Sunday, 26 March 2017

The Shadow of King Arthur

This short piece is Appendix Three in the late Stratford Caldecott's The Power of the Ring: The Spiritual Vision Behind The Lord of the Rings (2005). It could just as well, to my mind, be called Albion Awakening, given how germane its themes are to those of this blog ...


... When the Israelites first demanded a king, Samuel told them in no uncertain terms what they could expect:

These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen, and to run before his chariots ... He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his servants ... He will take the tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves. And in that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves; but the Lord will not answer you in that day. (1 Sam. 8:11-18)

The Lord told Samuel, "They have rejected me from being king over them" (1 Sam. 8:7).

Kingship is arguably the source of our most potent political mythology. The Israelites were not to be dissuaded from their decision "to be like other nations." And we find all that Samuel prophecied coming true. Yet God brings good out of evil, and in King David, only a generation later, he raises up a true hero: a king who is also a prophet, a poet, and a liberator. Builder-up of the great city Jerusalem, David is also a sinner. The privilege of creating a temple for the Lord is consequently reserved for his son Solomon, whose very name has become synonymous with wisdom, and the splendour of whose reign is legendary. "The king made silver as common in Jerusalem as stones, and he made cedars as numerous as the sycamores of the Shephelah" (1 Kings 10:27). Yet Solomon, too, fell, and lower than his father ever did - with hundreds of women and foreign gods - until the Lord raised up enemies against him.

Each king is able - or at least attempts - to draw on the mystique already accumulated around the names of his predecessors. We see it in the Caesar's; we see it in those who would imitate them: Charlemagne, Napoleon, Hitler. We see it in the tsars and kings and princes of every country and region. In England we see it expressed in the legends of Arthur and the histories of Alfred; we see William the Conqueror, Richard the Lionheart, Henry VIII, and Elizabeth I aspiring to the same mantle, with varying degrees of success. The abuses of kingship are notorious. Yet even now (in some parts of the world) the institution survives. Americans often fail to understand its appeal - except in terms of the glamour that attaches to great entertainers like Elvis, or great political soap opera stars like the members of the Kennedy clan.

In keeping with the origins of their nation, the more archetypally American the hero, the more he (or she) is a lone individual set against a system or a wilderness. Even the five-minute heroes of the screen draw upon that mystique. Yet having a royal family at least enshrines the principle that society revolves around the family and not the individual.

G.K. Chesterton's Ballad of the White Horse, which Tolkien knew, is largely about the romance of kingship, in those far-off days when a king could be at the same time a hero. Such a king is not merely a lone individual, but the representative and guardian of a realm and a people, whether by virtue of the blood royal or by divine appointment (like Saul and David). Nevertheless, the hero, even when he is a king, must always be more than a cipher or a figurehead. The power of the archetype comes into its own when the king manages to combine possession of the cardinal virtues with the opportunity to act decisively at one of the turning points of history. Then archetype can serve personality, and personality the archetype: the king is worthy of the honour he receives. Such a monarch can become for each of us a living symbol not only of what binds us together in society, but of what we each aspire to become in our own circle.

Every nation has a legend or set of legends that help to define and enshrine its sense of identity and mission. For Chesterton, whose thought is so close to that of Tolkien in these matters, a national identity is shaped by the interplay of legend with landscape. Countries become beautiful, he thinks, by being loved - by being transformed in love by the imagination of those who live and die there. Those who have lived become part of the landscape and part of the legend. Graves and monuments are for visiting and the shrine at the end of the end of a pilgrimage provides a meeting place between earth and heaven that sanctifies the whole realm.

For Romantics such as Chesterton and Tolkien, imagination is an organ of perception, not merely of fancy. Mythology may be the only way that certain truths can find expression. But the imagination can also transmit a lie, a false perception. Tolkien writes of the way Hitler had corrupted the imagination of Europe: "Ruining, perverting, misapplying, and making forever accursed, that noble northern spirit, a supreme contribution to Europe, which I have ever loved, and tried to present in its true light" (Letter 45). The dark side of the imagination is to provide the irrational basis for all kinds of injustice and cruelty. In a fallen and corrupted world, our imagination is in desperate need of healing. It may still be an organ of perception, but the inner senses have light only through the moral organs of the soul.

The national legend of England was given form in the high Middle Ages by Geoffrey of Monmouth, Robert de Borron, the Cistercians, Malory, and a host of lesser storytellers. The whole edifice of Arthurian legend was based on fragmentary historical tales of a great chieftain who defended the remains of the Imperium from the barbarians after the protection of Rome was withdrawn. The Kingdom of Logres is, of course, more than a part (or even the whole) of what we now call Britain. It is our inner kingdom. Overthrown by human sin and weakness as soon as it was glimpsed on the stage of history it was not destroyed but "withdrawn" into the imaginal landscape of Britain, just as Arthur himself was not killed on the field by Mordred but transported to the Island of Avalon.

Avalon itself is often identified with Glastonbury Tor, which other legends link to the visit of St. Joseph of Arimathea with the Holy Grail. Joseph himself is symbolically linked by his cup and flowering staff to the other two Josephs of the Bible, in the Old and the New Testaments respectively. The national legend of England is thus a thoroughly "Christian" legend (in fact a bit too obvious a Christian allegory, Tolkien thought). Arthur's perennial mission is to render England receptive to the Blood of Christ, a receptivity of which the Grail is the emblem, and the flowering staff the result. (In John Boorman's film Excalibur, the land literally blossoms under the hooves of Arthur's knights.)

The Arthur story, like all Christian myths, conforms itself to its own supreme archetype, the story of Christ, which is both myth and history. Just as Christ gathered his twelve disciples, so Arthur gathered his knights. As Christ died on the cross before his kingdom could be realised on earth, so Logres ended in a field of blood and betrayal. But the perennial hope of healing and resurrection lives in the Grail, in the Eucharist, which may always be revealed to those who search for it. And as Christ will come again, so in him Arthur will one day restore the Kingdom of Logres.

I don't know whether Tolkien truly intended to rework the Arthurian legend of a Golden Age king, though it certainly formed part of the "leaf-mould" that nourished his own tale, and the parallels between them are numerous - even down to the fact that King Elessar is associated with a green stone (the Elfstone after which his house is named). For in Wolfram von Eschenbach's Arthurian tale Parsifal, the Holy Grail is formed out of a green stone that fell from Lucifer's crown when he was struck down by St. Michael. This possibly connects it also with the Silmaril taken from Morgoth's crown by the great hero Beren, an ancestor of Aragorn and the symbolic figure with whom Tolkien most identifies himself. But then, in Tolkien's fertile imagination all the tales and legends of Europe and the Middle East, from Gilgamesh to King Sheave, from Troy to Camelot, were gathered and their elements rearranged - a more accurate term might be "digested" - and transformed. Tracing these various influences on the author is an endless task, and one that Tolkien himself strongly discouraged. A story is to be read, he argued, not picked apart by critics and scholars.

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Cycles of Change

This post originally appeared elsewhere but I think it is relevant to the theme of this blog so I am putting it here too.

In his book The Order of the Ages (which I thoroughly recommend to anyone interested in the subject of this post) the author Robert Bolton gives the dates of the Kali Yuga as being from 3102 BC to 2082 AD. If you want to know how he arrives at those dates you must read the book but, suffice it to say here, his reasons for them seem plausible enough. For those not familiar with the term Kali Yuga, it refers to the last of four ages in Hinduism during which the world gradually descends from a natural spiritual state into materialism and disconnection from the divine order. This particular form of the doctrine is an Indian one but the idea of a spiritual disconnect as time goes by exists in many traditions, and we are all familiar with the sense of nostalgia for a Golden Age in the distant past. This is the polar opposite to the modern belief in progress but does not necessarily conflict with it if we understand the traditional concept to relate to matters of spiritual consciousness and awareness of the source while progress in the modern sense refers exclusively to the material world which includes the social, technological and political spheres. Of course, viewed from the spiritual standpoint, progress in these spheres is no progress at all if it derives from an ignorance of our true nature and results in a divorce between our material and spiritual selves. In fact, in this sense, it is the very opposite of real progress.

The beginning date of the Kali Yuga is interesting because it appears to coincide roughly with the start of recorded history. Thus all that we regard as our known past falls within the period of spiritual ignorance, the lowest point in the cycle that runs from a pristine new beginning when men walk with the gods to the time when the gods withdraw, spirit is gradually obscured and our external physical environment becomes the principal focus of attention. Now this may be a fall in one sense, it undoubtedly is a fall, but it is also a natural and inevitable occurrence that presumably has the purpose or effect of helping us develop aspects of our nature (primarily mental) that otherwise might remain in abeyance. How far it is taken, though, probably depends on us and our reaction to the cosmic winds of change. We can go completely with the flow of spiritual deterioration or we can recognise it for what it is and, to an extent at least, remain apart from it, remaining centred, insofar as possible, in higher truth. The old saying that the stars incline but do not compel is relevant here.

The constituent parts of a full cycle are often referred to as Gold, Silver, Bronze and Iron (though this last, corresponding to the Kali Yuga, has nothing to do with the archaeological Iron Age when that metal was first used), and, temporally, they stand to each other in the ratio 4, 3, 2 and 1. Thus the Krita Yuga or Golden Age is four times longer than the Kali Yuga which we can see from the dates above lasts for approximately five thousand years. So the most recent Golden Age lasted for around twenty thousand years. Now, interestingly, because of the Law of Correspondences, each cycle can be broken down into mini-cycles which exist in the same proportion and bear the same relation to each other as do the parts of the main cycle. So within the Kali Yuga there are four sub-periods corresponding to Gold, Silver, Bronze and Iron which last for 4/10, 3/10, 2/10 and 1/10 respectively of the total duration. Remember the Kali Yuga in this system runs from 3102 BC to 2082 AD so these sub-periods range from 2,076 years to 518 years, the period in which we find ourselves now, the tail end of the Kali Yuga. For ease of comprehension I'll put this in a table below in a form copied from Robert Bolton.
  • Gold of Iron   3102 BC - 1026 BC    2,076 years
  • Silver of Iron  1026 BC -  528 AD    1,554 years
  • Bronze of Iron 528 AD -  1564 AD   1,036 years
  • Iron of Iron    1564 AD - 2082 AD      518 years.
Those who wish can look for patterns in these periods. They are not hard to find. Robert Bolton points out that the second corresponds to the classical civilisations of Greece and Rome and the third to the Middle Ages. However I want to break them down further by taking the last period and applying the same process to it. I want to do this for two reasons. Firstly, this period falls well within historical times and so events are more familiar to us, but secondly, there is the idea that as the cycles progress so time and the rate of change speed up. Therefore the effects of cyclical change are easier to see. Once again I am copying Robert Bolton with this table whose fascinating book is the inspiration for this post. Please note that when it says 'Golden age' in the table what is meant is the first section of the fourth section of the Kali Yuga thus gold of iron of iron.
  • Golden age 1564 - 1770   206 years
  • Silver age    1770 - 1926  156 years
  • Bronze age 1926 - 2030   104 years
  • Iron age      2030 - 2082     52 years
It will be seen that we are now living in pretty grim times, spiritually speaking.

Looking at these dates the first thing that strikes me is that the so called Golden age of this sub-cycle went from the Reformation and the birth of science (as it is understood in modern terms) to the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. Galileo was born in 1564 and Beethoven in 1770. These are two individuals who can very well be taken as representing spirits of a new age. The one as a scientist who confronted religious authorities and the other as the most important artist of the Romantic period which was a definitive shift away from God as the centre to man as the centre. Whatever the quality of Beethoven's music might be, the fact is that it does signify a spiritual loss compared to what came before in that the certainty of God is no longer present as it definitely was in Renaissance polyphony and even was in Baroque music. Man felt his exile from heaven more than ever before. It's probably a coincidence that the dates are so neat. We can't always expect things to fall into place quite so smoothly as this. The system is not an exact science. Nevertheless these dates do speak eloquently from a symbolical point of view.

The Silver age takes us right up to the brink of modernity. The 1st World War swept away the past, and the twenties are always regarded as the start of something quite new. Art, politics, everything changed in ways too well known for me to need to set them forth here. So what I want to do now is break down the third period, the one in which we live and therefore, it could be said, the most important from our point of view. Please note that this time the golden age is the gold of bronze of iron of iron. I'm sorry - it's getting a little complicated at this point!

  • Golden age  1926 - 1968  42 years
  • Silver age    1968 - 1999  31 years
  • Bronze age  1999 - 2020  21 years
  • Iron age       2020 - 2030  10 years
The dates here are not quite exact because the periods do not break down into whole numbers precisely to the year, but they are near enough. 1968 is a significant date. It might be said to be when the momentum built up during the early sixties really kicked in and the new ways, a focus on youth, sexual liberation and so forth, spread from a select group right out to the whole populace. I believe it's when colour TV started in England and there's a whole symbolism right in that fact. 1999, apart from being the end of the millennium, can be seen as the time when computers and the internet started to enter every home. Of course, these things build up gradually, they don't come out of nowhere, but if you are looking for tipping points these dates are about the best there are.

You can carry on breaking these periods down endlessly. For instance, the bronze and iron ages of the period from 1926-1968 start around 1956 and 1964 which strike me as periods of significant change, while the silver age of the period from 1968-1999 coincides with the '80s, a time of increasing globalism, unregulated capitalism and the spread of what is called by its opponents and probably is, cultural Marxism. Obviously one can take this sort of thing too far but that does not discount the fact that, using this method, significant patterns emerge without them being forced to do so.

The question could nevertheless be asked what is the point of all this? Is it just a bit of fun, the truth of which you can neither prove nor disprove, or does it have any purpose? To be honest, I'm not sure. I do think, though, that studying these dates can prepare us for change and help us to respond to it in a spiritually intelligent way. Particularly when you bear in mind that the dates are turning points when what already exists for an elite or group of specialists spreads out into the mainstream. It looks as though the next bit of the cycle will be starting up in a few years time, and then the final phase in the whole process ten years after that. These may well be, to put it neutrally, interesting times and it might help to know that there is some kind of pattern behind it all. Forewarned is forearmed. As those who remain loyal to God find the world crumbling around them comfort can be found in understanding that this is more or less inevitable given the nature of things. But note that the fact of spiritual degeneration does not excuse those who go along with it or, worse, contribute to it for "Offences must come but woe to that man by whom the offence comes". Just because spiritual decline is naturally occurring in the world is no reason not to stand against it, especially since by doing so you may be able to mitigate its worst effects or help someone else struggling against it who might otherwise succumb. The situation is as it is but you can make it better or worse. 

As for why things are allowed to be like this I would say that the answer lies in the reality of free will and the need for a test.

A Note on the Krita Yuga.
To say that the Krita Yuga or Golden Age was a time of greater general openness to the reality of the spiritual plane, and an ordering of the world in accordance with that reality, does not mean that there were lots of saints and sages walking around then. In fact, it may need the relative spiritual darkness of the Kali Yuga to enable a true spirituality to be born, in which the soul on an individual level, through its own efforts, struggle and suffering, can awaken and develop the capacity for love and wisdom within itself. For a pre-lapsarian Adam to become a Christ you might say. The Krita Yuga was a time when the quality of the higher planes of existence still 'seeped through' into this world and the divine order of being could be more correctly discerned, but that would still only have been according to the degree of inner development of the people at that time.

Drug taking is an illicit attempt to recapture something of the consciousness of earlier periods. It is illicit precisely because it seeks to acquire the consciousness without developing the proper character. The aim now is to develop a spiritual character and not simply experience a spiritual consciousness. That is why wise teachers emphasise the importance of love and humility, and regard the search for mystical experience as largely unproductive and potentially even detrimental to true spiritual growth.

One further point. The idea of these ages and the spiritual degradation that occurs over their span is different to the idea of the Fall. The various ages are the result of natural changes in the cosmic environment as time goes by but the Fall was a failure of will, a deliberate act rather than a natural one. Very probably the way these ages work out would have been quite different had the Fall not occurred.

Saturday, 18 March 2017

The Old Port - A Fictional Meditation on the Traditional Latin Mass



It was half past four. The rehearsal had finished at four but Genevieve and Fintan were still there, bickering about faith, meaning, and Genevieve's supposed religious vocation.

Fintan went for a wander on the stage. He'd had enough of banging his head against a wall. Genevieve was unmoved - as fixed as the Northern Star - obstinate and obsessed. But then again, he mused, weaving his way between the statues and columns, so was he.

Fintan approached the dais and picked up the crown - a golden, gleaming circlet. He held it in his hand, fondling and caressing it, longing for Ambrose, Archbishop of Canterbury, to appear like a ghost from the stalls and ease it onto his head. Someone would crown him one day, no matter what Shakespeare said in Julius Caesar. He was twenty-seven, and consumed with ambition. To be hailed as a legend - a king among princes - the foremost Shakespearean actor of this second Arthurian age. That was the prize. That was what it was all about.

'You'd better be quick if you're coming,' whispered Genevieve from the wings. 'Mass is at five.'

Fintan put back the crown - for now - and followed her out of the theatre.

Sunlight stung his eyes and wind nipped his cheeks, as the raw March air snapped him out of his royal reverie. Down the cobbled hill, to his right, the big ships shimmered in the harbour. Waves bounced and sparkled in the setting sun. But Genevieve turned the other way, uphill through the narrow streets and the Old Port's celebrated mesh of cafés, pubs, galleries and music halls. The breeze whipped her long dark hair across her face. Seagulls cawed and chattered overhead. Down below, the place was buzzing, stuffed to the gills with good time Charlies from all over the Empire - sailors, showgirls, scholars, seminarians, you name it. The town had gone from strength to strength since the Great Restoration, no doubt about that.

There was still some damage showing from the war, of course. It was only five years ago, after all. Where the Castor and Pollux hotel once stood, for instance, was now a boarded up plot of empty space. The plywood boards, Fintan saw, as they passed by, were festooned with posters for all manner of books, performances and exhibitions, including one for their own play, Julius Caesar - seven-thirty every night at the Gaumont from March 10th to March 31st.

Valentina Ivanovna, the Director, had drawn the poster herself - a depiction of Fintan reaching up for a crown - the same circlet he had just been holding - that hovered and hung in the air, eluding his grasp like it was sitting in a pocket of time and space all of its own. He was there again in the top right corner, in a kind of inset, his blood-soaked form lying crumpled at the foot of Pompey's statue, the conspirators looming over him with their reddened knives. Fintan frowned. It was a nice picture - stylishly done - but Valentina had made him look distinctly non-regal. He would have a word tomorrow.

They turned right at the Round Table café onto Charles Stuart Boulevard. The new British flag - a rearing red dragon on a backdrop of gold - billowed and fluttered from the wrought iron lampposts. It was here, four years previously, that Alfred II had led the first of his Reconciliation Walks, comforting the bereaved and healing the wounded with his touch. His son and successor, Arthur, had processed through the town just last year. Alfred and Arthur had visited Fintan's home town, Leicester, too, but he had missed them on both occasions. Four years ago he had still been a Prisoner of War in Minsk, and when Arthur came he had been preoccupied in looking after his parents. He had never seen a king. He felt it acutely - almost as great a loss - more in many ways - than the left hand he had lost in the war.

They walked past the Art School. Its Doric columns reminded Fintan of Valentina's stage set. That was another reason, he realised, why he felt so intensely at home in the Old Port. It had high culture and low culture but nothing middlebrow - no mediocrity, no bourgeoisie, no middle class. Genevieve felt it too, he knew. She had an integrity, a passion for quality and a spark of nobility, that set her apart in his eyes. He had lost so much in his life - his Mum and Dad last year, his hand, his comrades and friends - that he couldn't bear to lose Vivi now - not when he was just getting to know her; not with the chance of a few days together in the Old Port after the play's run. Somehow or other he had to divest her of this tomfool idea of becoming a nun.

Fintan could hear the great bell from Our Lady's Church now, calling the faithful to Mass. They turned right, down St. Joan Street. Smaller premises surrounded them - humble convenience stores and artisan's dwellings. 'It's funny,' said Fintan. 'In the play, you're my wife. 'You try and stop me going to the Senate. Going to my doom.' Genevieve nodded but kept her eyes fixed straight ahead.  Fintan pressed on. 'It's the other way round now, isn't it? I'm not your husband but I'm doing the same thing - trying to save you from yourself.'

He was being provocative. Fishing for a reaction. But none came. Not even a shrug. Then it was too late. They were at the church. Fintan rested his hand against the grey, almost silvery stone, unaccountably out of breath, tears welling his eyes, people thronging all about. All or nothing now, he thought. One last chance. He leapt across the doorway, blocking Genevieve's path. 'Vivi,' he gasped. 'This is insane. Think of what you're throwing away. You're an actress. You're a historian. You're a playwright. You've written a play about Charles I for God's sake. That's all the rage these days. The world's not like it used to be. There's a home here for you. Don't shut yourself away. Don't throw it all away.'

A bizarre sight in the Throne and Altar pub opposite distracted Fintan. A wiry, bald little fellow, surrounded by a clapping, cheering crowd, was balancing a pint pot (it looked like Guinness) on his  head. Then Genevieve jinked past him and was gone. 'Come and see' was all he heard her say.

Fintan was at a loss, swamped by a sea of Mass-goers, streaming past him on either side. He wanted to bolt - cross the road for a pint and a smoke and cheer the wee chap on. But someone had taken his arm, he didn't see who, and spun him around. Into the church. 'Just sit down for a while, son,' a gruff Northern voice growled in his ear. 'It'll be alright.' Rough hands shoved him into a pew - the back one on the right hand side. By the time he got his bearings, Fintan had lost all sense of who it might have been who had manhandled him. He drew a deep breath and drank in his surroundings.

*******

Fintan was surprised by the size of the church. It had a wide, spacious feel that worked like a tonic on his nerves and gently settled the chaotic beating of his heart. He looked down the nave, his eyes drawn to the six tall candles on the Altar, then up to the curve and swell of the dome. A remarkably life-like mosaic - Christ washing the disciples' feet - swept across the ceiling in gold, white and blue. 

Our Lady's appeared to Fintan as if ablaze in candlelight - from top to bottom - on the Altar, in the two side chapels and in front of the countless statues. Incense permeated the air. A profound silence - penetrated only by the tolling of the bell - restored rhythm and depth to his breathing.

The church was about two thirds full - a good mix, so far as he could see, of young and old, male and female. Some of the women and girls wore white, lacy veils. Genevieve, he noted, remained bareheaded. He could see the back of her head, on the left hand side, about four rows from the front. She was kneeling down, her attention absorbed in a pocket-sized, gold-leafed book.

The great bell fell silent. Fintan heard a faint tinkle, then everyone stood up. Male voices, high above, struck up a slow, meditative chant. Far away in the front left corner, a silver crucifix followed by four flickering candle flames edged steadily forward, bobbing up and down over the worshippers heads. Fintan lost sight of the procession momentarily, only for it to reappear beside him, sweeping past him on his left as the Servers, with the Priest behind them, approached the Altar for the start of Mass.

Fintan counted five Servers - one very old, one very young, two about his own age, and one (the cross-holder) whose face he didn't quite catch. They wore black, overlaid by a white, tunic-type garment. The Priest was a burly, tough-looking individual, with close-cropped hair and stubble to match. If it hadn't been for his long purple vestment, Fintan might have had him down as a bouncer rather than a cleric.

The Priest and his Servers genuflected in unison before the Altar. The cross-holder slotted his crucifix into a small square plinth to the Altar's right. The candle-bearers peeled off, two to each side, while the Priest and the cross-holder stood motionless in the centre. They turned around together, as the chant rose, fell and rose again like the waves in the harbour. They marched down the aisle, the Priest sprinkling the people with water from the cross-holder's brown jar.

Fintan saw the Server's face now. He had a cruel-looking scar - curved like a scimitar - across his left cheek. Fintan felt oddly certain that he had come by that scar in the war, just as he had lost his hand and - worse than that - Jan, Marco, Adam, Brendan, and so many more. Schoolfriends and comrades. The best (and only) brothers he ever had.

He felt a deep and sudden affinity with the Server. The Priest too. They were men - just as he was - and in that instant he wanted nothing more than to be part of their fraternity, to feel again that bond of brotherhood he had known at school, at the front, and in the camp at Minsk. Holy water splashed him in the eye as Priest and Server passed him by, and Fintan saw that he had been searching for this brotherhood - this sense of meaning, this intensity of feeling - ever since his release but in totally the wrong place - in in a vain and futile quest for individual glory and renown. Worse, he had projected his deepest spiritual and emotional desires onto Genevieve, a woman whose destiny clearly - and rightly, Fintan saw now - lay in a completely different sphere.

The Priest and Server returned to the Altar, and the Mass began. The congregation knelt down, and Fintan knelt with them. He couldn't understand, and in any case could hardly hear, the Latin prayers going on at the front. The Priest had his back to the crowd anyway. But Fintan didn't mind. No-one, least of all himself, had come here to be entertained. There was the whole of the Old Port for that. It was a relief as well, to be honest, not to be looked at by the Priest. Fintan didn't want the Mass to be about him or the people beside him. He wanted the Priest and Server to keep their focus on the Altar. It took some of the pressure off that he used to feel in church (on the few occasions that he went) before the war.

A new chant started up - female voices too now - Kyrie Eleison, Christe Eleison, Kyrie Eleison. Even Fintan knew what that meant - Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy. The words felt right and fitting. The follies, sins and errors of his life flashed before his inner eye. He hid his face in his hand and prayed to God for mercy and forgiveness for the first time since his capture and blindfolding.

The longer the Mass went on, the more it felt to Fintan like he was waking up from a long period of madness. Their was something in the way the Priest and Servers moved together - the Servers standing so close to the Priest as he incensed the Altar - left side, right side, centre - that gave Fintan the sense of being present at something real - something sacred and substantial - a genuine, living mystery. He was astonished. It was all such a far cry from what Mass had been like before the Great Restoration, when it was still said in English and the Priest faced the people. Those Masses, Fintan recalled, were well-meaning, but banal. They didn't compel him - didn't captivate him - and he had gone elsewhere to find meaning and value. But now he felt like he was coming home - home to himself and home to the truth. A new world - surprising and strange, yet deeply familiar as well - was  opening out like a flower before him.

Everyone stood up. The Priest ascended the carved pulpit, candle-bearers beside him, and chanted the Gospel. Everyone sat down, and the Priest gave his sermon - short, sharp and clear. He had a Liverpool accent, not quite as strong as Genevieve's, but similar in tone and intonation. Fintan wondered if they knew each other. The sermon was on the temptations of Christ and the seductiveness of worldly power and prestige. Staying true to ourselves and staying true to God are one and the same thing, the Priest said. Our deepest desire - what we long for more than anything else in the secret recesses of our heart - that's the key to who we are, and that's God's deepest desire for us too. We need to take steps, therefore, wherever and whenever we can, to build a culture and society that's congruent with this true self. 'We become what we contemplate,' he concluded.

The Mass continued. Fintan knelt down. The Priest blessed the Host, then the chalice, turned around to the people, turned back to the Altar, said a prayer and fell silent as the choir sang again - a haunting, plaintive tune, full of yearning, that stirred him to his depths:

Sanctus, sanctus, sanctus,
Dominus Deus Sabaoth.
Pleni sunt caeli et terra, gloria tua.
Hosanna in excelsis.
Benedictus qui venit in nomine Domini.
Hosanna in excelsis.

Silence descended. The Priest bent low over the Altar. Fintan had the impression that something momentous - something earth-shattering - was about to happen. The Priest lifted the Host high into the air. The man with the scar struck a great silver gong - once, twice, three times. The Priest genuflected, bent over the Altar again, and lifted up the chalice. Its golden gleam caught and held Fintan's eye, as the gong rang out again. And Fintan felt a presence - something (or someone) totally outside himself - wholly other - existing beyond the confines of his mind - his projections, plans and schemes - beyond everything he knew about himself, yet intimately linked somehow with that deepest, reallest, truest self the Priest had spoken of in his sermon.

The gong sounded for the fifth time. The chalice hung in the air still, cradled in the Priest's hands, hovering, it seemed, between this world and the next. It drew Fintan's eyes up to the dome and the white-robed, kneeling Christ, washing a reluctant St. Peter's feet with His towel and bowl. Fintan gasped and shuddered. The mosaic, with the clarity of a thunderbolt, showed him in a flash what true Kingship really means - not being hailed as a legend, the foremost man of the age, and so forth - but sacrifice, service, and love - acting, in other words, as a brother to your people.

King Arthur II knew this well. His father, good King Alfred - the Restorer - knew it too. Fintan saw now that he had actually been involved in a lot of this throughout his life - a sacrifice, service and love that he had both given and received in great measure - at school, in the Army, and most of all, perhaps, in his parents care for him as a boy and his care for them when they were ill. Something softened, then snapped inside him. Ice broke and melted. The memory of his school-friends, his comrades, and his Mum and Dad was too much for him. Fintan buried his face in his hand again and wept for the first time since Jan, Adam, Marco and Brendan fell at the Siege of Tallinn. The gong resounded for the sixth and final time - booming, echoing, resonating, then fading. Fintan beat his breast three times. 'Kyrie Eleison,' he whispered. 'Christe Eleison, Kyrie Eleison.' The Priest genuflected, stood up again, and carried on with the Mass. Silence enveloped the church once more.

*******

A triangle of light - brightening, dimming, then brightening again - steadily lit up the stage. Fintan let go of the dial. Three-quarter light was fine. He didn't want it too bright. He jumped up onto the stage, striding purposefully between the statues and columns.

Valentina - in that earnest, Eastern European way of hers - had given each of the actors what she called a 'secret key', so that, as she told them, 'you can come to this place - this sanctum, this sacred space - at any time of day or night to better connect with the play, the characters, and yourselves - as actors, human beings, and children of God.' Fintan, in his arrogance, had chuckled to himself at the Director's flamboyant speech. He'd thought he had all the answers in those days; both for himself and  for others. He knew better now. The Mass had taught him that.

Fintan took up the crown - Julius Caesar's deepest desire - and held it in his hand. He heard a click behind him and turned around. There, in the wings, illuminated in a halo of light, stood the tall figure of Genevieve. They looked at each other for a long time in what should have been total silence but wasn't quite. Genevieve must have left the door open. The sounds of the Old Port at night - seagulls, cheers, and clinking glasses - stole through into Valentina's sacred space. It was right and fitting, Fintan felt. He remembered the little chap with the pint pot on his head and smiled.

'Remind me, Vivi,' he said. 'What's the last line of your play again? Charles' final words on the scaffold?'

Genevieve smiled. 'I go from a corruptible to an incorruptible crown,' she replied. 'Where no disturbance can be, no disturbance in the world.'

They laughed together, and Fintan threw her the crown in a looping, swooping arc. For a moment, mid-way between them, it seemed to pause and hover in the air, hanging there - a spinning band of golden fire - sitting in a pocket of time and space all of its own. Fintan looked closer, rubbed his eyes, and looked again. The crown appeared different to him - no longer a circle, but a curving bridge of molten light - a bridge between levels - between Heaven and Earth, the human and the Divine, the ego and the Self - a bridge of healing, unity and reconciliation - a bridge between Fintan's splintered post-war consciousness and what he longed for more than anything else in the secret recesses of his heart - quality, nobility, purpose, fellowship, and peace. 

A great restoration.

*

The painting at the top of this piece is Low Mass at All Saints, London (2013) by Timothy Betjeman. Please visit www.timothybetjeman.com to see his whole All Saints series and many more.

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Spirituality With Gods

That's gods with a small g. My previous post here was about forms of spirituality that dispensed with the reality of God as Creator and Lord of your being. Essentially forms that make an idol of consciousness and try to deify human beings without reference to the true God. Here I will look at the opposite temptation for the modern mind reacting against materialism and that is paganism or, to put it more accurately, since there cannot now be a natural paganism such as existed before Christ, neo-paganism. This is basically the attempt to revert to modes of spirituality appropriate to pre-conscious man but out of date from the perspective of real spiritual evolution, except perhaps as something to reassimilate before moving on to higher and better things.

I see this approach to spirituality as the worship or attempt to enter into communion with or propitiate or manipulate for personal gain of some kind, material or spiritual, the inner powers of nature. It is, therefore, directed towards some aspect of creation rather than the Creator. In other words it is directed to effects rather than cause or transcendent source, and because of that misdirection of focus is liable to fall into one of the many possible snares for the spiritual seeker. These range from idolatry, giving primary reality to something with dependent reality, to pantheism, with its over-emphasis on immanence, to subjectivity and moral relativism. The fact that there is little difference between the morality of neo-paganism and contemporary liberal morality tells us much. Specifically it tells us that neo-paganism is a form of humanism in that it doesn't acknowledge the reality and supremacy of a transcendent Creator in the light of whose existence our own existence must be seen. A Creator who has certain intrinsic qualities of being which means that there is a real objective morality not determined by human thought or opinion and that goes beyond what we see and experience in the natural world. There is fundamental right and wrong or good and evil. These ideas do not come from Man but from God and they must be seen in the context of the absolute reality of God and how he expresses himself.

Neo-paganism is polytheistic even if it recognises an underlying unity. For this unity is not God, certainly not the personal God or Father of Creation. It is simply an impersonal life force that can be tapped when you know how or manifest itself in a variety of ways. It has no will of its own, no purpose, no demands. As famously described by CS Lewis it is just there, always present but passive and available to be used and channelled according to your will like a constantly flowing energy source which has no expectations of you and to which you owe no obligations. The many gods of polytheistic paganism might be presented as the many aspects of the One God but this One God has no living, transcendent, personal reality, often existing as little more than a unifying principle. It is really just a backdrop. It has no face
.

But still what's wrong with polytheism, you might ask? Why can we not lead a spiritual life based on reverence for the life force as manifested through particular deities? Up to a point you certainly can but the problem is that it will not result in connection to the true divine centre. You will remain on the outside of spiritual reality with any contact to it restricted to the inner aspects of the created world rather than the Creator. Focussing on the gods you will go no further than created things because the gods are created things. Therefore you will not go beyond the limitations of your own psyche or encounter the higher realities of spiritual truth which lie above that. You will remain in the relative world.

That's not all. What an essentially humanistic religion, such 
as neo-paganism is, profoundly lacks is the sense that we are all sinners. This is not just a matter of being out of harmony with the natural and spiritual rhythms of the universe, something that could be put right with the appropriate means and knowledge. The reality is much more serious. Nature is fallen and we are fallen too.We are moral reprobates and this is not merely a matter of ignorance but of a faulty will, a will directed towards wrong and perverse ends to do with the satisfaction of the self rather than its transcendence in service to God. Paganism takes nature as it is and does not see its essential corruption. That doesn't mean that Nature is bad. It is God's creation and so good but it has been corrupted as have we and the only healing is through repentance and a return to God, probably, I would say, through Christ though I should add my belief that Christ does not just operate in the obvious way through Jesus but can be present elsewhere too. Clearly though the obvious way is the best way as it is the one in which he is most fully and completely present.

So modern neo-paganism, which, incidentally, can be seen as part of the contemporary feminine revolt against the masculine*, falls down in three main ways.

It lacks a proper sense of the transcendent because it puts its focus on the creation rather than the Creator. This means it tends to see religion in terms of its benefits in this life and for the person you now are. And that means it is unable to take you out of what you now are.

It lacks an objective morality because of its essentially pluralistic nature. Since it acknowledges (potentially, at least) many gods and goddesses it has no over-riding absolute truth to which everything else is subject and must incline. Moreover, in contradistinction to the old paganism, its real god is the human being so everything becomes subjective and relative. 

Finally it lacks Christ. It is one thing not to know Christ because you have not encountered him. It is quite another to have encountered him and then replace him with something else.

*Indicated by the presence of goddess forms based on antiquated modes of consciousness, the focus on immanence with a corresponding lack of awareness of the absolute and by its emphasis on nature and the natural. For neo-paganism the spiritual is basically the natural writ large.

Monday, 13 March 2017

The 3-Ds of resisting workplace totalitarianism - Denounce, Delay, Dissent

The reason why Britain has fallen to totalitarianism is, ultimately, the moral insanity consequent upon atheism.

In a nutshell, modern secular people have no underpinnings for morality - or for anything else; all is diminished to contingent matters of preference and lifestyle; and the nation has consequently drifted towards an attitude of tepid hedonic expediency - easily cowed, easily manipulated without even need for coercion... 

At first totalitarianism was resisted, but soon resistance collapsed, and now people do not even notice their own pathetic subordination.

The modern British live under multiple, linked, escalating surveillance; they are made to do, say and believe nonsense and wickedness... yet they seem indifferent, even when the motivations of leaders are regarded as malign.


A sign of spiritual and religious awakening must surely be to restore 'backbone'; to induce the British again to resist totalitarian thought control in the workplace and all domains of life.

The results of any such awakening would be widespread, and would indeed potentially involve everybody.

Especially in the workplace - because the modern workplace is objectively a totalitarian tyranny. 


Denounce: The layers of resistance will begin with verbal denunciation of increased monitoring, of 'micro-management' - because currently there is little or no objection to it.

When the latest tyrannical bureaucratic proposal is presented in a meeting, individually or as a group, there will be a storm of uncompromising criticism.

It will be assumed and explicitly stated that evil policy has evil intentions behind it; and that evil ought to be resisted - resistance of that which is wrong is a duty that transcends expediency.

People will not be 'reasonable' about the matter of their freedom - freedom is not 'negotiable'.


Delay: Objectionable policies would be diminished and made ineffectual by widespread 'foot-dragging' and tactical delaying at every level and in all directions.

There would be an end to any attitude of cheerfully shrugging the shoulders and saying - 'What's done is done, and we might as well get-on-with-it...'

Those who attempt to build their careers on the repression of their colleagues will be explicitly identified as collaborators, Quislings, traitors.


Dissent: As well as verbal argument and systematic and sustained inaction - there will be positive action taken to damage and destroy the means of totalitarianism - and to support (both personally and practically) those individuals who are scapegoated, blamed and punished for their dissent.

Every victim a martyr; every martyr a hero. 


A strategy of denounce, delay and dissent would draw the lines between those who aid and those who oppose, tyranny - Post-awakening, taking sides would be unavoidable, and the side-taken would be explicit.

This requires no organisation, it would be utterly spontaneous - it is a simple consequence of each individual person, as an individual, knowing the reality of God; that God is the creator of reality and our loving Father whom we trust; and that is the context of Life into-which politics, society and work must fit themselves.

Your life and my life comprise experiences, challenges and opportunities for growth towards greater divinity and increasing love.

Everything is significant - our every thought and act is defined by this context.

A better world starts with each of us - but doesn't end there.


Sunday, 12 March 2017

Second thoughts of first importance

By 'second thought' I mean the thinking which comes just-after perceiving. There is no doubt that - here and now - Man is a thinking being: or meant to be such.

We are certainly not supposed to live 'in our senses' - nor to try and do this - to be immersed-in and (passively) guided-by the stream of sensory inputs is just the worst possible situation - especially when the perceptual inputs are controlled by the armies of evil...

So - we should look then think; hear then think; feel or smell then think... Life as an inspiration (breathing in the senses) and and expiration (exhaling our thoughts). But what thoughts? Ah! That is the key question indeed!

Our thoughts - to be valuable - must be the thinking of our true selves - but where is this true self? How deeply buried it is beneath false personality habits and absorbed patterns!  How confined by socialisation, and by fear!

So deeply buried is that true self; that it is your false personality which is reading this, most likely.

(I did not say this would be easy! - if it was easy it would already have happened - it is precisely the double binding which holds us fast - the double liberation that is required if both bonds are to be broken. Because if one bond only is broken then we are held by the other - and the first bond will re-bind us while we are at work on breaking the second.)

Thus we cannot save ourselves by main strength and effort - because that which makes the strong effort with be false.

Of course we have Christ to save us - but save us to what? That is seldom clear... The answer is that we must be saved to a different life - in the sense of a life different in its fine texture moment-by-moment - but not, as typically misleads, different in terms of emotions. That focus will block us.

Aimed-at is a life which differs in terms of thinking - of the typc of thinking, the mode of thinking: that which comes after perception.

So our first sights are the same, but our second thoughts... well, that is where the difference lies.

At present we regard second thoughts as (merely) interpretations of our perceptions - as theories, hypotheses, models or 'explanations' of the perceptions... Thus we consider ourselves subordinated to the perceptual world which is currently under enemy control - the situation seems inescapable...

Not so! The second thoughts include perceptions - which may come from the enemy; but the second thoughts are themselves primary (or should be) - and the second thoughts can (should) draw from universal reality - that is why the true self must think them, because the true self is that within us which is divine and eternal.  

(It is our inculcated and absorbed theories, hypotheses, models and explanations that hold us in thought prison. But we all, as Men, have access to the eternal, universal, true, real concepts - and if our thinking uses these instead of the passive falsehoods - then we are immediately free and alive in-reality.)

So here we are - this is our situation; not hopeless, but on the contrary abounding with hope and delight! Held back by passivity and a lack of seriousness (and false understanding) - but able to leap free at any moment and moment-by-moment.

Freedom... freedom-in-thinking is the special task; and free thinking is that which comes-from within us, from within the real, divine us (and not a thinking which 're-hashes' our absorbed perceptions!).

We must, naturally, realise that there is this divine and indomitable capacity in us - and recognise this in a world which ignores and denies the basic truth. We must, naturally, recognise that we are moving-through a world of divine communications - all the time; awake and asleep.

Naturally, we can't understand all of everything all at once - but the communications would not be being-made by the divine unless we were intended to understand all of them, eventually - and that our current life can be a process of understanding more and more of them. 

What is needed is therefore natural, but - like all thinking - also effortful. Freedom does require effort, in comparison with passivity. When people say life is 'difficult', 'challenging' and so on - this is therefore correct - but not in the way usually understood.

Life must indeed be grasped - and we must reach out to grasp it, and it must be our real self that does the grasping...but this is not a labour.

It is thinking rather than not thinking, Freedom rather than sleep.


Thursday, 9 March 2017

Big things are consequences, not causes

The other day, it struck me with force that the big things which we see in the media and talk about in public are assumed to be the causes; and little things such as we experience in our own lives are assumed to be consequences of these big things.

But it is perhaps much more likely that the causality is reversed - and that the big measurable things are merely very distal, crude, averaged-summaries that originated and grew from some-thing very small, specific and publicly unknown.

By this inversion; big things are so weak as to be negligible - consequences not causes; whereas small things are of immense but hidden power.

If true, how could this be known? Well plenty of things may be known; but in ways that would not be convincing to large numbers of other people who are uninterested and incompetent! If you want to convince uninterested and incompetent people... well you are, of course, going to need to refer to big things - but in doing so you will be making false inferences and assertions!

Meanwhile, the real action will be happening unknown, unperceived, in some neglected place by people that hardly anybody has heard-of...