Friday, 24 November 2017

Kathleen Raine - Poet, Platonist, Prophet


I discovered Kathleen Raine (1908-2003) in the Language and Literature Library on the top floor of Manchester's Central Library. It was December 1995 or thereabouts. I was in my mid-twenties then and am obviously a lot older now, but at least I'm still alive, unlike the Language and Literature Library, which exists now as a mere shell of its former self. The Central Library was closed for refurbishment between 2006 and 2010. When it reopened it was still the same circular city-centre landmark and a very attractive space, particularly for those with young children. But what a price to pay! The refit saw the Library lose something like two thirds of its book stock. There are computers aplenty now and lots more individual and group working spaces, but the chances of a young person wandering in and stumbling on a life-changing book have been greatly diminished. That, to my mind, represents a real loss and diminution, and seems somehow emblematic of our era's spiritual and intellectual poverty.

Technically, as I say, the Language and Literature Library still exists, but it's been reduced in size from two levels to one, and has been completely divested of its glamour and mystique. It was a very romantic and seductive place in the '80s and '90s. The lamps hung like little moons and time stood still as you perused the upper and lower levels, pausing here and there to revel in old favourites (Shakespeare, T.S. Eliot and C.S. Lewis in my case) or to make new discoveries, most notably Kathleen Raine and Colin Wilson, the subject of my next piece.

If you stayed there long enough, the spines of certain books would seem like they were speaking to you, urging you to pick them up. I had refrained for a long time in looking at the book with the golden spine and the title in red italics on the upper floor. I feared it for some reason, as if it might be some kind of Siren, luring me to a rocky and storm-tossed death. I only took it down, I remember, one evening about six o'clock when I was in a particularly desperate state of mind, adrift on the sea of life and spiritually and emotionally lost.

I took it down, opened a page at random and immediately felt, for the first time in ages, that I was breathing clear and healthy intellectual air. It was like the spell for the refreshment of the spirit that Lucy finds in the Magician's Book in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. The book was by a woman I'd never heard of - Kathleen Raine - but it spoke to me of things that were once familiar and second-nature but that I'd somehow lost on my journey through teenagerdom and young adulthood. The book was called The Lion's Mouth and I later found out that it was the third volume of Kathleen Raine's autobiography, published in 1977.

What struck me most emphatically was the authority and confidence with which the writer expressed her vision. Jesus 'spoke with authority' says St. Mark's Gospel, and the onlookers were 'astonished.' It's a grand comparison to make but I felt much the same way, so long had it been since I had heard or read anyone talk with conviction about spiritual truth. Raine spoke of the Imagination (with a capital I) and the absolute necessity of following the promptings of her 'Daemon', a kind of guiding spirit or guardian angel, always there to orient her towards her intuition and instinct and away from the calculating rationalism of the world. For Raine, this meant placing poetry before all else, and The Lion's Mouth is unsparing in its account of how such dedication to the Daemon caused tremendous human unhappiness, for herself and those closest to her. Eliot, in Little Gidding, refers to such bitter self-realisation as:

... the rending pain of re-enactment
Of all that you have done, and been: the shame
Of things ill done and done to others harm
Which once you took for exercise of virtue.

Despite this, the poet's insistence on the existence of a higher order than that which we can touch, taste, see, feel or smell, served to inspire me. Her willingness to stake her life on it and her sheer faith in the Platonic archetypes and the multi-layered nature of reality was exactly what I needed at a time when I had lost sight of the Divine in the madness of the city, the poundings of popular culture and the pressure to do something worthwhile with my life.

I have been reading and reflecting on Kathleen Raine ever since. She is best known today, perhaps, as a poet and a scholar of William Blake, who she always regarded as her master. Her poetic oeuvre is undoubtedly fine but the nature poetry she specialised in is not quite my taste, so I'm probably not best placed to comment. Her two-volume Blake and Tradition (1965) is a masterpiece of both scholarship and spiritual insight, showing that the two need never have become mutually exclusive. In it, she debunks the materialist literary theory then gaining ground in academia and directs us towards the true sources of Blake's inspiration in Plato, Plotinus, and the hidden esoteric traditions of the West. Defending Ancient Springs (1967) is a similarly astute book, which studies a range of creative figures who, like both Raine and Blake, placed the Imagination front and centre in their lives and work - Edwin Muir, Vernon Watkins, W.B. Yeats, S.T. Coleridge, Percy Shelley, and St. John Perse. 

In 1981, along with a handful of like-minded individuals, Raine founded Temenos: A Review Devoted to the Arts of the Imagination. The journal's aim was to to transform and reverse the premisses of Western civilisation, from the materialistic to the imaginative. Temenos still exists today under the title The Temenos Academy Review and its website can be viewed here - www.temenosacademy.org.

I'm not convinced, speaking plainly for a moment, that Temenos has moved in the right direction since Raine's death fourteen years ago. I have had some contact with the group and they seem disappointingly uninterested in fighting what Raine called the 'Great Battle' between darkness and light, beauty and ugliness, God and the Devil. It has become a very genteel, London-centric organisation, and reminding its 'top table' of Raine's cri de coeur, as I once did in a letter, can seem almost rude or improper, like passing the port the wrong way or hearing the vicar swear in church. But for whatever reason, the Temenos board has decided that its raison d'être is not so much 'Albion Awakening' as flying the flag of the esoteric in high academic circles. I have to respect that and acknowledge that without Temenos the British cultural landscape would be even more barren than it already is. Temenos, at its best (e.g. the Audio Archive on the website), is a real light shining in  darkness, even if at times I'm tempted to think that 'Don't Frighten the Horses' should be its motto.

I subscribed to the Temenos Academy Review for two years. The best thing I received was a book called Lighting a Candle, a collection of reminiscences of meetings with Kathleen Raine from about twenty-five people. What comes across most forcefully, reading and rereading this excellent book, is the sanctuary-like ambience of her flat at 47 Paultons Square, Chelsea. It was as if a deeper, purer air could be breathed there than elsewhere. The word 'temenos' means 'sacred space' and that is what her home was to her many visitors. 

Her life and work have been a sacred precinct for me too and I hope and pray that the candle she lit will go on burning - bright and strong - even as the world grows darker and colder, so that that which is good, beautiful and true might be salvaged from the wreckage of this age, which is passing away, and sent across the sea to the shores of the Golden Age to come, a Golden Age which Kathleen Raine foresaw and did her level best to serve in word and deed as a witness and exemplar of the highest order.




Monday, 20 November 2017

Pilgrimage in search of sacred places


There are places which have been regarded as especially sacred - and these have sometimes become places of pilgrimage. In the past couple of hundred years, the ideas of 'sacred' and 'pilgrimage' have become... secularised, or at least expanded in their meaning.

People often undertake pilgrimage to places of national significance - such as battlefields; or to places where particular authors and artists have a connection: for example Shakespeare's birth/death-place in Stratford upon Avon is an international destination; and Wordsworth's Dove Cottage is now a museum and popular site in the Lake District. 

And spiritual pilgrimage places include neolithic stone circles and burial chambers, as well as Christian cathedrals and churches.

But things have changed with respect to the long-standing places of pilgrimage; and what used to be special places (where, let us say, the veil between the material and spiritual worlds seemed thinnest) have now, in many instances, been corrupted and rendered ineffective or even counter-productive: whether by commercialisation, destruction, or ideological colonisation.

Glastonbury is a good example; since it was for a very long time (certainly many hundreds, and perhaps a few thousand, years) regarded as something like 'the holiest ground in England' - a place of religious importance from prehistoric times, site of the first Christian settlement, continuously Christain through Roman, Celtic and Saxon times into the Norman Connquest; and at times the most important abbey in England (and the tomb of King Arthur!).

Yet nowadays, in my judgement, Glastonbury has been substantially corrupted by the anti-Christian New Age movement, which is itself increasingly corrupted by commercialism and an exploitative attitude. The current legends of Glastonbury downplay almost to the point of denial that it is essentially a Christian site - and there is no significant living Christian presence in the town except for the ruins of the vast Abbey.

Perhaps the major US site of spiritual pilgrimage is Concord, Massachusetts (including Walden Pond) - home of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry Thoreau, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Louisa May Alcott. I have been twice, and as of 1998 it still retained much of the 19th century Transcendentalist character.

However, as I have been following the development of the place on-line and in magazines it is apparent that in Concord there has been a near-complete takeover by mainstream 'Liberal' secular perspectives - with a selective focus on issues imported from modern (pseudo-) environmentalism, civil rights, feminism and the rest of it.

This kind of thing is a characteristic of modern institutions, which are all 'converging' onto the same Establishment socio-political agenda of New Leftism, including especially the sexual revolution. Much the same happened in the USSR - where all organisations were merely variations on the theme of communism. All organisations were bureaucratised, and all the bureaucracies became linked-to and driven by the same system tax and corporate subsidies and legal coercions.

We cannot any longer avail ourselves of traditional sources of spiritual nourishment and connection. At best, we may find the spirit in the buildings and landscape of a place, rather than in the human institutions. A good example is Oxford; where the university is not merely corrupted by secular Leftism - but one of the major international sources of this blight. Yet the buildings and cityscape can inspire, and there are individuals and small groups in the place which continue to do excellent work- and provide an unofficial, underground ('catacomb') spirituality.


The consequence is that now we must find and make our own places of pilgrimage and/ or  spiritual connection. This is a spiritual Quest which each can undertake for himself.

What are we looking for in this Quest? Well, it is a combination of the place itself, and the feelings and concepts which that place evokes in us; and the positive outcome is in our primary thinking or 'final participation'.

In other words, a combination of our inner motivation and the place itself is found (by experience) to enable the emergence of our real self, and stimulate us to a mode of thinking and being which is (experientially) found to be enhanced in power and scope - spontaneously insightful and creative because coming from god-within-us.

If we embark on such a Quest, we can expect on the one hand that we will need to be motivated, active and with a correct attitude in order to get anywhere; and equally we can expect that spiritual help will be forthcoming when we will benefit from it or have need.

Such help may be in the positive and validating form of synchronicities and everyday miracles when we are on-the-right-lines; and the deterrence of 'bad luck' and blockages to progress when we are off-track.   

In conclusion, there are still sacred places worthy of pilgrimage, but we will probably need to find these for ourselves, by trial-and-error - and what works for someone else may not work for you...

Thus you will probably need to find your own and personal equivalent of Glastonbury, Concord or Oxford...


Saturday, 18 November 2017

Albion Set Apart

For those who believe in God everything in the world is a sign pointing to him and to the way he works. It’s a fallen world so not everything is a perfect sign but still we can read symbolic significance into nature and its parts. The four elements obviously have symbolic value and are a clue to something beyond themselves, and the same is true for the sun and the moon, the wind, the sea, the eagle, the lion and so much else. Creation is a book which when you learn how to read it points straight at its Creator and gives you an insight into his mind.

With that thought might we consider that the physical position of countries has some bearing on the role they are intended to play? Before I try to answer that let me say that I do believe many countries have divine destinies. Perhaps all countries do to a certain extent but some do to a large extent. Their role is to bring something new into the world, an attitude to life, a mode of relating to the world, focus on a particular divine characteristic, even a quality of consciousness. We can think of Indian metaphysics, Egyptian religion, Greek philosophy, Italian art and those are just some of the more obvious examples which don’t exclude the contribution of other countries and cultures in those fields.  Seemingly at certain historic periods a group of souls in a particular place acts as a kind of conduit between this world and the higher ones and grounds qualities of truth that take humanity as a whole forwards.

So does the fact that Great Britain is detached from Europe (you could say in it but not of it) and at the far west of the continent mean anything? Was it meant to be a land set apart, in some sense a country not quite of this world? It has not been much like that for the last 2,000 years since the Roman conquest brought it into the wider world but there are grounds for thinking it was perceived along those lines in classical times. It was supposed to be where the druids had their most important sanctuaries and a mysterious island hidden behind gleaming white cliffs. It was just beyond the known world and had the aura of somewhere rather strange and enigmatic.

You might point out that Albion may have been perceived as otherworldly from the outside but life for its inhabitants would presumably have been more or less the same as life anywhere else. Perhaps, but  I remember as a boy reading a book called Guardians of the Forest by J.E. Hood, an author whom I've not heard of elsewhere. The book was about the first Roman invasion of Britain by Julius Caesar and the country it depicted was slightly magical, almost as if there was still a connection to non-physical realms that had been lost in more civilized parts of the world.  The otherworld could sometimes be glimpsed just behind this one.  Some spiritual teachings describe a gradual hardening of the environment over time as the world becomes more material and primitive contact with higher dimensions is lost. The Guardians of the book’s title are people who still have something of that contact which gives them, amongst other things,  a benign power over animals. They protect the country and succeed in driving the Romans out though, of course, it is only a temporary victory. The Guardians know they are the last of their kind and that they will soon disappear. Their role as custodians of the land is nearly over. The modern world is arriving.

What I am saying is that it is possible that Britain’s physical location has some significance. The country has a purpose that requires it to be in some degree isolated. This would explain the fact that many people who want Britain to leave the E.U. can’t really define their reasons in a straightforward pragmatic/rationalistic way.  A lot of them know that economically Great Britain might be worse off but still there is this sense of needing to separate the country from something that is antithetical to its destiny. It is intuition that tells us this. The people that favour Britain remaining in the E.U. usually lack this imaginative connection to something deeper than the material world. They cannot understand it and when they suspect its presence they often dislike it and try to tar it with the brush of stupidity, ignorance and prejudice. Sometimes they may be right but underneath all that there is something else which is the knowledge that Albion has a mission and that mission requires it to be true to itself.

Sometimes when I have travelled in certain parts of Britain I have felt this connection to the otherworld. This is particularly the case in the West Country and the Highlands of Scotland though I am not saying it is restricted to those places. That is just my experience. Nor am I saying it is restricted to Great Britain. Of course it’s not. Everywhere has places like that. But when we talk of Albion this is what we mean. A connection to higher dimensions of being within the country. And it is by aligning ourselves with the spirit behind these places that we can help to bring Albion back into the outer world. Reawaken the sleeping Arthur you might say.

Countries are real. Albion is real and it has a part to play. Some of the nature of its role is indicated by its geographical location and it is up to its inhabitants to look within themselves and also within their land for a way in which they can help Albion come into expression and give the world the gift it has to offer.  This is no call to a shallow nationalism, other countries have their own tasks, possibly the supreme example being Israel, but there is a reason for the fact that Albion has been slightly set apart. It is the trustee of something precious which it has a duty to protect and uphold, and then bring out into the world for the benefit of all.

Thursday, 16 November 2017

The insanity of Blake as co-opted by radical Leftist atheists!

http://socialistreview.org.uk/372/blakes-jerusalem

The above (linked) nonsense is - I judge - typical of the way that William Blake is understood and taught nowadays - in a culture that has so completely and vehemently rejected Blake's mystical Christian metaphysics - and so fully adopted a this-worldly metaphysics of atheism, materialism and socialism - as to render the reality of Blake all-but invisible!

Interestingly, this way of ultra-selectively reading Blake dates back to Jacob 'Ascent of Man' Bronowski's 'Man without a Mask 1944 study. Bronowski was himself a prominent atheist humanist and internationalist communist in politics (at this time of his life, anyway).

What is interesting to me is the way in which metaphysics - that is, a person's fundamental assumptions regarding the nature of reality - functions in a manner identical with insanity; in the sense that the presumptions shape reality to such an extreme extent that a writer who almost continuously talks of Jesus, angels, and the spiritual - who writes again and again of Albion in the most mystical and prophetic fashion, can be seen as primarily a proto-socialist, dedicated to socio-political revolution on the lines approved by modern Leftists!

Blake a revolutionary - Yes, of course! A political revolutionary atheist/ materialist Leftist - of course Not!

As an antidote - here is a long excerpt from Blakes prophetic poem Milton - spoken by the Milton character - prophetically of the horrors of exactly the rationaism, reductionism, and scientism that was s eloquently advocated by Jacob Bronowski (among many - far less eloquent - others!).

Take note, particularly, of his account of the 'idiot Questioner' - who sounds like the typical mainstream modern Establishment politician/ journalist/ professor - close-kin to the author of the Socialist Review article:

      
The negation is the Spectre, the Reasoning Power in Man:
This is a false Body, an Incrustation over my Immortal
Spirit, a Selfhood which must be put off and annihilated alway.

To cleanse the Face of my Spirit by self-examination,

To bathe in the waters of Life, to wash off the Not Human,        
I come in Self-annihilation and the grandeur of Inspiration;
To cast off Rational Demonstration by Faith in the Saviour,
To cast off the rotten rags of Memory by Inspiration,
To cast off Bacon, Locke, and Newton from Albion’s covering,
To take off his filthy garments and clothe him with Imagination;        

To cast aside from Poetry all that is not Inspiration,

That it no longer shall dare to mock with the aspersion of Madness
Cast on the Inspirèd by the tame high finisher of paltry Blots
Indefinite or paltry Rhymes, or paltry Harmonies,
Who creeps into State Government like a caterpillar to destroy;        

To cast off the idiot Questioner, who is always questioning,

But never capable of answering; who sits with a sly grin
Silent plotting when to question, like a thief in a cave;
Who publishes Doubt and calls it Knowledge; whose Science is Despair,
Whose pretence to knowledge is Envy, whose whole Science is        
To destroy the wisdom of ages, to gratify ravenous Envy
That rages round him like a Wolf, day and night, without rest.

He smiles with condescension; he talks of Benevolence and Virtue,

And those who act with Benevolence and Virtue they murder time on time.
These are the destroyers of Jerusalem! these are the murderers        
Of Jesus! who deny the Faith and mock at Eternal Life,
Who pretend to Poetry that they may destroy Imagination
By imitation of Nature’s Images drawn from Remembrance.

These are the Sexual Garments, the Abomination of Desolation,

Hiding the Human Lineaments, as with an Ark and Curtains        
Which Jesus rent, and now shall wholly purge away with Fire,
Till Generation is swallow’d up in Regeneration.

or ?


Tuesday, 14 November 2017

The Jerusalem Suite


Looking back on my recent posts, I see I have referenced William Blake's Jerusalem on numerous occasions. Why this should be, I am not sure, but it has prompted me to return imaginatively to my childhood and the first time I encountered those veil-piercing lines.

It was July 1982, three weeks or so before our seven years at primary school ended. Seven years is a lifetime when you're a kid. I never thought, deep down, that I'd ever actually leave St. Catherine's. I knew in theory that one day I'd walk through those big green gates and never go back, but I simply couldn't believe in that day's reality. It didn't feel real. In my heart, I mean. I was too wedded to the place - the classrooms, the corridors, the library, the playground - the mise en scéne to so much childhood drama and adventure. More than anything, I felt emotionally bound to my peers - my companions, my comrades, my brothers and sisters in study and sport. I had no siblings of my own, and it upset me that my 'school family' would soon no longer come together under the same roof. September would see us all packed off to High School - the boys to St. Mark's, the girls to The Hollies, with interlopers from other South Manchester primaries - St. Cuthbert's, St. Kentigern's, etc - disturbing the unity and esprit de corps forged through more than half a decade of shared experience.

It was with some sadness then, that I contemplated the annual school concert, scheduled as always for the last Wednesday of term. The concert ran - year in year out - for an hour and a half. The orchestra played (including myself as a second violin) and the choir (of which I wasn't a member) sang. The programme was varied - theatre, spoken word, reminiscences from former pupils and a distribution of leaving certificates from the Bishop of Salford himself.

Every year, right at the end, the leavers would perform a special farewell piece. Twelve months before, we had been treated to the Daniel Jazz, ten minutes of bouncy choral speech recounting the story of Daniel in the lion's den. My year's offering (chosen by our Head of Year, Mrs. Elms) was shorter but possibly even more dramatic - the sixteen lines of Jerusalem in the setting made famous by Sir Hubert Parry, with piano accompaniment from our music teacher, Mr. Clarke.

I had neither heard nor read Jerusalem before. We ran through it for the first time in the School Hall on a sun-kissed Thursday morning. Ours was a humble little Hall, not much more than a wooden floor with a piano in one corner and a statue of Our Lady in the other. Mr. Clarke - a slim, sandy-haired chap - strode in, I remember, through the far doors, sat down at the piano and started to play. 'Morning all,' he hailed us, chipper as always. 'Just sing along with me for now please. As loud and clear as you like.' I picked up one of the lyric sheets he had left on the benches (which he expected us to stand on for what he called 'full-bodied amplification') and was instantly astonished. Before I'd even sung a note I'd turned to the lad next to me, Pat Finn, and whispered, 'This is great. This is what life's all about.' 

I was right about that. Jerusalem was a joy to sing. It really was. Our raw but eager voices boomed, echoed and rebounded around the Hall, bringing (for myself at least) a marked sense of release, of vast spaces - inner and outer - opening up. The melody's dignified, gently rousing lilt soothed and settled my mind while triggering a powerful longing for a depth and quality of being - both individual and collective - which I suddenly and starkly realised I'd wished for more than anything else throughout my young life but had so far only partially experienced, if at all.

Blake's fantastic words - the molten lava of his language - 'countenance divine', 'clouded hills', 'burning gold' - had a poetic and spiritual potency which I had encountered in only a very few places - the Narnia books mainly, plus Roger Lancelyn Green's retellings of Greek, Norse, Egyptian and Arthurian legends. Mrs. Elms, to be fair, had told a few good stories in this mould too. She was from the West Country and had often held forth about Joseph of Arimathea and how he'd brought the Holy Grail to Glastonbury and planted his staff on Wearyall Hill, bringing forth the miraculous thorn tree which flowers every year on Christmas Day. All these tales played a pivotal role in my life, giving me that mythic, archetypal sustenance which the somewhat desacralised, post-Vatican II Catholicism of my youth believed the world no longer needed. 

I was ready for Jerusalem, in other words, and when we sang it that morning it felt like I was coming home - to myself, to God, and to my friends - to that wider mystery I had always dimly perceived and had reached out for through both my reading and my yearning for camaraderie - a double-edged quest for a 'Round Table', if you like - all through my time at St. Catherine's.

'I will not cease from mental fight,' we sang, and the sun smashed through the windows, transforming the Hall into a golden bowl of warmth and light. I've always had a vivid imagination, it's true, but I swear at that moment I heard a voice in my ear. An old man's voice. Foreign. East European or Middle-Eastern. 'Before you leave this school,' it said, 'you will see the Holy Grail.' I was so shocked that I missed the next line - 'nor shall my sword sleep in my hand' - but made sure I was back on track for the last two - 'till we have built Jerusalem, in England's green and pleasant land.' It felt, all of a sudden, like a matter of life and death that I should sing those two lines loud and well. If someone had asked me why, I could only have replied, 'the old man expects it of me.' But who that old man was and why he had spoken to me, I had no idea at all.

******* 

There was a violin teacher who wasn't employed by the school but came in to give individual lessons to pupils who expressed an interest. One of those pupils was me - not, if I'm honest, because I had any huge enthusiasm for the violin but because my Mum and Dad were keen for me to learn an instrument. They saw it as a badge of distinction and a distinguishing mark for myself as a working class boy in a largely middle class school. 

Miss Corcoran was the teacher's name. She was calm and grave, and though her name was Irish, like mine and many of my colleagues, she was actually Welsh - from Caernarfon - not far from the Castle, she said - and her voice was as musical as the instrument she taught. She was a smallish woman with  brown straight hair and big silver earrings like hoops. Her eyes were brown and wide, her face as round as the sun in the sky, and the dresses and skirts she wore, unless my memory deceives me, were always blue or gold. She sometimes wore a headband too - usually green or purple but now and again white or pink.

Miss Corcoran's lessons were a definite boon as they gave you twenty minutes out of the classroom every week. I liked the little lamp-lit music room at the end of the corridor too and felt at home in her company. She exuded in her voice and bearing a watchful, unspoken spirituality, and I came over time (two school years) to see her as something of a kindred spirit. 

My allocated time that particular year was twenty past two on a Monday afternoon, just before the afternoon break. I also recall that for reasons which now escape me I gave up 'private' tuition as soon as I went to St. Mark's. My lesson on the last Monday of term, therefore, two days before our concert, was the last one I ever had.

It was a damp and drizzly afternoon. Miss Corcoran sat facing me, as usual, on her three-legged stool. Rain rapped on the roof and trickled down the round windowpane behind her head. I can't remember the music we were playing but will never, ever forget Miss Corcoran saying about half-way through:

'I'm looking forward to Wednesday night, John. Mr. Clarke tells me you're singing Jerusalem. Is that right?'

'Yes, miss.'

Do you like it?'

'I do, Miss, it's ace. It's the best song I've ever heard and I love singing it with the others.'

'Why?' she asked, leaning forward. 'What makes you love it?'

'I don't know, Miss. I feel real when I sing it. That's all. And I never feel real anywhere else, except in the playground or when I'm reading.'

Miss Corcoran's wide eyes widened some more. Encouraged, I carried on: 'I feel in tune with myself when I sing it, Miss. With who I really am, I mean. Deep down inside.'

Miss Corcoran nodded, grinned, adjusted her purple headband and stood up, her eyes fixed on my violin and bow. 'It makes me feel close to God as well,' I added in a quieter voice. 'Close to God and close to my friends.'

I expected her to say something in reply but all she did was point with her eyes to the instrument in my hands. 'Let me play it for you,' she said, and I handed her the violin and bow. Without further ado she started to play. Jerusalem, of course. And for the second time that fortnight I was astonished beyond measure. 

She looked different. That was the first thing. Miss Corcoran usually played in the classical style, the violin jutting out from her chin at 90°. But a Gaelic fiddler stood before me now - violin slung low beneath her chin, bow clasped loosely in her hand. The tune was the same as the one I'd come to know. I recognised where the words went - 'And did those feet ...', etc. The feel of it was Celtic though, but hard to pin down. It felt like a lament in many ways, but one that was wild, exultant and savage all at once, its sadness caught, held, and taken up into a wide-ranging, all-embracing harmony and pattern - a visionary, healing tapestry of music.

Miss Corcoran played, I listened, and the fixtures and fittings around us - the stools, the piano, the lamp, the music stands - began mysteriously to blur, slide and fade. I rubbed my eyes but their solidity did not return. They wobbled and wavered, grew bigger, then smaller, then vanished altogether, leaving me in a new and very strange setting.

It was night and I was standing with a great throng of people around a roaring, leaping fire. The fiddler played on ('bring me my bow of burning gold') but out of sight now. I looked up. The stars were out in force. I picked out Cassiopeia and Arthur's Wain pinpoint bright against the inky sky. The air was cold and the warmth of the blaze welcome. Everyone was jostling towards it. I recognised a few faces - a couple of fellow-pupils - Billy Prince and Kath McQueen - one or two parents and even the odd teacher. But it wasn't the people around me that compelled my attention. It was the fire itself. I hustled my way to the front to see it more clearly. Everyone else just wanted to keep warm - rubbing their hands and turning up their collars - and that was fine, but I had seen something in the fire, something odd, something no-one else seemed to have spotted - figures moving about in the flames, little black silhouettes, about a score of them, at the heart and centre of the blaze.

Jerusalem was still going, at the line 'bring me my spear', but I'd lost track of time and wasn't sure if that was as far as Miss Corcoran (if it was still Miss Corcoran) had got to or whether she was playing it over and over in a loop. I concentrated on the fire itself - a mighty curtain of heat and light - and the more I looked the more I saw, like I was watching a film - forms coming into focus and a story taking shape. People in cloaks and hoods were walking up a hill and at the top of the hill was a great tower. Their leader was old and bent and walked with a stick but moved nonetheless with purpose, direction and speed. The woman behind him held something bright and quivering in her hands - some kind of jewel, I thought - but it was hidden in the folds of her cloak and I couldn't be fully sure.

The old man stopped at the tower, stretched out his right arm and touched it with his hand. As he did so he planted his stick into the ground and straightaway I was transported to another place.

*******

At first I thought I thought I was back where I'd started, in the little music room at school. This room was similar in size and shape, but that, I swiftly realised, was the only resemblance. It was a chapel of some sort, with six wooden pews in front of me, three each side of a central aisle of roughened stone. Seven tall candlesticks burned on the altar, which was also made of stone and built into the back wall. An aged priest in silver vestments stood facing it in silence. A blossoming tree, with leaves of orange, gold and green, illuminated the back of his chausible. Miss Corcoran, to my amazement, was standing to his right, minus her headband, and wearing a white alb with a yellow sun emblazoned on the front. But in her hands she held something brighter than both the candles and the sun - a luminous globe, constantly changing colour - from gold to silver to bronze and back again. The object's contours were concealed by its radiance and I couldn't tell exactly what it was - a chalice, a jewel, a plate or a bowl. But whatever it was, it filled the space - every square inch of it - with gold; a joyful, celebratory gold, which warmed and inspired my heart and mind, just as Jerusalem had stirred my soul so potently the day we first ran through it in the School Hall. 

As soon as the hymn flashed into my head, I heard it again and realised it had been there ever since I'd come into that place, though up till that moment, for some reason, I hadn't been aware. It was a choir now, male and female voices singing with verve, passion and skill. I had no idea where they were. The sound seemed to come from all around, ringing and echoing through the room. 

'Till we have built Jerusalem,' they sang, and the priest turned and bowed to Miss Corcoran as she handed him the Holy Thing. 'In England's green and pleasant land,' they concluded with a mighty  gust of triumph and hope. And then there was silence, the priest standing before the altar again and Miss Corcoran kneeling beside him. I knelt down too and waited. Something stupendous was about to occur. I longed for it and was sure of it. The priest lifted the Grail (for surely that's what it was) high above his head and held it there for a long time. Miss Corcoran bowed down almost to the ground, but I kept my head up - watching, waiting, hoping. I expected a bell or a gong at least but nothing happened at all. The priest muttered a few words in a language I couldn't understand and that was it. I thought I'd copy Miss Corcoran and bow my head and close my eyes in the hope the miraculous would feel compelled to appear, but disappointment was already setting in and I began to feel tired in mind and body. Weary to the bone, in fact.

Maybe I fell asleep, or maybe I was already asleep and simply woke from a dream, because the next thing I knew someone was tapping on my shoulder with a stick. I opened my eyes and saw that it wasn't a stick but my violin bow. Miss Corcoran, wearing her usual clothes again, stood above me with my violin in her left hand and my bow in her right. Raindrops trickled down the round  windowpane still, but there was high cloud and patches of blue sky now, as a shy, streaky sun splashed the music room with soft summer sunlight.

I was still kneeling down. I felt silly and embarrassed and stood up straightaway. Miss Corcoran smiled and tapped me with the bow again, this time on the other shoulder. 'Well done,' she said quietly, though her words were speech no more but song. 'You are a storyteller and a poet. Like calls unto like; deep calls unto deep. The Great Hymn called and you responded, like the Samaritan woman who encountered Christ at Jacob's Well.'

No-one had ever spoken to me like that before. Such things just couldn't be true. I shook my head sadly. 'I've a vivid imagination, Miss. That's all. Everyone says so.'

'Not so,' sung Miss Corcoran, shaking her head in turn. 'You will be a bard one day and sing your song at the appointed hour. I know it and swear it. I saw it in the music.'

The rain had stopped altogether. Absolute silence reigned. I held her eyes with mine. 'What was it, Miss?' I whispered. 'What happened?'

'That,' she replied, 'was The Jerusalem Suite.'

'The Jerusalem Suite?' I repeated. 'But what do you mean? What's the Suite? The music or the room?'

'Both,' she answered and undid her headband, letting it fall to the ground. Her hair fell down around her face and the sun streamed in through the window, circling her head with a halo of light which bathed the piano, stools, lamp, music stands and purple headband at my feet with the same warm, generous glow I'd seen suffuse every square inch of space in The Jerusalem Suite. I saw the glory of the Grail reflected in her eyes and wanted to ask a question about the old priest and tell her as well that a voice had told me I'd see the Grail before school ended. Was it Joseph of Arimathea himself then - as in Mrs. Elms' story - who'd spoken to me and who I'd seen in the heart of the blaze and in front of the altar? 

Maybe it was, but I was young and confused and easily daunted. It's one thing when you're eleven years old to curl up in front of the fire and lose yourself in paperback myths and legends, quite another when the Grail Maiden, or one very like her, steps out of the book and into the pages of your own life. I dropped my gaze and mumbled something inconsequential - don't ask me what, I've deliberately forgotten - but whatever it was it wasn't the question I wanted to ask. I'm not sure how our conversation ended either, but when I closed the door behind me and looked down the corridor -  ablaze from end to end with bars and shafts of golden sun - I understood that a door had shut on me in more ways than one. The bell rang for afternoon break and I knew that the moment had gone and I could never go back. I can't recall now if this filled me with sadness or relief or a mixture of both.

*******

I saw Miss Corcoran at the concert, of course, and she smiled, shook my hand and said well done. But her congratulations were lost in a welter of back-slapping and hair-ruffling. We had sung beautifully, apparently, but the whole thing had fallen a bit flat for me, if I'm honest. And in truth, how could it have been anything other than an anti-climax after such an epiphany just two days before?

People, I recall, were pouring out of the Hall into the warm summer night. Not all at once though. As happened every year, some (mainly pupils) made a quick getaway while others (mainly parents) lingered. So that's how I came to be standing in the playground with a group of close friends - Pat Finn, Billy Prince, Kath McQueen, Harry Hanrahan and Cara O'Toole - all waiting for our folks. I had given up on the miraculous and was happy just to enjoy the chit-chat.

'We should all stand in a line when school ends on Friday,' said Cara, stretching out her arms, 'and bow down together and kiss the playground.'

'Definitely,' I assented. 'Let's do it.' I was impressed. That was exactly the kind of thought I could and maybe should have had myself. 

From where I was stood I could see past the gates and onto the street. I spotted the Bishop, still in his mitre and robes, getting into a big car and disappearing into the night. Then I looked up. I hadn't noticed before how laden the sky was with stars. There, just above Cara's head, was Orion, there Cassiopeia, and there Arthur's Wain.

I tuned back into the conversation. Kath was suggesting that we buy the teachers presents. Harry agreed while Pat demurred. I wasn't sure myself, but then the extraordinary burst in and I heard the old man's voice again, loud and clear, but in my heart this time, not my ear, right at the core of my being. 

'All true desires find their home,' he said. 'You must go your separate ways now and live and learn but you will be reunited at the appointed hour, all with your roles to play, when the waters break and the song is sung and the Grail is seen again and the High Tree of Albion blossoms into flame.'

Those, I perceived intuitively, were the words he had spoken in The Jerusalem Suite that I hadn't been able to understand. Those words should, I suppose, have given me sustenance and support throughout my life, but for many years after that night, until about half-way through my time at University, I found them more of a burden than a blessing. I hurtled through one experience after another, wishing and hoping that the 'appointed hour' would come at once so I could experience a supernatural thrill to go with all the other thrills one searches for at that age.

Then, in my twenties and thirties, I switched tack and wrote The Jerusalem Suite off as wish-fulfilment and the product of an over-heated imagination. I don't know why, but I don't think that way any more. Nor do I think about it the way I did as a teenager. Both stances seem simplistic and naive to me now. Things like this take time, you see. They can't be rushed. It's not for us to force the pace, not for us to know the times and seasons. Our role is to watch, wait, work, pray, and hold the flame  aloft in a dark time. We are the lantern bearers - the watchers in the tower - the golden builders of Jerusalem. We hold in our hands the seeds of an all-encompassing renaissance - social, political, cultural and religious.

I'm coming to see that it's only when we're engaged at this level - living from the core and centre of our being - that a true Round Table can be built and a meaningful connection established with the Divine and with those around us. From there, all things become possible - renewal, restoration, healing and rejuvenation. Space is created and the the secret voice is heard, listened to and acted on. The bells peal, the gong sounds, and the waters flow down onto the land, bringing fertility back to the barren places, illuminating hearts and minds, and filling the whole wide world with gold - a warm and generous glow, joyful and celebratory.

A person's life, in its innermost essence, is a quest for the Holy Grail - a voyage to the centre and a journey to Jerusalem. The Heavenly City will only appear, however, when we are ready and when the time is right. The dawn cannot be rushed. It comes at its own pace - when it's meant to and when it's most needed. At the appointed hour. The darkest hour. In the silence and the stillness of the night.




*

Note - It has taken me over a month to write this piece. In that time both Bruce Charlton and William Wildblood have published posts which bear directly on its subject matter. I'm unable to provide links unfortunately but the relevant posts are William's The British Myth (Friday November 3rd) and Bruce's Blake, Albion, Jerusalem and the Nature of Prophecy (Wednesday October 18th). Both these posts can be read in conjunction with the above and both shed great light on these eternally fecund themes which continue to inspire and engage all of us following in Blake's footsteps  - working and praying for a spiritual rebirth in this land.

St. Joseph of Arimathea, pray for England.


What next? Cans and Can'ts - Dos and Don'ts

My understanding of what needs to be done combined with what can be done is crystallising around the insight that the necessary change is up-to individuals; and that the hope of group-action seems more-and-more like a fantasy which is serving as an inner-excuse to delay each of us from taking individual action.

The spiritual and religious awakening of Albion cannot be forced - it needs to be active, conscious, deliberate; and this active stance must be from the choices of free individuals.

It seems to me that all powerful and influential groups and institutions are now overall and by leadership intention on the side of evil (evil meaning destruction of the Good: the true, beautiful and virtuous).

The mainstream channels of communication have long been closed to opponents of Leftism; but now the alternative media and personal social media accounts are being incrementally harassed, blocked and closed-down under the 'fake news' or 'anti-extremism'. or 'conspiracy theory' rationales.

Furthermore, all groups which pursue a Christian agenda - or indeed any policy opposed to the New Leftism of totalitarian bureaucracy excused by the sexual revolution, antiracism, and the class war - is now actively been sought-out and attacked without restraint; in the past year the line has been crossed from media firestorms, personal ruin and sackings, into the billionaire-sponsored and police-protected and media-promoted, planned-violence of 'antifa' and the like.

However, my understanding of our situation is that none of these disappearing modes of change were ever going to be of any significant value to the agenda of spiritual Christianity anyway - because, if they were then we would not be in the current situation.

We live in a society of near universal insanity and accepted moral inversion, and normal 'materialistic' analyses and methods stand revealed as irrelevant at best, more likely counterproductive.

What we want cannot be got by 'communications' - which are nowadays distorted into worthlessness; but only by universally-accessible direct knowledge. Transformation cannot come about by any large-scale process acting-upon individuals; but by individuals acting upon reality through their primary thinking.

Since we acknowledge the reality and power of higher, super-sensible causes; we need to have faith that these can and will (if in-action) have an invisible and undetectable effect on organising the lower, material world perceptible to our senses- by the behind-the-scenes arrangement of sequences, 'coincidences' and improbable events.

But we are not talking about 'magic', at least not about the kind of magic which imposes the will of individual humans onto nature; we are instead talking about divine destiny - and the individual human's ability to know, sustain and sub-create within the context of God's creation. In this realm our actions can-only-be in-harmony-with those of the Creator; because divine purposes are intrinsically coordinated, we cannot (thanks Heavens!) impose our own selfish will.

We are talking here about God-within working in harmony with God-without. Or - by embracing in faith God's creation as our context; the divine within is able to motivate us to aim for good, know reality, evaluate truly, and stimulate us to conscious activity that will advance the divine agenda - by the above-mentioned higher, supersensible, undetectable routes.

This happens not by 'action' in the normally understood materialist sense; but by what I have termed primary thinking - that is thinking in the realm of universal reality. This is the thinking of our real-divine selves (God-within); it is thinking in the divine mode of thinking. And such thinking (being divine) is active, conscious and free.

Albeit truly-minuscule in scope and power relative to God and Creation; our own personal divine contribution (as developing, learning Sons and Daughters of God) is real and vitally important-to-God and his hopes for creation.

My point here is that this can only happen if we, as free individuals, set about doing it; nothing else will suffice - and under current circumstances there is no excuse for delay because alternatives are absent.

Almost everybody nowadays seems to be busy; there is work (most harmful work); there is personal relationships (mostly hedonist, short-termist and selfish); there is politics (wholly composed of gradations of evil)....

But personal spiritual development, in the Christian context, ought to be our explicit first priority in our lives. We ought, as individuals, to do what is necessary - because nobody else can do it for us.

  

Friday, 10 November 2017

Mysticism, Monism, Theism

Many mystics who prioritise experience, and perhaps an intellectual approach, over revealed truth, tend to assume impersonal monism is a higher or deeper realisation than theism, dismissing the latter as dualistic (bad word) or, if they are influenced by Indian religion which many are, a bhakti approach, bhakti being something like devotion to a deity. So they equate theistic mysticism with an emotional dualistic, me and him, attitude to God, one still centered in the self which must be transcended for full realisation. 

From where I stand they are both right and wrong. Yes, full identification with the separate self must eventually be left behind and yes, an emotional loving response to God does take place on the level of that self, albeit a purified level. But bhakti as devotion is different to agape which is love as being-feeling not emotion-feeling (hence without an opposite and not subject to fluctuations), and a higher state than simple identification with pure consciousness which is a kind of ‘back to where we started’ state that disregards the purpose of incarnation and experience in our dualistic world with the consequent sense of separation between self and other. It also isolates one part of our being, namely spirit or essential being, from the rest, in particular soul (individuality) but body too, thereby reducing the totality of what we are to its most fundamental aspect. 

But the true goal of unfolding life is the integration of spirit and matter, of the individual and the universal, including not separating, making the two one but, at the same time, keeping them as two and so preserving the truth in duality even if seeing it in the light of overall oneness.  Monism rejects matter by seeing it just as a veil on spirit and with no purpose or function in itself.  It has sometimes occurred to me that you could even regard it as metaphysically misogynistic, if you wished to think in those terms, matter being an aspect of mater and also maya, the feminine side of divinity, and crucial to God's purpose for us.

A proper theism sees the one and the many as not just both valuable but both essential with truth in both, and it seeks to preserve their uniqueness while uniting them in consciousness. And while monism ultimately seeks experience and therefore, contradictorily, could be perceived as self-centred, theism is concerned with doing the will of God in love and humility. 

Which is greater, to reject the self or to sanctify it? To exclude or to include the fruits of creation? I would say that the latter is not just better but truer to God's intention for us.  Why otherwise create us?

Sometimes disagreements are just over words and, bearing that in mind, you could say that the real goal is to reach a state which combines monism with theism since both contain something of the truth and neither is sufficient on its own, especially if your understanding of theism implies an unbridgeable separation between God and Man. There is no separation. Life is one. But within this oneness there is multiplicity and it is that which gives love, beauty and goodness to life. Monism is wrong because the personhood of God belongs to the highest level of being, and there is an element of differentiation right at the heart of existence. That is the Trinity which contains within itself the principle of differentiation and so makes creation possible. But theism is also wrong when it sees the creature as always apart from the Creator. For truly creature and Creator are one in essential being just as they are different in expression.

The highest truth is not in pure being alone but in being and becoming together always working together to create more, a ceaseless expansion of life to the greater glory of God and ourselves, his children.