Thursday, 20 July 2017

Heddon Hill and Ingram church - John Michell semi-vindicated

On a recent walk I looked again at Heddon Hill in the Breamish Valley, Cheviot Hills, Northumberland:

As you can see, there are very striking terraces on the left of the hill, and these are partly obscured by later vertical ridge-and-furrow ploughing in the middle section - better seen here:

These markings are described on the OS Map and in guide books as 'cultivation' ridges - with varying estimates of age; from medieval right back to pre-Roman... who knows, the hill hasn't been excavated (and such excavations usually show features to be much older than expected, sometimes by thousands of years).

Looking at the 'terraces' I thought of the appearance of Glastonbury Tor and its 'terraces' - or as some - including John Michell - would have it... Ceremonial Labyrinth.



Could the distinct terraces on Heddon Hill actually represent the remains of a labyrinthine path? Ascending to some 'temple' at the summit? 

Michell's idea was that such features were often dedicated to a pagan deity whose identity was replaced by the angel St Michael; thus the ruined tower on Glastonbury Tor was from a St Michael's church. Michell then suggests that prominent sites dedicated to St Michael formed a straight line alignment (a Ley Line; some kind of energy flow, supposedly) across England:



Well, with such thoughts swirling; I was surprised to find that the very nearby church in Ingram, in the Breamish Valley, was also St Michael (and all angels)... 'Perhaps' the church in the valley replaced the temple on the summit a few hundred yards away?

So we have several Michell-esque ingredients of an 'alignment' or Ley Line here! The next step would be to get out the maps, a pencil and a long straight edge. But I have not yet taken the matter any further...


Wittgenstein and Christianity, and his late corruption

I have been reading Ray Monk's biography of Ludwig Wittgenstein - and found the first part very useful and helpful; but had to stop reading soon after Wittgenstein's return to Cambridge in 1929 with his commencement on revising his earlier views expressed in the Tractatus Logico -Philosophicus (published in 1921)...

I had to stop reading because the corruption of Wittgenstein, and his malign effect on so many other people, became too painful to continue.

My understanding is that Wittgenstein was - until shortly after the 1914-18 world war - a deeply religious man who was on the verge of being fully Christian but never crossed that line; after this time his work was a massive, nihilistic rationalisation of his rejection of Christianity.

Metaphysics was at the root. In Tractatus, Wittgenstein wrote a primarily metaphysical book but made the error of assuming that logic was the basis of all philosophy; this he excluded metaphysics from philosophical communications (he continued, avidly, to speak about metaphysics outwith his philosophical work); not because it was unimportant - quite the contrary, but because it was not part of logic.

In Tractatus Wittgenstein made an arbitrary but unjustifiable decision to assert that on the one hand logic could be apprehended by direct knowing ('seeing) but that metaphysics could not ('saying'); therefore he asserted that logic was communicable but not metaphysics.

But there is no reason why metaphysics could not be directly apprehended in exactly the same way that the basic, atomic propositions of logic can be apprehended; therefore there was no reason to exclude metaphysics. However, this was one point on which Wittgenstein became inflexible - he revised almost everything in his philosophical 'system' but not the exclusion of metaphysics.

For Wittgenstein - nothing knowable was really-real.

Thus Wittgenstein's proto-Christian religion was subverted; because Christianity became merely a psychological state. For example, he repeatedly said to many people that while he respected the Roman Catholic Church (in which he had been brought-up) he 'could not' believe all the necessary parts of doctrine.

Wittgenstein seems on the one had (by his repetition of it) to suppose he has said something profound here; yet also seems to be unaware that his personal inability (on a particular day) to believe in something is what is truly subjective; and that the proper question was whether or not that 'something' is true, is really-real!

(Who cares what Wittgenstein happens to think today about Transubstantiation? He often changes his mind! - The proper (metaphysical) question is whether Transubstantiation is a reality, or not? The exact answer 'yes' or 'no' is not (in my opinion) essential to being a Christian; but any Christian must regard this question as a matter of being about-reality, not of being about-individual-human-psychology.)

As a further, and deeper, example: Wittgenstein in his early life correctly recognised that true Christian loving-faith 'casteth out fear'. He was deeply fascinated by accounts which showed that deeply faithful Christians were not worried about the future, about what 'might happen'...

He saw that fear is, in a deep sense, the opposite of love: if we truly believe in the Christian God (creator, god of love, personally concerned by us his children) then there is no ultimate reason to fear anything.

But, Wittgenstein came to regard this 'fear' as a psychological state purely! When the proper understanding of evil-fear is a kind of existential angst; the fear that is cast-out by faith is not merely a human emotion (which in this mixed world is unlikely to conform to any ideal) but the ultimate assumptions concerning the nature of the world.

It is, most exactly, metaphysical fear which is cast out - it is the assumption that fear has a necessary place in our lives that is cast-out by Christian love, by faith in the loving-nature of a creator god.

Wittgenstein went from rejecting speaking about metaphysics in his early work (Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent." were the final words. The error is in the word must.); to rejecting all possibility of metaphysics in his later work - in which everything reduces to (current, evanescent) psychology, to therapy, to 'usefulness', to 'life' (to 'language games').

Wittgenstein made it impossible for himself to become a Christian; and thereby damned himself and everybody else who took him seriously and deeply. He also made many people (especially those closest to him) very miserable in this mortal life (and did not seem to apologise, repent or even notice the fact; unlike earlier in his life) - consistent with demonstrating that the exclusion of metaphysics does have distal consequences.

And that is why the second half of Wittgenstein's biography is too painful for me to read...


Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Leftism and Reason

A commenter on Bruce Charlton's blog objected to my statement in the last post that leftism is a rational ideology according to its own materialistic bias. He thinks it is fundamentally unreasonable. I don't disagree. I did say it was often held by people whose beliefs were based on what they wanted to believe, and my use of the word ‘ideology’ was also meant to imply disapproval. I see ideologies as intellectual constructions bearing little or no relationship to reality. The world has no need for ideologies formed by theorists with spiritually desiccated minds such as Karl Marx or any number of minor 20th and 21st century academics.

But what I meant was the difficulty of arguing purely rationally against leftism from within the framework it has set up for itself and which now seems to be increasingly accepted. From a more universal framework it's not hard to argue against at all, but if you accept the absolute materialism of the leftist there are readymade assumptions built into that which tend to be self-supporting for the leftist thesis.

Of course, materialism is irrational as I have written here, and I certainly was not saying that leftism is rational in any true sense. It's clearly not. In my view it derives from the rebellion against, first, natural authority, and then, and ultimately, God and the idea of being a creature. Reason for the leftist is pressed into service to support his prejudices, but if you accept the boundaries of the artificial world he has created then reason alone might not be enough to get you out.

If only leftists were honest about their motivations but they're not. It all goes back to the first one in the Garden of Eden who preached equality (ye shall be as gods) but only in order to destroy true hierarchy so that he might establish a new and false one, an inverted one in fact. He's still up to his old tricks, using apparently rational argument to promote them. It's only when we go beyond reason that we can fully see through them.

Sunday, 16 July 2017

The Overturning of the Natural Order

The Western world is being destroyed by the overturning of the natural order. This is being achieved by such linked phenomena as atheism, materialism, feminism, mass immigration, blurring of sexual difference, erosion of quality and value and denial of transcendence. To those who can see beneath the surface this is clearly being masterminded by supernatural powers but it is eagerly embraced by many people who seek power for themselves or destruction of the traditional Good. These people are often motivated by hatred and resentment but hide that behind fine sounding slogans to do with freedom, equality, love and the like. Unfortunately none of these have any true meaning if they are not seen as part of a world ruled by God. That is, they cannot stand alone. They need to be embedded in and derived from something beyond them to be real. Otherwise they become caricatures of themselves, worldly imitations of spiritual realities.

So this ongoing destruction is initiated by unseen powers and put into operation by their earthly followers who respond to what you might call dark inspiration usually because of a perverted will based on a rebellion against perceived authority. But it is also acquiesced to by many people who have no firm roots in anything themselves but who go along with whichever way the wind blows for the sake of an easy life and a share of whatever earthly goods might be on offer. The reluctance to give up the perceived benefits of the sexual revolution is another important factor. Where young people are concerned there is also the matter of a naive idealism which is a more developed form of the "It's not fair" complaint of a child, and which leads them, often with the best of motivations, to join in the overturning of traditional structures with no idea of the real consequences of what they are doing.

The fundamental problem is this.  The West is going along with, even instigating, its own destruction because of self-hatred on the one hand and loss of confidence and general lack of concern with what is right on the other. This clearly shows a culture that has come to the end of its time and a conclusion might be that the West is dying and there is not much point in trying to resist that.

But I don't agree. Yes, it may well be dying and we should not expect any sudden resurrection but that is no reason to go quietly. We should not meekly accept this destruction but stand against it, not with the hope of preventing it but with the aim of providing a beacon to all those being dragged down who might be desperately searching for some kind of light in the darkness that surrounds them.

The West was (not exclusively but largely) formed by Christianity. Its rejection of Christianity has left it spiritually high and dry and that has been taken advantage of by, I have to say, forces of evil who seek spiritual destruction.  Hence the situation we have today with all the anti-spiritual ideologies we are surrounded by which can only lead us to a kind of nihilism. These ideologies can be grouped together under the broad umbrella term of 'the left', the real agenda of which has always been the destruction of religion though it is happy to have tamed versions of religion existing if these have adopted its core principles over and above their spiritual aspect which is now seen in the light of those principles. Thus many versions of Christianity have been 'liberalised' and today would not be able to make such standard traditional statements as the expression of homosexuality is a spiritual error, woman should be the helpmate of man rather than his equal in all things (meaning equal in terms of function not worth) and mass immigration destroys the spiritual cohesion of a nation, without being described (and mocked) as 'extremist'.

The great difficulty for a traditional conservative thinker nowadays is this. We live in an age that worships reason and thinks it is the highest faculty we have. A spiritual person knows that is nonsense but cannot prove it to someone who cannot see it because that person lacks, or denies themselves, the wherewithal to do so. I personally believe this is often a matter of will not intellect which compounds the problem. The materialist wants to believe what he does thus doing the very thing he accuses the religious person of doing, a common phenomenon.

So many things are known, by common sense, instinct, intuition, faith, tradition, call it what you will, that cannot be rationally proved because reason belongs to the material as opposed to the spiritual world. It is phenomenally based and cannot go unaided beyond that. It stops at the doorway to spiritual reality. And this is why the traditional right is always on the back foot against the left. The left is a rationally constructed ideology. It has no basis in truth, in what fundamentally is, but it is reasonable, logical and even right according to the materialistic parameters it has set up and in which it operates. Any version of the right that accepts those parameters, and most seem to today, has lost the battle before it starts. If those parameters apply then there is no rational argument against the left. Of course they don't apply, and reality is reality so there is always an argument against them but it is intuitive and founded on spiritual truth. You can't prove it or even argue it within the limitations of the world the left has constructed for itself.

Therefore I say that if Albion (or anywhere else) is to awaken from its current spiritual stupor it must reject reason. Don't be alarmed. I'm not suggesting a retreat to irrational behaviour. I am saying that it must reject the pre-eminence of reason. It must go beyond reason to imagination and inner vision. It must see that the square of this world doesn't exist by itself but is an expression of the cube of a higher one. At the very least it must return to common sense and instinct and an appreciation of the natural order. If we can't reach the spiritual just yet then at least let us recover the natural. The rational is no place to be.

Wednesday, 12 July 2017

Journey to the Centre of the Earth



I have been wanting to write an appreciation of C.S. Lewis's 1945 novel That Hideous Strength for some time. I have been unable, however, to approach the book in any kind of conventional manner. I am not sure why, but there it is. The words refuse to flow.

The Irish sportswriter and man of letters, Con Houlihan (1925-2012), always avoided the press box at the Gaelic Football and Hurling games he covered. He preferred to stand on the terraces, slightly apart from the crowd, in a corner of the paddock by himself. His reply, when asked about this, was that 'a poet should approach his subject matter from an oblique angle.' That Hideous Strength, to my mind, is such an indisputably great book, such a wild, rumbunctious, rough and tumble tale, shot through with fire and flair, that a review of my own to add to the million and one already written can never come close to capturing its singular essence. Only an oblique angle will suffice. But it isn't easy. I find it hard to even describe the novel's plot and basic themes. There's so much crammed into its pages - so much passion, drama and vision. You can't tame it. You'll be wrestling with thunder and lightning if you try.

The forces of evil - what St. Paul calls the 'principalities, powers, and rulers of the darkness of this world' - establish themselves in the sleepy university town of Edgestow under the guise of the National Institute for Coordinated experiments (NICE), a pseudo-scientific endeavour aimed ostensibly at eradicating disease and improving living standards. This cloaks its true goal, the abolition of humanity and its replacement by a disembodied artificial intelligence, wholly subordinate to the 'bent eldils' (fallen angels) who seek to keep men and women trapped in illusion and sin.

Opposing the NICE is the little community of St. Anne's on the Hill, an atmospheric, slightly rambling house and garden, brimming over with everything good - life, laughter, good conversation, honest toil, contemplative silence and serious thought. Presiding over this is Elwin Ransom, philologist turned interplanetary explorer, the hero of Lewis's previous 'space novels' Out of the Silent Planet (1937) and Perelandra (1940). Ransom, in his travels, has been honoured by the 'good eldils', angelic intelligences and servants of Maleldil (Christ), who inhabit the spheres of Mars, Venus and beyond, never ceasing to chip away at the blockade their corrupted brethren have set up around the Earth. Ransom is open and receptive to their influence, and it is his patience and humility, his willingness to wait, watch and listen for guidance when instant physical action seems the only sane thing to do, that ultimately makes the difference and saves mankind from slavery.

That Hideous Strength has been compared by many to the 'supernatural shockers' of Charles Williams, but the two names that spring to my mind are Dostoyevsky and Joyce. It has the spiritual intensity of the former and the linguistic panache of the latter. Take, for instance, Lewis's account of Jane's first meeting with Ransom:

Pain came and went in his face: sudden jabs of sickening and burning pain. But as lightning goes through the darkness and the darkness closes up again and shows no trace, so the tranquility of the countenance swallowed up each shock of torture. How could she have thought him young? Or old either? It came over her, with a sensation of quick fear, that this face was of no age at all. She had (or so she believed) disliked bearded faces except for old men with white hair. But that was because she had long since forgotten the imagined Arthur of her childhood - and the imagined Solomon too. Solomon - for the first time in many years the bright solar blend of king and lover and magician which hangs about that name stole back upon her mind. For the first time in all those years she tasted the word King itself with all linked associations of battle, marriage, priesthood, mercy, and power.

Or this - the descent of Jupiter to St. Anne's:

Upstairs his mighty beam turned the Blue Room into a blaze of lights. Before the other angels a man might sink: before this he might die, but if he lived at all, he would laugh. If you had caught one breath of the air that came from him, you would have felt yourself taller than before. Though you were a cripple, your walk would have become stately: though a beggar, you would have worn your rags magnanimously. Kingship and power and festal pomp and courtesy shot from him as sparks fly from an anvil. The pealing of bells, the blowing of trumpets, the spreading out of banners, are means used on earth to make a faint symbol of his quality. It was like a long sunlit wave, creamy-crested and arched with emerald, that comes on nine feet tall, with roaring and with terror and unquenchable laughter. It was like the first beginning of music in the halls of some King so high and at some festival so solemn that a tremor akin to fear runs through young hearts when they first hear it.

Lewis really lets himself go here. There is a bardic quality to the prose which the bourgeois conventions of the novelistic medium can barely contain. It struck me recently that certain passages towards the end of the book - the mayhemic 'Banquet at Belbury', the death of Feverstone in the earthquake, and the erotically-charged closing pages - represent exactly the kind of fiction that respectable opinion in 2017 would run a mile from. This, in my view, is entirely a good thing, redounding massively in Lewis's favour.

There is a freshness and vitality to his storytelling which seems lacking in British writing today, as well as in the country's wider spiritual and cultural life. The oft-cited decline in British Christianity, for example, is not primarily, as many claim, a crisis of faith. The high water mark of theological liberalism came and went a long time ago. There are plenty of believing Christians and a fair few pockets of energy and vigour across the denominations. The issue, rather, is one of integration and imagination. The Christian vision has lost its imaginative hold over the nation. What is required, therefore, I feel, is neither restoration nor modernisation, but deepening and reconnection. It is a matter of ressourcement - a return to the source - a rediscovery of the wellsprings of Divine inspiration within our own hearts, the heart of the land, and the heart of the Christian faith itself.

Engaging with That Hideous Strength would be a terrific start. No-one, surely, could read this book and persist in the atheist argument that Christianity is a mere crutch or comfort blanket and not, on the contrary, something shocking, scandalous and utterly thrilling that literally knocks one for six. In the words of Pope Benedict XVI, 'Christianity is not an intellectual system, a collection of dogmas or a moralism. Christianity is instead an encounter, a love story, an event.'

Part of this 'event' is the recognition that, as William Blake put it, 'everything that lives is holy.' Every person, every object, and every facet of the natural world is endowed and imbued with the Divine mystery. This is the meaning of sacramentalism - ordinary things transformed, made holy and given back to us alive with the light of God. This is what happens to Jane on her way back from the encounter with Ransom described above:

She saw from the windows of the train the outlined beams of sunlight pouring over stubble on burnished woods and felt that they were like the notes of a trumpet. Her eyes rested on the rabbits and cows as they flitted by and she embraced them in heart with merry, holiday love. She delighted in the occasional speech of the one wizened old man who shared her compartment and saw, as never before, the beauty of his shrewd and sunny old mind, sweet as a nut and English as a chalk down.

Without this 'eye of faith', this capacity to see the extraordinary in the ordinary, Christianity in this country will remain a dry and bureaucratic thing, ordered and respectable, unable to take flight and rise to the challenges of our time.

The final element is the land itself, the 'pleasant pastures', 'mountains green', and 'clouded hills' Blake evoked so powerfully in Jerusalem. There is a conspicuous absence in the UK, I think, of anything that might be called 'British Christianity.' None of the denominations, as far as I can see, seem interested in the powerhouse of mythic lore that animates our island and gives it such imaginative resonance and archetypal depth. There is no attempt to link the faith with the land and the aboriginal understanding that the land in itself (as Blake knew) is sacred and holy - qualitative not quantitative - hallowed ground, not a random collection of rivers, mountains and fields.

Despite the best efforts of Lewis, Tolkien, and one or two others, too many minds, on both sides of the divide, remain locked in a shallow Pagan v Christian dichotomy. They fail to see how Christianity relates to the mythic stream running beneath the surface of British history - how it builds on it and makes it complete. There is a vast reservoir of spiritual energy contemporary Christianity is missing out on here. Lewis, of course, makes no such mistake in That Hideous Strength, and this, I feel, is the book's key passage:

'It all began,' said Dr. Dimble, 'when we discovered that the Arthurian story is mostly true history. There was a moment in the Sixth Century when something that is always trying to break through into this country nearly succeeded. Logres was our name for it - it will do as well as another. And then gradually we began to see all English history in a new way. We discovered the haunting.'

'What haunting?' asked Camilla.

'How something we may call Britain is always haunted by something we may call Logres. Haven't you noticed that we are two countries? After every Arthur, a Mordred; behind every Milton, a Cromwell: a nation of poets, a nation of shopkeepers ... Is it any wonder they call us hypocrites? But what they mistake for hypocrisy is really the struggle between Logres and Britain.'

He paused and took a sip of wine before proceeding.

'It was long afterwards,' he said, 'after the Director had returned from the Third Heaven, that we were told a little more. This haunting turned out to be not only from the other side of the invisible wall. Ransom was summoned to the bedside of an old man then dying in Cumberland. His name would mean nothing to you if I told it. That man was the Pendragon, the successor of Arthur and Uther and Cassibelaun. Then we learned the truth. There has been a secret Logres in the very heart of Britain all these years: an unbroken succession of Pendragons. That old man was the seventy-eighth from Arthur: our Director received from him the office and the blessings; tomorrow we shall know, or tonight, who is the eightieth. Some of the Pendragons are well known to history, though not under that name. Others you have never heard of. But in every age they and the little Logres which gathered round them have been the fingers which gave the tiny shove or the almost imperceptible pull, to prod England out of the drunken sleep or to draw her back from the final outrage into which Britain tempted her.'

This, I believe, is our role and sacred mission in this land today - to find the keys to Logres, render her visible once more, and join hands with the Pendragon in his quest to awaken England and all this holy realm from her drunken sleep.

*******

'How can these things be?' Nicodemus asked Christ upon being told he must be born anew.

It's a question I often ask myself, counting down the hours at work, wondering if they'll notice if I take myself off the phones again and slip off to make a brew. My best bet, I decide, is to make one for everybody, so that's what I do. On my way back I notice a door that I've always seen closed standing slightly ajar. 'That's unusual,' I think. Once I've deposited the drinks I pop back. My head is sure that it's just a cleaning cupboard I haven't noticed before, but my heart keeps nagging at me, urging me to take a look. So I do, and find that both my heart and head are right. Yes, it is a cleaning cupboard, replete with all the stuff you'd expect to see - pails, buckets, detergents, etc. But my heart did not deceive me. There is indeed something more, right at the back, a spiral stone staircase, dimly lit, running down anti-clockwise.

I glance behind me. No-one watching. All locked onto their screens. I step into the cupboard, pull the door behind me, step over a mop and stand on the first step, looking down. I can't resist it. Anything to break up the morning. So down I go, intending to have a quick scout and come back up before I'm missed, but the further I go the more captivated I get, as if transported into some story or myth that feels more real, more true and more essential to who I really am than the upper world, which felt so imposing just a moment before but now seems thin and insubstantial in comparison.

The steps narrow as I descend. The further I go the more chipped and broken they become. Burning braziers lashed to the wall every twenty steps or so light the way. There's one to my left and one to my right and so on all the way down. Despite the momentary blast of heat as I pass them by, the air in the staircase is cool and fresh. I realise suddenly that I've no idea how long I've been going down for. Five years or forever, I've no idea at all. I look back up and see nothing but darkness. But there's a new smell in the air - fresh and wild and briny - like the sea, but it can't be, not here, not so far below the surface of the Earth.

The twists and turns of the stairway grow tighter. It's darker now. There are no more braziers. I reach out to the walls for support and my hands touch moss and lime. I glimpse a light ahead, creeping around the steps. Then it's all over. There's a rough, arch-shaped doorway, and I'm out of the staircase and onto a lamplit jetty, fresh air smacking against my cheeks and the cool blue light of early morning slanting into the cave through a gap in the rock to the right.

Straight ahead of me is a boat, a small coracle wobbling on the dark, shiny waters, its oars at rest and its sole inhabitant standing on her deck, looking right at me. Light shines from his person. I'm not sure if it's the lamps or an inner radiance of some kind. He's a big man with presence and charisma. His hair and beard are golden, and he's in a sweeping robe of blue with a silver circlet around his head. I walk towards him. It's hard to tell how old he is. He seems really young at first - about twenty - then really old - sixty-odd or more. I settle in the end for around forty. He holds out his hand and pulls me aboard. 'Welcome,' he says in rich and resonant tones. He sits down on a bench and takes up the oars. I sit facing him, looking around and trying to get the measure of my surroundings.

'My name is Ransom,' the man says. 'You may already have read about me.' I nod. He smiles. 'Well done indeed,' he adds, 'for discovering the door.'

'But Sir,' I blurt out. 'How can all this be? We must be miles below the Earth yet everything's so bright and open.'

Ransom lets the oars rest. The boat glides on, propelled by the current. 'This is the centre,' he replies. 'The inside is bigger than the outside. More real too. You must take care here. You can cut your finger on a blade of grass, you know.'

I sit back, look about me again and start to relax. I see islands all around in the distance - some big, some small - with white jutting rocks and lots of grass. It isn't long before one of them looms up before us. Ransom turns, takes the tiller and guides the boat onto a yellow sandy beach. 'Follow me,' he says. We follow a winding, uphill path through the rough terrain. The air is so fresh, so invigorating. I drink it down in great gulps, thinking that it would be impossible now to feel distracted or sad or bored again, knowing that such a place as this exists - not light years away or in a parallel universe - but at the beating heart of our very own world.

We arrive at the top. I want to pause to enjoy the view - the waves glinting in the sunlight - but Ransom carries straight on, towards a grey stone building that looks like an abbey or a big church. Inside it feels cool, dark and atmospheric. We walk along a corridor. Small, pointy windows give glimpses of the sea and sky. Then the sudden, welcome smell of homely things - bacon, toast and coffee - the clink of spoons and the hum of happy voices. Ransom opens a door and we're in a round vaulted chamber with - wonder of wonders - the entire community of St. Anne's. I recognise them all. They're exactly like I pictured them in the book - Dr. Dimble and his wife, Arthur and Camilla Denniston, Grace Ironwood, Jane and Mark Studdock, Ivy Maggs and, last but not least, MacPhee, the irascible, bearded Ulsterman. Even the animals are there - Mr. Bultitude the bear, with a gold medal hung around his brawny neck, plus the jackdaw and the cat, whose names, in the rush and swirl of the moment, I can't recall.

Everybody looks utterly splendid with crowns on their heads and glittering clothes. Despite my workaday attire I don't feel out of place at all. I don't think I've ever felt more at home in my life in fact. I'm treated like a brother - one of the community - and it's the nicest, most convivial breakfast I've ever known. They ask me all manner of questions - chiefly about my family, but also about my own life: the kind of stories I like writing, my favourite books and films, who my biggest influences are, and so forth. I'm about to tell them about Mr. Aherne, my old English teacher, when a gong sounds from the depths of the building, a hush descends and everyone starts packing away. 'Come', says Ransom, and I follow them out of the room, down another corridor, up some steps and into a chapel with six tall candles ablaze on a stone altar built into the wall. The women, except Grace, peel off to the left and disappear into a side door. Ransom, Dimble, Mark, Grace, McPhee and myself walk to the front, turn right and kneel down in a pew. Mr. Bultitude, I note, stays half-standing, half-crouching at the back, as if keeping guard.

Through the window I see the waves crashing against the rocks below. It's the only sound that penetrates the chapel's deep, fecund silence. The rhythmic roar soothes and settles my spirit. I feel a sense of light, happiness and peace.

A fresco on the wall behind the altar glows and throbs with spiritual and artistic vitality. It looks so ancient - like it was painted before the dawn of time. Its gold and purple background is faded now but the images and shapes depicted on it stand out clearly still - three red circles arranged in a triangle, and in each of the circles a picture of a man. In the bottom left there's a crowned king with the word 'Artorius' written underneath. To the right is a wild-looking fellow in red called 'Merlinus', while above them both is an icon of Our Lord holding out a golden chalice. 'Christus' is His title.

The gong sounds again. I hear footsteps down the aisle. I turn my head and there's Mother Dimble in her flame-coloured gown with a jagged grey stone in her hands, like a misshapen rugby ball hewn out of rock. She passes through the little gate in the wooden altar rail, ascends a couple of steps, then lays  the stone down reverently on the altar, next to the candle furthest to the left. She comes back down and sits in the pew behind us. Then Camilla approaches the altar, holding aloft a gleaming, jewelled sword. She looks fierce and regal in her silver robe and coronet as she places the sword blade-down between the two middle candles, before descending in her turn, sitting down beside Mother Dimble. Next comes Ivy Maggs in a green mantle, bearing a long white spear with a blood-red tip. She leans it between the wall and the right side of the altar, then returns to her companions below.

For a long while nothing else happens, just the waves, the silence and the peace. Then the footsteps come again, soft and suggestive, and everyone stands. There's a brightening in the air and a quickening in my mind. I look along the line of my colleagues and am astounded at how beautiful they appear - how royal, dignified and noble, one hundred percent themselves, yet at the same time infinitely more than just that.

The chapel becomes almost intolerably bright. I feel compelled to turn to my head and see, and that's when Jane comes sweeping by in a blaze of cobalt blue, with what can only be a miniature Sun between her hands, so dazzling and effulgent are its rays. She walks right up to the middle of the altar, turns, bows to the company before her and lifts the sacred object high above her head. Sparks fly. Her dark hair shines, soaked in light. I can make out little else, just the round contours of her face and the outline of the two chalices, the one held by Christ above, the other by Jane below. The rest is glory and gladness. The gong sounds, and I bow my head and close my eyes, hoping to be able to stay in this blessed place of peace and light for ever and ever.

*******

When I open my eyes the light in the chapel is back to normal. The Holy Grail (for surely that's what it is) stands in the centre of the altar behind the sword - still radiant, still glorious - but in a more measured, manageable way than before. The sun outside seems higher in the sky. It's obvious that some time has passed.

The women are sat behind me still, but there's only Mark Studdock sitting next to me. Everyone else is up at the front doing various things. Dr. Dimble and Arthur Denniston are standing just behind the altar rail, about a yard apart, each holding a candle. I see Ransom, with his back to me, kneeling down behind them. McPhee, to his left, drapes a golden chasuble emblazoned with the scarlet figure of a rampant red lion over his blue robe. Grace Ironwood, on the other side, replaces Ransom's silver circlet with a gold one. Ransom stands, bows to the Grail, turns, walks forward, takes his position between Dimble and Denniston, and starts to address us. But I can't understand a word of what he's saying! He's talking in a totally different language. Great syllables that sound like castles pour from his mouth. My heart leaps and quivers at them. The voice doesn't sound like Ransom's at all - it's like the words are speaking themselves through him from some strong place at a distance.

'It's the Great Tongue,' Mark whispers in my ear. 'The language spoken before the Fall.'

'Ah,' I reply, as the words start to make sense. I don't know why I understand them now when I couldn't before, but nonetheless I do. Here then, as best as I can remember it, is the gist of Ransom's speech:

'Brothers and sisters, the stairways between Britain and Logres are becoming rare and few. The nation continues along the broad and ample highway to destruction. Due to forces set in motion long ago, since the coming of the Tudors at least, our Kingdom of Logres, if Britain reflects on it at all, is dismissed as a fairytale or a relic of folklore, rather than welcomed for what it is - the underlying pattern and reality behind the national story.

'It is a call for celebration then, when one of the few remaining doors is discovered and a seeker finds his or her way to Logres. The potential for recovery - a national ressourcement - contained in such a discovery is incalculable. It could well be, as our resident sceptic MacPhee believes, that Britain is too far gone to be pulled back from the brink again and that a crash against the cliff face of reality is the only way to divest her of her illusions. My own view, certainly, is that what we achieved in 1945 would be nigh on impossible today. The bar of public opinion is increasingly hostile to what and who we stand for. Christianity, in those days, was deeply rooted in British life still, and that, sadly, is no longer the case.

'Nothing, however, is set in stone. It is a God of the living we serve, not the dead; a God of surprises, not a set of iron-clad laws. We do not worship the God of the Deists, who Blake raged against, that blind watchmaker who sets the world in motion a like a child's toy, then stands back and lets it wind down until the batteries run out. No, the God of Logres is not like that. Ours is a generous God, profligate even, continually sowing seeds and distributing largesse, always on the look out for renaissance and renewal.

'The four Jewels of Logres that we see before us play a pivotal role here: the Lia Fail, the coronation stone of the High Kings of yore, and the precious relics Joseph of Arimathea brought to Britain and kept in the Grail Chapel until it was occluded in the reign of Artorius. We see the sword with which Simon Peter smote the High Priest's ear, the spear of Longinus which pierced Our Lord's side, and, at the centre of it all, the holy chalice of the Last Supper. These treasures have a deep and subtle power. They are continually at work, acting on the profoundest, most archetypal levels of the national psyche, bringing fertility where there is barrenness, quality where there is quantity, and a soulful, silent spirituality where is noise and empty chatter. Their restorative, salvific influence is keenly felt in both the visible and the invisible realms.

'The Vedic scriptures, as Grace reminded me at breakfast, make it clear that Heaven will never allow the world to disintegrate completely. Where the darkness appears thickest, that is where the messengers and avatars will appear. But it is up to us to recognise them. The avatars, in truth, are always with us. It is just that we fail to see them. The Grail Chapel, in reality, was never occluded. It was ourselves who lost the art of finding it.

'And now behold, the great wheel of the Manvantara comes full circle. The Dark Age draws to its close and the light of the Golden Age to come shines forth across the threshold of the future. The Sleep of Ulro is concluded, Albion awakes, the world is charged anew with the grandeur of God, and the Countenance Divine shines forth again upon England's clouded hills.'

His speech completed, Ransom bows to his congregation and strides back up to the altar. Denniston and Dimble accompany him briefly, laying their candles down. Ransom takes the Grail and comes down to the front. We all stand and make our way forward, kneeling down in a  line along the length of the altar rail.

'Urendi Maleldil' says Ransom to each of us in turn, as we take the chalice and drink. He's coming from right to left, and I'm at the end of the line on the left, except for Mr. Bultitude who has shuffled up beside me. When Ransom presents me with the Grail it isn't wine that's there as I'd expected but sea water, clear and blue and flecked with splashes of foam like little waves. I look up, astonished. 'Urendi Maleldil,' he says again, and I take the Grail, which is warm to the touch, and drink. Then he places his hands on my shoulders. 'The splendour, the love and the strength be upon you,' he says in English. Then I go back with the others and sit down again. Ransom puts the Grail on the altar, exactly where it was before, and sits down with us too.

The water has a potent aftertaste - salty, raw and elemental. It has an effect on my mind as well. Everything seems to mean more. Everything's bursting with life - stonework and seats; sea, rock and sky; the faces and bodies of my companions. The three men in the fresco look so real now, filling out and becoming three dimensional, as if poised to burst out of their red circles and join us in the chapel. Merlin's black and grey beard appears to quiver in an invisible breeze, and that's the last impression I have, as the mise en scène shifts and I find myself sat at my desk again, the coffee I'd brought back from the machine warm to the touch still like I'd never been anywhere at all.

Oddly enough, I don't feel disappointed to be back. It's good to see my colleagues buzzing around. The blinds flutter in the breeze and the sun slants in through the open windows. The symbols of my job I usually feel so much at war with - the screen, the keypad, the headset and the phone - look welcoming and homely, like old friends, imbued with light and depth and a personality, I feel tempted to say, all of their own. Normally I can't stand the sight of them; now I feel I could literally look at them all day. I'm reminded of Bloom in Ulysses, sitting in the pub, and captivated to the exclusion of all else by the red triangle on the label of his bottle of Bass.

Then, by association, the nimble figure of Mr. Aherne leaps into my mind again. I see him once more, thirty years ago now, in his red roll-neck jumper and wild salt and pepper hair and beard. He was everything an Irish man of letters should be - a compelling blend of mystery and fun - wholly devoted in his teaching to the transformative, salvific power of the Word.

Owen Aherne was a man out of time, standing at an oblique angle to his surroundings like Con Houlihan's ideal poet. He should have been Chief Storyteller to the High King of Erin, not cast out in the concrete jungle of a suburban '80s comprehensive. He wore it well though, like those White Russian émigrés in Paris after the revolution - Generals of the Tsar's armies eking out a living as housepainters, princes driving taxis, and so on. I remember him ripping up the curriculum and weaving his way between the desks - dancing almost - reciting great chunks of Shakespeare, Yeats and Joyce.

I recall one sun-dappled morning in particular, when lip service, on this occasion, was being paid to the curriculum and we were all supposed to be reading John Donne, who I've always found dull. Instead of reading the boring poem, The Flea, I was gazing at the drawing of Aslan my friend Mark had given me for my birthday at break. He had knocked it up in twenty seconds in yellow and red crayon on a loose piece of A5. I marvelled at the clarity and intensity of the image. He later went on to become an icon painter, which didn't surprise me, with a particular devotion to his namesake, St. Mark (St. Mark's also, by the by, being the name of our school), whose symbol, of course, is the lion.

I was so enthralled that I didn't hear Mr. Aherne approaching until he grabbed me by the shoulders and laughed out loud. I was sat at the back of the class. Everyone turned around, grinning. They knew a piece of classroom theatre was on its way. 'Well, well, well,' Aherne asked rhetorically, 'what have we here? Our very own Leopold Bloom, spellbound by Lewis's great tawny lion. We know what Malachi Mulligan said about this kind of fellow, don't we?'

'Yes Sir,' they replied in laughing unison, though no-one had the slightest notion. Aherne gave them the answer anyway. It was all part of the game. And I'll never forget that ringing, bardic voice of his as it echoed and resounded through the dour architectural modernism of Room A6:

'Go warily. That's what he said, my friends. Go warily. Preserve a druid silence. His soul is far away. It is as painful perhaps to be awakened from a vision as it is to be born. Any object, intensely regarded, may be a gate of access to the incorruptible eon of the gods.'




Thursday, 6 July 2017

The Loss of Intuition

One of the great and unrecognised problems in the contemporary world is that we have not only rejected religion but are also in the process of separating ourselves from natural law. Of course, when you abandon belief in a transcendent and divine principle then rejection of natural law cannot be far behind because it is no longer tied to anything. It has lost its roots in the real. But our separation from natural law has also occurred because of an over-reliance on reason and the downgrading of intuition.

I say reason but it is not really that because the modern version of reason is frequently irrational. By this I mean that it dismisses the only coherent explanation for life, consciousness and all the qualities of existence, which is God, because of a lack of material proof, but it has nothing to replace that with other than speculation based on preconceived ideas of materialism. This has led to the assumption that things we know to be real, such as love and beauty, are not really real at all but merely subjective impressions with no grounding in fact. Everyone knows this is nonsense but we have allowed ourselves to be duped into thinking it must be true because we have been blinded by the spurious authority of modern science. We have been deceived by the power that science has manifested on the material plane into thinking it has some authority on the spiritual plane when the truth is it has none whatsoever. How could it? It doesn't even acknowledge the spiritual plane and can certainly not contact it by any means at its disposal. But because it has nothing to say on the subject it takes that to mean there is nothing to say. Irrational!

As ought to be clear, the idea of God is totally rational given the evidence of our mind, our senses, our feelings and the world around us. (We don't even have to bring tradition and revelation into it.) Nothing else can begin to account for our experiences and our very being; indeed for the fact that we are rational creatures with free will which, again, is obvious to all but the deluded. If we didn't have it the very concept would be meaningless to us. That our understanding of God and how he works leaves many things unanswered merely points to our present limitations not to any defect in the notion of a Creator per se.

Now to compound our error of using reason irrationally, we have also rejected intuition. But intuition has answers to many of the questions that present themselves to a normal person wondering about life. For example, what is spirit and what is nature? What is a human being, what is a man, what is a woman and what should be the relation between them? What is the good? What is the natural order and what happens when that is overturned?

Reason unaided can't provide trustworthy answers to these questions. It may try to come up with something but since it is working with incomplete data, and since the person or group exercising it is rarely as objective as they present themselves, its answers are likely to have problems. But intuition knows. It's true that this knowledge is usually quite vague and so it should not just be accepted without some analysis. That's because at our present stage of evolution our intuition is not perfect. But it does at least point us in the right direction. It is not complete or detailed but it is a good guide to what is. Reason can help to flesh it out and develop it but it is not necessarily verifiable by reason on its own for intuition goes beyond reason, even if reason can ground intuition and provide a solid framework for it.


When Adam and Eve went wrong in the Garden of Eden (and the opening chapters of the book of Genesis speak profoundly to the intuition) it was because they closed off their intuitive mind and listened to the voice of so called reason. Firstly, as spoken from the mouth of the serpent who was the first to vaunt the merits of reason above all else, and secondly, as it came from their own minds when, and this is significant, these were distorted by an agenda of self -interest. 

Obviously I am not saying reason is in any way bad or wrong in itself, but it is limited and it can be used by the ego to justify untruth. Now we have elevated reason above its station and demoted intuition to a lowly position when it should be seated at the head of the table. No true philosopher disregards the intuition. Actually for all true philosophers it is primary. The fact that it is not yet perfect is a reason to cultivate it not one to ignore it.

The natural law is increasingly disregarded in this world as groups with self-seeking agendas (see above) twist reality to suit their own ends and desires. But if we listen to our intuition we can see through  all these manoeuvres and return to wisdom. And we must do this or else we will experience yet another fall which means further separation from God, and that means more misery and alienation even if, as it was back in the Garden of Eden, a future determined by reason is often presented as one of happiness, fulfilment and enlightenment.