Thursday, 14 December 2017

How to awaken Albion - three ideas

1. Ask about metaphysics - refuse to discuss issues as they are presented. Go back to the assumptions behind them.

2. Ask about motivations - refuse to go-along with assuming the benign motivations of modern mainstream institutions.

3. Take a step back from (fantasies about...) action*. Refuse to accept the primacy of action - and instead really work on your metaphysics, motivations and thinking.

*This is based on bitter experience of marching and waving a flag at the head of an army of like-minded truth warriors (that doesn't exist). 

Tuesday, 12 December 2017

More Christmas Music - Nesciens Mater

To continue with the theme of Bruce Charlton's last post. 

One of the most beautiful pieces of Renaissance polyphony I know of is by the French composer Jean Mouton who lived from around 1459-1522. It's for 8 voices and composed in the form of a canon with the 4 higher voices imitating the four lower voices five notes above them and two bars later. From such a seemingly mechanical construction comes astonishing beauty. The anonymous text is for Christmastide which is a rather lovely word suggesting reverential but excited waiting for a miracle birth.

Nesciens mater virgo virum,
peperit sine dolore salvatorem saeculorum,
ipsum regem angelorum;
sola virgo lactabat, ubere de caelo pleno.

The virgin mother, knowing no man,
gave birth without pangs to the saviour of world,
the very king of angels;
the virgin alone gave him suck with the milk of heaven.

But what's this got to do with Albion? Admittedly nothing, but it's such a glorious piece of music I hope I can be forgiven for drawing attention to it. However I can slightly justify its inclusion here because the same text was set at around the same time by the Englishman Walter Lambe in almost as accomplished a musical version.

 This is taken from the famous Eton Choirbook,  one of the very  few collections of English sacred music to have survived the Reformation. It contains pieces composed around the end of the 15th century in the highly elaborate style of the period with composers such as William Cornysh, John Browne and Robert Fayrfax well represented. Musically speaking, it represents Albion at a rarely equalled peak. See more about it on an earlier post here.

Saturday, 9 December 2017


Wassail means Good Health! - and Wassailers went around before Christmas singing at the doors of Old England - their presence being regarded as good luck (and the singers collected money for themselves, of course - ensuring that the tradition was sustained!).

Here are The Watersons with a Wassail song - the first track on an album of folk songs that were used to mark annual festivals:

For those who don't recognise it, The Watersons were three siblings and a cousin from Hull, so the broad dialect in which they sing is that of Yorkshire.

There are a couple of other Christmas songs on this classic album - do not miss The Holly Bears a Berry at approx 10:40. 

Thursday, 7 December 2017

William Blake - A Slight Reassessment

William Blake is often taken as a kind of godfather of the Albion idea as it manifests itself in modern times, and his work is certainly very inspiring in that regard. When I was a teenager I used to go to the Tate Gallery in London (as it was, Tate Britain now) to look at his pictures that were on display there, since my school was not far away. I was also given a book of his poems for Christmas one year and read many of these enthusiastically, even if uncomprehendingly in the case of some of the longer, more obscure ones which were frankly over my head at the time, and which I gave up on.

I loved Blake but something in me always held back from complete admiration. I really liked his pictures for their imaginative vision, bold colour, vigour and originality but at the same time I found them a bit crude and the human figures almost ugly. Despite the spiritual subject matter there was always something too earthy about the paintings for me to give them my unreserved appreciation. His shorter poems, the Songs of Innocence and Experience for example, were full of charm, insight and beauty but the longer ones were too dense even if some lines and passages were inspiring. But as works of art they didn't really move me. I felt that Blake was a visionary artist but not a particularly great craftsman and that sometimes his reach exceeded his grasp. Many people obviously don't feel that but it was my impression, and it reduced my capacity to appreciate his work as much as perhaps I should have done.

Looking back, I think what I found missing in Blake was a sense of the essentially spiritual nature of the spiritual.  Let me explain what I mean by that. Both in his art and his poetry he seems to perceive the higher worlds too much in terms of this one. It's as though visions are raining down on him but are being interpreted in quite an earthbound way.  I believe this is because, despite his extraordinary imagination and probable clairvoyance, he was still in many ways a product of 18th century materialism and the world of English nonconformist Christianity.  That's not his fault but if we compare his spiritual outlook with that of a saint or devotional mystic of the Catholic church (disclaimer - I'm not a Catholic myself) there is something quite materialistic about him. He received a vision but, like anyone, he interpreted this within the limitations of his own personality and that of the times in which he lived. I think his reception of the vision was partially deficient and that is why his work can be misinterpreted as political as discussed in Bruce Charlton's recent post here -

It might be said that  Blake cannot be blamed if his work is taken to be something other than it really was but I would say that the deficiency of his receptivity is at least partially responsible. Maybe a purer soul would not have left himself open to such misunderstanding but then God uses the vehicles that are available and none are perfect. By any criteria William Blake accomplished a mighty work, and I write this post not to criticise him in any way but simply to point out that he was not perfect and his vision had its faults, most notably in that it tends to materialize spirituality. At least in my opinion it does. My two colleagues on this blog may completely disagree with me.

Perhaps if we regard Blake as a prophet but not a saint, we will have a clearer idea of him. I see him being welcomed into heaven and congratulated on his magnificent achievements, all the greater because of the time in which he worked, but then being sent off for a little purgatorial purification. May we all be so fortunate!

Monday, 4 December 2017

Colin Wilson - England's John the Baptist

Portrait of Colin Wilson by Rob Floyd (2009)


As discussed in my previous post, I discovered both Kathleen Raine and Colin Wilson (1931-2013) in the Language and Literature Library on the top floor of Manchester's Central Library. For a long time, during the summer and autumn of 1997, I had become increasingly aware of a book called Colin Wilson: The Man and His Mind. I wondered who this Wilson was and what was so intriguing about his mind. I walked past the book and asked myself the question many times but didn't take it from the shelf. I mustn't have been ready for it at some level. At that time, I was just beginning to emerge from a long black hole of aimlessness and bereavement. So I read George MacDonald's Phantastes instead, which healed and re-baptised my imagination in a similar way to how C.S. Lewis describes his encounter with the book in Surprised by Joy.

That was September. In the October I came across Wilson's name again in a book about David Lindsay, the author of Voyage to Arcturus, but again, I didn't take down The Man and His Mind. When I eventually picked it up, it was for no particular reason on a Monday evening in early December, about half past six. I took the book from the shelf, flicked through it for five seconds, knew straightaway that I had to take it out, looked in my pocket for my library ticket and found that it wasn't there. Without any hesitation I put the book back, raced downstairs and caught the bus home, five miles to the suburb where I lived, got my ticket and jumped on a bus straight back. It was a quarter to eight when I got there, fifteen minutes before closing. I was terrified that someone might have taken the book out while I'd been gone, but no, it was still there, thank God. There had been no question whatsoever of waiting until the Library opened the next day. I had to read about Colin Wilson there and then. His ideas leapt and burst off the page. They had an immediacy - a ferocity even - that compelled my attention and focused my mind like a laser beam, banishing in an instant (or so it seemed) all the fears, inhibitions, doubts and anxieties that had formerly assailed me.

Colin Wilson: The Man and His Mind was published in 1990 and written by an Australian pastor and academic, Howard F Dossor. I find it a terrific book still and highly recommend it as an introduction to Wilson's work. I remember how impressed I was by the chapter headings - 'The Philosophy', 'The Fiction', 'The Literary Criticism', 'The Criminology', 'The Sexology', 'The Psychology', 'The Occultism'. I was astonished at how wide-ranging Wilson's oeuvre was and at the clarity and directness of his message - we are asleep, we can wake up if we choose, we are capable of far more than we currently think or imagine, we only need to make the effort and concentrate our minds fully on what we are doing right this minute.

Wilson's philosophy worked on me like a tonic. I had been feeling adrift on what Pope Benedict XVI later called the 'dictatorship of relativism', where one thing is as good or bad as another and nothing has ultimate value or significance. Well, here was a man who had none of that, a man of passion and conviction who believed that finding meaning, pattern and purpose was the most important thing a man or woman could do. It isn't enough to be free from external forces - oppression, poor living/working conditions, etc - life has to be for something as well. It has to have an inner direction and focus, two factors which the modern and post-modern worlds mitigate decisively against. But only then will our inner energies become sufficiently sharp for higher levels of consciousness to awaken and unfold within us. What is more, it is those among us who feel most trapped and alienated in our contemporary, un-heroic milieu - Wilson's 'Outsiders' - who are most likely to develop into the standard bearers for evolution's next leap forward - not a materialistic advance - better technology, more mod-cons, and so forth - but an intellectual and spiritual surge, the continuing and ongoing conquest of matter by mind.

It was a heady brew. Intoxicating even. No wonder I had been wary of picking up the book. But now I was ready, and the next half-decade saw me plough through more Wilson titles than I can recall now - The Outsider, The Occult, Mysteries, Beyond the Occult, The Black Room, The Mind Parasites, The Philosopher's Stone, and many more. Around the mid-2000s, however, I started to realise that even though I regarded Wilson as the most important writer alive, my life didn't actually appear to be all that much better than it had been in 1997. I didn't share his natural optimism for one thing, and I began to get frustrated at my inability to find meaning simply by willing meaning to be there. I grew increasingly irritated with his approach. His continual deference to science annoyed me, the way he tried to express what were essentially spiritual realities in scientific terms (such as his 'ladder of selves' theory) as if those were the only terms that mattered. What I once found dynamic and counter-cultural I now found repetitive and one-dimensional. I continued to admire and respect Colin Wilson, but he was my 'North Star' no longer and I perceived that I needed to dig deeper and more thouroughly if I was to effect the root and branch changes required to purge me of my ego and properly orient my life towards goodness, truth and light. 

'Metanoia', it's called in the Gospel's original Greek - turning one's life around - the English 'repent' being a rather weak translation. This 'turning around' was to lead me back at length to the Christian faith I had fallen away from, via a rediscovery of the writers I had loved most as a child - C.S Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Roger Lancelyn Green and Rosemary Sutcliff. In Christ, I began to sense and feel everything I had yearned for but hadn't been able to locate in Wilson's philosophy - a personal God, warmth, tenderness, tradition, and an emphasis on silence and listening - waiting on God - rather than making repeated attempts to instigate change through will power alone. Taking the Kingdom of Heaven by force, in other words.

So it was a real eye-opener, earlier this year, when I read Religion and the Rebel (1957), Wilson's sequel to his wildly successful d├ębut, The Outsider, for the first time. To the same extent that  The Outsider had been lauded by the critics, so Religion and the Rebel had been panned and derided. I think, looking back, that this negative reception must have influenced me subconsciously. How else could it have been that I had devoured so many Wilson titles down the years and never felt tempted by this one?

It is rich fare indeed, a survey of religious Outsiders - including Blaise Pascal, John Henry Newman and Soren Kierkegaard - which showcases a different Wilson altogether - mystical, intuitive, and strongly marked by the poetry and esoteric thought of William Blake and W.B. Yeats. What makes the book extra special in my eyes is that it contains a wider, civilisational element, which is almost entirely lacking from his later work. Wilson links the emergence of the Outsider to the ongoing (and now precipitous) decline of the West. Then he goes further by stating that the Outsider stands as both symptom and remedy of our civilisation's spiritual and cultural malaise. He or she is capable of bringing a new religious revelation to the table, or at least of injecting a fresh burst of impetus to the existing revelation. This is particularly germane in 2017, I feel, especially in Europe, where we are beginning to see how a people who have ceased to believe in God might start to cede place to a people for whom God is still active and real.

As Bruce Charlton has pointed out on these pages, Colin Wilson appeared to be on the brink of becoming a Christian at the time he wrote Religion and the Rebel. He did not do so, and his writing took on a different hue. I was given a clue as to why this might have happened when, together with my friend, the painter, Rob Floyd (see portraits above and below), I visited Wilson at his Cornwall home in 2009. Wilson and his wife, Joy, were most hospitable and generous hosts, but I remember him saying at one point how disappointed he was that his 2004 autobiography, Dreaming to Some Purpose, had been so poorly received by the critics. This surprised both Rob and myself as Wilson always gave the impression in his books that he was utterly impervious to the broadsheets' attempts to marginalise and belittle him.

My guess is that just as the critical hostility to Religion and the Rebel impacted on me in ways I didn't realise, so it impacted subconsciously on Wilson himself, diverting him from a spiritual approach to a more science-flavoured one, which might, on paper at least, have stood a greater chance of finding favour with the establishment that had lifted him so high then cast him so brutally down. It's just a theory, as I say, and I might be completely wrong, but my sense is that it accounts for a lot and that there's potentially more than a grain of truth there.


Might have been. Could have been. Should have been. Wilson's life, like all our lives, is littered with what ifs and maybes. But whatever his shortcomings, they pale into insignificance when weighed against his largeness of spirit, his breadth of vision, and the sheer ambition and scale of his intellectual project. For twenty years now, since that night in the Library, I've regarded him as the foremost British thinker of the age, even during the period when I distanced myself from his work. It's a national scandal that UK academia views Wilson as a crank at best and a crypto-fascist at worst, while life-denying, nihilistic pseudo-thinkers who can't or won't express themselves clearly such as Foucault and Derrida are held up as paragons of cutting-edge thought. I'm convinced that that if young people were encouraged to read and think about Wilson's ideas then the mental health crisis currently engulfing our country would be greatly ameliorated. Unless that isn't what the authorities want? Maybe they don't want any more Colin Wilsons. Perhaps they've never forgiven him for daring to step beyond the role prescribed for him as a working class boy from Leicester, which - despite the reburial of Richard III and the recent success of its football team - remains one of the most deeply unfashionable and looked down-upon cities in England.

A prophet, as we know, is never accepted in his own country, and certainly Wilson has received a warmer welcome overseas than here, especially in Eastern Europe, the Far East and parts of the Middle East. As we enter Advent, it seems natural to me to see him as a kind of John the Baptist figure, standing alone in the wilderness, calling us to Metanoia, a radical reorientation and restructuring of our lives in preparation for the One who is to come.

Advent also urges us to reflect on the second coming of Christ, and that could occur at any time, of course. Before it does, however, I suspect we might be granted one last shot at redemption - one more revival and rebirth - the end, as Blake put it, of Albion's long sleep on Britain's rocky shores - a resurgence of religion, creativity, beauty and nobility throughout the land. On that day, Wilson's true status will be plain to see - as clear and bright as the lightning blazing across the sky - a herald and forerunner of a new level of spiritual and imaginative intensity in this realm.

'Come the three corners of the world in arms,' says Faulconbridge in Shakespeare's King John, 'And we shall shock them. Naught shall make us rue, if England to itself do rest but true.'

Colin Wilson shocked many, from all corners of the world, out of mental slumber during his career. He will carry on doing so as the years and decades ahead unfold.

Thank you, O Lord, for his life and his work. Grant him, we pray, some well-deserved rest from his labours. Welcome him into the light of your face, and may he find in your presence a place of light, happiness, refreshment and peace.

Portrait of Colin Wilson by Rob Floyd (2009)

Sunday, 3 December 2017

Is Albion an Angel?

Bruce Charlton's recent piece on whether Albion is a woman got me thinking because I must admit I hadn't been considering things along those lines. Not about whether Albion is male or female but about the degree to which Albion is a person. I know the personification of Albion in Blake's poems but that's, well, Blake! I also know the mythology of a sleeping giant but I had really been thinking of Albion as the hidden spirit of the land, without making that spirit into a person.

But, of course, all countries do traditionally have a masculine or feminine ruling genius. Germany is the Fatherland, India is Mother India, France is definitely feminine, Italy probably masculine. England seems masculine to me too, and I'm not sure about the U.S.A. Since Russia, as Bruce says, is feminine then maybe America is masculine. California is surely feminine, though.

In the same way, the North and the West are masculine while the South and the East are feminine. Sea is feminine, sky is masculine and, while we're at it, earth and water are feminine while air and fire are masculine. So probably everything does have a masculine or feminine polarity. That would make a lot of sense since this polarity goes right back to the primal duality of spirt and matter.

But is Albion a woman? I don't know. Bruce points out that Britannia is female and also that the two  monarchs at the time of England's/Britain's greatest moments of creativity and power were queens. These could certainly be good indicators of a strong female characteristic of the country but personally I'm not entirely convinced. English and British achievements, to do with law, exploration, empire, expansion and so on, do seem masculine to me but maybe that's England/Great Britain, and Albion is a different matter. Albion is certainly strongly associated with the land, and the land as ground or earth is traditionally a feminine thing.

So I'm reserving judgment on this question. However one idea I am strongly drawn to is that Albion is an angel. I think that all countries have their guardian angels. Indeed it is likely that all animal species have an angel. Angels are everywhere. They are the means through which God works.  

To my mind, the best depiction of angels is that of C.S. Lewis in his space trilogy in which the angels are the guardians or even spiritual embodiment of the planets.  These angels, like the Christian ones, don't have bodies as such because they are not made of matter. They are pure spirits but they can create an appearance of themselves in a person's mind, and Lewis's description of this is very striking. Here's what he says about an angel's face in Perelandra.

"One single changeless expression - so clear that it hurt and dazzled him- was stamped on each and there was nothing else there at all. In that sense their faces were as primitive, as unnatural, if you like, as those of archaic statues from Aegina. Pure, spiritual intellectual love shot from their faces like barbed lightning. It was so unlike the love we experience that its expression could easily be mistaken for ferocity"

If Albion is, as I think, an angel then Albion is not a woman. Angels have no bodies so no biological gender so they are not male or female. However angels are not neuter, nothing is. Lewis's angels are masculine or feminine and, of course, St Michael and St Gabriel are masculine too. Therefore Albion could very well be feminine, as Bruce speculates.

Friday, 1 December 2017

Is Albion a woman?

Nations are personified, and real personifications are either male or female. So, is Albion a woman?

If Albion is real, rather than a mere 'poetic conceit' or reification; then this question needs to be treated as a question about reality. The personage Albion is either a man or a woman.

(I am assuming here, what many will not assume, that real personages must be male or female in their ultimate reality: i.e. that there is no-such thing as a person who is neither a man, nor woman, nor both at once, nor both in sequence. I assume that sexuality is binary and eternal and goes-all-the-way-down to the most basic level of ultimate reality. I assume this: therefore I do not intend to argue it!)

If Albion is a real person - presumably an angelic being, then is Albion a man or a woman?

Both traditions exist - indeed, both exist even in William Blake; although Blake mostly describes and depicts Albion as a titanic, muscular man.

However, I believe that Albion is a woman.

Evidence? Well such things can only be known directly (and mistakes can be made!) - however, there are quite a few women in British legend who have (arguably) served as more-or-less convincing representatives of Albion.

Effective women leaders are even-rarer than effective men leaders - and given that fact it is striking that some of the best (or, at least, most effective) national leaders have been women (although not The Very Best: Alfred the Great).

Examples might include Boadicea (currently usually called Boudicca), Queen Matilda (crowned in Bristol, but not in London - she links the Anglo Saxon Kings with the Norman monarchs - from Henry II), Queen Victoria and Margaret Thatcher (yes, I know...); also the legendary symbol of Britannia (who 'rules the waves' - or did for a while!) - depicted on coins.

But the best examplars are first and foremost Queen Elizabeth I and Queen Anne (aka. Good Queen Anne and 'Anna Gloria') - among the few English monarchs that (like Victoria; and indeed Margaret Thatcher) gave their names to an era.

In sum, if we do intuit that Albion is a woman, then there is a decent body of 'evidence' consistent-with that assumption.

So Albion may be one of those nations spiritually-ruled and represented by a woman (another example is Mother Russia). This would suggest that we would need to revise contradictory national symbols such as 'John Bull' or male lions...

Does it make a difference whether we regard Albion as a man or woman? Yes, of course! And - if we get this right - then her symbols ought to have more power and validity.