Another, secret, history
Alongside the history we know, hermetism affirms the existence of a subconscious history and attempts to grasp it.
Occultists, magi and initiates often speak of a history which runs parallel to the 'real' history we know and record. Whether or not this means that 'secret powers' are involved, some go so far as to speak of 'unknown superiors' and to believe that the fate of the world is directly under the influence of secret societies. True, historiography has often neglected this phenomenon; true, Sufism is a problem nowadays in the Soviet Union, just as Catharism in the Middle Ages was the vehicle for a revolutionary movement which came close to destroying both the Church and feudalism. Nonetheless it would be wrong, even unhealthy, to explain everything by means of secret societies.
The founding event
So-called invisible history is bound openly to a founding event — the death of a god or a hero under whose sign the group is formed, such as Master James for certain journeymen. Its method is not chronological, but epiphanic; it is not causal but symbolic. The founding event has an extra-historical origin with the structure of a myth
Invisible history, according to certain modern hermetists, stands in the same relation to ordinary history as lobachevskian geometry does to Euclidean. It is another world, or rather a world of another dimension.
(e.g. the death of Osiris). Without going into theoretical analysis, it is possible to say that with invisible history, the important point is not to comprehend the succession of events, fix and date them, but to reveal their meaning. However, it is not true to say this is the same as Hegel's philosophy of history; for him, history ultimately 'realizes' itself and reabsorbs its meaning. This is not so in invisible history. The stage of invisible history is always elsewhere — the Cathar-ians kept reiterating that it was not of the world. So where is it? Everywhere and nowhere. More precisely, invisible history constitutes a virtual history.
An original made actual
Mircea Eliade pointed out that mention of invisible history is a repetition of the message of the founding myth: initiating ceremonies re-create this history and magic conjures it up in order to imbue itself with its substance. This is an essential point: invisible history manifests itself only through and in an endlessly repeated quest for the original. But Eliade forgets this does not mean that the event happens once and for all, as is the case with dogma. The difference between the death of Christ for Christians and Catharians is therefore this: for the former it is a fixed event, whereas for the latter it goes on manifesting itself.
For Catholics, the death of Christ on the cross is an exterior reference, whereas for Catharians what counts is the death-of-Christ-in-us which must endlessly be rediscovered by any 'good Christian'. This means that Christ was not killed by the Jews but by all mankind. Moreover, this death is not an oddity which slams the door of history shut on a collective blame, but is on the contrary a mystery which opens up this door, offering the possibility of transmutation. By dying to our sins, we create the beauties of the world.
So invisible history enhances the value of the original, the beginning of history. It raises it up by dressing it in colourful fables, whereas profane history gradually reduces it into a series of causes and effects.
A symbolic field
Invisible history is not historiography; it is the ceremonial evocation of a legendary past so that it can be relived. The aim is to abolish the distance between past and present. Obviously, this only works in a symbolic way. The mystic acts as if he were Osiris, magically assuming the being of Osiris for as long as it takes to reveal his own being. So it is probably more accurate to speak of 'invisible reality' rather than 'invisible history', a rather clumsy expression only intended to draw our attention to the fact that the original is invisible.
Therefore, invisible reality is of necessity bound up with the theme of the original. Correctly understood, the occult sciences seek to call up this original which profane science can only set to one side. (Physics would, after all, never have become an exact, operative science if it had remained concerned with cosmogony.)
Is the original, then, an 'absolute'? To say so would be to identify it with the 'efficient cause' of the scholastics, that is to say, God. As far as hermetic philosophy is concerned, the absolute docs not exist in itself; all there is, each and every time, is an absolute which is relative to the event taking place. The original constantly overwhelms us: it is not a point in space and its epiphanies are many and charged with meaning.
An initiatory society is an irreplaceable framework for ripening certain ideas in the dark and then distilling them into the fabric of society.