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The White Dominican

Author: Gustav Meyrink

Translator: Mike Mitchell  

The White Dominican (pp 56-59)

“So you do believe in the Devil, Baron? You usually deny it.”
“I believe in the Devil in the same way as I believe in the deadly power of the north wind. But who can point to the place in the universe where cold originates? That is where the Devil must have his throne. Cold spends all its time pursuing warmth, for it wants to become warm itself. The Devil must come to God, icy death to the fire of life; that is the origin of all journeying. They say there is an absolute zero temperature? No one has ever found it yet, and no one ever will, no more than they can ever find absolute magnetic north. Even if you lengthen a bar magnet, or break it in two, the north pole will always be opposite the south pole, in the one case the portion separating the point where the two appear will be longer, in the other shorter, but the two poles will never meet, for that would mean the bar would be a ring and the magnet would no longer be a bar magnet. You may seek the source of either pole in the finite world, but you will always end up on a journey into infinity. Look at the picture on the wall, Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper. There you can see what I was saying about magnets, as well as about education through the soul, transferred to human beings. The mission of the soul of each of the disciples is indicated symbolically by the position of his hands and fingers. In each one of them the right hand is active, whether it is leaning on the table, the edge of which is divided into sixteen parts, which could indicate the sixteen letters of the ancient Roman alphabet, or joined with the left hand. It is Judas Iscariot alone whose left hand is active, his right hand is closed! John the Evangelist — of whom Jesus said he might tarry till He came, so that a saying went abroad among the disciples that he would not die — has his hands clasped together, which signifies that he is a magnet which is no longer a magnet, he is a ring in eternity, he is no longer journeying.
“These finger positions are strange things, they conceal the deepest mysteries of religion. You find them on old statues of gods in the East, but they also reappear in the paintings of almost all the masters of the Middle Ages.
“A legend has been handed down in our family that our ancestor, the lamp-bearer Christopher Jöcher, came from the East, bringing with him the secret of using finger gestures to call up the shades of the dead and bend them to his will for all sorts of purposes.
“A document which I possess reveals he was a member of an ancient order which in one place calls itself Shi Kiai, that is ‘The Dissolution of the Corpse’, and in another Kieu Kiai, ‘The Dissolution of the Swords’.
“This document tells of things which will sound very strange to your ears. With the help of the art of making the hands and fingers spiritually alive, some members of the order disappeared from the grave along with their corpse, and others transformed themselves in the earth into swords.
Do you not see in that, Father, a striking parallel with the Resurrection of Christ? Especially if you relate it to the mysterious hand gestures in pictures and statues from the Middle Ages and Oriental antiquity?”
I heard the Chaplain becoming restless, walking up and down the room with hurried steps. Then he stopped and spoke in urgent tones:
“All this, my dear Baron, sounds too much like Freemasonry for me, as a Catholic priest, to accept without contradiction. What you call the deadly north wind is, for me, Freemasonry and everything connected with it. I know well — we have spoken about it often enough — that all great painters and artists were united by a common bond, which they called the Guild, and that they declared this unity beyond frontiers by attaching to the figures in their pictures secret signs, usually in the position of the fingers or gestures of the hands, or through the attitude of faces in the clouds, or sometimes through their choice of colours. Often enough the Church, before commissioning pictures of saints, made them solemnly swear to desist from this practice, but they kept on finding ways of circumventing their oath. People hold it against the Church that she says, if not for everyone to hear, that art comes from the Devil. Is that so incomprehensible for a strict Catholic? When it is well known that artists possessed and preserved a mystery that was clearly directed against the Church?
“I know of a letter from a great painter of the past to a Spanish friend in which he openly admits the existence of the secret league.”
“I know that letter too”, the Baron broke in. “In it the painter says — more or less, I cannot remember his exact words — ‘Go to such and such a person, a man by the name of X, and go down on thy knees and beg him to give me just one hint of how to proceed further with this mystery. I do not want to remain merely a painter to the end of my life.’ And what does that tell us, my dear Chaplain? Nothing more than that the famous artist, however far he had been initiated into the externals, was in reality only a blind man. There is no doubt in my mind that he belonged to the Guild and that he was a Freemason, which, for me, is as much as to say: he was a mere labourer in the brickyard who was only involved in work on the exterior of the building. You are quite correct when you say that all the architects, painters, sculptors, goldsmiths and engravers of those days were Freemasons. But — and this is the crucial point — they were only acquainted with the external rituals and only understood them in an ethical sense; they were merely tools of that invisible power, which you, as a Catholic, mistakenly think of as the ‘Master of the Left Hand’. Tools they were, nothing else, and their sole purpose was to preserve certain mysteries in symbolic form for posterity, until the time shall be ripe. They always came to a halt part of the way along the path, for they kept on hoping that human lips would give them the key that would open the door. They never suspected that it lies in the execution of their art itself; they never understood that art conceals a deeper meaning than merely producing pictures or creating literature, namely to develop within the artist a kind of hypersensitivity of perception and sensation, of which the first expression is called a ‘right sense of art’. Even an artist alive today, insofar as his profession has opened his senses to the influences of that power, will be able to bring those symbols back to life in his works. There is no need at all for him to learn of them from the lips of a living person, nor to have been received into one or other of the Lodges. On the contrary, there are ‘invisible lips’ that speak a thousand times more clearly than the tongues of men. What is true art other than scooping up a portion of this eternal abundance?”


RRP: £7.99

No. of pages: 165

ISBN numbers:
978 1 873982 55 6
978 1 907650 75 8

World English language in this translation.