Sunday 29 January 2017

The Hidden Shrine of King Charles the Martyr

There are other places
Which also are the world's end, some at the sea jaws,
Or over a dark lake, in a desert or a city - 
But this is the nearest, in place and time,
Now and England.

T.S. Eliot, Little Gidding


Today, January 30th, is the anniversary of the execution of Charles I in 1649. The painting above by Augustus Egg (1816-63), Charles I Raising His Standard in Nottingham, hangs in the Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool. What I find striking in this picture is its absence of triumphalism, expectation, or even hope. The ragged, storm-laden sky says it all. The musicians go through the motions, but the atmosphere is tense and sombre, as if the outcome of the English Civil War, which hasn't started yet, is already known in hearts and minds.

The King's body language is far from Churchillian, yet there is little sign of fear on his face. Resigned to his fate he may be, but he is clearly determined to take a stand, defend his crown, his country and his people, and go down fighting if need be. The painting, I think, sums Charles up well. He succeeded his father, James I, in 1625, and at his execution the ancient principle of the Divine Right of Kings was buried with him, seemingly forever. The Monarchy was restored in 1660 in the person of his son, Charles II, but the great days of English kingship - when the monarch led and Parliament followed - were over. The Royalist defeat set the nation's course for centuries to come - an agenda dictated by mercantile, bourgeois interests to the detriment, in my view, of both the aristocracy and those on the margins of society. The reward was wealth and empire, but the price, as William Blake (himself no monarchist) understood, has been the diminution and fading of a higher, national vision. England's spiritual identity has been compromised, and it may well be that we have only started to feel the reality of this loss and blurring in very recent years.

Charles I had his flaws like all of us. He was prone to bouts of vanity and conceitedness, but he was clear and firm in his principles and had a rock solid sense of who he was and what he stood for. He retained the affection of his people throughout, seeing himself as their servant as much as their ruler. He curbed the iconoclastic excesses of the Reformation and inspired a widespread renewal of the spiritual life, a prime example being the contemplative community set up at the church of St. John the Evangelist, Little Gidding, Cambridgeshire, by Nicholas Ferrar in 1626. 

This is the church made famous by T.S. Eliot in Little Gidding. 'You are here to kneel,' he writes, 'where prayer has been valid.' Charles paid the last of his three visits to St. John's in 1646, in an attempt to elude the victorious Parliamentarians. 'If you came at night like a broken king', remarks Eliot in memoriam. Charles' subsequent capture, imprisonment, trial and execution are events which hang heavy over England still, I feel, like the clouds in Egg's painting. They seem somehow unresolved, at least to me, and sometimes it appears inevitable to my mind that the nation is due an almighty chastisement for allowing it all to happen. I take comfort, however, in the thought that Charles, by the example of his life and death, has found a home now in the great Arthurian lineage of returning kings - those 'once and future' sovereigns who will spring forth from the national imagination to lead their repentant people and thrust back the powers of evil at their country's hour of need.

I had something of an epiphany last week a propos of this. In Didsbury, the Manchester suburb where I live, there's a lamp-lit bookshop on a little cobbled street behind the tram line. I was leafing through a book last Saturday afternoon (the 21st) called simply, A History of Didsbury. The frontispiece was a two page map dating from 1929. The book itself was published in 1978. I noticed some handwriting in blue ink on the right of the map, over to the East, between Didsbury Cricket Club and Fletcher Moss Park. The ink had faded a bit but the script was neat and elegant - an X accompanied by the words, Shrine of King Charles the Martyr.

I've lived in or around Didsbury for most of my life and had never heard of such a place. Didsbury Library has two blue plaques commemorating the Royalist army's brief stay here in 1644 en route to the Battle of Marston Moor. But I had never heard of a shrine or anything like it. It was an intriguing discovery, nonetheless - though odds-on a joke or a spot of wishful thinking - and I set off at once to explore, intending to come back to the shop later to buy the book.

The area between the park and the cricket club is occupied by a business park now. It's a nice, tree-lined part of town, but I had never visited the business park and never seen any reason why I should. I walked around for a good half-hour in the mist and drizzle. I thought I'd hate it but I actually found it quite a peaceful, almost Zen-like, place. Apart from the security guards sat listlessly at their desks and a few men in suits strolling about, I saw no-one at all. The squat glass buildings seemed to have fallen asleep, lulled by the soft rain and the rising fog.

The business park is bisected by a wide driveway, which branches off into a network of paths and lawns. I saw nothing anywhere to suggest the existence of a shrine. The only old-looking thing I found was a small, chapel-like structure on a grassy roundabout with a triangular roof and an arch-shaped door of dark and heavy wood. I tugged the round, iron handle. The door didn't budge. I walked around to the other side and peered through the window. Nothing to see though - just flip charts, whiteboards, and so forth - the usual business paraphernalia. I found neither plaque nor inscription on the lime-washed walls, so shrugging my shoulders I went on my way, feeling more let down than I'd expected, given that I hadn't really, deep down, expected to come across a shrine at all. 'Maybe it's hidden' I mused, 'Maybe it's always been hidden. Maybe you can only see it with the eye of faith and imagination.' I was disappointed, I recall, that I didn't appear to have much of either.

I bumped into an old friend in Didsbury Village on my way back and by the time I got to the shop it was closed. I decided to leave the matter there, and that was how things stood until three days later - Tuesday evening to be precise. I had arranged to meet my friend for a pint in the Dog and Partridge after work, so I got off the train at East Didsbury, one stop earlier than usual. I walked to the bus stop  by the cricket club. It's only three stops from there to the Village. It was almost fully dark and the lights were on everywhere. The sky was clear and the air mild. 

The bus was busier than I'd anticipated. I had to sit on one of the sideways-facing seats next to the space for wheelchairs and prams. I tried to remember if there was football on, but I hadn't got very far when the bus stopped at the traffic lights next to the business park. Then, where the squat glass buildings should have been, I was blessed (and wounded) instead by the most extraordinary sight - a colossal edifice - a Cathedral or Abbey of some kind - with tall high windows all ablaze in golden light. The roof was a giant triangle, with the thick silhouette of a cross standing out on top against the Western sky. I glimpsed a lawn, a bonfire, a ring of people and a flash of red. Then the lights changed and the bus rolled forward. Someone was playing a violin. I stood up on tiptoe and saw a girl with a fiddle in front the fire. She had dark hair and a red bandana, and the music I heard through the open window will sustain and inspire me, I swear, through this world and the next - mournful and fierce, exultant and yearning - a funeral dirge and a triumphal march at one and the same time. It was cut from a different cloth - that's all I can say - music from a higher level - a sphere of beauty and intensity that was all too soon behind me as the gears whirred and the bus gathered speed, powering on into the night.

I looked around but could tell straightaway that none of my fellow passengers had seen or heard a thing. They were all too ensconced in their papers and phones. One or two had even fallen asleep, worn out, like myself, after a hard day's work. 

And that's where I left it. I toyed with telling my friend in the pub but decided against in the end. Maybe I will one day. Perhaps he'll read this blog. He said he might. I've not been back to the business park or bookshop either. I'll go to the bookshop again, of course, but probably not the business park. 

Some things, I reckon now, are hidden because they're meant to be. They rest in the invisible realm - accessible only to the eye of imagination and faith - until the time for their appearance (or reappearance) in this world is ripe. We're graced with glimpses from time to time and these give us strength, but the King will return when he's ready - when Heaven and Earth are ready - and when we're ready to return to the Truth, take off our shoes and socks, and let our feet be bathed by Christ the High King, in whose Name he rules and serves.

Thursday 26 January 2017

The Magical Battle of Britain

Dion Fortune (see my previous post) was not just a theoretical magician. She practiced magic too and during the Second World War she put her knowledge of it to good use. That is, she employed her understanding of the way magic operates to aid in the defence of England. This might sound odd but what it amounts to is the power of thought, concentrated, focused and strengthened by ritual, directed towards a certain end. In a way the Catholic Mass works on a similar principle though the Mass would work on a spiritual rather than magical level. I would say the minute's silence in wide use today is (potentially anyway) something along the same lines, though in matters of this kind the effect is determined by the motives and intensity of purpose of the participants. Naturally success cannot be measured by any method at our disposal today but nor are we able to dismiss this out of hand from our present limited understanding of how the world works either.

Dion Fortune was a patriotic woman. She was probably what used to be called a High Tory in her political views, and one of her biographers describes her as aligned to the ideas of Winston Churchill (see Wikipedia for references). When the war came she, like most people, wanted to 'do her bit'. Her field of expertise was magic so that is where she thought she could best serve her country. What she did was to organise group meditations which were to take place every Sunday. These started in October 1939, just after the war began, and continued for three years until shortly after America entered the war when it must have seemed that the tide was turning. People on her mailing list, the members of her Fraternity of the Inner Light, were sent letters every week inviting them to participate in a meditation at exactly the same time. Thus although it was a group meditation the group was not present in the same place. The letters elaborated the form the meditation should take, the instructions stating that "the work consists of certain well-defined stages, each of which must be carefully performed before passing on to the next. These stages are the steps of a stair on which the mind rises to a higher level of consciousness, performs certain work there, and then returns to normal.” She stressed that “ethical principles are involved" and that the meditator should "invoking the Name of God, open your mind as a channel for the work of the Masters of Wisdom" The idea was to build up psychic force which could be used for the defence of the realm against the Nazi attack. As she makes clear, "success can only be achieved by single-pointed concentration". They must have thought they were on the right track when, shortly after they started their work, the Minister of War made a broadcast stating the same ideas and then a week later the Pope spoke in a similar vein. They did not claim to have influenced this trend but took it as evidence that all were responding to the same inspiration from the higher planes. In effect, it was a validation of their work and approach to it.

In February 1940 the group was told to visualise angelic forces guarding the coasts of Britain. The idea was that these forces were there but their power could only come through to the physical plane if it was assisted and called forth by meditators in this world who could, as it were, help to crystallise and solidify that power by their concentrated thought. A link between above and below could be constructed, almost like a funnel through which the power could manifest. The members of her Fraternity were also asked to repeat invocations when the Luftwaffe bombed Britain which would, it was hoped, summon those in the inner worlds who might help their earthly brethren in distress. This is magical thinking which might seem absurd to the materialist but is the basis of most religious ritual and practice.

The occult writer Gareth Knight has written an excellent biography of Dion Fortune in which some of this work is described. He relates how the group members were told to visualise a particular symbol which was a triangle linking three coloured spheres. In these spheres the imagination should place three figures who were King Arthur wielding a sword, Merlin holding a sceptre and Christ with the Holy Grail. This was later transformed into a pyramid with the Virgin Mary replacing Christ in his sphere as he rose to the apex of the pyramid, making it clear that the whole work was being carried out under his protection.

In her letter of September 8th 1940 (quoted by Gareth Knight) Dion Fortune makes the following observation which I think shows her fundamental quality. "There is only one way to keep quiet and serene under bombardment - to be prepared to lay down your life for your country if necessary. Once that eventuality is accepted, one abrogates one's civilian mentality and the passivity and helplessness that go with it. Regard the warning wail of the siren as an 'alert' not as a 'retreat'...Try and make contact with (the Invisible Helpers), not in order that they may protect you, but that you may co-operate with them in helping those around you." Surely we see someone here in whom the spirit of sacrifice and service was strong and sincere.

On one occasion her headquarters at Queensborough Terrace in London was bombed and the residents had to leave. In Gareth Knight's words "They drew consolation from the fact that although everything was thrown off the altar in the sanctuary, the statue of the Risen Christ remained standing on its pedestal, though shifted to the very edge". Who is to say that this is just a coincidence? Further on he writes "As Dion Fortune remarked, she had often been alleged to be a Black Occultist but on this occasion the allegation could not be denied as she and the librarian looked like a couple of sweeps through the difference of opinion with the roof, which fell on them but tactfully refrained from hitting them."

Some people will accept that Dion Fortune's intentions may have been good but she was still an occultist which is a path forbidden to the Christian, certainly one fraught with risk, even danger. This is undoubtedly true. Anyone who opens himself up to the psychic realm needs to have an abundance of inner purity and common sense if he is to emerge unscathed. It is far easier to come into contact with demons, mischievous spirits or, at best, spirits that over-estimate their spiritual attainment than angels or true Masters if one follows the occult path. Moreover occultism tends to distract from real spirituality because it is concerned more with the inner side of creation than the Creator. Even when occultists are sincere they can easily get lured down the byways of the spiritual path and that's where many of them do end up.  

 However in my opinion Dion Fortune is someone who did possess both common sense and true dedication to the upward path, and I believe she performed a valuable service both for her country during the war and for the development of a certain branch of spiritual understanding in the 20th century. Whether the benefits outweigh the risks in occultism is another matter. Spiritually speaking, in my view, it is unnecessary and can easily be a diversion at best and something much riskier at worst. But if the occultist works always under the protection of Christ, submitting himself or herself to that rule at all times, then I think that he or she does have something to offer. How many do though? The temptation to pride and the love of power is always strong but I see Dion Fortune as someone who was definitely on the side of the angels and who worked with them, most of the time anyway.

The question now arises, does any of this have any relevance for us today? We may not currently be engaged in anything so obvious as the fight against the Nazis but there is still a spiritual war going on and it seems to be intensifiyng. It is no less powerful for not taking place in a physical form. In some ways it is more powerful because its effects are not directly observed and therefore more insidiously pervasive. Perhaps we can take a leaf from Dion Fortune's book and dedicate ourselves to prayer and spiritual devotion because that is what all this amounts to. It may not be in so organised a form but every voice that is raised to God for his aid in this time of, let's be frank, spiritual tribulation adds to the power and effectiveness of the good. We need to make sure that our own hearts are pure though as the prayers of one saint are more effective than those of a thousand sinners.

Monday 23 January 2017

A Radical Stillness

I work in a busy office. It made me think today of C.S. Lewis's 1945 novel, That Hideous Strength, and the contrast between busyness and stillness depicted therein. Daily life, at the National Institute for Coordinated Experiments (NICE), is a whirligig of projects, plans, and never-ending administrative and technical hustle and bustle. Time races by chaotically. For the community gathered at St. Anne's on the Hill, on the other hand, there is no work at all to be done, save the cooking of food and the maintenance of the house and grounds. There is time a-plenty to talk, read, watch, pray, or simply rest. There is a fecund, fertile silence at work. St. Anne's is a 'house of the best' in Kathleen Raine's phrase; a 'conservative' house in the widest sense of the word. It conserves, preserves, nourishes and restores what is beautiful good and true.

The Daily Telegraph, to give a contemporary example of this contrast, masquerades as a conservative newspaper but is in reality nothing of the sort. It belongs more to Belbury (the NICE's headquarters) than St. Anne's. Its headlines of late have been dominated by speculation on Britain's level of access to the EU's single market and the possibility of a trade deal with the US. These things have their place but they should never become a nation's prime focus. There will not be a spiritual renaissance in this country until we learn to divest ourselves of this obsession with growth and quantity - with pounds, shillings and pence. Napoleon's jibe about England being a nation of shopkeepers rings painfully true at times.

What we need is for a great hush to descend, in our minds and in the world, and a season of watching and waiting to begin - like Advent, like pregnancy - a radical stillness and decluttering - creating  space within so that we can hear the only thing we need to tune into at this time - the distant but approaching hum of the Great Music - the wild, thrumming call of the Divine that frees us from the drudgery of Economics and the illusion of limitless activity and growth.

England is full of magicians!

From Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell - by Susanna Clarke - 2004.

Strange gave a long sigh. The effort of speaking coherently seemed to exhaust him.

"Your second task is ... Your second task is to take a message to all the magicians in England. Do you understand me?"

"Oh, yes! But . . ." "But what?" "But there is only one." "What?"

"There is only one magician, sir. Now that you are here, only one magician remains in England."

Strange seemed to consider this for a moment.

"My pupils," he said. "My pupils are magicians. All the men and women who ever wanted to be Norrell's pupils are magicians. Childermass is another. Segundus another. Honeyfoot. The subscribers to the magical journals. The members of the old societies.

"England is full of magicians. Hundreds! Thousands perhaps!

"Norrell refused them. Norrell denied them. Norrell silenced them. But they are magicians nonetheless.

"Tell them this." He passed his hand across his forehead and breathed hard for a moment. "Tree speaks to stone; stone speaks to water. It is not so hard as we have supposed. Tell them to read what is written in the sky. Tell them to ask the rain!

"All of John Uskglass's old alliances are still in place. I am sending messengers to remind the stones and the sky and the rain of their ancient promises. Tell them . . ."

But again Strange could not find the words he wanted. He drew something in the air with a gesture. "I cannot explain it," he said...

Saturday 21 January 2017

Repentance of the sexual revolution must be upfront, clear and explicit: or, why there cannot be a spiritual awakening without prior repentance of the sexual revolution

The sexual revolution has become - more-and-more over the past fifty years, and continuing to build - the primary socio-political litmus test.

The sexual revolution - which I take to be first the tolerance, then positive advocacy, now legal coercion - of an ethical system and social organisation of sex out-with the context of an ideal of permanent marriage and family; and subverted sexualities treated as the focus of personal identity and Life.

With each new wave, from easy no fault divorce to constructed sexualities; the move has always been from supposedly neutral tolerance, to positive propaganda, to aggressive imposition.

The sexual revolution is therefore not an epiphenomenon of our cultural malaise - it is core: the single most effective and enduring agent of permanent Leftist revolution.  Class War, Feminism, Antiracism - these have come and gone, have operated differentially by culture... only the sexual revolution has been incrementally cumulative and universal.

Hence we are, very nearly all of us, heavily implicated in one aspect or another; therefore it is too late for prevention and repentance is the only large-scale realistic possibility. Since repentance (made effective by the infinite power of Christ's work) is unique to Christianity, this alone implies that a spiritual revival would need to be Christ-centred (whether or not conventionally 'Christian').

So far as I know, none of the supposedly 'right wing' or 'populist' movements in the West have yet made clear their collective (as well as personal) repentance of the sexual revolution; and until they do, they will simply remain what they currently are - which is merely a different species of Leftism (just as National Socialism was merely a different species of Socialism).

Of course, as I say, we are almost-all implicated in the sexual revolution by past or present behaviour - that is just a fact; but we should not be intimidated by the Leftist charges of 'hypocrisy' from doing what is right and - more importantly - publicly arguing for what is right.

(After all Leftist 'hypocristy' amounts merely to the inevitable mortal-life failing to live up to our highest ideals. That is simply a consequence of having ideals. The Leftist 'solution' to hypocrisy is to invert ideals - then try to live-down to them. I know this from experience - since I was a Leftist for a long time. The popularity of alcohol and other drugs is closely related to their helpfulness in overcoming our innate natural morality, in pursuit of strategic self-degradation.)

Therefore, in a context where the sexual revolution is at the very core of the problem of secular Leftism  - repentance of the sexual revolution must be upfront, clear and explicit.

Lacking this, we are merely seeing more-of-the-same; awakening has not happened; and there will be no change of direction for The West.

Thursday 19 January 2017

Dion Fortune and Glastonbury

Orthodox Christians of a nervous disposition, please suspend judgment for a moment. Dion Fortune (née Violet Firth) was an occultist. She delved into the unseen worlds, was a medium, practised ceremonial magic and probably exercised psychic powers. She wrote books with titles like The Cosmic Doctrine and The Mystical Qabalah, occult novels such as Moon Magic and The Sea Priestess and founded a society called The Fraternity of the Inner Light. The Cosmic Doctrine purported to describe the formation of the universe and she claimed to have received it in trance from discarnate Masters, one of whom was supposedly Socrates. Unfortunately this esoteric cosmology is long-winded and verbose, reading like a sub-Theosophical production with interesting bits but on the whole pretty dull. It is quite unlike her other works so probably was received in the way claimed. I doubt the source was as claimed though since its dense style and obscure content do not speak of a true member of the Communion of Saints to me. It's much more an intellectual product than a spiritual one, like most occult revelations, and probably came, like most occult revelations, from one of the denizens of the inner planes who over-estimated his spiritual status. Her novels are more entertaining though not quite as good as claimed by her apologists. They are well written but their spiritual content is limited.

Despite all this I have a great deal of respect for her. She exudes common sense, and even wisdom, in most of her writings, and undoubtedly helped clean up the sensationalist mess that was early 20th century esotericism. I think she also revealed or uncovered previously unknown truths, perhaps better described as symbolic realities, to do with Atlantis and the Arthurian stories in particular and the Western Mystery Tradition in general, and these have now passed into much wider circulation. She drew a clear distinction between magic used for benevolent or evolutionary purposes and the sort advocated by her deeply unpleasant contemporary Aleister Crowley, and on matters of sex she had a lot more insight than most modern pagans, seeing it in a not dissimilar way to the Church. Which, of course, gets her branded a prude nowadays. All in all, she seems to have been a no nonsense sort of person, of great personal integrity, who worked tirelessly for what she believed in, possibly wearing herself out as a result and dying at the relatively early age of 55. She was also a Christian of sorts, albeit esoteric and unorthodox sorts, but still sincere in her love and respect for Christ.

One of her books which can be enjoyed by anybody, occultist or not, is Glastonbury, Avalon of the Heart. This is her love letter to the town and is a lyrical evocation of its special qualities. Dion Fortune was one of the first people to draw attention to Glastonbury as the spiritual heart of England, originally visiting it when Bligh Bond was conducting his psychic investigations of the Abbey ruins. She later bought Chalice Orchard at the foot of the Tor where she set up a retreat, and was eventually buried in St John the Baptist's church there. Her book describes the history of Glastonbury and the legends that surround it including those to do with the young Jesus, Joseph of Arimathea, King Arthur and the Grail. She seeks to harmonise the pagan past with the new and higher Christian way, seeing the former as fulfilled in the latter rather than just shown up as false, the correct attitude in my opinion.  Here's an extract which shows both her poetical style and true Christian feeling.

"There is spiritual power in Glastonbury. To stand in the centre of the great nave, looking towards the high altar, is like standing waist deep in a swift mountain stream. Invisible force is rushing past with a streaming movement. Only in one other place and on one other occasion have I felt the like force - at Christmas communion in Westminster Abbey, when, coming out of the transept into the slow-moving file of waiting communicants it was as if one had stepped from the bank of river into swift-moving water when the central aisle was reached.

What is this pouring power of holy places? Do we not miss the power of pilgrimage? The Reformation no doubt swept away many abuses in an age that had fallen on corruption, but with the abuses were destroyed also many good things. Some great truths of the spiritual life were forgotten when every man became his own priest.

Whatever may be the explanation thereof, experience proves there is power in holy places, power to quicken the spiritual life and vitalize the soul with fresh enthusiasm and inspiration. Where strong spiritual emotions have been felt for long periods of time by successive generations of dedicated men and women – especially if they had had among them those who may be reckoned as saints because of their genius for devotion – the mental atmosphere of the place becomes imbued with spiritual forces, and sensitive souls capable of response are deeply stirred thereby when they come into it."

Before writing this post I re-read Avalon of the Heart (it's quite short) and, in one of those odd little coincidences many people will recognise, I was struck by the similarity of the sentiments Dion Fortune expresses here and those in the piece on pilgrimage I recently posted. I include it for that reason but also because I think it shows that, whatever her other interests, her Christianity was genuine. I would recommend this book to anyone interested in the history and legends of Glastonbury even if some of it (it was published in 1934) has been superseded by more recent writings. 

Sunday 15 January 2017


Nowadays most people in the Western world expect to have at least one holiday a year but wouldn't it be a good thing if we thought about making a pilgrimage sometimes too? After all, if the mind and body need to be refreshed perhaps the spirit does as well. This needn't be a dramatic affair but it should require a little effort and sacrifice on our part, and it ought to be made with the right attitude which is reverence mixed with aspiration.

In the past people went on pilgrimages to renew a connection to God which, even when it exists, is often weakened during the rough and tumble of everyday existence in the material world. They went to absorb holy influences from a recognised sacred site, sacred either by association with a saint or just in itself because of the spiritual power to be sensed there, and they also went as an act of penance or contrition. They went too to give thanks to their Maker. All these motives help to revive the sagging spiritual impulse. A pilgrimage can also be thought of as an externalisation of the inner spiritual journey and so aid and strengthen one for that task since, by being something anyone can do physically, it is rather easier to accomplish. It should not be taken as a substitute for the need to make that inner journey but it can be used as a support and inspiration for it.

The effort involved in reaching a place is an important part of any pilgrimage. If you simply turn up at a holy site having driven there in comfort you are not going to reap the same spiritual benefit as you might if your journey had been more arduous and required real effort, even a degree of hardship. This is why some people made all or part of their journey barefoot or even on their knees. When I lived in India I noticed that many people would shave their heads when going on a pilgrimage. Some would fast as well or take a temporary vow of celibacy. Of course, this can be taken to excess and the actual pain or deprivation involved be seen as a virtue in itself which is a mistake. But if it is seen symbolically and as a gesture of penitence and humility then there is a point to it, and it can be spiritually constructive. We recognise that we must approach God emptied of self and without any preconditions on our part, and although the ideal is to do this on a mental level, that is hard and to do it physically is a good step in the right direction. It's a reasonable substitute that sets the mind on the right course. Physical privation or hardship is not, on its own, going to make you a more spiritual person, any more than poverty can, but the acceptance of it can assist in turning around the worldly self and helping it submit to true spiritual values.

It is well known that Christianity didn't just set up its own brand new holy places but adapted them from former pagan sites, effectively baptising an already holy place. Now this could have been for two reasons. One, the people accepted that site as holy so it was easier just to put it under new management. The already existing sacred aura of the place could simply be converted to Christian usage. It merely required rededicating to Christ or the Virgin Mary or a saint and cleansed of any lingering potential defilement by the appropriate rites. But I think there is another reason too. Some places really are more sacred than others. If we think of the Earth as a body with lines of what, for want of a better phrase, we can call psychic energy running all over it we can understand that there are certain nexus points where that energy is concentrated and where it may take on a particular quality. These are also places where, given the right conditions and receptivity on the part of the visitor, the veil between this world and the next can be thinner than elsewhere. Such localities are well suited to adaptation for worship and pilgrimage.

Britain has several pilgrimage sites, some very well known. Canterbury, Glastonbury and Walsingham come to mind as sacred places where a strong Christian influence has persisted for centuries. Lindisfarne and Iona are holy islands which are probably nexus points as described above but have also benefitted from the presence of saints, Cuthbert and Columba respectively, and from the veneration afforded these saints by their followers. This is actually an interesting point. The presence of true spiritual aspirants can add to the sanctity of a place or at least enable it to come out. If people come in a spirit of devotion and reverence they can both receive and give. They can receive the spiritual virtue of the site but they can also contribute to building that up by the quality of the feelings and motives they bring with them. If their hearts are pure and properly directed to goodness and truth they can, as it were, feed the atmosphere. But the reverse is also true and present day Glastonbury is an unfortunate example of this. If people come to take and with unworthy motives then they can suck all the good atmosphere out of a place, driving its virtue underground.

Glastonbury is certainly a holy place which means it has a powerful energy. Regrettably this attracts all sorts of types including those who just wish to feed off that energy, and these people corrupt the atmosphere through their desire to appropriate the energy without being worthy of it or able to live up to its quality. That is why, ideally, all holy places should be guarded or protected from the profane by a dedicated priesthood or something of that nature. If you wish to enter a sacred place or space you must make yourself worthy of that. Everybody, both pagan and Christian, understood that very well until recently.

In a sense, then, pilgrimage might be considered as a symbol of the return to God. That is a long journey, though, and, as one of the outer supports to treading the inner path, a physical pilgrimage can be of great value for it not only brings that inner journey into focus but it can also inspire and revitalise us for the road ahead.

Friday 13 January 2017

Metaphysical awakening - but how?

Metaphysics is the name for our most fundamental assumptions concerning reality - and the particular horror of modern metaphysics is the pretence that there isn't one.

If there is to be any awakening of The West in general and Albion in particular - the first step is for people to become aware that they have metaphysical assumptions; and like all such assumptions they are assumed - and not, therefore, the consequence of any kind of evidence or proof.

There is no name for the set of assumptions of the modern West - and that is no accident; because the pretence is that we have seen-through metaphysics, and confront 'reality' directly.

We (supposedly) live without illusions, we face the facts, we live according to the bottom-line - we seize the day.

We assume (among other things) that God never was, the soul is a myth, death is utter annihilation, science is the only truth, that Human Life is entirely about maximising pleasure and minimising suffering... and yet we deny that these are assumptions.


In my experience there is nothing harder to achieve, than to get somebody-else to acknowledge their assumptions - and that other assumptions are possible!

(This metaphysical awareness is not mainly a matter of high intelligence; it is mostly a matter of attention-span and serious engagement - both of which are even rarer than high intelligence.)

Yet metaphysics is not just another 'relativism' - the fact that we make some assumptions does not mean that any one set of assumptions is just as good (or bad) as any other set of assumptions; because metaphysics is not the deepest we can go.

Beyond metaphysics there is what could be called intuition; by which I mean the ultimate reflective evaluation of our ultimate selves: that which convinces us, that we believe, what strikes us as most valid and true. 

(This depends on many possible factors - coherence is one. Simplicity is another; comprehensibility is very important - we need to understand our own metaphysics; appeal is another - what strikes us as good, beautiful and true. But in practice the reasons for evaluation may be unclear and unarticulated: we just know.)

So, if we can excavate, isolate and acknowledge the nature of our metaphysics, then we can validly change it for something better.

We can - we really can! - awaken from the deadly hypnotic trance of modernity; and awaken to a better world - a world of breadth, depth, meaning and purpose.


This is important - I would say vital - because it is our metaphysics which is literally killing us in The West.

And the great weakness of Western metaphysics is that it is incoherent - indeed it is self-refuting; because when pushed to the line it claims that incoherence is reality; and the incoherence of metaphysics mirrors the incoherence of Real Life.

(It is this incoherent assertion of incoherence which leads to the claim to have refuted metaphysics; to the claim somehow to have confronted reality directly and unmediated and thereby discovered its incoherence.) 

Yet from this insistence of incoherence, The West derives its tyrannical iron cage of mandatory bureaucratic surveillance and control; and its moralising and immoral mass media - that vast effort at ideological saturation bombing which IS the modern world.

People will not escape this suffocating System merely by discovering its lies, nor even by discovering its incoherence - they will escape by recognising a metaphysics of expanded acknowledgment and perception of realities; of meaning and purpose - and by recognising its validity in the very depth of their intuitive self.

This is the work of an instant! Albeit it may take weeks, months, years of decades to build up to that moment.

But the possibility is always there, and never can be closed-off altogether - or, if it is, we have no-one to blame but our-selves.

Tuesday 10 January 2017

Speculations on the post-Brexit English awakening - high risk of failure, but (for the same reason) transformative positive change a possibility

My interpretation of divine destiny is that we - in England, Britain, The West - are supposed to move forward to a new kind of Christian society different from both the present secular Leftist modernity and the preceding traditionalist religious societies.

If traditional society was, in essence, the immersion of individuals in a public realm of religious practices (with little self-awareness in distinction from society); the aim is, I believe, a society which takes the increased self-consciousness and individual agency (i.e. personal freedom) of modernity and joins-us-together into a voluntary network of loving relationships.

So, if the traditional past had us as something like young children in an ideal family - dependent, and primarily obedient; in the future we are supposed to be something more like the grown-up (fully agent) adult children in an ideal family.

Therefore, I judge current events by their potential for this next (and final) step in the evolution of consciousness and Christian love.

From this perspective Brexit (understood as a popular aspiration, rather than the specific vote which revealed it) potentially represents something altogether new. Post-Brexit, England is in a high risk but high reward situation - which may well lead to nothing at all but might be the start of something very good.

The weakness of Brexit is therefore also its strength. The weakness is that there is no leader, and indeed no leadership class (what little, mostly simulated, leadership there was during the Brexit campaign has either melted away or been swiftly neutralised by the Establishment: corrupted or crushed).

Hence Brexit seems likely to fail in the short term - but if it does not fail then we have something very positive and hope-full for the long term.

Brexit is almost purely a consequence of invisible, politically-powerless people - it is a leaderless movement, unarticulated - unpredicted and unpredictable, undetected and unmeasurable; and apparently utterly uncomprehended and uncontrolled by the major social institutions.  

The nature of Brexit is a consequence of the extremity of corruption in Britain; where the Establishment is so totally-dominant among the leadership of all major institutions (which are now thoroughly assimilated and inverted) that they monopolise all leadership and public discourse.

Therefore in Britain change will have to come (if it comes at all) by some wholly-novel 'mechanism' - based upon a mass of individual 'awakenings' - each of which is very private, very autonomous, against-the-odds - and very difficult, therefore, either to control or to extinguish.

If the underlying social change represented by Brexit gathers strength, then it would have its effect (at least initially) either invisibly or negatively - since it lacks explicit and recognised representation.

Of course there may be, I hope there is, a small and organised core of honest and competent leadership for the Brexit movement - but this would be secondary; it would have to be secondary, or else Brexit would quickly and easily be snuffed-out.

How is positive change even possible under a Brexit scenario? Well, modern society requires, and gets, a truly massive degree of self-policing, self-control, self-punishment - whereby the mass of people have been ideologically inverted into active support of evil (of nonsense and lies enforced as truth; ugliness as beauty; and wickedness as virtue - and vice versa).

This is done by the people, to the people - because it is expedient when Life is regarded relativistically, materialistically, and as terminated by death.

But if people have, as individuals, awoken to a new metaphysical awareness - that is, a new system of assumptions which they know from-themselves - then individuals become agent; and immune to the divide-and-rule system of control.

A system of true and self-aware agents would be new; and impossible to control - except by enrolling agency to positive goals - presumably by Love.

At present, modernity denies genuine agency, and indeed real-reality. If this changes - then everything changes. Inexorably, unstoppably, bottom-up.

And Christian agency (assuming that is what eventually emerges) just keeps bouncing back - no matter how many errors and failures it suffers, it cannot be demoralised because of the infinite power of repentance.

When Christian agency is sustained even in the absence of a strong, honest and true church and institutional leadership - then it indomitable; and indeed is all-but indestructible (in the eternal perspective).

Sunday 8 January 2017

Coming Home to the Grail - Catherine Fisher's 'Corbenic'

'There are two sorts of life, aren't there? The one that seems ordinary, like this, and then the reflection from it. Curved, shiny. All mixed up.'

Corbenic, p.195.


Catherine Fisher (b. 1957) is a Welsh novelist and poet whose work is deeply imbued with the myths and legends native to both Wales and England. Widely viewed as a Young Adult writer, her stories have an energy, fluidity and intensity of vision which makes most contemporary 'grown-up' fiction look pale and one-dimensional. 

I have read six Catherine Fisher novels since discovering Corbenic in late 2015. All are excellent (for   further details please visit but Corbenic remains the pick so far for me. What comes over particularly strongly, having recently reread it, is the author's profound immersion in the Grail mythos. She has absorbed the legends, thoroughly and deeply, and let them form her imagination. Corbenic, therefore, is far more than a yarn based on anthropological research or detached, 'folkloric' study. What gives it its magic and inner force is the captivation Fisher displays for its central symbol - the Grail - in every word she writes. Anyone who describes the Grail procession like this, for instance, clearly reveres and loves her subject, understanding it intimately, approaching it intuitively, not from 'out there' but 'in here':

There was another room. There had been no door before but there was now, and the boys with the spear and the candlesticks walked in there, and the girl did too, and as she passed she raised her face from the glory of the Grail and gave Cal one look, quick and rapt. And he was seared with the sudden joy of it, the nameless, unbelievable joy, but the door swung shut and the light was gone and the music was back, as if it had never stopped. (p.27)

Corbenic, in essence, is a modern-day recasting of the Percival story - the gauche youth who leaves his mother's home in the woods to become a knight at King Arthur's court. Cal, a spiky and emotionally wounded teenager (his actual age isn't mentioned in the book, but he seems about seventeen) leaves his alcoholic mother and his home in Bangor to begin a career at his uncle's business in Chepstow. As he passes Ludlow on the train he falls into a doze, wakes up in a fluster and gets off at the wrong stop, a place called Corbenic which, Cal later discovers, is not to be found on any map. His encounter with the Grail King and his attempts to return to Corbenic propel the novel towards its conclusion. There are a wealth of mythic themes and motifs bubbling up under the surface of the plot, however. Most prominent, perhaps, is the presence of King Arthur and his retinue, disguised as a battle re-enactment group known as the Company:

They were Arthur's Company, and they had each taken on one of the characters from the legends, and they lived it, as if they really were those people, as if they'd been alive for centuries, not in some cave asleep, but here, still living, still guarding the Island of Britain from its enemies. Sometimes Cal thought they really believed they were Arthur's men. Sometimes he almost believed it too. (p.91)

This is a highly enticing idea and, for myself at least, a comforting one too - that Arthur and his band are still at large, that they have always been here in one guise or another and that they always will be until the day arrives when they reveal themselves in their true shape and form. There are echoes here with the line of 'Pendragons' in C.S. Lewis's That Hideous Strength - the secret kings of Logres; the hidden, mystical side of Britain - 'some of whom are known to history and some of whom are not.'

The same can be said for the Grail itself - that unpredictable and dangerous, yet healing and rejuvenating sacred vessel. The Russian mystic Valentin Tomberg (1900-1973) writes in his final book Lazarus Come Forth on the relationship between what he calls the 'day side' of history and its 'night side'. He regards figures such as Lazarus and Nicodemus, for instance, as belonging to the night side of the Christian story: 

They belong to the hidden core of being of Christianity, which is the mystery of 'becoming', i.e. the essence itself of all miracles. (p.120)

The Grail too, in my view, should be seen in this light - an image of high holiness erupting into our 'daytime' consciousness - like the men of Elidor bursting into suburban Manchester in Alan Garner's book - from the secret, 'night-time' realm of Imagination - the creative, archetypal furnace - the place of encounter between the human and the Divine.

There are no barriers between worlds in Corbenic, no line in the sand between the magical and the workaday. The Grail quest is as much about healing hearts, minds and memories as it is about tasting the wine of Heaven. It is all of a piece; all one cloth of gold. The book is about family, community, reconciliation and, most of all perhaps, vocation - about shedding the skin of the false self and coming home to who you truly are, not the person you think you are or the person you suspect society wants you to be. Only when you have become who you are, only when you have hit rock bottom and cried out for help from the depths of your heart, divested of the ego's illusions and pretences, only then can the Grail perform its redemptive role, heal the wounds you thought were beyond healing, and set you on the path of your sacred mission.

None of this is a given, of course. Everything depends (and all the legends, Corbenic included, are as one on this) on the seeker having the wherewithal, courage and good fortune to ask the Grail King the right question at the right time. This is the Kairos - the supreme moment - and the healing of the outer world - the Waste Land - relies on it. Nothing happens in isolation; personal transformation is echoed and reflected in the corporate sphere. The regeneration of the Waste Land will be a day of collective restoration where, as Tomberg puts it, 'all the forgotten truth and love, all the sleeping truth and love of the past, will be remembered and reawakened; and where all bearers, proclaimers, and participators in all truth and love, who have passed through the gate of death, will come again to speak, act, and be influential.' (p.130)

It might seem a grand claim to make for a relatively slender book like this, but it's my belief that Corbenic, in its fluent yet unobtrusive, unpretentious manner, at least points the way towards the possibility of such an individual and communal rejuvenation. It asks the Grail question, in short. That is all any of us are required to do.

Friday 6 January 2017

Owen Barfield on the spiritual future of Albion - 1940

If you are convinced that it is well for a man, or it may be a nation, to make something, there are two possible ways of imparting the conviction to him.

You may convince him by argument that such a thing, if made, would be a good and useful thing. That is one way.

On the other hand you may say: “This thing already exists, potentially, and is merely waiting to be brought into visible being. Moreover it is your true nature to make it, because its archetype already exists in you. If you fail to make it you will be acting in a way that is fundamentally false: you will be a sort of hypocrite.”

Now I believe that this second method is the only one which has any chance of success to-day. I also believe that it is inherently a better method, because for one thing it is in harmony with religious faith. Ethics are concerned with what ought to be, where religion is concerned solely with what is.

It is, for instance, not a religious appeal to say “You ought not to be acquisitive,” whether or no we add “because in that way peace will be secured.” It is a religious appeal to say: “It is the will of God that you should not be acquisitive,” whether or no we add “and you will find that it is really your own will also, the will of that true self of yours for whose salvation Christ died.”

The question is, therefore, is there any chance of producing by this second method a widespread conviction in the minds of English people that it is their urgent business to create a new society? In attempting to answer this question one naturally asks first, whether attempt has ever been made before.

A century ago a great man was writing in this country on social change and political questions... Coleridge saw that a new society was needed in Europe and that it could only be brought about by a change in people’s ways of thought and feeling. He virtually foresaw, as the inevitable result of habits of thought which were then comparatively new but were rapidly becoming prevalent, the very disintegration which we are now experiencing. He chose the second method of appeal.

Coleridge tried to familiarise English people with the notion that there is what he called the “idea” of a nation, a constitution, a church – that is, not a theory of these things worked out empirically, but something which they are in fact and in the nature of things striving to be; and that the first problem is to recognise this “idea” in each case.

He failed to “get it across” -- it was beyond his, probably beyond any man’s, powers and he never won more than a small audience. The failure was disastrous because for anyone who will first take the trouble to master Coleridge’s system of thought these writings of his contains a depth of Christian political wisdom which I believe to be unsurpassed by any other English, possibly by any other, thinker.

Is there any better prospect of success to-day? I believe there may be... People have gradually acquired the habit of referring in the most matter of fact, even glib, way to this particular aspect of the “unmanifest.” To this extent we are all accustomed to “moving about in worlds not realised”.

This fact seems to me to create a totally different situation; so that, if Coleridge were here to-day, he would find exactly what he formerly lacked, a point of contact with the minds of his contemporaries from which at least to make a start.

Am I making my suggestion at all clear? What I want to get at is that the true form of the society which Britain ought to create already exists potentially in the nation’s unconscious; and that an appeal which proceeds on that basis stands the best chance of success.

Edited from Effective Approach to Social Change - Owen Barfield - 1940


Note: This seems an inspiring and energising insight into the nature of desirable social change; and how we ought to set about inducing it.

(And also - very helpfully - what not to do!)

Thursday 5 January 2017

A Prophecy on the Conversion of England

Readers of this blog might be interested in a post I came across today on another blog. Here's the link.

The blog is to do with prophecy in Catholic tradition specifically, as its name would indicate, relating to the Apocalypse. The post describes the potential reconversion of England to Catholicism and I don't imagine all readers here would share that aspiration. But if we look at this conversion as a rediscovery of real Christianity then I think we could share common ground. I apologise to the writer of the post, Emmett O'Regan, if it seems to him that his message is being misrepresented by appearing on a blog that is not a Catholic one, but I hope he doesn't mind it being spread to a different audience than the one he might have initially intended.

Anyhow, here's an extract from Mr O'Regan's post quoting a Jesuit missionary who was visiting England in the early 17th century.

"While on a mission to England in 1608, Fr. Mancinelli reported that he had been visited by angels, who revealed to him the future destiny of this country in a series of visions:

"He beheld regions laid waste by all kinds of tempests, and so desolated by thunder, lightning, rain, hail, hurricanes and dreadful earthquakes that their wretched inhabitants knew not whither to flee for safety; even the caverns of the earth afforded no refuge. Being thus beyond all human help, the Father saw them at length with one accord prostrate and crying to God for mercy; he next heard this voice from Heaven: "It is not so much your sins as the enormities of your kings and rulers that has brought you to this condition, and subjected you to such severe punishments. But now know ye that I will deal with you in mercy, and raise your Church to a dignity that it has never heretofore attained. You shall win over the Turks and heretics under my protection, and with manifest prodigies from heaven such triumphs and victories that will astonish the rest of Europe. Lastly, the central sanctuary of the world, which I first established in Jerusalem, and which at present hallows the city of Rome, shall be placed in your midst, so that all surrounding nations shall congratulate you on your happiness. These special blessings shall be bestowed upon you for the sake of the eminent merits of the saints of this kingdom, and the hardships and the sufferings they have undergone for My sake."
(Jesuit Annual Letter of 1605. "Copie of a revelation made to Father Julius Mancinelli, S.J., concerning the success of the Kingdome of England")`"

There's a lot more if you follow the link, and I'd like to express my thanks to Mr O'Regan for such an interesting essay.

It occurred to me that this could just be seen as propaganda at a time when it was still thought that England might return to the Catholic fold if only its rulers could be persuaded of the error of their ways, if it were not for the reference to the "central sanctuary of the world" being placed in England which must have seemed extraordinary at the time.

Sunday 1 January 2017

Michell and Watkins

One hot summer afternoon, 20 June 1921, Alfred Watkins was at Blackwardine in Herefordshire. On a high hilltop he stopped and looked at his map before meditating on the view below him. 

 Suddenly, in a flash, he saw something which no one in England had seen for perhaps thousands of years. Watkins saw straight through the surface of the landscape to a layer deposited in some remote prehistoric age. 

The barrier of time melted and, spread across the country, he saw a web of lines linking the holy places and sites of antiquity. Mounds, old stones, crosses and old crossroads, churches placed on pre-Christian sites, legendary trees, moats and holy wells stood in exact alignments that ran over beacon hills to cairns and mountain peaks. 

In one moment of transcendental perception Watkins entered a magic world of prehistoric Britain, a world whose very existence had been forgotten. 

By John Michell - From The View over Atlantis 1969.

The back of the Album cover of the Albion Dance Band 1977 album, The Prospect Before Us depicts, in a parodic style, Watkins's epiphanic vision of occult meaning in the English Landscape - which, as retrospectively interpreted and elaborated by John Michell, led to the New Age spiritual renaissance as it happened in England