- The Choice for Spiritual Ethics,Virtues and Uprightness in our times
The bivium of Pythagoras, this sign which leaves us free to choose the path of good or the path of evil.
“The letter” Y “represents the symbol of moral life. The question of good and evil arises before the free will of man: two roads open before him: the left, the thick branch of the “Y”, is wide and easy to access, but leads to the chasm from shame, that of the right, the thin branch, is a steep and painful path, but at the summit of which one finds repose in honor and glory. “
- In his book Man and Nature: The Spiritual Crisis in Modern Man
- Note: Parallels are often drawn between this work and John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress.
The letter “Y”, in antiquity, has often represented a “bivium” (a fork in the road); a point in life where we have to make a vital decision. According to Pythagoras, it represents the paths of virtue and vice.
The letter Y is also symbolic of looking within, Inner contemplation, Meditation and inner wisdom.
- The Garden of Forking Paths
Our earliest source for the poem is an eleventh-century manuscript, although the version I quote is taken from a modern edition of the Anthologia Latina:
A prose translation of a prosaic verse: The Pythagorean letter, divided into two horns, seems to present an image of human life. For the steep way of virtue, to the right, offers the viewer a difficult approach up a mountainside, but at the top it provides the weary with rest. The left way shows a pleasant journey, but at the end it hurls down the trapped traveller among rough rocks. For whoever has conquered hardship from his love of virtue will be rewarded with praise and honour. But he who follows a life of idle decadence, thoughtlessly skiving, will spend eternity [or, ‘a lifetime’] poor, ugly and miserable.
This piece is about that very littera Pythagorae, the ‘Pythagorean letter’.
Classical ethics has as its foundation the concept of free will, liber arbitrium; the quintessence of free will is an individual’s choice between right and wrong. One of the key tasks of a moral teacher was to persuade his student that virtue, though difficult, was in the student’s best interest in the long term. One finds this in Plato, for instance, all the time. Thus the path of virtue was portrayed as harsh or steep, and the primrose path of vice as easy and gentle.The dualism of this choice, between vice and virtue, was traditionally symbolised by the left and right hands. The right hand, with which one fought and wrote, has always been positive in connotation; its counterpart the left, weak hand. If one surveys the words for ‘left’ and ‘right’ in European languages, one finds that the latter are groups of cognates—dexios, dexter, destra and diritto, dereche, direita, droit, rechte, right, deis—and the former mostly unrelated—laios, sinister, lasciato, izquierdo, linke, gauche, left, clé. This is because words for ‘left’, with their negative connotations, have undergone taboo-substitution from foreign sources; izquierdo, for instance, is Basque. To call someone gauche or sinister is to insult him—whereas to call him adroit or dextrous is high praise. It is no coincidence that right should have its two primary meanings, nor that left should come from a root meaning ‘lame’. The moral dualism of the hands is not left linguistically implicit among the Greeks, but explicitly formulated; a passage in Aristotle (Metaphysics, I.5.985) describes a Pythagorean table of opposites
A different party in this same school says that the first principles are ten, named according to the following table:
finite and infinite,
even and odd,
one and many,
right and left,
male and female,
rest and motion,
straight and crooked,
light and darkness,
good and bad,
square and oblong.
At some point in Greek history, it was noticed that the capital upsilon—Y—looked like a path branching left and right. The comparison, like so much traditional material, was ascribed to the Pythagoreans, in accordance with the dualism just mentioned; our earliest source for it, however, is as late as the Roman poet Persius (Satires, 3.56). It is perhaps not surprising that the image would have more resonance among the Romans than among the Greeks. Symbols and sigla, and even entire texts, have a greater magic as they grow opaque—hence the preservation of a Greek mass among Latin-speakers, and a Latin mass among vernacular-speakers, hence even the deliberate archaism of the English Bible. The Y, imported into the Roman alphabet in the first century, was always an alien letter, used only to render Greek names. The Y is still called the ‘Greek I’ in the Romance languages, retaining its alterity in the modern alphabet, a symbol of something earlier, almost occult. Thus its efficacy as a moral totem: the less it is a letter, the more it is a symbol. (Compare the defamiliarisation of Roman letters to yield opaque modern symbols—&, £, ∫.)
Throughout late antiquity, the Y was an accepted symbol of pagan ethics, of the choice between the hard path of virtue (right) and the easy path of vice (left). Lactantius, for instance, criticises the Y, cited as standard idiom, for its implication that the rewards or punishments for a man’s actions occur during his lifetime, and not after his death.
- Two paths diverged in a yellow wood.Servius’ commentary on the Aeneid, written around 400 AD, finds the Y in the Golden Bough
We know that Pythagoras of Samos divided human life according to the letter Y, that is, because the first age is uncertain, as it is not yet given over either to vices or to virtues; however, the fork of the letter Y signifies the beginning of manhood, at which time men follow either vice (the left path) or virtue (the right path).
This seems a rather far-fetched conflation—what on earth has the Bough to do with the littera Pythagorae? Perhaps it is not as outlandish as it first appears. Throughout the sixth book of the Aeneid, which contains the Bough, the theme of the Y is implicitly present. At lines 540-543, Aeneas finds his paths diverging in the underworld, left towards Dis and right towards Elysium, and it is at the entrance to the latter (line 636) that Aeneas plants the Bough. The goddess Hecate is present in the Bough’s grove, in her Roman incarnation as Trivia—literally, ‘she of three roads’—three roads that form an intersection looking much like the Y. But the Y as bough? We turn to Alfred Kallir’s 1961 classic, Sign and Design: The Psychogenetic Source of the Alphabet. Kallir interprets the Y as a grander, more antique form of the V, a symbol of the outstretched arms and open vagina. (Incidentally, Pynchon’s first novel, V., derives most of its symbolic content from Kallir.) The Y, furthermore, is a tree-symbol related to the Christian cross and the letter T:
Tree designs are subjected to gradual simplification. The roots, invisible in nature, disappear also in script; and to achieve greater expediency in writing, more and more lines which secured realistic representation vanish; eventually Y remains, on first sight, much more acceptable as replica of the arboreal prototype than the symmetrized cruciform Semitic character of our own letter T.
Meanwhile, Xensen and Curtis have observed (see comments) that the classical Roman Y has a curved form, much closer to the schematic tree. Below left is a calligraphic Y from a Quattrocento manuscript (by Bartolomeo Sanvito, according to Curtis), and, right, a modern typographical imitation of the monumental Roman Y, courtesy of Xensen:
Finally, the tree as a metaphor for division is a common enough trope, from the Tree of Porphyry to the tree-diagrams of modern linguistics. So in purely formal terms, Servius’ reading of Vergil is not so bizarre after all. It was, furthermore, enormously influential: the reading would be repeated by Bernard Silvestris (c. 1150), Cristoforo Landino (1473), Josse Bade (1500), Jacobus Pontanus (1599) and John Boys (1660). Boys, a Royalist propagandist from York who composed the first English Aeneid commentary, expressed the Servian reading in these terms:
Boys was also the first Aeneid commentator to cite the pseudo-Vergilian epigram I quoted earlier—as he puts it, Vergil ‘is the best expositor of his own sense’. He therefore quotes the first seven lines (his text is slightly different), and provides a doggerel translation:
Pythagoras his forked letter does
Of humane life a scheme to us propose;
For virtues path on the right hand doth lye,
An hard ascent presenting to the eye;
But on the top with rest the wearied are
Refresh’d : the broad way easier doth appear;
But from its summit the deluded fall
And (dash’d ‘mongst rocks) finde there a funerall.
The letter was invented by Pythagoras, to represent the broad path of Pleasure, and the narrow path of Virtue. ‘Vergil’s’ epigram is quoted. Then he offers an image of the Y, suggesting that the reader meditate upon it, as a buckler against evil:
From the left branch of the Y hang scimitar, scourge, rods, gibbet and fire—instruments of torture—from the right hang laurel wreath, palms, sceptre and crown. The moral paths are reproduced in typographic form, the left branch broad, the right branch narrow. Thus, with allegory, Tory generates the shape of the classic Roman serifed Y. Compare modern renderings, all of which have a narrow right branch:
We find in the Pythagorean Y two things: an aesthetic delight in binaries or complementaries, and an ethical attempt to associate virtue with hardship—and it is only by making virtue difficult that the professional moralist asserts his central value in society. If it were acceptable to follow the road of delights and pleasure, what need would a man have for authority?Modern structuralism, with its rage for order, embraces the dualisms embodied in the Y; post-structuralism, with its love of playful chaos, seeks to expose or invent the instability implicit in such images. Thus the structuralist focuses on aesthetic delight, the post-structuralist on the manipulation of authority. These systems of thought, like the Y itself, diverge irrevocably; but which among us are headed for vice, and which for virtue? Myself, I am left-handed. Our age has quieted its superstition on the matter. Riddled with half-digested Eastern tropes and characters, we are inclined to speak of truth as a harmony of opposites: of left and right, odd and even, finite and infinite, light and darkness. We talk of thesis, antithesis, synthesis. Has the three conquered the two? Or is the three truly the one, duality resolved in unity? Have we come to understand the Y as turned on its head—wisdom and virtue not as discernment, as the sorting of wheat from chaff, but as a holism, a confluence of diverse paths?
- St. Augustine: The Two Cities The City of God, XIV, 1
St. Augustine is remembered for bringing into philosophy from the Judeo-Christian tradition a sense of history and novelty which the Greeks and their philosophers had never had. This comes out particularly as he reflects on the fall of Rome all around him. His philosophical/theological doctrine is couched in terms of the “two cities:” Rome (or the new Babylon), which symbolizes all that is worldly, and Jerusalem (the city of heaven), which symbolizes the Christian community. Our world was created in the beginning, fell away from God, and then was redeemed by Christ; thus Augustine sees the world in which he lives as a mixture of the two cities. But the temporal city of this world will eventually perish, giving way to the eternal city. As he introduces this idea, he draws on Paul’s notion of “original sin” derived from the rebellion of Adam and Eve to explain how the lesser, flawed “city” came into being.
What does he say God’s purpose was in creating all of humanity out of one single original being? Greed (and perhaps price), envy, and power characterize the “second city” (or the second way of life). What are their positive counterparts in the “first city”?
Two loves make two cities
Literal Commentary on Genesis, XI, 15,20
These are the two loves: the first is holy, the second foul; the first is social, the second selfish; the first consults the common welfare for the sake of a celestial society, the second grasps at a selfish control of social affairs for the sake of arrogant domination; the first is submissive to God, the second tries to rival God; the first is quiet, the second restless; the first is peaceful, the second trouble-making; the first prefers truth to the praises of those who are in error, the second is greedy for praise, however it may be obtained; the first is friendly, the second envious; the first desires for its neighbor what it wishes for itself, the second desires to subjugate its neighbor; the first rules its neighbor for the good of its neighbor, the second for its own advantage; and these two loves produce a distinction among the angels: the first love belongs to the good angels, the second to the bad angels; and they also separate the two cities founded among the race of men, under the wonderful and ineffable Providence of God, administering and ordering all things that have been created: the first city is that of the just, the second is that of the wicked. Although they are now, during the course of time, intermingled, they shall be divided at the last judgment; the first, being joined by the good angels under its King, shall attain eternal life; the second, in union with the bad angels under its king, shall be sent into eternal fire. Perhaps, we shall treat, God willing, of these two cities more fully in another place.
Translated by Marcus Dod (1876)
How the Two Cities Differ
We have already stated in the preceding books that God, desiring not only that the human race might be able by their similarity of nature to associate with one another, but also that they might be bound together in harmony and peace by the ties of relationship, was pleased to derive all men from one individual, and created man with such a nature that the members of the race should not have died, had not the two first (of whom the one was created out of nothing, and the other out of him) merited this by their disobedience; for by them so great a sin was committed that by it human nature was altered for the worse, and was transmitted also to their posterity, liable to sin and subject to death. And the kingdom of death so reigned over men, that the deserved penalty of sin would have hurled all headlong even into the second death, of which there is no end, had not the undeserved grace of God saved some therefrom. And thus it has come to pass that, though there are very many and great nations all over the earth, whose rites and customs, speech, arms, and dress, are distinguished by marked differences, yet there are no more than two kinds of human society, which we may justly call two cities, according to the language of our Scriptures. The one consists of those who wish to live after the flesh, the other of those who wish to live after the spirit; and when they severally achieve what they wish, they live in peace, each after its kind.
Translated by Marcus Dods (1876)
Chap. III.—Of the Ways, and of Vices and Virtues; And of the Rewards of Heaven and the Punishments of Hell.
There are two ways, O Emperor Constantine, by which human life must proceed—the one which leads to heaven, the other which sinks to hell; and these ways poets have introduced in their poems, and philosophers in their disputations. And indeed philosophers have represented the one as belonging to virtues, the other to vices; and they have represented that which belongs to virtues as steep and rugged at the first entrance, in which if any one, having overcome the difficulty, has climbed to the summit, they say that he afterwards has a level path, a bright and pleasant plain, and that he enjoys abundant and delightful fruits of his labours; but that those whom the difficulty of the first approach has deterred, glide and turn aside into the way of vices, which at its first entrance appears to be pleasant and much more beaten, but afterwards, when they have advanced in it a little further, that the appearance of its pleasantness is withdrawn, and that there arises a steep way, now rough with stones, now overspread with thorns, now interrupted by deep waters or violent with torrents, so that they must be in difficulty, hesitate, slip about, and fall. And all these things are brought forward that it may appear that there are very great labours in undertaking virtues, but that when they are gained there are the greatest advantages, and firm and incorruptible pleasures; but that vices ensnare the minds of men with certain natural blandishments, and lead them captivated by the appearance of empty pleasures to bitter griefs and miseries,—an altogether wise discussion, if they knew the forms and limits of the virtues themselves. For they had not learned either what they are, or what reward awaits them from God: but this we will show in these two books.
But these men, because they were ignorant or in doubt that the souls of men are immortal, estimated both virtues and vices by earthly honours or punishments. Therefore all this discussion respecting the two ways has reference to frugality and luxury. For they say that the course of human life resembles the letter Y, because every one of men, when he has reached the threshold of early youth, and has arrived at the place “where the way divides itself into two parts,” is in doubt, and hesitates, and does not know to which side he should rather turn himself. If he shall meet with a guide who may direct him wavering to better things—that is, if he shall learn philosophy or eloquence, or some honourable arts by which he may turn to good conduct, which cannot take place without great labour—they say that he will lead a life of honour and abundance; but if he shall not meet with a teacher of temperance, that he falls into the way on the left hand, which assumes the appearance of the better,—that is, he gives himself up to idleness, sloth, and luxury, which seem pleasant for a time to one who is ignorant of true goods, but that afterwards, having lost all his dignity and property, he will live in all wretchedness and ignominy. Therefore they referred the end of those ways to the body, and to this life which we lead on earth. The poets perhaps did better, who would have it that this twofold way was in the lower regions; but they are deceived in this, that they proposed these ways to the dead. Both therefore spoke with truth, but yet both incorrectly; for the ways themselves ought to have been referred to life, their ends to death. We therefore speak better and more truly, who say that the two ways belong to heaven and hell, because immortality is promised to the righteous, and everlasting punishment is threatened to the unrighteous.
But I will explain how these ways either exalt to heaven or thrust down to hell, and I will set forth what these virtues are of which the philosophers were ignorant; then I will show what are their rewards, and also what are vices, and what their punishments. For perhaps some one may expect that I shall speak separately of vices and virtues; whereas, when we discuss the subject of good or evil, that which is contrary may also be understood. For, whether you introduce virtues, vices will spontaneously depart; or if you take away vices, virtues will of their own accord succeed. The nature of good and evil things is so fixed, that they always oppose and drive out one another: and thus it comes to pass that vices cannot be removed without virtues, nor can virtues be introduced without the removal of vices. Therefore we bring forward these ways in a very different manner from that in which the philosophers are accustomed to present them: first of all, because we say that a guide is proposed to each, and in each case an immortal: but that the one is honoured who presides over virtues and good qualities, the other condemned who presides over vices and evils. But they place a guide only on the right side, and that not one only, nor a lasting one; inasmuch as they introduce any teacher of a good art, who may recall men from sloth, and teach them to be temperate. But they do not represent any as entering upon that way except boys and young men; for this reason, that the arts are learned at these ages. We, on the other hand, lead those of each sex, every age and race, into this heavenly path, because God, who is the guide of that way, denies immortality to no human being. The shape also of the ways themselves is not as they supposed. For what need is there of the letter Y in matters which are different and opposed to one another? But the one which is better is turned towards the rising of the sun, the other which is worse towards its setting: since he who follows truth and righteousness, having received the reward of immortality, will enjoy perpetual light; but he who, enticed by that evil guide, shall prefer vices to virtues, falsehood to truth, must be borne to the setting of the sun, and to darkness. I will therefore describe each, and will point out their properties and habits.
- TERRA PACIS by Hendrik Niclaes of the Family of Love, the original work first printed in 1575 in Amsterdam
Text of TERRA PACIS and commentary relating to ideas of the Perennial Philosophy and to paintings by Peter Bruegel and Joachim Patinir .
N.B. The writer has kept the 17th century spelling.
- The Spiritual Land of Peace of the “Holy Refugees”
It also considers the tradition of religious mysticism in Germany, the Netherlands and Flanders throughout the late Middle Ages that led up to the Reformation and points out that this movement is also an expression of the Perennial Philosophy, citing the works of Meister Eckhart, the Rhineland mystics and the schools that came out of the Devotio Moderna.
The work considers the esoteric, ‘heretical’ school called the Family of Love that claimed among its adherents a number of highly illustrious artists, thinkers and politicians. Such men as Christoffe Plantin, Abraham Ortelius and Justus Lipsius spurned the religious turmoil of the period and rejected Catholics, Lutherans and Calvinists alike in favour of an inner mystical state they called the ‘invisible church’. They were close to Bruegel, bought his paintings and, it cannot be doubted, shared his thought.
It brings us to immediate and direct influences on Bruegel. These were free thinking humanists and mystics who occupied the no-man‟s-land between Catholics, Lutherans and Calvinists; men like Sebastian Franck, Dirck Volckertz Coornhert and Abraham Ortelius were adherents of the „invisible church‟ where God was understood as „an event in the soul‟ which could be independent of external forms, rites and doctrines. Many of them, such as Ortelius, Christophe Plantin and perhaps Justus Lipsius belonged to the sect known as the Family of Love whose leader, Hendrik Niclaes, was the author of the mystical allegory Terra Pacis that recounts the journey from the „Land of Ignorance‟ to the „Land of Spiritual Peace‟. Bruegel was closely associated with, if not a full member, of this group.
See : PETER BRUEGEL THE ELDER AND ESOTERIC TRADITION
The Spiritual Land of Peace:
- Look and behold: there is in the world a very unpeaceable Land and it is the wildernessed land wherein the most part of all uncircumcised, impenitent and ignorant people do dwell and in which is, the first of all needful for the man; to the end that he may come to the Land of Peace and the City of Life and Rest.
The same unpeaceable land hath also a City, the name of which they that dwell therein do not know, but only those who are come out of it, and it is named Ignorance.
The people that dwell therein know not their original or first beginning; also they keep not any Genealogy or Pedigree; neither do they know from whence, or how, they came into the same. And moreover then, that they are altogether blinde, and blinde-born.
The forementioned city, named Ignorance, hath two Gates. The one standeth in the North, or Midnight, through the which men go into the city of darkness or ignorance.
This gate now, that standeth to the North, is very large and great, and hath also a great door, because there is much passage through the same; and it hath likewise his name, according to the nature of the same city.
Foreasmuch as that men do come into Ignorance through the same gate, therefore it is named Men Do Not Know How to Do. And the great door, wherethrough the multitude do run is named Unknown Error; and there is else no coming into the City named Ignorance.
The other gate standeth on the one side of the City, towards the East or Spring of the Day, and the same is the Narrow Gate, through the which, men travel out of the city and do enter into the Straight Way which leadeth to Righteousness.
Now when one travelleth out through the same Gate, then doth he immediately espie some Light, and that same reacheth to the Rising of the Sun.
Here the symbolism, taking up the theme of the ‘bread of life’, i.e. spiritual nourishment, employs the images of ‘corn’ and ‘seed’ whose esoteric meaning was discussed earlier and which will be met again in the paintings by Bruegel of the Harvest and the Ploughman (Fall of Icarus).
The importance of spiritual nourishment – or rather the lack of it – is discussed in the section dealing with the Peasant Wedding Feast (Marriage at Cana) where the lack of wine is shown to correspond, by rhetorical imitation, with famine imagery in the Old Testament where the sense is that of ‘famine for the word of God’.
- In this land of Ignorance, for the food of men, there groweth neither corn nor grass. The people of this land live in confusion or disorder and are very diligent in their unprofitable work and labor. And although their work be vain or unprofitable yet hath everyone notwithstanding a delightful liking to the same.
- Forasmuch as they all have such a delight to such unprofitable work, so forget they to prepare the Ground for Corn and Seed to live thereby. And so they live not on the manly food but by their own dung, for they have no other food to live by, for their stomach and nature is accustomed and naturally inclined thereto.
- They make there diverse sorts of Puppet works for Babies for to bring up the children to vanity. There are made likewise many kinds of Balls, Tut-staves, or Kricket-staves, Rackets and Dice; for the foolish people should waste or spend their time therewith in foolishness.
- There be made also Playing Tables, Draft-boards, Chess-boards, Cards and Mummery or Masks, for to delight the idle people with such foolish vanity. There are made likewise many Rings, Chains, and Gold and Silver Tablets and etc … all unprofitable and unneedful merchandise.
- They build there likewise divers houses for common assembly, which they call Gods houses; and there use many manner of foolishness of taken on Services which they call religious or godservices whereby to wave or hold forth something in shew before the ignorant people.
- In this manner are the vain people bewitched with these things, wherethrough they think or perswade themselves that their godservices, and knowledges, which they themselves do make, or take on in their hypocrisie, that must needs be some holy or singular thing, and so honor the works of their own hands.
- They make there also many Swords, Halberds, Spears, Bows and Arrows, Ordinance or Guns, Pellets, Gunpouder, Armor or Harness, and Gorgets and etc., for that the tyrannical oppressors, and those that have a pleasure in destroying, should use war and battel, therewithal, one against the other.
The people of this strange land have strange names, according to their nature. As their nature is such are their names written upon them. Whosoever can read the writing let him consider thereon. They are gross letters; whoso hath but a little sight and understanding, he may read them, whose names are there. Highmindedness, Lust of the Eyes, Stoutness, Pride, Covetousness, Lust or Desire to Contrariness, Vanity or Unprofitableness, Unnaturalness, Undecentness, Masterfulness, Mocking, Scorning, Dallying, Adultery or Fornication, Contemning, Lying, Deceiving, Variance, Strife and Contention, Vexing, Self-seeking, Oppression, Indiscreetness, etc.
- Their dealings or manner of life is also variable; for now they take on something, then they leave somewhat else; now they be thus led, then they be so driven; now they praise this, then they dispraise that. So, to be short, they are always inconstant.
- Their Religions or godservice is called the Pleasure of Men. Their doctrine and ministration is called Good Thinking. Their King is called the Scum of Ignorance.
- Whosoever findeth himself in this dark land full of ignorance and desireth to go out of it, and forsake the same, and hath a good liking towards the good land of Rest and Peace; he must go through the other gate that lieth towards the East, that is named Fear of God.
- But in travelling forward upon the Way for to come to the good land of Peace, so do the perils first make manifest themselves. Therefore must the Traveller keep a diligent watch in the said grace of the Lord; otherwise he becometh hindered and deceived upon the Way. So we will mark out both the perils of seduction, and also the means unto preservation for that no man should err upon the Way, nor be seduced or deceived by any false ends.
- … not very amiable or pleasant (according to the minds of the flesh) to behold, nor yet his sayings and counsels to be obeyed, because that he is contrary to all minds and knowledge of the flesh (notwithstanding, if the traveller have no regard for him, neither daily receive any counsel of him unto obedience, nor yet follow his counsel, then shall he not come to the Rest). And he is named the Law or Ordinance of the Lord.
- The other wise one cometh before him out of the thoughts of mans good thinking, to draw him away from the Way that directeth to the Land of the Living. And his form is sweet and friendly (according to the minds flesh) to behold, and his sayings and counsels delightful. And he is named the Wisdom of the Flesh.
- These two wise ones do give the traveller several counsels.
- The traveller who abjures the Wisdom of the Flesh and who accepts the discipline of the Law or Ordinance of the Lord receives ‘two instruments’: a compass called the Forsaking of Himself for the Good Lifes Sake. The other instrument overcomes temptation and hindrance and it is called Patience or Suffrance.
- … the death and burial of all the lusts and desires of the sinful flesh and all the flesh’s wisdom or good thinking.
Again, this should not be understood literally but seen as the transition from the material to the spiritual, the soul’s liberation from its entanglement in the world.
Now the ‘traveller’, following the counsel of the Law of the Lord, finds himself
- …in an unpathed land where many manner of temptations and deceits do meet with him, and coming into the same there appeareth unto him immediately a star out of the East, named Belief and Hope. This great unpathed land is named Many manner of Wanderings. And there is not one plain paved way.
The names of the Travellers are:
Stricken in Heart, Cumbered in Minde, Wofulness, Sorrowfulness, Anguish, Fear, Dismaidness, Perplexitie, Uncomfortablness, Undelightfulness, Heavy-mindedness, Many Manner of Thoughts, Dead Courage.
This is reminiscent of the group consisting of Jesus’ mother and her entourage in the foreground of Bruegel’s Road to Calvary (1566) in Vienna. There we see the expressing just these emotions while the vast crowd constituting the main descriptive parts of the picture are oblivious and display all the characteristics, described by H. N., of those who live in the Land of Ignorance or, as he says elsewhere, the ‘Land of Abomination and Desolation’. But also the Flight or Refuge to Egypth:
Looking to the Spiritual vertical way, as the Maypole do, gives us an opportunity of discerning an understanding between Non-Virtues and Virtues, developing Spiritual values needed in our times.
We need to be sincere with our selves , to be “upright” strictly honourable and honest, as the symbol of the Maypole is. Together we can initiate and erect a maypole as various European folk festivals do, in respect of the safely coming of Spring. But as many Folklores in Europe did, to keep it more permantly, we can plant a Lime Tree in the center of the village of on squares in the city, to keep the remenbering of “uprightness”,of sincerity in our mind, in our heart and in our allday lives. In this way,as in many folklores of Europe, they recognize their dependance to Nature and their submission to something Higher than themselves. And happy they danced under the Lime Tree on important opportunities. Man has always be in need of a symbol, but certainly a symbol for communality and fraternity: The Lime Tree of Wisdom – Forum for Ethics, Virtues and Uprightness.
The maypole is a symbol of the Tree of Life and by extension the Tree. It is cut and used in celebrations in early Spring when plant life is just starting to become abundant again, in effect when life is regenerating. The custom is to be found from Scotland and Sweden to the Pyrenees and Slav countries.
The time when the maypole is brought in depends on the place because, being symbolic of new life, it is cut when life is at its most regenerative. Spring occurs in different months in different parts of the world, so in the UK and Saxony, for example, it is generally cut on the 1st May; in the Vosges it is the first Sunday of May; in Sweden it is the Summer solstice.
“Village Scene with Dance around the May Pole” by Pieter Bruegel The Younger.
All over the UK and Europe an actual tree trunk used to be used as the maypole, usually stripped of its branches, sometimes – as in Saxony for example – a few branches were left on the top and laden with gifts – often eggs and other cosmic symbols, sometimes toys [treasure] and flowers. The participants occasionally tried to climb the tree to get the presents. An extension to the maypole was also the slippery pole which has the same symbolic root. The slippery pole and the smooth shaft of the maypole with its presents or treasure at the top both symbolically show the unattainability of the treasures of the spiritual realm.
Many shamans in slavonic countries used to actually climb the ropes fastened to the pole in a symbolic act representing an ascent to heaven – the spiritual path.
Occasionally the old tree is burnt and a new tree replaces it. This is symbolic not of the destruction of the cosmic Tree of Life, but of the Tree – man’s body. It was used as a symbol of reincarnation as the ashes of the burnt tree were also used to fertilise the fields and this action helped to reinforce the symbolism – new life from old.
Frederick Goodall – “Raising the Maypole” 1855
Maypole dancing is a form of folk dance from western Europe, especially England, Basque Country, Finland, Sweden, Galicia, Portugal and Germany.
The maypole is used but extra symbolism is obtained from the link with the Celestial pole and the Cone.
Cone: The Levels and layers are divided up into a massive number of cones of Spirit. Another way of looking at this may be to think of them as shards of Spirit or Pyramids of programmed Energy. Each cone belongs to a physical thing, so you me, a tree , a plant a dog, a flower and so on, each thing has its own cone of energy. Part of the cone is perceptible – in effect we can perceive it with our 5 senses. But a large part of it is not perceptible because it is of a higher level of vibrational Energy.
Other terms for this ‘pole’ include the ‘Axis Mundi’ or ‘World Axis’ or ‘Cosmic Axis’ or ‘Cosmic Tree’.
The pole itself is the Celestial pole, however, the Maypole is often danced round using ribbons that form a cone shape.
Dancers gather in a circle, each holding a coloured ribbon of contrasting colours attached to the pole. On the tip of the pole we have the spray of flowers or ribbons that symbolises the Higher spirit and the crown chakra.
The dancers form a cone shape and as the dance commences the ribbons are intertwined and plaited either on to the pole itself or into a web around the pole. So we have the symbolism of the loom or net incorporated. The dancers may then retrace their steps exactly in order to unravel the ribbons. May as a tree has its own symbolism – the white flowers and bright green leaves signalling Spring, either the start of the Spiritual cycle – so the start of life’s journey and the Spiritual path or the very end of it. Thus the added symbolism derives from the ascent up the Spiritual path in a spiral – the sort of journey Dante took up the mountain.
Some of the older original maypole ceremonies used large trees shaped like a cross at the top of which were goodies – treasure.
“St. George’s Kermis with the Dance around the Maypole” by Pieter Brueghel the Younger
Patterns in Comparative Religion – Mircea Eliade
In Saxony the ceremony took place on May 1st or Whitsunday, and consisted first in bringing young trees from the forest to decorate the houses, then in setting up one tree, the May, solemnly in the centre of the village. Its branches were cut off, except perhaps a few of the topmost ones which were laden with gifts (sausages, eggs, cakes). Then young men competed, in some regions, to see who could most quickly climb to the top, in others, who could run quickest to where the Maypole stood. Sometimes there was a race on horseback. The winner was borne shoulder high and given honours. At one time he was presented with a red cloth by the prettiest girls.
Such a lot of symbolism! Climbing the Celestial pole is thus ascent up one’s spiritual path to try to find Treasure, the red cloth is the path of the Sun –
Ostereierbaum Easter Egg Tree
A German tradition of decorating trees and bushes with Easter eggs is known as the Ostereierbaum, or Easter egg tree.
Patterns in Comparative Religion – Mircea Eliade
in a great many places the egg is connected with the symbols and emblems of renovation ……; the new year trees, maypoles, Saint John’s trees and so on, are decorated with eggs and egg-shells…
At the end of the cycle – life’s journey, one hopes one has achieved one’s Destiny, which means that the body is no longer needed or the cone, because your soul ascends up the cone and joins with the Higher spirit on death.
Thus whenever a new May tree is used for the ceremonies it is time for the old one – the ‘body’ to be burnt . Here we see a host of additional symbolism being brought into play – cremation, bone and bonfires. This is because the tree essentially represents a single person [one cone] and in ths case the trunk of the tree is symbolically the person’s spine.
There is some connection with the Mypole and the Christmas tree.
Here we see this along with some literalisation of the symbolic, ash has its own symbolism
It is used for people on the spiritual path. Having been symbolically through Fire one has emerged Balanced [the combination of Black and White] and has been reduced symbolically to Dust. In effect one has completed the spiritual path and been annihilated – achieved Annihilation.
Patterns in Comparative Religion – Mircea Eliade
In the Vosges, the ceremony takes place on the first Sunday of May. In Sweden, they bring a ‘Maypole’ into the house generally at the summer solstice; it is a fir tree with its branches stripped off, decorated with artificial flowers and toys and so on. Wherever this custom is found – from Scotland and Sweden to the Pyrenees and the Slav countries – the ‘Maypole’ gives an occasion for general jollity ending with a dance round the pole. The chief part is usually played by young people or children. It is a feast of spring but, like all such manifestations, can turn into something of an orgy……….
In many places when the Maypole is solemnly carried in, the previous year’s tree is burnt. The consumption of the wood by fire is probably another rite of … regeneration … for in India and in classical antiquity a tree was ceremonially burnt at the new year. This celebration, with the burning of the tree, was often in India the occasion of an orgy; the Bihars of the United Provinces (Agra and Oudh) for instance, set fire to the salmali tree, and then gave themselves over to a collective orgy. The ash of the tree is full of apotropaic and fertilising qualities. It wards off sickness, the evil eye, and evil spirits. In Europe the ashes remaining from the burnt Maypole, or firebrands from it, are scattered about the fields at Christmas or Carnival time to improve and multiply the crops.
Paradise : Eternity (out of time) Hell: inﬁnite stasis (time frozen)
Purgatory: Here and Now, in time and space, a dynamic time, dedicated to change and transformation
When Joachim Patinir (d. 1524) painted his vast cosmic panorama Charon , he
situated the decisive moment of choice in a sailing vessel on a great river (the classical Styx) but poised it midway between the realms of Heaven and Hell. The small figure in the boat, dwarfed by the giant ferryman, is a solitary human soul, who already glances nervously over toward the mouthlike dark gateway of Hades, guarded by the triple-headed dog, Cerberus. Even the boat itself inclines slightly in the same direction, the unfavorable sinisterside of the viewer’s right, long familiar from medieval Last Judgment scenes (and more recently in Judgment scenes by Rogier van der Weyden and Dieric Bouts in the south Netherlands) as the side of Hell and damnation.
Of course, that anxious inclination toward the dark means that the soul figure fails to turn to the dexter side, that of Heaven, opposite, where angels are visible below the trees
and unearthly crystalline structures tower above at the horizon level. Closer inspection of the entire painting shows that the very skies echo this antithetical structure: reading from
left to right, the cloudless blue sky gradually gives way to dark storm clouds above the fire and brimstone of Hell.
For we see divine retribution revealed from heaven and falling upon all the godless wickedness of men. In their wickedness they are stifling the truth. For all that may be known of God by men lies plain before their eyes; indeed God himself has disclosed it to
them. His invisible attributes, that is to say his everlasting power and deity, have been visible, ever since the world began, to the eye of reason, in the things he has made. There is therefore no possible defense for their conduct…. For this reason God has
given them up to the vileness of their own desires, and the consequent degradation of their bodies, because they have bartered away the true God for a false one…. Thus, because they have not seen fit to acknowledge God, he has given them up to
their own depraved reason. This leads them to break all rules of conduct.
For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall understand fully, even as I have been fully understood.
-I Corinthians 13:12
“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”.
- At the the cross road of Y , Migration is a form of Purgatory
Paul A. Camacho in his paper ” Educating Desire: Conversion and Ascent in Dante’s Purgatorio” 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 at last 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
- With the help of Al Khidr, St George, St Christopher and the Holy Refugees
Al Khidr : The Spiritual “greenness”:
Khidr is not an abstract mystical figure, but an archetype of something essential within us. ‘The Green One’ images a natural aspect of our divinity, something so ordinary that we overlook it. To follow the way of Khidr is to awaken to our own natural state of being with God and with life. In this natural state of being we know how to respond to the real need of the moment. Read more
St George and Al kidhr;
At first sight there seems to be little connection between Elijah, George and Khidr, apart from the fact that in the Middle East they are frequently associated with the same place by different religious traditions. Is it then a simple case of overlapping traditions, Jewish, Christian and Muslim, all of whom focus on the Holy Land as part of their own heritage and take Abraham as their forefather?
Certainly there is a view which suggests that Khidr is to Muslims what Elijah is to Jews, in respect of them both acting as initiator to the true believer, and which in itself is testimony to attempts to find common ground between the three traditions. Read more here
Prayer of Intercession to Saint George:
Faithful servant of God and invincible martyr, Saint George; favored by God with the gift of faith, and inflamed with an ardent love of Christ, thou didst fight valiantly against the dragon of pride, falsehood, and deceit.
Neither pain nor torture, sword nor death could part thee from the love of Christ. I fervently implore thee for the sake of this love to help me by thy intercession to overcome the temptations that surround me, and to bear bravely the trials that oppress me, so that I may patiently carry the cross which is placed upon me; and let neither distress nor difficulties separate me from the love of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Valiant champion of the Faith, assist me in the combat against evil, that I may win the crown promised to them that persevere unto the end.
With the help of St Christopher we make the Migration, Crossing from the Land of Ignorance to the Spirittual Land of Peace
St. Christopher prayer:
O Glorious St. Christopher you have inherited a beautiful name, Christ-bearer, as a result of the wonderful legend that while carrying people across a raging stream you also carried the Child Jesus. Teach us to be true Christ-bearers to those who do not know Him. Protect all of us that travel both near and far and petition Jesus to be with us always. Amen.
Read more here about the great martyr St Christopher
- The Refuge: Pilgrimage
To Become a “Refugee” means to make a migration to Sincerity or to the“uprightness” of Love.
Brueghel used the personnage of “Dulle Griet’ to express this kind of stubbornness . It shows the intellectual rebellion of our Ego. Progress came with a price. The new world had not yet made a Faustian pact with the Devil to gain its brilliant advances in science, exploration and industry but it had swept away some of the traditional cures for the depression that those achievements brought in tow.
Modern Man with all his “economical grow- energy” knowledge and scientifical research based on rebellion against his Soul, wants to find (without his soul) the solutions to all the problems he created and is landed in an apocalyptic “theater” prophesying the complete destruction of the world.
To take refuge asThe Holy Refugees: “Rest on the Flight into Egypt” by Joachim Patinir: to make the Pelgrimage to become The Twice Born Man
Man as stubbornness of the intellectual rebellion of our Ego / The Twice Born Man
The Refuge: Pilgrimage to Reconciliation with his Soul
Man as Man as stubbornness of the intellectual rebellion of our Ego The Twice Born Man
The Refuge: Pilgrimage
The Freedom of choice of the “Refugee”:
Read more on: Landscape of the soul, as an Image of the Pilgrimage of Life
We are not the first generation to know that we are destroying the world, many communities and civilisations collapsed before us. 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 this 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!
- Read here about the Migration to the Spiritual Land of Peace
- Looking to the Spiritual vertical way, as the Maypole do, gives us an opportunity of discerning an understanding between Non-Virtues and Virtues, developing Spiritual values needed in our times. We need to be sincere with our selves , to be “upright” strictly honourable and honest, as the symbol of the Maypole is. Together we can initiate and erect a maypole as various European folk festivals do, in respect of the safely coming of Spring. Read more here
- Forum for Ethics, Virtues and Uprightness.
- What the Emigration to Sincerity demands of us? see To Become a “Refugee”: Emigration to Sincerity or “uprightness” of Lovesee also Source materials for the “Refugee” of our Timesand Migration to the Spiritual Land of Peace -Exercise.
- The Soul That Does not Live in God is not Alive
Spring makes red and white flowers appear on the trees,
But the spring that is the origin of colors is colorless.
Understand what I have said, and give up all talk;
Run to the Origin without color and unite yourself to it.
Annihilate yourself before the One Existence
So that thousands of worlds leap out of you
And your pure existence flames out of itself
And goes on and on birthing different forms.
Of course, none of these forms will last.
Happy is the one who knows this mystery!
Happy is he who gives his life to know this!
He leaves this house for another far more radiant.
You cannot understand this mystery through reason;
The Way to Knowledge winds through suffering and torment.
If you do not feel pain, you do not look for healing.
The soul that does not live in God is not alive.
She seems like a soul, but does not deserve the name:
She has not been made alive by the Beloved.
The soul is given life by the four-elements
Like a lamp that burns through the night:
The light is from oil and wick, it is not eternal.
While the oil exists, the lamp burns, but then goes out.
The one made alive by God will never die.
He lives through God and not through gold or bread.
God is the Light, the Eternal Source of Lights.
The Light is causeless, as is His fiery radiance.
Like gold, God’s value comes from His pure, perfect essence.