Parmenides & Empedocles
Parmenides was born over two thousand five hundred years ago and lived in southern Italy. Nowadays he is famous as the founder of western rationalism—as the "father" of logic. Ever since the time of Plato and Aristotle his role in the seeding of western culture has been considered essential.
But Parmenides was not just a logician. And his teaching was far from reasonable. He described how he had been given all the knowledge he taught by a goddess after he traveled to meet her in another world. This is because he was a priest of Apollo who specialized in the mastery of other states of consciousness: for him, our familiar world was an illusion that he could leave behind and re-enter at will. And he was a healer—a healer who worked through ecstasy, through the inspired interpretation of dreams, through immersing himself and others for extended periods of time in utter stillness.
As for the "logic" that he introduced to the western world, this was not some dry intellectual exercise. It was nothing less than a gift from the gods which when understood right, and applied in our daily life, has the mysterious power of taking us back to the gods.
Empedocles was born just a few years after Parmenides. He lived on the island of Sicily. He, too, is famous for the fundamental role he played in the development of the western world. Just like Parmenides he wrote his teachings in the form of poetry; and this poetry of his exerted a crucial role in creating what were soon to become known as the separate fields of philosophy, rhetoric, medicine, chemistry, biology, astronomy, cosmology and psychology.
But Empedocles was far more than the cosmologist or scientist he is now made out to be. He was also a sorcerer whose words had a magic power that, for over two thousand years, has bewitched and confused even the brightest of minds. Like Parmenides he was a healer who specialized in ecstasy and in the ability to access other states of consciousness at will. He openly announced that he had realized his immortality; had discovered his own divinity. And through his poetry he recorded techniques, which are as powerful now as they ever have been, for leading people to the direct experience of their own divine nature.
As for his amazingly intricate teachings about the details of the world around us: these were never meant just to stimulate people's curiosity and become an object of interest in themselves. On the contrary, their real purpose was to free us from the illusions that bind us and bring us to an immediate awareness of our own immortal soul.
Between them, Parmenides and Empedocles laid the most basic foundations for the world and culture we now live in. But with the passing of time we have forgotten who they were. The truth about the real nature of their work has been neglected, distorted, ignored—transformed into just another of those empty illusions that they themselves tried to set us free from.
There is nothing accidental about the fact that we in the West are starved for some real sense of meaning and crying out for something that, in spite of all our apparent sophistication and material success, we are no longer even able to name. This western civilization of ours was created for a purpose. Until we start to discover that purpose again, our lives will be meaningless. Unless we touch our roots and make contact again with the essence of our past, we can have no future.