Who sits on the empty throne?

On the day of Ascencion and between the 10 days till Pentecost some thoughts

Part 3:

As a contribution for Forum for Ethics, Virtues and Uprightness, we present this new paper of Paul Kingsnorth from the Abbey of Misrule

The Dream of the Rood

Who sits on the empty throne?

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Let me tell you a story.

This story begins in a garden, at the very beginning of all things. All life can be found in this garden: every living being, every bird and animal, every tree and plant. Humans live here too, and so does the creator of all of it, the source of everything, and he is so close that he can be seen and heard and spoken to. Everything walks in the garden together. Everything is in communion. It is a picture of integration. 

At the centre of this garden grows a tree, the fruit of which imparts hidden knowledge. The humans – the last creature to be formed by the creator – will be ready to eat this fruit one day, and when they do they will gain this knowledge and be able to use it wisely for the benefit of themselves and of all other things that live in the garden. But they are not ready yet. The humans are still young, and unlike the rest of creation they are only partially formed. If they ate from the tree now, the consequences would be terrible. 

Do not eat that fruit, the creator tells them. Eat anything else you like, but not that.

We know the next part of the story because it is still happening to us all the time. Why should you not eat the fruit? says the voice of the tempting serpent, the voice from the undergrowth of our minds. Why should you not have the power that you are worthy of? Why should this creator keep it all for himself? Why should you listen to him? He just wants to keep you down. Eat the fruit. It’s your right. You’re worth it!

So we eat the fruit, and we see that we are naked and we become ashamed. Our mind is filled with questions, the gears inside it begin to whir and turn and suddenly now here is us and them, here is humanity and nature, here is people and God. A portcullis of words descends between us and the other creatures in the garden, and we can never go home again. We fall into dis-integration and we fall out of the garden forever. Armed angels are set at the gates; even if we find our way back to the garden again we cannot re-enter. The state of questless ease that was our birthright is gone. We chose knowledge over communion; we chose power over humility. 

The Earth is our home now. 

This Earth is a broken version of the garden; of our original integration with creator and creation. On Earth we must toil to break the soil, to plant seeds, to fight off predators. We will sicken and die. Everything is eating everything else. There is war and dominion and misery. There is beauty and love and friendship too, but all of it ends in death. These are the consequences of our pursuit of knowledge and power, but we keep pursuing them because we know no other way out. We keep building towers and cities and forgetting where we came from. Outside of the garden, we are homeless and can never be still. We forget the creator and worship ourselves. All of this happens inside us every day. 

There comes a time when the creator takes pity. After so many centuries of this, after so many years of humans missing the mark, of wandering from the path, of rising and falling and warring and dying, of eating the fruit again and again, the creator stages an intervention. He comes to Earth in human form to show us the way back home. Most people don’t listen, naturally, and we all know how the story ends. God himself walks on Earth and what does humanity do? We torture and kill him. 

But the joke is on us, because it turns out that this was the point all along. The way of this creator is not the way of power but of humility, not of conquest but of sacrifice. When he comes to Earth he comes not as warlord, king or high priest, but as a barefoot artisan in an obscure desert province. He walks with the downtrodden and the rejected, he scorns wealth and power and through his death he conquers death itself, and releases us from our bondage. He gives us a way out; a way back home. But we have to work at it. The path back to the garden can only be found by giving up the vainglory, the search for power and the unearned knowledge which got us exiled in the first place. The path is the path of renunciation, of love and of sacrifice. To get back to the garden, we have to go through the cross.

Now imagine that a whole culture is built around this story. Imagine that this culture survives for over a thousand years, building layer upon layer of meaning, tradition, innovation and creation, however imperfectly, on these foundations.

Then imagine that this culture dies, leaving only ruins.

If you live in the West, you do not have to imagine any of this. You are living among those ruins, and you have been all your life. Many of them are still beautiful – intact cathedrals, Bach concertos – but they are ruins nonetheless. They are the remains of something called ‘Christendom’, a 1500-year civilisation in which this particular sacred story seeped into and formed every aspect of life, bending and changing and transforming everything in this story’s image. 

And it really was everything. No aspect of daily life was unaffected by the story: the organisation of the working week; the cycle of annual feast and rest days; the payment of taxes; the moral duties of individuals; the very notion of individuals, with ‘God-given’ rights and duties; the attitude to neighbours and strangers; the obligations of charity; the structure of families; and most of all, the wide picture of the universe – its structure and meaning, and our human place within it. 

In my last essay I wrote about the decline of the West. What I didn’t write about was what the ‘West’ actually was. A lot of people are arguing about this at the moment, and the answer tends to differ according to the tribe posing the question. For a liberal, the West is the ‘Enlightenment’ and everything that followed – elective democracy, human rights, individualism, freedom of speech. For a conservative, it might signal a set of cultural values, such as traditional attitudes to family life and national identity, and probably broad support for free-market capitalism. And for the kind of post-modern leftist who currently dominates the culture, the West – assuming they will concede that it even exists – is largely a front for colonisation, empire, racism and all the other horrors we hear about daily through the official channels.

All of these things could be true at the same time, but each is also a fairly recent development. The West is a lot older than liberalism, leftism, conservatism or empire; by the time Hume, Marx and Baudrillardarrived at the party, it was already winding down. The West, in fact, is at the same time a simpler, more ancient and immensely more complex concoction than any of these could offer. It is the result of the binding together of people and peoples across a continent, over centuries of time, by a sacred order constructed around an interpretation of that Christian story.

In his book Religion and the Rise of Western Culture, written shortly after World War Two, the medieval historian Christopher Dawson explained it like this:

There has never been any unitary organisation of Western culture apart from that of the Christian Church, which provided an effective principle of social unity … Behind the ever-changing pattern of Western culture there was a living faith which gave Europe a certain sense of spiritual community, in spite of all the conflicts and divisions and social schisms that marked its history.

Your personal attitude to that ‘living faith’ is beside the point here. In one sense, whether the faith is even true is beside the point as well. The point is that when a culture built around such a sacred order dies then there will be upheaval at every level of society, from the level of politics right down to the level of the soul. The very meaning of an individual life – if there is one – will shift dramatically. The family structure, the meaning of work, moral attitudes, the very existence of morals at all, notions of good and evil, sexual mores, perspectives on everything from money to rest to work to nature to kin to responsibility to duty: everything will be up for grabs. 

Or as Dostoevsky has one of the Brothers Karamazov put it more pithily: ‘Without God and the future life? It means everything is permitted.’

The West, in short, was Christendom. But Christendom died. What does that make us, its descendants, living amongst its beautiful ruins? It makes ours a culture with no sacred order. And this is a dangerous place to be.

The philosopher Alasdair Macintyre argued in his classic work of philosophy After Virtue that the very notion of virtue itself would eventually become inconceivable once the source it sprung from was removed. If human life is regarded as having no telos or higher meaning, he said, it will ultimately be impossible to agree on what ‘virtue’ means, or why it should mean anything. Macintyre’s favoured teacher was Aristotle, not Jesus, but his critique of the Enlightenment and prediction of its ultimate failure was based on a clearsighted understanding of the mythic vision of medieval Christendom, and of the partial, empty and over-rational humanism with which Enlightenment philosophers attempted to replace it.

Macintyre, writing four decades ago, believed that this failure was already clearly evident but that society did not see it, because the monuments to the old sacred order were still standing, like Roman statues after the Empire’s fall. To illustrate his thesis, Macintyre used the example of the taboo. This word was first recorded by Europeans in the journals of Captain Cook, in which he recorded his visits to Polynesia. Macintyre explains:

The English seamen had been astonished at what they took to be the lax sexual habits of the Polynesians and were even more astonished to discover the sharp contrast with the rigorous prohibition placed on such conduct as men and women eating together. When they enquired why men and women were prohibited from eating together, they were told that the practice was taboo. But when they enquired further what taboo meant, they could get little further information.

Further research suggested that the Polynesian islanders themselves were not really sure why these prohibitions existed either; indeed, when taboos were abolished entirely in parts of Polynesia a few decades later there were few immediately obvious consequences. So were such prohibitions meaningless all along? Macintyre suggested instead that taboo rules have a history which develops in two stages:

In the first stage they are embedded in a context which confers intelligibility upon them … Deprive the taboo rules of their original context and they at once are apt to appear as a set of arbitrary prohibitions, as indeed they characteristically do appear when the original context is lost, when those background beliefs in the light of which the taboo rules had originally been understood have not only been abandoned but forgotten.

Once a society reaches the stage where the reason for its taboos has been forgotten, one shove is all it takes to start a domino effect that will knock them all down. Macintyre believed that this stage had already been reached in the West:

A key part of my thesis has been that modern moral utterance and practice can only be understood as a series of fragmented survivals from an older past and that the insoluble problems which they have generated for modern moral theorists will remain insoluable until this is well understood.

These ‘fragmented survivals’ were a remnant of the Western sacred order; the story of Christendom. Macintyre was keen to remind his readers that this story also incorporated elements from previous ‘pagan’ value systems, as well as aspects of Greek philosophy, especially that of his lodestone, Aristotle. But whatever its precise genesis, the resulting story had built the shape of the Western mind.

The ‘original context’ of that story, especially to the millennial and post-millennial generations, is now long gone. Many of them don’t even know it in outline (even in my generation, schooled in England in the eighties, it was barely clinging on) and many more are viscerally opposed to what they imagine it represents. Now, as Macintyre predicted, the final taboos are falling like ninepins, and from all across the cultural spectrum the effects are being felt. 

If you’re broadly socially conservative, for example – which in practice means that you hold views which were entirely mainstream until about about five years ago – the questions are currently coming at you in a rolling barrage. Why should a man not marry a man? Why should a man not become a woman? Why should a child not have three fathers, or be born from a female womb transplanted into a man’s body? Since the source of our old understanding of marriage, family, sexuality and perhaps even biological dimorphism was the now-problematic Christian story, these are the kinds of questions to which there is now only one officially legitimate answer.

Things are not much better, though, for those on the left who are concerned about the destructive inequalities created by the modern economy. ‘Woe to you who are rich’, said Jesus, in one of many blasts against wealth and power that we can read in the Gospels. ‘Greed is a sin against God’, wrote Thomas Aquinas, one of the giants of Western Christian theology. Not any more. Now the Machine runs on greed, and it laughs in the face of any foolish and unrealistic Romantic who rejects it. The shaky binding straps with which medieval Christendom kept the traders, the merchants and the urban bourgeoisie tied down have long since broken, leaving us with no better argument against rampant greed and inequality than against total sexual licence or the remaking of the human body itself. 

This is what Nietszche knew, and what today’s liberal humanists will too often deny: if you knock out the pillars of a sacred order, the universe itself will change shape. At the primal level, such a change is experienced by people as a deep and lasting trauma – whether they know it or not. Whether you’re a Christian, a Muslim, a Heathen or an atheist, it should be obvious that no culture can just shrug off, or rationalise away, the metaphysics which underpin it and expect to remain a culture in anything but name – if that.

When such an order is broken, what replaces it? It depends on how the breakage happens. When the taboos were abolished in Polynesia, reported Macintyre, an unexpected ‘moral vacuum’ was created, which came to be filled by ‘the banalities of the New England Protestant missionaries.’ In this case, a certain colour of Christianity had stepped into the breach created by the death of a previous sacred story. The end of the taboos had not brought about some abstract ‘freedom’; rather, it had stripped the culture of its heart. That heart had, in reality, stopped beating some time before, but now that the formal architecture was gone too, there was an empty space waiting to be filled – and nature abhors a vacuum.

It seems to me that we are now at this point in the West. Since at least the 1960s our empty taboos have been crumbling away, and in just the last few years the last remaining monuments have been – often literally – torn down. Christendom expired over centuries for a complex set of reasons, but it was not killed off by an external enemy. No hostile army swept into Europe and forcibly converted us to a rival faith. Instead we dismantled our story from within. What replaced it was not a new sacred order, but a denial that such a thing existed at all.

In After Virtue, Macintyre explains what happened next. The Enlightenment project of the 18th century was an attempt to build a ‘morality’ (a word that had not existed in this sense before that time) loosed from theology. It was the project of constructing a wholly new human being After God, in which a new, personal moral sense – no longer eternal in nature, or accountable to any higher force – would form the basis of the culture and the individual. 

Did it work? In a word: no. Post-Enlightenment ‘morality’, said Macintyre, was no subsitute for a higher purpose or meta-human sense of meaning. If the correct path for society or the individual was based on nothing more than that individual’s personal judgement, then who or what was to be the final arbiter? Ultimately, without that higher purpose to bind it – without, in other words, a sacred order – society would fall into ‘emotivism’, relativism and ultimately disintegration.

In some ways, I am a roundhead at heart. Maybe we all are. The Enlightenment may have failed, but it taught modern Western people something useful: how to interrogate power, and identify illegitimate authority. But while I learned this early, it was much later that I learned something else, dimly and slowly, through my study of history, mythology and, well, people: that every culture, whether it knows it or not, is built around a sacred order. It does not, of course, need to be a Christian order. It could be Islamic, Hindu or Daoist. It could be based around the veneration of ancestors or the worship of Odin. But there is a throne at the heart of every culture, and whoever sits on it will be the force you take your instruction from.

The modern experiment has been the act of dethroning both literal human sovereigns and the representative of the sacred order, and replacing them with purely human, and purely abstract, notions – ‘the people’ or ‘liberty’ or ‘democracy’ or ‘progress.’ I’m all for liberty, and for democracy too (the real thing, not the corporate simulacra that currently squats in its place), but the dethroning of the sovereign – Christ – who sat at the heart of the Western sacred order has not led to universal equality and justice. It has led – via a bloody shortcut through Robespierre, Stalin and Hitler – to the complete triumph of the power of money, which has splintered our culture and our souls into a million angry shards.

This has been the terrible irony of the age of reason, and of the liberal and leftist theories and revolutions which resulted from it. From 1789 to 1968, every one of them ultimately failed, but in destroying the old world and its sacred order they cleared a space for capitalism to move in and commodify the ruins. Spengler, who I wrote about last time, saw this clearly. ‘The Jacobins’, he wrote of the French revolutionaries, ‘had destroyed the old obligations of blood and so had emancipated money; now it stepped forward as lord of the land.’ Revolution, he claimed, will always play the role of handmaiden to the Machine:

There is no proletarian, not even a Communist, movement that has not operated in the interest of money, in the directions indicated by money and for the time permitted by money – and without the idealist amongst its leaders having the slightest suspicion of the fact.

The vacuum created by the collapse of our old taboos was filled by the poison gas of consumer capitalism. It has now infiltrated every aspect of our lives in the way that the Christian story once did, so much so that we barely even notice as it colonises everything from the way we eat to the values we teach our children. Cut loose in a post-modern present, with no centre, no truth and no direction, we have not become independent-minded, responsible, democratic citizens in a human republic. We have become slaves to the power of money, and worshippers before the monstrous idol of the Machine.

The old taboos are not coming back, and Christendom will not be returning to Europe any time soon. Neither do we need to desire it. The point is not to make an idol of an obviously imperfect past – one which regularly betrayed the teachings it was supposedly built around – but to recognise that when a culture kills its sovereign, the throne will not remain empty for long. Dethrone Christ if you like – dethrone any representative of any sacred order on Earth. But when you do, you will understand that the sovereign, however imperfect his rule, may have been the only thing standing between you and the barbarians massing outside – and inside – your gates.

What is the way out of this? Here Macintyre elides with Spengler, and also with the French philosopher René Guénon, who believed that what he called ‘the Western deviation’ away from the sacred order had unleashed materialist demons which ‘now threaten to invade the whole world.’ Writing in 1927 in his short book The Crisis of the Modern World, Guénon could presciently see that the power of materialist science, allied with the values of commerce, would cause the West to ‘disappear completely’ if it did not change course:

Those who unchain the brute forces of matter will perish, crushed by those same forces, of which they will no longer be masters; once having imprudently set them in motion, they cannot hope to hold their fatal course indefinitely in check. It is of little consequence whether it be the forces of nature or the forces of the human mob, or both together; in any case it is the laws of matter that are called into play and that inexorably destroy him who has aspired to dominate them …

After Virtue famously ends with its author declaring that the task we face today is similar to that set for those living through the collapse of Rome: not to ‘shore up the imperium’ but to start building anew. Guénon similarly believed that the work was not political but spiritual: to rediscover the eternal truths which must be at the base of any functional culture. ‘Truth is not a product of the human mind’, he wrote; a notion which the Enlightenment philosophers rejected, but which we are now perhaps beginning to understand the truth of all over again.

Spengler predicted that the failure of the Enlightenment would lead to a new search for that beyond-human truth. All of the theoretical edifices constructed by modern Western intellectuals to replace their old sacred order – liberalism, leftism in its myriad forms, conservatism, nationalism – had failed. Beginning in the 21st century, the grandchildren of the revolutionaries and the rationalists, adrift in a failing materialist culture, would enter what he called a ‘second religiousness’:

The age of theory is drawing to its end. The great systems of Liberalism and Socialism all arose between about 1750 and 1850. That of Marx is already half a century old, and it has had no successor. Inwardly it means, with its materialist view of history, that Nationalism has reached its extreme logical conclusion: it is therefore an end-term … In its place is developing even now the seed of a new resigned piety, sprung from tortured conscience and spiritual hunger, whose task will be to found a new hither-side that looks for secrets instead of steel-bright concepts.

When a sacred order collapses, despair can ensue, even amongst those who would not want its return, or who are not even aware what is missing. Day by day, more people are realising that our new sovereign, the Machine, is a false god, and we have no idea how to dethrone him. But the cycle of rise and fall is an inevitable part of the human historical pattern; and a necessary one. ‘The passage from one cycle to another’, wrote Guénon, ‘can take place only in darkness.’

We are in that passage now; we live in a darkness between worlds. Macintyre concluded that the West was waiting for ‘a new – and doubtless very different – St Benedict.’ That was forty years ago, and we are still waiting, but it’s not a bad way to see the challenge we face. Modernity is not at all short on ideas, arguments, insults, ideologies, strategems, conflicts, world-saving machines or clever TED talks. But it is very short on saints; and how we need their love, wisdom, discipline and stillness amidst the roaring of the Machine. Maybe we had better start looking at how to embody a little of it ourselves

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The Faustian Fire

On the day of Ascencion and between the 10 days till Pentecost some thoughts

Part 2

As a contribution for Forum for Ethics, Virtues and Uprightness, we present this paper of Paul Kingsnorth from the Abbey of Misrule

The Faustian Fire

Reading Spengler in the springtime

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Spring is here in the west of Ireland. This year, this means the nights are still frosty, the fire is on in the evenings, and the birds are still hungry. Last weekend I ploughed and raked a section of my field, and then sowed it with native wildflowers. This week, the birds all got up earlier than me and ate the lot. There was barely a seed left this morning; only a lot of telltale little patches of blue and white bird shit where my seedbed had been.

Working on the land is like that: an endless battle to protect your little space from every other creature that also wants its bounty. And while I didn’t start this essay intending to compare the battle between bluetits and humans for control over seed with the battle between all of us for control of our cultural story – well, it looks like I just have.

Sometimes, when I am working on the land, I can clear my head of thoughts and questions. Other times – more often – the questions won’t leave; they swill around, they compost in my mind, they develop and grow tendrils and shoots. Sometimes they are even partially answered. At the weekend, as so often recently, the thought that wouldn’t leave me was a question that I have been mulling maybe for years: Why does the West hate itself?

Yes, I know: it’s a silly generalisation. Most people in the West feel nothing of the sort, and ‘the West’ in any case is a capacious notion; one I’m going to dig into next time. The question, if I am being sharper, ought to read something like: ‘Why do the cultural, institutional and intellectual elites of many Western countries, especially in the Anglosphere, appear to be consumed by cultural self-loathing?’

The culture war has not yet come to Ireland, praise be (though the sharp Irish writer Angela Nagle suspects it is on its way.) But it has consumed the public conversation, and much of the reality, in my homeland, Britain, and it is hard to watch, even from a distance. Hard to watch the factions at each others throats; hard to watch the endless, performative identity wars consume the brains of the cultural elite like a dose of CJD; hard to watch bizarre terminologies cooked up in California being parroted unquestioningly in London; hard to watch those who are supposed to be the guardians and protectors of your country turn around and knife it between the shoulders. 

Why is this happening and what is going on? Looked at through a wide lens, it is a deeply weird (not to mention WEIRD) phenomena. What sort of country is ashamed of itself? What people wants to be governed by a ruling class that holds it in contempt? What historical precedent is there for a lasting culture whose story-makers are embarrassed by their own ancestors? How can any culture continue into the future if it is teaching its children a deeply disturbing form of racialised self-loathing?

Defenders of the current moment will usually respond that such accusations are hysterical. What is happening in the West, they say, is a long-overdue ‘reckoning’ with our culture’s past: the empires, the colonies, the imposition of our ways of life on the rest of the world. They’re not wrong about much of that history, however partially they tell the story. We know, or we should, that there were plenty of dark chapters in the Western past. If any culture takes to the high seas with cannons blazing and proceeds to paint half the world red (on the map and often on the ground), then at some point a reckoning will arrive. Actions have consequences. God is not mocked.

But this is not a good enough explanation for what is now clearly a process of accelerating cultural disintegration. After all, plenty of other parts of the world – pretty much all of them in fact, humans being what they are – have dark pasts too, but you don’t see Russia’s cultural elites collapsing into spirals of performative shame over how Lenin and Stalin brutalised eastern Europe or killed millions of their own people (on the contrary, Uncle Joe is very popular there these days.) Japan’s murderous history in southeast Asia doesn’t seem to have led to a desire to dismantle its historic identity, and China is certainly not about to start apologising for the last four thousand years – count them – that it has been engaging in imperial expansion.

No, something else is surely going on in the West, and especially in the Anglosphere, which can’t be explained purely by historical karma. Over the last few years, a new and still-coalescing ideology, which has been gathering steam in the post-modern catacombs of America for decades, has burst out onto the streets and into the studios, and is now coursing through the culture, overturning what was until recently uncontroversial or unquestioned. The energy around it is not that of the self-declared love and justice. It tastes of deconstruction, division, intolerance, hatred and rage.

This thing attracts a lot of labels – critical social justice, left purity culture, victimhood culture, dictatorship of the minority, the Great Awokening and plenty more – but nobody can quite pin down what is happening. It is not really politics, for politics is about achieving practical results. It is not any kind of serious programme for change: the pieces of the newly dominant ideology don’t even fit together on their own terms. It is not debate, for real debate is suppressed, with threats and intimidation. It is not revolution, for which nobody has the cojones, let alone a plan, and it is not war, thankfully, though I’m not sure I’d place a bet on it staying that way (and neither apparently would the CIA.) 

Some – including me – see it best as a kind of pseudo-religion: the Sermon on the Mount minus forgiveness, love and God; a puritan eruption, brimming with sin but stripped of the possibility of redemption. English philosopher John Gray brusquely refers to it as an irrational cult, while the American writer Wesley Yang has suggested that it is the ‘successor ideology’ to liberalism, just as liberalism was the successor ideology to Christianity. (Yang describes the emerging value system as ‘authoritarian Utopianism that masquerades as liberal humanism while usurping it from within.’) Rod Dreher, among others, is tracking the emergence of a new totalitarianism; one which has no need of secret police and gulags, but operates via Big Tech and mob culture instead.

Perhaps they are all right. But why is it happening at all?

Further down the road, I’m going to dig a bit further into what might be going on under the surface of the so-called culture war. But for now I want to state the position I’ll be coming from: that this is a symptom, not a cause.

However deranged much of the newly dominant narrative may be, those pushing it are not the reason for the West’s ongoing fragmentation, any more than Donald Trump or the ‘alt right’ are. Something had to be wrong in the first place for any of this to take hold. A virus has a much higher chance of being devastating if the body’s immune system is already weakened. A healthy culture would not countenance the increasingly absurd claims of the cultural left, from ‘white fragility’ to biological sex being ‘assigned at birth.’ That in turn would not open a space for an equally determined, and equally disturbing, radical right, whose anger is rising in proportion to their opponents’ cultural power.

The resulting cultural tension, the violent language, the polarising stances, the hot-button issues, the radical intolerance, the deepening anger, the cancellations and impositions, the online battles that are distressing so many people – these are the waters we are all forced to swim in now. But the question that haunts me daily is a bigger one: what polluted the spring?

Which brings us, by a circuitous route, to Oswald Spengler.

Spengler’s book The Decline of the West has been sitting on my shelf for years, and I’ve been putting off reading it. Like its author, it has an intimidating aura. But as spring came I finally sat down with it. Published in 1918, the book – or rather the first of its two volumes – catapulted its author, a previously obscure private scholar, to fame. The combination of date and title might have been reason enough: Germany was emerging shattered from the First World War and beginning its spiral into two decades of catastrophe which would climax with the Second. Decline was very much in the air.

But it wasn’t just in Germany that the book took off. Across the West, after the horrors of the Great War, there was a sense that something was terribly wrong. A society that could create and pull much of the world into a hell like the Somme, or Passchendaele (where my own great-grandfather was a sniper) seemed to be suffering from some sickness. All of the pompous, self-regarding imperial tales the European elites had been telling themselves for so long: were they, after all, lies?

Spengler’s book The Decline of the West has been sitting on my shelf for years, and I’ve been putting off reading it. Like its author, it has an intimidating aura. But as spring came I finally sat down with it. Published in 1918, the book – or rather the first of its two volumes – catapulted its author, a previously obscure private scholar, to fame. The combination of date and title might have been reason enough: Germany was emerging shattered from the First World War and beginning its spiral into two decades of catastrophe which would climax with the Second. Decline was very much in the air.

But it wasn’t just in Germany that the book took off. Across the West, after the horrors of the Great War, there was a sense that something was terribly wrong. A society that could create and pull much of the world into a hell like the Somme, or Passchendaele (where my own great-grandfather was a sniper) seemed to be suffering from some sickness. All of the pompous, self-regarding imperial tales the European elites had been telling themselves for so long: were they, after all, lies?

Spengler took the long view. The Decline of the West is a comparitive history of civilisations, in which its author claims to have discovered a pattern of birth, growth and decline which can be applied to all major human cultures, from that of Ancient Egypt to that of the modern West. What sounds like a mathematical formula is then rendered in prose which is sometimes closer to poetry (Spengler preferred to call himself a poet, rather than a historian), employing overarching metaphors, sweeping historical claims, layers of polemic and an often-overlooked spiritual undergirding (a culture, to Spengler, was at root a spiritual, rather than a political, creation). All of this resulted in both the instant scorn of professional historians, and an entirely original piece of work. Those two things often go together.

Spengler’s model first divided the world up into discrete cultures, which each had a distinct form. He then explained, through comparative examples, what he believed the standard cultural cycle was. First, a ‘culture’ is born, in a specific part of the Earth. The place itself is the primary influence on the feel and form of the culture, which cannot function properly outside its birthplace. A young culture is ‘organic’; that is to say it grows from the bottom up. The peasant, said Spengler – the ‘eternal man’ – is the base upon which a culture is built. A culture is at root a product of the countryside and the small town. 

As the culture grows, it coalesces around a distinct ‘Idea’. Each culture exists to fulfill this Idea, though it may not know it. The culture rises and grows, reaches its full potential and then flowers. The Idea floats off into the world like pollen on the wind. This is the golden age. Having fulfilled itself, then, the culture ‘suddenly hardens, its blood congeals, its force breaks down and it becomes civilisation.’

At this point, it may create great monuments, build empires, erect glorious buildings, produce great art – yet its life force is already seizing up. Its peasantry is gone, sucked into the urban slums, the small towns have become sprawling cities, its spiritual life has ossified, and its arts have become self-referential. Civilisation has triumphed, and civilisation ultimately only has one final arbiter of value: money. 

Eventually, after a century or two of vainglory, such a civilisation becomes a globalised ‘cosmopolis’. Great ‘world-cities’, made up of people uprooted from landscapes far and near, are its heart, but despite their energy these cities – ‘the monstrous symbol and vessel of the completely emancipated intellect’, where ‘money and intellect celebrate their greatest and their last triumphs’ – are unable to create or maintain real culture. What was once animal has become machine.

At this point, claimed Spengler, the decline begins in earnest. The uprooting of everything and everyone, the quest for glory, the construction of empires and monuments, the accumulation of wealth and the subsequent dependency upon it: all of it creates an exploited, unhappy mass population in the ‘barrack-cities’ which are easy prey for corporations, media manipulators and demagogues. Here the arch traditionalist Spengler comes into strange alignment with the communist Karl Marx, with his theory of ‘alienation’, and with the uncategorisable Simone Weil, with her reflections on the consequences of rootlessness. All are in agreement that the creation of vast populations in industrial megacities are the precursor to turmoil. What kind – and whether the turmoil is to be welcomed or feared – is another question.

Spengler’s prediction on this front was clear: the age of cosmopolis was the beginning of the end of all civilisations, from the Chinese Warring States to Ancient Rome. The resulting decline in each case paved the way for ‘Caesarism’: the rise of demagogues promising to bring order to increasingly formless chaos. After several hundred years of such centralised tyranny, the civilisation would finally succumb to the weight of history and be replaced by another. This, he said, would be the fate of the West; and soon. 

So what did Spengler make of this thing we call ‘Western culture’: what did he mean by it, and what did he predict? What seems to set him apart from other comparative historians, aside from the poetry and the purple passages (always a plus for me) is the way he categorised cultures. This is the part of the book that academic historians really hate, which of course means that it’s the most interesting bit. Spengler bunched up great chunks of historical time in entirely unique ways. Rejecting the then-common division of past eras into ‘ancient’, ‘medieval’ and ‘modern’ – a schema which he said was too parochial, and flattered the West by placing it at the centre of the world – he invented his own pattern instead. 

First came ‘Appolonian culture’ – Spengler’s term for the Classical world. Appolonian culture, like all others, had its own distinctive forms – arts, architecture, literature and the like, all accreting around key symbols. The symbol of the Appollonian world was the column. Growing out of the ruins of the Appolinian world came a culture invented especially for the occasion by Spengler: the ‘Magian’, which took in Judaism, Byzantium and early Islam. Magian culture, too, had its own forms and poetry: primarily, as the name suggests, it was a time of mysteries, of questions without answers, of trust in the higher will. Its symbol was the cavern.

Then came the culture in whose dying days we are now all living: the splendidly-named ‘Faustian’ age. As the name suggests, the Faustian Idea – the soul, the essence which has driven the rise and fall of ‘the West’ – is expansion, curiosity and an endless forward-drive. An endless need for conquest, invention and exploration define the Faustian soul, which believes to its core that the whole world should follow its example, and that its values are universal.

Faustian culture, said Spengler, was born around the year 1000. Its summer was the high middle ages, its symbol the great Gothic cathedral, its golden age represented by the music of Bach. By the time of the sixteenth century Reformation the decay was setting in, and by 1800 Faustian culture had begun to atrophy into civilisation: Classicism and Romanticism were signs of an increasingly rigid civilisation already looking fondly back to its cultural or natural origins. 

With industrial revolution, Enlightenment and empire, the Faustian fire was carried to all corners of the globe, and its core Idea – the onward-push of economic growth, material expansion, ‘development’, ‘progress’ and all the other modern mythologies – was seeded across the world by the ‘expansion power of the Western soul.’ Organic lifeways were replaced by abstract systems, and modern science (‘no other culture possesses anything like it’) became the ‘servant of the technical will-to-power’. Religion declined, to be replaced first by liberalism (‘freedom from the restriction of soil-bound life’) and then socialism, which in Spengler’s broad usage meant the urge to politically reshape the whole world according to egalitarian lights. The Western left, in Spengler’s telling, as the Marxist revolution in Russia had so recently demonstrated, were Faustian too in their totalising universalism and their ruthless destruction of opposition.

But even as the West was conquering the world, its own soul was seizing up. By the twentieth century, the direction was clear, and for Spengler the Great War only confirmed it. Only disintegration, followed by Caesarism, a ‘return to formlessness’, awaited us now. The twenty-first century, predicted Spengler, would be the period in which this would begin. The only realistic response was to adopt some version of stoicism, and hope for the coming of a cultured and suitably strong Caesar to steady the ship as she sank.

It’s probably not necessary to labour the point that one of Spengler’s readers did indeed become leader of Germany fifteen years later, and tried to fill the role he believed the author had allotted for him. Spengler was not impressed: the parvenu Hitler was not the Caesar he was looking for, and he had no time for his racial theories about ‘Aryans’. But all Spengler’s talk about ‘blood’ and the ‘vigour’ of nations, not to mention his fear of ‘coloured races’ usurping ‘Prussians’, and the need for a strongman to respond, had fed the tiger which would come to eat his country. He had discovered that we don’t get to choose the shape of our Caesars, or their designs. All we can do is try to make sure we do not prepare the ground for them to spring from.

I expect that those academic historians could still kick a hundred holes in the details of The Decline of the West. What else are academics for? But it is hard to argue that the broad trajectory which Spengler offered was wrong. Now, as we watch a new period in our decline unfurl, with fear and trembling, I find it useful to keep his model in mind. I find it useful to remember that we are the men and women of the Faustian age; that we were formed by it, that its values are in us even if we think we reject them, and that, like any people formed by any culture, we find it hard to see beyond the horizon to what might come next. 

What is a culture? It is a story that a people tells itself. Whether or not that story emerges from the Earth and then creates a people to tell it – as Spengler believed and I am tempted to believe too – we build and rebuild our cultures every day, in the stories we tell to our children and ourselves. Stories about who we are, where we came from and where we’re going. Stories about the deeper meaning of human life, about what matters, about what we stand for and will not. Stories, ultimately, about Truth. When the story stops being told, the people will disappear; and vice versa. And when the story is turned in on itself, when its tellers lose faith in it, when it is mocked or abused from within, or when it simply burns itself out – then the people begins to dissolve: to come apart, to slough away from the centre, to stumble and eventually to fall.

Anyone who is familiar with my writing will know that I can’t seem to escape the influence of the Californian poet Robinson Jeffers. The simple reason is that Jeffers was a prophet of our times: like Spengler, though even more gloomily, he saw what they would bring us. From the 1920s until the 1940s – the same time Spengler was publishing – Jeffers wrote blistering, alienating verse about the rot at the heart of America and the West. After the US entered World War Two, the Cassandra of the clifftops could foresee the endgame: America would become the greatest empire the world had yet seen, and its very success – the bounty of greed and pride – would drive it and the West to their Ozymandian fate:

We shall have to hold half the earth: we shall be sick with self-disgust,
And hated by friend and foe, and hold half the earth—or let it go, and go down with it …

… but we have to bear it. Who has kissed Fate on the mouth, and blown out the lamp—must lie with her.

Spengler’s answer to the crumbling of the West was to await the coming of his new Caesar. Jeffers’ answer was to live in deep time – to try and observe life in his ‘perishing republic’ from the perspective of rock and ocean, from which all human deeds were ultimately small and ridiculous. But there is another way. Joseph Campbell writes about it in his book about mythic traditions, The Hero With A Thousand Faces. Quoting the British equivalent of Spengler, the historian Arnold Toynbee, Campbell concludes that:

Schism in the soul, schism in the body social, will not be resolved by any scheme of return to the good old days (archaism), or by programs guaranteed to render an ideal projected future (futurism), or even by the most realistic, hardheaded work to weld together again the disintegrating elements. Only birth can conquer death – the birth, not of the old thing again, but of something new. 

Only birth can conquer death. At the end of a culture, the real work is not lamentation or desperate defence – both instinctive but futile reactions – but the creation of something new:

Peace then is a snare; war is a snare; change is a snare; permanence a snare. When our day is come for the victory of death, death closes in; there is nothing we can do, except be crucified – and resurrected; dismembered totally and then reborn.

What, then, is the real significance of the orgy of cultural self-immolation sweeping through the nations of the West? Is it the clearing of the ground for a new way of seeing, a new ideology, a new culture? Maybe. But there is another possibility: that the culture war marks not the birth of a new value system but a last desperate gasp of the old one. It could be that the incoherent semi-ideology of ‘social justice’ will turn out not to be a successor culture at all, but the instrument of our final dismemberment: the flickering of the last thin flames of the Faustian fire.

This new ‘religion’, after all, is almost exclusively confined to Western elites: to the upper middle classes, the intellectuals, the wealthy and the comfortable. To the very people, in other words, who have benefited generationally from the Faustian impulse to conquer, remake and extract wealth from the wider world. Perhaps the drastic loss of cultural self-belief that the ‘woke’ moment represents is an ironic and fitting end for a culture whose pride drove it to conquer the world. ‘Sick with self-disgust’, as Jeffers put it, the West is turning on itself. After all, as Faust learned, if you make a deal with the devil, he’s going to turn up and collect on it in the end.

Whether or not that is true, the useful work now seems to me to be that outlined by Campbell: to conquer death by birth. As Simone Weil explained in the book I wrote about last timethe correct response to a rootless, lost or broken society is ‘the growing of roots’ – the name she gave to the final section of her work. Pull up the exhausted old plants if you need to – carefully, now – but if you don’t have some new seed to grow in the bare soil, if you don’t tend it and weed it with love, if you don’t fertilise it and water it and help it grow: well, then your ground will not produce anything good for you. It will choke up with a chaos of thistles and weeds. 

This, in practical terms is, the slow, necessary, sometimes boring work to which I suspect people in our place and time are being called: to build new things, out on the margins. Not to exhaust our souls engaging in a daily war for or against a civilisation that is already gone, but to prepare the seedbed for what might, one day long after us, become the basis of a new culture. To go looking for truth. To light particular little fires – fires fuelled by the eternal things, the great and unchanging truths – and tend their sparks as best we can. To prepare the ground with love for a resurrection of the small, the real and the true.

But first, we are going to have to be crucified. 

The Ineffable Light

On the day of Ascencion and between the 10 days till Pentecost some thoughts

Part 1

As a contribution for Forum for Ethics, Virtues and Uprightness, we present this paper of Paul Kingsnorth from the Abbey of Misrule

The Ineffable Light

On rising above the ground

In my last essay, I wrote about the ongoing ‘culture war’ as a symptom, rather than a cause, of the cultural disintegration that I see rolling out now across the West, and especially across the Anglosphere. I wrote about Oswald Spengler’s theory of Western decline, and how his notion that we are now entering an age of ‘formlessness’ seems to me to be correct. Next week I’m going to write more about the form.

But I have a thought in the meantime about how to talk about this – or rather, about what it is that we are really talking about. As the terminology suggests, a ‘culture war’ does pretty much what it says on the tin: it’s an argument, shading increasingly into a more serious conflict, about the deep values of a culture – and even, in these confused, post-postmodern times, about what and whether a ‘culture’ even exists. But rarely does this stay on the level of cultural analysis. In the social media age, where every opinion can become a grenade in seconds, and armies can form before anyone has worked out what they’re fighting for, the whole thing has become politics. And there are big forces at play – corporations, cultural institutions, private actors, well-heeled lobby groups – turning wheels behind the scenes. This is one reason why the whole experience of even talking about it is so traumatic. It is tied up with a power struggle. Dip your toes into the water, and the chances are that some shark or other will drag you in.

But is there another way to talk about this – or another level to talk about it on? That’s what I am clumsily pursuing here, and as I thought about this question, I remembered something I had been introduced to a while back by my wife, who is an enthusiastic student of sacred geometry; the search for hidden patterns in the universe. It’s from a book by the late Keith Critchlow, one of the founders of the Temenos Academy, called The Hidden Geometry of Flowers, and you can see it at the top of this post.

This is Critchlow’s rendition of a Socratic concept apparently laid out in Plato’s Timaeus (which I am not going to pretend to have read.) Critchlow uses the image of a flower to explain the different levels of knowing we can operate at. Like a flower, our knowing – or understanding – will begin in the soil, and reach its way up towards the light. This, says Socrates and Critchlow and just about every spiritual teacher in human history, is the journey we are all on: to shift our level of understanding always upwards towards the divine light.

I like the way Critchlow does this here, because it offers us all a good aspiration. Look at where it starts, down at the roots: estimation. Trying to work things out. This is where we all start out. But immediately above this comes the bulb of opinion. This is where our culture mostly operates, and where most of us do too, most of the time (I plead guilty.) What is social media, what is the ‘public debate’, what is the ‘culture war’ but the constant manifestation of the bulb of opinion? But this is the lowest level of knowing: it is not even out of the soil. Nothing has broken through yet. There is no truth to be found here.

We need to aim higher. The leaves that grow from that bulb are fed by knowledge: real knowledge. That means reading, experience, open conversation, exploration and paying attention, especially to people we don’t like. Our insta-culture militates entirely against this. Opinion sells. Opinion generates clicks. Thoughtful exploration is not easily commercialised, and it doesn’t get the blood up either. But I think we have to spend our time here, because this is where we build up towards what any plant is working towards: flowering. This is the birth of true wisdom, the move into the ‘ineffable light’. If we are stuck in the bulb of opinion, we will get nowhere. Knowledge is necessary, but not the end goal. Wisdom – Truth – is where we must be headed.

I’m not going to suggest that you will find that here, but as we think and talk and explore, we should keep our eyes on this prize. We should keep our feet on the ground and stand that ground: say what we know to be true, and refuse to be intimidated, but remind ourselves always that ‘mere opinion’, as the poet Rumi once called it, is mired in darkness and we have to grow beyond it. The more I think about this, the more I think that ‘opinions’ are brittle. We defend them so angrily because at some level we are not sure about them at all.

It’s just a thought – and an image – that I wanted to share. To end, here is another one, taken from my favourite – and probably only – Orthodox punk ‘zine Death to the World. When you find yourself dispirited about the shattering we are all living through, you might find it helpful. For me, the perspective it provides is a pointer towards the flower:

We take it as our great privilege to enter an age wherein no stone remains on another. There is much to be gained amidst the dark ruins of a shattered word: Brokenness and desolation, so hopeless in the eyes of some, are invisibly pregnant with promise in the eyes of others. As we kick the opiate of material comforts, exit the temple of broken idols, and come to acknowledge that our culture is one of loud and benumbing noise, we finally stand on the threshold of encountering Truth. If one is not seduced back to numbness by the influence of contemporary life, this threshold positions one to apprehend truly (and even transcend almost completely) our dying world’s scaffolding – its logic, appearances, gross phenomena – and come to know by experience the spiritual, otherworldly life. Thus, when one loses all that is of apparent worth and modern society’s ugly face is unmasked, a search for the new, authentic life begins.

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Maypole: The Principle of Verticality

Looking to the Spiritual vertical way, as the Maypole do, gives us an opportunity of discerning an understanding between Non-Virtues and Virtues,  developing Spiritual values needed in our times.

We need to be sincere with our selves , to be “upright” strictly honourable and  honest, as the symbol of the Maypole is.it is the Axis Mundi,  also called the cosmic axis, world axis, world pillar, center of the world, or world tree — was greatly extended to refer to any mythological concept representing “the connection between Heaven and Earth” or the “higher and lower realms.

Together we can initiate and erect a maypole as various European folk festivals do, in respect of the safely coming of Spring. But as many Folklores in Europe did, to keep it more permantly,  we can plant a Lime Tree in the center of the village of on squares in the city, to keep the remenbering of  “uprightness”,of sincerity in our mind, in our heart and in our allday lives. In this way,as  in many folklores of Europe, they recognize their dependance to Nature and their submission to something Higher than themselves. And happy they danced under the Lime Tree on important opportunities.  Man has always be in need of a symbol, but certainly a symbol for communality and fraternity: The Path to the Maypole of Wisdom – Forum for Ethics, Virtues and Uprightness.

Master of the Assumption of the Magdalene, Assumption of Mary Magdalene, ca. 1506-1507

The Choice for Spiritual Ethics,Virtues and Uprightness in our times

The bivium of Pythagoras, this sign which leaves us free to choose the path of good or the path of evil.

“The letter” Y “represents the symbol of moral life. The question of good and evil arises before the free will of man: two roads open before him: the left, the thick branch of the “Y”, is wide and easy to access, but leads to the chasm from shame, that of the right, the thin branch, is a steep and painful path, but at the summit of which one finds repose in honor and glory. “

  • In his book Man and Nature: The Spiritual Crisis in Modern Man

Seyyed Hossein Nasr  explores the relationship between the human being and nature as found in many religious traditions, particularly its Sufi dimension. The author stresses the importance of a greater awareness of the origins of both the human being and nature as a means of righting the imbalance that exists in our deepest selves and in our environment. Read more

The letter “Y”, in antiquity, has often represented a “bivium” (a fork in the road); a point in life where we have to make a vital decision. According to Pythagoras, it represents the paths of virtue and vice.

The letter Y is also symbolic of looking within, Inner contemplation, Meditation and inner wisdom.

  • The Garden of Forking Paths

Our earliest source for the poem is an eleventh-century manuscript, although the version I quote is taken from a modern edition of the Anthologia Latina:

A prose translation of a prosaic verse: The Pythagorean letter, divided into two horns, seems to present an image of human life. For the steep way of virtue, to the right, offers the viewer a difficult approach up a mountainside, but at the top it provides the weary with rest. The left way shows a pleasant journey, but at the end it hurls down the trapped traveller among rough rocks. For whoever has conquered hardship from his love of virtue will be rewarded with praise and honour. But he who follows a life of idle decadence, thoughtlessly skiving, will spend eternity [or, ‘a lifetime’] poor, ugly and miserable.

This piece is about that very littera Pythagorae, the ‘Pythagorean letter’.

Classical ethics has as its foundation the concept of free will, liber arbitrium; the quintessence of free will is an individual’s choice between right and wrong. One of the key tasks of a moral teacher was to persuade his student that virtue, though difficult, was in the student’s best interest in the long term. One finds this in Plato, for instance, all the time. Thus the path of virtue was portrayed as harsh or steep, and the primrose path of vice as easy and gentle.The dualism of this choice, between vice and virtue, was traditionally symbolised by the left and right hands. The right hand, with which one fought and wrote, has always been positive in connotation; its counterpart the left, weak hand. If one surveys the words for ‘left’ and ‘right’ in European languages, one finds that the latter are groups of cognates—dexios, dexter, destra and diritto, dereche, direita, droit, rechte, right, deis—and the former mostly unrelated—laios, sinister, lasciato, izquierdo, linke, gauche, left, clé. This is because words for ‘left’, with their negative connotations, have undergone taboo-substitution from foreign sources; izquierdo, for instance, is Basque. To call someone gauche or sinister is to insult him—whereas to call him adroit or dextrous is high praise. It is no coincidence that right should have its two primary meanings, nor that left should come from a root meaning ‘lame’. The moral dualism of the hands is not left linguistically implicit among the Greeks, but explicitly formulated; a passage in Aristotle (Metaphysics, I.5.985) describes a Pythagorean table of opposites

A different party in this same school says that the first principles are ten, named according to the following table:

finite and infinite,
even and odd,
one and many,
right and left,
male and female,
rest and motion,
straight and crooked,
light and darkness,
good and bad,
square and oblong.

Read More here: The Choice for Spiritual Ethics,Virtues and Uprightness in our times

The City of Life, Visions of Paradise

Mythology of May Day:

First we talk  about the Goddess who lies behind May Day; second will be about the bonfires of May Day Eve and third  the mythology and rituals behind the Maypole.

Since May 1 lies about halfway between the vernal equinox and the summer solstice, it was considered a good time to mark the transition into summer. Indeed, in most of medieval northern Europe (meaning the Celtic calendar), May 1 was the beginning of summer. By then the seeds for crops had just been sown (so farmers and their laborers could take a short break), and it was time to drive cattle and sheep out to their summer pastures. Both the sprouting crops and the soon-to-be pastured cattle needed divine protection from the dangers of the natural and supernatural worlds, which is why May Day developed as a holiday and took on the associated rituals and mythology that it did. And a goddess was a good figure to deal with such human concerns.

The Goddess of what is now May Day goes back to ancient times, in Anatolia, Greece, and Rome. Spring goddesses came to be venerated at two Roman holiday festivals that led to our May Day. The Roman Empire is important here because it took over much of Europe and the British Isles. Its mythology, associated rituals, and holidays spread there and merged with local conditions, mythologies, holidays, and customs.

The first of these goddesses of spring holidays was the Hilaria festival (from Greek hilareia/hilaria (“rejoicing”) and Latin hilaris (“cheerful”), held between the vernal equinox and April 1. It goes back to when the Phrygian goddess Cybele was introduced to Rome, at the end of the 3rd century BCE. In her myth, she had a son-lover, Attis, a dying-and-rising god who was mortally gored by a boar. Cybele knew that he had not died for eternity but that his spirit simply had taken refuge in a tree for the winter, and that he would be reborn from the tree in the spring, on the vernal equinox. When Cybele was introduced in Rome, she was given her temple of Magna Mater on the Palatine hill and a also a holiday with corresponding rituals. In her festival, a pine tree (that of Attis) was cut and stripped of its branches, wrapped in linen like a mummy, and decorated with violets (Cybele’s flower, because in the myth violets were said to have sprung from the blood of Attis).

It was then brought before Cybele’s temple on wagons in what resembled a funeral cortege, since Attis was “dead” inside the tree. This was followed by days of frenzied grief and mourning (including scourging) known as the “blood days,” when the tree was symbolically buried in a “tomb.” Attis then resurrected (rose out of the tree) on the day of Hilaria and was reunited with Cybele, symbolizing the beginning of spring. The tree was then erected before Cybele’s temple, and the people celebrated around it. The celebrations ended on April 1, which may be the origin of our April Fool’s day (the people were having a “hilarious” celebration). This has obvious parallels with the Maypole and May Day celebrations.

The second of these holidays was the Floralia, named after Flora, goddess of flowers and spring. Originally she may have been a Sabine goddess, about whom we know nothing other than that she had a spring month named after her on the Sabine calendar (Flusalis, linguistically related to Floralia) and that supposedly an altar to her in Rome was established by the Sabine king Tatius during the legendary period of his joint rule of Rome with Romulus. But none of her Sabine mythology has survived. In Rome Flora acquired her entire surviving mythology from the Greek spring goddess Chloris (from chloros – “pale green”),

who, as Ovid tells us, was originally a beautiful nymph in the Elysian Fields catering to the pleasures of the fortunate dead. There she also attracted the attention of Zephryos, the god of the West Wind and of spring, who quickly had his way with her. But then he married her, in what turned out to be a happy, loving marriage. As a wedding gift he filled her fields (her dowry in the marriage) with a flower garden, the flowers in which were said to spring from the wounds of Attis and Adonis. Zephyros, as the West Wind, brings the spring rains that grow the flowers. Thus, Virgil wrote that “the meadows ungirdle to Zephyros’s balmy breeze; the tender moisture avails for all.” Chloris also bore from Zephryos a son, Karpos, in Greek meaning “fruit” or “crop.” Through Zephyros’s wedding gift she became the goddess having jurisdiction over flowers, which she spread (by spreading their seeds) all over the earth, which until then was monochrome. She became goddess of spring. As Flora in Rome, in the late 3rd century BCE a festival was instituted in her honor that lasted from April 28 to May 2. It included theater, a sacrifice to Flora, a procession in which a statue of Flora was carried, as well as competitive events and other spectacles at the Circus Maximus. One of these involved releasing captured hares and goats (both noted for their fertility) into the Circus, and scattering beans, vetches, and lupins (all fertility symbols) into the crowd. The celebrants wore multi-colored clothing symbolizing flowers and spring, as later was customary on May Day in Europe. It was a time of generally licentious behavior. Flora also had a rose festival on May 23.

Read here more: Green Man, May Day and May Pole

The Principle of Verticality  by M. Ali Lakhani

The spiritual man is one who transcends himself and loves to transcend himself;the worldly man remains horizontal and detests the vertical dimension.

Frithjof Schuon

The  principle  of  verticality,  which  is  a  fundamental  principle  of traditional wisdom, is based on the affirmation of transcendence as an aspect of a comprehensive and integrated reality that is Absolute.

According to this understanding, reality has both a transcendent Origin and an immanent Center, which are one, rather than being reduced to the merely horizontal dimension of its existential or quantitative elements.

Verticality implies both Heaven and Earth, a worldview in which meaning and purpose are defined principally by both height and depth,and secondarily by breadth – that is, principally by man’s relationship to God, who is simultaneously ‘above’ and ‘within’ creation, and who there-fore governs all creaturely relationships – rather than by breadth alone –that is, solely in terms of the relationship between the subject and the world.

It also implies that the horizontal is subordinate to the vertical,that is to say, the relationship between man and the world is premised on the primary relationship between God and man: to restate this in Christian terms, the love of one’s neighbor is premised on one’s love for God. According to the traditional worldview, existence is transcended by a supreme reality, which, whether expressed in theistic or non-theisticterms, is Absolute, and which, without derogating from its unity, is si-multaneously (at the level of the primary hypostasis) expressed by the horizontal ternary, Truth or the Solely Subsistent Reality, Goodness or the Perfection and Font of all Qualities, and Beauty or Abiding Serenity and the Source of its Radiant Effulgence: in Platonic terms, the True, the Good and the Beautiful.

All creation is prefigured in this supreme reality,which projects existence out of its own Substance into a world of form (hence etymologically, ex-stare, to stand out of, or to subsist from, as the formal world of existence stands out of, and subsists from, the Divine Substance) through a vertical ternary comprising, first, the Essential or Principial Absolute (which is Beyond-Being), second, the Relative-Absolute Source of Archetypes (which is the primary hypostasis of Being), and third, the realm of Manifestation (which is Existence).

Tree of Life and Death Flanked by Eve and Mary-Ecclesia

  • Description: This image precedes the liturgy for the feast of Corpus Christi in a missal created for the Archbishop of Salzburg. The central roundel depicts a tree that bears both fruit and sacramental hosts. It thus combines the paradisaical Tree of Life and the Tree of Knowledge from Eden. On the right is Eve, who hands a forbidden fruit to a man kneeling at her feet. A death’s head appears among the fruits on her side of the tree. The tempting serpent winds around the trunk, and offers Eve another piece of fruit from its mouth. On the left side is Mary-Ecclesia. Rather than a death’s head, a crucifix hangs on this side. Instead of fruit, Mary-Ecclesia administers one of the hosts to a kneeling man who opens his mouth to accept it, and she is in the process of plucking yet another wafer. She is presented as a mirror image of Eve and thus the salvific antidote to the Fall. An angel accompanies Mary-Ecclesia on the left and Death accompanies Eve on the right. Both hold banderoles bearing text. Adam reclines in a gesture of sorrow at the base of the tree and also holds a banderole. In the upper two roundels are princely figures who hold banderoles bearing the text of Psalm 77:25 on the left    ( Man ate the bread of angels: he sent them provisions in abundance”).and Psalm 36:16 on the right ( “Better is a little to the just, than the great riches of the wicked”). Three shepherds depicted below illustrate Thomas Aquinas’s Corpus Christi sequence “Lauda ducem et pastorum,” but they also embody the virtues expected of a good ruler. The one on the left is the personification of “Prudentia,” the one in the center is “Regalitas,” and the one on the right is “Verus Pastor.” All are accompanied by banderoles.
  • Inscription: Angel: ecce panis angelorum factus cibus viatorum [behold the bread of angels made food for pilgrims]; Death: mors est malus vita bonis inde [death is evil, life therefore is goodness]; Upper left prince: Panem angelorum manducavit homo

The world itself,and its creatures, including man, as such, are therefore of derivative significance and are accidental in relation to the supreme reality, which alone is substantial. The world is transient, ephemeral and illusory.

 

Dream of the Virgin:

This small panel painting shows the Virgin lying asleep while a companion reads to her at the foot of her bed. Above her, Christ is crucified not on the cross, but on a golden Tree of Life that rises from the Virgin’s womb, while below her, a hand reaching down from the bed opens the gates of Limbo to release Adam and Eve.

The subject makes explicit the idea of the redemption of mankind through the intercession of the Virgin.

The Blessed Virgin Mary fell asleep on Mt. Rahel, Jesus came to her and asked; Mother are you asleep? I did sleep but you my Son awakened me, said the Blessed Virgin Mary.

She continued telling him this; I saw you in the Garden, stripped of your clothes, you were led to Caiphas to Pilate, from Pilate to Herode. There your Holy face was spat on (upon) and they crowned you with thorns.

Then they tied you to a pillar of stone and beat you with the chain of iron until your Holy Flesh fell away and then they nailed you on the cross and with a spear they pierced your side from which came your Holy Blood and Water. For more info Read the The Way of the Seeded Earth, Part 1: The Sacrifice (Historical Atlas of World Mythology) 

Sacrifice : the hidden meaning of easter and the ressurection of Nature in the month of May

“Death is not the opposite of life. The opposite of death is birth. Life has no opposite.” — Eckhart Tolle

What if the story of Jesus isn’t about Jesus at all?

To re-cast a famous Joseph Campbell saying, what if each of us is the dying god of our own lives? What riches are uncovered if we read the dying god stories not as literal, historical events but as metaphors for our own evolution from material, biological beings bound by instinctual conditioning into spiritual beings of awakened consciousness? Is it any wonder then that the dying god is so often born of a virgin or through some other non-biological process? Horus was conceived as his mother Isis hovered in the form of a hawk over the dead body of her husband Osiris. Mithra was born spontaneously from a rock. Adonis, Attis, Dionysus, Jesus, Quetzalcoatl and many others were born of virgins. The hero, the gift-giver and the dying god live and have their being in higher consciousness, not in the lower realms of ego, competition and conflict. In the Gospel of John, when Nicodemus asks for Jesus’ advice, Jesus simply says, “you must be born from above.” In other words, each of us must shift from lower consciousness to the higher plane of God-consciousness within. The virgin birth signifies that each of us, at the level of our divine essence, was not born from the union of sperm and egg but are identical and unified with the eternally Real, what Krishna called “the unborn” and what Jesus called “everlasting life”. Shifting out of body and ego identification is the work of every spiritual tradition.

If the purpose of myth is to teach us how to live our own lives, then what have we learned?

In Buddhism the central metaphor is that of awakening from the sleep of ignorance, suffering and conditioning. In Christianity the central metaphor is death and rebirth, coming out of our animal nature with its instinctual drives of acquisition and conflict and rising into the unitive experience of God-consciousness, transcending all boundaries and limitations. Resurrection is transformation. Rebirth signifies death to the ego, to limitation, to space and time. Rising from the “grave” of our lower nature embodies the realization of awakening.

Beneath the crests and troughs of the ocean’s waves lies an immense stillness, a stillness that is both the source of the waves and their destination. Is it not true that we “die” every night? Were it not for sleep, this cyclical, recurring “death”, this immersion into the sea of unconsciousness, our life would cease. Just as the silence between notes makes music possible, so too the empty formlessness of the Void makes possible the vibrant fullness of our conscious, waking life. In the end, the inner and the outer are the same. The surface mirrors the depth. The tomb is a womb. Nirvana is samsara, and the kingdom of heaven is lying all around us, only we do not see it. Not only is there a correspondence, there is an identity. Life, in essence, is synonymous with the eternal Ground of Being, the Real, what we in the west call God, and as such it is ultimately untouched by death. “Death is not the opposite of life,” Eckhart Tolle writes in Stillness Speaks. “The opposite of death is birth. Life has no opposite.” Despite centuries of theological calcification it is still possible for us to exhume the universal spiritual wisdom of the Christian story, that each of us is the presence of God-consciousness in the field of forms. Only, as Buddha pointed out, we don’t know it. Like the sun breaking over the horizon at countless sunrise services throughout Christendom this Easter, we too are gradually dawning to the truth of our divine nature. Dare to say it out loud. Let your sun rise. Let the wisdom within you shape your thoughts and words and actions. Become, finally, who you really are. This is the hidden meaning of Easter and the Maypole

Pakal’s sarcophagus lid ( maya mythology)

Carved lid of the tomb of Kʼinich Janaab Pakal I in the Temple of the Inscriptions.

The large carved stone sarcophagus lid in the Temple of Inscriptions is a unique piece of Classic Maya art. Iconographically, however, it is closely related to the large wall panels of the temples of the Cross and the Foliated Cross centered on world trees. Around the edges of the lid is a band with cosmological signs, including those for sun, moon, and star, as well as the heads of six named noblemen of varying rank.[18] The central image is that of a cruciform world tree. Beneath Pakal is one of the heads of a celestial two-headed serpent viewed frontally. Both the king and the serpent head on which he seems to rest are framed by the open jaws of a funerary serpent, a common iconographic device for signalling entrance into, or residence in, the realm(s) of the dead. The king himself wears the attributes of the Tonsured maize god – in particular a turtle ornament on the breast – and is shown in a peculiar posture that may denote rebirth.[19] Interpretation of the lid has raised controversy. Linda Schele saw Pakal falling down the Milky Way into the southern horizon.

Germinate osiris:

 Beginning in Dynasty 18, beds were made on which soil was molded into the shape of the god of regeneration and ruler of the dead, Osiris. Thickly sown with grain and kept moist until the grain sprouted and grew, then left to dry again, these figures were created as part of a ritual carried out in association with the Osirian Festival of Khoiak. They magically expressed the concept of life springing from death, symbolizing the resurrection of Osiris. Some examples are also seen in tomb contexts, as the deceased was identified with this god.

In later periods, pottery Osiris bricks were most likely used during the Khoiak Festival as planters; this example was empty, but others contained soil mixed with cereal grains and linen. Here Osiris is shown in his typical form as a mummy, wearing the tall crown of Upper Egypt flanked by ostrich plumes. In his hands he holds the crook and flail of kingship. See : The Corn Osiris of Isis Oasis

Read also: OSIRIS & HUN HUNAHPU:  Corresponding Grain Gods of  Egypt and Mesoamerica

Many scholars suggest that Quetzalcoatl of Mesoamerica (also known as the Feathered Serpent), the Maya Maize God, and Jesus Christ could all be the same being. By looking at ancient Mayan writings such as the Popol Vuh, this theory is further explored and developed. These ancient writings include several stories that coincide with the stories of Jesus Christ in the Bible, such as the creation and the resurrection.

The symbol of the serpent has long been associated with deities of Mexico and Guatemala. In the Aztec language, the word “coatl” means serpent. By placing the Aztec word “quetzal” in front of the word “coatl” we have the word, “Quetzalcoatl”.  The word “quetzal” means feathers. A beautiful bird, native to Guatemala, carries the name quetzal. Quetzalcoatl, therefore, means, “feathered serpent,” or serpent with precious feathers. (See our web site for illustration} The word quetzal is the name of the coin in Guatemala and also is the national symbol of the country.

Throughout pre-Columbian Mexican history, scores of individuals, both mythological and real, were given the name or title of Quetzalcoatl. Attempts also have been made to attribute the name Quetzalcoatl to only one person. The following quotations are indicative of what is said about Quetzalcoatl

The role that both Quetzalcoatl and the Maize God played in bringing maize to humankind is comparable to Christ’s role in bringing the bread of life to humankind. Furthermore, Quetzalcoatl is said to have descended to the Underworld to perform a sacrifice strikingly similar to the atonement of Jesus Christ. These congruencies and others like them suggest that these three gods are, in fact, three representations of the same being. Read more here: Quetzalcoatl the Maya Maize God and Jesus Christ

In the sacred history of Meso-America, a Christ-like figure dominates the spiritual horizon. His name is Quetzalcoatl, which means the Plumed Serpent. Quetzalcoatl is one of the most ancient concepts of God in this region. He reconciles in himself heaven and earth. He is the creator of humankind and the giver of agriculture and the fine arts.

In the tenth century, a Toltec priest named Quetzalcoatl acquired a large following in the Valley of Mexico. He opposed both human sacrifice and warfare, promoting instead the arts and self-discipline as a means for coming closer to God. This made him many enemies among the ruling classes. They brought about his downfall, but he confounded them by rising from the dead, after being consumed in a sacred fire. His heart became the morning star, and he himself became young once again. He promised to return one day to his people.

The stories of Quetzalcoatl and Christ are so similar that it is easy to see one in the other. In this icon, both Quetzalcoatl and Christ are depicted in the same guise. It is a resurrection icon, with their heart ascending from the flames of death and rebirth. Around the edge, in gold leaf, is an ancient Aztec depiction of the Plumed Serpent. Red and black are the colors the Aztecs associated with the morning star.

Quetzalcoatl and Christ bring us the same timeless message: God is closer to us than we are to ourselves. In both their lives, our human condition has been joined inseparably to the divine. Each proclaims to us a simple gospel of compassion, and invites us to dance with God in the divine fire burning in each of our hearts.

TheDivine Substance alone is permanent and real. This view of the transcendent, supreme and substantial reality of the Absolute (which, according to the principle of verticality, is described in terms of its elevation orperfection in relation to creation) finds its expression in all religious traditions:

O Arjuna! There is nothing higher than Me; all is strung uponMe like pearls on a string.” (Bhagavad Gita, vii. 7);

8th-century illustration of Mount Kailash, depicting the holy family: Shiva and Parvati, cradling Skanda with Ganesha by Shiva’s side.

It may be considered the mother of the universe./I do not know its name; I call it Tao./If forced to give it a name, I shall call it Great.” (Tao-te-Ching xxv);

His greatness is unsearchable.” (Psalm cxlv. 3);

In the world, inclusive of its gods, substance is seen in what is insubstantial. They are tied to their psychophysial beings and so they think that there is some substance, some reality in them. But whatever be the phenomenon through which they think of seeking their self-identity, it turns out to be transitory. It becomes false,for what lasts for a moment is deceptive. The state that is not deceptiveis Nirvana: that is what the men of worth know as being real. With this insight into reality their hunger ends: cessation, total calm.” (Sutta Nipata756-58);

All flesh is grass, and all its beauty is like the flower of the field.The grass withers, the flower fades, when the breath of the Lord blowsupon it…The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our Godwill stand forever.” (Isaiah xl. 6-8);

Therefore you must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew, v. 48);

“Glory to God, the Lord of the Throne; high is He above what they attribute to Him!” (Qur’an,xxi. 22)