The Pneumatic ~ Frithjof Schuon

”For the pneumatic the centre is
The Pure Intellect ~ not the empirical ego;
The psychic, on the other hand,
Knows only himself as the centre of knowledge. ..”
~ Poem by Frithjof Schuon.

An interesting idea I came across. The ‘Pneumatic’. It is said that Schuon borrowed the word from gnostic Valentinianism.

(Though the male pronoun is exclusively used by Schuon in his writings, as is common, readers may substitute gender as appropriate.)

Schuon (1907-1998) was a German philosopher and writer, who subscribed to the esoteric unity behind all true religions ~ ”The esoteric finds the Absolute within the traditions.”

On the Pneumatic ~ Schuon spoke of ‘‘the imprescriptible vocation of the contemplative ~ of the ‘pneumatic’, whose spiritual ascent results from his very substance and not from a choice or conversion, as in the case of the ‘psychic’. ”

According to Schuon, the ‘psychics’ could be saved or damned, whereas the ‘pneumatics’ could not but be saved.

Some writers consider his intense descriptions of the pneumatic are his beliefs about the nature of his own experience. ” Strictly speaking, (the ‘pneumatic’) cannot sin — except perhaps from the point of appearances — because, his substance being “faith” and therefore “justice through faith”, all that he touches turns to gold. This possibility is extremely rare, being “avataric” above all, but finally, it exists, and cannot but exist.”

(So, essentially, Schuon is describing some degree of Avatar, in my opinion; almost such as one might perceive Buddha or Krishna or Christ to be; an enlightened being who has chosen to incarnate…for whatever reason. Kuan Yin or Yeshe Tsogyal, for example. Not common I would imagine.)
”The “psychic” is saved through “conversion”, whereas the “pneumatic” is saved by “nature”. The second of these accepts the truth …without the least hesitation and from the heart, by virtue of an almost existential “reminiscence”.” ~ FS

”A pneumatic is a being who is attracted by Heaven in a ‘supernaturally natural’ manner…The ‘pneumatic’ lives on the memory of a lost paradise; he seeks only one thing, a return to his origin.” ~FS
He wrote about his friend Rene Guenon, who he considered a ‘pneumatic’. …..

”Guénon was intrinsically a “pneumatic” of the “gnostic” or “jnāni” category; and, in this case, there is no question of a “path” or at least, if there is, the meaning is so altered that the expression itself becomes misleading. A pneumatic is in a way the “incarnation” of a spiritual archetype, which means that he is born with a state of knowledge which, for other people, would actually be the goal, and not the point of departure; the pneumatic does not “go forward” towards something “other than himself’; he stays where he is in order to become fully what he himself is—namely his archetype—by ridding himself, one after the other, of veils or outer surfaces, shackles imposed by the ambience or perhaps by heredity.”

”The pneumatic “realizes” or “actualizes” what he “is”, whereas the non-pneumatic realizes what he “must become”. ” ~ FS

This pneumatic suffers ‘‘in his temporal humanity, while remaining impassive in his immortal kernel, which coincides with his state of union with God.”

In an interesting piece, Schuon describes the masks such a pneumatic might consciously choose to wear (as a form of self-protection to his human nature, as much as anything else), and for anyone interested it is here ~ ‘The Play of Masks’

”The ‘pneumatic’ is a man who identifies a priori with his spiritual substance and thus always remains faithful to himself; he is not a mask unaware of its wearer….” ~FS

I put together these quotes not necessarily because I believe in this schema, which in some ways could seem to support a form of spiritual elitism. Schuon, Guenon and others in the ”traditionalist” school have been accused of right-wing, authoritarian inclinations, an opinion I include for fullness of information, not because I believe one way or the other in it. And there have been sexual misconduct allegations against the elderly Schuon. I do not know the truth or otherwise of these…what I do know is that almost every ‘teacher’ I have ever come across seems to have got down and dirty at some point with acolytes who yell blue murder afterwards. Why they do not yell quite so loudly when the wrinkly git is inward bound, I do not know, unless it was some sort of ‘conditional’ love on their parts 🙂 (sorry..ahem). In any event, not having been there to see the evidence, I do not choose either side. I just find the ‘Pneumatic’ an interesting concept to share and consider.


Click to access 414.pdf
Schuon archives ~


Generally just Being. Nothing in particular, no claims to fame. I like gardening and the sea, nature, art in all forms from poetry to films and everything in between, and being in the company of my family.

Posted in Uncategorized, Western Mysticism

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