At the heart of symbolism

The being of the metaphysics revival

“One always speaks about moral, one hardly speaks about doctrine”
(The Crisis of the Modern World)

René Guénon

The rebirth of the Tradition

René Guénon is renowned for being the most important figure of the metaphysics revival of the 20th century in the West 1. Deeply penetrated by the Intelligence governing the world, he gave back all its clarity to the (unified) traditional Knowledge, beyond the (scattered) rational knowledge. He restored the spiritual tradition in its authenticity while exposing the erring ways of occultism, spiritism or theosophy that reigned as masters at that time. That brought him a great deal of enmities that are still carrying on these days 2.

All his life was a quest for truth to which nothing predestined him. Born, in 1886, in a Catholic family of Blois, he studied in the religious establishments of the city before settling in Paris in 1904 to prepare entrance examinations to the grande écoles. However as early as 1905, he decided to immerse himself into the occultist circles of the capital and to make the metaphysical quest the goal of his life. He frequented the esoteric circles and contributed to many publications devoted to traditional sciences. The year of his marriage with a family lady-friend, Berthe Loury, in 1912, he was received as a Freemason and initiated to Sufism under the name of Abdel Wahed Yahia (Servant of the Unique). After the death of his wife in 1928, he left Paris for Egypt. He set up life in Cairo in 1930, married the daughter of a Sheik in 1934 and died in the Arabic land in 1951.

His first book, entitled “Introduction to the Study of the Hindu Doctrines” (1921), constitutes the foundation of all his work. He reminds us that any authentic tradition is a secondary form of the “Primeval Tradition” of supra-human origin. It follows that from any traditional form related to a non human source, we can rediscover the same foundation, the common truth, the unique Principle at the origin of whatever is.

In order to rediscover our common roots, we can only return where we come from. We have only to get back on one's feet again, to go back to the source of human and supra-human states. First of all, such a voyage consists of realizing the fullness of human states and restoring the “primeval state”; and next, in accessing the full realization of all being's states, human and supra-human, to become a total being.

This return voyage to the origins often follows the way of symbols, the true vehicles of the transmission of the traditional Knowledge. Without the symbols, the access to the source of the ancestral knowledge would be drained a long time ago for the symbol only is able to suggest a reality of superior order based on a representation of inferior order.

To fight one's way again, the being must have the capacity to receive the spiritual influence, the light that will open him to the Knowledge. This influence is necessary to reveal the essential initiation qualifications of the being to approach the domain of higher states. Now, the world has lost the structures able to awaken these qualifications and to allow the being to progress on the spiritual way (see, for instance, the Great Pyramid).

In fact, the contemporary era can be distinguished by: “its need for ceaseless agitation, for unending change, for ever increasing speed… It is dispersion in multiplicity and in a multiplicity that is no longer unified by consciousness of any higher principle”. Therefore, “an ever more pronounced materialization for matter is essentially multiplicity and division… The deeper one sinks into matter, the more the elements of division and opposition gain force and space; conversely, the more one rises towards spirituality, the more one approaches that unity, which can only be fully realized by consciousness of universal principles.”

This is why René Guénon was constantly insisting on the decline of the West and its entry into the Iron Age or Kali-Yuga as the Hindus call it. The “darkest period of this dark age” firstly touched the West and, as an indirect result, the whole of humanity. The main reason for this decline is the forgetfulness of universal principles. Only the re-birth of the Tradition beyond the splits between “East and West” (1924) will allow man to get out of “the crisis of the modern world” (1927) and of this dark age characterized by “the reign of quantity and the signs of the times” (1945).

While following his own path, René Guénon lived at the confluence of worlds and traditional doctrines as attested by his works. Each of his 26 books and some 350 articles bring the reader to turn his gaze towards the gates opening beyond the horizon. Then, he is ready to bring the world here below and the world beyond together.

1 back We should not forget Alexandra David-Neel (let us point out that Alexandra wrote her writer's name Neel with no accent and not Néel as several publishers) who did so much for the revival of the Hindu and Tibetan Buddhism doctrines. The two authors must have been aware of their respective works, even if René Guénon's commentaries about Alexandra David-Neel's works are reduced to a simple footnote in “Spiritual Authority and Temporal Power”.

The readers who wish to discover the accounts of Alexandra David-Neel could start with “The Power of Nothingness”, written in collaboration with her adopted son, Lama Yondgen. You will probably read her other works afterwards. All the same, if you want to get an idea of René Guénon's work, plunge into “The Crisis of the Modern World”.

2 back It is enough to refer to an author as talented as Umberto Eco to measure to what extent the modern world has moved away from the traditional “thought”. By the way, it is not by chance if his novels often stage the occult circles. Just to have an idea about Umberto Eco's opinion of René Guénon, we only need to read the chapter “How to write an unpublished Guénon ?” of the pastiche “How to travel with a salmon”, which is unfortunately unavailable in the English translation of the book.

Bibliography and biography of René Guénon

Books published during his lifetime:

  1. “Introduction to the Study of the Hindu Doctrines”, 1921 (Sophia Perennis Publisher, 2002).
  2. “Theosophy: History of a Pseudo-Religion”, 1921 (Sophia Perennis Publisher, 2003).
  3. “The Spiritist Fallacy”, 1923 (Sophia Perennis Publisher, 2003).
  4. “East and West”, 1924 (Sophia Perennis Publisher, 2001).
  5. “Man and His Becoming According to the Vedanta”, 1925 (Sophia Perennis Publisher, 2001).
  6. “The Esoterism of Dante”, 1925 (Sophia Perennis Publisher, 2001).
  7. “The King of the World”, 1927 (Sophia Perennis Publisher, 2001).
  8. “The Crisis of the Modern World”, 1927 (Sophia Perennis Publisher, 2001).
  9. “Spiritual Authority and Temporal Power”, 1929 (Sophia Perennis Publisher, 2001).
  1. “Saint Bernard”, 1929 (World Wisdom Inc., 2005).
  2. “The Symbolism of the Cross”, 1931 (Sophia Perennis Publisher, 2002).
  3. “The Multiple States of the Being”, 1932 (Sophia Perennis Publisher, 2002).
  4. “The Eastern Metaphysics”, 1939 (World Wisdom Inc., 2007).
  5. “The Reign of Quantity and the Signs of the Times”, 1945 (Sophia Perennis Publisher, 2002).
  6. “The Principles of the Infinitesimal Calculus”, 1946 (Sophia Perennis Publisher, 2001).
  7. “The Great Triad”, 1946 (Sophia Perennis Publisher, 2001).
  8. “Perspectives on Initiation”, 1946 (Sophia Perennis Publisher, 2004).

Books published after his death:

  1. “Initiation and Spiritual Realization”, 1952 (Sophia Perennis Publisher, 2001).
  2. “Insights into Christian Esoterism”, 1954 (Sophia Perennis Publisher, 2001).
  3. “Symbols of Sacred Science”, 1962 (Sophia Perennis Publisher, 2004).
  4. “Studies in Hinduism”, 1968 (Sophia Perennis Publisher, 2001).
  5. “Studies in Freemasonry and the Compagnonnage”, 1970 (Sophia Perennis Publisher, 2005).
  6. “Traditional Forms and Cosmic Cycles”, 1970 (Sophia Perennis Publisher, 2003).
  7. “Insights into Islamic Esoterism and Taoism”, 1973 (Sophia Perennis Publisher, 2003).
  8. “Reviews”, 1974.
  9. “Miscellanea”, 1976 (Sophia Perennis Publisher, 2003).


  • Paul Chacornac
  • “The Simple Life of René Guénon”. Sophia Perennis Publisher, 2005.