Spiritual Christmas and New Year

The wonder of the light-birth

During the autumn equinox light and darkness are precisely in balance with each other. Subsequently the influence of the darkness begins to increase more and more as the power of the light is fading. The darkness is the deepest around Christmas and we can only wait in confidence until the light is born again. That is how people of yore experienced the alternation and struggle between the light and the darkness in their own lives.

Before villages and towns were bathed in electric light, the increasing darkness was almost tangible to the inhabitants and they could not help but eagerly await the new light.
They heard stories about the miraculous birth that took place in this darkness in the distant past: God’s son was born in a hidden place in order to liberate humanity from the darkness.
The light that would soon become stronger again was a sign of this birth. It was not only an external light but could also be experienced as an inner light that pierced the darkness of
everyday life.
Christmas has always been interpreted in a spiritual way in the Christian mystical movements. It is not so much important whether the son of God ever came to be born on earth or not;
what matters is that his birth is going to take place within us.
Not until the increasing influence of the writings of Jacob Boehme was the inner meaning of Christmas discussed more and more outside the monastery walls: Christmas is not so much the commemoration of an historical event but rather a miracle that can happen to all of us:

it is the birth of this son within us.

The Christian Theosophical tradition of Jacob Boehme relates that we are living in darkness as long as there has not been an inner transformation or rebirth. What to our ordinary eyes is light, is deep darkness to the inner being.


This tradition emphasizes that we should make a radical distinction between the outer and the inner man. We are the outer being, as it is functioning in our daily lives. Our attention is
constantly drawn to our sensory experiences.

But above all we are governed by the incessant flow of our thoughts, feelings, fantasies and desires. Although we believe that we ourselves are the source of this continuous flow, we are unable to stop it.

Consequently we are determined by this stream, rather than the opposite.

Since this condition is comparable to the dream state, most traditions emphasize that we are not awake in our daily lives, but rather still asleep. The only difference between daytime sleep and the ‘normal’ night time sleep is that during the former we do respond to all kinds of sensory stimuli. And just as during sleep we believe to be awake, even in our so-called waking state we are still in a kind of sleep.

But what or who, then, is the inner man? It is the soul which can be born within us. Just as Jesus was born of Mary, so may the soul be born of us, external people. For that reason, Angelus Silesius, a pupil of the Christian Theosophical and Rosicrucian tradition , wrote:

What good does Gabriel’s “Ave, Mary” do Unless he give me that same greeting too?

We can – like Mary – learn to no longer identify ourselves with the incessant flow of thoughts, feelings and desires. But that implies that we, outer beings, need to wake up and be willing to
listen to the words that Gabriel and other messengers speak to us.
Living in our darkness, but awakened by these messengers, we learn to say in complete self-surrender: let it be to me according to Your word. Therefore, Angelus Silesius said:

Be silent, silent, dearest one,
Only be silent utterly.
Then far beyond thy farthest wish
God will show goodness unto thee

In order to receive this message, it should become silent within us so that we can become focused. It means that we no longer automatically respond to whatever we are being told, but that we are really going to listen, and – like Mary – keep the words in our hearts like a seed that will later be able to unfold.

This attentive attitude of life is a necessary condition for the inner man – the Son of God – to be born within us. Such an attitude to life means that we learn to listen and observe in a responsive manner.
Usually, however, we have already made up our minds before the other person has finished speaking and we do not really listen to what he or she is telling us. Only rarely do we let ourselves be surprised by what presents itself to us in the world. For we have seen it all so many times; by now we know what the world looks like.

A receptive mode of perception, however, suddenly allows the everyday things to present themselves to us in new and refreshing ways.That is the beginning of the return of the light!
When we are waiting, being quiet and receptive, then the light can penetrate into the darkness of our waking consciousness; then the moment of the inner Christmas has arrived.

The outer human being lives mainly from the head; hence the incessant stream of thoughts that constantly drags us along. On the other hand, the heart takes the central place, often symbolized by the rose. The heart will open, to the extent that we learn to live our lives with attention.
As Angelus Silesius said:
Thy heart receives God’s dew and all that with Him goes
When it expands toward Him as does an opening rose.

Dew is an alchemical symbol. When the dew descends from heaven on the outer man who has died, then the resurrection will take place: the soul – the son of God – will arise from the earthly shell of the outer man.

Indeed, this process means that the outer man must die. If we no longer speak and act from our own will and desire, but instead become attentive and receptive to the soul, then the outer man actually begins to die. Without this process of dying – without the darkness that precedes the birth of the light – the birth of the soul cannot take place:
If He should live in you, God first Himself must die.
How would you, without death, inherit His own life?

Without this birth, our life as an outer human being is infertile. The outer man is composed of dust and will return to dust. This ‘dust’ refers not only to the physical body but to our entire personality, to everything with which we usually identify ourselves.
We should learn to let go of all this, because:
Though Christ a thousand times in Bethlehem were born,
but not within thy self, thy soul will be forlorn.

That sounds serious, and it is. But the annual return of the light which we celebrate at Christmas reminds us ever again of the light that can be born within us. The annual – and daily – return of the outer light nourishes our hope and our confidence that the miracle of the birth can also take place in us.

In English, the time period following Christmas has a meaningful name: ‘holidays’, which literally means ‘holy days’, days that can be seen as a gift to focus on healing in the broadest sense of the word.
These days, when you can be ‘vacant’ from all your usual worries, allow you to be filled with healing powers. The word ‘vacant’ means ‘empty’, while the word ‘holy’ is related to ‘being whole’.

PLATO’S Cosmic X: Heavenly Gates at the Celestial Crossroads
  • Zodical light , crossroads to Heaven

Zodiacal light, band of light in the night sky, thought to be sunlight reflected from cometary dust concentrated in the plane of the zodiac, or ecliptic. The light is seen in the west after twilight and in the east before dawn, being easily visible in the tropics where the ecliptic is approximately vertical. Sunlight scattered by interplanetary dust causes this phenomenon. Zodiacal light is best seen during twilight after sunset in spring and before sunrise in autumn, when the zodiac is at a steep angle to the horizon. However, the glow is so faint that moonlight and/or light pollution often outshine it, rendering it invisible.See Plato’s Visible God: The Cosmic Soul Reflected in the Heavens

PLATO’S X & HEKATE’S CROSSROADS ASTRONOMICAL LINKS TO THE MYSTERIES
OF ELEUSIS

Plato describes gates to the afterlife in the Myth of Er at the end of Republic – infernal
gates like the cave of Hades at Eleusis, as well as celestial portals that would be located at
the intersections in the sky that he describes in Timaeus. The initiated Cicero’s translation
into Latin of a section of Timaeus – The initiated Cicero’s translation into Latin of a section of Timaeus – the part with Plato’s celestial X – suggests an astronomical aspect to the Mysteries.
Read more here

  • The Twelve Holy Nights

According to several traditions the cosmic ‘gates to the divine’ are wide open during the period from December 24 until January 6. This time period from Christmas until Epiphany is also referred to as the twelve holy nights. This idea is not based on historical events of more
than two thousand years ago; rather it concerns cosmic processes.
Where did the idea of the twelve nights originate?

Long before Christianity arrived in Europe, the Germanic and Celtic peoples celebrated a midwinter feast (or Jul-feast) sometimes lasting eleven days and twelve nights, following the winter solstice.

That time period is exactly the difference between twelve revolutions of the moon around the earth, in 29.5 days (354 in total), and the 365 days it takes the earth to complete one rotation around the sun: 365-354 = 11 days and 12 nights.


The number twelve expresses fullness and completeness. Think of the 12 signs of the Zodiac, the 12 hours of the day and the 12 hours of the night. Consider also the 12 tribes of Israel, the 12 disciples of Jesus and the 12 Knights of the Round Table. Twelve is the product of three and four: 3 x 4 = 12. The twelve holy nights can be seen as stages along the path of spiritual development, symbolically indicated in the twelve hours of the Nuctemeron of
Apollonius of Tyana, the twelve labours of Hercules and the thirteen songs of repentance in the Gospel of the Pistis Sophia.


In many traditions three is considered a divine number, while four is considered an earthly number. From this point of view the number 12 encompasses both the earthly and the divine.
Humanity also holds both the earthly and the divine within itself.
Human beings as we know them are indeed manifestations of the divine, but they themselves are not divine and never will be. Our physical bodies will eventually die. The physical body is dust and will return to dust.

The bridge between time and eternity

Several wisdom teachings speak about an immortal divine principle, lying dormant in every human being, that is just waiting to wake up and be active. Based on that awakened and active divine principle, the human being can become a bridge between time and eternity. What matters is not that we will enter eternity, but that the eternal being within us may be vivified. That is the core of all Gnostic teachings and also of esoteric Christianity: the human
being is twofold.

“The sleep of the body becomes the sobriety of the soul” are the profound words of Hermes Trismegistus. By directing ourselves inwardly, the quiet of the body can become the freedom of the soul. In the spatiotemporal nature there is no place of rest for the soul.

During sleep, however, it may travel to the place where the turmoil of the opposites cannot exist: the Temple of Silence.
In that sacred place, it is nourished with the essence of a higher human life and receives the rich teachings of universal wisdom.
Upon awakening, the soul will transfer the inner certainty obtained to the physical human being. In this way sleep can be a blessing for those who seek for the truth. Read more Here

Draumkvedet and the medival English Dream Vision

Draumkvedet” (“The Dream Poem”; ) is a Norwegian visionary poem, probably dated from the late medieval age.[ It is one of the best known medieval ballads in Norway. The first written versions are from Lårdal and Kviteseid in Telemark in the 1840s.

The protagonist, Olav Åsteson, falls asleep on Christmas Eve and sleeps until the twelfth day of Christmas. Then he wakes, and rides to church to recount his dreams to the congregation, about his journey through the afterlife. The events are in part similar to other medieval ballads like the Lyke Wake Dirge: a moor of thorns, a tall bridge, and a black fire. After these, the protagonist is also allowed to see Hell and some of Heaven. The poem concludes with specific advice of charity and compassion, to avoid the various trials of the afterlife.

The Medieval English dream vision evidence influences from a variety of earlier vision
literature, notably the apocalyptic vision and narrative dream. Philosophical visions by Plato,
Cicero and Boethius, and Christian revelations of John and Paul contain traits that found their
way into the dream poems by Langland, the Pearl poet and Chaucer. The Norwegian ballad
Draumkvedet exhibits features that mirror these English visions. Notable characteristics
pertaining to the character of the dreamer, the interplay between dreamer and dream, imagery of the vision, and structure, point to a common set of generic influences. Comparing Draumkvedet with its English counterparts demonstrates that they stem from the same tradition. Draumkvedet bares special resemblance to the Dream of the Rood, Piers Plowman and Pearl in its exploration of Christian doctrine and its appeal to the audience. Read more here…

Dream song of Olaf Asteson text and notes

  • Mystical Nativity for our Times:

The Mystical Nativity is a painting of circa 1500-1501 by the Italian Renaissance master Sandro Botticelli, in the National Gallery in London. Botticelli built up the image using oil paint on canvas. It is his only signed work, and has a very unusual iconography for a Nativity.

It has been suggested that this picture, the only surviving work signed by Botticelli, was painted for his own private devotions, or for someone close to him. It is certainly unconventional, and does not simply represent the traditional events of the birth of Jesus and the adoration of the shepherds and the Magi or Wise Men.

Rather it is a vision of these events inspired by the prophecies in the Revelation of Saint John. Botticelli has underlined the non-realism of the picture by including Latin and Greek texts, and by adopting the conventions of medieval art, such as discrepancies in scale, for symbolic ends. The Virgin Mary, adoring a gigantic infant Jesus, is so large that were she to stand she could not fit under the thatch roof of the stable. They are, of course, the holiest and the most important persons in the painting. Read more here

  • The Prayer of the Heart in Hesychasm and Sufism

Dear friend, your heart is a polished mirror. You must wipe it clean of the veil of dust that has gathered upon it, because it is destined to reflect the light of divine secrets.” 

-al-Ghazali

Read here The Prayer of the Heart in Hesychasm and Sufism

  • Symbol of  Divine Child, Peace and Mercy in Islam and Sufism.

We can find the same Symbol of  Divine Child, Peace and Mercy in Islam and Sufism:

Bism ‘Lláh al-Rahmán al-Rahim

In the Name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful

Bismillah

Now the letter ب  ba’ of the bismillah (meaning in)   implies connection, and it is itself connected (directly) to God (Llah); the word ‘Name” (Ism) does not separate them, since it is identical with the Named according to the Sufis as well as most of the Ash’aris.

Note: When the bismillah اسم الله‎, is written in Arabic, the letter ba’ ‘in’, is directly connected to the word ism, ‘Name’. ب س م ل    What the Shaykh al-Alawi is saying is that since the Name (Ism) is identical with the Named, i.e. God Himself Ism does not really separate the letter bá’ from the Divine Name Allah. الله

Thus the beginning is in God (bi’llah): from Him all begins and to Him all returns.

  • JURIDICAL : Four rulings can be deduced from the basmala:

Firstly,  all who write or recite the Qur’án must begin with the bismillah; this is inferred from that fact that the Almighty Himself begins the Book with it.

Secondly, we understand from this that God wishes us to praise Him for His Beauty more so that His Majesty ; this is inferred from how He begins with the two Holy Names ‘the Compassionate’ (al-Rahmán) and ‘the Merciful’ (al-Rahim), describing His Essence (Dhát) thereby.

Thirdly, we learn that there is a difference between the two Names, though they are derived from a single Quality (They are both derived from rahma);  for otherwise, to list both ‘the Compassionate’ and ‘the Merciful’ would be nothing but repetition.

Fourthly, we learn that the Name is identical with the Named; otherwise, it would not be proper to seek aid in it rather than its object, God (Allah).

  • ALLEGORICAL : The way the letter ba’ is fastened to the Divine Name(Ism al-Jalála, the ‘Name of Majesty’ ), though it is not part of it, inspires in us a consciousness of how everything in existence, with all its different realities and divergent paths, is fastened to God.

Do not imagine that it touches Him—for in His transcendence, our Lord is not touched by any contingent thing, and such could not occur without the contingent thing vanishing altogether because of its lack of permanence in the presence of Him who is Eternal—rather, we mean that it is connected to Him and given being through Him: it subsists through God; not through itself. Its being is borrowed from that of its Being-Giver (mujid), as it has been said:

That which has no being in and of itself Could not be at all, were it not that He is.

The way the ba’ of the bismillah is lengthened where otherwise it is not, is because it is connected to the Name, and the one who is connected to the Named—and is thus one of God’s Folk—is worthy of being raised above the other members of his kind. As for the lengthened bá”s standing in for the elided letter alif of the word ism, it symbolises the representationi of God by he who possesses the Muhammadan inheritance: 0 David, We have made you a vicegerent on earth [Q.38- 26]; Whoso obeys the Messenger has obeyed God [Q.4- 8 0] .

Note:  In the bismillah, the first downward stroke of the letter ba’ is often lengthened, particularly in North African orthography, so that it is as tall as a letter alif, because it serves the function of representing both the letter bei’ and the alif of the word ism, ‘Name.’ See Martin Lings, A Sufi Saint, p. 156.

We have translated the word niyába as both ‘standing in’ and ‘representation‘. The Shaykh is saying that the letter ba’ is lengthened to represent the alif in the same way that a prophet or saint is God’s intermediary and His representative .

As for the position of the bismillah at the head and summit of the Book, it symbolises how God is raised above His Throne; and since this `rising’ (istiwa ) does not mean, as ordinary people think, that He is `contained’ by the Throne, but rather that He is present in every element of existence, the bismillah is placed at the head of every Chapter of the Qur’án (Sura), whether short or long: And He is with you, wherever you are [Q.57-.4].   (In fact it is placed at the head of all Chapters but one, the exception being Surat al-Tawba – Chapter9)

Traditions affirm that everything in the Book is encapsulated in the words ‘In the Name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful’ ; this symbolises how all things are contained in the Being of their Being-Giver; that is, that everything in them branches from what is in Him: Nor is there anything but with Us are the treasuries thereof [Q.15.21]. That the Divine Name (Allah] comes before the other Beautiful Names  symbolises the precedence of the Essence, and how the Names and   Qualities are contained in Its treasury.see Commentary on the Bismillah.

  • “Peace” shall be the word conveyed to them from their Merciful Lord.” Surah yasin 36-58

Surah Yasin: Heart of the Quran

It has been proposed that yā sīn is the “heart of the Quran”.The meaning of “the heart” has been the basis of much scholarly discussion. The eloquence of this surah is traditionally regarded as representative of the miraculous nature of the Qur’an. It presents the essential themes of the Qur’an, such as the sovereignty of God, the unlimited power of God as exemplified by His creations, Paradise, the ultimate punishment of nonbelievers, resurrection, the struggle of believers against polytheists and nonbelievers, and the reassurance that the believers are on the right path, among others. Yā Sīn presents the message of the Qur’an in an efficient and powerful manner, with its quick and rhythmic verses. This surah asserts that Muhammad was not a poet, rather he was the greatest and the Last Messenger of Allah (the “Seal of the Prophets”)

There are three main themes of yā sīn: the oneness of God (tawhid); Risala, that Muhammad is a messenger sent by God to guide His creations through divine revelation; and the reality of Akhirah, the Last Judgment.[12] 36:70 “This is a revelation, an illuminating Qur’an to warn anyone who is truly alive, so that God’s verdict may be passed against the disbelievers.” [13] The surah repeatedly warns of the consequences of not believing in the legitimacy or the revelation of Muhammad, and encourages believers to remain steadfast and resist the mockery, oppression, and ridicule they receive from polytheists and nonbelievers.[14] The arguments arise in three forms: a historical parable, a reflection on the order in the universe, and lastly a discussion of resurrection and human accountability.

The chapter begins with an affirmation of the legitimacy of Muhammad.[12] For example, verses 2-6, “By the wise Qur’an, you [Muhammad] are truly one of the messengers sent of a straight path, with a revelation from the Almighty, the Lord of Mercy, to warn a people whose forefathers were not warned, and so they are unaware.”[15] The first passage, verses 1-12, focuses primarily with promoting the Qur’an as guidance and establishing that it is God’s sovereign choice who will believe and who will not. It is stated that regardless of a warning, the nonbelievers cannot be swayed to believe. 36:10 “It is all the same to them whether you warn them or not: they will not believe.”[15]

Surah Yāʾ-Sīn then proceeds to tell the tale of the messengers that were sent to warn nonbelievers, but who were rejected.[12] Although the messengers proclaimed to be legitimate, they were accused of being ordinary men by the nonbelievers. 36:15-17 “They said, ‘Truly, we are messengers to you,’ but they answered, ‘You are only men like ourselves. The Lord of Mercy has sent nothing; you are just lying.”[16] However, a man from amongst these people beseeched them to believe in the messengers. “Then there came running, from the farthest part of the City, a man, saying, ‘O my people! Obey the messengers: Obey those who ask no reward of you (for themselves), and who have themselves received Guidance.’”[Quran 36:20] Upon his death, the man entered Paradise, and lamented the fate of the nonbelievers. 36:26 “He was told, ‘Enter the Garden,’ so he said, ‘If only my people knew how my Lord has forgiven me and set me among the highly honored.”[17] This surah is meant to warn the nonbelievers of the consequences of their denial. Verse 36:30 goes on to state: “Alas for human beings! Whenever a messenger comes to them they ridicule him.”[18] Ultimately, it is God’s will who will be blind and who will see.[12]

The following passage addresses the signs of God’s supremacy over nature.[12] This is presented by the sign of revived land, the sign of day and night, the sign of the arc and the flood, and the sign of the sudden blast that arrives on the day of judgement. 36:33-37 The sign of revived land follows:

There is a sign for them in this lifeless earth: We give it life and We produce grains from it for them to eat; We have put gardens of date palms and grapes in the earth, and We have made water gush out of it so that they could eat its fruit. It is not their own hands that made all this. How can they not give thanks? Glory be to Him who created all the pairs of things that the earth produces, as well as themselves and other things they do not know about.[17]

The disbelievers do not recognize God’s power in the natural world, although He is the one Creator.[12]

The surah further addresses what will happen to those who reject the right path presented by Muhammad and refuse to believe in God. On the last day, the day of reckoning, the nonbelievers will be held accountable for their actions and will be punished accordingly.[12] God warned the nonbelievers of Satan, and yet Satan led them astray. 36:60-63 “Children of Adam, did I not command you not to serve Satan, for he was your sworn enemy, but to serve Me? This is the straight path. He has led great numbers of you astray. Did you not use your reason? So this is the fire that you were warned against.”[19] Although God warned them against following Satan, the nonbelievers were deaf, and so now they will suffer the consequences of their ill judgements. 36:63 “So this is the Fire that you were warned against. Enter it today, because you went on ignoring [my commands].”[19]

The surah proceeds to address the clear nature of the revelation and assure that Muhammad is a legitimate prophet.[12] 36:69 states, “We have not taught the Prophet poetry, nor could he ever have been a poet.”[13] Yāʾ-Sīn concludes by reaffirming God’s sovereignty and absolute power. 36:82-83 “When He wills something to be, His way is to say, ‘Be’—and it is! So glory be to Him in whose Hand lies control over all things. It is to Him that you will all be brought back.” [13] It is to God, the one Creator who holds everything in His hands, that everything returns. The closing passage is absolute and powerful and carries an essential message of the Qur’an. Read more : Commentary of surah Yasin or  Heart of the Qur’an: A Commentary to Sura Yasin

“All that is on the earth will perish: But the face of thy Lord willabide forever – full of Majesty, Bounty, and Honor.” (Qur’an, lv. 26-27).

  • The birth of Jesus in man

Faouzi Skali in his book Jesus and the Sufi Traditon explains in the 10 chapter,The birth of Jesus in man:

The soul of the mystic, Rûmi teaches us, is similar to Mary: “If your soul is pure enough and full of love enough, it becomes like Mary: it begets the Messiah”.

And al-Halláj also evokes this idea: “Our consciences are one Virgin where only the Spirit of Truth can penetrate

In this context, Jesus then symbolizes the cutting edge of the Spirit present in the human soul: “Our body is like Mary: each of us has a Jesus in him, but as long as the pains of childbirth do not appear in us, our Jesus is not born” ( Rumi, The Book of the Inside, V).

This essential quest is comparable to suffering of Mary who led her under the palm tree (Koran XIX, 22-26): “ I said:” 0 my heart, seek the universal Mirror, go towards the Sea, because you will not reach your goal by the only river! ”

In this quest, Your servant finally arrived at the place of Your home as the pains of childbirth led Mary towards the palm tree “(RÛMi, Mathnawî, II, 93 sq.)

Just as the Breath of the Holy Spirit, breathed into Mary, made him conceive the Holy Spirit, as so when the Word of God (kalám al-haqq) enters someone’s heart and the divine Inspiration purifies and fills his heart (see Matthew V, 8 or Jesus in the Sermon of the Mountain exclaims: “Blessed are pure hearts, for they will see God! “) and his soul, his nature becomes such that then is produced in him a spiritual child (walad ma’nawî) having the breath of Jesus who raises the dead.

Human beings,” it says in Walad-Nama ( French translation, Master and disciple, of Sultan Valad and Kitab al-Ma’ârif  the Skills of Soul Rapture), must be born twice: once from their mother, another from their own body and their own existence. The body is like an egg: the essence of man must become in this egg a bird, thanks to the warmth of Love; then it will escape its body and fly into the eternal world of the soul, beyond space.

And Sultan Walad adds: “If the bird of faith (imán) is not born in Man during its existence, this earthly life is then comparable to a miscarriage.

The soul, in the prison of the body, is ankylosed like the embryo in the maternal womb, and it awaits its deliverance. This will happen when the “germ” has matured, thanks to a descent into oneself, to a painful awareness: “The pain will arise from this look thrown inside oneself, and this suffering makes pass to beyond the veil. As long as the mothers do not take birth pains, the child does not have the possibility of being born (. Rumi, Mathnawî, II, 2516 sq.) (…) My mother, that is to say my nature [my body], by his agony pains, gives birth to the Spirit … If the pains during the coming of the child are painful for the pregnant woman, on the other hand, for the embryo, it is the opening of his prison ”(Ibid., 3555 sq)

Union with God, explains Rûmi, manifests itself when the divine Qualities come to cover the attributes of His servant:

God’s call, whether veiled or not, grants what he gave to Maryam. 0 you who are corrupted by death inside your body, return from nonexistence to the Voice of the Friend! In truth, this Voice comes from God, although it comes from the servant of God! God said to the saint: “I am your tongue and your eyes, I am your senses, I am your contentment and your wrath. Go, for you are the one of whom God said: ‘By Me he hears and by Me he sees!’ You are the divine Consciousness, how should it be said that you have this divine Consciousness? Since you have become, by your wondering, ‘He who belongs to God’.

I am yours because ‘God will belong to him. Sometimes, I tell you: ‘It’s you!’, Sometimes, ‘It’s me!’ Whatever I say, I am the Sun illuminating all things. “(Mathnawî, I, 1934 sq).

Once the illusion of duality has been transcended, all that remains in the soul is the divine Presence: the soul then finds in the depths of its being the divine effigy.

It has become the place of theophany. This is what Rumi calls the spiritual resurrection: “The universal Soul came into contact with the partial soul and the latter received from her a pearl and put it in her womb. Thanks to this touch of her breast, the individual soul became pregnant, like Mary, with a Messiah ravishing the heart. Not the Messiah who travels on land and at sea, but the Messiah who is beyond the limitations of space! Also, when the soul has been fertilized by the Soul of the soul, then the world is fertilized by such a soul “( Ibid., II, 1184 sq.).

This birth of the spiritual Child occurs out of time, and therefore it occurs in each man who receives him with all his being through this “Be!” that Marie receives during the Annunciation: “From your body, like Maryam, give birth to an Issa without a father! You have to be born twice, once from your mother, another time from yourself. So beget yourself again! If the outpouring of the Holy Spirit dispenses again his help, others will in turn do what Christ himself did: the Father pronounces the Word in the universal Soul, and when the Son is born, each soul becomes Mary (Ibid., III, 3773.)

So Jesus can declare: “O son of Israel, I tell you the truth, no one enters the Kingdom of Heaven and earth unless he is born twice! By the Will of God, I am of those who were born twice: my first birth was according to nature, and the second according to the Spirit in the Sky of Knowledge!  » (Sha’ranî, Tabaqat, II, 26; Sohrawardî, ‘Awarif, I, 1)

The second birth corresponds to what we also gain in Sufism as the “opening (fath) of the eye of the heart“: “When Your Eye became an eye for my heart, my blind heart drowned in vision ; I saw that You were the universal Mirror for all eternity and I saw in Your Eyes my own image. I said, “Finally, I found myself in His Eyes, I found the Way of Light!” (Rumi, Mathnawî, II, 93 sq.)

This opening is the promise made by God to all those who conclude a pact with the spiritual master, pole of his time, like the apostles with Jesus or the Companions when they pledged allegiance to Muhammad:God was satisfied with believers when they swore an oath to you under the Tree, He knew perfectly the content of their hearts, He brought down on them deep peace (sakina), He rewarded them with a prompt opening ( fath) and by an abundant booty  which they seized ”(Coran XLVIII, 18-19).(The abundant loot indicates Divine Knowledge (mari’fa)

Read more: Jesus and the Sufi Traditon

  • Twelve Days of Christmas Predict the Future … Weather or more

Just about everyone has heard The Twelve Days of Christmas song: that one about partridges and pear trees. And maybe you’re familiar with Shakespeare’s play entitled, Twelfth Night. But during the Middle Ages the twelve days of Christmas were also important for predicting the weather in the coming year.

If you thought the Christmas season ended on December 25, you would be wrong: That’s just the beginning of the twelve days of Christmas.

In the sixth century, the days between Christmas and Epiphany (6 Jan) were set aside for sacred festivities. It was a reminder of the Biblical Nativity story and a celebration of the time between Jesus’ birth and the visit of the kings (or magi). So Christmas day, 25 Dec, is the first day of Christmas and the day before Epiphany, 5 January,  is the twelfth (and last) day of Christmas.

Medieval Predictions

Today we mostly associate partridges and pear trees with the twelve days of Christmas, but according to Medieval tradition, these twelve days would forecast the weather for the entire coming year: The first day of Christmas gives us an indication of the weather in January, the second day for February, the third day for March, and so on…

But in addition to predicting the weather, the 12 days of Christmas also foretold of economic fortunes, health, political unrest, crop success, etc. with the main indicators being wind, sunshine, and thunder.

25 December – First Day of Christmas
The weather on this day is a forecast for the month of January.
Wind: A windy Christmas means there will be good weather in the year ahead. But it could also indicate a financially difficult year for the wealthy.
Sun: Sunshine means everyone will enjoy a happy and prosperous year.

26 December – Second Day of Christmas
The weather on this day is a forecast for the month of February.
Wind: Wind means it will be a bad year for fruit.
Sun: Sunshine on the second day of Christmas is a good sign: money will come easily in the new year.

27 December – Third Day of Christmas
The weather on this day is a forecast for the month of March.
Wind: If it’s windy, the coming year will be good for cereal crops.
Sun: A sunny day means economic gain. However the poor will fight among themselves while the rulers make peace.

28 December – Fourth Day of Christmas
The weather on this day is a forecast for the month of April.
Wind: If it’s a windy day, it’ll be a bad year for cereal crops and finances.
Sun: Sunshine predicts wealth and plenty in the coming year.

29 December – Fifth Day of Christmas
The weather on this day is a forecast for the month of May.
Wind: Strong winds mean the coming year will bring many storms at sea.
Sun: Sunshine forecasts plenty of flowers and fruit.

30 December – Sixth Day of Christmas
The weather on this day is a forecast for the month of June.
Wind: A windy day predicts political unrest and scandal.
Sun: Sunshine means it will be a good year for dairy cattle

31 December – Seventh Day of Christmas – New Year’s Eve
The weather on this day is a forecast for the month of July.
Winds: A windy day means there is a high risk of fire in the first half of the coming year.
Sun: Sunshine means it’ll be a good year for trees. 
Thunder: Thunder toward the end of the day, bad times are on the way.

If New Year’s Eve night’s wind blows south
It betokeneth warmth and growth;
If west, much milk and fish in the sea;
If north, much cold and storms there will be;
If east, the trees will bear much fruit;
If north east, flee it man and brute.

1 January – Eighth Day of Christmas – New Year’s Day
The weather on this day is a forecast for the month of August.
Wind: A windy day means ill health for the elderly.
Sun: Sunshine means that mercury will be easy to get in the coming year. (This must have been important in medieval times.)
Thunder: Thunder during the early part of New Year’s Day means good times, and afternoon thunder means successful crops.

2 January – Ninth Day of Christmas
The weather on this day is a forecast for the month of September.
Wind: Strong wind means damaging storms.
Sun: Sunshine on this day predicts a very good year for our feathered friends. 
Thunder: is same as New Year’s Day.

3 January – Tenth Day of Christmas
The weather on this day is a forecast for the month of October.
Wind: Storms are in the forecast.
Sun: Sunshine foretells a prosperous year with a good supply of fish.
Thunder: Thunder is the same as on New Year’s Day.

4 January – Eleventh Day of Christmas
The weather on this day is a forecast for the month of November.
It seems that wind, sun and thunder all predict terrible events on this day. So let’s hope for a nice mild, cloudy day.

5 January – Twelfth Day of Christmas
The weather on this day is a forecast for the month of December.
Wind: A windy day means political troubles.
Sun: A sunny day means a year of hard work is ahead.
Thunder: Thunder warns of mighty storms.

And then there are some general predictions:

If it rains much during the twelve days of Christmas, the coming year will also be a wet one.

If there’s thunder during Christmas week, The winter will be anything but meek.

If it’s dark and foggy between Christmas and Epiphany, there will be a lot of sickness next year.

Thunderstorms on any day in late December could be a good omen for the coming year. But it depends on when the thunder booms: Early-afternoon thunder is the best, mid-afternoon is still good, but thunder later in the day just indicates storms.

Personal Good Luck

If the twelve days predict dire things for your part of the world, there’s a delicious and easy way to guarantee your own personal good luck: Eat mince pies. A medieval legend says that for every mince pie you eat during the twelve days of Christmas you will have one month of good luck in the new year.

  • the Yule Log

The Yule log, Yule clog, or Christmas block is a specially selected log burnt on a hearth as a winter tradition in regions of Europe, particularly the United Kingdom, and subsequently North America. The origin of the folk custom is unclear. Like other traditions associated with Yule (such as the Yule boar), the custom may ultimately derive from Germanic paganism.

American folklorist Linda Watts provides the following overview of the custom:

The familiar custom of burning the Yule log dates back to earlier solstice celebrations and the tradition of bonfires. The Christmas practice calls for burning a portion of the log each evening until Twelfth Night (January 6). The log is subsequently placed beneath the bed for luck, and particularly for protection from the household threats of lightning and, with some irony, fire. Many have beliefs based on the yule log as it burns, and by counting the sparks and such, they seek to discern their fortunes for the new year and beyond.[1]

Watts notes that the Yule log is one of various “emblem[s] of divine light” that feature in winter holiday customs (other examples include the Yule fire and Yule candle).[1] Read more here

These all feasts are part of the Yule, the wheel of the year

Historical and archaeological evidence suggests ancient pagan and polytheist peoples varied in their cultural observations; Anglo-Saxons celebrated the solstices and equinoxes, while Celts celebrated the seasonal divisions with various fire festivals.[4] In the tenth century Cormac Mac Cárthaigh wrote about “four great fires…lighted up on the four great festivals of the Druids…in February, May, August, and Novembe

– Blowing mid-winter horns to ward off evil spirits

Did you know that it is a long time tradition in parts of the rural east of the Netherlands to blow mid-winter horns between the first Sunday of Advent and Epiphany?

During sunset farmers take long horns made from hollow elder-tree branches and blow them while standing over water wells to amplify the sound. Some say the mid-winter horn is used to herald the coming of Christ while others believe it is blown to ward off evil spirits.

  • The yule goat

The Yule goat is a Scandinavian and Northern European Yule and Christmas symbol and tradition. Its origin may be Germanic pagan and has existed in many variants during Scandinavian history. Modern representations of the Yule goat are typically made of straw.

The Yule goat’s origins go back to ancient Pagan festivals. While its origins are unclear, a popular theory is that the celebration of the goat is connected to worship of the Norse god Thor, who rode the sky in a chariot drawn by two goats, Tanngrisnir and Tanngnjóstr, it goes back to common Indo-European beliefs. The last sheaf of grain bundled in the harvest was credited with magical properties as the spirit of the harvest and saved for the Yule celebrations, called among other things Yule go at (Julbocken).[2]

This connects to ancient proto-Slavic beliefs where the Koliada (Yule) festival honors the god of the fertile sun and the harvest. This god, Devac (also known as Dazbog or Dažbog), was represented by a white goat,[3] consequently the Koliada festivals always had a person dressed as a goat, often demanding offerings in the form of presents.[4] A man-sized goat figure is known from 11th-century remembrances of Childermas, where it was led by a man dressed as Saint Nicholas, symbolizing his control over the Devil.[2]

Other traditions are possibly related to the sheaf of corn called the Yule goat. In Sweden, people regarded the Yule goat as an invisible spirit that would appear some time before Christmas to make sure that the Yule preparations were done right.[2] Objects made out of straw or roughly-hewn wood could also be called the Yule goat, and in older Scandinavian society a popular Christmas prank was to place this Yule goat in a neighbour’s house without them noticing; the family successfully pranked had to get rid of it in the same way.

The World Turned Upside Down: Feasts of Fools, Lords of Misrule

Taylor’s almost 900-page long A Secular Age (2007) . I would highly recommend it to anybody who is seriously interested in the past five hundred years of Western history and culture – whatever their belief system and persuasion. If you can’t afford to buy it, try locating it in a library.

The central story and question of the book goes something like this: “how did man go from purposefully living in an enchanted cosmos” to “being merely included in an disenchanted universe”? This main strand branches into several sub-themes and the author makes use of a variety of disciplines as he puts forward his ideas – philosophy, theology, sociology, science and technology, art and aesthetics.

There’s a lot in A Secular Age that I find interesting, for example, the porous v/s buffered self distinction – more on that sometime later perhaps. For now, I want to concentrate on one particular topic in the book that I keep thinking of again and again and from which, I believe, we can learn something for our time – Taylor’s discussion of a set of medieval European feasts of “misrule” during which “the world was turned upside down”, that is, strict social hierarchies were subverted in some way or another, the ordinary order of things was inverted, and a temporary sense of equilibrium was achieved. These events were certainly Carnival-like in their theatrical display of mockery and mayhem but not necessarily celebrated immediately before Lent. Many were observed around December or January. Among these festivities were the Feast of Fools (rooted in the Roman Saturnalia), the Feast of the Ass, the customs of the Boy Bishop, the Lord of Misrule or the Abbot of Unreason and, to an extent, Charivari. The primary logic was this – parodying the religious and political authorities and/or catapulting into limelight for just a day those who lived in subordinate positions, flipping the high and low ranks.

Rene Guenon. The message of French Sufi

Guenon is the founder of a unique direction in metaphysics – integral traditionalism. The main concept of his teachings is Primordial (lat. Primordialis) Tradition. And pathos of teachings is a tradition against the modern world. Tradition is a single truth from which secondary truths – all world religions originate. But the fragmentation of the original tradition into secondary religious forms was regarded by Genon as a fall, a degradation that, after all, led humanity to a modern world of antitradition, profanation and lies.

From this position, progress is an illusion, and history develops from better state to worse. Guenon took this idea from Hinduism, according to which the whole human cycle steps through four epochs: golden, silver, bronze and iron ages. You and I live in the Iron Age or otherwise in Kali Yuga. In this dark era of total oblivion of tradition, “the profane considers itself entitled to evaluate the sacral, the lowest judges the highest, ignorance evaluates wisdom, delusion dominates the truth, human displaces the divine, the earth puts itself above heaven, etc.”

In short, in the modern world everything is put upside down, the highest principles are violated, spiritual criteria are lost. Because of this radical nonconformism Guenon’s contemporaries tried to ignore him, were afraid and silenced the works of this mystic. But his criticism of the modern world from the position of tradition is logically verified, mathematically accurate, ethically impeccable and relies on strict and pure truths of ancient teachings. And if we take into account the current global crisis of capitalism, which affects the foundations of the world view of the new time (and it is from the 16th century that European civilization broke up with spiritual tradition), now is the time to turn to the message of the great French Sufi, to his fundamental works, where you can also find an answer to the always relevant question “what to do?” In brief, to stand on the path of tradition revival. To tirelessly explore yourself here and now, to go from the outside world, where noise is terrorizing, to the royal silence of the inner universe, to listen to the whisper of intuition and the beat of your own heart, to understand that the core of tradition is not somewhere, in the outer mazes of the historical past, but in the caches of our genetic memory, in the spiritual nerves of each individual soul… read more here

  • The Feast of Fools

The Feast of Fools (Latin: festum fatuorum, festum stultorum) was a feast day celebrated by the clergy in Europe during the Middle Ages, initially in Southern France, but later more widely. During the Feast, participants would elect either a false Bishop, false Archbishop or false Pope.[1][2] Ecclesiastical ritual would also be parodied and higher and lower level clergy would change places.[2][1] The passage of time has considerably obscured modern understandings of the nature and meaning of this celebration, which originated in proper liturgical observance, and has more to do with other examples of medieval liturgical drama than with either the earlier pagan (Roman) feasts of Saturnalia and Kalends or the later bourgeois lay sotie.[3] Read more here

Look also Bruegel’s Festival of Fools: To See Yourself within It

  • Feast of the Ass

The Feast of the Ass (Latin: Festum Asinorum, asinaria festa; French: Fête de l’âne) was a medieval, Christian feast observed on 14 January, celebrating the Flight into Egypt. It was celebrated primarily in France, as a by-product of the Feast of Fools celebrating the donkey-related stories in the Bible, in particular the donkey bearing the Holy Family into Egypt after Jesus’s birth.[1]

This feast mLord of Misruleay represent a Christian adaptation of the pagan feast, Cervulus, integrating it with the donkey in the nativity story.[2] In connection with the biblical stories, the celebration was first observed in the 11th century, inspired by the pseudo-Augustinian Sermo contra Judaeos c. 6th century.

In the second half of the 15th century, the feast disappeared gradually, along with the Feast of Fools, which was stamped out around the same time. It was not considered as objectionable as the Feast of Fools. Read more Here

here the concert René Clemencic – La Fête de L’ Âne : Procession (IV)

  • Lord of Misrule

In England, the Lord of Misrule – known in Scotland as the Abbot of Unreason and in France as the Prince des Sots – was an officer appointed by lot during Christmastide to preside over the Feast of Fools. The Lord of Misrule was generally a peasant or sub-deacon appointed to be in charge of Christmas revelries, which often included drunkenness and wild partying. In the spirit of misrule, identified by the grinning masks in the corners, medieval floor tiles from the Derby Black Friary show a triumphant hunting hare mounted on a dog.

The Church in England held a similar festival involving a boy bishop.[1] This custom was abolished by Henry VIII in 1541, restored by the Catholic Mary I and again abolished by Protestant Elizabeth I, though here and there it lingered on for some time longer.[2] On the Continent it was suppressed by the Council of Basel in 1431, but was revived in some places from time to time, even as late as the eighteenth century. In the Tudor period, the Lord of Misrule (sometimes called the Abbot of Misrule or the King of Misrule)[1] is mentioned a number of times by contemporary documents referring to revels both at court and among the ordinary people.[3][4][5]

In the spirit of misrule, identified by the grinning masks in the corners, medieval floor tiles from the Derby Black Friary show a triumphant hunting hare mounted on a dog.

Boy bishop is the title of a tradition in the Middle Ages, whereby a boy was chosen, for example among cathedral choristers, to parody the adult Bishop, commonly on the feast of Holy Innocents on 28 December. This tradition links with others, such as the Feast of Fools and the Feast of Asses.

The commemoration of the massacre of the Holy Innocents, traditionally regarded as the first Christian martyrs, if unknowingly so,[20][b] first appears as a feast of the Western church in the Leonine Sacramentary, dating from about 485. The earliest commemorations were connected with the Feast of the Epiphany, 6 January: Prudentius mentions the Innocents in his hymn on the Epiphany. Leo in his homilies on the Epiphany speaks of the Innocents. Fulgentius of Ruspe (6th century) gives a homily De Epiphania, deque Innocentum nece et muneribus magorum (“On Epiphany, and on the murder of the Innocents and the gifts of the Magi”).[c]

Today, the date of Holy Innocents’ Day, also called the Feast of the Holy Innocents or Childermas or Children’s Mass, varies. It is 27 December for West Syrians (Syriac Orthodox Church, Syro-Malankara Catholic Church, and Maronite Church) and 10 January for East Syrians (Chaldeans and Syro-Malabar Catholic Church), while 28 December is the date in the Church of England (Festival),[21] the Lutheran Church and the Roman Rite of the Catholic Church. In these latter Western Christian denominations, Childermas is the fourth day of Christmastide.[22] The Eastern Orthodox Church celebrates the feast on 29 December.[23]

From the time of Charlemagne, Sicarius of Bethlehem was venerated at Brantôme, Dordogne as one of the purported victims of the Massacre.[24]

In the Roman Rite, the 1960 Code of Rubrics prescribed the use of the red vestments for martyrs in place of the violet vestments previously prescribed on the feast of the Holy Innocents. The feast continued to outrank the Sunday within the Octave of Christmas until the 1969 motu proprio Mysterii Paschalis replaced this Sunday with the feast of the Holy Family.

In the Middle Ages, especially north of the Alps, the day was a festival of inversion involving role reversal between children and adults such as teachers and priests, with boy bishops presiding over some church services.[25] Bonnie Blackburn and Leofranc Holford-Strevens suggest that this was a Christianized version of the Roman annual feast of the Saturnalia (when even slaves played “masters” for a day). In some regions, such as medieval England and France, it was said to be an unlucky day, when no new project should be started.[26]

There was a medieval custom of refraining where possible from work on the day of the week on which the feast of “Innocents Day” had fallen for the whole of the following year until the next Innocents Day. Philippe de Commynes, the minister of King Louis XI of France tells in his memoirs how the king observed this custom, and describes the trepidation he felt when he had to inform the king of an emergency on the day.[27]

In Spain, Hispanic America, and the Philippines,[28] December 28 is still a day for pranks, equivalent to April Fool’s Day in many countries. Pranks (bromas) are also known as inocentadas and their victims are called inocentes; alternatively, the pranksters are the “inocentes” and the victims should not be angry at them, since they could not have committed any sin. One of the more famous of these traditions is the annual “Els Enfarinats” festival of Ibi in Alacant, where the inocentadas dress up in full military dress and incite a flour fight.[29]

Massacre of the Innocents (Bruegel):

See also Bruegel Tales of Winter – The Art of Snow and Ice

Bruegel: an Interpreter of Ultimate Reality and Meaning

  • Tudor Lord of isrule: How Edward VI Resurrected a Raucous Christmas Tradition

Antiquary John Stowe wrote of the popular Medieval tradition of the Lord of Misrule, explaining that:

“In the feast of Christmas, there was in the King’s house, wheresoever he was lodged, a Lord of Misrule, or Master of merry disports, and the like had ye in the house of every noble man of honour, or good worship, were he spiritual or temporal.”

He went on to explain that the Mayor of London and his sheriff also had their Lords of Misrule and that these lords would begin their ‘rule’ and organise “the rarest pastimes to delight the beholders” on All Hallows Eve (Hallowe’en) and end their rule on the day after Candlemas Day, at the beginning of February. The revelry, Stowe explained, consisted of “fine and subtle disguisings, maskes and mummeries, with playing at cards for counters, nails and points in every house, more for pastimes than for gain.”

Oxford and Cambridge universities, and Lincoln’s Inn, would also appoint Lords of Misrule, as would the royal court, although their ‘rule’ tended to be limited to the 12 days of Christmas. Henry VII, the first Tudor monarch, continued the Medieval tradition, electing a Lord of Misrule for every Christmas of his reign. His son, Henry VIII, also embraced the tradition, going so far as to appoint a separate Lord of Misrule for the young Princess Mary’s household at Christmas, 1525. However, it was in the reign of Henry VIII’s son, the boy king Edward VI, that the tradition reached its zenith under the patronage of John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland, who was Lord President of the Privy Council from 1550 to 1553. The tradition had declined in the latter years of Henry VIII’s reign – an ambassador to Edward VI’s court remarked in January 1552 that a Lord of Misrule had not been appointed for “15 or 16 years” – but it was resurrected with great gusto at the royal court in the Christmas seasons of 1551-1552 and 1552-1553, the final Christmases of Edward’s reign.

Portrait miniature of Edward by an unknown artist, c. 1543–46

While the king’s uncle, Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset and former Lord Protector, languished in the Tower of London awaiting execution as a traitor to the crown, the Duke of Northumberland sought to distract and divert both king and court with a programme of entertainment and revelry for the 12 days of Christmas. In December 1551, Northumberland appointed George Ferrers, a lawyer, courtier, MP, former servant of Somerset and a poet of some renown, as Lord of Misrule. Sir Thomas Cawarden, Master of the Revels, was informed of the appointment and asked to do all he could to aid Ferrers. Cawarden, who may well have felt slighted by the appointment of Ferrers instead of himself, had to be spurred into action by letters of complaint from both Northumberland and Ferrers regarding his inaction and the quality of items he had provided. In Cawarden’s defence, he was expected to provide a long list of apparel and items at very short notice indeed.

Although the Revels Accounts in the Loseley Manuscript are incomplete, they do show that the revels of these two Christmas seasons took the tradition of Lord of Misrule to new heights. Never before had the Lord of Misrule entered the City of London in a huge and elaborate procession that mimicked the procession of a monarch. Ferrers demanded a large retinue which, in January 1553, included no fewer than six councillors, a ‘dizard’ (talkative fool), jugglers, tumblers, a divine, a philosopher, an astronomer, a poet, a physician, an apothecary, a master of requests, a civilian, friars, two gentleman ushers and “suche other” as he needed. The fools included the “Lord Misrule’s ape”, his “heir apparent” and children.
Both of Edward VI’s final Christmases were spent at Greenwich Palace, the 15th century abode situated on the bank of the River Thames. Ferrers made his entry to the royal court at the palace under a canopy, presumably like a royal canopy of estate, and in one piece of pageantry at court he appeared “out of the moon”.

On 2 January 1552, Ferrers presided over a drunken mask at court for which he was furnished with eight “visars” (perhaps vizards or masks), eight swords and daggers, headpieces decorated with serpents and clubs that were full of “pykes” (spikes). The Christmas festivities also included the “Tryumphe of Horsemen”, in which 18 answerers ran six courses each against the Earl of Warwick, Henry Sidney, Sir Henry Gates and Sir Henry Neville as challengers. “Rich hangings” from the “King’s timber houses” were cut up and used for 12 bards for the challengers’ great horses, and caparisons and trappings for their eight light horses. A mock Midsummer Night festival was held that night and the furnishing of “as many Counterfett harnesses & weapons as ye may spare and hobby horsses” suggests that the entertainment included a mock joust. According to the Revels Accounts, other entertainment over the Christmas period included a mask of “Greek worthyes”, a mask of apes, a mask of bagpipes, a mask of cats and “a mask of medyoxes, being half man, half deathe.”

Two masked revellers by Jacob de Gheyn, circa 1595. Courtesy of the Rijksmuseum

On the night of 3 January 1552, there was a mock midsummer that required six hobby horses to be supplied, and then on 4 January the Lord of Misrule made his entry into the City of London. WR Streitberger points out that this entry was not only a parody of traditional royal entries into the capital but also “partly a burlesque of the power vested in royalty to dispense justice”. Diarist and merchant Henry Machyn gives a detailed contemporary account of Ferrers’ entry, writing of how Ferrers landed at Tower Wharf with a great number of young knights and gentlemen on horseback, “every man having a baldric of yellow and green about their necks”. They went first to Tower Hill, accompanied by a procession consisting of a standard of yellow and green silk with St George, guns and squibs, trumpet players, bagpipe players, flautists and other musicians, morris dancers, and the Lord of Misrule’s councillors in “gownes of chanabulle lyned with blue taffata and capes of the same”. Then came the Lord of Misrule, apparelled in a fur-trimmed cloth of gold gown, 50 men of the guard dressed in red and white, and a cart carrying a pillory, gibbet and stocks. The procession then made its way to the Cross at Cheapside where a great scaffold had been erected. There, a proclamation was made of Ferrers’ “progeny”, his “great household” and his “dignity”, before a beheading took place. Thankfully, it was a symbolic beheading; the ‘head’ of a hogshead of wine was “smitten out” for everyone to drink. After that, the Lord of Misrule enjoyed a sumptuous feast with the Lord Mayor before visiting the Lord Treasurer at Austin Friars and then taking a barge back from Tower Wharf to Greenwich.

As well as the pillory, gibbet and stocks described by Machyn as being part of the Lord of Misrule’s entry into London, the Revels Accounts list joints for a pair of stocks with hasps and staples, locks for the pillory and stocks, keys, manacles with a hanging locks, a “hedding ax” and “hedding block”. As well as symbolising the power of the monarch – or the Lord of Misrule at Christmas – to dispense justice, these items and the scaffold at Cheapside my well have alluded to the forthcoming execution of the Duke of Somerset.

On Twelfth Night 1552, a tourney was held during the day, and that evening, following a play performed by the King’s Players, there was a contest or feat of arms between Youth and Riches, with them arguing over which of them was better. It is thought to have been devised by Sir Thomas Chaloner, the statesman and poet. Sir Anthony Browne, Lord Fitzwater, Ambrose Dudley, Sir William Cobham and two other men fought on Youth’s side against Lord Fitzwarren, Sir Robert Stafford and four others on the side of Riches. “All these fought two to two at barriers in the hall. Then came in two apparelled like Almains [Germans]. The Earl of Ormonde and Jacques Granado, and two came in like friars, but the Almains would not suffer them to pass till they had fought. The friars were Mr Drury and Thomas Cobham.” It is not clear whether this contest between Germans (Protestants) and Catholic friars was, in fact, devised to ridicule the Catholic Church. This mock combat was followed by a mask of men and a mask of women, and then a banquet of 120 dishes. “This was the end of Christmas”, is how the account ends.

Two masked musicians perform for a noblewoman, by Jacob de Gheyn, circa 1595. Courtesy of the Rijksmuseum

The allusion to the Duke of Somerset’s scheduled execution was not the only controversial element of the Lord of Misrule’s programme of entertainment that year. Jehan Scheyfve, the imperial ambassador, recorded what he obviously saw as an anti-papist display. According to Scheyfve, a procession of mock priests and bishops “paraded through the Court, and carried, under an infamous tabernacle, a representation of the holy sacrament in its monstrance, which they wetted and perfumed in most strange fashion, with great ridicule of the ecclesiastical estate”. He wasn’t the only one upset about this affront to the Catholic Church; he wrote that “Not a few Englishmen were highly scandalised by this behaviour; and the French and Venetian ambassadors, who were at Court at the time, showed clearly enough that the spectacle was repugnant to them”. One can only assume, however, that the king was happy with this procession and the programme of festivities, for, as historian Jennifer Loach points out, the Revels Accounts show that the king took an active involvement in directing the entertainment and that changes were often made as “declared and commaunded by his highenes or his pryvie counsell” in order “to serve the kinge and his counsells pleasure and determinacion”. The King’s Printer, Richard Grafton, in writing about how well Ferrers was received at court as the Lord of Misrule, commented that he was “very well liked… But best of al by the yong king himselfe, as appered by his princely liberalitie in rewarding that service.” Ferrers was rewarded for his service with a payment of £50 from Northumberland and in September 1552 was appointed as Lord of Misrule for the 1552-1553 Christmas season.

The Christmas season of 1552-1553 began on with Ferrers sending his “solemn ambassador” to court, accompanied by a herald, trumpeter, “an orator speaking in a straunge language” and an interpreter. The ambassador’s mission was to speak to the king and ask for an audience for the Lord of Misrule. This audience was granted and the next day, Ferrers travelled to court along the Thames in the king’s brigantine, which was decorated in blue and white, escorted by other vessels and boys dressed as Turks and playing drums. At Greenwich, he was met by Sir George Howard, the Lord of Misrule’s Master of the Horse, who had come with a horse for Ferrers and who was accompanied by four pages of honour carrying Ferrers’ headpiece, shield, sword and axe. Ferrers writes of how he had taken Hydra, the serpent with seven heads, as his coat of arms, a holly bush as his crest and ‘Semper ferians’ (always keeping the holiday) as his motto.

Entertainments over Christmas and New Year included a pageant in which Ferrers emerged from “vastum vacuum” (a vast airy space), which must have been some kind of pageant car; a feat of arms; a mock midsummer show and joust of hobby horses, presumably like the previous year; a day of hunting and hawking, and masks of “covetus men with longe noses”, “women of Diana hunting”, “babions faces of tinsel black and tawny”, “pollenders”, “matrons” as well as soldiers.

University of Leicester Special Collections. ‘Lord of Misrule’ from: William Sandys, Christmastide: its History, Festivities and Carols, (London, [1852], SCM 12913.Ferrers ordered five different suits of apparel via Cawarden for the festive season: one to wear on both his entry to court and his entry into London, two for the next “hallowed daies”, another for New Year and a final one for Twelfth Night. He also ordered a fool’s coat and hood for John Smith, who was playing the Lord of Misrule’s “heir apparent”, a hunting costume consisting of a coat of cloth of gold decorated with red and green checkerwork, a cloth of gold hat decorated with green leaves, and six sets of outfits complete with horns for his attendants. Other items included “Irish apparel” for both a man and woman, costumes for members of his retinue, maces for his sergeant-at-arms, and hobby horses, one of which he ordered to be made with three heads.

Henry Machyn records the Lord of Misrule’s entry into London on 4 January 1553, writing that he was met at Tower Wharf by the Sheriff’s Lord of Misrule, who took a sword and bore it before Ferrers, who was dressed in royal purple velvet furred with ermine, his “robe braided with spangulls of selver full”. Ferrers was accompanied by a large retinue dressed in a livery of blue and white. As well as musicians, fools and morris dancers, there were once again gaolers armed with a pillory, stocks, an axe, shackles and bolts, and prisoners, presumably actors, who were “fast by the leges and sum by the nekes”. They processed through Gracechurch Street and Cornhill, and once again made their way to a scaffold. After a proclamation had been made, Ferrers gave the Sheriff’s Lord of Misrule a gown of gold and silver before knighting him. The two Lords of Misrule toasted each other and as they proceeded onwards, Ferrers’ cofferer distributed silver and gold. The day ended with a feast at the Lord Mayor’s home, a visit to the Sheriff’s house and a banquet course at the Lord Treasurer’s house.
Twelfth Night was celebrated with “The Triumph of Cupid, Venus and Mars”, which, according to Cawarden’s correspondence, was a play devised by Sir George Howard, who was also Master of the Henchmen. Enid Welsford believes that this play was an imitation of the Italian ‘trionfi’, a triumphal procession, and it appears that Venus did indeed enter in a triumphal chariot accompanied by a mask of ladies followed by the marshal and his band. Venus rescued Cupid from the marshal with some kind of mock combat, and at some point, Mars also made his triumphal entry. Thus ended the Twelve Days of Christmas. Once again, the King was pleased his Lord of Misrule and George Ferrers was granted an estate at Flamstead in Hertfordshire.

Although Sydney Anglo makes the point that few records survive detailing the Lord of Misrule’s entertainments in other years, we know from the accounts of Edward VI’s reign that £500 was spent on the revels of Christmas 1551-1552 and £400 on that of 1552-1553, compared to £150 in 1547-1548 and £11 in 1548-1549. The entertainment of George Ferrers’ time as Lord of Misrule was pageantry at its most lavish. Historian Ronald Hutton concludes that the spectacle of Ferrers’ entries into London, for example, “was one of the most elaborate in Tudor history”. It is a shame that the incomplete records only give us a tantalising glimpse into the revelry.

  • January 14 is “Feast of the Ass” Day

On January 14, medieval Christians celebrated Feast of the Ass Day, although perhaps not the type of “ass” you may be thinking of!  It actually celebrated the various accounts in the Bible where a donkey (or ass) is mentioned, especially the one that supposedly carried Mary and the baby Jesus to Egypt.

Digging Deeper

Not surprisingly, like many or even most Christian holidays, the Feast of the Ass had its origins in Paganism, being derived from the religious feast called Cervulus.

Flight into Egypt by Gentile da Fabriano

During this bestial-based holy day, a ceremony often took place in which a girl with a baby (or a pregnant girl) was led through a village on a donkey, followed by churchgoers answering the priest with “hee-haws” during the related church service or Mass.  In some accounts, the priest himself would bray. 

Amazingly, this nifty holiday fell out of favor around 1500 along with its sister feast, the Feast of Fools.  Apparently some thought the titles and actions of these two celebrations were less than “Christian.” 

Perhaps they should bring this particular feast back and give people a valid excuse, at least one day a year, to make an “ass” / donkey of themselves and ourselves in church or everywhere else in life outside. 

  • Landscape as an Image of the Pilgrimage of Life :

Look at the donkey in The Rest on the Flight into Egypt of the “Holy Refugees” by Joachim Patinir…

..he is smiling in his heart…

It depends of the sturburness of our Ego, the Donkey.

In the Spiritual Land of Peace, the donkey, our ego is quiet, he submits totally to the “Holy Refugee” and eats the “Greenness” of the spiritual field of the Land watered by the Eternal Water of Life….

Corona or Covid- is like a rehab intervention that breaks the addictive hold of normality. To interrupt a habit is to make it visible; it is to turn it from a compulsion to a choice. The phenomenon follows the template of initiation: separation from normality, followed by a dilemma, breakdown, or ordeal, followed (if it is to be complete) by reintegration and celebration. Now the question arises: Initiation into what? What is the specific nature and purpose of this initiation? The popular name for the pandemic offers a clue: coronavirus. A corona is a crown. “Novel coronavirus pandemic” means “a new coronation for all.”
A Choice or a possible migration to the Spiritual Land of Peace
t

To become a Refugee, a Holy Refugee through an emigration to Sincerity or uprightnees of Love

see:

We are not the first generation to know that we are destroying the world.  But  we could be the last that can do anything about it, not with the vanity of  earthly knowledge and so called democratic solidarity and wisdom here on earth  as the commercial of WWF wants to convince us, but with asking humbly the help of Divine Wisdom so realising in us the image of the man who painfully transcends his material ego: The birth of his soul. It is a test. It’s time to decide! 

  • Treatise on Unification by Ibn al Arabi
    In the name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate. Blessings
    upon our master, Mu¢ammad, and upon his family and companions. This is a noble treatise in which I have consigned a tremendous discourse.
    From my incompleteness to my completeness, and from my
    inclination to my equilibrium
    From my grandeur to my beauty, and from my splendour
    to my majesty
    From my scattering to my gathering, and from my exclusion
    to my reunion
    From my baseness to my preciousness, and from my stones to
    my pearls
    From my rising to my setting, and from my days to my
    nights
    From my luminosity to my darkness, and from my guidance
    to my straying
    From my perigee to my apogee, and from the base of my
    lance to its tip

From my waxing to my waning, and from the void of my
moon to its crescent
From my pursuit to my flight, and from my steed to my
gazelle
From my breeze to my boughs, and from my boughs to my
shade
From my shade to my bliss, and from my bliss to my wrath
From my wrath to my likeness, and from my likeness to my
impossibility
From my impossibility to my validity, and from my validity
to my deficiency.
I am no one in existence but myself, so –
Whom do I treat as foe and whom do I treat as friend?
Whom do I call to aid my heart, pierced by a penetrating
arrow,
When the archer is my eyelid,
striking my heart without an
arrow?
Why defend my station? It matters little to me; what do I
care?
For I am in love with none other than myself, and my very
separation is my union.
Do not blame me for my passion. I am inconsolable over the
one who has fled me.

In this book I never cease addressing myself about myself and returning in it to myself from myself.
From my heaven to my earth, from my exemplary practice to my religious duty,

From my pact to my perjury,

from my length to my breadth.


From my sense to my intellect and from my intellect to my sense,
– From whence derive two strange sciences, without doubt or
confusion.
From my soul to my spirit and from my spirit to my soul,
– By means of dissolution and coagulation, like the corpse in
the tomb.
From my intuition to my knowledge and from my knowledge
to my intuition,
– Continuous is the light of knowledge; ephemeral the light
of intuition.
From my sanctity to my impurity and from my impurity to
my sanctity,
– Sanctity is in my present and impurity is in yesterday.

From my human-nature to my jinn-nature, and from my
jinn-nature to my human-nature,
– For my jinn-nature seeks to disquiet me and my humannature seeks to set me at ease.
From the narrowness of my body to the vastness of my soul,
And from the vastness of my soul to the prison of my body,
– For my soul denies my intellect and my intellect my soul.
From my entity to my nonentity, and my nonentity to my
entity,
– Where I rejoice to find my composition and lament to find
my dispersion.
From my likeness to my opposite and from my opposite to
my likeness,
– Were it not for Båqil no light of excellence would shine in
Quss.
From my sun to my full moon and from my full moon to
my sun,
– So that I might bring to light what lies hidden in night’s core.
From Persian to Arab and from Arab to Persian,
– To explain the mysteries’ roots and express the realities’
enigmas.
From my root to my branch and from my branch to my root,

For the sake of a life that was buried in death, animate or
inanimate.
Pay no heed, my soul, to the words of that jealous spitemonger,
Or to the remarks of that ignorant presumer, O myrtle of
my soul!
How many ignoramuses have slandered us spiritual beings!
While my revelation descends from the Spirit of inspiration
and sanctity,
He is like a man possessed by a demon whose touch makes
him tremble.18
On the matter of spiritual realization mankind does not
cease to err,
For God’s secret is poised between the shout and the

whisper.
I have called this treatise “Cosmic unification in the presence of essential witnessing, through the assembling of the Human Tree and the Four Spiritual Birds.” I have dedicated it to Ab¬ al-Fawåris Íakhr ibn Sinån, master of the reins of generosity and eloquence. I seek help
from God. He is my support and my assistance, glory be to him!

From The Universal Tree and the Four Birds by Muhyiddin Ibn Arabi,

Mystical Nativity for our Times

  • Sandro Botticelli’s  The Mystical Nativity


The Mystical Nativity is a painting of circa 1500-1501 by the Italian Renaissance master Sandro Botticelli, in the National Gallery in London. Botticelli built up the image using oil paint on canvas. It is his only signed work, and has a very unusual iconography for a Nativity.

It has been suggested that this picture, the only surviving work signed by Botticelli, was painted for his own private devotions, or for someone close to him. It is certainly unconventional, and does not simply represent the traditional events of the birth of Jesus and the adoration of the shepherds and the Magi or Wise Men.

Rather it is a vision of these events inspired by the prophecies in the Revelation of Saint John. Botticelli has underlined the non-realism of the picture by including Latin and Greek texts, and by adopting the conventions of medieval art, such as discrepancies in scale, for symbolic ends. The Virgin Mary, adoring a gigantic infant Jesus, is so large that were she to stand she could not fit under the thatch roof of the stable. They are, of course, the holiest and the most important persons in the painting.

The angels carry olive branches, which two of them have presented to the men they embrace in the foreground. These men, as well as the presumed shepherds in their short hooded garments on the right and the long-gowned Magi on the left, are all crowned with olive, an emblem of peace. The scrolls wound about the branches in the foreground, combined with some of those held by the angels dancing in the sky, read: ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men‘ (Luke 2:14).

As angels and men move ever closer, from right to left, to embrace, little devils scatter into holes in the ground. The scrolls held by the angels pointing to the crib once read: `Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world‘ the words of John the Baptist presenting Christ (John 1:29).

Above the stable roof the sky has opened to reveal the golden light of paradise. Golden crowns hang down from the dancing angels’ olive branches. Most of their scrolls celebrate Mary: ‘Mother of God’, ‘Bride of God’, ‘Sole Queen of the World’.

The puzzling Greek inscription at the top of the picture has been translated: ‘I Sandro made this picture at the conclusion of the year 1500 in the troubles of Italy in the half time after the time according to the 11th chapter of Saint John in the second woe of the Apocalypse during the loosing of the devil for three and a half years then he will be chained in the 12th chapter and we shall see […] as in this picture.

The missing words may have been ‘him burying himself’. The ‘half time after the time’ has been generally understood as a year and a half earlier, that is, in 1498, when the French invaded Italy, but it may mean a half millennium (500 years) after a millennium (1000 years): 1500, the date of the painting. Like the end of the millennium in the year 1000, the end of the half millennium in 1500 also seemed to many people to herald the Second Coming of Christ, prophesied in Revelation.

At a time when Florentine painters were recreating nature with their brush, Botticelli freely acknowledged the artificiality of art. In the pagan Venus and Mars he turned his back on naturalism in order to express ideal beauty. Read here La Primavera – Botticelli: The Eternal Spring and a message for our times

In the ‘Mystic Nativity’ he went further, beyond the old-fashioned to the archaic, to express spiritual truths – rather like the Victorians who were to rediscover him in the nineteenth century, and who associated the Gothic style with an ‘Age of Faith’.

The painting emerged from the city of Florence in a time when the fanatical preacher Savonarola held the city in its grip. There is no documentary evidence to prove whether or not Botticelli was one of Savonarola’s follower. But certain themes in his later works – like the Mystic Nativity – are certainly derived from the sermons of Savonarola, which means that the artist was definitely attracted by that personality so central to the cultural and political events of Florence during the last years of the fifteenth century.

The painting is on canvas – normally he would have used wood panel – perhaps for a painting with a dangerous message, canvas had the advantage that it could be rolled up and hidden. With his canvas prepared he would sketch a detailed design on paper, then he transferred this to canvas. He drew on many sources – the dancing angels echo his own three graces of Primavera, the scurrying devil was inspired by a German woodcut. X-rays show that very little of the original design changed – only an angel’s wing was adjusted and trees added over the roof of the stable. Botticelli was now ready to build up the image using oil paint – like canvas an experimental medium. To create the heavenly dome Botticelli called on the goldsmith’s craft he had learned as a boy. “The symbolism of the gold is to do with the unchanging, untarnished nature of heaven – gold doesn’t decay, it doesn’t darken like silver. Botticelli would have used an adhesive layer made of oil mixed with resin – not burnished , the gold just patted down on to the surface, following the surface irregularities of the canvas – a glitter, intricate, it would have helped the jewel like quality of the painting – it would have drawn the eye upwards from the Nativity into Heaven. Faith, hope and charity,[the angels clothed in] white, green and red – but the copper based green pigment has discoloured with time, to bronze. Originally it would have been vibrant.”

Botticelli died in 1510. The Mystic Nativity remained hidden for another three centuries. Rome at the end of the 18th century was very different to Renaissance Florence – except for the presence of French invaders. Many foreigners left, but not a young Englishman, William Young Ottley. He was an art lover, and wealthy with a slave plantation in the Caribbean. He bought up many paintings cheaply. At the Villa Aldobrandini he saw a small, unknown work, Botticelli’s Mystic Nativity. Botticelli was then in obscurity.

It arrived in London where Ottley’s house became in effect a private museum of Italian masterpieces. After Ottley’s death William Fuller-Maitland of Stansted picked up the painting at an auction for £80. When he loaned it to the Art Treasures Exhibition, Manchester 1857, it was now on open display. The Exhibition’s newspaper the Art Treasures Examiner printed a new engraving of it.

  •  The ideas of Savonarola in Sandro Botticelli’s ‘The Mystical Nativity’.

Experts mean that the ideas of Savonarola are illustrated in the painting of Sandro Botticelli ‘The Mystical Nativity’, circa 1500-1501; tempera on canvas, 108,5 x 75 cm, preserved in the National Gallery, London. The board of the National Gallery wrote:
‘Sandro Botticelli painted the ‘Mystic Nativity’, dated 1500, at the turn of the half-millennium. At first glance the painting seems to show a conventional Nativity scene. Shepherds and wise men have come to visit the new-born king, while angels in the heavens dance and sing hymns of praise. However, the text at the top of the picture, veiled in scholarly Greek, provides a key to further layers of meaning.
The Greek inscription has been translated: ‘I Sandro made this picture at the conclusion of the year 1500 in the troubles of Italy in the half time after the time according to the 11th chapter of Saint John in the second woe of the Apocalypse during the loosing of the devil for three and a half years then he will be chained in the 12th chapter and we shall see […] as in this picture.’ ‘
The missing words may have been ‘him burying himself’. The ‘half time after the time’ has been generally understood as a year and a half earlier, that is, in 1498, when the French invaded Italy, but it may mean a half millennium (500 years) after a millennium (1000 years): 1500, the date of the painting.

Savonarola had arrived in Florence in 1490 but had been repelled by the artistic glory and enormous wealth that so impressed the world. He preached that this was a corrupt and vice-ridden place. A great scourge was approaching – and then his words had assumed a terrifying reality. In 1494 a huge French army invaded Italy and 10000 troops entered Florence so that the Florentines feared the King of France meant to sack the city. Savonarola stepped into the political vacuum, he met with the French king and persuaded him to leave Florence peacefully. In their gratitude and relief the Florentines increasingly saw the friar as a prophet and his preaching attracted huge crowds to Florence Cathedral. Savonarola claimed that Florence could become the new Jerusalem if the citizens would repent and abandon their sinful luxuries – and that included much of their art. His beliefs were made real as groups of evangelical youths went on to the streets to encourage people to part with their luxuries, their lewd pictures, and books, their vanities, combs, mirrors. Botticelli may well have seen his own paintings fed to the flames. Yet the artist might not have objected because, like much of the city, he too had come under the sway of Savonarola. It seems that a sermon preached by Savonarola bears directly upon the Mystical Nativity.
In one sermon Savonarola preached he set forth a vision that had come to him in which he saw an extraordinary heavenly crown. At its base were twelve hearts with twelve ribbons wrapped around them and written on these in Latin were the unique mystical qualities or privileges of the Virgin Mary – she is ‘mother of her father’, ‘daughter of her son’, ‘bride of God’ etc. Though much of the writing on the ribbons held by the dancing angels is now invisible to the naked eye, infra-red reflectography has shown that the original words on the angels ribbons correspond exactly to Savonarola’s 12 privileges of the Virgin. In his sermon, preached on Assumption Day, Savonarola went on to explore the 11th and 12th chapters of the Book of Revelation – the precise chapters mentioned in the painting’s inscription. He connected the glory of Mary with the imminent coming of the power of Christ on earth.

Years Savonarola held Florence in his hand but his hard line charismatic rule made him powerful political enemies. He was challenged to prove his holiness by walking through fire and when he refused the tide of opinion turned against him. He was arrested, and under torture confessed to being a false prophet. On 23 May 1498 he was hanged with two of his leading lieutenants, their bodies burnt and their ashes scattered in the River Arno. Some see the figures of the three men at the bottom of the painting as representatives of the three executed holy men, raised up and restored to grace – but persecution not peace awaited Savonarola’s followers and it was in an atmosphere of oppression that Botticelli set out to create the Mystic Nativity.

The painting has some dark symbolic premonitions, including:

  • the baby Jesus rests on a sheet that evokes his death shroud;
  • the cave echoes his tomb;
  • the Kings on the left bear no gifts;
  • at the bottom of the painting, three angels embrace three men, seeming to raise them from the ground;
  • at the very bottom of the canvas, seven devils flee to the underworld; and
  • some of the devils impaled on their weapons.

On the reassuring side, the painting includes the following:

  • at the top of the picture twelve angels dressed in the colors of faith, hope and charity dance in a circle;
  • the angels are holding olive branches;
  • above the angels, heaven opens in a great golden dome;
  • the symbolism of the gold is the unchanging, untarnished nature of heaven; and
  • the angels at the bottom are holding scrolls which proclaim in Latin, “Peace on earth to men of goodwill.”

The painting uses the medieval convention of showing the Virgin Mary and infant Jesus larger than other figures. This emphasis was certainly done deliberately for effect, as earlier Botticelli nativity paintings used the correct graphical perspective. The Greek inscription at the top translates as:

“This picture, at the end of the year 1500, in the troubles of Italy, I Alessandro, in the half-time after the time, painted, according to the eleventh [chapter] of Saint John, in the second woe of the Apocalypse, during the release of the devil for three-and-a-half years; then he shall be bound in the twelfth [chapter], and we shall see [him buried] as in this picture”.

Savonarola’s Impact

This painting may be connected with the influence of Savonarola, whose influence also appears in some late pictures by Botticelli. The painting emerged when the fanatical preacher Savonarola held the city of Florence in his grip. He had arrived in Florence in 1490 but had been repelled by its artistic glory and wealth. He preached that this art was corrupt, and a great scourge was approaching. His words became a terrifying reality during the Italian War of 1494–1498. In 1494 a vast French army invaded Italy, and 10,000 troops entered Florence, and the citizens feared the sack of their city. Savonarola stepped into the political vacuum; he met with the French king and persuaded him to leave Florence peacefully. In their gratitude, and relief, the Florentines increasingly saw the friar as a prophet, and his preaching attracted huge crowds.

Savonarola claimed that Florence could become the new Jerusalem if the citizens would repent and abandon their sinful luxuries, including their art. His beliefs were made real as groups of evangelical youths went on to the streets to encourage people to part with their luxuries, their pictures, and books, their vanities, combs, mirrors. Botticelli may well have seen his paintings thrown into the flames. The artist might not have objected because, as much of the city, he too was fearful of Savonarola. Savonarola’s fearful sermons must have affected the Mystical Nativity.

For years Savonarola held Florence in his grip, but his hard-line rule made him powerful enemies. He was challenged to prove his holiness by walking through fire, and when he refused, the tide of opinion turned against him. He was arrested, and under torture, confessed to being a false prophet. In 1498 he was hanged with two of his lieutenants. Their bodies were then burnt.

Bonfire of the Vanities

The ‘bonfire of the vanities’ usually refers to the fire of 1497, when supporters of Savonarola collected and burned thousands of objects such as cosmetics, art, and books in Florence. The focus of this destruction was on objects that might tempt one to sin, including vanity items such as mirrors, cosmetics, elegant dresses, playing cards, and musical instruments. Other targets included books that were deemed to be immoral, manuscripts of secular songs, and artworks, including paintings and sculptures.

Great Tribulation

The Great Tribulation is a period mentioned by Jesus as a sign that would occur in the time of the end. In Revelation, “the Great Tribulation” is used to indicate the period spoken of by Jesus, however, in the context of those hard-pressed by siege and the calamities of war.  Christian eschatology is the study of ‘end things.’ The study includes the end of an individual life, the end of the age, the end of the world, and the nature of the Kingdom of God.

There are many passages in the Bible, which speak of a time of terrible tribulation, such as has never been known. Time of natural and human-made disasters on a grand scale. Jesus said that at the time of his coming, “There will be great tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever will be. And unless those days were shortened, no flesh would be saved; but for the elect’s sake, those days will be shortened.” [Mt 24:21-22]

  • Botticelli’s Mystic Nativity, Savonarola and the Millennium

….Already by 1400 the theme of the reconciliation of the heavenly virtues was
being used for reform propaganda. According to the chronicler Luca Dominici,
notices relating to the Book of Revelation (so he says) were posted on the doors of
the main churches of Bologna, reading:
Through the world a multitude of the peoples dressed in white and shining stoles, shouting, ‘Lord, grant us peace and mercy’. And at last, when Righteousness and Peace had
descended from heaven, they kissed each other. And Truth and Peace arose upon the earth, and the true shepherd of all will become known, and the righteous king will arise on earth …

The purpose of such notices was to encourage the Bianchi, then converging in
great numbers upon Rome for the Jubilee.16 We encounter three of the heavenly
virtues in a song by Girolamo Benivieni, one of Savonarola’s closest followers, in
which he describes a visit by Christ to Florence in order to see and judge the newly
reformed city. Mercy and Righteousness come before him and embrace each other
and are then joined by Peace. The song, published in 1500, was probably written
during Savonarola’s lifetime, to be sung by groups of his most ardent followers.’
In a sermon given in December 1494 Savonarola himself used the image of the
heavenly virtues to illustrate how great God’s love was for Florence:
I have told you several times in the past, Florence, that even though God has everywhere  prepared a great scourge, nevertheless on the other hand he loves you and is fond of you.
And so it can be said that in you has been realised that saying, ‘Mercy and truth are met
together’, that is, Mercy and Righteousness [sic] have come together in the city of Florence.
From the one side came the scourge, and Mercy came towards it from the other side, and,  ‘righteousness and peace have kissed each other’, and have embraced together, and God has  wished to show you justice and on the other hand be merciful to you, and save you…

This passage appears to bear not only on the Mystic Nativity but on the Mystic Crucifixion as well.

Each of the twelve angels in the circle at the top of the Mystic Nativity has at least one ribbon bearing an inscription in Latin or sometimes Italian . Each of the seven surviving
inscriptions conforms exactly to one of what Savonarola, in his Compendio di revelatione, first published in 1495, calls the  twelve ‘privileges’ of the Virgin.

  • The  twelve ‘privileges’ of the Virgin

The  ‘privileges’ are part of an allegorical  crown offered to Mary by the Florentine people, and occur on banderoles surmounting the twelve hearts in the lowest  of its three tiers .

In the which banderoles were written twelve privileges of the Virgin with words of prayer,
which are these:

Two in relation to the Everlasting Father: The first: Sposa di Dio Padre vera, because God the Father and she have  one and the same son. The second: Sposa  di Dio Padre admiranda, because just as the  Father gave birth from eternity to his Son in  heaven without a mother, so she gave birth  on earth to that same Son without a father.

Two others in relation to the Son: First: Madre di Dio. Second: Madre del suo padre, because Jesus Christ was the Son and is God the Creator of the Universe, who created her.

Two in relation to the Holy Ghost: First: she is Sacrario dello Spirito Sancto singulare, because by it she was singularly full of all of the graces. Second: Sacrario ineffabile, because the Holy Ghost made her fit to be the mother of the Creator of the Universe.

Two in relation to her virginity: First: she is Vergine delle vergine, because no other virgin can be compared to this one, who was never spotted by any venial or mortal sin. Second: she is Vergine fecunda, because she alone is virgin and mother.

Two in relation to the Church Triumphant and the whole universe: First: that she is Regina sola del mondo, because she is the true Spouse and Mother and Shrine of the King of the World, who is God Threefold and One. Second: Regina sopra tutte le creature honoranda, because … she is honoured much more highly than all the saints, and with an honour that is called ‘hyperdulia’.

Two last ones in relation to the present Church Militant: First: she is Dolcezza di cuore delli giusti, because through her they beg for many favours from God, and her love is ‘sweeter than honey and the honeycomb’, which love amazingly makes their souls and bodies chaste. Second: that she is Speranza delli  peccatori et delle persone miserabili, because through her prayers and merits they hope to beg for  mercy from God. These twelve privileges, then, were written on those twelve banderoles in this form: Sponsa Dei Patris vera, ora pro nobis; Sponsa Dei Patris admiranda, intercede pro nobis. And thus also followed all the others.

There is good reason to believe that there is a tropological dimension to the
painting. The known Savonarolan sources on which the Mystic Nativity draws are all
moral in intent, and the painting exhorts us to worship the Child truly and become
reconciled with our brothers. Unlike most Italian pictures of the time, it is clearly
structured into groups of significant numbers and combinations of white, green,
and red. Significant numbers were the almost irresistable cue for late-medieval theologians to list a set of moral precepts, and Savonarola was no exception to this
rule. White, green, and red usually symbolise Faith, Hope, and Charity respectively.


That perhaps is what they do in Botticelli’s painting also. But caution is necessary.
For Savonarola Faith may be green and Hope sky blue,’ whereas white, green, and
red may stand for any number of other things.
To conclude, I shall propose three possible interpretations of the painting, taking them in ascending order of probability, before ending with an observation  about its theme.

Firstly, the Mystic Nativity might be, along with the Mystic Crucifixion in the Fogg
Art Museum , a picture intended for the boys in the group of Bernardino
dei Fanciulli or another Savonarolan association like it. This is suggested by the
highly ‘naive’ syntax of both paintings, the great stress on angels, and the fact that
in both paintings the symbols of evil-five small and apparently self-destructed
demons in the case of the Mystic Nativity and two small and seemingly unferocious
animals in that of the Mystic Crucifixion-do not appear to be intended as frightening. As a further slight but perhaps relevant indication, in the only volume of the ‘collected works’ of Bernardino dei Fanciulli, there are just two illustrations, one  showing the Nativity and the other the Crucifixion. Against the possibility that these two pictures were intended for children is of course the presence of the Greek inscription to the Mystic Nativity. But as we have seen, that inscription might have  been added later;  if so, perhaps it was added with the purpose of ‘redefining’ the painting. In this connection we should note that Bernardino and his group were  forced into exile in 1500-and according to the inscription it was ‘at the end of the  year 1500, in the troubles of Italy’ that the Mystic Nativity was painted.
Secondly, the painting might be a cryptic representation of the Millennium-or rather those features of it in which Botticelli believed and which he thought to be in harmony with the predictions that Savonarola had made. During such a Millennium those Florentines who truly believed would reign with Christ their king. As we have seen, the Millennium begins with the binding of Satan. Accepted Catholic doctrine holds that it therefore begins, figuratively, with the birth of Christ. It is even possible that the word ‘time’ in the painting’s Greek inscription means ‘millennium’, as in Francesco da Meleto’s interpretation.176 The mortals being embraced by angels and led by them to the manger would be the martyrs and saints who live again through the First Resurrection -or whomever else it was that Botticelli might have thought these Apocalyptic persons stood for. Their crowns of olive would be the crowns of martyrdom or righteousness. It at first strikes one as unlikely that Botticelli would have shown the Millennium in an age in which it was rarely mentioned. But of those persons who believed in the Millennium at the time, how many actually ventured to  say so in print? If the Mystic Nativity does represent the Millennium in any real sense, firstly, the painting is in this respect unique as far as we know; secondly, it is  thoroughly heretical. We recall that-if for the wrong reasons-Vasari believed  Botticelli to have been a heretic.

The third possible interpretation is that the painting is a figuration of an ‘Apocalyptic’ birth of Christ, in which allusions to the reconciliation of the heavenly virtues with one another and with mankind, the ‘crown’ of Mary, and the Millennium (or the casting out of Satan) are elements of a complex and yet ‘simple’ allegory of the future in which Botticelli believed.

That future would, through the intercession of Mary, see the ‘birth’ of Christ in the hearts of the Florentines. Through the mercy of divine Grace, the Florentines would be filled with charity and love towards one another and be reconciled with the angels and their God.

There would thus come to pass that peace and goodness which the devil cannot abide and which would cause his downfall: ‘Now is come the power of Christ on earth; the
dragon has lost’.
Whatever it is that the Mystic Nativity shows, the chances are that it took great
courage for Botticelli to paint it.

  • Where heaven shall touch earth

The overriding theme of the Mystic Nativity, because of the large number of olive branches in it, appears to be peace. But we should do well to remember that in
Botticelli’s time the olive was usually a symbol of mercy.

In Savonarola’s ‘1493’ Christmas sermon it is Mercy, not Peace, who holds a branch of olive. Moreover, wreaths of olive conveying thoughts of mercy and repentance had recently come into use in one of Florence’s most important public rituals, the offering of little torches by pardoned offenders at the city’s Baptistry. These persons had formerly
been led to the Baptistry in chains, but from 1493 at the latest each is described as
being led, ‘in the usual way, his head uncovered, with a crown [or garland] of olive,
with a little torch in his hands… preceded by trumpets’.

Now, one of the conditions for receiving pardon at the time was that an offender make ‘peace’ with the offended party. Perhaps onlookers remembered this as the olive-wreathed offenders were marched past them. But surely what was uppermost in their thoughts was that these transgressors had come to repent what they had done and were now receiving mercy. Indeed, what Botticelli and many others who lived during his age probably hoped for more than anything else but also in our times , was Mercy.

Here More About  Christmas Mythology: Myth, Our Self, and the Divine Child

Saint George, Islam, and Al khidr in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

Su Fang Ng
Kenneth Hodges

cropped-logo-web

Before his tale, which begins with Islamic merchants carrying stories between Syria and Rome, Chaucer’s Man of Law offers this apostrophe to merchants: “Ye seken lond and see for yowre wynnynges; / As wise folk ye knowen al th’estaat / Of regnes; ye been fadres of tidynges / And tales . . .” Thus Chaucer notes that trading networks spread stories as well as merchandise, stories Chaucer himself appropriates and retells. If we take Chaucer’s remarks seriously, we need to expand the area of literary exchange beyond Western Europe. One work that may have been shaped, unexpectedly, by such exchanges is Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Although European analogues and sources for it exist, there have been hints over the decades of possible non-European contexts for the poem. In 1916, George Lyman Kittredge noted that in a number of the analogues the supernatural challenger is black or Turkish. These analogues thus link the challenger of the beheading plot to racial otherness. In 1974, Alice Lasater, in her work on the influence of Spanish literature (Christian, Islamic, and hybrid) on Middle English literature, noted extensive parallels between a well-known popular Islamic folk figure, al-Khidr (the Green One), and the Green Knight.

Evidence for the Gawain-poet’s interest in the east has been detected in the other poems as well. The heavenly city of Pearl, as Mahmoud Manzalaoui has noted, has close parallels to the description in an Islamic text known to Europeans in Latin translation as the Liber Scalae or Book of the Ladder (a copy of fourteenth-century English provenance was found at Oxford). It recounts Mohammed’s ascent into the heavens (mi’rāj), and scholars now largely agree that this text was a source for Dante’s Commedia. Further suggesting interest in the east, Cleanness draws on Sir John Mandeville’s description of the Dead Sea. Since the poem is elusive in questions of authorship, date, and circumstances of composition, criticism has necessarily proceeded speculatively. Most critics have understandably focused on Northern European (especially Irish and French) sources and analogues.

Given recent scholarly interest in medieval romance’s engagement with the east and with Islam, however, the Green Knight’s non-European analogues and particularly Lasater’s intriguing suggestion of al-Khidr need to be reconsidered. While the poem’s many unknowns prevent any absolute identification of the Green Knight as al-Khidr, especially since the Green Knight is most probably a composite character with elements taken from several traditions as well as the poet’s imagination, the possibility that the Gawain-poet may have, in his typically allusive manner, borrowed from an Islamic figure nonetheless leads to a fruitful reexamination of the poem’s commitments and affiliations. The seminal works of Dorothee Metlitzki and María Rosa Menocal have demonstrated that Islamic literature must be taken seriously as an influence on and source for medieval Christian literature: intellectual engagement with Islam went far beyond the caricatured Muslims of bad romances.

Religious antipathy did not prevent medieval Christians from studying the sacred book of their enemies: Robert of Ketton’s twelfth-century translation of the Qu’ran circulated widely and continued to be read into the early modern period. As Thomas Burman shows in his study of Latin translations of the Qu’ran, Robert of Ketton and other translators incorporated Islamic commentary into their translations and their glosses in order to elucidate obscure Qu’ranic passages, and in so doing they strove to understand a difficult, alien text in its own terms: Christian response to the text was not simply polemical—though it certainly was that—it was also deeply philological. Since medieval engagements with Islam are starting to be understood as doing more than simply recycling old stereotypes or caricaturing Muslims, Lasater’s suggestion of al-Khidr as an analogue for the Green Knight must be more thoroughly considered. As medievalists also turn, increasingly, to questions of postcolonialism, a reconsideration of the literary markers of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight’s possible engagement with the Islamic world in relation to the likely historical and political contexts of its composition may point us to a new, international reading of the poem. Read more here: Saint_George_Islam_and_Regional_Courts

200eae8cc251d83651aa64d4df34dde4

mini52_Image_2

Acedia – Lack of Care: Disease of our times

In Praise of Folly, Erasmus

“The supreme madness is to see life as it is and not as it should be,

things are only what we want to believe they are ...”

Jacques Brel

DP818263

Sloth – Acedia makes man powerless and dries out the nerves until man is good for nothing.”

Acedia (/əˈsiːdiə/; also accidie or accedie /ˈæksɪdi/, from Latin acēdia, and this from Greek ἀκηδία, “negligence”, ἀ- “lack of” -κηδία “care”) has been variously defined as a state of listlessness or torpor, of not caring or not being concerned with one’s position or condition in the world. In ancient Greece akidía literally meant an inert state without pain or care.

SLOTH (Laziness, Indolente, Desidia, Accidia, Pigritia, La Paresse, Trágheit,

The original drawing, in the Albertina, Vienna, is dated 1557.

Many a modern must find this not only the most passive and negative but in many ways the most haunting and shattering of Bruegel’s seven Sins.

It symbolizes the evils of the vice which was treated with more irony and folksy fantasy in “The Land of Cockaigne,” reproduced as Plate 32. In that print, Plenty has destroyed ambition, energy, activity.

Evert0321280px-Pieter_Bruegel_d._Ä._037

The arrangement of the clerk, peasant, and soldier underneath the tree suggests the men as the spokes of a wheel, where the tree is the hub. The roasted fowl lies in the place where a fourth spoke could be.

Ross Frank has argued that the painting is a political satire directed at the participants in the first stages of the Dutch Revolt (1568–1648), where the roasted fowl represents the humiliation and failure of the nobleman (who would otherwise form the fourth spoke of the wheel) in his leadership of the Netherlands, and the overall scene depicts the complacency of the Netherlandish people, too content with their abundance to take the risks that would bring about significant religious and political change.[3]

The painting has also been cited as illustrating the Freudian oral stage of psychosexual development,[4] showing a paradise of oral pleasure. It is used to demonstrate how human beings achieve oral pleasure and stimulation from eating and simply having things in the mouth.

see here more info: The land of Cocagne

Here, Sloth herself, older and uglier than the other allegories, sleeps open-mouthed in a landscape of delay, decay, and ultimate impotence

sin acedia 1

She reposes on her beastly counterpart, a sleeping ass. A monster behind her adjusts her pillow. Around her crawl huge snails. Even the hill of Sloth is soft as shown by a winged demon sawing into it at left. One art historian sees the saw as a suggestion of Dame Sloth’s snoring as she sleeps. Another regards the sawman as a symbol for malicious gossip, his mouth ever open as he cuts away the ground from under others. ( To try to let the other come in problems).

sin acedia 2

From the right, a stork-beaked monster in monk’s garb drags a sinner too indolent to leave his bed; he eats as he lies. The counterpart of this monk, Tolnay finds in Bosch’s ” Temptation of St. Anthony” painting (Lisbon). At the lower left, on a nearer hillock, trawls an all-head-and-feet monster, dragging a tail half fish, half branch. A hollow tree, farther left, contains a great pig’s head and provides a perch for a demon bird.

MM12067sin acedia 3

The hollow-tree symbol is extended enormously to the right of Dame Sloth. In this shell-like structure mingling building and tree, naked sinners and monsters sleep around a table. A couple lie together in bed behind a curtain. The demon leers around it as he seeks to draw the sleeping girl inside. Sloth or excess leisure encourages lechery. An owl, again, looks down cryptically.

Dice on the table to the left of the owl refer perhaps to gambling by lazy time-wasters. A man, caught in a great clockwork above, strikes a bell with a hammer. Tolnay reads this as a kind of pun, for in the Flemish lui ( Luid)signified both the verb “to ring” (as a bell), and the adjective “lazy.”

The idea of clock and time a-wasting appears again at the upper left. Like some effect in a Jean Cocteau motion picture, a human arm points to 11 o’clock. The lazy leave things till the eleventh hour.

sin acedia 4

And catastrophe lies behind—a blaze is burning up the broken structure, filled with dead branches.

A little to the right, just below the top margin, a mountain top with human face spouts smoke. A little farther to the right an enormous slug raises its feelers into the sky as it trawls through a stone arch. On its neck rides an almost unreadable strange distortion: a monster with a shaft (candle ?) instead of a head.

Below, just above center, a squatting giant, built into a mill, enacts a proverb common to many a culture: “He’s too lazy to shit.” The faceless midgets in the boat behind him are inducing a bowel movement with poles and pressure. Another owl looks through a small square window in the roof above this operation.

On the bank, somewhat to the left, two demons drag into the water of sin a woman almost bidden inside a seething hollow egg, which looks also like a beet or turnip.

References to many other Flemish proverbs have been shown or suspected. Basic to the complicated spectacle as a whole is the thought in the Flemish rhyme below the print. It is roughly rendered in English thus : Translation of Latin caption: Sloth breaks strength, long idleness ruin the sinews

 The various examples of lazy or slothful behavior, in evidence in the surrounding landscape, colorfully demonstrate the message of the inscription below: “Sloth makes man powerless and dries out the nerves until man is good for nothing.”

In short, sloth, far from resting, recuperating and rejuvenating,waste a man away, renders him impotent and good for nothing. He becomes like a slug, a slave of the stupefied tyrant machine, DAME Desidia   or Acedia , ἀκηδία, “negligence”, ἀ- “lack of” -κηδία “care”) has been variously defined as a state of listlessness or torpor, of not caring or not being concerned with one’s position or condition in the world.

Mentally, acedia has a number of distinctive components of which the most important is affectlessness, a lack of any feeling about self or other, a mind-state that gives rise to boredom, rancor, apathy, and a passive inert or sluggish mentation. Physically, acedia is fundamentally associated with a cessation of motion and an indifference to work; it finds expression in laziness, idleness, and indolence.

Emotionally and cognitively, the evil of acedia finds expression in a lack of any feeling for the world, for the people in it, or for the self. Acedia takes form as an alienation of the sentient self first from the world and then from itself. Although the most profound versions of this condition are found in a withdrawal from all forms of participation in or care for others or oneself.

Sloth not only subverts the livelihood of the body, taking no care for its day-to-day provisions, but also slows down the mind, halting its attention to matters of great importance. Sloth hinders the man in his righteous undertakings and thus becomes a terrible source of human’s undoing

In his Purgatorio Dante portrayed the penance for acedia as running continuously at top speed. Dante describes acedia as the “failure to love God with all one’s heart, all one’s mind and all one’s soul”; to him it was the “middle sin”, the only one characterised by an absence or insufficiency of love, virtue and uprightness.

The antidote Industria  meaning Craftmanship , Diligence ,Persistence, effortfulness, ethics, Virtues and sincere uprightness.

  • The Tower of Babel by Breughel

The Tower of Babel was the subject of three paintings by Pieter Bruegel the Elder. The first, a miniature painted on ivory, was painted while Bruegel was in Rome and is now lost.[1][2] The two surviving paintings, often distinguished by the prefix “Great” and “Little”, are in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna and the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen in Rotterdam respectively. Both are oil paintings on wood panels.

The (Great) Tower of Babel

The (Little) Tower of Babel

The Rotterdam painting is about half the size of the Vienna one. In broad terms they have exactly the same composition, but at a detailed level everything is different, whether in the architecture of the tower or in the sky and the landscape around the tower. The Vienna version has a group in the foreground, with the main figure presumably Nimrod, who was believed to have ordered the construction of the tower,[although the Bible does not actually say this. In Vienna the tower rises at the edge of a large city, but the Rotterdam tower is in open countryside.

The paintings depict the construction of the Tower of Babel, which, according to the Book of Genesis in the Bible, was built by a unified, monolingual humanity as a mark of their achievement and to prevent them from scattering: “Then they said, ‘Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves; otherwise we shall be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.‘” (Genesis 11:4).

The Viennese “Big” Tower, is almost twice as large as the Rotterdam “Little” Tower and is characterized by a more traditional treatment of the subject. Based on Genesis 11: 1-9, in which the Lord confounds the people who began to build “a tower whose top may reach unto Heaven”, it includes – as the other version does not – the scene of King Nimrod and his retinue appearing before the genuflecting crowd of workmen. This event is not mentioned in the Bible but was suggested in Flavius Josephus’ Antiquities of the Jews. It was important to Bruegel as underlining the sin of the King’s pride and overbearing which the picture is supposed to highlight. See more here

Dante purgatory:

Seven terraces of Purgatory

After passing through the gate of Purgatory proper, Virgil guides the pilgrim Dante through the mountain’s seven terraces. These correspond to the seven deadly sins or “seven roots of sinfulness”] Pride, Envy, Wrath, Sloth, Avarice (and Prodigality), Gluttony, and Lust. The classification of sin here is more psychological than that of the Inferno, being based on motives, rather than actions.[22] It is also drawn primarily from Christian theology, rather than from classical sources The core of the classification is based on love: the first three terraces of Purgatory relate to perverted love directed towards actual harm of others, the fourth terrace relates to deficient love (i.e. sloth or acedia), and the last three terraces relate to excessive or disordered love of good things.[21] Each terrace purges a particular sin in an appropriate manner. Those in Purgatory can leave their circle voluntarily, but may only do so when they have corrected the flaw within themselves that led to committing that sin.

  • Essentially Dante devises in Purgatorio 10 a way of describing moving images in words: he is describing moving pictures/movies/film, though the medium does not yet exist. The same miraculous medium is used for the 13 examples of punished pride that are described in Purgatorio 12. While the carved examples of the virtue of humility are on the wall of the terrace, the examples of the vice of pride are on its pavement, like pavement tombs the pilgrim has seen on earth, but more lifelike due to the “artificio” (artifice [Purg. 12.23]) of their maker.

A spectacular acrostic displays the 13 examples of pride almost “visually”; see the attached chart for a list of all the examples. Note the interweaving of biblical and classical examples and how the exempla of pride reflect the three types of pride dramatized by the encounters with the three souls of Purgatorio 11. The examples are arranged in the following pattern: four sets of terzine begin with the word “Vedea”; four sets of terzine begin with the word “O”; four sets of terzine begin with the word ‘Mostrava”. Thus twelve examples of pride spell out VOM or UOM, “man” in Italian, signifying that pride is man’s besetting sin.

The thirteenth terzina offers the final example, which sums up all the others by referring to a city rather than to a person and by replicating in one terzina all three of the letters that spell the acrostic:

  Vedeva Troia in cenere e in caverne;
o Ilión, come te basso e vile
mostrava il segno che lì si discerne! (Purg. 12.61-63)
  I saw Troy turned to caverns and to ashes;
O Ilium, your effigy in stone—
it showed you there so squalid, so cast down!

The characters featured as examples of pride would repay lengthy discussion. Here we find Nembrot, he who built the tower of Babel and who spoke gibberish to Dante and Virgilio in Inferno 31:

  Vedea Nembròt a piè del gran lavoro
quasi smarrito, e riguardar le genti
che ’n Sennaàr con lui superbi fuoro. (Purg. 12.34-36)
  I saw bewildered Nimrod at the foot
of his great labor; watching him were those
of Shinar who had shared his arrogance.

Most important to my reading of the terrace of pride is the mythological figure of Arachne, marked by the Ulyssean adjective “folle”:

  O folle Aragne, sì vedea io te
già mezza ragna, trista in su li stracci
de l’opera che mal per te si fé. (Purg. 12.43-45)
  O mad Arachne, I saw you already
half spider, wretched on the ragged remnants
of work that you had wrought to your own hurt!

Arachne was famous for her weavings that were so lifelike that they seemed alive. The passage describing her work in Ovid’s Metamorphoses, discussed in Chapter 6 of The Undivine Comedy, nourished Dante in his conceptualizing of representational arrogance as the cornerstone of his terrace of pride (see the Introduction to Purgatorio 11). Again, as in Purgatorio 10’s depiction of the “visibile parlare” of the sculpted virtues, in Purgatorio 12 the point is hammered home that this art is not just “life-like”, it is “life” itself:

  Morti li morti e i vivi parean vivi:
non vide mei di me chi vide il vero,
quant’io calcai, fin che chinato givi. (Purg. 12.67-69)
  The dead seemed dead and the alive, alive:
I saw, head bent, treading those effigies,
as well as those who’d seen those scenes directly.

At the end of the canto we encounter another of the ritual components of the purgatorial experience, repeated on each terrace: Dante meets the angel and a “P” is removed from his brow, signifying his successful participation in the purgation of one “peccatum” or vice/sin. He climbs toward the next terrace, and as he climbs he hears a shortened form of the first Beatitude: “Beati pauperes spiritu” (Matthew 5:3). The eight Beatitudes are from Christ’s Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:3-10) and will be featured on the purgatorial terraces. In full, this Beatitude, featured on the terrace of pride to celebrate the soul’s new acquisition of a pride-less “poverty of spirit”, is: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

  • Educating Desire: Conversion and Ascent in Dante’s Purgatorio

by Paul A. Camacho

Paul A. Camacho in his paper asks our attention “Why the Purgatorio? As first-time readers discover with surprise in the closing cantos of Dante’s Inferno, Hell is defined primarily by stasis. Where there is motion in Hell, it is only the tormented self-circling of a will that cannot love anything beyond itself. Hell is the place that Dante scholar Peter Hawkins has memorably described as “repetition-compulsion, an endless replay of the sinner’s ‘song of myself.’” It is certainly true, as Dante saw, that conversion requires an underworld itinerary: we can no overcome the drive to get what we mistakenly think will bring us happiness through intellectual understanding or sheerwill-power alone. But to journey throug hHell as Dante would have us do,one must experience one’s sin and failure without getting trapped in it; and this means one must face all the darkness in oneself without becoming entombed by fear, despair, or gawking fascination. This is a heavy task for anyone, let alone for the average undergraduate. By contrast, Purgatory is, in Hawkins’ words, “dynamic, dedicated to change and transformation.It concerns the rebirth of a  self free a tlast to be interested in other souls and other things .” It is fruitful to dwell in Purgatorio with students because it is in Purgatory that we now reside. I mean this: in Hell there is no time, there is only infinite stasis; in Paradise there is no time, but rather the dynamic over-abundance of eternity; only in Purgatory is there time,because only here is there the possibility of change and growth. If we read the Commedia to learn how to love better here and now, in this world, it is the Purgatorio that will provide the blueprint.”
In Cantos 17 and 18 of the Purgatorio, Dante’s Virgil lays out a theory of sin, freedom, and moral motivation based on a philosophical anthropology of loving-desire. As the commentary tradition has long recognized, because Dante placed Virgil’s discourse on love at the heart of the Commedia, the poet invites his readers to use love as a hermeneutic key to the text as a whole. When we contextualize Virgil’s discourse within the broader intention of the poem—to move its readers from disordered love to an ordered love of ultimate things—then we find in these central cantos not just a key to the structure and movement of the poem ,but also a key to understanding Dante’s pedagogical aim. With his Commedia, Dante invites us to perform the interior transformation which the poem dramatizes in verse and symbol. He does so by awakening in his readers not only a desire for the beauty of his poetic creation, but also a desire for the beauty of the love described therein. In this way, the poem presents a pedagogy of love, in which the reader participates in the very experience of desire and delight enacted in the text. In this article, I offer an analysis of Virgil’s discourse on love in the Purgatorio, arguing for an explicit and necessary connection between loving-desire and true education. I demonstrate that what informs Dante’s pedagogy of love is the notion of love as ascent, a notion we find articulated especially in the Christian Platonism of Augustine. Finally, I conclude by offering a number of figures, passages, and themes from across the Commedia that provide fruitful material for teachers engaged in the task of educating desire. Read more here

A lifelong pilgrimage: The Mirror of Jheronimus bosch

  • This panel symbolizing the “all seeing eye” or “eye of salvation” structurally, it is like a circle of “Seven deadly sins

Four small circles, detailing the four last thingsDeath, Judgment, Heaven, and Hell — surround a larger circle in which the seven deadly sins are depicted: wrath at the bottom, then (proceeding clockwise) envy, greed, gluttony, sloth, extravagance (later replaced with lust), and pride, using scenes from life rather than allegorical representations of the sins.[4]

At the centre of the large circle, which is said to represent the eye of God, is a “pupil” in which Christ can be seen emerging from his tomb. Below this image is the Latin inscription Cave cave d[omi]n[u]s videt (“Beware, Beware, The Lord Sees”).

Above and below the central image are inscription in Latin of Deuteronomy 32:28–29, containing the lines “For they are a nation void of counsel, neither is there any understanding in them”, above, and “O that they were wise, that they understood this, that they would consider their latter end!” below.

Each panel in the outer circle depicts a different sin. Clockwise from top (Latin names in brackets):

  1. Gluttony (gula): A drunkard swigs from a bottle while a fat man eats greedily, not heeding the plea of his equally obese young son.
  2. Sloth (acedia): A lazy man dozes in front of the fireplace while Faith appears to him in a dream, in the guise of a nun, to remind him to say his prayers.
  3. Lust (luxuria): Two couples enjoy a picnic in a pink tent, with two clowns (right) to entertain them.
  4. Pride (superbia): With her back to the viewer, a woman looks at her reflection in a mirror held up by a demon.
  5. Wrath (ira): A woman attempts to break up a fight between two drunken peasants.
  6. Envy (invidia): A couple standing in their doorway cast envious looks at a rich man with a hawk on his wrist and a servant to carry his heavy load for him, while their daughter flirts with a man standing outside her window, with her eye on the well-filled purse at his waist. The dogs illustrate the Flemish saying, “Two dogs and only one bone, no agreement”.
  7. Greed (avaricia): A crooked judge pretends to listen sympathetically to the case presented by one party to a lawsuit, while slyly accepting a bribe from the other party.

The four small circles also have details. In Death of the Sinner, death is shown at the doorstep along with an angel and a demon while the priest says the sinner’s last rites, In Glory, the saved are entering Heaven, with Jesus and the saints, at the gate of Heaven an Angel prevents a demon from ensnaring a woman. Saint Peter is shown as the gatekeeper. In Judgment, Christ is shown in glory while angels awake the dead, while in the Hell demons torment sinners according to their sins.

140px-Jheronimus_Bosch_Table_of_the_Mortal_Sins_(Gula)

Seven Deadly Sins

Jheronimus_Bosch_Table_of_the_Mortal_Sins_(Accidia)

Jheronimus_Bosch_Table_of_the_Mortal_Sins_(Luxuria)

Jheronimus_Bosch_Table_of_the_Mortal_Sins_(Superbia)

800px-Jheronimus_Bosch_Table_of_the_Mortal_Sins_(Ira)

Jheronimus_Bosch_Table_of_the_Mortal_Sins_(Invidia)

Jheronimus_Bosch_Table_of_the_Mortal_Sins_(Avaricia)

Four Last Things

605px-Jheronimus_Bosch_4_last_things_(death)

  • “Death of a sinner”, angel and devil weigh a man’s soul

494px-Hieronymus_Bosch_-_The_Seven_Deadly_Sins_(detail)_-_WGA2501

  • Hell” and the punishment of the seven deadly sins.  

608px-Jheronimus_Bosch_4_last_things_(Paradise)

Jheronimus_Bosch_4_last_things_(Last_Judgment)

  • THE SEVEN DEADLY SINS AND THE FOUR LAST THINGS THROUGH THE SEVEN DAY PRAYERS OF THE DEVOTIO MODERNA

Christ’s gaze in Bosch’s painting draws the viewer’s attention. When a member of the Devotio Moderna looked at the painting during his daily prayers, he underwent serious
self-examination which was possible because “visual images” served as a still more effective vehicle for compassionate meditation.

Devils and the Angel’s Mirrors.

Without the gaze of Christ, the painting would not have as great an impact on its viewer in a time of meditation. When the viewer meditates upon the seven day prayers of the Devotio Moderna, he/she sees the image of Christ as the Man of Sorrows looking at him or her. Through this interaction with Christ, the viewer examines his own morals and keeps his faith in God. The viewer’s world is not the physical environment where he lives but the one that is reflected in the Eye of God. As the viewer prays upon the seven day prayers, he will be guided to the Kingdom of Heaven where he will be greeted by the angels and face Christ without any shame or guilt upon the death of the redeemer. The righteous person will keep his faith in God as he sees the image of Christ in the Eye of God.
The eye creates an eternal exchange of the interaction between the viewer and Christ As the image reflects the ‘inner perception’ of the viewer, Bosch’s painting reflects the viewer’s own consciousness in choosing between right and wrong as he undergoes the daily meditations of the seven day prayers of the Devotio Moderna.

Read more here

Utopia and the Devotio Moderna:

The Brabantine mysticism of Jan van Ruusbroec and the Priory of Groenendaal,
the Modern Devotion of Geert Grote and the spiritual and religious thought of
Erasmus and More through Utopia and other key works of Christian humanism.

Maarten Vermeir -University College London

utopia-kleur

Two Renaissance work serve me well as interpretation keys for Thomas More’s
book of Utopia.

My first interpretation key will always remain Desiderius Erasmus’ Praise of Folly
or Moriae Encomium.
As you all know, Erasmus wrote his Praise of Folly in the house of More and the
narrator of his Praise, Lady Stultitia or Moria, is ironically linked to the name of
Thomas More. Lady Moria orates a great amount of nonsense, but through
Erasmus’ fine irony at the same time a great deal of wise and rightful criticism
on aspects and figures of his contemporary society. At the end of her Praise,
Stultitia speaks also about a deeper mystical, Christian folly and considering
similar statements by Erasmus in other works like his Enchiridion Militis
Christiani, these statements of Lady Stultitia were seriously meant by Erasmus.
Also in Thomas More’s Utopia we can recognize a mixture of serious ideas
through the eyes of More and Erasmus (about the institution of the state and
church, international relations, the division between church and state,
spirituality, religion and tolerance, social care, culture/education? And
matrimonial policies) with also nonsensical ideas to their opinion (the economic
system, the travel restrictions inside the Utopian state). A search for their ideas
on these points through other works and their personal orientations makes the
recognition of such mixture unavoidable. In Utopia we can probably find more
serious concepts than nonsensical, and although this partition was reversed in
the earlier Praise of Folly, the family similarity on this point remains paramount
and crucial to a correct understanding.
The narrator of More’s Utopia, Raphael Hythlodaeus(in one of the two meanings
translated as ‘Merchant of Nonsense’, in the other as ‘Destroyer of Nonsense’)
is linked reciprocally to Erasmus through the figure of Saint Erasmus, as I learned
recently, the patron of all sailors. Also reciprocally, Thomas More started
probably writing the book of Utopia in one of the major residences of Erasmus
in the Low Countries: the Antwerp house of his friend Pieter Gillis.
My second preferred interpretation key for More’s Utopia consists in the 900
theses of Pico della Mirandola.
Thomas More translated ‘The Life of Pico della Mirandola’ and was undoubtedly
aware of della Mirandola’s philosophical program: in his famous 900 theses Pico
della Mirandola intended to combine into a higher synthesis the best elements
of classical traditions, especially from the philosophy of Plato and Aristotle, with
aspects of the Jewish-Christian traditions, especially mystical elements like he
found in the Jewish Kabbala. His great endeavor was to formulate a consistent
marriage between Jewish-Christian mysticism and the rich humanistic learning
by which he was surrounded in Renaissance Florence. His early death prevented
him regretfully from executing this great master plan. But the Christian
Humanists around Erasmus and Thomas More would become Pico’s true
inheritors and take Pico della Mirandola’s scheme as a blueprint for their
complete literary oeuvre and philosophical program. One of Utopia’s layers of
meaning is certainly a broad defense of the Christian humanistic ideals. The
serious parts of Utopia can be read as an honorary tribute to Pico della
Mirandola’s audacious plans, as a literary realization of Pico’s inspiring dreams.
These traces of della Mirandola’s program in Utopia will be subject of my later
research.

index u

Both works, Erasmus’ Praise of Folly and della Mirandola’s 900 theses have thus also a deeper Mystical meaning and importance.Also Thomas More’s Utopia has.
As a religious community Utopia knows only a few strict and unbreakable rules for the religious life of its citizens. Next to these respected rules, there is complete liberty for personal spirituality and thus room for many different colorings, orientations and institutions of the Utopians’ personal spiritual life. In this way each Utopian is also destined and commissioned to set out on a personal spiritual journey, encouraged by the daily contact between the elder and the
children or youngsters, sitting daily side by side with every meal.
This is also the foundation of Utopia’s religious tolerance and freedom: the
undeniable points of belief (the eternal soul, divine presence and activity in the
world, the punishment of vices and the rewarding of virtues – and thus the
rewarded or punished free will of men) have to be respected by all Utopians, and
all personal, by definition different additions in respect of these rules, are
tolerated in the Utopian state. These undeniable points were instituted by
Utopus himself and public challenges outside the closed company of priests and
officials, are punished severely to safeguard the common interest and public
order of the state. So the gap between the institution of Utopian tolerance and
later political actions of Thomas More, is therefore less deep and less broad as
often depicted. In his discussion with Luther on the Free Will, Erasmus stated
also that Luther shouldn’t discuss his ideas with or spread amongst the ordinary
people but discuss with qualified persons.Read more here

Utopia and the Devotio Moderna

2009_NYR_02237_0066_000()

The Brabantine mysticism of Jan van Ruusbroec and the Priory of Groenendaal,
the Modern Devotion of Geert Grote and the spiritual and religious thought of
Erasmus and More through Utopia and other key works of Christian humanism.

Maarten Vermeir -University College London

utopia-kleur

Two Renaissance work serve me well as interpretation keys for Thomas More’s
book of Utopia.

My first interpretation key will always remain Desiderius Erasmus’ Praise of Folly
or Moriae Encomium.
As you all know, Erasmus wrote his Praise of Folly in the house of More and the
narrator of his Praise, Lady Stultitia or Moria, is ironically linked to the name of
Thomas More. Lady Moria orates a great amount of nonsense, but through
Erasmus’ fine irony at the same time a great deal of wise and rightful criticism
on aspects and figures of his contemporary society. At the end of her Praise,
Stultitia speaks also about a deeper mystical, Christian folly and considering
similar statements by Erasmus in other works like his Enchiridion Militis
Christiani, these statements of Lady Stultitia were seriously meant by Erasmus.
Also in Thomas More’s Utopia we can recognize a mixture of serious ideas
through the eyes of More and Erasmus (about the institution of the state and
church, international relations, the division between church and state,
spirituality, religion and tolerance, social care, culture/education? And
matrimonial policies) with also nonsensical ideas to their opinion (the economic
system, the travel restrictions inside the Utopian state). A search for their ideas
on these points through other works and their personal orientations makes the
recognition of such mixture unavoidable. In Utopia we can probably find more
serious concepts than nonsensical, and although this partition was reversed in
the earlier Praise of Folly, the family similarity on this point remains paramount
and crucial to a correct understanding.
The narrator of More’s Utopia, Raphael Hythlodaeus(in one of the two meanings
translated as ‘Merchant of Nonsense’, in the other as ‘Destroyer of Nonsense’)
is linked reciprocally to Erasmus through the figure of Saint Erasmus, as I learned
recently, the patron of all sailors. Also reciprocally, Thomas More started
probably writing the book of Utopia in one of the major residences of Erasmus
in the Low Countries: the Antwerp house of his friend Pieter Gillis.
My second preferred interpretation key for More’s Utopia consists in the 900
theses of Pico della Mirandola.
Thomas More translated ‘The Life of Pico della Mirandola’ and was undoubtedly
aware of della Mirandola’s philosophical program: in his famous 900 theses Pico
della Mirandola intended to combine into a higher synthesis the best elements
of classical traditions, especially from the philosophy of Plato and Aristotle, with
aspects of the Jewish-Christian traditions, especially mystical elements like he
found in the Jewish Kabbala. His great endeavor was to formulate a consistent
marriage between Jewish-Christian mysticism and the rich humanistic learning
by which he was surrounded in Renaissance Florence. His early death prevented
him regretfully from executing this great master plan. But the Christian
Humanists around Erasmus and Thomas More would become Pico’s true
inheritors and take Pico della Mirandola’s scheme as a blueprint for their
complete literary oeuvre and philosophical program. One of Utopia’s layers of
meaning is certainly a broad defense of the Christian humanistic ideals. The
serious parts of Utopia can be read as an honorary tribute to Pico della
Mirandola’s audacious plans, as a literary realization of Pico’s inspiring dreams.
These traces of della Mirandola’s program in Utopia will be subject of my later
research.

index u

Both works, Erasmus’ Praise of Folly and della Mirandola’s 900 theses have thus also a deeper Mystical meaning and importance.Also Thomas More’s Utopia has.
As a religious community Utopia knows only a few strict and unbreakable rules for the religious life of its citizens. Next to these respected rules, there is complete liberty for personal spirituality and thus room for many different colorings, orientations and institutions of the Utopians’ personal spiritual life. In this way each Utopian is also destined and commissioned to set out on a personal spiritual journey, encouraged by the daily contact between the elder and the
children or youngsters, sitting daily side by side with every meal.
This is also the foundation of Utopia’s religious tolerance and freedom: the
undeniable points of belief (the eternal soul, divine presence and activity in the
world, the punishment of vices and the rewarding of virtues – and thus the
rewarded or punished free will of men) have to be respected by all Utopians, and
all personal, by definition different additions in respect of these rules, are
tolerated in the Utopian state. These undeniable points were instituted by
Utopus himself and public challenges outside the closed company of priests and
officials, are punished severely to safeguard the common interest and public
order of the state. So the gap between the institution of Utopian tolerance and
later political actions of Thomas More, is therefore less deep and less broad as
often depicted. In his discussion with Luther on the Free Will, Erasmus stated
also that Luther shouldn’t discuss his ideas with or spread amongst the ordinary
people but discuss with qualified persons.
Seen the revolutionarily broad scale on which the Chrisitian humanists promoted
their cultural, political and spiritual/religious agenda for the entire Respublica
Christiana, the promotion of their religious and spiritual ideas is in se also
revolutionary in Utopia, as stated here already, even a key manifesto of the
Christian humanistic ideals and trough the force of fiction, a wide applicable
exemplum for all states and peoples inspired by Thomas More’s Magnum Opus.
This is why Sanford Kessler stated that ‘his reading of Utopia shows that modern
religious freedom has Catholic, Renaissance roots.’
The printing scale and literary-philosophical reach of this religious and spiritual
promotion was indeed unprecedented.
These ideas however were not original.
The roots of Utopia’s religious freedom and personal spirituality can be traced
back to the great Mystical tradition of the Low Countries and the neighboring
Rhineland.
One of the three books anyone should read according to Thomas More, was ‘The
imitation of Christ’ by Thomas a Kempis, a prominent representative of the
Modern Devotion. Also Jean-Claude Margolin found striking similarities between
‘The imitation of Christ’ and Erasmus’ Enchiridion Militis Christiani, stating at the
same time that a major cause of these similarities could be the shared
background and shared context of the Modern Devotion, in which also Erasmus
was raised and educated as a child and as a youngster – in my view decisively for
his later religious and spiritual views and writings. Although he has had indeed
also bad experiences with figures formally connected to the Modern Devotion,
this movement started by Geert Grote was really significant and inspiring for
Erasmus too. Geert Grote founded the first houses of the Brethren and Sisters of
the Common Life (in 1374 and 1383), echoed in Utopia in the two religious
schools and through the shared common property inside Geert Grote’s
households maybe even in the entire economic institution of the Utopian state.
To counter criticism on the Brehtren and Sisters of the Common Life, Geert Grote
requested on his deathbed – and his successor Florence Radewyns would execute
this – the foundation of the monastery of Windesheim with some Brethren taking
the form of an Augustinian order, heading later the congregation of
Windesheim. By doing so, they followed the example and living principles of the
Priory of Groenendaal, founded by Jan van Ruusbroec, two other canons, a good
cook and a layman some fourty years earlier (in 1343) in the Forêt de Soignes
outside the city of Brussels. Jan van Ruusbroec, the great master of Brabantine
mysticism or doctor admirabilis, constituted with his settlement in 1343 a new
religious community with a less strict structure and more room for personal
spiritual development in the Green tranquility of the forest around Groenendaal,
taking the form of an Augustinian canon’s monastery in 1349 to counter criticism
and avoid further suspicion. The reputation of Groenendaal priory and of
Ruusbroec’s teachings, through his oral explanations and beautiful writings in
Medieval Brabantine Dutch, would reach far inside the Low Countries and
outside. Geert Grote came to visit Jan van Ruusbroec even in Groenendaal as
many did (in 1378-1379). In 1413, the Windesheim congregation even absorbed
the monastery of Groenendaal, turning it into a priory. This specific tradition with
less stringent structures and more liberty for personal spirituality, would become
defining through the spreading force of its focus on education, its great success
in the Low Countries and beyond and its uniqueness inside the Catholic Church,
defining for the Brabantine and Netherlandish mystical tradition and its
pioneering role in Late Medieval Europe.
Different translations of Ruusbroec’s works in Latin and other languages were
even spread over Europe in different lines of subsequently copied manuscripts,
already from the second half of the 14th century. A Latin translation of
Ruusbroec’s main work ‘de geestelijke bruiloft’/ ‘the spiritual wedding’ about the
different phases and risks of the evolving process of a human seeking unity with
the Divine throughout his life, was printed for the first time in 1512 by Jacques
Lefèvre d’Etaples. Most intriguingly, Erasmus visited this friend in 1511 and had
with him ‘a number of intimate conversations’. At the end of the 15th century
already, Erasmus had visited the priory of Groenendaal, learned from the living
exemplum of Groenendaal’s institutions and organization and spent days there
studying in its library: with his zeal he surprised even the monks, taking books
with him at night to his dormitory. So it is certainly possible that around 1515,
both Erasmus and Thomas More knew the works of Ruusbroec very well from
first hand, not only through works of Devotio Moderna’s protagonists like
Thomas a Kempis, inspired by Geert Grote and Ruusbroec himself.
Also other key aspects of Utopian society can be linked to the Brabantine
Mysticism of Jan van Ruusbroec. As the political system of Utopia was inspired
by the Joyous Entries of Brabant from 1356, Jan van Ruusbroec received the
grounds for his firstly settled community in Groenendaal directly from Duke Jan
III, who would allow at the end of his life the composition of the first Joyous Entry
in 1356, arranging the succession of his daughter. Dux Utopus would institute
the religious freedom in Utopia immediately after his victory over the fighting
religious sects he found in Utopia upon his arrival. Ruusbroec would write also
his most influential book ‘de geestelijke bruiloft’ in the preceding decades. As
architect of the Tower and enlargement of the city hall of Brussels, one of the
four capitals of Brabant, was even chosen and appointed in the mid-15th century
a Jan van Ruisbroec, by name referring to the Mystical Master.
Also Pierre d’ Ailly and Jean Gerson, the fathers of conciliarism as found in the
institution of the Utopian church, were directly familiar with the Brabantine
mysticism of Ruusbroec: Jean Gerson had a keen interest in the teachings of the
Brabantine master, and even discussed eagerly about a detailed topic. Pierre
d’Ailly followed these engagements of his pupil from a first row seat, as the
bishop of Cambrai under whose ecclesiastical jurisdiction the priory of
Groenendaal fell, integrating into the congregation of Windesheim under his
watch (till 1411).
The Civic humanism – both political and religious – in Utopia was in many aspects
closely related to and inspired by this Netherlandish civic humanism, and this
connection will be treated in my further research exhaustively.
Certain elements strengthen these bonds between ‘More’s Utopia and the Low
Countries’, paraphrasing the title of my RSA conference paper for Moreana, in
New York 2014.
In Jean Desmarez’ prefatory poem for Utopia, the different gifts and talents of
different European countries are attributed to the state of Utopia: only one
country is missing in this overview, the Low Countries, showing a collision and
combination into a higher synthesis of the different cultural traditions strongly
present there. For Pico della Mirandola and his program, the Low Countries
would have constituted a true dreamland in this perspective, a cultural
laboratory Erasmus and Thomas More could encounter directly.
And as Marisa Bass stated recently, the group around Gerard Geldenhouwer was
excited about the discovery that ‘Roman writers such as Julius Caesar, Pliny the
Elder, and Tacitus had long ago described the Netherlands as a body of land
surrounded on all sides by water.’
And in Anemolius’ prefatory poem for Utopia we find the statement that ‘Utopia
is a rival of Plato’s republic, perhaps even a victor over it. The reason is that what
he delineated in words Utopia alone has exhibited in men and resources and
laws of surpassing excellence.’
I recently counted all the places considered as real cities in the Duchy of Brabant
and connected territories, this calculation resulted in the number of 54 cities,
the same number as the number of cities in Utopia.
Together with the political protection offered by chancellor Jean le Sauvage, this
is why I believe the first edition of Utopia was printed in Leuven, also one of the
four capitals of Brabant, why Utopia’s opening scenery is situated in the city of
Antwerp, also a capital of Brabant and the main Brabantine port, and why
Thomas More requested Erasmus to provide him also with politicians – from the
Low Countries where Erasmus was staying at the moment of this request – as
writers of the prefatory letters for Utopia. These places have their interpretative
meaning and significance. Indeed, Thomas More’s embassy to the Low Countries
was truly an ‘Utopian embassy’

Intelligence of Trees

“A forest is much more than what you see,” says ecologist Suzanne Simard. Her 30 years of research in Canadian forests have led to an astounding discovery — trees talk, often and over vast distances. Learn more about the harmonious yet complicated social lives of trees and prepare to see the natural world with new eyes.

How trees talk to each other | Suzanne Simard

Forests aren’t simply collections of trees, they’re complex systems with hubs and networks that overlap and connect trees and allow them to communicate, and they provide avenues for feedbacks and adaptation, and this makes the forest resilient. That’s because there are many hub trees and many overlapping networks. But they’re also vulnerable, vulnerable not only to natural disturbances like bark beetles that preferentially attack big old trees but high-grade logging and clear-cut logging. You see, you can take out one or two hub trees, but there comes a tipping point, because hub trees are not unlike rivets in an airplane. You can take out one or two and the plane still flies, but you take out one too many, or maybe that one holding on the wings, and the whole system collapses

Intelligent Trees – The Documentary

intelligent tree

Featuring Suzanne Simard  & Peter Wohlleben 

Trees talk, know family ties and care for their young? Is this too fantastic to be true? Scientist Suzanne Simard (The University of British Columbia, Canada) and German forester and author Peter Wohlleben have been investigating and observing the communication between trees over decades. And their findings are most astounding.

 


Together, Wohlleben and Simard are a tree dream team (Melissa Breyer, “Trees can form bonds like an old couple and look after each other “, Treehugger.com).

tree

The Magic Of Mushrooms

Professor Richard Fortey delves into the fascinating and normally hidden kingdom of fungi. From their spectacular birth, through their secretive underground life to their final explosive death, Richard reveals a remarkable world that few of us understand or even realise exists – yet all life on Earth depends on it.

When so many are struggling for connection, inspiration and hope, Fantastic Fungi brings us together as interconnected creators of our world. Fantastic Fungi, directed by Louie Schwartzberg, is a consciousness-shifting film that takes us on an immersive journey through time and scale into the magical earth beneath our feet, an underground network that can heal and save our planet. Through the eyes of renowned scientists and mycologists like Paul Stamets, best-selling authors Michael Pollan, Eugenia Bone, Andrew Weil and others, we become aware of the beauty, intelligence and solutions the fungi kingdom offers us in response to some of our most pressing medical, therapeutic, and environmental challenges.

Thoughts on Traditional Art

This video features the beautiful and inspiring work and words of Mats Abdelkarim Cederberg: Archer/ bowmaker, woodcarver, geometer and calligrapher, amongst other things… This edited interview, recorded in Kutubia in Orgiva with Abdal Malik Wheeler in december 2020, covers a wide range of topics including: -Methods of traditional craft in community. -Pratical aspects of bowmaking and the esoteric dimensions of archery. -Culture, heritage and spiritual traditions. -Creative arabic calligraphy -Architecture, intention and prayer. -The universal principles of Islam.

See more of Abdelkarim´s work here: https://islamiskkonst.myportfolio.com…

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?

https _bucketeer-e05bbc84-baa3-437e-9518-adb32be77984.s3.amazonaws.com_public_images_ca47f5ea-fa1f-4b12-a71d-2efaa4e9ccbf_976x650

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

Subscribe now

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

https _bucketeer-e05bbc84-baa3-437e-9518-adb32be77984.s3.amazonaws.com_public_images_a391e617-1282-4e5c-98b6-41dcf485ae53_1024x727

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.

Subscribe now