if we are not “self-surmounters,” we should just ignore his book because it will do us no good. One must surmount oneself, and this is the most difficult thing for a human being to do. The self is as obstinate as a stubborn mule. Böhme wants us to surmount the self, and Nietzsche wants us to overcome it. Very similar things, here. Nietzsche, through Zarathustra, says, “I teach you the Superman. Man is something that should be overcome What have you done to overcome him?” 2 Böhme realized that the “stupidity of the flesh” 3 was to blame for why humans don’t aspire to be the sort of energy-beings they were meant to be. Nietzsche writes, “You have made your way from worm to man, and much in you is still worm. Once you were apes, and even now man is more of an ape than any ape.” 4 This is what the normal, everyday man, the ape is like:
In his normal state of mind, man lives in a mere corner of his being. It is self-knowledge that is obliterated. His brain narrows until his consciousness is like a dying candle. 5
Then, this is what occurs when one has a vision:
Having a ‘vision’ is like being connected with a powerhouse; floods of energy and vitality sluice into the brain, and the brain lights up, like a mansion in which every light in every room has been turned on. This is the ecstasy of self-knowledge. Man suddenly understand that he is, as Böhme says, ‘made of all the powers of God.’ 6
We who struggle to overcome ourselves, to become visionaries, are at constant war within ourselves. They say “living the good life” is to just sit back, relax, watch TV, go out partying with our friends, and all that the so-called good life entails, but it would make those of us who consider ourselves Outsiders miserable if we didn’t believe we were making an effort to realize the Truth within ourselves. We would simply be apes. It is the will to power that drives us on. In that one moment of ecstasy, when we realize who we really are, we strive to disallow “any of one’s stupidities, any of the corrupt, earth-bound personality, to interfere with the cold wash of vitality…The vision brings an awareness of one’s own godhead, and therefore of kinship with God…The remote God the Father, whom Nietzsche railed at (quite rightly), suddenly becomes an immediately sensed God the Brother.” 7
These matters are extremely difficult to communicate, since we still have no viable psychological terminology to fully explicate these things.
All the contributions of the psychoanalysts have not made it easier to discuss the mystics; in fact, modern psychology tends to regard mystics as a distinctly cranky branch of the human tree. 8
It is no simple matter for the Outsider to become a mystic, a visionary. It is only accomplished through an incredibly difficult effort of pure will and discipline. Few of us ever attain the height of a Böhme or a Nietzsche. Wilson says that for an Outsider to become a mystic, it “is not an end in itself; a mystic is only a man with a higher degree of perception and vitality.” 9 I am unsure if I, myself, have the will and discipline to surmount myself. It is a grave task we have been called to. The only thing we can do is strive on!
Nietzsche, Friedrich. Thus Spake Zarathustra. Trans. R.J. Hollingdale. Penguin: New York, 1961.
Wilson, Colin. Religion and the Rebel. Houghton-Mifflin: Boston, 1957.
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