Sunday, 9 December 2018

Supper's Ready

From Supper's Ready Illustrated by Nathaniel Barlam 
(see YouTube link at end of post)


The other night, while I was doing the dishes, I listened to Supper's Ready by Genesis for the first time in over 30 years. For those of you unfamiliar with the track, it's a 23 minute 'concept song', which takes up the whole of Side 2 of the band's 1972 LP, FoxtrotAs such, it's very easy to deride it as pretentious, overblown silliness. Many have done  so, of course, including myself at times. You can see why punk had to happen, in a sense. But as the years go by one gets less uptight about these things and I have to say that I really enjoyed hearing it again. It's such a buoyant work, packed to the brim with lyrical inventiveness and musical dexterity.

It's hard to believe that Peter Gabriel was only 21 when Supper's Ready was recorded. His voice carries such force and authority, as well as sounding distinctly weird and otherworldly. As for Phil Collins, despite the many low points of his dire (though highly successful) solo career, this track reminds us just what an outstanding drummer he's always been, up there with the best of the best to my mind, e.g. Keith Moon (The Who) and John Bonham (Led Zeppelin). His entry at 4:25 in the YouTube link below is simply magisterial.

What struck me most, however, was the deeply eschatological content of the lyrics. I've no idea if Gabriel (who I think wrote the lyrics) is or was a Christian, but the New Testament motifs in the song are remarkably overt. Nathaniel Barlam's artwork, in the outstanding video below, highlights this aspect really well. It's utterly unthinkable that a contemporary UK rock band would take on such a theme and from such a blatantly pro-Christian standpoint. We'd be far more likely, in my view, to see something in the style of David Bowie's sinister Blackstar video, where the Father of Lies (for surely it is he) is welcomed as a liberating force. 

Today is the second Sunday of Advent, and the Church invites us to contemplate Christ's coming again in glory at the end of time. To be honest, I think we could do a whole lot worse at this time of year than listen to and reflect on this song.

There is also, I should say, something archetypally English about Supper's Ready. You'll know what I mean when you hear it. This song just couldn't have been conceived or written in any other country. Whether the English are still capable of such creative bounce and flair is, of course, another question.

Anyway, here it is. Enjoy!

Wednesday, 5 December 2018

The 1970s inflexion when we lost a hopeful future

The early 1970s (my early teens) were a period of economic decline and national political pessimism; but also a time when there was considerable hope about a possible desirable future - utopianism was having its last big phase. Since the later 70s there have been periods of greater national energy and economic-political recovery; but never any formed optimism.

Now, it is clear enough to me now that the early-70s optimism, and belief-in a coming transformation of society was delusory - nonetheless it was a fact of life.

For example, when I turned 17 I did not bother learning to get a driving license, because I was confident that cars would not be around for much longer: I believed that the demise of our industrial society was imminent, and that was what I wanted.

I envisaged a village-level and more communal life - much like Medieval times but minus the Warrior Lord and the Priests.

This absence was important, because I understood that without this needless and counter-productive expenditure of resources (money, food, time and energy) I thought we could:

1. Raise the standard of living of the ordinary peasants above subsistence to a reasonable sufficiency.

2. Increase the amount of discretionary leisure from minimal to ample.

3. And, thereby, enable people to do what they deeply wanted to do; which was (I thought) to replace the business of fighting and religion with a great expansion of arts and crafts - and, implicitly, sexual freedom too, although I did not articulate this.

This utopian vision owed itself to a combination of William Morris socialism through to RH Tawney, and the self-sufficiency/ ecology/ Small is Beautiful movement as advocated by the likes of John Seymour and EF Schumacher. It was also sustained by great love of Tolkien, and of folk music.


What happened as the seventies proceeded (the balance inflecting probably from 1976-7) was that this vision gradually soured and darkened - and dystopia became more and more dominant; and has stayed.

The village idyll of my hopes was replaced by a rotten pastoralism that saw the countryside as a fake, concealing dark and sinister goings-on - mind-controlled rustics engaged in ritual mutilation, rape, murder; or secret business and government agencies concealed in forests or underground. A totalitarian future of surveillance, manipulation, poisoning, destruction, massification...

The hedonic, creative paganism of my vague daydreams was replaced by instinctive savagery or actually demonic activities.


Of course, my early teen daydreams were false and impossible, and could not really have led to anything Good - and I suppose this fact was gradually brought home.

But this necessary disillusion did not lead to deeper insight (i.e. not to Romantic Christianity) - but only to that materialistic cynicism and implicit despair which has so very-completely corrupted my generation.

Time horizons have shortened, the capacity - and desire for - coherent consecutive thought has all-but disappeared from general public discourse; the focus is on forgetting oneself in self-indulgence and current happiness while signalling dominance and sexiness; alongside an official-bureaucratic culture of moral self-congratulation/  fake-ideals/ manufactured 'passion'/ permanent guilt; that is going nowhere but to a world of microchipped semi-humans dwelling in a web of convincing-illusions - a virtual techno-reality provided-controlled by a centralised organisation that we hope, but don't actually believe, will be benign.

In short, we utterly failed (as a society) to learn from the dreams and disillusion of the 1970s; we failed then, and we have since doubled-down on this failure.



As is the custom, I got my son an advent calendar recently which he started opening on 1st December. It's surprising how hard it is to get one with a religious theme nowadays (can you imagine a couple of generations hence people saying, "Christmas is a Christian festival, really?") but we succeeded though it was not possible to find one without chocolates which I (not he) would have preferred. Anyway, at least this one had a picture of the crib and Mary and Joseph in the stable with the three wise men and shepherds standing around, and the star shining brightly overhead. It also had sections of the story behind each window which you can read as you eat your chocolate and so actually consider what it's all about. This my son seemed to do because he asked me this morning if it was true that Mary was only 13 when Jesus was born. He's 13 so that seemed, as he put it, weird.

This did ring a bell with me so I looked it up and, sure enough, it is thought she was around that age. Apparently Jewish girls at the time were betrothed at about 13 so it is possible this was something like her age at the Annunciation. I don't know what the average lifespan was in those days but if Jesus was 33, as traditionally assumed, when he was crucified, that would put her in her late 40s. As she is supposed to have lived quite some time after that, it seems plausible.

Anyway, this piqued my son's interest, and in some way the fact of Mary possibly being the same age as him made the story come alive a little bit more than usual. He, like most children properly exposed to it, has always loved the Christmas story and not just because of the association with presents. The story really is magical even if many of the elements we now think of as essential don't find much support in the Bible. No matter. The Holy Spirit, I am sure, is more than capable of inspiring human beings with aspects of the Nativity tale that are poetically true even if they are not literally so. And they may even be literally true as well. But what matters is the spiritual effect, the conjuring up of mystery and wonder, the mixture of high and low, angels and beasts, wise men and shepherds, almighty God and a little baby, a shining star in a dark winter's night over a humble stable, all things that strike a note of profound recognition in us. We acknowledge the story as something that is true on a deeper level than mere fact. We are in the realm of archetypes, and our imagination responds to this meeting of the divine and the human with the joy that comes from a sudden clearing away of the clouds of worldly ignorance and a revelation of spiritual truth.

Now we can see Mary as a mother but in some ways not much more than a child herself. This does seem odd to us today, very odd if the truth be told. But people probably matured earlier and grew up more quickly in those days. Be that as it may, the point I wish to make is the life of Christ really is the greatest story ever told, and the beginning of that life has a quality of such magic, purity and holiness about it which is recognised by all children before they are corrupted by this world. If we have to become as little children before we can enter the kingdom of heaven (and we do), then we need to get back to the Christmas story and use it to cleanse ourselves of worldly cynicism and intellectual sophistication and even the sort of attitude towards spirituality that seeks esoteric knowledge or higher experience for the earthly self.

Only the truly innocent can know God. Perhaps that is part of the Christmas message we need to hear more than ever these days.

Thursday, 29 November 2018

The Story of Joseph of Arimathea

Hear the tale of Joseph of Arimathea, who brought the Chalice of Christ to this land. Listen now.

Joseph was a merchant, the younger brother of Our Lady's father, Saint Joachim. He was a great seafarer and was often away from Judea, sometimes for months on end, voyaging up and down the Middle Sea to the Pillars of Hercules and beyond, now and again as far North as the mist-shrouded island of Britain.

Because it was so distant, Joseph wasn't able to visit Britain as often as he would have liked. Without knowing why, he felt a warmth and affinity for the place - for the wildness of her rocky shores, the greenness of her hills, the depths of her forests, the songs and incantations of her people, and the constant interplay of wind, sunshine, rain and mist, chasing each other this way and that across the mottled sky.

The Britons were good hosts. They knew how to entertain visitors and make them feel special. So when Joseph the carpenter - the father of Joseph's great-nephew, the boy Jesus, Mary's son - spoke to him one day about taking the lad on a trip, Joseph immediately thought of Britain. It would be good for Jesus, he thought, to experience a really long voyage, and good for him too to explore a country with a climate and landscape so different from his own.

Joseph had always enjoyed Jesus's company. He liked him so much that he wanted their times together to go on forever. He wasn't quite sure why he was so drawn to him. Jesus was nine years old now, and though he played happily with the other boys and was a good and dutiful son, there was clearly something different about him, something hard to pin down - a stillness, a waiting, a sense of space and peace. Just being close to Jesus - not necessarily speaking to him - had a good effect on Joseph, refreshing his mind and making his body feel lighter and younger. So he was delighted that Jesus's parents had entrusted him with his care for the three month round trip.

On arrival, thirty days later, at the South West tip of the island, Joseph and his party were joyously  received by Conor, King of Dumnovia, who had come to know Joseph well over the years. There was a fine night of feasting and storytelling in the Royal Pallisade and the next morning it struck Joseph that Jesus might benefit from a day alone with nature, far from the hubbub of the market place. So he left him on Looe Island, under the watchful gaze of Conor's men, while he went into town to sell his linens and spices. And when he returned towards sunset, he saw a sight that imprinted itself on his mind and stayed with him for the rest of his life. For there was Jesus sitting on the sand, with the sea and the sun at his back, and all around him - sitting, standing, lying down - was a circle of fishermen, the lame and the crippled, the old, and tiny little children. Jesus was talking animatedly and gesturing with his hands. All eyes were fixed on him. Conor's soldiers stood by on the rocks, leaning on their spears, but they were watching him too. So were the seagulls that circled the sky. Joseph saw Jesus pick up a pebble. It was small, about the size of the tin cup his mother had given him for the voyage. He took it with both hands and lifted it high above his head. And the rays of the setting sun caught the pebble and it shone forth with a mingled light of flame-flecked red and gold. Everyone gazed at it. Then Jesus saw Joseph coming and let the pebble fall. He waved happily to his uncle, like any nine year old boy, and the moment was gone.

Joseph never forgot it though, until the moment came again twenty-four years later on the night Jesus blessed and shared the bread and wine. Joseph was there, as always, watching, wondering, and waiting. For twenty years there had been nothing. Then, out of nowhere, so much so quickly - miracles, crowds, disciples, disdain, acclaim. And now this supper in Simon the Leper's upstairs room.

A fire crackled on the hearth. Jesus's Apostles sat around him at the table. Some looked perplexed. Joseph noted Peter's furrowed brow. Judas, for some reason, was no longer there. But John, sitting to Jesus's right, seemed as calm and serene as ever. Joseph was waiting at the table, along with Mary Magdalene, her sister, Martha, and her brother, Lazarus. He saw a winespill on the floor and went to get a cloth. And when he came back, there it was again - the moment at Looe Island. 'Take this,' said Jesus as he lifted the golden chalice (which Joseph had bought at Capernaum Market), 'and drink from it. This is the Chalice of my blood, the blood of the New Covenant, which will be poured out for you and for many.' He paused, then raised it above his head. 'Do this in memory of me.'

Joseph dropped the cloth. Past met present in the person of his mesmeric, unpredictable great-nephew, and the scales fell from his eyes. Yet just one day later Jesus was dead, and his followers (save John, Jesus's mother, and Mary Magdalene) scattered like chaff. Joseph himself had stayed the course. It was the least he could do, he told himself, to make up for the years he had spent hiding his discipleship for fear of the Chief Priests. Joseph cared nothing for them now, but when the Temple Guards seized Jesus in the garden he had fled with the rest, running back across the lawn to Simon's house. When he got upstairs, he saw the fire burning low and the Chalice still there on the table, blazing fiercely with an intense, red-tinged glow of its own. Just standing there watching it shine somehow warmed Joseph's heart and helped restore his spirits. So he picked up the chalice and took it with him into the night.

Hours later, Joseph found himself at the foot of the cross with John and the two Mary's. When, in the midst of driving rain and hail, Jesus bowed his head and died and the Centurion plunged his spear into his side, Joseph leapt forward on an impulse and held up the Chalice, catching the blood and water that poured forth. He ran to the Governor's palace and asked Pilate if he, Joseph, could take Jesus down from the cross and bury him. Pilate, who knew and respected Joseph, said yes. So Joseph wrapped him in his finest linen shroud and buried him in his own tomb and Peter and James rolled a heavy stone across the entrance. But the Chief Priests were furious. 'You'll never trade again,' Jacob the Fox roared.'You were one of his followers. You'll let those Gallileans steal the body so that this liar's boast of rising from the dead will seem true.' And they put an armed guard around the tomb. But Joseph went home and stayed there two days until the Temple Guards kicked down his door and dragged him off to a dank and stinking cell at the bottom of the High Priest's palace. They chained his arms to the wall and left him there in darkness. He knew why too. Mary Magdalene had told him earlier that day. 'Jesus is risen,' she had cried as she danced a jig on his doorstep, her face transfigured with joy. 'It's true, Joseph. I've seen him. I've spoken to him.' And Joseph was sorry now that he hadn't believed her and had put her story down to wish-fulfilment and an over-active imagination.

Then, as he was thinking of Mary, the cell pulsed with light and Jesus himself was there, dressed in white and blue, with red, raw wounds on his insteps and wrists. His left hand held the Chalice, while with his right he touched Joseph's chains and instantly they snapped apart. Joseph stood up. Jesus embraced him. 'Peace be with you,' he said, and Joseph felt a power and richness surging through him and a sense of peace and wholeness that was too deep for words and too much to take in. He fell to the floor and lay there weeping, curled into a ball. Jesus lay beside him and put his arms around him and held him tight.

When Joseph felt ready, they stood up again. 'Soon,' said Jesus, 'my Angel will lead you back to the city. He will tell you what to do and where to go.' Then he handed Joseph the Chalice and taught him how to say the Mass. Joseph knelt down and Jesus placed his hands on his head and made him his first Priest. Then Joseph looked up and Jesus was gone. But so was the darkness. The Chalice shone as it had on the night of Jesus's betrayal. Joseph saw the stone walls of the cell surrounding him. He walked around for a while, then sat back down, watching, waiting and praying.

The Angel, when he came, came quietly and not all at once. A red spot in mid-air, just at Joseph's eye level, pulsated and expanded and took on shape and form until a mighty winged being with a flaming sword stood before him. 'I am Michael the Archangel,' he said in a voice like a trumpet blast. 'Come now.' The cell door opened at the Angel's touch. Joseph picked up the Chalice and followed him along the corridor. It was night. The guards were lying on the ground, fast asleep. The Angel led Joseph to the High Priest's courtyard. The palace gates swung open as if in response to an unspoken command. Michael walked the length of one street with Joseph, then turned right into a little alley. 'Go now,' he said. 'Gather those close to you and sail West to the Pillars of Hercules, then North to the shores of Britain. You must make your way into the mountains from there, following the star which the Most High will send you. Where the star stops, there you shall build your church - the Church of the Grail - and you will be the first Grail King.'

Joseph was so astounded at everything that was happening that the Angel's words about becoming a king made no sense whatsoever. Then Michael vanished and Joseph was alone. He clasped the Chalice tight and ran to the house of Mary Magdalene.

By twilight next day, Joseph had gathered his company - his wife, Anna, and their twelve year old son, Josephus, along with his brother, Bron, his wife, Enygria, and their baby son, Alain. There was Nasciens too, a prince from the East who had come to Jerusalem on business and had seen Jesus and spoken with him and become his disciple, giving up the throne waiting for him at home. Mary Magdalene was there as well, together with Lazarus and Martha. Mary had told the Apostles Joseph's story, and John the Beloved came to the harbour that evening to give his blessing. Then they set sail. The ship had one sail and it was white, but Mary had spent the afternoon drawing a picture of the Archangel Michael on it, red and gold in colour with a flaming sword in his right hand.

They voyaged West for fourteen days and fourteen nights. Joseph had placed the Chalice in a little chamber below deck and the pilgrims gathered around it as often as they could in silence, prayer and song. They found they needed neither food nor drink. Just being in the presence of the Chalice gave them all the sustenance, both physical and spiritual, that they needed.

They came to the port of Massilia in Southern Gaul, where they stopped to rest awhile. Mary, Martha and Lazarus went into the town to see what was there and when they came back Mary's eyes were ablaze and her face was shining like the sun. 'I must stay,' she told Joseph. 'I am sorry. But I know in my heart and soul that this is my work: to bring the grace of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit to the people of this place.'

Jospeh was sad beyond reckoning to lose Mary and her family, but he recognised in her words and demeanour the unmistakable marks of God's calling. So he gave her his blessing and Mary gave him her blessing and Joseph and his family sailed on to the South West tip of the island of Britain.

They were within sight of Dumnovia when Nasciens committed a grievous sin. The Angel had instructed Joseph that only himself and Mary Magdalene were to hold the Chalice, but one day, when no-one else was about, Nasciens felt an overpowering desire to touch it. 'If I can touch the Chalice,' he thought, 'it will be the same as touching Jesus.' But as soon as he did, he fell to the floor and a mighty voice, which Joseph recognised as that of the Angel, boomed around the ship. 'Nasciens,' it said, 'for the great love you feel you will be rewarded, after Joseph is dead, by becoming the second Priest of the Chalice, which shall henceforth be known as the Grail. But the punishment for your presumption today will be to live far beyond the lot of mortal men, until the day the third Grail Priest succeeds you, so that every minute of your life becomes a weariness and only the grace and presence of the Grail will keep you from losing your mind in despair at the endless cycle of birth and death and the loss of so many loved ones gone before you to the Seat of Judgment.'

So Nasciens changed his clothes to black and stayed below deck, kneeling before the Grail in silence and penitence for the rest of the voyage.

King Conor was long dead but Joseph and his party were royally welcomed by Caradoc, Conor's son, who was now King. He asked Joseph and his family to live with him and his Queen in the Royal Pallisade, but Joseph looked up at the night sky, saw no sign of the promised star, shook his head sadly and continued on his way.

On the third night, the star appeared before them like a throbbing, radiant ball of red and gold. Their journey was long and hard and they travelled far, high into the mountains of Gwynedd. But everywhere they went, the poor and the lame and the little children came to greet them and receive a blessing. Anna had turned their ship's sail into a flag and she walked at the head of the company each day, through the mountains, hills and valleys, holding Mary's drawing of the Archangel like a banner before her. Behind her, Joseph carried the Grail, veiled now in a cloth of white samite.

At long last the star stopped above their heads in a valley sheltered by four mountains, where a spring of bright, clear water bubbled and flowed. So the company built their church - the Church of the Grail - on that very spot.

They stayed there years and years. In time, the Church became a castle known as Dinas Ffaraon - the Fortress of the High Powers - with the Grail King ruling the surrounding lands. Joseph was the first Grail King, as the Angel had prophecied, and when he died his son Josephus succeeded him as King and Nasciens as Priest. But Josephus was killed in battle shortly afterwards and the Kingship passed to Alain son of Bron. Alain's royal line exists today, though it is hidden now until the coming of the fourth Grail Priest, he who will restore all things for a season before the advent of Antichrist and the second coming of Our Lord.

Alain, while he was King, made contact with Mary Magdalene's community in Gaul and with the Sisters of Saint Brighid in Ireland, those holy women who watch and guard the sacred flame night and day at their monastery in Kildare. For hundreds of years a great round of chant rang out from all three sites, one following on from the other - from dawn till mid-afternoon in Gwynedd, from mid-afternoon till midnight in Gaul, and from midnight till dawn in Kildare. A triangle of numinous force was established - a musical mirror of the Holy Trinity - from Britain to Gaul to Ireland and back to Britain again.

Nasciens had been Grail Priest for over four hundred years when one night Blaise, the Chief Druid and teacher of Merlin, came to Dinas Ffaraon and advised him that because the times had grown so evil it would be prudent to partially remove the castle and neighbouring lands to the Otherworld. Those with a questing, sincere heart might still stumble upon the Grail, but Dinas Ffaraon would no longer be a place to be found on a map and the Grail would therefore lie out of reach of maraudering Irish pirates. And so it fell out and so it remained until the time of Arthur and the coming of the third Grail Priest, Galahad. But by then the spiritual sight of men and women had become so dim and occluded that even if the Grail Castle had still been a physical place in the world they would have been unable to perceive it.

If it was like that then, it is a thousand times worse today. Yet stories are told and rumours abound and whispers run wild that the fourth Grail Priest is among us and is about to show his hand. Some even claim to have seen him - a man I know, for instance - a mountaineer who was out climbing with his nephew one bright March day. He got lost in the foothills trying to get back to his car and stumbled on an old stone church near a spring of bubbling water in a valley ringed by four mountains. It was almost dark and golden lights were shining in the church. There was singing too, some kind of chant in a foreign language. My friend and his nephew crept closer and peered in and saw a company of men and women - a dozen or so - standing in a circle around a candlelit table, and on the table was a golden chalice which seemed to shine and vibrate with a red-tinged glow all of its own. Standing behind the chalice was a man, but neither my friend not the boy could see his face because of the light radiating out from the chalice. But they did see him lift it up above his head. Three times he did it, while bells rang and everyone in the church knelt down and bowed their heads. The mountaineer and his nephew were so moved by what they saw that they knelt down too and bowed their heads and closed their eyes. And when they opened them the mountains and spring were still there but the church had gone and what they saw instead, about two hundred yards off, just discernible in the gloom, was the familiar outline of my friend's Ford Escort, parked beside the same oak tree he had picked as a good parking spot early in the morning.

They drove back to Manchester in silence he said, but it was the happiest, most restful, most inspiring silence he had ever known. 'I had the sense,' he told me, 'that tremendous events, way beyond the scope of our minds to comprehend, are close at hand. A radical reorientation, despite appearances, is on its way. Redemption and renewal are nearer to our world, nearer to our country and nearer to our hearts than we think.'

Nicholas Roerich, Treasure in the Mountain
Nicholas Roerich Museum, New York

Wednesday, 28 November 2018

What is the primary cause of the decline of Western civilisation?

Somebody who read my previous post here asked this question.  

In that post I said that the main cause was loss of faith in God and denial of transcendent reality, but there are other factors ranging from the hedonism and greed of the materially comfortable, to probable degeneration of human stock resulting from the preservation of those who in previous times would have been weeded out by natural selection (this is a simple fact, like it or not), to demonic interference and corruption which we are too feeble to perceive or resist, and so on. Many of these are connected. However, I see a principal, not primary but secondary, cause as something which is regarded as a great virtue (which is precisely the problem), and that is compassion. Or rather, it is fake compassion, the appearance of compassion, for this is certainly not the real thing as understood spiritually since real compassion is allied to wisdom and love of God. And this version has neither of those as it is not truly and intelligently felt but thoughtlessly sentimentalised.  

Our fake compassion is extended to everything equally regardless of what it is. In fact, its perverse nature means it is increasingly extended to the less worthy rather than the more so since, paradoxically as it may appear, but is not when you understand what is behind it, its real motive is destruction of the good. This may not be a conscious motive of those who respond to it but certainly is of those who are using and exploiting it

What are the criteria for judging what is more or less worthy? To understand that you have to see reality as spiritual which, of course, it is. Then you will see there is a hierarchy of truth, goodness and beauty. What corresponds to these in their higher aspects has greater merit than what corresponds to them on a lower level. This does not mean that the lower is less deserving in its own way but it has to be seen as lower or else it will obscure and even destroy, in this world, not really, of course, the higher.

This is what our fake compassion is doing. It is destroying truth, goodness and beauty. It is being used to level down and reduce the higher to the lower in the name of unity. A culture arises because it seeks to manifest the higher. It sinks when it refuses to distinguish between the higher and the lower or acknowledge that there is any such distinction. It can be a delicate balancing act to be able to perceive the higher but not use that to override the validity of the lower, and the fact that in the past we have sometimes failed in that is being exploited in order to eradicate the higher altogether. But real compassion allied to wisdom would be able to do this without any difficulty.

When you no longer have the idea of God as the centrally organising fact of existence you have to replace it with something else. Today that something else is the abstract notion of humanity, and humanity, abstractly considered, is regarded as just one thing with no distinctions within it allowed. It is seen in purely material terms and so everything is equal. There is no better or worse except insofar as better corresponds to this idea and worse is what goes against it. Compassion is defined as treating all humans and their cultural achievements in the same way, and anything that resists this tyranny (which is what it is) becomes branded as hateful.

It is easy to look at past generations and say they lacked compassion because often they did in the way we understand it today. But in our zeal for imagined progress we have forgotten the actual purpose of life in this world which does not exist of and for itself but as the means to know life more fully in a higher dimension of being. Any supposed compassion which ignores this is a false compassion which will cause more harm than good. And that means, more often than not, it is just an excuse to feel good about oneself. The greatest teacher and exemplar of love there has ever been, the one from whom we actually get our idea of compassion in the West, said that his kingdom was not of this world. We should not forget this and the implications of it.

Monday, 26 November 2018

Weird Albion: notice of A Year in the Country by Stephen Prince

 Montage of the kind of things that epitomise the YitC mood

A few days ago I stumbled across a web site and book that is devoted to an certain 'aesthetic' of the English countryside in its uncanny and numinous aspects: A year in the country.

It's well worth a look.

(...Bearing in mind that it is interesting as an aesthetic - and its ironic-leftist politics and anything-but-Christian non-spirituality are just the usual mainstream perspective on Life.)

Thursday, 22 November 2018

What Are the Signs of a Civilisation in Decline?

Before we can answer that question, we have to ask another one. What is civilisation? For only when we know what something is, can we begin to understand if and how a supposed version of it is not living up to its purpose. Therefore, to know if a particular civilisation is in decline we must determine how it stands in relation to the root principle behind all human culture and activity worthy of the name of civilisation.

So, what is civilisation? I would say it must start with an openness to the transcendent and then proceed with the attempt to organise a group of human beings according to that. Essentially, a civilisation seeks to reflect the pattern of the heavens on Earth, and so it manifests in the world primarily in the form of a religion from which there then develops a culture. But the former must derive from the latter which is the inspiring impulse. You might accuse me of loading the dice here. By defining civilisation as necessarily founded on the spiritual, I may be giving it my own preferred spin and excluding other valid forms of human organisation not founded like that. But, in actual fact, are there any? Any civilisations, I mean, that have started from a non-spiritual beginning, not ones that exist like that now but were not originally so.  It seems obligatory that all civilisations grow out of an awareness, however dim, of a higher archetypal truth to which human society should try to conform. And the higher the civilisation, the deeper the awareness is of this truth. There can be no civilisation without religion.

I therefore maintain that any civilisation which merits that description must be spiritual in that it is founded on spiritual principles, even if these are not particularly developed. But openness to the transcendent is essential. Without this there is nothing to act as a magnet to pull a human society out of its concern with physical appetites and self-centred desires. There must be an awareness of a higher reality to give any group of humans an organising principle that is coherent and brings out their creative potential.

Now we have established that, it should be easy to mark traces of decline in any given civilisation. First and foremost, it would start with an increasing loss of the sense of the transcendent. A closing to higher realities, as a consequence of which many other things would arise. These would include:

  • A greater focus on things of this world because that is now seen as all there is.
  • The deterioration and disappearance of religion. This results in the rise of vulgarity and barbarism in culture and behaviour. You might question whether these would be inevitable but it is surely obvious that once you reject a higher reality then lower forms of being assume greater prominence.
  • The rise of false forms of spirituality to fill the hole left by the disappearance of serious religion. But these would often revolve around the search for emotional experience rather than orientation towards the good because the idea of the transcendent good has been lost or obscured, and the individual is now what matters so it is his personal fulfilment that counts.
  • Cultural relativism, there being no acknowledged absolute which would create a hierarchical scale of values with things that correspond to it more being better and things that correspond to it less being worse.
  • This would also produce egalitarianism. No hierarchy, no better or worse, all is the same. Man as he is seen to be in this world is man as he is in toto. This prompts the interesting thought that democracy only comes about as the religious impulse declines. History seems to confirm this. 

These are the main signifiers but from them come other things, some of which in the new despiritualised culture appear to be advances.

  • Differences between men and women denied or minimised and an increasing influence of women in society as the masculine pole of spirit is subsumed by the feminine pole of matter.
  • Worship of celebrity, athletes, singers and actors as human achievement becomes focused on success in this world and appeal to the desires of the lower man, that being all there is of man.
  • Welfare and altruism increase as egalitarianism assumes greater importance and this world is all that matters.
  • Mass immigration caused by a wealthy host nation attracting outsiders who wish to benefit from its bounty while it wishes to attract cheap workers. This is also another consequence of egalitarianism but indicative too of a loss of confidence as a successful culture starts to question itself and its legitimacy. Once it does that history shows it's on the downward path, even if it does so for noble reasons.

I'm cheating bit here. As the reader will have observed I am listing what is happening today. However, I still maintain that these are indeed among the classic signs of a civilisation in decline (and they are listed as such by Sir John Grubb in his interesting research into the fate of empires). The question is can anything be done about it?

And the answer is, probably not. We may lament the passing of Western civilisation but nothing lasts in this world, and the fact is this civilisation contained the seeds of its own destruction in liberalism which inevitably levels everything down to a flat plane. Civilisations come and go, and while the period of their decline is depressing for those caught up in it, it does help such people transfer their attention from earthly things to eternal verities and transcendent realities. As your world crumbles into dust you may find it easier to set your sights on higher things. That is the great advantage of living at a time of spiritual loss and cultural decline, a time, moreover, predicted in Christian eschatology which also promises a happy outcome for those who remain true to the inner values of which any civilisation here on Earth, even the best, is only an imperfect representation.