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Jakob Boehme

1575-1624. German Lutheran mystic and theosophist. He was born at Altseidenberg near Goerlitz, where he lived nearly all his life working as a shoemaker. Among his mystical experiences, the most important occurred in 1600, when he looked at a dish reflecting the sunlight and in an ecstatic state saw “the Being of Beings, the byss and the abyss, the eternal generation of the trinity, the origin and descent of this world, and of all creatures through the divine wisdom.” In 1612 he published some of his insights in a work, The Beginning of Dawn, followed by a devotional treatise, The Way to Christ (1623). His other writings were published posthumously.

Although not formally educated, Boehme read widely in the books of Paracelsus* and Valentin Weigel* and shows the influence of their mystical, alchemical, and astrological ideas in his use of obscure and difficult terminology. Mostly, however, he seemed to rely on his own mystical experiences. He believed that God Himself contains both good and evil. The “abyss” is God considered as the Ungrund, from which erupt the “fiery will of love” and the “sinister will of wrath.” Despite such statements, at times he wrote as if evil were not necessary. In general he shifts his position, and no single theory fits all his work.

Boehme taught also that there are qualities in nature which he coordinated with his ideas of God in differing ways. The seven qualities divide into two triads, a higher and a lower, between which there is creative energy called “the flash.” The lower group consists of contraction (or individualisation), diffusion (or attraction), and rotation (the struggle between the two foregoing). The higher triad is in effect the lower transformed including love, expression, and the kingdom of God which achieves a harmony between the spiritual and material world. Man must make a choice between the world of sensation represented by the oscillation of nature or the “dying” to self and living on a higher plane. This makes the true Christian life a mystical imitation of Christ's suffering and triumph. Boehme was critical of the Protestantism of his day because of its bibliolatry, doctrine of election, and notions of heaven. His influence was very great, not only in Germany where the Pietist, Romantic, and Idealist movements all owed something to his teachings, but also in England where the Cambridge Platonists, William Law,* and the Behmenists accepted his ideas.

Works (4 vols., tr. J. Ellistone and J. Sparrow, 1644-62; reedited 1764-81; rep. 1909-24); H.L. Martinsen, Jacob Boehme: His Life and Teaching (tr. T. Rievans, 1885); R.M. Jones, Spiritual Reformers in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries (1914), chaps. 9-11; J.J. Stoudt, Jacob Boehme, His Life and Thought (1968).