Monday 30 July 2018

Albion and Ireland?

Albion is usually regarded as geographically equivalent to Britain - that is, England, Scotland, Wales and the nearby islands. But what about Ireland? Are the British Isles a spiritual group of distinct but inextricably-related nations; or is Ireland a separate place altogether, with a separate destiny from the mainland?

I can see reason on both sides; but - in a world perspective - I suspect that the British Isles are supposed to be a distinct spiritual entity, with especially strong inter-relations. Certainly, antagonism between Ireland and Britain is a deeply damaging state of affairs on both sides.

Ireland is more distinct than any of the other three. For example, Wales hasn't ever quite been a nation - and Cornwall and Cumbria (in England) have distinct Welsh aspects while Monmouthshire (in Wales) is quite English; and the English-Scottish border counties are probably more similar to each other, than they are to the other parts of Scotland and England. 

(e.g. In the Middle Ages, at the time of Robert the Bruce, my Charlton ancestors in the North Tyne valley of Northumberland were ruled by Scotland.)

But the Western Islands and Highland North of Scotland seem to be racially Irish, having apparently been settled by the Irish (displacing the Picts, and others). And of course the English colonised Ireland in various phases from the Elizabethan era; and then were mostly purged from the southern parts during the twentieth century.

I regard myself as definitely English, but I am nonetheless a quarter Irish; and have been very aware of the bad socio-political relationships between the nations; which far too many people (at high and low levels) delight in sustaining and exacerbating.

So much for politics. So much for the sins of resentment and spite...

But at the deepest spiritual level; there does seem to be a solid complementarity between Ireland and mainland Britain - as partly represented by the role of Irish monks and nuns in the Christianisation of the mainland in the centuries after the Roman armies left Britain in the 400s. In the other direction, St Patrick was likely born in 'England' and there was the astonishing literary genius of the Anglo-Irish (proportionately much greater than either the Anglos or the Irish separately).

Ultimately, I'm pretty sure that the ideal Albion would include Ireland.

Saturday 21 July 2018

Christian Albion

My last post contained a lot of pagan Albion and there's a lot more, enough to fill a large book. But I want to move on to Christian sites because I really do think that Christianity in England was a little different to anywhere else and some of that is down to the Albion influence which I shall leave mostly undefined. The impression I get, though, is that medieval English Christianity, or some aspects of it, owed a good deal to an affinity with Nature especially as manifested by some of the early Celtic saints who, in turn, may have got this as a legacy from prehistoric native religions such as the one that would have been practised at Avebury. These earlier traditions were purified and baptised by Christ but the good in them survived as a strain in the new Christianity.

The story of Christ's visit to these shores as a young man is usually dismissed as legend. But I find it much more convincing than the other stories that he travelled to the East and received some kind of mystical training in India. That makes no sense whatsoever. There is nothing of Eastern religion in Christ's teaching. There really isn't. He was a Jew, speaking squarely from within the Jewish tradition. But the idea that he came to England with his uncle, Joseph of Arimathea, is not beyond the bounds of possibility. Which doesn't make it true, of course, but it would fit in with our sense of there being something of deep spiritual significance locked up in the heart of this island. Perhaps this story is best left as a legend which has its own power and ability to inspire on the level of the imagination. But maybe.....

How can one write of Albion without mentioning Glastonbury? It's a sad fact that anything pure and holy will inevitably come under attack from demonic powers, and this is surely true of Glastonbury from the destruction of the abbey during the dissolution of the monasteries in the 16th century to New Age tourism and the present day association of the name with a music festival that celebrates the complete separation of the instinctual from the spiritual thus facilitating falling below the rational self instead of rising above it. But, despite all these depredations, the ruined abbey still retains something of its ancient peace and sanctity. Whenever I have visited it there has seemed to be a kind of clarity in the air as though some light from higher worlds was seeping through into this one. I don't doubt that where men and women have lived lives dedicated to prayer and holiness that affects the quality of the location, and when that location is one of the Earth's sacred spots in its own right, the effect is magnified.

Just down the road from Glastonbury is the city of Wells. Wells is not very big but it is a city because it has a cathedral. This is the seat of the bishop of Bath and Wells, and it was built between 1175 and 1490, though there had been a church there since the 8th century. As Gothic cathedrals go, it is not that large but its most striking feature certainly is. This is the West Front which is 100 feet high and 147 feet wide. It is a stupendous sight now but would have been even more dramatic in the Middle Ages when the many beautifully carved life-size figures illustrating the Christian story were all painted in bright colours. For people at the time this would have been like a trip to the cinema, telling stories from the Bible with many different characters represented, Old and New Testaments both included.

Forgive me for including another ruin. But ruins have long been recognised as something deeply evocative. They are not just broken buildings but seem, by the fact of their physical destruction, to allow something of the spiritual essence behind the outer form to be made manifest. This is especially true of religious buildings. There is also the sense of how time consumes everything, even the most durable of substances. A ruin, by its very reminder of the transient nature of things, speaks of eternity on a higher level.

This is Fountains Abbey in Yorkshire, a Cistercian monastery founded in 1132 by monks seeking a remote site to practise a more devout way of life than had been possible for them in the city of York. That's part of a common pattern in which those wishing to lead a contemplative life remove themselves from centres of worldly distraction. A criticism is that they can escape from the world outside but not the world within which will be with them wherever they go. While admitting the truth of this, it is equally true that there are helpful and unhelpful atmospheres in which to pursue the spiritual life and you are much better off seeking an environment which best reflects the inner state you wish to cultivate or, at any rate, does not actively work against it. That is also why those who would take the spiritual path seriously are advised to seek the company of like-minded souls and avoid worldly associations. This is not always possible and sometimes the opposite is required. After all, Jesus was criticised for mixing with sinners. But then he was Jesus.

Fountains is Britain's largest monastic ruin. The abbey was rich at one time, mainly from trading in wool, a major source of medieval England's wealth. But, like Glastonbury, it fell to that act of national vandalism which was the dissolution of the monasteries, surely a time when the anti-Albion forces were let loose and given their head. Whatever the abuses that may have existed in the religious world, for a nation to overturn and smash its spiritual heritage so completely is quite simply an act of self-destruction. There is a big difference between moving on from a tradition having fully absorbed all its lessons to demolishing it with nothing comparable to take its place. Some people might think we are engaged on a similar path now.

From the grand and nationally important to the small and local. This is St Martin's church in the Wiltshire village of Bremhill. It's of personal significance to me as my parents are buried here but I don't include it for that reason. It earns its place because it seems to capture a quintessential Englishness. The construction of the church goes back to around 1200 AD and the tower comes from the later 13th century with 15th century additions. Inside, the worn flagstones speak of generations of local people being christened, married, buried and, of course, worshipping here. The priest when I used to go had formerly been a tax inspector which has a noteworthy antecedent, and the local pub, as is proper, is only a short walk away. All this represents Albion in its domestic and familial mode which may not be the most romantic or mythically enticing of its aspects but might just be the one that is the basis of everything honest and human.

When Christianity came to Albion it was recognised by the wise as the fulfilment of pre-existing spiritual traditions. These pagan religions, originally based on psychic and intuitive responses to natural cycles and supernatural powers, were superseded by the Christian revelation but left their mark in many ways. Where they were absorbed and transformed by Christianity you had the best of both worlds, and Christian Albion is the fruit of that.

Monday 16 July 2018

Logres, Britain, and the Betrayal of the Romanovs

The French astrologer and religious and political thinker Charles Ridoux (who I wrote about here in 2016) has just published a 64 page essay commemorating the massacre of Tsar Nicholas II and his family by the Bolsheviks in Ekaterinburg one hundred years ago on July 17th. It can be read (in French) here.

The martyrdom of the Romanovs formed the third and most devastating part of a trilogy, which began with the regicide of Charles I of England in 1649 and continued with the execution of the French king Louis XVI and his wife Marie Antoinette in 1793. Each of these murders marks a step on the way in the dechristianisation of Europe, a process which appears very near to completion today. 

Ridoux argues that this slaughter would not have occurred had Britain not reneged on a promise to welcome the Tsar and his children as exiles. Permission was denied, not by the UK government - as previously thought - but by George V himself, the Tsar's own cousin. Ridoux quotes the Romanian esotericist Jean Parvulesco (1929-2010), who in his 2005 book Vladimir Poutine et l'Eurasie, claimed that the King's refusal leaves the British monarchy open to what he calls a 'choc en retour', in the same way as many in France came to see the death of Louis XVI as payback for the burning at the stake of the Templar Grand Master Jacques de Molay at Philip IV's command in 1314.

One is reminded, reflecting on this exile that wasn't, of Dr. Dimble's reflection in C.S. Lewis's That Hideous Strength, on the battle for England's soul between the holy realm of Logres (or Albion) and the mercantile, rapacious global power known as Britain: 

'But in every way they (the Pendragons) and the little Logres which gathered round them have been the fingers which gave the tiny shove or the almost imperceptible pull, to push England out of the drunken sleep or to draw her back from the final outrage into which Britain tempted her.'

It would appear that on this occasion, unfortunately, Britain was too strong for Logres.


That Hideous Strength springs to mind again in Parvulesco's description of Lenin as a shell of a man, a walking zombie, wholly under the influence of malign occult powers: 'He became something increasingly inhuman, a being with a centre of gravity in a reality outside this world, totally subservient to and dependent on his non-human masters.'

This is exactly what happens to Wither, Frost and Straik in Lewis's novel, as the Bent Eldils subsume their personalities, leaving them desiccated automatons of the evil they chose to embrace when they were still capable of human responses like choice.

Even in the direst of situations, however, God will find a way for good to flourish, and the murder of the Tsar and his children is no exception. The life of Father Nicholas Gibbes (1876-1963) stands as a wonderful witness of the Divine capacity to respond creatively to evil and defy conventional expectations. Gibbes, the son of a Rotherham banker, was a spiritual seeker of seriousness and depth, who, after much wandering, found himself at the Imperial court in Russia, where he taught English to the Tsar's children. He became a close friend of the Royal Family and was deeply marked by his years in their presence, seeing them as exemplars of holiness, sacrifice and right living. 

After 1918, Gibbes travelled widely throughout the East, praying and reflecting on the meaning of his encounter with the Tsar and his family, until in 1934, at the age of 58,  he joined the Russian Orthodox Church, becoming successively monk, deacon and priest. He returned to England in 1937, and became the first English priest of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (ROCOR) and the founder of the first Orthodox church in Oxford. Many were struck by his piety and prayerfulness, and before he died in March 1963, an icon given him by the Imperial family was miraculously renewed and began to shine. So maybe Logres -  in that mysterious, unpredictable fashion so suggestive of God's hidden hand - proved stronger than Britain in the end!

Archpriest Andrew Phillips has written beautifully on the life of Fr. Nicholas Gibbes on his Orthodox England site here. I would urge as many of us as possible to read and reflect on this essay today, as an act of reparation, first and foremost, for the part played by this country in the death of the Romanovs, and also as a spiritual riposte to the dark powers who engineered that act of infamy and remain so active in our world, capturing and enslaving hearts and minds at an increasingly rapid rate. Without a Tsar on the Russian throne, as a living symbol of Christ the Universal King, their task becomes so much easier.

Holy martyrs of Russia, pray for us. May you rest in peace and rise in glory.

Chester Mystery Plays 2018 - a review

I had the good fortune to be in Chester (North West England) last week, while the Mystery Plays were being performed in the cathedral. This only happens every five years, so we took this rare opportunity.

Mystery Plays get their name from the fact that medieval Guilds or Crafts were called 'mysteries' - and these plays were performed by the various craft guilds. The plays themselves were Bible stories, or based on Bible incidents creatively interpreted and elaborated-upon.

Originally (in pre-Reformation England - the plays were suppressed by the 'puritans') there would be multiple performances of these stories at different places in the town or city; and the audience would travel from one 'segment' to another as they pleased; or else the play would be taken around various places on a cart.

There are only four surviving texts of English Mystery cycles (none complete) from York, Wakefield and Coventry, as well as Chester. These have been revived in the twentieth century, in various ways.

At Chester, they hire a professional team including writer, director, musical director, and set designer; to put together a version of the cycle each five years (because the whole surviving cycle is too long for a single performance) - however the performance itself (acting, singing, dancing, musical instruments) is done by amateurs; by 'the people' of Chester.

I must admit that I was not especially looking forward to the performance, for various reasons; including that I doubted my ability to sit cheerfully through nearly three hours of performance; and my trepidation that the thing would be (as so often happens) spoiled by political correctness. Then an hour before it began, I got a bad migraine, and had to take a big dose of medication...

However, from the very first moments of the production I was literally enchanted! That is - I watched it with a sense of magical delight, hardly aware of the time, enjoying whatever was happening and looking forward to whatever came next. It was undoubtedly one of the best theatrical experiences of my life.

I thought the text of the overall play - woven from 24 surviving, separate plays - was masterful in its shape, light and shade, humour, innocence and horror. The music and singing was lovely, both in choice and performance, and the staging was creative yet unfussy. The very large cast of townspeople (including lots of primary age children) was sincere, effective, open-hearted and at times emotionally powerful - in a way I don't believe could have been matched by professionals.

Cast acknowledging the audience - Herod the Great at the front on the right!

It should be said that - in a way that is probably authentic to the originals - the overall effect was not-particularly-Christian: it was generally theistic rather than concerned with the specifics of Christianity. Religious certainly; but theologically I suppose one would have to agree with 'the puritans' that the emphasis was distorted, and it was full of scriptural errors, factually-dubious 'apocryphal' myths, and 'heresies'...

There was also some political correctness and virtue-signalling, as is inevitable nowadays; but, so long as one could accept some of the main roles being shared between men and women (e.g. female Holy Ghost, Satan, Caiaphas, Pilate, some disciples), it was incidental rather than intrusive.

Satan tempting Jesus in the wilderness

On the other hand, there was a great deal to commend this show! Some 'moments' were very memorable and significant - Jesus, brightly lit, raising his head to be revealed to the audience for the first time; Jesus shouting at the stallholders and scattering the moneychangers in The Temple; Judas skulking off the front of the stage, pausing to be handed a noose as he passed the Cain-Antichrist figure... and then the chilling expression on Judas's face as he continued to walk off stage and towards his death...

The first half, before the interval, was the Old Testament and the events leading up to the beginning of Jesus's ministry. The depiction of the creation was one of the loveliest things I have seen; each 'day' a group of children trooped on, carrying aloft brightly coloured representations of whatever was being created - planets, banks of flowers and trees, animals... And each stage of creation was arranged in layers, building up to a complete and rich picture.

Noah's Ark - this is the most famous of Chester's mystery plays; and was made into operas by both Benjamin Britten and Stravinsky.

What was distinctive about Jesus did not particularly come across - he was mostly portrayed in terms of being a miracle worker, and troublesome to the authorities. There was a big emphasis on 'the Passion' with big 'parts' written-up for the 'baddies' such as Judas, Caiaphas, Pilate (who was, in fact, sympathetically portrayed), much trooping-around of Jesus from one dreadful situation to another, jeering crowds and soldiers, a gruesome-seeming actual crucifixion - including an obedient but reluctant 'Longinus' (wielder of The Spear of Destiny). (Another baddie, Herod the Great was brilliantly done as a suave and ruthless 'businessman'-type.)

Then after the crucifixion, focus on Revelations with a charismatic-sadistic Antichrist played by the same actor who had earlier portrayed Cane, and had recurred as an encourager of coercive aggression.

The play ends with a hair-raising Judgement; in which a mass of people approach the back of the stage and are 'sorted' into saved and damned - the saved are picked out by kindly angels, comforted and taken to an elevated place of safety; the damned are grabbed by demons and literally hurled, screaming, through the red-fiery gates back-centre-stage... these damned, shockingly, including several children.

The Antichrist, however, uniquely struts arrogantly through the gates of Hell - unrepentant, proud to the last... Chilling, yet displaying courage - true to some of the most evil tyrants of history...

In sum; the Mystery Play format has its strength and its limitations - as is only natural. Some things can be portrayed more effectively and memorably than others - and these are not necessarily the most important things.

But certainly, I was very glad to have seen this production. I found it life-enhancing.

Jesus, the Father and the Holy Ghost - creating Eve using a bone from Adam, on a necklace; Adam stands behind the Father's left shoulder. And then...

...Eve transforms to another actress!... the magic of theatre. Presumably (these pix are from the website - the cast rotated some roles. 

Saturday 14 July 2018

Doorways to Albion

I suggested to John Fitzgerald in a comment on the Albion Besieged post that it might be a good idea to do a little series on places where the spirit of Albion seems particularly strong. It is through landscape, I believe, that we can best enter into Albion though poetry and myth are also good avenues of approach. There are many and varied aspects to Albion, and the different landscapes show different sides to the archetype, some wild, some mysterious, some peaceful and so on. There is no single description which can encompass the whole of what this idea is. And while some of these places are completely natural, some are part-shaped by man.

Anyway, with that in mind, here are a few pictures of places I associate with Albion. Meditation on these images or, even better, in the course of a visit to them can bring one into contact with a spiritual quality that we associate with the idea of Albion. One should add that traditionally guardian angels exist in many places, both national and regional. Albion is the guardian angel of England, and perhaps the whole of Britain, but other places have their own angels. Though under the overall rulership of Albion, there will be many more local angels with their own special qualities.

Let's start with the Seven Sisters because I didn't explain why I think these cliffs have an Albion connection.

The origin of the name Albion is not known for certain but one suggestion is that it is linked to the Proto-Indo-European word for white (albho-) and so could refer to the chalk cliffs on the south of the island. These cliffs date back to the late Cretaceous period which was between 60 and 100 million years ago and were formed when microscopic skeletons of plankton that had drifted down to the sea bed were transformed into rock by the dual processes of heat and pressure. But another, more esoteric, interpretation could be that Britain was the White Island in a spiritual sense, a haven set apart where the gods walked in a kind of dream time of the archaic past. Pure speculation, of course, but carrying a poetic resonance that seems not out of place when you walk along these cliffs which lead eastwards to the equally powerful site at Beachy Head. Is this a major entry point to the island of Albion? When you consider that Pevensey Bay, where William the Conqueror landed in 1066 and where, around 600 hundred years before him, invading Saxons attacked these shores, is just down the road, the idea is not so fanciful.

More sea and cliffs but of a very different, much wilder, sort. This is Tintagel on the Cornish Atlantic coast, now inevitably a big tourist destination but, at one time, sufficiently out of the way to attract few visitors and therefore retain much of its mystery, though that could be said of many sites around the coasts of Cornwall. But the association of Tintagel with King Arthur can't be ignored in any overview of places significant to Albion. Even setting aside the doubts over his actual existence, Arthur was never really a king of England. He was, and perhaps still is, the king in Albion. He inhabits the land of imagination that lies between this world and the next and, as such, he carries in his mythic personality a link to Albion that all places associated with him pick up on. Tintagel's physical connection to Arthur may be tenuous but in the magical world of imagination and vision, that is not so important. If the stories are believed in, they become real (in a mythical sense) and the association is then valid.

Here are pictures of some of the stones at Avebury and of Silbury Hill. They are near each other in the county of Wiltshire, and are surely part of the same religious complex or sacred landscape. Avebury consists of an outer henge (a henge being a circular embankment of earth with an internal ditch which you can see in the top photo) which contains a large stone circle of about 100 stones (not all of which have survived) within which are two smaller stone circles. Its construction and expansion spanned the 600 years between 2,800 BC and 2,200 BC, a long period of time which tells us that this site was once of great spiritual significance. I think it also tells us of a community that was highly developed in a way that may not make much sense to 21st century materialists but should not be dismissed on that account. To walk around Avebury with one's imagination sympathetically engaged can open the inner mind up to feelings and ideas that have slipped far below the threshold of consciousness in modern man. An awareness of the sacred quality of the land and an insight into the oneness of earth, sky and human soul can be felt if one suspends the strictly rationalist attitude. This largely passive awareness is not one we should seek to fall back into completely, but we can be inspired by it to move beyond our limited form of self-consciousness to something higher and more in keeping with our divine origins.

Silbury Hill, which was built around 2,400 BC, is the largest prehistoric man-made mound in Europe but its purpose is not known. There doesn't seem to be a burial inside so one is free to speculate. Is it a crude pyramid, an astronomical site, a temple that brings one closer to the gods as one ascends to the top? You can't climb the hill now because of the damage hundreds of pounding feet would cause but years ago you were allowed to and I remember doing just that and feeling quite elated on reaching the summit. The land around is fairly flat so the views are extensive but the most dramatic sensation up there comes from experiencing the vastness of the sky which comes into greater prominence when one is part removed from the earth. For early man, unused to any great heights, it must have been been awe-inspiring in the true meaning of that over-used phrase.

Just over the way from Silbury Hill is West Kennet Long Barrow which is a burial site. It dates back to 3,600 BC and there were up to 50 people buried here though the inner chambers must have been used, presumably as a place of ritual, over a very long period of time since the tomb was not sealed until around 2,500 BC. If Silbury Hill opens one up to the sense of the infinite then this place, which is effectively a cave, takes one in the other direction, deep inside oneself. These are the two principal religious experiences that our forefathers would have known and their constructions were probably aimed at stimulating them. They can be related to height and depth, and associated with Father and Mother, the two parents of Creation.

Wiltshire is a county that still seems to speak of the Neolithic period in many ways. Not only does it contain a host of structures from that time, Stonehenge being the best known, but the landscape itself, while clearly very changed, retains a strong connection to the past. Many walks have convinced me that the communities that lived here thousands of years ago have left a mark on the land that has endured down through the ages. Were they in touch with Albion in a way we cannot comprehend now? Did they actually live in Albion?

The Cherhill White Horse near Calne was only cut out of the chalk in the 18th century but it seems to hark back to something much older. The hill itself is almost like a natural semi-amphitheatre.

To be continued.

Thursday 12 July 2018

Albion Besieged

A point often repeated in this blog is that England had a spiritual task to accomplish but is failing to do it. Occasionally the country has started on that work, as with the poets of the Romantic era, the moral concerns of the Empire (and, yes, the British Empire certainly did have those as expressed in ideas of decency, integrity,  fair play, emotional restraint and the like), the groundbreaking work in the field of imagination of the Inklings, the mystical/spiritual revival of the 20th century which may have disintegrated into the facile self-indulgences of the New Age but which had a lot of potential at one time,  and so on. But none of these things developed as might have been hoped even if most have had an impact on the national consciousness at one time. The forces ranged against them have been too many and too powerful for the ideas they put forward to have gained real traction in the minds of more than a few.

So where do we go from here? The vote to leave the EU was a cry for help and a last-ditch attempt to stop the corruption of the soul of the country and its absorption into a Europe which is itself being taken over by an atheistic, materialistic bureaucracy that recognises nothing of a transcendent nature; indeed, by its policies and ideals actively seeks to suppress anything of that nature, for example by refusing to acknowledge Europe's Christian roots as fundamental. Not that most people thought of things in quite those terms, but they had a sense of loss even if they weren't quite sure what was being lost. They can be mocked by the elites who have sold their souls for material advantage, and whose sophisticated worldliness masks a spiritual emptiness but, while motives are certainly mixed, there are still enough people who realise at some level that something important is being left out of the reckoning and that man cannot live by bread alone. Even though bombarded by materialistic propaganda, seduced by consumerism and cheap entertainment, led astray by the sexual revolution and deprived of any real spiritual education, there remains a core of truth in many people that will not just lie down and die.

Everything comes down to motivation. Do people really want truth and goodness and beauty or will they rest content with fake imitations of these things as long as they are comfortable, well-fed and entertained? There is the theory that greater wealth and leisure give people more time to explore deeper aspects of reality but that does not appear to have been the case at all. Perhaps a degree of economic hardship is what we need if we are to return in any numbers to religion. I don't suppose God ever wants his children to suffer unnecessarily but, if we continue to refuse to acknowledge reality, that must eventually have consequences in this world as well as the next.

In the popular imagination England saved Europe from Napoleon and she saved Europe from Hitler, and there is some truth in that though obviously she did not do this on her own. Without her allies she would have failed and there is a lesson in that. What she needs to do now, though, is save Europe from itself. But if she is to succeed in that she must rediscover a national identity and that must be based on her past, even on an inner mythology that embodies the best of the national spirit, the spirit of the angel that is Albion. At the moment, Albion is under siege with few to defend its (his? her?) reality but if we can throw off our besottedness with trivial entertainment and make contact with the depths of the imagination then we will find Albion there waiting for us. We need to reconnect with the roots of our being for only thus can we be saved from a kind of spiritual attenuation or wasting away in which our quality of consciousness becomes ever thinner and more monochrome, perhaps to the point of requiring constantly greater external stimulation just to be maintained at a tolerable level.

Meditate on this image if you would enter Albion. There are many entry points into the archetype of the land and places to contact its presiding genius, but this is a particularly powerful one.

The Seven Sisters on the Sussex coast

Tuesday 10 July 2018


It was interesting to see England get-into the World Cup semi-finals; it made me fell pretty good in a vicarious way (as someone almost wholly ignorant of the team involved; but someone who loved, played and knew a lot about football as a pre-pubescent boy).

So far so good. But the aftermath of the victory was a public orgy of oafish, foul-mouthed, aggressive and (above all) drunken behaviour that is so characteristic of the British; and which has worsened considerably during my life. And which is pretty generally celebrated and encouraged in national life.

The fact that we are in the midst of a sustained heatwave probably also contributed; since dry, warm sunny weather brings out the worst in many British people! 250 years into the industrial revolution, and with unprecedented prosperity, comfort, convenience - on display is a freak show of hideous tattooing and piercing, dyeing of hair, morbid obesity, sexual-availability advertising, flaunting of flesh and status, strutting arrogance and all-round attention-seeking, And this is bound-up with football.

Yet, in between this, there have been several really deep and powerful experiences of the loveliness of Britain, and the (mostly accidental) magic of which its people are capable.

We as a nation are certainly sleepwalking, or drunkenly staggering, to damnation - and doing-so quite deliberately, and by choice (one chooses not to awaken, one chooses to live by intoxication); yet I cannot give-up hope if the Big Picture is honestly acknowledged. 

Wednesday 4 July 2018

Jordan Peterson and Meaning

Over the weekend I watched part of an address by Jordan Peterson at the Oxford Union in which he was asked a question about meaning and where it came from if not from God. See here at about 29 minutes in. I respect Professor Peterson in that he is probably the most successful challenger of the current left/liberal orthodoxy, and one of the best revealers of its excesses, but here he did not really answer the question. In fact, I would say he evaded it and gave way to the slight sophistry that will occasionally afflict a very articulate person whose way with words can sometimes obscure the fact that he has not said very much. For, as far as I can see, the answer he gave did not talk about meaning at all. It just talked about the appearance of it.  References to Nietzsche, Freud and Jung show where he was coming from.

I wonder if he thinks mention of God, and I mean serious mention not the idea of him as some kind of Jungian super archetype, would alienate many of his readers and YouTube viewers. It probably would. However, there must come a point when his descriptions of the world and the human psyche are going to fizzle out into intellectual mind games unless they come to terms with the reality of God. He refers to the idea of Christ as a symbol of the Self, and I suppose you could say he is, but that runs the risk of reducing Christ to some kind of psychological principle with no real independent reality. For Christ is not simply a symbol of the Self.  First and foremost, he is Christ. He is Truth and Reality and he is a person. He is not primarily a metaphysical principle such as Peterson is implying hereHis role as symbol comes from his reality as person, and if you don't properly appreciate that then the risk is you end up playing with words and ideas and not opening yourself up to higher truth

It is a truism that spirituality relates to the soul not the mind. The mind may be involved but it is the secondary participant in the endeavour. If it steals the show, as it rather seems to do with Professor Peterson, then you will probably get sidetracked into theory. What is the soul in this sense? I would prefer to answer that question by saying instead how it speaks to us, and that is through imagination, through intuition, through conscience and through faith. It is these things that will give us an entry into the spiritual world, not thinking about it which will leave us remaining on the outside. Perhaps that is Jordan Peterson's weakness. He approaches the metaphysical world through the mind but that world will only really give up its secrets when we step back from rational thought and give priority instead to intelligent openness to intuition. We must cultivate the heart as opposed to the head but that means feeling not feelings in that it is not, as the latter are, based on personal reactions and emotions, that is to say, reactions and emotions springing from and referring to the personal self. Feeling is going beyond the personal, whether emotion or thought, to engage with reality through what can be defined as the intellect of the heart. The person remains, of course, as it must, but is not at the centre of operations. You could say it has to be directed beyond itself to know itself.

Without God there is no meaning. It's no good talking about evolutionary constructions that enable the mind to lock in to reality or something of that nature. If God does not exist to substantiate this, it is not real in any meaningful sense. We need a real absolute to give reality to meaning. If that is not there then there is nothing to underpin it. It's just one more product of mindless, and ultimately meaningless, forces.

This piece might seem to have little relation to the theme of this blog but I include it here to illustrate the difference between partial and complete awakening. The former is merely a halfway house and if it doesn't lead on to the latter then it cannot really be said to be any kind of awakening at all.

Sunday 1 July 2018

A Latere Dextro

Vidi aquam egredientem de templo, a latere dextro, alleluia ...

I saw water coming forth from the Temple from the right side, alleluia ...


I have been reading Thomas Dilworth's excellent biography of the poet and artist, David Jones (1895-1974) - David Jones: Engraver, Soldier, Painter, Poet (2017). It's a terrific book - beautifully enhanced with full colour representations of Jones's pictures. I was particularly struck by his 1943 painting, A Latere Dextro (a title taken from the Latin Mass antiphon above and meaning 'from the right side.') It is a work of art which gave Jones much trouble. He couldn't let it go, and didn't know when to stop working on it. He did eventually, of course, but a certain 'overworkedness' comes across quite strongly on a first viewing. The canvas feels cluttered and it's hard to see the wood from the trees, so to speak, and work out what the artist is trying to depict.

The reproduction above is far from outstanding, but is the best I could find. It's nowhere near as sharp as the one in Dilworth's book, but I hope it can still convey something of the quality and depth of this work, which becomes more and more apparent the more you look at it. Once you pick out one detail, more begin to follow, until you start to see the painting for the harmonious, unified whole that it is.

What we are looking at is the moment of Consecration in the Mass, the Traditional Latin rite which Jones saw as a unique repository of spiritual and cultural value, a link for him between twentieth century Britain and the country's Roman past. The priest, standing at the altar in the centre of the painting with candle-bearing altar boys behind him, lifts up the chalice in a medieval-style chapel of columns, curving arches and high, vaulting ceilings. We are present at a miracle. Ordinary red wine - the kind we might buy in Co-op or Marks and Spencer - is transmuted into the blood of Our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.

There are many points of technical excellence to admire - the way the candles on the High Altar mirror those held by the altar boys; the flowers on the priest's chasuble blending into those adorning the altar; and the Pentecostal wind (which you probably can't see in this reproduction) that blows through the Sanctuary, making the candles quiver and flicker.

What has impacted on me most, however, is the painting's atmosphere of holiness. The canvas shines with serenity and peace, but there is nothing static or fixed in the way these qualities are depicted. We see a dynamism and fluidity at work instead - a sense of waitng and anticipation - standing on the threshold, as it were - the boundary between Heaven and Earth becoming porous, and the two worlds poised to become one.

I have been meditating on this painting a good deal recently. It has become a kind of talisman in many ways, especially after a brief visit to my home city of Manchester after a long time away. I was shocked by the general air of coarseness and decay that greeted me. Crassness was the order of the day. People were strutting around - as proud as peacocks - revelling, it seemed, in ugliness and degradation. A vast number - young and old - boasted scrawling, sprawling tattoos which were simply worlds away from what I believed were universally-held notions of stylishness and chic. I'm not referring here to the names of loved ones written on wrists and arms. I mean those sinister, semi-Satanic symbols, such as snakes and webs, which we see covering so much of so many people's bodies at the moment. Seeing these images over and over again as one walks around town, has, I believe, a deadening effect on the soul. It has the same corrosive spiritual impact as exposure to those more long-standing urban blights - incessant noise and bad architecture.

Other folk cheerfully wore t-shirts bearing confrontational slogans, 'I ain't got time for that' being probably the most printable. Many more stomped loudly around the city locked into their phones, already embracing transhumanism, it seemed to me, with wires dangling openly and shamelessly from their pockets. Just as Jones in his painting shows us the meeting point of Heaven and Earth, so here, I felt, was a blurring of the lines between the human and the robotic - a celebration of what could soon become the 'abolition of man' C.S. Lewis predicted seventy-five years ago. Maybe I've just been in a quiet place for too long, but town struck me, in short, as an incoherent mess - an incongruous jumble of cultures and fashions with no palpable sense of civic purpose and mission beyond the whirligig of eating and drinking, getting and spending, and leisure and pleasure.

For the City Council and the local media, of course, all the above is to be welcomed and seen as evidence of a thriving metropolis. And, to be fair, there were some good things. There always are in Manchester. I saw numerous acts of individual charity and there are still some fantastic places - havens from the chaos and shapelessness - St. Mary's Church (aka 'The Hidden Gem') and The Briton's Protection pub to name just two. But one senses that for the 'great and good' of the city, old-school 'Manc' warmth and friendliness - which, despite everything, is still very much alive - isn't really where it's at any more. Sure, they pay lip service to it, but their hearts are increasingly elsewhere. So while it's stretching a point to say I saw Satan openly worshipped in the city centre, it  really wouldn't surprise me to see a statue of 'Old Nick' pop up one day in St. Anne's Square or Piccadilly Gardens. There'll be no mention on the plinth of 'Satan' or 'The Devil', of course. Not at first anyway. The movers and shakers will dress it up as a tribute to 'energy', 'edginess', 'non-conformity' or some other asinine buzzword. But the intent will be plain enough for those with eyes to see. As will the outcome.


This train of thought led me to reflect more deeply on the Devil and the very active role he undoubtedly plays in contemporary society. We see all around us the fragmentation and inversion of values William Wildblood so expertly delineates here. But I'm thinking too of the marked increase in mental health problems and suicides in the materially prosperous West over the last twenty years or so. It will be argued that these can be explained by a variety of non-demonic factors - economic slowdown, for instance, or the stresses caused by social media - but to my mind such an unprecedented disintegration of long-held objective norms (e.g. the denial of basic, obvious differences between the sexes) and the concomitant rise in disorientation, uncertainty and confusion, eludes a purely social or economic explanation. It is also noteworthy that the Catholic Church has recently been reporting a significant rise in demand for exorcisms. Pope Francis himself has consistently referenced the Devil in his homilies, emphasising his reality and his malign activity in the world. It's hard to pin it down, but my sense is that there has been a clear change for the worse in the mental and spiritual climate of the West, especially since around 2010. Something unpleasant - something profoundly anti-human and anti-life appears to be gathering pace and momentum. 'And what rough beast,' as Yeats asked in The Second Coming, 'its hour come round at last, slouches off to Bethlehem to be born?'

I think I have caught a glimpse here and there in recent years of how this 'rough beast' works. I remember sitting on a bus in South Manchester around 2013 and seeing a poster for a film called 'Horns', featuring the famous Harry Potter actor Daniel Radcliffe. The poster had a picture of the actor's face with a pair of horns superimposed on his head and the word 'Horns' scrawled across the top in red. Normally I would have laughed at such a thing or not even paid it any attention, but it really got to me for some reason, leaving my body unsettled and my mind scrambled. I hadn't been thinking about God or the Devil or anything like that on the journey, yet it was as plain as a pikestaff to me, as the bus continued its journey into town, that there was a message from the 'horned one' in that poster. I was also very sure as to what that message contained. 'This is my time,' it said. 'I'm out in the open now. On your streets. On your turf. What are you going to do about it?'

Two years later I was sat in a café on The University of Manchester campus. A man opposite me was reading the back page of a red-top newspaper. Consequently, I could read the headline on the front page loud and clear - three words in big black letters - 'Let Us Die.' This hit me in exactly the same way the poster had done - a mixture of panic, anger, anxiety, and mental discombobulation. Once again, I hadn't been dwelling on anything spiritual at the time, but I felt stone cold certain that this was the work of the Father of Lies. The evil in the headline was so blatant. So 'in your face'.

I had a look at the paper in question later and discovered that the story was to do with an episode of Coronation Street aired the previous night, where a character with a debilitating illness chose voluntary euthanasia at the Dignitas clinic in Switzerland. In a snap poll conducted immediately after the programme, an overwhelming majority voted for euthanasia to be legalised in the UK. I shuddered and went on my way. And this is the way the rough beast works. Things bumble along in an everyday fashion, or so it seems, until we're brought up short one day by a billboard, a headline, or a great city falling gleefully into Gehenna. That's when the veil is lifted and we see and feel - very clearly and starkly - that there is a mind directing operations here, a mind with a deep and dark agenda.

There's nothing in all this that hasn't been said before, of course. The great French metaphysician René Guenon predicted it all in his 1945 chef d'oeuvre, The Reign of Quantity and the Signs of the Times. When men and women cut themselves off from God we invite spiritual subversion from below. The gap between Heaven and Earth, which we see narrowing in A Latere Dextro, becomes a chasm and the Evil One takes full advantage. Nature abhors a vacuum, as we know, and the Devil, as we also know, 'goeth about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he will to devour.' To transpose things into Narnian terms for a moment, this is the 'Deep Magic From the Dawn of Time.' It blindsides and scatters you and makes you feel helpless, overwhelmed and weak.


So what do we do? How do we respond? One of the strongest tempations, I feel, is to muddle up our levels and try to find a political solution for what is essentially a spiritual problem. There is a tremendous mania in the West for getting things done, setting wheels in motion, taking concrete steps, and so forth. It goes without saying that this is to put the cart before the horse but it is a temptation which affects us all, I feel, to a greater or lesser degree.

Politically speaking - to put my own cards on the table - I'm a supporter of the Blue Labour movement, which is economically left-wing and socially conservative. I am also a Monarchist and a Jacobite, with a commitment to the restoration of the Stuart line. Now it's very easy for me to think, 'If only Blue Labour was in power and/or the Old Monarchy was restored, then the country would be animated by a vision again and everything would be great.' But whatever our political preferences, we have to grasp - and surely we do deep down - that there won't be any qualitative difference to life in the UK unless and until a step-change in our spiritual understanding takes place first. That's the 'one thing needful.' 'Primacy to the spiritual,' as the French Personalists used to say in the 1930s. 'The political, the social and the economic at the service of the spiritual.'

What we all need, I believe, is an image of holiness embedded and imprinted on our hearts and minds, which we meditate and reflect on day and night until until it seeps into our being, shines forth from our faces, and reveals itself to the world at large through our thoughts, words and deeds. David Jones's, A Latere Dextro has performed this role for me in recent weeks. As a Catholic, it is perhaps natural that I should be drawn to such an image. Readers from different faith traditions might be able to find an equivalent which relates more specifically to them. But this image of holiness doesn't need to be restricted to church life. Those of us who are parents, for instance, will know the potent blend of wonder, joy, awe, relief and sheer rightness that we feel when we set eyes on the new baby for the first time. But you don't even have to be a parent. I would bet that for everyone reading this piece there have been at least ten occasions when the line between Heaven and Earth has at least partially dissolved and a deep sense of blessing and peace was felt. To take three examples from my own life, straight off the top of my head ...

(1) The morning of my last undergraduate exam at Leeds University. A fellow-student panicking as we waited for the exam to begin, then running off along the corridor and down the polished staircase into the Art Deco splendour of the Parkinson Building's cathedral-like foyer. Taking the initiative for once, I followed her down and saw her collapse in a sobbing heap on a bench between two marble columns. I stood before her and spoke - words of hope and encouragement - words that came not from me but from some other place unknown to me - a holy place, a strong place. Slowly her breathing settled, she took her hands from her face and lifted her head. The morning sun arrowed in through the high windows, forming a pool of light on the floor between our feet. And as I spoke, the look on her face changed from despair and confusion to mental clarity and an understated yet unmistakeable self belief. It was a moment of grace, connection and depth, the kind of thing we had all spent the last three years searching for in any number of wrong places ...

(2) You might have seen a similar look on my own face six years previously in my High School library. I had been going through a tough time and my English teacher - who was the very model of an Irish man of letters - took me aside and recommended I read Free Fall by William Golding. He lent me his own copy in fact, as the library didn't have the book.

He never said why I should read it, and some of the book's subtleties were beyond my fifteen year-old range, but it's probably no exaggeration to say that it turned my life around. Not all at once, of course, but Sammy Mountjoy's struggles to bring some kind of pattern and coherence to his life gave me a sense of spiritual and emotional kinship which had been lacking before. I wasn't the only teenager in the world to have wrestled with wild emotions and found them overwhelming. There was a lineage and tradition to it, and Golding - who deployed the English language like molten lava - clearly understood. So when I put the book down for a moment and looked out of the window that blustery July afternoon I saw the dour, 1970s school-buildings with new eyes just as Sammy does when he sees the huts in the prisoner of war camp after his release from solitary confinement:

I saw the huts as one who had little to do with them and the temporal succession of days that they implied. So they shone with the innocent light of their own created nature. I understood them perfectly, boxes of thin wood as they were, and now transparent, letting be seen inside their quota of sceptred kings ... Beyond them the mountains were not only clear all through like purple glass, but living. They sang and were conjubilant. They were not all that sang. Everything is related to everything else and all relationship is either discord or harmony. The power of gravity, dimension and space, the movement of the earth and sun and unseen stars, these made what might be called music and I heard it ...

(3) 'Everything is related to everything else and all relationship is either discord or harmony.' It was all harmony when my wife and I stepped inside the 'L'Arche tent' during the Didsbury Festival (Didsbury being my home Manchester suburb) in June 2014. L'Arche is the charity that supports and encourages people living with Down's Syndrome and other learning disabilities. Everything on sale in the tent had been made by members of the local L'Arche community. The quality of the goods - purses, bags, greeting cards, etc - was second to none. Real craftsmanship. But what was especially impressive was the warmth and generosity of the welcome we received. It had a genuineness to it that was missing from some of the other stalls. We were treated as people rather than 'punters'. It was a good place to be. There was nothing sentimental or patronising there. No suggestion of, 'Didn't I do well making this bag despite having Down's Syndrome?' There were no hard-luck stories, no tugging at the heart strings, just a softly-spoken pride in a job well done and a tangible sense of solidarity and fellowship. Everything I had been looking for but never quite found in the world of work. 'The pearl of great price,' in other words.


God speaks to us all the time in everyday scenarios like this. He's constantly sending out signals and messages, but the formlessness which greeted me in Manchester (and is growing exponentially everywhere) mitigates against even being able to pick up the signal, let alone respond to it. It is a great trick of the Devil and can only be combatted, as I propose, by going back to basics and finding and meditating on an image of holiness - bringing it in to the heart, then taking it out to the world. Because let's be honest about where we are. Unless something sensational happens, there won't be a spiritual awakening in this country any time soon. We are at the start of a decades-long endeavour, possibly longer. The odds are that we won't live to see the fruits of our labours. But we have to put our shoulders to the wheel and make a start, and this is the right kind of start, the only kind of start. A stripping away of illusion and wishful thinking and a necessary reorientation towards what is most real and essential in each of us. But it is more even than this. Much more. It is the 'Deeper Magic From Before the Dawn of Time,' and it is stronger by far, though quieter and more unobtrusive, than the other kind. We can rely on it - once we have made a start - slowly but surely to carry out its Divinely-commissioned task of reparation, healing, renewal, and transformation.

Vidi aquam egredientem de templo, a latere dextro, alleluia!