Thursday, 29 September 2016

Geoffrey Ashe (1982) on spiritual rebirth

Edited from Avalonian Quest (1982) by Geoffrey Ashe, pp 254-5:

I believe in a rebirth. The Strong Magic is creative as well as demoralising.

But if a rebirth is ever to happen, it cannot be forced. No one knows what form it  should take or what it is that the presiding beings intend. And to try to exploit the energies is dangerous

The future must be allowed to unfold, and perhaps its logic will be plain without human effort.

Recent years may have been witnessing a necessary prelude. The winds have blown away at least some of the nonsense, at least some of the delusion, at least some of the attempts of would-be gurus to domineer and dictate.

To be aware of Glastonbury with all it implies is to see an ample prospect. The place has to be Christian - local instinct is right in that respect - but it could be the home of a more exploratory, adventurous, questing Christianity - nourished from many sources.

Today the road of Christian prgress is widely assumed to lead in another direction. Theologians seek to demythologise, cutting out not only what is pre-Christian but a good deal of what is Christian too. The pruning process is meant to define a Highest Common Factor capable of uniting divided churches...

To such a conception of the Faith I can only reply: 'Not so, not so!'

Part of the Avalonian destiny may be to remind the Church of a different way, a way of enrichment and development, acknowledging mystery, acclimatising the mythic, absorbing wisdom from many traditions, interpreting Christian doctrines better in the light of them.

This is how it often was in the Church's creative centuries. That is how it might be again...

Better any number of quests, even if some are illusory, than the arid pretence that there is no quest at all. 


I turned to Avalonian Quest after reading (and reviewing on this blog) Geoffrey Ashe's novel The Finger and the Moon (1973) last week

Like every book I have read on the subject of Glastonbury, it is flawed and ultimately unsatisfactory - but overall this is probably the best. Its flaw is that the entire central half of the book is focused on the subject of the (perhaps?) labyrinth or maze around Glastonbury Tor - making it very unbalanced, and not really what it purports to be.

However, the rest of the book is highly insightful, and with an appealing 'personality'. I was particularly pleased by Ashe's acknowledgement of the dark 'vibes' of Glastonbury, the ill effect it has on many people and its repeated failures (rather than the usual rose-tinted nonsense about the place); also his skewering of the utterly unjustified and counter-evidential way in which modern 'scholars' assert that the tomb of Arthur discovered in Glastonbury Abbey in 1191 was a complete fraud. Ashe argues (convincingly to me) that there is every reason to assume that the monks discovered something highly significant and interesting, and in some fashion closely bound-up with the Arthurian legends. 

What of the closing passage of the book, which I have excerpted above? It seems to me that Ashe was spot-on in his diagnosis and also his recommended 'treatment' - and that what he believed and hoped-for was indeed exactly what was needed; although in the event it was not what happened.

(For which I lay the blame at the doors of ingrained Leftism and esepcially the sexual revolution - which in practice the most influential people put as their priority ranked above that of spiritual awakening).

Ashe is saying that what is needed must primarily be within the frame of Christianity; but that what is needed must also go beyond historical Christianity in terms of involving a more wide-ranging and overtly 'spiritual' quest - some of which directions we should expect to be 'illusory' and to fail in their hope or promise.

We must, therefore, be ready to acknowledge and repent what turn out to be errors. Nonetheless, we must boldly quest: boldly set-out and pursue what seem like the most fruitful directions for quest.

Tuesday, 27 September 2016

An Ancient Prophecy of England

Edward the Confessor was the last Anglo-Saxon king to have a full reign, from 1042-1066. As most people will know he was succeeded by King Harold but Harold’s reign ended quickly and abruptly at the Battle of Hastings so it does not stretch the truth too far to say that Edward was the last real English king.

But Edward was not only a king, he was also a saint and it is in this capacity that we should take his prophecy about the future of England. Made (like many good prophecies) on his deathbed, it is to be found in the Vita Ædwardi Regis which was a biography of the king commissioned by his wife Queen Edith, and written almost immediately after his death. The original text still survives in a manuscript dating to around 1100 which is kept in the British Library. So this prophecy has a genuine pedigree, something that can’t always be said in similar cases. 

Here it is rendered in contemporary English. I’m afraid I can’t vouch for the accuracy of the translation but this seems to be the accepted version:

The green tree which springs from the trunk
When thence it shall be severed
And removed to a distance of three acres
By no engine or hand of man
Shall return to its original trunk
And shall join itself to its root
Whence first it had origin
The head shall receive again its verdure
It shall bear fruit after its flower
Then shall you be able for certainty
To hope for amendment.

Like many prophecies this is somewhat obscure and so is susceptible to a variety of interpretations. For example, it was quoted by someone called Ambrose Lisle Phillipps in a letter to the Earl of Shrewsbury in 1850. These men were both Catholics and chose to interpret the prophecy in the context of the reestablishment of the Catholic hierarchy in England in 1850. But the letter is most interesting for the context it gives to the prophecy. 

"During the month of January, 1066, the holy King of England St. Edward the Confessor was confined to his bed by his last illness in his royal Westminster Palace. St. Ælred, Abbott of Rievaulx, in Yorkshire, relates that a short time before his happy death, this holy king was wrapt in ecstasy, when two pious Benedictine monks of Normandy, whom he had known in his youth, during his exile in that country, appeared to him, and revealed to him what was to happen to England in future centuries, and the cause of the terrible punishment. 

They said: 'The extreme corruption and wickedness of the English nation has provoked the just anger of God. When malice shall have reached the fullness of its measure, God will, in His wrath, send to the English people wicked spirits, who will punish and afflict them with great severity, by separating the green tree from its parent stem the length of three furlongs. But at last this same tree, through the compassionate mercy of God, and without any national assistance, shall return to its original root, reflourish and bear abundant fruit.' 

After having heard these prophetic words, the saintly King Edward opened his eyes, returned to his senses, and the vision vanished. He immediately related all he had seen and heard to his virgin spouse, Edgitha, to Stigand, Archbishop of Canterbury, and to Harold, his successor to the throne, who were in his chamber praying around his bed."

You can see that the prophecy is given in a slightly different translation here, and in prose rather than verse, but the elements are the same.

So we have the prophecy and we have corroboration as to its authenticity. What we need now is an interpretation. Some people say, quite reasonably given the historical framework of the prophecy, that it refers to the Norman Conquest and the fact that it took 300 years (3 acres) before the ruling hierarchy of England really began to be English again. But for Catholics, while the green tree represents England, the trunk from which it is severed is the Catholic Church. Again the distance of three acres symbolises the three centuries during which the tree or shoot is separated from its trunk. After this period the shoot is reunited with the trunk and flowers afresh, and this is held to refer to the return of the Catholic episcopacy in 1850, three hundred years after the Anglican Church broke away from Rome during the English Reformation. The belief in this scenario is that the fruit that follows the flowering will come with the  full-scale reconversion of the English to Catholicism, supposed to happen at some time in the future.

Assuming for the sake of interest (a big assumption, I grant) there is anything real in the prophecy what can we say about it now?  First of all, I think we have to say that a prophecy of this nature is more of a symbol than a fact. That is, the prophet perceives an image in his imagination and expresses it as best he can. But this image is not an actual observation of a future event. It is something like a visionary representation of an idea that exists more in an abstract form than a concrete one, perhaps expressed through the medium of something familiar to the prophet like the two monks in this instance. So it is a symbol. Now one of the most interesting things about symbols is that they have different levels of interpretation, and a genuine prophecy may be the same. It may refer to different things and this is especially so if you believe that different events in the physical world can play out in similar ways. So Edward’s prophecy can potentially refer to many things that happen to England. It could be the perception of a pattern that works itself out in different forms at different times  So the Norman Conquest interpretation could be true and the Catholic interpretation could also have some truth to it (though not, I would say, in the over-optimistic and literalist way they choose to see it), and there might be other ways to interpret this prophecy too.

All this is highly speculative, of course, but I intend it more as food for thought or fuel for the imagination – just like a prophecy, in fact. So what, acting on this principle of cyclical recurrence, or different outer events unfolding according to similar inner patterns, can we look to this prophecy for now? Might it be predicting a true Christian revival in England focussing on the reality of Christ, the original trunk or root, three centuries after its loss? Which would be when? Some might say the 20th century when fewer and fewer English people practised religion, but others might point to the 19th which, though ostensibly Christian, was still thoroughly materialistic. This was also when the theory of evolution supposedly provided a theoretical framework for the rejection of Christianity. But I am tempted to go further back to the 18th century and the time of the Enlightenment when science began to poke holes in religion, and what religion there was became increasingly a matter of externals. Clearly there is no single moment as the loss of religion was an ongoing process but if you are looking for a point at which the balance shifted, and Christianity began to lose its power, then the 18th century, the age when reason overtook faith, is pivotal. 

It might be objected that this sea change didn't only affect England but England played a central role through its scientists and philosophers of the time. It might also have been more deeply affected because its Protestant religion, though strong in a moral sense, was so spiritually dry. Besides, the prophecy doesn't just mention loss but also restoration, and was given in the context of England anyway.

Monday, 26 September 2016

We need to talk (seriously)...

A modern revival might be perceived in terms of talk.

Talk is private, talk is neither monitored nor controlled by The System: talk can happen (could already be happening) and nobody knows anything about it...

I mean people talking about spiritual and religious matters. Talking between husband and wife and in families; among friends; teachers, doctors, therapists.

People being asked questions serious questions, and then being judged on the seriousness of their answers (and impatiently rejected if they are unable to respond, instantly and directly, with commensurate seriousness).

People at work, in cafes or bars - having (or trying to have) serious talks about ultimate matters; impatiently shrugging-off the artificial and manipulative concerns of the mass media and the daily psychodramas and sexual strategising, the mind-numbing restrictions of political correctness.

The would need to be a reck-less-ness about all this - because to talk seriously we will need to overcome the decades of inculcated fear and self-policing, designed to keep people on-track and in-line; supplemented by engineered crises, contrived states of 'emergency', persecutions disguised as philanthropy...

But all such matters may be thrust-aside with a single gesture as worldly system stuff...

Spiritual awakening therefore may first be evident in the form of talk: specifically Serious Talk....

Who will be able to respond, and feed the spiritual hunger?

Sunday, 25 September 2016

Review of the Geoffrey Ashe novel The Finger and the Moon (1973)

Cadbury Castle
This novel was given me by John Fitzgerald; and I took it with a feeling of curiosity as to why he had specifically wanted me to read it; but the reasons are clear enough since the theme includes a sort-of Albion awakening movement, and the venue is Glastonbury in Somerset not far from where I was living at the time.

Geoffrey Ashe, the author, was then very well known for having excavated Cadbury Castle hill fort and claiming it was the site of 'Camelot' - i.e. the presumed historic King Arthur's headquarters. I have read a couple of his books on Arthurian themes - this is his only novel, although it is really a set of essays and set-pieces linked by a loose plot with his fictional self at the centre, surrounded by some 'representaive' albeit sketchy characters (indeed, the author states this in the introduction in describing the book's history).

My interest in this book was focused on the insights it gave into why the 'romantic revival' of the late 1960s and early 70s (the theme of this book) went wrong, and failed to achieve anything significantly valuable in spiritual or religious terms.

Ashe was clearly a very intelligent and well-informed man - and the 'diagnosis' of the spiritual ills of modernity seems spot-on. But he also shows why the Glastonbury-type of spiritual movement (eventually becoming 'New Age') proved incapable of providing an effectual answer to the problems of modernity.

The novel is set in a Glastonbury based spiritual community called Allhallows - and the experiences of Geoffrey in writing a piece of investigative journalism about the place, and what they are doing. The impressive and insightful 'guru' leader is called Martin, who turns-out to be using an experimental drug that provides apparently genuine spiritual insights and visions.

Martin offers courses of lectures, and experiences, designed to pass on his wisdom - and at Allhallows he is surrounded by an assortment of the kind of people that I would expect to find in any such venture.

Although my attention was mostly engaged throughout, I nonetheless found it difficult to read this book; because I disliked the people and the milieu. It was unpleasant to spend time in their company! I have come across so many of these types in life and print; and find that (usually sooner rather than later) they drag me down with their sordid pretentiousness.

Such characters have over the forty years since this book become very dominant in the modern Glastonbury, and by now made the town a place of quite strongly negative spiritual atmospheres and energies:

The reasons why the Hippie/ New Age romantic revolution so utterly failed to reverse our civilisational decline, and instead worsened it, can be seen in this novel.

They can be boiled-down to three errors:

1. Anti-Christianity

The general spiritual attitude of "Anything But Christianity" was bound to sabotage all efforts. When the central claims of Christianity are actually true, to build a spirituality around the denial of its truth and a gut level hostility, inevitably created a damaging spiritual distortion.

For example, William Blake is oft quoted and mentioned in this book, and was a major influence; the fact that Blake was intensely and pervasively Christian was set-aside.

2. Dreams and Drugs

The spiritual diagnosis of alienation was addressed by the attempt to heal it by moving back to the immersive, passive spirituality of childhood and hunter-gatherers.

This led on to a focus on dreams, trances, and intoxication: there was, at this time, a genuine (albeit bizarre) hope that psychedelic and hallucinatory drugs might actually cure the modern malaise, might actually heal the state of alienation.

This error was based on a misunderstanding of what was required; of what the romantic movement was supposed ('destined') to achieve. The error was to suppose that Romaticism was a reaction to modernity, intended to provoke a retreat and a return (hence the primitive, ethnic, regressive interests); when Romaticism was in fact pointing the way forward and through the materialism, reductionism, scientism of modernity and out of the other side to something new and different from anything that had existed so far. 

What actually happened was The Drug Culture; which included a few people who claimed that they had been spiritually enhanced by drugs. But objective evidence seemed to point in the opposite direction: that drugs had simply lowered their standards, muddled their powers of discernment, and pointed them in almost exactly the wrong direction towards mentally-clouded passivity rather than alert, clear purposiveness.

3. Sex - and the sexual revolution.

This novel depicts how the lack of a real Christian frame, exacerbated by the consciousness-reducing focus on dreams trances, rituals and drugs, subverted the spiritual aspirations and impulses of such people and communities as depicted in Allhallows.

The fact is that the Anti-Christian eclectic perennial spirituality of the Hippy/ New Age type - which nowadays is epitomised by various Wiccan, Druid, Shamanistic and Neo-pagan groups - is weak and feeble by comparison with real religion. 

Furthermore such spirituality has a fatal blind-spot relating to sex; indeed, the specific and visceral rejection of Christianity among such folk is often primarily, albeit covertly, a rejection of Christian guidance on sexuality. Thus Christianity is rejected for sexual freedom; spirituality becomes weak and feeble; and sexuality (more sex, with more people, in more kinds of different ways - always pushing at boundaries...) expands to fill the gap.

When the spirituality is weak, and the power of sexuality is simultaneously unacknowledged and untrammelled; then sex takes over - in many ways and at many levels. This is depicted clearly in the description of Allhallows - the positive spiritual aspirations are feeble, incoherent, malleable; the sexual undercurrents and experiments are strong and dominant; the drive for power and status and pleasure is ascendant; and the outcome is a rapid descent into corruption, darkness, dishonesty, mutual exploitation, hatred and passive misery.

For me, The Finger and the Moon provides a chilling exemplar of the way that sex and drugs and 'Anything But Christianity' doomed the spiritual revolution, and twisted it around to do harm rather than good.

A kind of fascination kept me reading it, but I found it mainly unpleasant. I read it in a strange sequence because although I found much of the analysis (the 'diagnosis') to be very useful, I could not get-through the set-piece descriptions of drug trips and visions, nor a play about the Holy Grail - so I read nearly halfway, then skipped to the end, then went back and skimmed the middle section selectively.

I also found myself unsympathetic to the basic stance of the book, confirmed in the Introduction; which was that the spiritual efforts described in Allhallows were broadly what might be described as 'a good and admirable thing' which had led-onto other good things; and that therefore these people were spiritual pioneers worthy of respect and gratitude.

By contrast I found them self-deceiving, self-indulgent and spiritual cowards - who knew enough to know what they ought to do, but chose instead an easy path of short-term gratification, self-indulgence, hedonism.

Friday, 23 September 2016

The unconscious (personal or collective) is not what should be sought

We cannot find what we need by going deep into the unconscious mind - it is not there.

The personal unconscious is one thing - exploration of which was, and still is, assumed to be the major priority by Psychoanalysis and most forms of psychotherapy - but it is not; as is obvious if you observe the consequences (as well as being clear from theoretical considerations) - the analysed, those coming out of therapy, certainly are not what is wanted.

Jung seemed to assert that the collective unconscious was the answer - this is closer but still wrong. The collective unconscious takes us back to early childhood, to hunter-gatherer Man; to dreams, trances and intoxicated states... but that is indeed 'back'. We have been there, and it leads here. If we cannot go forwards, no doubt we will be forced to go back - but that would only be to try again, at going forwards and beyond...

What is being looked-for is not the unconscious, but that which looks for the unconscious; not the dream but that which dreams; not the archetypes but that which thinks the archetypes; not the image but that which imagines.

This true self is indeed un-conscious, but not the unconscious - and lies on the far side of the alienated modern mind - not found by retreating back from it.

Albion began as an unconscious immersive environment given to each and every-one. Now we are (mostly) cut-off from Albion by self-consciousness conscious only of itself - and therefore doubting its own reality. Only the external and consensual seem real - but real in a negative, and imposing, fashion - and unreal in being merely consensus.

There is only one 'thing' which will allow us to remain self-conscious and to re-connect with reality; and that is love.

Not an emotion; but Love the primary principle of cohesion in the universe of created reality, uniting all that is united because every-thing is alive, aware and capable of love. Love as personal, not as a kind of physical force-field - but Love acting to accomplish the same as a physical force-field.

God really is Love, not abstractly, but because Love is the unity of God's creation (lacking which there is no unity, but only the isolated self: hell).

Wat we need is out-there, not in here; but the task is to acknowledge what we used to know - out-there and in-here are necessarily and intrinsically connected: from creation and by love.

Note: The pictures of are St Mary's Well, about 50 yards from my back garden and down a medieval path without any legal owner. Folk wisdom regards it as sacred and dates it back many hundreds of years, and surely this must be right in some general sense - this being a lineal descendant of an ancient well in the vicinity. It is perhaps where (legend says) Jesus appeared in vision (Jesmond ~ Jesus Mount, or hill) and which led to this being a significant pilgrimage site around the time of Chaucer, Langland and the Gawain poet - a hundred years later it was described in a priest's will as one of the four holiest sites in England (two others were the cathedrals of Canterbury and St Paul's, London). Interestingly, in the past year there have been signs of renewed popular devotion - you can see some of the icons in the third picture, and there is now a 3ft cross hammered into the earth.

Henry Purcell - 1659-1695

A short life of less than 37 years, cut-off in its prime - Purcell was probably the greatest English composer; in terms of historical importance combined with excellence (his rivals would be Tallis and Byrd - but they were not so distinctive).

His best work is scattered in short pieces of different types: Perhaps the most striking is the 'Frost Scene', or Cold Genius's aria from King Arthur - I heard this done live when I was about 16 years old, knowing nothing about it in advance, and could hardly believe my ears (listen to this version - don't watch it! - lyrics are below) :

What power art thou, who from below,
Hast made me rise unwillingly and slow,
From beds of everlasting snow?
See'st thou not how stiff and wondrous old,
Far, far unfit to bear the bitter cold,
I can scarcely move or draw my breath;
Let me, let me freeze again to death.

The music rises and thaws, then descends and re-freezes.

(Note - This was written for a dark-voiced bass singer, but nowadays is often done an octave higher by a counter-tenor - ie. the highest male voice. This is certainly effective, in its way - but in context the bass works better.)

Purcell was himself buried in Westminster Abbey to the lovely music he wrote for the funeral of Queen Mary - a popular (co-) monarch.

This is longish - listen, if you are short of time, just to the introductory brass and tympani fanfares and a little of the choral section. Sublime...

Perhaps Purcell's most enjoyable longer piece is his Come ye Sons of Art which has many delightful pieces - the most famous is Sound the Trumpet for two counter tenors - this comes at 6 minute on this recording. Purcell was himself a counter tenor, and wrote superbly for the voice.

Finally, here is my favourite of Purcell's songs - Music for a while - done by Kathleen Battle accompanied on piano.

(Note: As a rule, the best composers can be performed effectively using a variety of arrangements - it would be tragic if Purcell were confined to the ghetto of 'original instrument' performances.)

Notice from this that Purcell was probably THE best ever English composer at setting words to music, even banal words - which they often were, in a way that lies naturally both in musical and linguistic terms; and also his very characteristic use of a 'ground', or harmonically repeating bass; many of his very best works use this device.

Wednesday, 21 September 2016

Charles Ridoux and J.R.R. Tolkien

Charles Ridoux (b.1946) is a French astrologer, theologian and philosopher, living and working in Normandy. He is also a keen student of Medieval and modern literature, with a particular passion for the works of F. M. Dostoyevsky, Vladimir Solovyev and Alexander Solzhenitsyn, alongside the Arthurian mythos and J.R.R. Tolkien's Legendarium.

M. Ridoux has published a book-length study on Tolkien (Le Chant du Monde, 2004), as well as numerous shorter pieces, such as the essay translated by myself below: J.R.R. Tolkien's Legendarium: A Visionary Opus for the Twenty-First Century. My hope, in translating this piece, is that it can serve to give a flavour of the depth and breadth of its author's thought and help bring his work to the wider audience it deserves.

Ridoux is a scholar of the old school - without ego, loyal to his metier, and happy to beaver away in the shadows, gazing up at the stars like Doctor Cornelius in Prince Caspian, searching the skies for the meaning and pattern so conspicuous by its absence in the contemporary West. Steeped in the Traditionalist thought of Rene Guenon and his school, his astrological labours lift the curtain on some of the deeper realities at work behind the daily procession of news and current affairs.

Charles Ridoux has a profound affinity and connection with the Sacred. We see this especially in his love for The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion, and his instinctive response to the richness of Tolkien's religious symbolism. Linked to this is his awareness and affection for what this blog calls Albion and the great cycle of myth and story surrounding Joseph of Arimathea and Glastonbury. This essay, I believe, shows both these aspects of Ridoux's worldview. Any hints of literary clumsiness, I hasten to add, are entirely due to my own shortcomings as translator.

For those who read French - to view M. Ridoux's website and all available articles, interviews and astrological reports and forecasts (including a new one on the U.S Presidential election) please go to


J.R.R. Tolkien's Legendarium: A Visionary Opus for the Twenty-First Century

Once upon a time there lived a man, born under Antipodean skies, who contemplated the Southern Cross the moment he opened his eyes. He came into the North, gazing at Arcturus and the Great Bear's seven stars. Long ago, in ages past, this man had been granted the gift of waking buried memories. It is thanks to him that we know now how Varda fashioned a myriad of stars to celebrate the waking of the Elves at Lake Cuivienen. So, as Orion crosses the purified heavens of our ice-bound winters, we remember Orvandel and the glory of the Silmaril burning on Earendil's brow.

Charles Ridoux, Tolkien, Le Chant du Monde


J.R.R. Tolkien's stated literary aim was to create a 'mythology for England'. The Legendarium that he has given us is much wider and spacious than that. It is a visionary opus for the twenty-first century - breathtaking in its sweep of time and space; awe-inspiring in its cosmic range and aspiration. Tolkien reconfigured the mythologies of Northern Europe in the light of the Gospel, achieving a fresh and dynamic synthesis of European traditions. He brings to today's de-Christianised, de-mythologised world a high and noble frame of reference, offering those born into our century - challenged as they are by a culture of nihilism and death - reasons to live and to rebuild a society where the good, the beautiful and the true will once more be held in the highest esteem.

Tolkien's Legendarium spans all historical and archaeological ages, reaching back to the Ainur's Great Song of creation and forward to the consummation of this age, the advent of a new creation and the sound of a new Great Song, sung by elves, dwarves and men, sharers of the burden and the glory of the War of the Ring and the end of the Third Age.

These are the characters, throughout The Lord of the Rings - singing the ancient songs and evoking the legends of times past - who give the text its multi-dimensional resonance and depth. The means by which this effect is achieved has a unique and distinctive character. Rather than deploy a deceptive narrative technique to create an illusion of historical depth, the novel's songs and legends guide the reader back to times gone by in Tolkien's own life, to texts conceived and written long before its publication in 1954 or even that of The Hobbit in 1937. We have to go back as far as the First World War and the appalling suffering of the Somme - Tolkien's closest friends falling all around him - to find the genesis of his mythology and the first written fragments of his Legendarium.

The distant ages alluded to in The Lord of the Rings, therefore, were given life many years before the book was completed, but remained concealed from the public until after Tolkien's death in 1973 and the publication - thanks to the good offices of his son, Christopher - of The Silmarillion four years later. It is important to remember, however, that The Silmarillion is, in many respects, a mere summary of an enormous number of pieces - historical, philosophical, linguistic, etc - which have only become available since the publication of The History of Middle Earth between 1983 and 1996, a monumental body of work, which highlights magnificently the linguistic fidelity and skill of Christopher Tolkien.


J.R.R. Tolkien worked independently of great contemporaries, such as Mircea Eliade and Georges Dumezil, who sought, like him, to revive and rekindle the study and appreciation of mythology. His voice joins with theirs, however, in the way he opens up and unveils the cosmic, fashioning a world that astonishes the reader with its scale, immensity and chronological flair.

This emphasis on time - time's elasticity in particular - superbly analysed by Verlyn Flieger (the finest, along with Tom Shippey and Joseph Pearce, of Tolkien's English-speaking critics) reveals the extent to which Tolkien can be heard articulating the pre-occupations of his own epoch, fully deserving thereby the accolade of 'author of the century' given him by British readers in 1996. There are many levels and riches yet to be explored in his oeuvre, however. Taken in its totality, the confidence in life that Tolkien's writing displays and the simple joy it elicits - illuminating hearts and minds worldwide - will ensure that Tolkien remains, for decades to come, an 'author of the century', for the twenty-first as much, if not more, than for the twentieth.

Tolkien conceived and wrote his epic in the context of a Europe devastated by two world wars that stripped the continent of political agency and transferred power to the USA in the West and the Soviet Union in the East. The exceptional character of these two nations - America and Russia - was already clear to nineteenth century thinkers like Tocqueville and Chateaubriand, and it is in these countries that Tolkien's work has been most rapturously received - to the point of excess at times - in the USA during the 1960s and in Russia since the fall of Communism. Clearly, the Legendarium responds to a deep and genuine religious need - particularly acute, perhaps, among those who have been deprived of an authentic spiritual life by political materialism in its various guises. Rather than the 'mythology of England' Tolkien intitially set out to create, therefore, it is to the contemporary world as a whole - fragmented, dissipated and corroded by the acid waters of globalisation - where his clarion call of faith and hope carries its significance today.

This trumpet blast, as we have seen, has its origins in a blend of European traditions. Tolkien is unique among writers in fashioning such a remarkable synthesis: the indigenous mythologies of Northern Europe on the one hand and the transcendent message of the Gospel on the other, proclaimed to the four corners of the earth. 'Tolkien's world,' as the French critic Pierre Jourde remarks, 'is orientated towards a vast synthesis of all the key constituents of Western spirituality.’[1]

Writing at the end of a decade of revolutionary tumult and spiritual aridity, Chateaubriand brought the perennial religious and artistic witness of France - a witness made Christian by the Baptism of Clovis in 496 - to a young, spiritually-hungry audience with his Genius of Christianity (1802). The youth of our era have a similar need for an alternative vision to the technocratic mesh that hems them in. Tolkien offers them the mythical treasures of Northen Europe, lit from within by his Christian faith. But where Chateaubriand rekindled the sacred flame among a people still deeply wedded to the Christianity of their fathers, Tolkien addresses a public divested of faith, yet compelled nonetheless to find reasons to live and to reconnect with the wellspring of their individual and collective being.

We should keep in mind, however, that Tolkien was neither a theologian nor a philosopher, despite his work touching on areas relevant to both theology and philosophy - death and immortality, for example, as well as the nature of time and space, the transmission of thought, ultimate ends and the mystery of evil. Tolkien was a poet and an artist, and when it comes to connecting with the hearts and minds of men and women, it is often the word and touch of a poet that carries more weight than the academic discourse of philosophers or theologians.


Tolkien is widely (and rightly) considered as one of the great twentieth-century Christian authors, despite his creating a secondary world free from any explicit reference to Christianity. The Incarnation of the Creator into His creation is hinted at - nothing more than that - throughout the Legendarium as the 'great hope' of men. But the leading values in Tolkien's world are clearly and unambiguously freighted with a Christian spirit - the focus on humility, for instance, and the decisive role given to the humble. The more politically active characters learn to consciously refuse the temptation of power over the souls of others. This rejection of the 'will to power', whether in the service of good or evil, is one of the principal themes in The Lord of the Rings, ruling out definitively any Nietzschean reading of the text.

Tolkien, we can safely say, is a Christian writer addressing a society which is no longer Christian. He is also a Medievalist and a philologist - an enthusiast for texts often regarded today as unreadable unless translated into a modern language and accompanied by a wealth of annotations. As both storyteller and academic, Tolkien's role appears to be that of a 'linkman' - a bridge-builder between tradition and modernity - facilitating the transmission of Europe's primordial heritage to contemporary conditions. This heritage belongs to those Europeans who have recognised, guarded and preserved the immeasurable worth of their native mythologies. These have in no way have been rendered obsolete by the Christian revelation. On the contrary, the light  shone on them by the mystery of the Incarnation has exalted and raised them to a higher level.

It is a highly dynamic synthesis. In The Lord of the Rings, for instance, Tolkien presents the reader with a pivotal moment in the history of the Legendarium - the end of the Third Age and the beginning of the Fourth. Middle Earth's rich and textured history inspires profound nostalgic sentiments throughout, yet opens out finally, like a flower, onto a future charged with limitless hope, the promise of the Incarnation and the coming of the Creator into His creation, prophecied long before in the dialogue of Finrod and Andreth.

The mythological and Christian motifs in Tolkien's work do not appear at the same stage or time, though they do form a continuity. The mythic elements, symbolised by the stars and their Queen, Varda, take precedence in the early phases of the Legendarium, where the narrative focus is on preparing the world ready for the Children of Iluvatar. They slip into the background when the 'Sun of Justice' comes, born at the winter solstice and triumphant by his death on the cross (March 25th according the the Medieval tradition - also Tolkien's date for the fall of Barad-Dur). The light of the sun, though infinitely brighter than that of the stars, does not cancel them out, however, but surrounds and includes them in an all-embracing light without shadow. Christ came to accomplish, not abolish, the Law of Moses and the Hebrew prophets, but He came also to perfect and integrate the partial truths contained in the many and varied mythologies of antiquity. The multi-layered symbolism of Romanesque and Medieval Christianity bears eloquent witness to this.

A key paradox, as alluded to above, is that Tolkien created this synthesis of traditions for the benefit of a world that is now largely both de-mythologised and de-Christianised - a world that has turned its back on Golgotha and Olympus. In the midst of this deeply anti-traditional milieu, a world undergoing a perpetual crisis of values, we observe - to the fury of certain literary critics - the unfolding of a remarkable phenomenon: a Christian author's novel, imbued with Christian values, universally acclaimed by readers who, though they may no longer practice the faith, remain marked by the cultural legacy and imprint of Christianity. While the twentieth century was without doubt the century par excellence of atheism and unbelief, it was also that of the most severe anti-Christian persecutions since Diocletian. The return to the source that Tolkien offers contemporary readers, therefore, is by no means a passive retreat towards an idealised paganism. Here again, Tolkien shows himself as a profoundly anti-Nietzschean figure. In Tolkien's Legendarium, as we have seen, power lies at the behest of those who refuse the will to power - a reversal of Nietzsche's moral deconstruction. Not that Tolkien argued against the use of force per se, but that he rejected force when it prioritises power over love.


Tolkien's Medieval points of reference have little in common (even when King Arthur is referred to) with the French-inspired body of legends known collectively as the 'Matter of Britain'. He believed that Arthur was a Briton rather than an Englishman, and his dream of chiselling out a mythology for England led him to follow his inspiration, in harmony with his childhood reading, in the mythologies of Northern Europe - Germanic, Scandinavian and Finnish. Among these Nordic classics, it is worth highlighting in passing the influence of the Finnish Kalevala, a text which Tolkien refers to on more than one occasion in his letters as the 'germ' of his earliest mythological writings.

Tolkien occasionally evokes, in his Legendarium, a certain high, otherworldly beauty that many associate with the Celtic mindset and its influence on North-Western Europe. We need to bear in mind, however, that this was a beauty rarely found in authentic ancient Celtic culture. This beauty, for Tolkien, is an ideal - see, for example, his depiction of Lothlorien in The Fellowship of the Ring.

This is an element which comes across clearly in Father Louis Bouyer's account of his friendship with Tolkien. Father Bouyer, who was directly inspired by Chretien de Troyes in his novel Prelude á l'Apoclaypse (written under the pseudonym, Louis Lambert), is undoubtedly more attracted, as a writer, than was Tolkien to this Celtic influence - this 'genius of place' - to the forest of Paimpot first of all, (which Father Gillard, rector of Trehorenteuc, helped him discover), but principally to the town of Glastonbuy, its distinctive conical hill - known as the Tor - and the nearby Wearyall Hill, where, according to legend, Joseph of Arimathea planted his staff in the ground on arrival in England. The following morning, the story says, the staff had taken root and grown into a miraculous thorn tree. In his Les lieux magiques de la légende du Graal, during a fascinating discussion on Arthurian iconography, Bouyer highlights the new role given to this mythopoeic faculty by the Christian revelation - to prepare for and anticipate the ultimate hope - the transfiguration of all things – while perpetuating the imperishable character of the ancient myths, repositories of mankind's earliest intuitions concerning human and cosmic life:

These myths, however provisionary and imperfect their understanding may be, give voice nonetheless to a certain dawning consciousness - a watching and a waiting and an uncertain, semi-aware kind of love - which the Bible brings into the light of day and the Gospel responds to - uniquely - by the definitive act of the Creator God entering into and transforming the stream of history.[2]

Tolkien, along with Bouyer, is at pains to emphasise that this revelation was not sent from God to uproot man from hearth and home, terrain rich in myth and mystery for many millennia prior to the Incarnation. On the contrary, it came to open up new perspectives and depths, revealing, through a mythopoeic understanding, unknown and unsuspected angles of vision in the great, pre-Christian mythologies.

The lack of any explicit reference to Christianity in Tolkien's oeuvre only serves to make plain the deep and abiding Christian themes underpinning his mythology. The discreet workings of Providence lie at the heart of his work, together with the turning away from a deceptive worldly immortality in favour of the eternal life suggested by the theme of a new Great Music to come at the consummation of the age. Many readers have responded sensitively to this message quietly and unobtrusively diffused throughout his work. This extract from a letter to the author quoted by Iréne Fernandez in her study highlights this very well: 'You have created a world where a kind of faith seems everywhere present, without one being able to recognise the source ... like a light emanating from an invisible lamp.'[3]


It is thanks to his notion of sub-creation, elaborated in his essay On Fairy Stories that Tolkien achieves such a stunning synthesis between the mythological backdrop which forms the substance of his Legendarium and the salt of the Christian faith which animates it, gives it form and orientates it towards the great hope of the Second Coming. In making clear the secondary nature of his artistic creation vis-a-vis the Divine creation, the author escapes the Promethean temptation of substituting man for God. At the same time, in presenting his oeuvre as a 'creation', Tolkien pays homage to the pre-eminent dignity of the sons of Adam, as shown in Genesis in Adam's naming of the creatures. Sub-creation bears witness to man's dependence on God, but also to the fact that Adam was created in 'the image and likeness' of God. As Verlyn Flieger explains, the Divine Word, the instrument of creation, corresponds (on an earthly level) to our human words, which, in this fallen world, turn so often into mere verbiage. They can also instigate, however, a path of return towards unity and co-operation with God, whether through art - especially its highest 'Elven' form, which Tolkien calls 'enchantment' - or through prayer.

Humphrey Carpenter, in his biography, refers to Tolkien as a 'conservative of the old school' - not a defender of plutocratic or technocratic interests, but a champion of traditional social structures, where everyone, great or small, occupies their place in the social order in harmony and rapport with the cosmic order. One can understand perfectly, therefore, the virulence of Tolkien's 1941 judgement on the Nazis who, far from exalting traditional values, profoundly perverted them and contributed thereby to rendering traditional thought highly suspect to succeeding generations:

I have in this war a burning private grudge against that ruddy little ignoramus Adolf Hitler for ruining, perverting, and making for ever accursed, that noble northern spirit, a supreme contribution to Europe, which I have ever loved, and tried to present in its true light.[4]

Tolkien's unabashed hostility toward mass phenomena and twentieth-century totalitarianism, be it Communist or National Socialist, is especially clear in his description of the servitude imposed on the inhabitants of the Shire in the chapter towards the end of The Lord of the Rings called The Scouring of the Shire. Sharky's band of brigands remind us of the Soviet political of the 1920s and 30s - by the terror they inspire, certainly - but above all by the heavy pretension, at once solemn and ridiculous, of an administrative jargon captured perfectly here by Tolkien's ironic pen: 'You're arrested for Gate-breaking and Tearing up of Rules and Assaulting Gate-keepers, and Trespassing, and Sleeping in Shire-buildings without Leave and Bribing Guards with Food.'[5]

Tolkien's aversion to industrial society does not, however, lead him to become a partisan of a political ecology severed from its traditional roots. He is no 'hippy'; no counter-cultural leftist. Tolkien's critique of the modern world is not founded on a call to subversion, but rather on an invitation to rediscover the path of tradition, stemming from the dual European heritage of Christianity and mythology. Because of this, Tolkien is able, for example, to lionise chivalry and warrior virtues, while expressing compassion towards all beings through the theme of victory born out of weakness, the weakness which gives witness to the all-powerful Divinity continually at work in the world. What is also remarkable in Tolkien is his profound respect for the liberty of each and every person and his categorical refusal to allow the manipulations of propaganda to browbeat his heroes. Finally, and most importantly of all, what particularly animates his oeuvre is a simple and joyous love of creation. As Elrond remarks in reference to the three rings of the Elves: 'Those who made them desired neither power, nor domination, nor riches. They sought understanding instead, and the ability to heal and create, so that all things might be held and preserved without stain.'[6]

There are the values - evident not only in Tolkien's writings but also in his life, as seen in his letters and in his love for his four children - which we believe can have a positive influence on young people in the current context of a world at the end of its cycle, sinking in nihilism. In the mid-1960s, at the time of the Uranus/Pluto conjunction, the Cultural Revolution launched by Mao Tse Tung in China engendered the ferocious Red Guards, infamous for their extreme brutality and by the irrepairable damage caused to some of China's most ancient monuments. Their goal was to destroy all traces of traditional society, and this is how thousands of sculptures and temples (Buddhist mainly) came to be destroyed. The Great Wall of China no less was flattened in part and the Imperial Palace itself in Beijing was only saved due to the direct intervention of Chou En Lai.

The Cultural Revolution, moreover, revealed a horrific will to suppress - through a refusal of identification - all possibility of pity towards its victims. They were stripped of human dignity and treated like animals. Several millions were exterminated. The Red Guards had a network in every school, factory and administrative centre. They seized, they interrogated, they tortured without remorse, installing a climate of terror and picking houses at random to find compromising proofs of deviance. At the same time, professors and intellectuals were sent into the countryside to be 're-educated' by manual labour. A sizeable minority of the urban youth suffered the same fate during the decade that followed.

Today, as this Uranus/Pluto phase reappears, the jihadists of Daesh, Al-Quaida and others present the same explosive cocktail, blending ideological fanaticism with existential frustration. These 'knights of the void', masked and clad in black, these unconscious disciples of a terrible Divinity, fascinate and bewitch all over the world, especially in the decaying heart of old Europe, a continent divested of her grandeur and undermined from within by numerous debilitating subcultures, her youth tormented by an emptiness of soul, easy prey for this culture of death, and going so far as to invoke, with a deadly insouciance, demonic powers who do not fail to respond to their appeal. This was the case, tragically, in Paris on November 13th 2015 at the Bataclan, when the killers began their massacre at the moment the American group The Eagles of Death Metal started their song Kiss the Devil:

Who'll kiss the Devil? Who'll love his song?
I will love the Devil and his song. I meet the Devil, and this is his song.

A few weeks earlier, in a Bucharest nightclub on Friday October 30th 2015, around fifty young people - boys and girls - perished. There, it was the metal group Goodbye to Gravity with their song The Day we Die:

We're not numbers, we're free, we're so free,
And the day we give in is the day we die.

This all calls to mind Tolkien's unfinished story The New Shadow, set a century after the fall of Sauron, where we see the youth of Gondor practicing dark arts in secret societies, perversely fascinated by the brutality and barbarism of the Orcs. Though it is true that in the general downward drift of 'cyclical descent' moments of traditional renewal are possible - the reign of Elessar, for example - these temporary restorations are inherently fragile and always in danger of disintegration from within. Battle must constantly be joined, therefore, against our tendency to slide into ever more subtle, ever more sinister forms of barbarity and nihilism.

Tolkien is by no means alone in suggesting to us a path of ascent towards the true Light. We think, for instance, of Alexander Solzhenitsyn, who had the courage (his weakness being his strength) not only to confront the all-powerful Soviet bureaucracy, but also to dig down to the very roots of Communist evil in The Red Wheel, his masterful study of the origins and development of the Russian Revolution.

We could also consider the noble figure of Eugenio Corti, author of The Red Horse, as well as the more discreet stance taken by Ernst Wiechart who, in his two novels, one set on the eve of the First World War (Les Enfants Jéronime) and the other at the end of the Second World War (Missa Sine Nomine), shows himself a worthy witness to the savagery of his epoch and also as a true poet of the forest, sharing with Tolkien a deep love for trees, plants, woodland and all kinds of greenery.

The great difference, of course, is that these writers (except for Solzhenitsyn in his non-fiction) exported the turmoil of their times through the essentially nineteenth-century medium of the European realistic novel. Tolkien's Legendarium, by way of contrast, is rooted in a secondary universe of immense vitality and imaginative power - its atmosphere saturated with the marvellous in every page, every paragraph, every line and every word.

Charles Ridoux


December 10th 2015

[1] Pierre Jourde, Géographies imaginaires de quelques inventeurs de mondes au vingtieme siecle (Paris: Jose Corti, 1991), 259.
[2] Louis Bouyer, Les lieux magiques de la légende du Graal: de Broceliande á Avalon (Paris: O.E.I.L, 1981)
[3] Irene Fernandez, Et si on parlait … du Seigneur des Anneaux (Paris: Presses de la Renaissance, 20020, 128.
[4] Humphrey Carpenter, J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography (London: Harper Collins, 1981), 141.
[5] J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King, (London: George Allen and Unwin, 1955), 310.
[6] J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King, (London: George Allen and Unwin, 1955), 334.