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 début, 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.

Tuesday, 28 November 2017

Communications are experiences (not knowledge - knowledge is direct)

What we term communications, of all sensory sorts - the spoken or written word, images, sounds - including music, smells, tastes, touch - are not knowledge but are experiences.

Our mortal life is about experiences, and how we respond to them; so communications are very important. But we should not mistake them for knowledge.

Why not? Well, that is obvious - in the sense that we have many generations of philosophical reflection that emphasise how unreliable are communications, that they cannot be relied upon for knowledge (or 'certainty').

This for multiple reasons - to do with limitations of cognition, of biased and incomplete sampling, of the multi-step nature of communications and so on. Some have concluded that therefore there is no possibility of knowledge - e.g. that knowledge is entirely subjective, based on arbitrary information, a matter of opinion, contingent, labile, uncommunicable etc.

But the inference that there because communication is non-valid therefore there can be no knowledge includes a false assumption - which is that only the material world exists.

It is correct that since communications are all material, and they are indeed non-valid, communications are no basis for knowledge - but this leaves-out the non-material ('immaterial', 'spiritual') world, the world that cannot be (or is not, currently) detected by our senses - and is also undetected by the instruents of science.

We assume that this non-material world does not exist - but that is merely an assumption; furthermore a very modern and entirely Western assumption; an assumption restricted to a tiny temperospatial proportion of human reality...

If we instead assume that there is a further reality outwith the sensed and currently-detected material reality; then knowledge may be assumed to exist in this larger reality.

In other words, knowledge may be real (and vital) but not communicated.

This can be understood in terms of knowledge being directly-down, without any mediation; and if knowledge is to be more than delusion, the knowledge that is directly-known is one, single realm of knowledge - in principle, although not in every instance, all knowledge is universally knowable.

So here we have two very different things: one is the world of communications, which we ought to regard as experiences, or - in a sense as challenges to which we are called-upon to respond correctly... And on the other hand knowledge, which is only knowable by direct apprehension (which we could call intuition).

To know directly is possible, even if it is unusual - and this opens-up that line of metaphysical theory that I have been exploring as Primary Thinking.

One implication is that when we personally are communicating, we are providing experiences for others - but we are not transmitting knowledge. By contrast, when we are engaged in primary thinking we are engaged in direct knowing - and, because knowledge must potentially be universally accessible to be knowledge, others may also know directly what we know.

Thus knowledge is not communicated, and communications are not knowledge - this is useful to remember!

Monday, 27 November 2017

The Esoteric and the Spiritual

I've been reading a book called The Secret Teachers of the Western World which I enjoyed. The author, Gary Lachman, seems to have partly inherited the mantle of Colin Wilson and he has the same easy style of writing. I mean that as a compliment. He puts his ideas across in an engaging and comprehensive way, and certainly knows his stuff as a student of esoteric history.

So I'm glad I read the book. It got me thinking, though, as I reacquainted myself with all the characters he calls secret teachers, who were basically people who sought esoteric knowledge and looked for it outside conventional religion. How many of these were actually spiritual? Spiritual in the sense of totally oriented towards God and the good. Spiritual in the way that the saints were spiritual. And it seems to me that remarkably few were. I know one can't judge a person's soul but, if you go by what they taught, you can form an opinion and most of these people were concerned with knowledge or power or expanding human consciousness or uncovering deeper levels of reality because of frustration with the world as normally understood.  Some had psychic powers. But how many were really motivated by love of God? Indeed, how many truly acknowledged him? The answer seems to me to be not that many. But, as I was informed by my teachers, "it is not necessary to chase after the many mysteries of existence. Live simply in the heart and all mysteries will in time become known to you." This is not an injunction to give up any attempt at understanding life but a matter of putting things in context and not being distracted from the essential, the essential being love of God.

A lot of the things we see as examples of higher consciousness nowadays are actually intimations of higher consciousness as seen through, and often deformed by, lower consciousness. This is well illustrated in ideas about love. What a confused topic! Everyone knows that love is good but that does not mean indiscriminate love applied indiscriminately.  Love must always go with wisdom in a fallen world of ignorance and corruption which this undoubtedly is. Love is not due to everything and everyone equally. More love, or more unqualified love, is due to that which goes with the flow of truth than against it or to higher manifestations of truth than lower ones. 

Another similar example is the prioritising of unity at the expense of quality. You end up losing both.

At various times in my life I have been interested in the occult and the esoteric, what is known as the Western mysteries, including Rosicrucianism, Hermeticism, Kabbalah and so on, but every time I have come away with a sense of their essential shallowness. That might seem a strange thing to say since, in many respects, they are very profound. They are symbolically and intellectually and philosophically rich with explanations of life, both inner and outer, spiritual and material. However, what I mean by shallowness is their lack of a real spirituality. Yes, they have an intellectual spirituality and they appeal to our desire to have a system, a framework of knowledge that can encompass most things, but a true and living and deep spirituality which fills the heart as well as the mind? I'm not so sure. This may be the reason why so many serious people who at one time were attracted to occultism, turn in later life to Christianity. Valentin Tomberg, the author of Meditations on the Tarot, is a good example.

The esoteric is fascinating and marvellous, quite literally. But, when all us said and done, it is concerned with creation not Creator, with God's activity rather than God himself.  This is why it is ultimately unsatisfying for all its mysteries, its ecstasies and the knowledge and power it offers.

If you are an esotericist you must also be a Christian and your Christianity must come first.

Having said all that, and with the proviso that a true spirituality must be founded on religion and love of God first and esotericism second, I should add that esoteric knowledge can supplement religion. It can give it a depth which it often lacks. My appreciation and understanding of Christianity has been deepened, I think, by esotericism. Just make sure it supplements it and doesn't supplant it.

Sunday, 26 November 2017

What do we know when we look at the night sky?

Is that man depicted above a solitary figure in defiance of a vast, dead, meaningless universe?

Or is he rejoicing at a living, conscious cosmos?

It makes a difference.

Of course, the pictures from science are perceived by us as beautiful -

But is that beauty really a delusion? Is it merely a projection of something human onto something that is some mixture of random and determined - just a bunch of atomic processes and chemical reactions; aiming at nothing in particular, meaning nothing to us except insofar as they may affect biology on earth?

Or, is the night sky a vision of life, consciousness, purpose, meaning...? When we look at the night sky, and understand what we see; do we know that it is an image of our relatedness with a universe that is concerned by us and cares about us, as Men and as an individual person?

This is a matter of absolutely crucial important to each individual, and to human groups at every level from the family, through clan, tribe, race, nation and totality...

Crucial in the literal sense of forming a crossroads: the road we take, the path we tread, when interpreting the night sky leads on the one hand to absolute existential despair or to indomitable hope.

My points are:

That we must choose: nobody else should be making this decision for us

That this decision is not arbitrary - there is a reality. Either the universe is dead and indifferent, or it is alive and concerned.

That the decision cannot be made by science or by any other partial, closed system - the validity of which depends on metaphysical assumptions.

That the decision cannot be made by religion or by any other partial, closed system - the validity of which depends on metaphysical assumptions.

The validity of the reality of the universe - as symbolised by the night sky - depends on our primary metaphysical assumptions; upon that which comes before all other actual or possible knowledge - and which can therefore come only by a direct, intuitive, knowing.

When we strip everything back to the essence of our real self, and when we are able to bring that real self to a direct apprehension of the totality of everything...

Then, and only then, and only insofar as we are actually IN that state...

We can, we should, we must decide.

And then abide by that decision - even and especially when we are in a lower, inauthentic, un-real, distracted, deluded state of being; as most of us are for most of the time...

Friday, 24 November 2017

Kathleen Raine - Poet, Platonist, Prophet

I discovered Kathleen Raine (1908-2003) in the Language and Literature Library on the top floor of Manchester's Central Library. It was December 1995 or thereabouts. I was in my mid-twenties then and am obviously a lot older now, but at least I'm still alive, unlike the Language and Literature Library, which exists now as a mere shell of its former self. The Central Library was closed for refurbishment between 2006 and 2010. When it reopened it was still the same circular city-centre landmark and a very attractive space, particularly for those with young children. But what a price to pay! The refit saw the Library lose something like two thirds of its book stock. There are computers aplenty now and lots more individual and group working spaces, but the chances of a young person wandering in and stumbling on a life-changing book have been greatly diminished. That, to my mind, represents a real loss and diminution, and seems somehow emblematic of our era's spiritual and intellectual poverty.

Technically, as I say, the Language and Literature Library still exists, but it's been reduced in size from two levels to one, and has been completely divested of its glamour and mystique. It was a very romantic and seductive place in the '80s and '90s. The lamps hung like little moons and time stood still as you perused the upper and lower levels, pausing here and there to revel in old favourites (Shakespeare, T.S. Eliot and C.S. Lewis in my case) or to make new discoveries, most notably Kathleen Raine and Colin Wilson, the subject of my next piece.

If you stayed there long enough, the spines of certain books would seem like they were speaking to you, urging you to pick them up. I had refrained for a long time in looking at the book with the golden spine and the title in red italics on the upper floor. I feared it for some reason, as if it might be some kind of Siren, luring me to a rocky and storm-tossed death. I only took it down, I remember, one evening about six o'clock when I was in a particularly desperate state of mind, adrift on the sea of life and spiritually and emotionally lost.

I took it down, opened a page at random and immediately felt, for the first time in ages, that I was breathing clear and healthy intellectual air. It was like the spell for the refreshment of the spirit that Lucy finds in the Magician's Book in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. The book was by a woman I'd never heard of - Kathleen Raine - but it spoke to me of things that were once familiar and second-nature but that I'd somehow lost on my journey through teenagerdom and young adulthood. The book was called The Lion's Mouth and I later found out that it was the third volume of Kathleen Raine's autobiography, published in 1977.

What struck me most emphatically was the authority and confidence with which the writer expressed her vision. Jesus 'spoke with authority' says St. Mark's Gospel, and the onlookers were 'astonished.' It's a grand comparison to make but I felt much the same way, so long had it been since I had heard or read anyone talk with conviction about spiritual truth. Raine spoke of the Imagination (with a capital I) and the absolute necessity of following the promptings of her 'Daemon', a kind of guiding spirit or guardian angel, always there to orient her towards her intuition and instinct and away from the calculating rationalism of the world. For Raine, this meant placing poetry before all else, and The Lion's Mouth is unsparing in its account of how such dedication to the Daemon caused tremendous human unhappiness, for herself and those closest to her. Eliot, in Little Gidding, refers to such bitter self-realisation as:

... the rending pain of re-enactment
Of all that you have done, and been: the shame
Of things ill done and done to others harm
Which once you took for exercise of virtue.

Despite this, the poet's insistence on the existence of a higher order than that which we can touch, taste, see, feel or smell, served to inspire me. Her willingness to stake her life on it and her sheer faith in the Platonic archetypes and the multi-layered nature of reality was exactly what I needed at a time when I had lost sight of the Divine in the madness of the city, the poundings of popular culture and the pressure to do something worthwhile with my life.

I have been reading and reflecting on Kathleen Raine ever since. She is best known today, perhaps, as a poet and a scholar of William Blake, who she always regarded as her master. Her poetic oeuvre is undoubtedly fine but the nature poetry she specialised in is not quite my taste, so I'm probably not best placed to comment. Her two-volume Blake and Tradition (1965) is a masterpiece of both scholarship and spiritual insight, showing that the two need never have become mutually exclusive. In it, she debunks the materialist literary theory then gaining ground in academia and directs us towards the true sources of Blake's inspiration in Plato, Plotinus, and the hidden esoteric traditions of the West. Defending Ancient Springs (1967) is a similarly astute book, which studies a range of creative figures who, like both Raine and Blake, placed the Imagination front and centre in their lives and work - Edwin Muir, Vernon Watkins, W.B. Yeats, S.T. Coleridge, Percy Shelley, and St. John Perse. 

In 1981, along with a handful of like-minded individuals, Raine founded Temenos: A Review Devoted to the Arts of the Imagination. The journal's aim was to to transform and reverse the premisses of Western civilisation, from the materialistic to the imaginative. Temenos still exists today under the title The Temenos Academy Review and its website can be viewed here -

I'm not convinced, speaking plainly for a moment, that Temenos has moved in the right direction since Raine's death fourteen years ago. I have had some contact with the group and they seem disappointingly uninterested in fighting what Raine called the 'Great Battle' between darkness and light, beauty and ugliness, God and the Devil. It has become a very genteel, London-centric organisation, and reminding its 'top table' of Raine's cri de coeur, as I once did in a letter, can seem almost rude or improper, like passing the port the wrong way or hearing the vicar swear in church. But for whatever reason, the Temenos board has decided that its raison d'être is not so much 'Albion Awakening' as flying the flag of the esoteric in high academic circles. I have to respect that and acknowledge that without Temenos the British cultural landscape would be even more barren than it already is. Temenos, at its best (e.g. the Audio Archive on the website), is a real light shining in  darkness, even if at times I'm tempted to think that 'Don't Frighten the Horses' should be its motto.

I subscribed to the Temenos Academy Review for two years. The best thing I received was a book called Lighting a Candle, a collection of reminiscences of meetings with Kathleen Raine from about twenty-five people. What comes across most forcefully, reading and rereading this excellent book, is the sanctuary-like ambience of her flat at 47 Paultons Square, Chelsea. It was as if a deeper, purer air could be breathed there than elsewhere. The word 'temenos' means 'sacred space' and that is what her home was to her many visitors. 

Her life and work have been a sacred precinct for me too and I hope and pray that the candle she lit will go on burning - bright and strong - even as the world grows darker and colder, so that that which is good, beautiful and true might be salvaged from the wreckage of this age, which is passing away, and sent across the sea to the shores of the Golden Age to come, a Golden Age which Kathleen Raine foresaw and did her level best to serve in word and deed as a witness and exemplar of the highest order.

Monday, 20 November 2017

Pilgrimage in search of sacred places

There are places which have been regarded as especially sacred - and these have sometimes become places of pilgrimage. In the past couple of hundred years, the ideas of 'sacred' and 'pilgrimage' have become... secularised, or at least expanded in their meaning.

People often undertake pilgrimage to places of national significance - such as battlefields; or to places where particular authors and artists have a connection: for example Shakespeare's birth/death-place in Stratford upon Avon is an international destination; and Wordsworth's Dove Cottage is now a museum and popular site in the Lake District. 

And spiritual pilgrimage places include neolithic stone circles and burial chambers, as well as Christian cathedrals and churches.

But things have changed with respect to the long-standing places of pilgrimage; and what used to be special places (where, let us say, the veil between the material and spiritual worlds seemed thinnest) have now, in many instances, been corrupted and rendered ineffective or even counter-productive: whether by commercialisation, destruction, or ideological colonisation.

Glastonbury is a good example; since it was for a very long time (certainly many hundreds, and perhaps a few thousand, years) regarded as something like 'the holiest ground in England' - a place of religious importance from prehistoric times, site of the first Christian settlement, continuously Christain through Roman, Celtic and Saxon times into the Norman Connquest; and at times the most important abbey in England (and the tomb of King Arthur!).

Yet nowadays, in my judgement, Glastonbury has been substantially corrupted by the anti-Christian New Age movement, which is itself increasingly corrupted by commercialism and an exploitative attitude. The current legends of Glastonbury downplay almost to the point of denial that it is essentially a Christian site - and there is no significant living Christian presence in the town except for the ruins of the vast Abbey.

Perhaps the major US site of spiritual pilgrimage is Concord, Massachusetts (including Walden Pond) - home of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry Thoreau, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Louisa May Alcott. I have been twice, and as of 1998 it still retained much of the 19th century Transcendentalist character.

However, as I have been following the development of the place on-line and in magazines it is apparent that in Concord there has been a near-complete takeover by mainstream 'Liberal' secular perspectives - with a selective focus on issues imported from modern (pseudo-) environmentalism, civil rights, feminism and the rest of it.

This kind of thing is a characteristic of modern institutions, which are all 'converging' onto the same Establishment socio-political agenda of New Leftism, including especially the sexual revolution. Much the same happened in the USSR - where all organisations were merely variations on the theme of communism. All organisations were bureaucratised, and all the bureaucracies became linked-to and driven by the same system tax and corporate subsidies and legal coercions.

We cannot any longer avail ourselves of traditional sources of spiritual nourishment and connection. At best, we may find the spirit in the buildings and landscape of a place, rather than in the human institutions. A good example is Oxford; where the university is not merely corrupted by secular Leftism - but one of the major international sources of this blight. Yet the buildings and cityscape can inspire, and there are individuals and small groups in the place which continue to do excellent work- and provide an unofficial, underground ('catacomb') spirituality.

The consequence is that now we must find and make our own places of pilgrimage and/ or  spiritual connection. This is a spiritual Quest which each can undertake for himself.

What are we looking for in this Quest? Well, it is a combination of the place itself, and the feelings and concepts which that place evokes in us; and the positive outcome is in our primary thinking or 'final participation'.

In other words, a combination of our inner motivation and the place itself is found (by experience) to enable the emergence of our real self, and stimulate us to a mode of thinking and being which is (experientially) found to be enhanced in power and scope - spontaneously insightful and creative because coming from god-within-us.

If we embark on such a Quest, we can expect on the one hand that we will need to be motivated, active and with a correct attitude in order to get anywhere; and equally we can expect that spiritual help will be forthcoming when we will benefit from it or have need.

Such help may be in the positive and validating form of synchronicities and everyday miracles when we are on-the-right-lines; and the deterrence of 'bad luck' and blockages to progress when we are off-track.   

In conclusion, there are still sacred places worthy of pilgrimage, but we will probably need to find these for ourselves, by trial-and-error - and what works for someone else may not work for you...

Thus you will probably need to find your own and personal equivalent of Glastonbury, Concord or Oxford...

Saturday, 18 November 2017

Albion Set Apart

For those who believe in God everything in the world is a sign pointing to him and to the way he works. It’s a fallen world so not everything is a perfect sign but still we can read symbolic significance into nature and its parts. The four elements obviously have symbolic value and are a clue to something beyond themselves, and the same is true for the sun and the moon, the wind, the sea, the eagle, the lion and so much else. Creation is a book which when you learn how to read it points straight at its Creator and gives you an insight into his mind.

With that thought might we consider that the physical position of countries has some bearing on the role they are intended to play? Before I try to answer that let me say that I do believe many countries have divine destinies. Perhaps all countries do to a certain extent but some do to a large extent. Their role is to bring something new into the world, an attitude to life, a mode of relating to the world, focus on a particular divine characteristic, even a quality of consciousness. We can think of Indian metaphysics, Egyptian religion, Greek philosophy, Italian art and those are just some of the more obvious examples which don’t exclude the contribution of other countries and cultures in those fields.  Seemingly at certain historic periods a group of souls in a particular place acts as a kind of conduit between this world and the higher ones and grounds qualities of truth that take humanity as a whole forwards.

So does the fact that Great Britain is detached from Europe (you could say in it but not of it) and at the far west of the continent mean anything? Was it meant to be a land set apart, in some sense a country not quite of this world? It has not been much like that for the last 2,000 years since the Roman conquest brought it into the wider world but there are grounds for thinking it was perceived along those lines in classical times. It was supposed to be where the druids had their most important sanctuaries and a mysterious island hidden behind gleaming white cliffs. It was just beyond the known world and had the aura of somewhere rather strange and enigmatic.

You might point out that Albion may have been perceived as otherworldly from the outside but life for its inhabitants would presumably have been more or less the same as life anywhere else. Perhaps, but  I remember as a boy reading a book called Guardians of the Forest by J.E. Hood, an author whom I've not heard of elsewhere. The book was about the first Roman invasion of Britain by Julius Caesar and the country it depicted was slightly magical, almost as if there was still a connection to non-physical realms that had been lost in more civilized parts of the world.  The otherworld could sometimes be glimpsed just behind this one.  Some spiritual teachings describe a gradual hardening of the environment over time as the world becomes more material and primitive contact with higher dimensions is lost. The Guardians of the book’s title are people who still have something of that contact which gives them, amongst other things,  a benign power over animals. They protect the country and succeed in driving the Romans out though, of course, it is only a temporary victory. The Guardians know they are the last of their kind and that they will soon disappear. Their role as custodians of the land is nearly over. The modern world is arriving.

What I am saying is that it is possible that Britain’s physical location has some significance. The country has a purpose that requires it to be in some degree isolated. This would explain the fact that many people who want Britain to leave the E.U. can’t really define their reasons in a straightforward pragmatic/rationalistic way.  A lot of them know that economically Great Britain might be worse off but still there is this sense of needing to separate the country from something that is antithetical to its destiny. It is intuition that tells us this. The people that favour Britain remaining in the E.U. usually lack this imaginative connection to something deeper than the material world. They cannot understand it and when they suspect its presence they often dislike it and try to tar it with the brush of stupidity, ignorance and prejudice. Sometimes they may be right but underneath all that there is something else which is the knowledge that Albion has a mission and that mission requires it to be true to itself.

Sometimes when I have travelled in certain parts of Britain I have felt this connection to the otherworld. This is particularly the case in the West Country and the Highlands of Scotland though I am not saying it is restricted to those places. That is just my experience. Nor am I saying it is restricted to Great Britain. Of course it’s not. Everywhere has places like that. But when we talk of Albion this is what we mean. A connection to higher dimensions of being within the country. And it is by aligning ourselves with the spirit behind these places that we can help to bring Albion back into the outer world. Reawaken the sleeping Arthur you might say.

Countries are real. Albion is real and it has a part to play. Some of the nature of its role is indicated by its geographical location and it is up to its inhabitants to look within themselves and also within their land for a way in which they can help Albion come into expression and give the world the gift it has to offer.  This is no call to a shallow nationalism, other countries have their own tasks, possibly the supreme example being Israel, but there is a reason for the fact that Albion has been slightly set apart. It is the trustee of something precious which it has a duty to protect and uphold, and then bring out into the world for the benefit of all.

Thursday, 16 November 2017

The insanity of Blake as co-opted by radical Leftist atheists!

The above (linked) nonsense is - I judge - typical of the way that William Blake is understood and taught nowadays - in a culture that has so completely and vehemently rejected Blake's mystical Christian metaphysics - and so fully adopted a this-worldly metaphysics of atheism, materialism and socialism - as to render the reality of Blake all-but invisible!

Interestingly, this way of ultra-selectively reading Blake dates back to Jacob 'Ascent of Man' Bronowski's 'Man without a Mask 1944 study. Bronowski was himself a prominent atheist humanist and internationalist communist in politics (at this time of his life, anyway).

What is interesting to me is the way in which metaphysics - that is, a person's fundamental assumptions regarding the nature of reality - functions in a manner identical with insanity; in the sense that the presumptions shape reality to such an extreme extent that a writer who almost continuously talks of Jesus, angels, and the spiritual - who writes again and again of Albion in the most mystical and prophetic fashion, can be seen as primarily a proto-socialist, dedicated to socio-political revolution on the lines approved by modern Leftists!

Blake a revolutionary - Yes, of course! A political revolutionary atheist/ materialist Leftist - of course Not!

As an antidote - here is a long excerpt from Blakes prophetic poem Milton - spoken by the Milton character - prophetically of the horrors of exactly the rationaism, reductionism, and scientism that was s eloquently advocated by Jacob Bronowski (among many - far less eloquent - others!).

Take note, particularly, of his account of the 'idiot Questioner' - who sounds like the typical mainstream modern Establishment politician/ journalist/ professor - close-kin to the author of the Socialist Review article:

The negation is the Spectre, the Reasoning Power in Man:
This is a false Body, an Incrustation over my Immortal
Spirit, a Selfhood which must be put off and annihilated alway.

To cleanse the Face of my Spirit by self-examination,

To bathe in the waters of Life, to wash off the Not Human,        
I come in Self-annihilation and the grandeur of Inspiration;
To cast off Rational Demonstration by Faith in the Saviour,
To cast off the rotten rags of Memory by Inspiration,
To cast off Bacon, Locke, and Newton from Albion’s covering,
To take off his filthy garments and clothe him with Imagination;        

To cast aside from Poetry all that is not Inspiration,

That it no longer shall dare to mock with the aspersion of Madness
Cast on the Inspirèd by the tame high finisher of paltry Blots
Indefinite or paltry Rhymes, or paltry Harmonies,
Who creeps into State Government like a caterpillar to destroy;        

To cast off the idiot Questioner, who is always questioning,

But never capable of answering; who sits with a sly grin
Silent plotting when to question, like a thief in a cave;
Who publishes Doubt and calls it Knowledge; whose Science is Despair,
Whose pretence to knowledge is Envy, whose whole Science is        
To destroy the wisdom of ages, to gratify ravenous Envy
That rages round him like a Wolf, day and night, without rest.

He smiles with condescension; he talks of Benevolence and Virtue,

And those who act with Benevolence and Virtue they murder time on time.
These are the destroyers of Jerusalem! these are the murderers        
Of Jesus! who deny the Faith and mock at Eternal Life,
Who pretend to Poetry that they may destroy Imagination
By imitation of Nature’s Images drawn from Remembrance.

These are the Sexual Garments, the Abomination of Desolation,

Hiding the Human Lineaments, as with an Ark and Curtains        
Which Jesus rent, and now shall wholly purge away with Fire,
Till Generation is swallow’d up in Regeneration.

or ?

Tuesday, 14 November 2017

The Jerusalem Suite

Looking back on my recent posts, I see I have referenced William Blake's Jerusalem on numerous occasions. Why this should be, I am not sure, but it has prompted me to return imaginatively to my childhood and the first time I encountered those veil-piercing lines.

It was July 1982, three weeks or so before our seven years at primary school ended. Seven years is a lifetime when you're a kid. I never thought, deep down, that I'd ever actually leave St. Catherine's. I knew in theory that one day I'd walk through those big green gates and never go back, but I simply couldn't believe in that day's reality. It didn't feel real. In my heart, I mean. I was too wedded to the place - the classrooms, the corridors, the library, the playground - the mise en scéne to so much childhood drama and adventure. More than anything, I felt emotionally bound to my peers - my companions, my comrades, my brothers and sisters in study and sport. I had no siblings of my own, and it upset me that my 'school family' would soon no longer come together under the same roof. September would see us all packed off to High School - the boys to St. Mark's, the girls to The Hollies, with interlopers from other South Manchester primaries - St. Cuthbert's, St. Kentigern's, etc - disturbing the unity and esprit de corps forged through more than half a decade of shared experience.

It was with some sadness then, that I contemplated the annual school concert, scheduled as always for the last Wednesday of term. The concert ran - year in year out - for an hour and a half. The orchestra played (including myself as a second violin) and the choir (of which I wasn't a member) sang. The programme was varied - theatre, spoken word, reminiscences from former pupils and a distribution of leaving certificates from the Bishop of Salford himself.

Every year, right at the end, the leavers would perform a special farewell piece. Twelve months before, we had been treated to the Daniel Jazz, ten minutes of bouncy choral speech recounting the story of Daniel in the lion's den. My year's offering (chosen by our Head of Year, Mrs. Elms) was shorter but possibly even more dramatic - the sixteen lines of Jerusalem in the setting made famous by Sir Hubert Parry, with piano accompaniment from our music teacher, Mr. Clarke.

I had neither heard nor read Jerusalem before. We ran through it for the first time in the School Hall on a sun-kissed Thursday morning. Ours was a humble little Hall, not much more than a wooden floor with a piano in one corner and a statue of Our Lady in the other. Mr. Clarke - a slim, sandy-haired chap - strode in, I remember, through the far doors, sat down at the piano and started to play. 'Morning all,' he hailed us, chipper as always. 'Just sing along with me for now please. As loud and clear as you like.' I picked up one of the lyric sheets he had left on the benches (which he expected us to stand on for what he called 'full-bodied amplification') and was instantly astonished. Before I'd even sung a note I'd turned to the lad next to me, Pat Finn, and whispered, 'This is great. This is what life's all about.' 

I was right about that. Jerusalem was a joy to sing. It really was. Our raw but eager voices boomed, echoed and rebounded around the Hall, bringing (for myself at least) a marked sense of release, of vast spaces - inner and outer - opening up. The melody's dignified, gently rousing lilt soothed and settled my mind while triggering a powerful longing for a depth and quality of being - both individual and collective - which I suddenly and starkly realised I'd wished for more than anything else throughout my young life but had so far only partially experienced, if at all.

Blake's fantastic words - the molten lava of his language - 'countenance divine', 'clouded hills', 'burning gold' - had a poetic and spiritual potency which I had encountered in only a very few places - the Narnia books mainly, plus Roger Lancelyn Green's retellings of Greek, Norse, Egyptian and Arthurian legends. Mrs. Elms, to be fair, had told a few good stories in this mould too. She was from the West Country and had often held forth about Joseph of Arimathea and how he'd brought the Holy Grail to Glastonbury and planted his staff on Wearyall Hill, bringing forth the miraculous thorn tree which flowers every year on Christmas Day. All these tales played a pivotal role in my life, giving me that mythic, archetypal sustenance which the somewhat desacralised, post-Vatican II Catholicism of my youth believed the world no longer needed. 

I was ready for Jerusalem, in other words, and when we sang it that morning it felt like I was coming home - to myself, to God, and to my friends - to that wider mystery I had always dimly perceived and had reached out for through both my reading and my yearning for camaraderie - a double-edged quest for a 'Round Table', if you like - all through my time at St. Catherine's.

'I will not cease from mental fight,' we sang, and the sun smashed through the windows, transforming the Hall into a golden bowl of warmth and light. I've always had a vivid imagination, it's true, but I swear at that moment I heard a voice in my ear. An old man's voice. Foreign. East European or Middle-Eastern. 'Before you leave this school,' it said, 'you will see the Holy Grail.' I was so shocked that I missed the next line - 'nor shall my sword sleep in my hand' - but made sure I was back on track for the last two - 'till we have built Jerusalem, in England's green and pleasant land.' It felt, all of a sudden, like a matter of life and death that I should sing those two lines loud and well. If someone had asked me why, I could only have replied, 'the old man expects it of me.' But who that old man was and why he had spoken to me, I had no idea at all.


There was a violin teacher who wasn't employed by the school but came in to give individual lessons to pupils who expressed an interest. One of those pupils was me - not, if I'm honest, because I had any huge enthusiasm for the violin but because my Mum and Dad were keen for me to learn an instrument. They saw it as a badge of distinction and a distinguishing mark for myself as a working class boy in a largely middle class school. 

Miss Corcoran was the teacher's name. She was calm and grave, and though her name was Irish, like mine and many of my colleagues, she was actually Welsh - from Caernarfon - not far from the Castle, she said - and her voice was as musical as the instrument she taught. She was a smallish woman with  brown straight hair and big silver earrings like hoops. Her eyes were brown and wide, her face as round as the sun in the sky, and the dresses and skirts she wore, unless my memory deceives me, were always blue or gold. She sometimes wore a headband too - usually green or purple but now and again white or pink.

Miss Corcoran's lessons were a definite boon as they gave you twenty minutes out of the classroom every week. I liked the little lamp-lit music room at the end of the corridor too and felt at home in her company. She exuded in her voice and bearing a watchful, unspoken spirituality, and I came over time (two school years) to see her as something of a kindred spirit. 

My allocated time that particular year was twenty past two on a Monday afternoon, just before the afternoon break. I also recall that for reasons which now escape me I gave up 'private' tuition as soon as I went to St. Mark's. My lesson on the last Monday of term, therefore, two days before our concert, was the last one I ever had.

It was a damp and drizzly afternoon. Miss Corcoran sat facing me, as usual, on her three-legged stool. Rain rapped on the roof and trickled down the round windowpane behind her head. I can't remember the music we were playing but will never, ever forget Miss Corcoran saying about half-way through:

'I'm looking forward to Wednesday night, John. Mr. Clarke tells me you're singing Jerusalem. Is that right?'

'Yes, miss.'

Do you like it?'

'I do, Miss, it's ace. It's the best song I've ever heard and I love singing it with the others.'

'Why?' she asked, leaning forward. 'What makes you love it?'

'I don't know, Miss. I feel real when I sing it. That's all. And I never feel real anywhere else, except in the playground or when I'm reading.'

Miss Corcoran's wide eyes widened some more. Encouraged, I carried on: 'I feel in tune with myself when I sing it, Miss. With who I really am, I mean. Deep down inside.'

Miss Corcoran nodded, grinned, adjusted her purple headband and stood up, her eyes fixed on my violin and bow. 'It makes me feel close to God as well,' I added in a quieter voice. 'Close to God and close to my friends.'

I expected her to say something in reply but all she did was point with her eyes to the instrument in my hands. 'Let me play it for you,' she said, and I handed her the violin and bow. Without further ado she started to play. Jerusalem, of course. And for the second time that fortnight I was astonished beyond measure. 

She looked different. That was the first thing. Miss Corcoran usually played in the classical style, the violin jutting out from her chin at 90°. But a Gaelic fiddler stood before me now - violin slung low beneath her chin, bow clasped loosely in her hand. The tune was the same as the one I'd come to know. I recognised where the words went - 'And did those feet ...', etc. The feel of it was Celtic though, but hard to pin down. It felt like a lament in many ways, but one that was wild, exultant and savage all at once, its sadness caught, held, and taken up into a wide-ranging, all-embracing harmony and pattern - a visionary, healing tapestry of music.

Miss Corcoran played, I listened, and the fixtures and fittings around us - the stools, the piano, the lamp, the music stands - began mysteriously to blur, slide and fade. I rubbed my eyes but their solidity did not return. They wobbled and wavered, grew bigger, then smaller, then vanished altogether, leaving me in a new and very strange setting.

It was night and I was standing with a great throng of people around a roaring, leaping fire. The fiddler played on ('bring me my bow of burning gold') but out of sight now. I looked up. The stars were out in force. I picked out Cassiopeia and Arthur's Wain pinpoint bright against the inky sky. The air was cold and the warmth of the blaze welcome. Everyone was jostling towards it. I recognised a few faces - a couple of fellow-pupils - Billy Prince and Kath McQueen - one or two parents and even the odd teacher. But it wasn't the people around me that compelled my attention. It was the fire itself. I hustled my way to the front to see it more clearly. Everyone else just wanted to keep warm - rubbing their hands and turning up their collars - and that was fine, but I had seen something in the fire, something odd, something no-one else seemed to have spotted - figures moving about in the flames, little black silhouettes, about a score of them, at the heart and centre of the blaze.

Jerusalem was still going, at the line 'bring me my spear', but I'd lost track of time and wasn't sure if that was as far as Miss Corcoran (if it was still Miss Corcoran) had got to or whether she was playing it over and over in a loop. I concentrated on the fire itself - a mighty curtain of heat and light - and the more I looked the more I saw, like I was watching a film - forms coming into focus and a story taking shape. People in cloaks and hoods were walking up a hill and at the top of the hill was a great tower. Their leader was old and bent and walked with a stick but moved nonetheless with purpose, direction and speed. The woman behind him held something bright and quivering in her hands - some kind of jewel, I thought - but it was hidden in the folds of her cloak and I couldn't be fully sure.

The old man stopped at the tower, stretched out his right arm and touched it with his hand. As he did so he planted his stick into the ground and straightaway I was transported to another place.


At first I thought I thought I was back where I'd started, in the little music room at school. This room was similar in size and shape, but that, I swiftly realised, was the only resemblance. It was a chapel of some sort, with six wooden pews in front of me, three each side of a central aisle of roughened stone. Seven tall candlesticks burned on the altar, which was also made of stone and built into the back wall. An aged priest in silver vestments stood facing it in silence. A blossoming tree, with leaves of orange, gold and green, illuminated the back of his chausible. Miss Corcoran, to my amazement, was standing to his right, minus her headband, and wearing a white alb with a yellow sun emblazoned on the front. But in her hands she held something brighter than both the candles and the sun - a luminous globe, constantly changing colour - from gold to silver to bronze and back again. The object's contours were concealed by its radiance and I couldn't tell exactly what it was - a chalice, a jewel, a plate or a bowl. But whatever it was, it filled the space - every square inch of it - with gold; a joyful, celebratory gold, which warmed and inspired my heart and mind, just as Jerusalem had stirred my soul so potently the day we first ran through it in the School Hall. 

As soon as the hymn flashed into my head, I heard it again and realised it had been there ever since I'd come into that place, though up till that moment, for some reason, I hadn't been aware. It was a choir now, male and female voices singing with verve, passion and skill. I had no idea where they were. The sound seemed to come from all around, ringing and echoing through the room. 

'Till we have built Jerusalem,' they sang, and the priest turned and bowed to Miss Corcoran as she handed him the Holy Thing. 'In England's green and pleasant land,' they concluded with a mighty  gust of triumph and hope. And then there was silence, the priest standing before the altar again and Miss Corcoran kneeling beside him. I knelt down too and waited. Something stupendous was about to occur. I longed for it and was sure of it. The priest lifted the Grail (for surely that's what it was) high above his head and held it there for a long time. Miss Corcoran bowed down almost to the ground, but I kept my head up - watching, waiting, hoping. I expected a bell or a gong at least but nothing happened at all. The priest muttered a few words in a language I couldn't understand and that was it. I thought I'd copy Miss Corcoran and bow my head and close my eyes in the hope the miraculous would feel compelled to appear, but disappointment was already setting in and I began to feel tired in mind and body. Weary to the bone, in fact.

Maybe I fell asleep, or maybe I was already asleep and simply woke from a dream, because the next thing I knew someone was tapping on my shoulder with a stick. I opened my eyes and saw that it wasn't a stick but my violin bow. Miss Corcoran, wearing her usual clothes again, stood above me with my violin in her left hand and my bow in her right. Raindrops trickled down the round  windowpane still, but there was high cloud and patches of blue sky now, as a shy, streaky sun splashed the music room with soft summer sunlight.

I was still kneeling down. I felt silly and embarrassed and stood up straightaway. Miss Corcoran smiled and tapped me with the bow again, this time on the other shoulder. 'Well done,' she said quietly, though her words were speech no more but song. 'You are a storyteller and a poet. Like calls unto like; deep calls unto deep. The Great Hymn called and you responded, like the Samaritan woman who encountered Christ at Jacob's Well.'

No-one had ever spoken to me like that before. Such things just couldn't be true. I shook my head sadly. 'I've a vivid imagination, Miss. That's all. Everyone says so.'

'Not so,' sung Miss Corcoran, shaking her head in turn. 'You will be a bard one day and sing your song at the appointed hour. I know it and swear it. I saw it in the music.'

The rain had stopped altogether. Absolute silence reigned. I held her eyes with mine. 'What was it, Miss?' I whispered. 'What happened?'

'That,' she replied, 'was The Jerusalem Suite.'

'The Jerusalem Suite?' I repeated. 'But what do you mean? What's the Suite? The music or the room?'

'Both,' she answered and undid her headband, letting it fall to the ground. Her hair fell down around her face and the sun streamed in through the window, circling her head with a halo of light which bathed the piano, stools, lamp, music stands and purple headband at my feet with the same warm, generous glow I'd seen suffuse every square inch of space in The Jerusalem Suite. I saw the glory of the Grail reflected in her eyes and wanted to ask a question about the old priest and tell her as well that a voice had told me I'd see the Grail before school ended. Was it Joseph of Arimathea himself then - as in Mrs. Elms' story - who'd spoken to me and who I'd seen in the heart of the blaze and in front of the altar? 

Maybe it was, but I was young and confused and easily daunted. It's one thing when you're eleven years old to curl up in front of the fire and lose yourself in paperback myths and legends, quite another when the Grail Maiden, or one very like her, steps out of the book and into the pages of your own life. I dropped my gaze and mumbled something inconsequential - don't ask me what, I've deliberately forgotten - but whatever it was it wasn't the question I wanted to ask. I'm not sure how our conversation ended either, but when I closed the door behind me and looked down the corridor -  ablaze from end to end with bars and shafts of golden sun - I understood that a door had shut on me in more ways than one. The bell rang for afternoon break and I knew that the moment had gone and I could never go back. I can't recall now if this filled me with sadness or relief or a mixture of both.


I saw Miss Corcoran at the concert, of course, and she smiled, shook my hand and said well done. But her congratulations were lost in a welter of back-slapping and hair-ruffling. We had sung beautifully, apparently, but the whole thing had fallen a bit flat for me, if I'm honest. And in truth, how could it have been anything other than an anti-climax after such an epiphany just two days before?

People, I recall, were pouring out of the Hall into the warm summer night. Not all at once though. As happened every year, some (mainly pupils) made a quick getaway while others (mainly parents) lingered. So that's how I came to be standing in the playground with a group of close friends - Pat Finn, Billy Prince, Kath McQueen, Harry Hanrahan and Cara O'Toole - all waiting for our folks. I had given up on the miraculous and was happy just to enjoy the chit-chat.

'We should all stand in a line when school ends on Friday,' said Cara, stretching out her arms, 'and bow down together and kiss the playground.'

'Definitely,' I assented. 'Let's do it.' I was impressed. That was exactly the kind of thought I could and maybe should have had myself. 

From where I was stood I could see past the gates and onto the street. I spotted the Bishop, still in his mitre and robes, getting into a big car and disappearing into the night. Then I looked up. I hadn't noticed before how laden the sky was with stars. There, just above Cara's head, was Orion, there Cassiopeia, and there Arthur's Wain.

I tuned back into the conversation. Kath was suggesting that we buy the teachers presents. Harry agreed while Pat demurred. I wasn't sure myself, but then the extraordinary burst in and I heard the old man's voice again, loud and clear, but in my heart this time, not my ear, right at the core of my being. 

'All true desires find their home,' he said. 'You must go your separate ways now and live and learn but you will be reunited at the appointed hour, all with your roles to play, when the waters break and the song is sung and the Grail is seen again and the High Tree of Albion blossoms into flame.'

Those, I perceived intuitively, were the words he had spoken in The Jerusalem Suite that I hadn't been able to understand. Those words should, I suppose, have given me sustenance and support throughout my life, but for many years after that night, until about half-way through my time at University, I found them more of a burden than a blessing. I hurtled through one experience after another, wishing and hoping that the 'appointed hour' would come at once so I could experience a supernatural thrill to go with all the other thrills one searches for at that age.

Then, in my twenties and thirties, I switched tack and wrote The Jerusalem Suite off as wish-fulfilment and the product of an over-heated imagination. I don't know why, but I don't think that way any more. Nor do I think about it the way I did as a teenager. Both stances seem simplistic and naive to me now. Things like this take time, you see. They can't be rushed. It's not for us to force the pace, not for us to know the times and seasons. Our role is to watch, wait, work, pray, and hold the flame  aloft in a dark time. We are the lantern bearers - the watchers in the tower - the golden builders of Jerusalem. We hold in our hands the seeds of an all-encompassing renaissance - social, political, cultural and religious.

I'm coming to see that it's only when we're engaged at this level - living from the core and centre of our being - that a true Round Table can be built and a meaningful connection established with the Divine and with those around us. From there, all things become possible - renewal, restoration, healing and rejuvenation. Space is created and the the secret voice is heard, listened to and acted on. The bells peal, the gong sounds, and the waters flow down onto the land, bringing fertility back to the barren places, illuminating hearts and minds, and filling the whole wide world with gold - a warm and generous glow, joyful and celebratory.

A person's life, in its innermost essence, is a quest for the Holy Grail - a voyage to the centre and a journey to Jerusalem. The Heavenly City will only appear, however, when we are ready and when the time is right. The dawn cannot be rushed. It comes at its own pace - when it's meant to and when it's most needed. At the appointed hour. The darkest hour. In the silence and the stillness of the night.


Note - It has taken me over a month to write this piece. In that time both Bruce Charlton and William Wildblood have published posts which bear directly on its subject matter. I'm unable to provide links unfortunately but the relevant posts are William's The British Myth (Friday November 3rd) and Bruce's Blake, Albion, Jerusalem and the Nature of Prophecy (Wednesday October 18th). Both these posts can be read in conjunction with the above and both shed great light on these eternally fecund themes which continue to inspire and engage all of us following in Blake's footsteps  - working and praying for a spiritual rebirth in this land.

St. Joseph of Arimathea, pray for England.