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Category Archives: aesthetics

“MUSLIM” GOETHE AND SOME WESTERN CONFUSION

FROM A MOUNTAIN STREAM

Just viewing youtubes of vacation spots can prompt unexpected trains of thought. Last week looking at videos of Norway’s fjords, I was reminded of a poem of the young Goethe called Mohomets Gesang ( Mohammed’s Song) which after years I looked up. I was aware that Goethe, Germany’s “prince of poets”, was a Free Mason. Parts of the chaotic, undramatic Part Two of the Faust drama can hardly be understood without assuming certain Masonic and alchemical interests in the author. But beyond this, was the great Goethe privately a Muslim?

 Ostensibly the Gesang is about a mountain stream which becomes a river to the sea. When it was included in my degree in its German section it was not explained what the poem was about. It anyway seemed self-explanatory. It was an early Sturm und Drang phase nature poem, and so its enigmatic title could be ignored as one of the poet’s flourishes.  Today I find rather more explanation including that the poem was intended to preface an abandoned play. But now with so many Muslims migrating to Europe, especially Germany, some work of Muslim reclamation of German culture is in progress  and where better to start than Goethe?.

The poem, early translated into Persian in recognition of its likely meaning,  is now said to be about the growth and triumph of Islam http://www.themodernreligion.com/convert/convert_goethe.htm  (A translation is here shorturl.at/cKLU1)  One can remain sceptical about the supposed emphasis. With the poem containing statements like, “ Behold its youth was nourished /by good spirits/ among the cliffs in the bushes” this hardly seems in symbolic harmony with the religion’s early history and Koranic claims that Islam’s founder was suddenly addressed by the angel Gabriel.

What is more certain is that almost from the outset when Goethe wanted to pursue “oriental” studies rather than the law expected of him, the poet had a serious, ongoing fascination with Islam, with translations of the Koran and Persian culture. To the extent Goethe would like to have drunk wine with the Persian poet, Hafiz, plainly he would never have made any orthodox Muslim, but he could have been one in his way. Admitting to find the Koran at first repulsive, he  gradually recognized a sublimity impelling reverence.[See box quotation below]

Ideas of the faith inhabit pages of the late written East-West Divan collection which, despite touches of Zen-like emphasis on living in the present, is less about the Asian East than the Arabic Middle East. It is even rather remarkable that the bias of this and other texts has remained so little known, or if known under-emphasized, and that the same Goethe who disapproved early romantic era literature’s identification of German traditions with Christianity, would somehow finish virtually appropriated by that religion and/or Enlightenment ideals. But then, helping this situation there would be censorship of the full Romische Elegien This was chiefly for the sexual content, but the collection also included some hate Christ verses.

Goethe was himself something of a Faust with a dark, or at least very strange side. This manifested, not least towards women like his mother whom he refused to have mentioned in his presence and from whom he snatched a fur coat off her back on a snowy day!

NO RELIGIOUS VACUUM

Religious beliefs precede and determine many other beliefs. Secular Humanists keen to be rid of western Christian influence and privileges have yet to recognize  quite what the results of their campaigns might be – not secularism, not atheism, but adoption of other belief systems only half understood.  In this  they are not unlike the  radically individualistic Goethe who could employ the concept of Submission (Islam means submission) without acknowledging  all that might be entailed whether for individual liberty  or the treatment of “infidels”. Such would not correspond to typical Enlightenment era ideals the poet otherwise welcomed.

Douglas Murray, especially in The Strange Death of Europe, has drawn attention to the decline in the West’s “grand narratives”, but also the unexpected drift towards Islam of the long highly secular France. He also mentions the higher criticism hatchet job done to Christian belief from some theologians, not least German. I am not so surprised at this development, partly because I believe that where religion is concerned there can be no final vacuum. Something must and will eventually  enter, and as an overtly political religion, Islam may now even help form the basis for a one world faith attached to a globalist, one world ideal. But I also believe that within Europe, and especially as regards Germany and France, Islam satisfies a few ideals Christianity cannot be expected to fulfil if it is to remain true to itself.

If we can ignore folklore and mystical variations like Sufism, Islam has no miracles. Mohammed declared himself and his revelation the miracle. This is agreeable to a certain western rationalism or just kneejerk scepticism, often content to ignore the miracles of Jesus (one of the earliest of which has the demons declaring Jesus “Son of God”), rather like Dickens in his The Life of our Lord.  This renders Jesus a person of good works and high ideals rather than a Messianic Redeemer. The tendency also has some kinship with the Arian heresy long popular among especially the Teutonic tribes and virtually reinstated by nineteenth century rationalist German theologians like Harnack or moderns like the wildly iconoclastic Uta Ranke-Heinemann.

Arianism was a doctrine of the early centuries which has remained a general attitude and influence emerging in a variety of doctrines and sects including even Jehovah’s Witnesses. Originally and most essentially it denied the Trinity because it does not accept that Christ was fully divine, existed before time or was involved in creation as per especially John’s gospel and epistles (for example, “without him not one thing came into being” Joh 1:3). It emphasizes instead that Jesus was created, a chosen Son, at most St Paul’s “Firstborn of creation” (1 Col 15). However, this projected, first born status of Jesus as God’s icon or image of God should be seen as part of a process once the creation, in which Christ partakes, is begun. Paul agrees with John in Christ’s involvement in creation itself as in “all things have been created through him and for him” (1 Col 16). Islam by contrast, denies God could or would ever have any offspring or in any way suffer compromise to the divine unity which is an absolute rather than a composite One.

A QUASI – ARIAN WEST?

Arianism as a quasi-humanist, non-mystical attitude in which the image of a universal benign fatherhood tends to prevail,  has long been unintentionally bolstered by St Augustine’s view of the Trinity – one which  centuries after him would become a doctrinal position splitting West from East. The East more biblically  insisted that both Spirit and Son, not just the Son, proceed from the Father, the Source, rather than the Spirit proceeding from Jesus. The East had moreover inclined towards some degree of semi-subordination within the Trinity (as in Jesus’ “the Father is greater than I” Joh 14:28) ) as opposed to the equality Augustine gave it.  With a pure equality of the Three, the beginning and means of creation become a bit harder to imagine. One can’t for instance suggest, as I would (see Fragment below), that we might perceive something of a ying/yang between the aerial Spirit that broods over the cosmic waters, the divine Soul of the world,  to create at the direction of a divine head.

The equal Trinity is more static and, imaginatively, it easily becomes simply the One  who, being over against us, we may be more inclined to just submit to or imitate rather than, like the prophets and psalmists of old, to some degree dialogue, argue, plead and generally interact with. (I won’t rehearse the arguments Christians ancient and modern have put forth, starting from Creation’s “Let us make human kind in our image”, for belief that God, even for the  Hebrew bible and the prophets could be One as a plurality; but the claims are not based on more than an isolated verse or two. Also, even elements of Jewish mysticism as in Kabbalah  intuit a sort of Trinity with its Supernals and Keter (the Head) at the apex of a triangle with Hokhmah and Binah below and facing each other like the two cherubim of the Ark.  In Christian terms these Two would be Spirit and Son respectively as second and third members of the Trinity.

As fate would have it, Christianity was even born under the sign of society, languages (speaking in tongues) books, argument and democracy,  namely Gemini, the sign under which Paul sailed to Rome. John’s insistence that “This is the antichrist, the one who denies the Father and the Son” (1 Joh 22)  is a theological statement; but it must be recognized that what one religiously accepts has social consequences. There have been certain effects for western society  that result from the Trinitarian belief that the polymath and poet Goethe rejected.  However, while I would basically agree with Murray about the loss of grand narratives, I feel that where Christianity is concerned, the narrative has been running down for quite some time and even before Goethe due to some awkward articulation and heretical distractions attaching to it. It will be apparent from the experiment below that I believe elements or emphases within such as Eastern Orthodoxy and Jewish mysticism would help straighten out what the real pattern was and is meant to be.

Critic and philosopher of all things poetic, Harold Bloom, says somewhere that Christian Trinitarian doctrine “all poetry” in the sense of only poetry. While I wouldn’t agree with that, it must be admitted that the poetic input is partly, even necessarily, true for some doctrines. As in the case of prophets like Isaiah and Jeremiah, society and belief were reborn and redirected under the influence of new poetic, i.e exalted and visionary communications.

This question of the role of poetry again had me thinking, How would one speak cosmic and divine matters today poetically? Is it even thinkable today? Would it even have been thinkable a few centuries back if you were, say, a tribal bard on the fringes of Christendom? The following which imagines a bard speaking of cosmic matters makes no special claims for itself religiously or aesthetically. It is the merest fragment which allows me to make a few points about what we never quite saw or ought to see and for which I make a few notes. (I don’t incidentally consider this a “published” poem as work on the Net can be considered. I might change it, add to it, I have no idea. It is no more or less than an experiment, a fragment).

 

POETIC FRAGMENT ON THE TRINITY AND CREATION

Hard is and always was to sing
Eternal mysteries and the purpose of this world

Beginningless and boundless too was God
Whose fullness and deep consciousness as One
Was all supreme, though One as Three.

Not even outside these was there Nothing
Which – could such exist – might stand
As rival or as enemy against the còmplete
Whole of all that in themselves just were before
Space, time and this wide universe arose.      (1)

Light of itself, like love, would move between
And through the Three who were themselves those
Energies in which the blissful wholeness dwelt.

Within that union One there was that
Could contain and represent all Three,
In function most like Source and Active Will.
Another was their Spiritual Mind,
A Third their feeling Soul responsive to
Each slightest motion of the other Two.
And Know that this exalted Three were like to fire,
And air and water of a spiritual kind.                        (2)

And air with water are what chiefly formed
The earth when sudden change unknown before
Caused Three to labour at creating worlds.              (3)

No more the  Three once needed than themselves
Save that, as life itself, they always
In their closeness caused or shed
Some surplus of their energies
Like streams outpoured from mountain tops, or
Echoed song, or stars adrift within a galaxy:
Such were angelic beings arisen
With some awareness of God’s mind and will.      (4)

Amid perfection’s circle, who with certainty
Will tell how, uncreated, evil came about?
What force could shape it? None. Yet by
The motions of freewill, imagine that it was implied.
Pure love, perfection’s self, knows only how to love
And give and share in freedom of the open mind.

But always possible, though never thought, was love refused,
A love not shared but turned instead within towards the self in vanity
and from its self – regard could rise ambition,
Jealousy with full desire to be a one in power not shared.
And through love’s compromise once made the limit came.              (5)

No person nor one thing exists that does not live through God
But no imperfect soul or thing can with divinity reside.
Creation could alone resolve what was new conflict for the Whole.    (6)

Within the One much like a womb God made
From out Supernal being, and his imaging Third
A space of world and time which then his Second
Breathed upon and organized. In this arena
Wholly new, a choice, especially to love in truth
Could be decided for eternity. And caught in time
Until time ends, angels of wrong choice
And souls at variance with God would be
Confined in Hades’ darkness from the light.
And since it cannot be that souls may die,
Nor live at all unless through God
Already some exist in fire that’s all
They can know of the God denied.                        (7)

The One had willed creation to resolve discord
Perfection of the Second could scarce forgive
While nearer to a mother’s heart, the Third
Was more disposed in love to pardon. With this     (8)
Began the agony of God and suffering world
Till Judgement Day resolves the fate.

NOTES

1)  The doctrine of an ex nihilo creation is irrational, unbiblical and the result of some early Christian arguments with Gnostics who regarded matter as evil. Obviously and as Jewish mysticism has speculated, the creation was made possible when God created a womb-like space within himself.   Biblically we are told that everything was created through and by Christ who, being divine, exists at some level throughout creation, not just in one place (a reason I suggest the sun dims at Christ’s death and there are issues involved which I touch in the poem  The Hidden Deity https://wp.me/p2v96G-wZ )   Also we are told the world was not from nothing but “formed out of and by means of water” (2 Pet 3:5) which, esoterically at  very least (but I suggest there is more), makes for a wonderful symbolic  fit with perennial ideas that the Messiah is somehow water-related whether like showers come down or all that astrologers perceive as represented celestially by Neptune.

2)  Given the semi-subordinationist statements of Jesus even in John’s gospel most devoted to the divinity theme, it is helpful to imagine the Trinity as akin to the Kabbalistic apex of the Supernals with God the Father being Keter (the Head) , the Spirit/Mind that organizes at Hokhmah  and the Soul/body that feels and carries at Geburah these two both facing one another to form the triangle beneath Keter. While many Christians would dismiss much or all of Jewish mysticism which can exceed itself in speculation, a few basic principles are noteworthy. This is especially the case as there looks to be some connection between Kaballah and Essene thought and some connection of Jesus’ thought with the Essenes, the only Jewish sect we know of which entertained messianic ideas of a divinising kind.

3)  In Kabbalah there are only three elements, fire, air and water with earth being derivative from them. The Genesis creation story is begun by God assisted by the Spirit which like a bird broods over the waters  fecundating them – esoterically air is male and water female and we perhaps have here an implicit ying yang. It could be deemed problematic that Christ is male but as the Sophia which even St Paul calls him, he represents the female principle.

4) I can be wrong about the origin of the angels. It is not clear when and why they are created (deliberately or more automatically?) but they possess a will and choice and  thus some rebel with the Satan.

5)  According to St Augustine the devil fell through pride, but within the context of the heavenly, the withdrawal inwards of self-love or vanity seems more feasible as the first step within a place of only mutual love and perfection. Also vanity is implicit in the Ezekiel’s vision of Tyre as a Satan who becomes proud because of his beauty (Ez 27:18) which seems indicative of vanity before pride.

6) Creation, the dimension of the material and time help establish a measure of distance from imperfection for God while for creatures it allows a space to exercise a degree of free choice for or against God

7)  The Eastern Orthodox view of hell regards the damned as living through the same light/fire that illuminates the redeemed. God is primarily and ultimately spiritual fire (See the vision of Ezekiel for example). A soul can’t die like a body, it must live forever, it cannot be annihilated otherwise God is not “Lord of Life”. The damned would appear to be those who  continue to exist through God as fire but without the benefits of the other elements. Thus like the rich man in the parable of Lazarus in Luk 16, this soul is tormented by thirst because spiritually or materially, the water element is absent.

8) The mental and abstract, organizational perfections of the Second (akin to Hokhmah) and the understanding and feeling of the Third (akin to Geburah) create a tension between them and the One will of the Head. There are various symbolic grammars and archetypal motifs to evoke this. I like best as easiest to demonstrate in even everyday psychology, the will to exclude among perfectionist Uranian individuals and the will to include of pardoning Neptunian ones but I realize this is a bit Jungian and not an acceptable comparison for many. But the main point is that until the final decisions of Judgement Day, there is a tension and conflict within God seen at its most extreme at the crucifixion where Jesus, become sin and sacrifice, is or feels temporarily abandoned by God like the damned to Hades (hell). No Arian type doctrines denying the Trinity fit the spiritual and psychological dynamics of the Passion story and one might as well say that Jesus never died on the cross or did so without much purpose – the iconoclastic Uta Ranke Heinemann dismisses the whole atonement doctrine as “theology for butchers”. I suggest this kind of thing is an example of the German theological messing about on which the West is choking.

 

 

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GAY SEX, PLEASURE AND A PAUL PROBLEM

      PART ONE: MARKS OF ABSENT PLEASURE

AN ARGUMENT WORTH HAVING

There’s an old rabbinic saying “to love God is to argue with him”. It’s a saying influenced by the fact the Israel name means [the one who] strives with God. And sometimes truth, insight and justice are the product of a degree of testing, negotiation, even argument, with God or scriptures.

Gay conversion therapy is and remains controversial and on occasions I have observed it’s rare and special persons who are changed, or claim to be so, https://wp.me/p6Zhz7-m Over the years I’ve noticed it quite often seems to be, as one might expect, women who make the claims, because women generally are more sexually adaptable than men in the first place.

Recently I listened to a youtube with an ex-gay testimony from a female former LGBT activist. It was noticeable that it concluded that she felt more at ease not having to argue with the God and scriptures familiar to her from her family and upbringing. Arguably that is the main key to her story. Better accept, no matter the difficulty, than question and resist. Anyway, this extended article is about the kind of questioning that yields results in some significant truths and possible revelation in the face of a lot of current confusion.

RADICAL BEYOND THE BLINDSPOT

This is a quite radical and original article about the expression and meaning of gay sex and it contains ideas and perspectives readers won‘t have encountered via either gay or queer theologies (I’m actually rather opposed to the materialism and neo-Marxist bias of queer which disposes of spiritual issues  and I don’t represent any standard Progressive Christian position either. Ever since I obtained my world first doctorate in gay spiritualities I have retained an independent and as far as possible objective line).

The crux of this inquiry is related to the gay tantra trend plus account of an experience not sought or expected but whose implications could be significant for  ongoing thought about same sex issues  and spirituality. Just when it could seem much had been settled and achieved, there may be more to think about.

Readers could, in fact, stop here and drop in on the subject in Part Two first and return to this Part later. That easy-out can’t be recommended if anyone wants to bring the widest perspectives and greatest understanding to Part Two because as the article’s title indicates, I am also dealing with a “Paul problem” I endeavour to resolve. In any case, lest anyone would try to avoid the impact of what is argued here, I’m virtually obliged to precede any interrogation  of the  theme with thoughts in two directions:

  1. a) a peculiar blind spot in western religious culture around the beautiful with implications for spirituality and notions of pleasure.
  2. b) justifying the theological “revisionism” that, as in this inquiry, questions long unquestioned tradition, assumes tradition should be dynamic, not static, and that it’s doesn’t make for automatic heresy to think that way.

PLEASURE

Pleasure within Christianity (and many religions) can sometimes get very negatively regarded, a prime distraction as in, “they will be lovers of pleasure rather than God” (2 Tim 3:4). Arguably the original Christian take on pleasure was, or became, not unlike Buddhist notions of “attachment” though described as “idolatry”. (Just how close to the Buddhist idea Christianity would become is suggested by St Teresa of Avila confiscating a nun’s bibles because the unfortunate woman had remarked she was very “attached” to her bible!).

To the extent pleasure belongs with the temporal and “this body of death”, philosophically any spiritual system will be against pleasure as an end in itself ; but practically and as an everyday issue, one is faced with deciding the status of pleasure, natural, spontaneous, artistic, therapeutic etc more generally. Just as in the past music, women’s voices, dancing, acting etc have been opposed, so too sexual pleasure and just physical touch can get questioned with diverse results that compel us to question the evaluations behind this.

To speak of a cultural blind spot in art may not even seem an obvious, relevant starting point, but is so because depiction and perception of beauty, along with authentic depiction of Christ, itself belongs with the pleasure question. In the OT, beholding the beauty of the Lord is itself, as with all beauty, a kind of pleasure, even the greatest, the main desire (Ps 27:4). Granted that OT notions of the visual and the image were different to ours, if we’re honest there is a peculiar weakness at the heart of western religious art including that even in plain sight one hardly gets to see the desired beauty represented by especially the faith’s Redeemer.

The technical achievements and expressive verve of naturalistic western art (it’s naturalism sets it apart) aren’t in question; but the religious achievements can be strangely limited. And not on account of merely absurd and worldly depictions of rich donors adoring a Christ child or the many sentimental Madonna images (so many more of them than Christ images as Leonardo da Vinci, of whose Salvator Mundi presently, noted).

The fact is that despite the occasional El Greco or Rembrandt assisted moments of recognition some people claim to have, convincing, meaningful depiction of Christ is felt to be the exception. It’s almost a case of more naturalism, less reality! In my opinion as someone who has travelled extensively and lived years in Asia, even some popular Buddhist and Hindu images may more nearly convey what is thought and believed about the relevant figures of gods and gurus. Some kind of power is missing. Why?

  St Mary’s Cathedral, Tokyo.

One possible answer is that the iconoclasts of the Eastern churches were right all along. It can be argued there was never meant to be a Christian art as we know it. And if you think that a ban on images in places of worship would have delivered sheer nullity, consider the impressive achievement of St Mary’s Cathedral, Tokyo. Though most of us would however not go so far as to support the iconoclasts, there is undoubtedly some problem around Christ images and there has been from the first.

Whereas it’s part of sacred history for the OT that the Spirit of the Lord came upon Bezalel (Ex 31) to help him make beauty and decorate the Tabernacle, Christianity owns no comparable story. There is only the legend that St Luke was a portrait painter who painted the Madonna and so became the patron of artists who nonetheless were a long time coming into their own.

IMPLIED OR ALTERNATIVE BEAUTY

Beauty had a long way to go and any pleasure in it further. The art of the Roman catacombs is undistinguished. The icons of the Eastern churches, the first real Christian art, are not in a conventional sense art or portraiture but rather code and symbol and, at least originally, served a didactic function. Faces and bodies are usually distorted (thin lips, long noses, huge eyes), even sometimes uglified features perhaps to ward off merely idolatrous purpose. Icons of Christ, hardly striking are at most memorably staring. The vivid colours or gold alone make any icons the “windows to heaven” some call them.

Despite original hesitations about what the artist was doing, biblically, it is the idol or sculpture that is more clearly under ban than any image; and once Christ was understood to have come in the flesh and been seen, any case against portraying him seemed diminished, even incongruous (in today’s terms a bit like declaring a photographic image unholy). Even if the Jesus the disciples knew had not been walking about as a shining Apollo, as Messiah he could not have been unattractive (like the ugly figure imagined by some Gnostics); even regular priests could not have blemishes so a messianic figure could hardly be physically inferior, and it is actually possible as a descendant of David Jesus could have stood out for fair hair since the sons of David have been known into modern times for some fairness gene.

What I am saying is that if Jesus was to be portrayed at all, from the first and quite legitimately he could have been strikingly portrayed in terms of distinct beauty or else beauty marred through sacrifice and suffering. Except that the Eastern churches as opposed to the western never concentrated upon the crucifixion, it would have been acceptable to present a sub-beautiful image because it belongs to prophecy of the Messiah that his figure would be marred due to suffering, a person thus not obviously fitting the popular, typical expectations of a conquering hero messianic role (Is 53: 2,3). As it is, iconic art finishes up with neither a beauty overt, nor a beauty occluded; and absolutely (despite the inspiration some artists took from the improbable veil of Veronica), there would be no distinctive or memorable face.

FROM ICON TO ABSTRACTION

Outside the East with its icons, for centuries the Christian West under especially the influence of St Augustine located beauty abstractly, in the proportion and number that transcends the bodily. It was a bias at the heart of the otherworldly direction of especially medieval stained glass art and of course the mathematics based music (provided the potential sensuality of musical instruments or women’s voices did not accompany it, which for a long time after Augustine they didn’t!). Such physical beauty as was acknowledged was directed upon woman, especially the Virgin, at the expense of any Hellenistic notions of the male sublime.

For many believers, not knowing the face of Jesus seemed to render the person unknowable, or a symbol of unknowability, something a type of Eastern Church mysticism seemed increasingly to endorse with its controversial “negative” theology and its (almost Hindu) affirmations of “not this, not that” and beyond anything imagined when it came to description of divinity.

However, most people do still want a solution to the gap in sight and information. (After years, my most regularly visited article https://wp.me/p2v96G-lH has unexpectedly been one about Jesus’ appearance – it includes reasons why the popular Warner Sallman image can be taken as closer to the truth than some critics would allow). “Blessed are those who have not seen but yet have believed” (Joh 20:26) says Jesus to Thomas, and for many it can be a tour de force to emphasize relationship and knowledge in devotion without an image for people to be guided by!

Even so, I suggest that behind unsatisfied curiosity in this area there might be more than simple doctrine but instead an entire approach to the body and to beauty. Arguably we are lacking the image because we are lacking the requisite psychology and values and can’t manage certain root truths involved.

A FEAR OF BEAUTY?

Fast forward from the world of the first icons to today’s world, and at the Christian fringes there are people claiming end-of-days visions. For some this includes forecasts about a soon to appear false prophet Antichrist. I have noted something significantly odd about this. Especially the men, were insistent that their envisioned false Messiah was seriously handsome. But they were in knots describing or even admitting this. They pedantically assured listeners they were straight, were married, that they didn’t usually notice men and some such scarcely hidden homophobic variation on a theme.

Though I am neither captivated nor convinced by the gay Leonardo’s Salvator Mundi portrayal of Jesus, it is to be commended for the mystery it attempts to convey via a sort of androgyny. In some fashion or other this would have to apply to Jesus who is described as both Logos (Word and masculine) and Sophia (Wisdom and feminine) together. The first modern (nineteenth century) description of the gay individual was anima muliebris in corpore inclusa, a female soul in a male body. This if true would incidentally tie in with issues of gay tantra, because arguably the elusive big O some gays pursue in vain through many experiences, but that tantra may hope to deliver, is more akin to female orgasm.

No need here to discuss whether the anima muliebris description of gays was valid or if Jesus should be thought of as in any fashion gay. What’s relevant is that as long as religious conservatives reduce homosexuality to no more than a “lifestyle” or “choice” pursued around inner city bars as opposed to an orientation and identity, the implicit homophobia of the denial is a factor in the inhibition of discussion around, let alone portrayal of, any mystery or allure attaching to Jesus’ appearance.

I am persuaded that Christianity, traditionally deemed the religion of art and culture, in fact, and assisted by a degree of homophobia, has a major problem around representation and beauty generally, and with it pleasure too. If that sounds extreme, consider that whereas in the OT there are plenty of references to beauty as regards women, clothes, jewels, the cosmos, Jerusalem etc, along with some references to beauty in males (David has beautiful eyes and Absalom is beautiful top to toe), any concept of beauty is extremely circumscribed in the NT. Indeed it is almost non-existent and reliant on the OT as when it is allowed that Moses was beautiful before God, or, citing Isaiah, the feet are beautiful of those who bring good tidings.

A difference between Jewish legalism and Christian psychology could have something to do with this. Under Jewish law whatever is not expressly forbidden is permitted, whereas for Jesus the essence of the Law is something to be generalized and interiorized in terms of intentionality. Thus a voiced Jewish appreciation of male beauty would not necessarily imply you were a gay harbouring suspect desires; under Christianity of the narrower Ray Comfort variety, your appreciation might just imply unacceptable interests. The prejudice might then be justified on the basis of the often misunderstood words of Matt 5:28 about looking upon a woman (married woman understood since the subject is adultery!) to lust after her, (with looking in the sense is to look to do something), the strong intention being judged morally equivalent to the deed. This is not, it should be obvious, condemnation of all or any desire for women and women’s beauty. That would be unnatural!

BEAUTY TURNED INWARDS”?

But unless it’s the glories of Revelation’s New Jerusalem, beauty hardly exists for the NT and women don’t need to be adorning themselves either! (1 Tim 2:9). The New Jerusalem is perfect like the glorified bride who enters her and  who is “without spot or wrinkle…or any kind of blemish (Eph 5:27). Splendour of perfection is what is beautiful, not things in kind or in perspective as an artist would see them. In short, beauty is abstracted, viewed through the lens of rather priestly, ritualistic notions of the beautiful – a fact relevant to things said later regarding “purity”.

By implication the only or truest art is an  absolute and literalizing one, less an interpretation of anything than incorporation into the self of the divine image of Christ who is himself the image/icon of God ( 2 Cor 3:18).

Given the lack of overt and spontaneous emphasis upon sensuous beauty (apart from Jesus on the lilies of the field), there is a concomitant lack of emphasis upon pleasure generally. It needs to be positively assumed as in Ps 16 that at God’s right hand are “pleasures for evermore”, especially as nobody reading the NT could imagine that the beauties of the Song of Songs (attributed to an ancestor of Jesus) had ever been written!

Encouraged to turn mystically inwards by favouring an incorporation of Christ, overall, there is an absence of delight in either nature or the embodied; at the same time the world sometimes appears to border, as it did for Gnostics (usually opposed by Christians), on being a snare with little to offer beyond surface, illusory glamour: “the desire of the flesh, the desire of the eyes, the pride of riches (1 Joh 2:16). And to note here, a point to which I will return, is that evil is seen rather in terms of actively, materially possessing as opposed to appreciating what life presents to us, (a difference I noted in an earlier article regarding attitudes that distinguish typical straight and gay approaches to sex). But by itself beyond that, just what is happening here in this radically puritanical swerve from biblical precedents?

Obviously there is more than one thing, but major is certain attitudes of St Paul as a leading church founder and indirectly through him as someone born in Tarsus, home to a then trendy philosophical Stoicism, various pagan values of his time favouring the rough, simple and plain with sex for reproduction only. Plus one detects within the apostle something that, whether or not it would be called homophobic today, excludes as virtually idolatrous any appreciation of beauty in especially men, even if it was in Christ himself. Like the disciples and despite claiming to have seen Jesus directly and in visions, Paul doesn’t describe him.

REVISIONISM AND “GOD’S WORD”

We can return to these matters, but before presenting a radical re-statement in relation to gay sex, it’s is necessary to justify to vocal and dismissive religious conservatives the practice of religious revisionism. Their position is that if something is absent from either “the Word of God” or long tradition or both, it can only be heresy. This ignores for a start that Bible believers ought really to refer to “Scripture” rather than “The Word of God” since the latter is supposed to refer principally to Jesus as Logos, the Word, the person who himself declared the scriptures are searched in vain if he isn’t found there (Joh 5:39).

My position, one that is widely assumed among believers and ought to be the normative Christian position, is that the bible is inspired but not infallible (not a paper pope as some would say!). It should even be obvious it cannot possibly be word for word infallible all of it dictated from heaven otherwise God would have to be experiencing the purely personal complaints and infirmities of the psalmists or be leaving books or persons here or there as per the diary style asides of Paul’s epistles. And if one insists that every word is infallible, it can only lead to wilfully selective reading with a touch of dishonesty and special pleading – for example American evangelicals can hardly with honesty ignore that Pauline views of authority are inconsistent with the American revolution itself.

In winnowing the chaff great discrimination must nonetheless be used because while the case against a few archaic texts (like Ps 137’s incitement to smashing Babylonian infants against the rocks are plainly unacceptable), revisionism cannot be merely dismissive of confronting texts either. Statements like Ecclesiastes’ that there is no new thing under the sun (Ecc 1:9) is confronting, but should warn against slash and burn treatments. Obviously cars and computers have arrived since the author’s times, but the statement, literally untrue, has truth at a certain level. If like astrologers we accept history is subject to cycles, things can and do repeat across history and there is indeed a time for war and a time for peace. Rabbinical interpretation of the Bible assumes four possible levels, (literal, allegorical, moral/homiletical and mystical) to a sacred text.

REVISION FROM THE FIRST

Despite these precautions, revision as a modification of given tradition, (but not against its general spirit), has been possible from the biblical outset as when the daughters of Zelophehad (Num 27) successfully contest the inheritance rights of women under the Law. Within Christianity the clear case for re-shaping tradition, something Christians were doing almost from the first as at the council of Jerusalem, is found in the story of the apostle Peter’s dealings with gentiles in Joppa in Acts 10.

Peter is told in dream to accept unclean animals as clean, but more than once he denies the voice of God in the matter, declaring it is against the Law. Peter in short is guilty of a kind of bibliolatry duplicated to this day by the likes of American Southern Baptists for whom “the Word of God” is the written text, the Bible, which is the final word on everything.

This position is an implicit denial of the call to “hear what the Spirit says to the churches” (Rev 3:22), perhaps especially in light of a new era or unprecedented circumstances. Whether or not the disciples knew it, their time was, as Jesus had indicated, a new aion (the age or era of grace or in astrological terms the age of Pisces). We ourselves are presently on the cusp of another aion, precisely a time liable to impose new questions and values demanding resolution.

It is a clear mark of St Paul’s prophecying “in part” and only “seeing through a glass darkly” that (regarding specifically any extended aion such as Jesus himself referred to), he incorrectly believed in a very imminent return of Christ and even promoted certain rules and values (like the desirability of not marrying) on that assumption.

There is no question that we need to revision Paul in awareness of occasional limitations in his thought, which is not to say he is not a major definer of the faith at many levels. To question his legacy while endorsing the greater pattern is not a cop-out to enable dubious theories; it is just to be properly realistic about texts and their authors in context.

“GREAT MEN MAKE GREAT MISTAKES”

Paul has been problematic from the start. The apostle Peter admitted many believers found parts of his writings difficult to understand (2 Pet 3:16) and that situation has not greatly changed. I am a bit of an anti-Paul, Paulinist who believes the apostle said too much that’s valuable for him to be dismissed even while he can exasperate and be questioned on points.

Reading Paul today one must anyway accept that there is hardly a major philosopher of any doctrine whose thought isn’t unsatisfactory at some point. Confucius inspired much that was best in Chinese life but in places his reverence for elders made for serious injustice. A father of western thought itself, Plato’s The Republic puts a blessing upon virtual tyranny. Descartes helped shape French culture but on animals is a disgrace. Kant’s Categorical Imperative is a silly idea one wouldn’t need to apply in situations of war and torture. Luther was a reformer who truly reformed, yet his influential anti-Semitism is a painful embarrassment. The fact is “great men make great mistakes” and bequeath us their prejudices with their wisdom.

In fairness to Paul, even at his most dubious from a modern perspective, his statements emerge more meaningful in light of such as Sarah Ruden’s Paul Among the People (2011) [ 1] which contextualizes him amid abuses of his time the average reader will not have heard of or imagined but that make chilling reading. As regards homosexuality this author, a classicist, significantly adds to understanding by virtually settling the well-worn meanings and interpretations debate, insisting the main issue had to be the well-attested pederasty and its chronic injustices. I had some doubts about this but cannot overlook a doubtless relevant verse from the first century apocryphal 2 Enoch where the prophet is told hell is prepared for those who dishonour God, practicing sins against nature which is child corruption after the sodomitic fashion (2 Enoch 10:3).

But beyond the most enlightening knowledge of social context, we still need to read Paul dialectically because he is unafraid of contradiction as when he can notoriously refer to our bodies as “vile” (more accurately, “lowly” and as compared to the resurrection body), yet it seems he would have us love our bodies (Eph 5:28). And the apostle may not always be so biblically correct as appears, describing woman as only the glory of the man (1 Cor 11:7) whereas Genesis 1:27, more equally, has it that both male and female are made in the image of God.

What I am now seeing as more vital to discussion on sex and pleasure is that Paul looks to be considerably influenced by his rabbinical heritage (of which more presently) as opposed to direct revelations. It would anyway be sensible to recognize this when for example the apostle declares (uniquely within the bible) that women’s heads should be covered “for the angels”. Though pagans believed in the power of the tresses, this bespeaks the folkloric rabbinical notion that angels could be attracted to long tresses in women, hence women might be guilty of tempting them. However bizarre the idea, one notes it for possible wider implications. In Genesis the fallen angels have intercourse with mortal women. This would only be possible if angels possessed something like sex in the first place and thus heaven, is not sexless or anti “pleasure” as often imagined.

SEX THROUGH A GLASS DARKLY

Millennia on from their composition, we should give the writings of Paul a wide berth. A few things nonetheless remain non-negotiable today for oddity or potential injustice and one must conclude that if Paul had a blind spot it was, (as long widely if tacitly assumed), focussed on sex. I shall try to pin this down via his distinctive character and especially rabbinical background which could even blind him to his immediate surrounding.

Though he probably knew much more than the average Jew, there were always limitations to the apostle’s understanding of pagan society. Faced with a case of shameless incest at Corinth, he declares this is sin such as is not found among pagans (1 Cor 5:1). In fact, in the previous century a well known satirical poet, Catullus, whose funeral according to St Jerome writing centuries later, had brought out the crowds in Rome, poured scorn on high society family incest several times.

One of the apostle’s worst errors (assuming he wrote the relevant epistle since arguments do surround the authorship of Timothy 1 and 2,) is that when a woman grows “wanton against Christ” (KJV version) she seeks to marry (1 Tim 5:11). This looks like ignorance or chronic insensitivity in the face of existing conditions. In these it was common for pagans to marry off young daughters, for economic reasons, to elderly men who would leave behind young widows who wanted their chance at life and love. Paul instead evidently wanted to secure virtual armies of praying nuns!

There perhaps wouldn’t be much for the average believing woman to do but pray. She should be silent in church (like Jewish women at synagogue) and not preach (though she might prophesy); her head must be covered like the rest of herself modestly and she must keep bearing children as it will help her make her salvation 1 Tim, 2:15). This itself is a point bibliolatry has to avoid because – another of the Pauline contradictions – it potentially undermines his doctrine of grace in Galatians which teaches that in Christ there is neither male nor female and that faith alone makes for salvation. (The contradiction is so great it does make one wonder about the authorship of 1 and 2 Timothy or at least their dating).

Also insensitive, this time to men, though hardly untypical for the culture and time, is the notion “better to marry than to burn” (1 Cor 7:9). Love doesn’t come into the picture, the technical state of chastity is all that counts as to a rabbi it certainly would; and if the partner really is the merest protection against lust, it is hard to see how the husband can then somehow love his wife “like his own body” as Paul advises in Ephesians. Indeed the husband sounds like he might have problems enough of his own because it is another of Paul’s impossible off the cuff declarations, (though for me one of the indications the apostle was not as per some recent trendy theories, psychologically a repressed and closeted gay male), “nor do I box as one beating the air” but rather he goes for the direct blow and “I punish (or pummel) my body and enslave it”. (1 Cor 9: 25/6).

BOXING AND VIOLENCE FOR THE GOOD?

I can’t imagine how evangelicals and Catholics don’t see the irony of their protests against the objectionable sport of boxing, the cause of many deaths and lifelong disabilities, given how one of their favourite saints evidently had some of his society’s admiration for, or at least interest in, this vicious entertainment.

The former persecutor of Christians, the man of violence, evidently never quite left all aggressive urges behind; and while we have no evidence to the effect the apostle did literally beat himself, obviously seeds are sown here towards St Benedict, founder of western monasticism, who rolled in thorns to subdue the flesh. Moreover, and in harmony with my prior article, if one opts out of the potential sex war of straights (in which women are from Venus, men from Mars), the Mars impulse can take over and redirect towards ascetical war, a dislike or even violence directed upon oneself or others…..

THE SARX/FLESH PROBLEM

A leading question for present inquiry concerns the possibilities via tantric means for disciplined self-acceptance as opposed to rejection, especially as regards gays, though the solution may have some relevance to straights.

And here for present purposes and the gay issue with the boxing metaphor we approach the crux of the matter in Paul’s notion of “the flesh” (sarx) itself related to “soul” psyche.. I say more in Part Two, but here I’ll stress the word today is better rendered “lower nature” because “flesh” for Paul can be involved not just in base sexual passions, it also governs dissensions, anger, jealousy, greed, heresies, sorcery, theft, violence (but not boxing?!) and much else.

Though sarx is more inclusive than soma (physical body), I imagine traditional emphasis upon “the flesh” as chiefly or only the body, owes something not only to the fact the body is pointed to by the very word even when plainly the subject is more psychological, but effects of a statement like : “Therefore do not let sin exercise dominion in your mortal bodies (soma) to make you obey their passions. No longer present your members to sin as instruments of wickedness but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life” (Rom 6:12,13).

Before saying more, it’s relevant to draw attention to how Paul in Romans (that profoundly theological work that is nonetheless a horror epistle for the gay issue that its rhetoric introduces), appears to conceive of the sin and temptation to which the body/soul is medium. In Rom 7, identifying sin very much with transgressions against the old covenant now transcended, he suggests he would not have known sin save for the Law. (But others would surely do so, pagan moralists did exist?). Apparently accusing himself of sin in relation to especially covetousness, the Law at once creates sin and with it what we’d call conscience. We actively want what is forbidden because it is forbidden. We thus even do the very things we hate.

In making his argument that the Law is a teacher, one who brings us to Christ through whom is forgiveness and life as against Law’s condemnation and death, Paul says sin dwells within him, indeed “nothing good dwells within me, that is in my flesh ” (Rom 7:18). He says that in this condition he can will, but not do, the good he wishes.

While I can understand much that Paul says in Romans, at this point he loses me and doubtless others. This is not just because in an evil world evil can surely manifest just everywhere, not necessarily through the body above all else, but he seems to describe a type of will to gratuitous transgression I don’t have and have never had (which admittedly doesn’t mean it’s untrue for some people). I would however associate it rather with persons like schoolies and bikies, people who want to smuggle i-phones into classes or drugs into rock concerts simply because these acts are forbidden by authorities whose rulings they more oppose than question.

Because the Law as his ideal looms so large in the apostle’s thought, he has described one, but only one type of sin and the way to it. One way is enough because from a certain rabbinical position likely to influence here, the body vehicle is intrinsically evil, always to some degree thought of as ritually impure because subject to death.

Be that as it may, even seriously evil people don’t necessarily do evil from love of transgression in itself; they may just be racists and monster bullies like Hitler. And then in Paul’s understanding of evil, what is this evil within the body, a sort of diable au corps energy, that for Paul makes one want to do what one hates? What are these bodily “members” that can be instruments of wickedness, but that we should present to God”?

Obviously this late in time one can’t be certain here. The sin Paul explicitly accuses himself of is not sexual but the covetousness that biblically has a lot to do with that ownership of and attachment to wealth against which Jesus often warns. So perhaps that’s it, and we have no right to say more. But from what I have heard and read over the years, I must wonder if we are not dealing with unstated features of a more general rabbinic culture and its ritual perspectives.

FLEEING SENSATION AND PLEASURE

MIKVAH FOR RITUAL PURITY

Years ago a rabbi told me that the reason anyone (as per Lev 15:16) was briefly impurified by bodily emissions, (whether involuntary or voluntary for men isn’t stated), is because the emission not having served procreation represents death. It sounds to me like a version of original sin doctrine in which death is pre-eminent. The death association would anyway or additionally be present due to pre-scientific ideas of many cultures as regards homunculi. Lost sperm was widely considered to be lost or even murdered beings, not one of millions of sperm regularly lost in just the urine.

Such understanding was behind various ceremonies, apparently not unique to Jews but found among many agricultural societies, of mourning for the lost seed. I forget which notable rabbi it was who was ultra-concerned to have regular sex with his wife simply so that not one drop of semen would be lost. What that rabbi’s attitudes to wet dreams would have been, who can tell, but perhaps frequent marital intercourse obviated that worry.

Outside of Paul we again maybe see a connection of this type of anxiety around bodily fluids in the odd statement from the book of Jude (Jud 1:23) “and have mercy on still others with fear hating even the tunics defiled by their bodies” (NRSV). Radical Gnostics (Jude’s presumed target) certainly did weird, perverse things like ritually consuming menstrual blood, and one may assume that like Nero who lolled on his palanquin displaying sex-stained garments, they did similar; but plainly, ritual defilement through sexual emissions is a point of concern here.

Within this kind of cultural context it would be logical to hate and despise non-productive gays, often popularly dismissed to this day as “wankers” (masturbators) especially when, even among pagans like the moralist Plutarch, especially the passive gay was deemed the most morally disreputable of persons. (This was a reflection of how in the ancient world Paul inhabited, the entire treatment of same sex issues was determined by ancient notions of hierarchy in which it was a disgrace for any man to compromise the hierarchal order and be associated with the inferior role of women in any way, while a strong desire for pleasure was regarded as a form of disapproved, female pleasure-loving lechery. (Roman decadents went to orgies dressed as women to advertise their libertinism).

A case has been made, but I don’t consider it a strong one, that when the apostle declares malakoi (“effeminates” in the old KJV) won’t enter the kingdom of heaven (1 Cor 6:9) he means masturbators. It’s more likely, if the reference is sexual at all and not just to weak loose, immoral people generally as the expression would easily permit, he could be indicating the passive as opposed to the active arsenokotoi mentioned in the same vice list passage.

Ancient Israel like the ancient world had no clear, general word or image like “homosexual” to define persons, but beyond the OT Leviticus ban (Lev 18:22) upon same sex (which almost certainly originally referred to male sacred prostitution such as King Josiah excluded from the temple grounds), one might imagine the gay person would be regarded as a spiller of seed like (the not gay) Onan of Gen 38:9 who didn’t want sex according to the then duties of brothers in law. If so, this would be automatic grounds for a special revulsion. Such would be especially the case if, like some rabbis, great efforts and devotion regularly went into preserving seed and thus avoiding any kind of stimulation deliberate or accidental outside of intercourse.

DEFINING PURITY

What I am getting at here, (and my essential message will not be compromised if the speculation is wrong), is that Paul’s image and treatment of “the flesh” is considerably influenced by unstated, even unconscious (since Paul consciously transcends the old law) rabbinic attitudes and practices that avoided spilled seed and aimed for extreme bodily purity in ritual terms. Obviously such concern would be capable of turning life into the kind of melodrama of avoidance and ultra-purity anxieties later envisaged by St Augustine whose asceticism nonetheless owes more than Paul’s to non-Christian sources like the Manichees he had belonged to.

But since in any case even the holiest, licit sex will partake somewhat of the earthy and messy, one has to suspect that Paul’s notion of “filthy” and “impure” as applied to sex was overly influenced by rabbinical ritual as in 2 Cor 7:1 “let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and of spirit”… as opposed to distinctly obscene, abusive, or degraded etc uses he could have spoken in terms of. I think this is something scholarship needs to look at more closely. It might help to avoid what should be grey areas getting treated as black and white ones like adultery –  as indeed has traditionally happened when the confessional worried children by exaggeratedly equating touching oneself with “sins against the sixth commandment” (which at the same time could also cover for the gravest of sins like the pederasty too leniently treated).

Arguably if there is an ingrained feeling of ritual purity but no accompanying aesthetic notion of the objectively beautiful, especially as regards male or female, it would be easier to dismiss all pleasure (epithumia, hedone), as it’s rooted in the eros energy and involving sight, as merely base. This is how pleasure is liable to be seen by Paul. And undeniably a lot of “pleasure” of his times was base and immoral, (the prostitutes supplied at the end of any banquet, the sexual services required of slaves and without their consent etc); but obviously pleasure is still not automatically and by definition base.

There is anyway always the phenomenon of art and its demands, and in India tantra, (though sometimes a cover for the dark arts), arose not least as an artistic reaction against a world without colour and sufficient acknowledgment of the senses that the native asceticism had imposed upon society. The Pauline outlook always risked engaging a similar situation and would always require a similar correction, certainly some recall of Solomon’s Song in praise of the embodied and ideal. Extreme Puritanism might call that “idolatry”, but the common sense line within Christianity has always known  something of the kind  can’t be entirely avoided, the reason the marriage ceremony includes “with my body, I thee worship”.

Three centuries on and for Paul’s admirer Augustine, the spontaneous, unpredictable movements of the penis in their seeming refusal of “reason” (which is why some traditional symbolisms give the phallus to the fitful moon rather than Mars), becomes a symbol of uprisen revolt against God. His youthful desires are “filthy concupiscence” whatever precisely “filthy” means, but as analysis has shown, these youthful desires are more likely to relate to his crushes on men than his little recorded dealings with women. Despite having a mistress and a child by her, he later rather cruelly repudiates than marries her. (The matter is unlikely to have been a purely religious one. He could have married her except that it would not be fitting to his class and then custom to do so).

Call me and dismiss me, as some feminist theologians might well, another of the gay “phallic theologians”, but I would say Augustine shows no proper (even biblically proper) sense of phallos beyond phallus such as even Paul has when speaking of circumcision of the heart etc.. It would surely not be impossible for the philosophical mind to envisage erection as potentially symbolic of a striving towards the infinite and the Creator, especially as the Creator is said to have a special interest in the phallus. God requires at least Jewish males to be circumcised as a mark of sacrifice and dedication, though at the same time (but the point is disputed) giving greater health safety and heightened sex pleasure with it, a case if so of God taking away in order to give.

It has been speculated Augustine was bisexual shorturl.at/wLMX9 and as far as I am concerned it’s certain because the birth data of this person, (who more than any other helped damn astrology among Christians), reveals the classic afflicted Neptune (specifically in his case Venus to Neptune) square which is virtually guaranteed to accompany bisexuality (Madonna, Lady Gaga, Bowie, Angelina Jolie etc, you name it).

But Augustine seriously does not understand himself or eros in this area. Sex is without use or purpose unless procreational. He fails to recognize how much it was an intense same sex attraction, or more precisely the death of this adored companion, which helps trigger his conversion and sends him to God. It’s the same denial principle at work, and one that readers conveniently ignore in the book of Daniel, where Daniel is allowed his way and makes career progress because of a same sex attraction God is evidently quite content to employ for his advancement. (See “Apocalypse as a gay issuehttps://wp.me/p6Zhz7-4p). Augustine’s tendency to regard the genitals as almost the enemy, is itself a subtle heresy away from their appreciation even as a symbol of devotion in the strange teaching of Jeremiah’s loincloth (See Jeremiah’s Loincloth: A Poem of Faith and Phallos https://wp.me/p2v96G-Hm).

In the wake of this record of misreadings and misunderstandings I shall make a bald statement that developments in Part Two will help clarify and support. It is not possible or desirable to suppress the same sex eros. Society, religion and not just gays pay for it. It limits, even blindfolds vision and is even a reason western Christian art so often runs into difficulties.

Society now stands on the verge of the Aquarian age, but for a long time now Aquarius and its ruler Uranus have been associated with both homosexuality, and/or sex thrills and masturbation. Gays have even been dismissed as “wankers”, dealers in inferior, contra naturam sex, (“self-abuse” according to the Victorians, “sins of impurity” for the Catholic confessional which following Tridentine reforms rendered masturbation virtual source, secret and origin of most other sins), incapable of sexual maturity, or “mastery” of the passions, fixated on self-love. A few cultures and myths like Egypt’s with its god Khepera have given a species of creative as opposed to sterile associations to the act, but this is the exception.

It may be, however, that rather as poet Austin Clarke mentioned in Part Two was able to reverse the damage and turn the supposed sinning into new prophetic seeing (I may cover this in a later article on Irish poetry), the bad press hides certain unexpected, surprising truths with wide ranging implications..

 

—————————–OOO——————————

PART TWO: ENGAGING WITH PLEASURE

A TIME FOR…

Sometimes one thing or idea leads inexorably and unexpectedly to another. “There’s a time for….” a whole list of disparate things according to the author of Ecclesiastes.

It happens that in two prior recent articles, one on gay Douglas Murray’s treatment of the gay theme in The Madness of Crowds and the other on the influence of the art of Tom of Finland, I had mentioned new gay trends like tantra and so-called “mindful masturbation” and soloving (i.e. solo loving).

Time flies and movements mushroom ever faster, but the remote modern origins of the new eros seems to be in the eighties, California and the work of especially Joseph Kramer on “erotic massage” at the Body Electric School. Kramer had trained in massage at the Esalen Institute in California and later included some Chinese Taoist principles in his techniques and yogic breath practice.

For some gays and in what might even look like a rejection of the gay marriage drive, these tantric activities are a substitute or even preferred practice to any domestication of union being more able to produce harmony among those involved because being rid of the rivalries and inequalities of many marriages.  For a few it is almost a sex monk vocation  (and thus even a “taking refuge in Lord Phallus”  an extraordinary idea I fancy Buddhist have yet to hear of!) . The actual techniques reckon to intensify and prolong pleasure or extend them multi-orgasmically. The exercises, usually begun under a facilitator or DVD guides may be pursued alone or with a friend or friends, (partners sometimes wonderfully called “bate mates” if they are actively involved!). The various aims with their ecstasies are felt to be healing, especially in terms of a love and self-acceptance often missing from gay lives.

Anyone who dismisses such practices and their claims from the outset as so inherently decadent and perverse as to be beyond discussion, needs to concede to fact and explain why foetuses have been observed to self-pleasure themselves, why some mammals do likewise and why in women the clitoris appears to have no function unless for pleasure. God can’t be against pleasure as such, though God and we might contest the application.

In fact, pleasure of this sort has if anything been over-contested. In Andrew Auge’s A Chastened Communion about modern Irish religious poetry he states: “Thus for Austin Clarke….the trauma occasioned by the inquisitorial focus on masturbation in the confessional epitomized the Irish Catholic Church’s large scale effort to police and monopolize all discourse on sexuality” [2] The young Clarke himself was driven to serious nervous breakdown and time in an asylum over the matter.

In my mentioned articles I had also defined (what I have seen and known for years to be true), there are three main types of homosexuality that have manifested over the centuries and still do – they are perennial. These three can be represented in what Jung realized is the psychologically useful symbolism of astrology, in this case through the three outer, transpersonal planets as opposed to the inner, personal planets like Venus and Mars that define heterosexuality.

The relevant symbol-carrying planets are Uranus, Neptune and Pluto and they carry generational and trans-personal, mystical significance. Lacking strong connection with these factors natally a person will not be gay, while those who are straight but who do have the connection are more likely to have friends or family members who are gay drawing them into the subject in some fashion, even if sometimes in hostile and homophobic ways.

So I had written on this, but in the way that one thing leads to another, sometimes intensely over a short period of time, I had a relevant experience I did not expect or seek.

A TIME FOR EROS?

In an evening of mid November, thinking it was high time to be a bit clearer on the evolving gay tantra phenomenon, I started taking down notes on some expressions of the trend (it has its different teachers, schools, emphases from California to Germany). I did this in a very desultory, off-handed manner and as I did this I might breath in and out in loose imitation of rhythm and ways recommended, stretched myself here, squeezed myself there. I thought little of it except as some kind of aide-memoire to what I was writing, trying to imagine rather than perform the regime, but physically impressing on me some idea of the shape of these quasi-yogas or however one defines them. I wasn’t expecting and didn’t receive any special effects from this and feeling tired went to bed.

Since it would normally takes weeks or months to arrive at full proficiency in this area and while the phenomenon of especially FBO (Full Body Orgasm) is best induced by an expert masseur and can trigger reactions up to and including visions, what later ensued could be owing to a variety of factors. Perhaps I had touched some nerve; perhaps it was diet. Conceivably it bore belated connection to effects of an operation for prostatitis (an operation which runs a minor risk of destroying the sexual life for good or leaving you a bit erratic).

Whatever the cause, which perhaps doesn’t matter against the potential insight obtained, when I awoke next morning I was subject either to what gay tantra would call FBO or else something very like it. Not being under any guru I can’t exactly classify or normally certify it, but whatever it was it was sufficiently significant to leave strong impressions in the way that perhaps only a raising of the kundalini would do…. except that it wasn’t that. I’ve read and heard enough about risen kundalini states to be sure it wasn’t; such can even be alarming whereas what I felt was more reassuring and closer to a totalizing mystical state, in its way keeping me strongly calm and certainly not exhausted, depleted or disappointed after the manner of bad sex. I have never taken LSD or drugs to compare, but my sensations were surely rather trippy, a reasonable assumption since any sexual arousal releases a whole chemical brew with oxytocins, endorphins, testosterone and it may cause the pineal gland to release DMT molecules which have affinity for LSD experiences. I suspect however some would call my condition the mystical “choiceless awareness” one some believe relevant to Walt Whitman’s perceptions.

I had, as it were, become Eros. I was as though shaken into a fully sexual state, stronger than which I couldn’t imagine or desire. I am unsurprised by claims FBO states can lessen or outright cure sex addiction. It would, I think, be strange if subsequently one wished only to keep scoring and pursue some purely orgiastic or aggressive form of gratification along the lines of those images from queer artist Tom of Finland, subject of the prior article. It would be chasing a lesser degree of sex in almost caricatured imitation of straight sex and its conquest theme.

This was about sex-in-itself – the Hindu idea of rasa, the pure essence, comes to mind – and it didn’t even need a partner since any partner, or nature or the cosmos could be considered somehow implicit in its fullness much as I had stated in one of the articles on a purely intellectual basis, that gay sex seems to partake of the group consciousness associated with Uranus/Aquarius.(There could be some affinity here for certain understandings behind a trend in Japan and California towards people celebrating marriage to themselves).  

The heretical Swedenborg alleged that the angels exist in a state of potency. One wonders if his ideas weren’t influenced by Jewish commentary that would allow something of the sort – it’s widely held the wings that cover “the feet” of the seraphim in Isaiah’s vision was a not unknown circumlocution for the genitals. Even if that’s mistaken, it would seem all-apparent from Gen 11 the angelic orders are not deemed sexless. But no matter what angels may or may not feel or do, some kind of angelic state of pure eros might be a way of describing what I had fallen into but it is hard to describe.

However, as one point of comparison it may not be irrelevant that it was a certifiably gay composer, Tchaikovsky (his correspondence betrayed the matter and he committed suicide over being gay), composed the impressive Hymn of the Cherubim. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ggUtlUHIqQQ This hymn is remarkable for its sense of precisely totality, infinite extension, an irradiation in a mystical piece that, perhaps almost more than any other in classical music, combines characteristics of East and West.

The actual words of the hymn are given in note [3], but I’ll say that if they had emphasized Isaiah’s “Holy Holy Holy” chant the music might have been one degree more strongly, positively ecstatic and less melancholic in line with what I have been trying to describe. (As the actual words derive from the Liturgy of St John Chrysostom who in the fourth century almost singlehandedly invented a radical homophobia and anti-Semitism cited by the Nazis, I like to think of the composer’s work as a kind of spiritual protest, a slap in the face to the “saint” who   should long ago have been de-canonized).

A  CERTIFICATION?

Self-absorbed though I was, enough of will or intellect was active to wonder what I was subject to, and I knew that if this wasn’t some complete illusion it would have to be shown by the celestial time astrologically if I could drag myself up and away to record and examine this. The pattern didn’t disappoint, in fact the Event Chart strongly and significantly confirmed the experience. Notable points were these:

Rising in the first house of the body was of all things asteroid, Eros – It would be a suitable time for anyone to feel fully Eros.

The moon, timer of events and anciently associated with the phallus more commonly associated with Mars, was conjunct the 8th house of sex. It was however near to an opposition to Saturn reflective of that fact the experience was both cut short by me and belonged in its way to tantra, namely a controlled or structured kind of Eros.

The average person familiar with any basics of symbolism might expect a strong Mars (sex) to be evident and in its way it was because magnifying, fortunate Jupiter was rising in the first house of the body in opportunity sextile aspect to Mars. Also for those astrologers who would require some emphasis of gay Uranus in the pattern, Uranus was in the fifth house of pleasure, love and any affairs and in its apparent retrograde meaning favourable to any interiorizing of themes in this area. Uranus was also positively trine the Midheaven of destiny and in an event chart like this signifies “here and now”.

But what was really and most “here and now” was a basically fortunate grand trine of the moon (as mentioned, on the cusp of the sex house), to Neptune in one direction and Mercury in the other. As both Neptune and Mercury are in apparent retrograde, this again means something could be internalized and opened to analysis, as indeed it was.

Neptune at the centre of the grand trine is in the fourth house of the origins of anything. Neptune should be highlighted because as per my prior articles, it marks is one of the three types of gay modality, the most mystical, artistic and musical as opposed to the more awake and brilliant Uranian one and the more rawly powerful and phallic Plutonian one. Neptune is also anything to do with mysticism and drugs and, though as indicated, drugs had nothing to do with the matter, there was a trippy and mystical quality to the whole thing. Significantly against the notion I was subject to demonic effects, Neptune was conjunct asteroid Theotes (God/Godhead), the Part of Fortune was in the ninth of religion and philosophy and Eros was degree exact favourably trine Isa (Jesus) [ 4]

The question some would pose next is: would the experience be less authentic or ethical if it had been directly, deliberately invoked by massage and still more so-called Mindful masturbation. I don’t think so unless your position is that all masturbation is always by definition wrong. This, as already suggested, runs against what we have to infer from the evidence of nature. Obviously, though, intentionality would count in this, and there is plenty of bad, unmindful, misdirected masturbation little better than Satanist Aleister Crowley’s black magical spells that employed it. I can return to questions of intentionality later.

TICKING ALL THE BOXES?

Assuming the uses and legitimacy of some form of mindful masturbation – I would prefer the term “meaningful” as “mindful” bespeaks the Buddhism that no more officially represents this direction than Christianity – I am now ready to speculate how this could, and perhaps even ought, to be the central, most essential expression/rite/sacrament of specifically gay sex along tantric lines. Theoretically it resolves all or most problems around gay sex on all scores religious, health-wise or whatever. Notable reasons for this would be:

1) it does not imitate or rival heterosexual intercourse or roles, (a main concern in traditional disapproval, Christian and other, of same sex activity) unless perhaps where some practitioners would include, but only as secondary, the more ambiguous and in effect half way house of oral sex .

2) it does not bodily and unnecessarily fully join two souls as, esoterically at least, any spiritual system would assume happens in any intercourse. (The implicit assumption it does is crucial to much biblical sexual ethics in definition of illicit unions and promiscuous relations). The lack of complete intimacy would seem relevant to especially the bisexual situation. Despite all the welcome signs and inclusion statements, many gays psychologically, and Christian gays more religiously, have long had problems with the B in LGBT. Short of a celibacy on one side of the bi equation, a bate mate arrangement seems like the only form of B that doesn’t run into the problem of distinct infidelity to any wedded and bedded partner.

3) orgasm does not necessarily entail ejaculation – it even ideally aims to avoid it, increasing awareness and pleasure by circumventing it through possibly even multiple orgasms. This helps avoid any non-kosher notions of ritual impurity through lost seed, while health-wise it avoids unnecessary loss of energy, bad sex feelings of depletion etc, (Augustine’s famous post coitum etc…). However, notable repeated retention of semen is deemed unhealthy if one is not in good health and exercising. (Health-wise there is a double bind here: insufficient release of semen can contribute to prostrate cancer – too much retention can likewise risk cancer!)

4) Meaningful masturbation is not necessarily or intrinsically image- dependent; if anything it should begin in concentration not on desired or admired others but upon the self; so this alters the intentionality issue, especially where some critics would controversially insist that intense imaging of others itself sets up soul ties esoterically.

5) it potentially integrates and transmutes elements of what has traditionally been most disapproved in “the gay lifestyle”, such as open relations (free love), addictive tendencies (drugs, drink) and orgiastic behaviour patterns. These trends, if and when manifest (they are common but not gay universal), neatly correspond to negative expressions of respectively: a) communally inclined Uranus, b) dreamy Neptune c) power proving Pluto. As regards especially a), the Uranian, this bears comment.

As mentioned earlier, as regards ethics and relating gay sex is “aesthetic”, more about appreciation than the dramas of possession launched by the Mars and Venus “battle” of the sexes among straights. Uranus especially is about sharing, friendship and the group rather than exclusivity. As such this is not any encouragement to monogamy though many gays do aspire to that state and religious gays will feel they anyway should. (For Matthew Vines in his bestselling God and the Gay Christian, gay relations are permissible because they can and should be monogamous). [5]

Even with the highest ideals, realistically however, the path to satisfactory, lasting union, if that more material as opposed to mystical tantric ideal is the object, may entail or require a half-way house. It has been observed many gays seem to need, rather along the old Greek style, the older mentor or substitute father figure to help them accept and manage their difference and perhaps overcome rejection feelings from a father.

To have one or more responsible, special “bate mates” that one has shared mind and feelings with rather than been fully joined to, would cover that issue which for others might be covered by the fact many seem to feel so-called “mindful” masturbation somehow implies the other and something like what gets called the phallic brotherhood.

As to types b) and c), any tendencies of the dreamy, addictive Neptunian type can be more positively and harmlessly transferred to prolonged erotico-mystical states, while the Plutonic, orgiastic type can interiorize the potency, can be the potency as opposed to keep proving its possession against and upon others. (One might however need to inquire what the mystical state amid the pleasure is, if it even is one, and I turn to that presently).

6) Tantric practice can help resolve many needed problems around self- acceptance – it’s remarkable how much men, but especially gay males, don’t accept themselves and are troubled, depressed or aggressive in sex accordingly. Although a new appreciation of touch through especially massage and by witnessing others can be a part of the tantric regime, acceptance includes, even for straights, of the genitals no longer seen as automatic enemy or aimless interloper in in the course of life. The story and sign of Jeremiah’s loincloth in course of which it’s said the men of Israel are supposed to be close to God as the genitals to the loincloth, discreetly hints at the need for such acceptance as opposed to the punishing ascetical Augustinian picture of the genitals as little more than a fallen world’s enemy to human reason and divine will.

The American artist, Georgia O’Keeffe, herself born under the traditional sign of the genitals, Scorpio, is widely considered to have produced exquisite stylized floral images suggestive of the female genitals. She herself denied that was the intention and she maybe spoke true since as a Scorpio her work could have been unconsciously, archetypally determined.

If O’Keeffe had been a male in touch with the unconscious we might speak of portraying the broader, more symbolically vital phallos as opposed to penis. Anyway, it tells us something about contemporary culture and contemporary male culture, that there is no art of the phallos. (Obviously in Asia there are the lingams but unadorned rather than stylized, and any implications for worship as opposed to meditative integration, are problematic even for non-Christian cultures).

A SPIRITUAL EXPERIENCE? USES AND ABUSES

The gay tantric way is recent, relatively untried and unexamined. Traditional Hindu tantra never envisaged any such practice – though Tibetan and Japanese Buddhist sects may have a little – but some modern advocates now envisage almost limitless possibilities akin to at any rate highest levels of Asian mysticism. Practitioners can be  extravagantly imagined as creators of self and worlds, of vision, peace, and healing, members of a global phallic brotherhood whose awareness can rise ever higher in bliss towards all-embracing oneness.

At the other extreme, and since there’s no system cannot be misused, mindfulness can be replaced with a kind of unmindful, materialistic worship of technique where the aim is reduced to hooking up with new bate mates by the week and clocking up one’s number of dry orgasms in competition with self and others. Here the aim has become pleasure alone that was not the original sole purpose, though I realize that an emphasis upon pleasure may, as in the case of the tantra of Arnim Heining, a former Benedictine priest, may get stressed less from sensationalism than the aim of wide and de-mythologized application when ancient and modern myth can become distracting and unhelpful.

Personally I feel it might be quite enough if some basic practices fostered health and renewal with greater self-acceptance and some management of pleasure both more relaxed and controlled. These cannot be minor benefits.

The crucial question remains whether, as some imagine, gay tantra can supply any kind of mystical experiences (my peculiar experience inclines me to suppose it could give something of the sort), and, if the end point is a heightened awareness supported with pleasure/bliss, what is the status of that? Is this, can this be or reflect any real experience of ultimacy? Is there any kind of God experience involved?

Traditionally tantrism was rejected in the East because it was insufficiently ascetical or pure. If we look at this from a Christian and western standpoint, the bible presents us with an apparent contradiction needing resolution. On the one hand the lovers of the Song of Solomon are erotically in the fires of Yah(weh) and the implication would be that the erotic is within the divine, (the reason that illicit sex can be at once against one’s true self and against God who is the source of Eros); but then a Paul statement like “lovers of pleasure rather than God” is nearer the more standard Asian/ascetical line which discourages notions of pleasure as revelation of anything.

All is not quite lost where some consistency is desired. Some of the problem involves terminology and esoteric principles often overlooked.

A SPIRITUAL ANTHROPOLOGY

It should be clear enough from the Hebrew bible (OT) that the human person is seen as a trinity of body, soul and spirit. Partly in concession to Greek philosophy and also to cover for the disappearance in medieval Christianity of the original charismatic gifts on the Spirit, the Eighth Ecumenical council of Constantinople in 869, devastatingly for all subsequent religion, ruled the person is a duality of body and soul. The spirit is only an unseparated part of soul and is its more rational aspect as opposed to a distinct organ of ultimate revelation.

This shift in emphasis would cause a reading back into earlier texts and scriptures meanings and emphases not always there. The spiritual life has been reduced to a contrast and conflict of body and soul only, with soul the cooler, more organized part of the human self. The passions are the lower energies that soul’s “reason” will work to overcome.

This is scholastic philosophy but not biblical.There is an equivalence between Hebrew nephesh or animal soul and Paul’s sarx (flesh or lower nature) related to soul (psyche). Both these are crucial to life. They have many names cross culturally like the etheric body or body electric, jivatman etc but they belong with the vital energies, including sexual, that hold the person together and leave the body (Gk soma, Heb basar) upon death. Souls if they don’t die may be “lost”. Sarx/Nephesh is however the possibility of our sympathetic connection with nature (and animals) and the cosmos, and thus any expressions of natural mysticism as of the Romantics.

Spirit, which is Hebrew ruach and Greek pneuma, is as essential to life in its way as Sarx/nephesh. Ruach is a para-rational organizer and interpreter of soul energies, the vehicle for any hearing of the divine voice and knowing the divine will. (In some of my books I have suggested that Jesus could even be considered the Soul of God over against the Spirit of God). The Spirit may become clouded over and obscured, but is essentially pure. (One notable mystic, Juliana of Norwich, once went so far as to maintain the spirit is always pure, and “the elect” are those who never sinned in the spirit – everyone having done so through the soul).

In the NT from especially St Paul, spirit and soul are in conflict (Gal 5:17), the fallen energies of soul not being subject as they ought to the directions of spirit. We need not deny this situation – the conflict between truth and lies, wisdom and folly, peace and war, pleasure and addiction are everywhere evident – but we still need to take it as one of Paul’s rhetorical generalizations.

There is no way we could and should dismiss soul and its perceptions and pleasures as always all bad and bad beyond all cure. Your doctor will cure your soul/body and it is what God is said to restore (famously Ps 23 has it: “he restores my soul (nephesh)” – portrayed as done within a scene of nature which soul is deeply related to. The soul of the woman who loves Solomon in the Song of Solomon is nephesh (Song 3:2).

At the same time, the apostle interestingly places sorcery and idolatry (Gal 5:20), which is to say almost all known systems of magic and religion, under  sarx. At any rate an often supposed sex and magic nexus seems likely, a point driven home to me when I saw a film of Tibetan monks able to sustain freezing temperatures, and in what was perhaps a camera slip, it briefly revealed a monk with an erection.

Gay Tantra as therapy and for some as a good possible containment of the erotic energies of body/soul, would seem justified enough (short of objections from the most narrowly conservative and literalistic views that all non-productive and non-marital sex is unacceptable). The more vital question would seem to be: is there any mystical potential or divine contact amid all this? A few devotees who prolong pleasure for hours even sense themselves to be a new kind of erotic monk or mystic. Could anyone be such?

This is an important question whose correct answer could have implications for almost any kind of mysticism which locates its wisdom wholly within the meditating mind or the trained body.

I would maintain that if and when God is experienced at all by would-be pleasure mystics, it is only indirectly. It  is nothing more, save in degree, than anyone experiences things divine, namely like Solomon’s lovers  within the fires of Yah (Song 8: 6,7). It is because intercourse is a “divine” activity  of sorts, that it can also be immoral or demonic, the occasion of intervention from false spirits (Augustine would  fear succubi where women were concerned!). Some new age extremists would even  encourage this, maintaining there are peaceful aliens who want our sperm although, worldwide, experiences of alleged alien kidnaps record terrifying sexual interference.

  AN OVERSTATED MYSTICISM

Arguably the kind of mystical experience sex mystics claim, namely of “Oneness”, is inevitable for any mysticism which does not engage the spirit/ruach level and its energies. The soul overpowered by its point of concentration, cancels out distinctions and categories, turning mind back on itself in a great circle and its message is inevitably blissed out “cosmic” oneness and unity; especially so if I am correct that sarx corresponds to Neptunian inclusiveness and capacity for bliss which looks forwards to or implies, like some Buddhist systems, formation of a bliss body.

The new universalist kind of Catholicism, though unlikely ever to accept anything like gay tantra as such, ironically will nonetheless be open to its oneness idea (even Pope Francis whom conservatives consider an anti-Pope for heresies would do so), because although like most mysticisms Christianity’s are not sexual, the mentioned Constantinople decision has so reduced the role of spirit, human or divine, that everything and everyone that soul is thought or felt to touch is potentially “One”. All are on the same page with a differently named same God if only we could realize it. And arguably even the most Christian and ascetical mysticisms might as well be sexual. Some Greek Orthodox monks whispering, murmuring their Jesus prayers can seem half intoxicated or near to prolonged sex stimulation’s “gooning” phase where language is dissolving into a sort of shishing variant of speaking in tongues.

BEAT ONENESS AND EROTIC WRITERS

In short, as in any system there are pitfalls to be avoided and honest questions to be asked, and sexual mystics might need to be careful with the “magic” potential of auto-stimulation and masturbation-triggered ideas and images projected onto the ethers whether as this affects themselves or others. If there can be good masturbation there can certainly be bad – the poisonous writings of the Marquis de Sade were produced with such.

Beat poets of the sixties, Alan Ginsburg and Jack Kerouac were frequent (non-tantric) masturbators, the Neptunian Kerouac ultimately deciding it was better than regular sex. The gay Ginsberg was an admirer of the rather obviously gay and also masturbatory Walt Whitman. On one occasion that he was reading and (unmindfully and absentmindedly) masturbating, Ginsburg was inspired, but alarmed when he allegedly heard the voice of the poet, William Blake, a figure who influenced his work lifelong and a basis of his oneness mysticism.   [6]

For a while Ginsberg was emphatic this wasn’t a hallucination. Later he decided it must be a form of his own voice, this seeming consistent with reason and everything being mystically “one”. But on that basis he then strove to call up the voice by uttering “Dance, Dance, Dance, Spirit, Spirit, Spirit” but the effect was, he said, “like Faust” and “he got all scared and quit”.

The fact that the disembodied voice of lifelong influence had seemed separate and couldn’t be duplicated, suggests it could actually have been a familiar spirit such as would manifest through sarx rather than ruach and contact with which is forbidden in Judaism (Ginsberg was born Jewish). The voice of God, often like thunder, would be unmistakable and communicated through the ruach –significantly Ginsberg regarded his Blake voice and Oneness mysticism, a swerve from God, which in effect it was. The poet’s subsequently adopted Buddhism is a-theistic. At the same time, Buddhism does not naturally lead where Ginsberg let it take him, which was not only into narcotics, but also into various causes among these, (though he was not himself a paederast), support for legalized child/adult sex relations.

Though straight, James Joyce, especially in Finnegan’s Wake, was a masturbatory writer and that may not even be too healthy for readers if they’re at all psychically sensitive which I probably am – as someone once remarked to me “you’re terribly psychic, you just haven’t realized it yet”. What I am not is a person who remembers dreams. Only with real effort did I once get to the stage I could just about catch how a dream ended with some question or worry like leaving a case at a station. Last year I undertook to read Finnegan’s Wake with the assistance of a commentary, last thing at night The Wake is Joyce’s novel of night and dreams. Some of it was poetic, some of it funny, some of it truly opaque beyond commentary, but some it particularly filthy too and the book anyway embraces normally taboo themes like the incest which is apparently the hinge of the whole “story”.

One morning after a substantial read I awoke with devil/ Baphomet images in my eyes. I tried to ignore it and pushed it off. Once could be just an accident, but when it happened again the next day after more Joyce I decided that Jung who knew Joyce and Beckett and called them the Antichrist writers, was probably on the right track. Not wanting Joyce’s black mojo around me I decided this anyway too obscure writer wasn’t worth struggling with, even if you’re Irish.

SEEING FURTHER

The images didn’t reappear, but the incident serves me as a reminder about what is absorbed and let out to the world (St Paul at Eph 5:4 would have it that “entirely out of place is obscene talk”. Sex always needs to have a degree of good intention about it and possibly any sexual practices, if they are not to leak out and impress upon the ethers as some imagine and I consider theoretically possible, they could use something like the self blessing with which some of the south European people have surrounded intercourse. Unblessed free-wheeling sexual activity may be more harmful than realized.

Despite the need for caution in any area that sex and the spiritual are explicitly or just implicitly in close neighbourhood (as they can be much of the time), I don’t feel the perennial, potential conflicts of sarx with pneuma, are grounds to write off the possibilities of the new field of what is basically gay therapy and integration with a few implications for even the heteronormative world.

Although, despite what some conservatives think, we cannot know with complete certainly just what and who St Paul was referring to where same sex issues were concerned (recreational bisexuality, pederasty, male prostitution?), what is certain is that belated popular understanding of the gay theme has been little short of a catastrophe. It has been so both for individual gay lives damaged or even suicided out of existence by it, and for the church itself. The latter has lost ground and engaged unnecessary hatred for itself on the subject, not just today but historically as when a major reason Japan never turned Christian is because individuals like St Francis Xavier fanatically declared the courtiers of Japan lower than pigs and dogs. As Matthew Vines pertinently reminds us in God and the Gay Christian, Christ states “every good tree bears good fruit but a bad tree bears  bad fruit…..every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down (Matt 7:18-19) [ 7 ]. What we so often see is bad fruit produced by treatment of this subject and one feels it’s time the tree of this doctrine came down.

Centuries before the eunuch word assumed its wider meanings and sometimes indicating the nearest thing to gay, Isaiah had declared the eunuch to be somehow special, even reserved for “better” than those (heterosexuals understood) whose heritage is through children (Is 56:5). Theirs is the greater monument. Whatever precisely that signifies, it’s like suggesting this individual is bearer of special knowledge or destiny. If so, it may be time to apply something of that knowledge which I would judge is more feminine and adaptive than masculine and aggressive in treatment of self and soul.

Everything suggested here may not be correct, but the subject matter is timely. The situation over gay issues of ongoing confusion, doubt, hurt, resentment, with congregations split over gay issues must be changed, indeed redeemed. It is not simply a matter of ethics, it goes rather further as I endeavoured to indicate in Part One. The very art of the west has a problem. It has never supplied a convincing portrait of Christ. The Redeemer is inadequately seen or not seen at all, which is like a parable in itself. Arguably the lack will not be corrected and the face not revealed until the entire issue of pleasure is better resolved. It is not a question simply of received doctrine sometimes fanatically defended, but a core paradox involving vision itself.

 

NOTES

  1. Sarah Ruden Paul among the People, Image Books, New York, 2011
  2. Andrew Auge, A Chastened Communion: Modern Irish Poetry and Catholicism Syracuse University Press, New York, 2013 p.13
  3. The words of the hymn are:

We who mystically represent the Cherubim
And chant the thrice-holy hymn to the life-giving Trinity
Let us set aside the cares of life
That we may receive the king of all
Who comes invisibly, escorted by the divine hosts

4. In the still working data I claim to have for Jesus’ birth, Neptune (widely accepted by astrologers to be a Jesus associated planet, is conjunct Venus and asteroid Eros all three in Scorpio sign of sex, suggestive for the   idea the fires of Yah(weh) associate primarily with Jesus – which would be logical if we think of Jesus as the incarnational, embodying person and aspect of the Trinity.

5 Matthew Vines, God and the Gay Christian, Convergent Books, New York, 2014, Chapter 8.

6  Visions, Symbols and Intertextuality. An overview of William Blake’s Influence on Allen Ginsberg.  Alexandre Ferrere, Empty Mirror, June 7, 2019

7 Vines, op.cit. p 13

A SAINT’S MISTAKE: A POEM OF ST  PAUL    https://wp.me/p2v96G-yS

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
 

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AFTER TARA’S HARP: THE FORTUNES OF THOMAS MOORE AND IRISH IDENTITY TODAY

AFTER TARA’S HARP:  THE FORTUNES OF THOMAS MOORE  AND IRISH IDENTITY TODAY.

Before there was W. B. Yeats as Ireland’s national poet and unofficial laureate, there was Thomas Moore (1779 -1852). The man, his influence and legacy, nonetheless remains something of a mystery and  beyond  the kind the mystery loving Yeats could have dreamed up. His story, well evoked in Linda Kelly’s Ireland’s Minstrel, still raises questions relevant to Ireland today.

Moore, the Dublin grocer’s son who hobnobbed with royalty and aristocrats, the poet who managed seriously to charm almost everyone he ever met (Disraeli declared no one’s conversation was more delightful) and being forgiven even by those he occasionally criticized or insulted from Jefferson to the Prince of Wales, was a phenomenon, but one now almost forgotten… Unless perhaps by Irish Americans. For them, Moore’s snapshots and mementos of Erin like The Meeting of the Waters and the tear and a smile yearning for the country have remained part of a specifically emigrant’s culture more than  the legacy of the nationalist Yeats. The latter would be more influential in Europe.

The two never quite saw eye to eye, but as Catholic emancipationist  Daniel “O’ Connell acknowledged, Moore fostered “patriotism” – a love of roots one could say, which is a bit different from full-bodied nationalism. Regardless, in the nineteenth century one and half million copies of sheet music for The Minstrel Boy alone was sold in America, and that speaks no uncertain success.

Moore hadn’t begun with patriotic poems and airs. These developed over years during some of which he had been involved with theatre (which is how he met his actress wife),  coming to the fore around 1808. They had been assisted on the musical side by Irish composer John Stevenson who variously composed airs or arranged melodies Moore suggested could accompany his verses. To their advantage the verses began to see the light of day at a time when Irish music was being seriously discovered by Edward Bunting.

Prior to this and in the wake of his studies at Trinity Dublin in the late seveteen hundreds, Moore’s poetry had taken a more purely social direction which reached full expression in London where he went to study law. The Odes of Anacreon (translations and paraphrases of Anacreon) were published to great acclaim there in 1800 though this proved a bit of an embarrassment later in life as the more patriotic Irish Melodies conceded: “He was born for much more, and in happier hours/His soul might have burned with a holier flame/ But alas for his country…”

ROCOCO MOORE

In some respects Moore was always hugely Irish, but not in a way commonly acknowledged either inside or outside of Ireland, namely in terms of a rather “rococo”, Marriage of Figaro type sensibility, the strain one may find so absent from the dourer Ulster to the point that zone can feel like a foreign country to further south. The Ireland that is neither sporting, horsey and hard drinking nor exactly pagan either is the more School of Scandal one that we glimpse in Boucher’s picture of Louise O’Murphy and hear in Moore’s own 1801 published The Poetical Works of the Late Thomas Little (Moore was a little man). This collection and In the wake of The Odes would confirm Moore lifelong in the sobriquet “Anacreon Moore”, the corruptor of good morals.

While that charge was almost certainly unjustified being based on a few exuberant exaggerations, it is undeniable Moore was broadminded. He forgave easily and overlooked things as in the case of Lord Byron whose loyal friend and ultimately biographer he was. (Beyond poetry, the later Moore became something of a pioneer in the art of biography – Byron, Sheridan, Lord Edward Fitzgerald). Given certain facts, Moore may have gone too far in overlooking the real edge of chaos and cruelty amid the bonhomie that Byron represented.

Until late in life when Moore laboured over a critical history of Ireland, arguably the same latitude was directed upon the many English connections and supporters Moore charmed in aristocratic society. He hoped to influence prominent people on Ireland’s behalf, but at least some of those he entertained  would have been guilty, as Anglo-Irish novelist Maria Edgeworth realized, of funding extravagant parties by disappearing Irish forests. There is an irony in the fact that Moore’s chief society friend and patron was Lord Moira, who, though undeniably an opponent of the Britain/Ireland Act of Union, was no great friend to the Irish heritage. It was on his estate that back in 1781 Lady Moira had disrespectfully treated the precious find of the anciently buried Bog Queen who looms large in Seamus Heaney’s “North”.

DEFENDING IDENTITY

Certain statements of Irish Republican founder Patrick Pearse about the virtues of hating and standing apart can grate today. They can sound anything from unchristian to fascist, but one maybe has to grasp the broader meaning of a poet’s rhetoric, namely that any meaningful defence of home and identity will require a few standoffs and refusals.

Even if she did fear being a financial burden upon friends, how could Sarah Cullen, the intended of United Irishman Robert Emmet, have married a British officer after Emmet’s execution? …It’s a bit like asking today how Jewish actor Miriam Margolyes could vote for anti-Semite Jeremy Corbyn and be a pro-Palestinian activist. The Irish like the Jews seem saddled with problem people with, in the case of the Irish, a genial to the point of ingratiating, universal friendliness possibly linked to some inferiority complex that feels it must endlessly give  and comply. Something of the kind is behind the way the nation’s current political elite while defining Ireland past and present as almost wholly an Ireland of the welcomes, is selling the country down the river to please ruthless European policies (like organizing for massive immigration while Ireland suffers chronic homelessness problems).

One of the worst things colonialists do (according to Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth) is to render the colonized almost grateful to be imposed upon by convincing them they possessed no prior culture. Moore’s Ireland of sweet places, memories and symbols, though better than nothing at all at a time when the Act of Union had virtually erased identity, was without notable complaint, or authority of historic culture, it’s little more than nostalgic tears.

The only throb she [Tara’s harp] gives
Is when some heart indignant breaks
To show that she exists

MOORE AND YEATS

   

Easy popularity and economic success apart, patriotic Moore and his later more deliberately nationalist successor, Yeats, nonetheless had a fair deal in common. Though Moore’s father had been a Gaelic speaking native from Kerry, both Dublin born poets were English speakers who knew no Irish, and both spent a lot of time travelling or living outside of Ireland in England, America, and continental Europe.

Yeats was born Protestant. Moore might as well have been so. Despite a purely political lifelong commitment to Catholic Emancipation and some belated reconciliation with Catholic theology in The Travels of an Irish Gentleman in search of a religion (1833), Moore was a virtual Protestant. Refusing to go to confession which he dismissed as an embarrassment, he married a Protestant and his children were raised Protestant. Moreover, like Yeats and as though admitting the impossibility of fully wooing any native muse, Moore finished up unexpectedly marrying not just a Protestant but an Englishwoman. (In both cases however their wives seem to have been commendably long suffering of their demanding spouses!). Both writers were born under the distinctly flexible sign of Gemini and in fact Moore’s natal pattern, of which presently, helps explain a few facts about him and we need all and any help we can get to manage that.

Even as a main pillar of the Romantic movement Moore is almost forgotten today but at one time, and despite his more eighteenth than nineteenth century style, he shared a place with Walter Scot and Byron (who praised him highly and admitted Moore’s influence on him). And Irish Melodies was an inspiration to such composers as Berlioz, Weber, Mendelssohn, Schumann, even Beethoven. Moore’s poetry constituted seriously bestselling material, causing Longmans of London to wager, sight unseen, the huge amount for the period of 3 thousand guineas upon the now almost unreadable Lalla Rookh orientalist epic. It was translated into most European languages, went through seven English editions in its first year and sold well for at least 30 years.

Nowadays most of us would probably agree with the British critic, William Hazlitt, that Moore “converts the wild harp of Erin into a musical snuff box” and even regretfully concede to Wordsworth that Moore wrote more “agreeable verse” than poetry as such; but no matter how we assess Moore under the effects of time and changed tastes, the questions still demanding answers are:

  1.  how was such success achieved,
  2.  how was it eclipsed and
  3.  why was the influence, especially from any nationalist standpoint, so slight in the long term?

These questions deserve answers interesting in their own right, but they overlap with other almost more vital questions we can ask today like: what is the function of poetry, how does it work in different languages and is it relevant today, especially to Irish identity now that modern Irish poetry is largely remote from, (and often colourless for it) politics and identity issues.

Granted one would not expect most poets to be virtual bards, national/nationalist mouthpieces as such. At the same time, should they avoid this side of things to the extent especially Seamus Heaney so controversially did; and can and should poets presently remain silent in the face of very real new crises for Irish identity and culture that elements of the government are imposing?

The first question touches on the irrational quality of all life and may be best answered by what some would deem itself irrational, namely a quick look at Moore’s winner-takes-all birth pattern. It certainly helps that Moore can show us fortunate Jupiter conjunct his career and reputation Midheaven, itself fortunately trine Mercury, Moore’s ruling planet as a Gemini, and the natural planet of writing and writers. This alone would give Moore a head start among his peers while his role as specifically a poet for or about Ireland is well described by Neptune (itself conjunct Thomas in his house of career at 28 Virgo fortunately trine asteroid Ireland at 27 Capricorn). Neptune is almost more associated with music and composers than poets, so unsurprisingly the most famous verses were arranged for music. Moore’s own Poesia asteroid falls in his  second house of goods and money, testimony to how he could so exceptionally make money from verse!

THE RISE OF MOORE

There was one area of life in which Moore was unfortunate and that was his children: his three daughters and two sons all died) and this is reflected by the close conjunction of Venus with wounded healer Chiron in the fifth of offspring; but though Moore undoubtedly did suffer in this area, such was not an uncommon misfortune for people of his time.

I had at first doubted the chart’s birth time because of the way it gives a strange cluster of Mars, along with moon and Saturn conjunct in the hidden twelfth house; but the 7 pm time it is telling us something. Overall the pattern must be registering because, incredibly, asteroid Anacreon is degree exact conjunct the Aquarian third house of writing. This bespeaks the originality and controversy around the writings of “Anacreon Moore” as he was often called. He rose to fame adapting the amoral Anacreon and the exercise gave him a style for his verse generally. Byron imitated both it and the witty amoralism which in Moore’s case probably often reflected exuberant playful exaggeration – though maybe not.

Sex sign Scorpio rises. And what are the Scorpio planets in Moore’s hidden twelfth doing? Politicians (for example Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump) often have Saturn or planets here as this  connects   them to the collective unconscious leaders need to pick up on, and Moore hopefully channelled some Irish feelings; but secret affairs, such as earlier in life some supposed of “Thomas Little” might be indicated. Usually, however, moon to Saturn is just depressing or cold with women, but it can reflect a smother mother and this Moore had. His mother was dominating and early made her son swear he must not be involved in uprisings against authority such as in his youth were happening.

Between the influence of his mother and the time at which Moore was emerging into the world (a time of enforced, false peace and anti- independence sentiment with an erasure of any Irish identity following the Act of Union in 1801), Moore can – largely – be exonerated of later charges he was not protesting and/or nationalistic enough on Ireland’s behalf.

Moore himself always regarded Irish freedom as being his real inspiration from the first. Even if true, there were limits to what he could actually know to protest and defend. The reality was that whenever he was in Ireland Moore lived in something of a bubble where the more desperate conditions of the people were not evident to him. Only later in his life did he witness some of severer realities and then he did begin protesting – but in prose as in Memoires of Captain Rock (1824) rather than verse.

Despite the fact that the future United Ireland Republican rebel Robert Emmet sometimes sat at piano with Moore when he played at airs he would later develop, Irish Melodies was originally only moderately political in inspiration, and only gradually came into being over years. The origins lay in response to Ulsterman Edward Bunting’s pioneering work (1796) on Ireland’s musical legacy to which Moore’s university friend Edward Hudson had introduced him..

THE DECLINE OF MOORE

How and why did Moore become quite so ignored and forgotten? As a poet Moore belongs to the Romantic movement, and despite a few enduring names like Wordsworth (whom Moore appreciated) and Shelley (who unlike Wordsworth appreciated Moore), the Romantic movement’s music has weathered better than its literature, especially poetic. Before Victorian realism, Dickens and Balzac took over, society had been enthusiastic readers of poetry which in epical bestselling works like Byron’s Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage and Don Juan were precursors or substitutes for the novel. Because of its original orientalism supported by masses of informative notes, Moore could get away with Lalla Rookh during his lifetime and given an already established reputation, but he was at heart a lyricist who lacked skill with storytelling and the epic form. Once the novel was king Lalla would be left on the shelves; which leads to the question of the nationalist influence.

Compared with Lalla, the Irish Melodies were less easily set aside, especially by nostalgic emigrants, but within Ireland and in relation to post famine era problems and a rising nationalism they could only seem trivial against the more culture-heavy, psychologized and politicized work of Yeats. This poet took myth seriously and was supported by the likes of Lady Gregory who spoke Irish and had translated the Irish myths and histories.

Yeats though broadly speaking a Romantic, even a last of the Romantics, was most essentially a Symbolist and his work interacted not with the ubiquitously popular novel but the stage play. Ironically, the greatest influence that poetry might be said to have had for Ireland in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century was through the influential, incendiary poetic prose of material like the play Cathleen ni Houlihan attributed to Yeats, though it seems it may have owed almost more to Lady Gregory.

THE FORTUNES OF POETRY, MOORE’S, NATIONAL AND OTHER

  Avoca: The Meeting of the Waters

But I think this whole question of Moore’s slow but sure eclipse must be placed within the larger question of what is poetry and how it functions-  which increasingly today is little enough even in Ireland.

At the time that Moore was starting out, though still hugely popular, poetry was becoming untethered from its original high status and was functioning ever less as any kind of special statement of anything. For some, and certainly for Byron, it was almost an alternative, almost doggerel means of commenting on or even messaging almost anything like confirming to Moore a visit to Leigh Hunt in prison. Message poetry could be tossed off while dressing for dinner …..“Tomorrow be with me, as soon as you can, sir/ All ready and dressed for proceeding to spunge on/ According to compact the wit in the dungeon….”

There are a variety of forms and functions poetry may assume in any age or clime, but its chief role was always somehow visionary or transcendent of the immediate, a reason the roles of poet and druid were linked in ancient Ireland and often regarded as prophetic.

The rhymed couplet has always been effective in English for social satire and Alexander Pope had done a masterful job with it in The Rape of the Lock. It was however so perfect something wilder and more irregular as under the Romantic movement was called for. Moore straddled eras and fashions. His Irish Melodies offered new and original themes but kept close to old forms. While individual poems like Breathe not his name on the death of Emmet and The Minstrel Boy are good poetry in their own right, a lot of Moore’s poetry exists to be sung. Unsung they risk sounding trivial…. or they could not help doing so once, by way of comparison, someone serious like Yeats appears on the scene at a time of turmoil. Serious national themes don’t fit well with doggerel or the jog trot of balladry.

IRISH IN ENGLISH AND HOW TO WRITE IRISH POETRY

But something more is involved here and its problem is still with us. The runaway success Moore and Byron enjoyed across continental Europe was much helped by the simplicity of translating them and their often bald statements.

This contrasts with quite a lot of unexpected mistiness in English language poetry which can be hard to convey. Even with a Norton’s Shakespeare to explain all words and references, even in English much of Shakespeare can seem remote, his language a musical “super tongue” as Camille Paglia has it. Anglo-Irish writing, Oscar Wilde’s especially, has by contrast a sharp clarity. Yeats as in some early works like the ponderous drama The Shadowy Waters which had Dublin audiences laughing, might be said to have substituted mistiness of theme or atmosphere for that of language and it didn’t work.

English is not rhyme rich after the manner of the European languages. One can’t be a Dante for producing  rhyming  variety with it, and failing that  the effects can lapse into the predictable. The readers waits for the next clicking together of “me” to “see”, “you” to “too” and its inevitability can prevent absorbing the greater message for playing mental crossword puzzles. Milton was against rhyme and did not employ it in his most serious work. Auden, a superb poetic craftsman with a large and specialized vocabulary, can make rhyme serve his purposes (often ironic, playful or satirical), but it seems true to say we are liable to be more impressed and pay more attention when Auden elects not to rhyme as in ”Oh love, the interest itself in throughtless heaven…” Such stronger effects from a leading English poet prove Milton’s point. In English, at least If you have something important to say at any national or philosophical level, rhyme such as Moore regularly engaged is best limited or just dropped. Some of the powerful effect of Yeats’ rhetoric in The Tower collection is due to recourse to high style with moderate use of rhyme and the shock of a lot of direct bald statement.

This combination can reasonably be called Irish/Celtic but how much can and does even this literary stylistics quite reflect the people’s soul? I don’t hold it against Yeats or Moore (or other Celtic Twilight poets like AE) any more than myself that they didn’t have Gaelige to carry them further. But I think the lack must be taken into account and sometimes as a real limitation; and even without recommending classes for us, there are still as mentioned presently, a few things we might learn about the language that open upon the basis of Irish aesthetics and worldview.

SPENSER AND CULTURAL DESTRUCTION

I think it can fairly be said that among all poets and would-be moralists, Edmund Spenser, he of The Fairie Queen, holds a special place as being among the most hypocritical and even evil. An advocate for the Plantation of Ireland despite all the horrors he had seen stemming from it, he promoted the suppression of Irish language with the aim of imposing peace by ridding the people of their culture.

James Joyce whose Finnegan’s Wake is almost a revenge upon English, says of an Englishman (through Stephen Dedalus in Portrait of the Artist ) “his language so familiar and so foreign, will always be for me an acquired speech”. Unfortunately, loss of language is indeed a cultural destruction such as Spenser hoped for and that Joyce experienced along with a certain loss of soul. The latter is something only the structure and rhythms of language can reflect because language gives voice to native temperament or that un PC word “race”. But the latter is at least a part of the equation.

Moore implicitly believed in race when referring to the proximity of depression and levity in Irish character. It’s a distinctive and unusual trait and one that would be hard to duplicate through social training alone. Even Joyce assumes race (as in Portrait of the Artist): “I go to forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race.

THE UNCREATED CONSCIENCE AND ITS IDIOMS

Which leads to the last question which is: long past the days of Moore and even Joyce, can any “uncreated conscience” now be formed, and formed apart from the native language and even poetry, which even in Gaelige since independence has produced some competent, interesting but hardly “bardic” and deeply soulful poetry?

It could actually be that by this time that music rather than literature would be more expressive of any “uncreated conscience”. Moore seduced many with his airs if not his messages; opera loving James Joyce would prefer to have been a singer, J.M Synge would prefer to have been a concert violinist. But if we keep to any idea of literature as the chief medium of expression though hampered through loss of Irish, the solution especially for those of us who don’t speak the language is at the very least to get acquainted with a few features of the language for their likely implications.

One thing immediately to note about Irish is its treatment of just the personal pronoun. Instead of I am, Je suis, Ich bin etc of European languages we have the inverted order Ta me (am me) and instead of I have, you have, he has etc, there is agam, agat, aige (at or to me, to him etc). It’s a feature which arguably belongs with the looser sense, (illustrated by certain tribal arrangements) of possession at the same time as we immediately rightly suspect that at another level (like the European languages and unlike English) the language is going to be distinctly inflected and conjugated and quite precise about relationships.

In some respects Irish is a very logical and precise language, even its alien and forbidding spelling system once got a handle on proves more consistent than the frequent anarchies of English spelling. Given the overall structural sense, a bit like Latin, unsurprisingly something like the directness of Latin and Ovid will be a feature of the poetry.

Given the pattern of elisions in Irish one could suspect that elision and transition of any kind (like Moore’s close neighboured depression and levity) would be a feature of the language. And in fact, modern Gaelic’s classic Cre na Cille was deemed virtually untranslatable into English on account of its many changes of register. In other words (no pun intended) in losing Irish there really are things the Irish cannot hope quite to illuminate and convey of their natural temperament.

IRELAND, EUROPE AND BLAKE

It has always been an enigma to me what is, but also isn’t, European about an Ireland which plainly isn’t very English despite using English language. Again it could be music might help clarify difference. European music is very directional, having for example little by way of the Irish reels against whose knot work and often spontaneous variations, most continental music is like a trellis around which melody can be twined while the trellis remains fully in view. What if anything am I sensing for any creative impulse and aesthetics?

Both Yeats and AE were strongly attracted to the work of William Blake, AE more to the art and Yeats to the poetry (which like so many people he got unnecessarily lost in trying to grasp its often opaque symbolism and idiosyncratic terminology).. The fact remains however that the non Celtic Blake accidentally supplies keys to the Irish aesthetic.

For Blake there was an absolute distinction between Grecian/Classic and Gothic which he regarded as distinctly Christian. “Grecian is Mathematical Form, Gothic is living form, Mathematic Form is eternal in the reasoning memory. Living Form is Eternal Existence”…. And with that we perhaps have the essential point for Irish music and much else.

Europe runs on the laws of Mathematics, Ireland on the laws of a fluid, organic Nature. For the Irish and perhaps many Celts, one does not come to the subject but like the figures looking out of the Book of Kells, one is already present within Nature like the figures in Blake’s forests or whirlwinds. The task is less to approach a subject than to exit from or stop the flow of what is already sounding, to capture and examine it.   This is the reason, I would imagine that early Irish poets were involved in quasi Hinduistic patterns of learning and meditations in the dark.

I would say that the perennial Irish aesthetic which beside running waters and remembered sites Moore vaguely pointed to but didn’t quite grasp, is involved, like the poetry of Ovid and the music of late Richard Strauss, with the mystery of change and metamorphosis. And I doubt that better poetry than mine could quite capture, and  almost certainly not in English, an example of  what I register as one of the more distinctive phenomena of Ireland.

AE would doubtless call it it “the earth breath”, but he could never himself really evoke it in verse nor capture it in his haunting paintings. Possibly C.S.Lewis was trying to evoke it, but for children, when The Magician’s  Nephew described the wood between the worlds as bright, peaceful and where everything seems to be growing, “a rich place, rich as plum cake”.  In some early mornings of Ireland I recognize a strange peace almost physically rising toward me, transforming and shedding light. I have never experienced the same elsewhere but now and again, even at the other side of the world, for a few seconds its imprint occasionally seems to repeat and give itself to me like a special grace. Its transitions, and strange illumination are perhaps not for poetry, though they might just be for music.

Unless perhaps for Ulsterman Hamilton-Harty’s pleasant but only vaguely Celtic  Irish Symphony (the movements have been named after sites in Ulster  only!) , the fact that Ireland has no really expressive Irish symphony may belong with the nation’s less than European character when it comes to inspiration. However, future production of a tone poem, and perhaps incorporating something closer to Indian classical music able to convey subtle changes of nature and the spirit, might signal the contemporary culture had finally arrived at a more than literary, slowly evolved fullness.

Realistically however, that time may never now come about. After eight centuries of colonial status Ireland was declared a full republic as late at 1949. The still in many respects recovering and nascent society is under its most dire threat in centuries and not just from renewed  haemorrhaging  renewed emigration but purblind, destructive policies determined to  be rid of so called “populism” and even dishonestly outlaw and portray it as so much fascism when citizens protest against an Ireland given an impossible but increasingly imposed Big  Giver, Welcomes doormat role in the world.

Ireland has suffered through a good many genocides and near death experiences, but current events may well deliver the final blow and quickly. Irish Americans won’t need to be buying sheet music of patriotic songs in sympathy. They might need to be doing something more radical (black humour suggests buying up a remote island where a remnant can settle to preserve and develop the tradition – this should be in the Pacific where France only owns idyllic Tahiti because of an Irish ship’s captain’s interventions). Things happen quickly in the modern world and the current situation is a truly now-or-never serious one for Ireland in which its elites are now its latest enemy. If the problems are not confronted, there won’t be Moore’s fanciful memories for nostalgic popular consumption, but more like  Beckettian lights out and silence.

POEM: IRISH CHANGES   https://wp.me/p2v96G-1kp

 

 

 

 

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DISSIDENT ABOUT DANTE

DANTE AND HIS STATUS

To have problems with either Dante or Shakespeare might be to have problems with western civilisation itself. According to T. S. Eliot, “Dante and Shakespeare divide the world between them. There is no third”.

If you can ignore Goethe, for literature that may be true enough  – in music we might substitute Bach and Wagner – but what renders Dante and Shakespeare a crucial pair  is not just their similarity in terms of poetic brilliance but their complementary difference. Dante aspires heavenwards as surely as a gothic spire, while Shakespeare, world-conquering as a Renaissance mariner, explores outwards. One is explicitly religious, the other implicitly (as in Macbeth).

Some people, especially the Irish, see the two poets in competition and keep asking who wins? Having lost both their historic language and culture, the bard’s linguistic freedom appeals in one direction while the architectonics of Dante in another. The Catholic side of Ireland would, with  James Joyce, like to think Dante wins by a slight margin, which in effect he does if a rare poetic sublimity as opposed to a more general elevation of tone is the overriding consideration.

T.S. Eliot felt nothing in western poetry quite compares to parts of the Paradiso and certainly little enough in English does – the nearest comparison would be a piece influenced by Dante, Shelley’s Epipsychidion, with its waves of orgasmic emotion, while outside English there is the ecstatic conclusion of Goethe’s Faust. The Protestant Yeats allows Dante to be the “greatest imagination in Christendom”. But here my unusual problems with Dante begin, and the more I thought about it, the more I felt I should pursue to its source my at times real irritation with him. It has led me to a radical conclusion about what and  how the West thinks and believes, things which, beyond his originality and encyclopaedic range, Dante often simply reflects almost too well.

A PARADISO PROBLEM

Because it is great and sublime poetry I should like to like Dante, but as regards especially the Paradiso, I can only manage reading it in short spurts to get through it at all because something about it grates and jars and it gives me a hard-to-describe feeling of being cheated.

It must be immediately stated this is not, or not fully, based on reactions either Protestant or modern. It’s true that Protestants only began to discover Dante after the hauntingly beautiful  Commedia  illustrations of William Blake caught their attention two centuries ago and they have usually hesitated before a Purgatario (arguably the most charming and colourful part of the Commedia) they don’t believe in. However, many read it as just symbolic of a “sanctification” process associated more with this life than the next. And in some respects, especially in his criticism of the popes and Rome and given his quite extensive biblical literacy, Dante can anyway strike a quite “Protestant” note.

Nor is my problem the “modern” one which regards the whole of Dante as terribly “medieval” and its Paradiso, drenched in light, as good as someone on drugs gone bonkers. (The drugs theory of Dante’s inspiration owes something to the fact the poet belonged to the guild of apothecaries who also functioned as booksellers  in Florence for the latest manuscripts. So it’s possible Dante enhanced a natural visionary sense with chemicals).

The fact is you can be a modern unbeliever and still be entranced by Dante like Samuel Beckett for whom Dante was some of his preferred reading, and  atheist Clive James who has produced his own critically praised translation and who says somewhere that if there is any work should qualify as a bible, it should be Dante’s Commedia. Certainly there are people for whom Dante is a kind of bible. There is for example a Daily Dante Lenten Discipline of reading him!

But with that kind of recommendation I am a bit nearer to my visceral problem with the poet. He challenges, denies or revises at times to the point of near blasphemy, everything from scripture to the nature of inspiration and the poetic role itself in order to unfold, and often impose his vision.

I remain to be convinced that Petrarch’s cool response to Dante and his legacy marks simple resentment and jealousy as opposed to discretion. I suggest that as a poet with himself at times a “prophetic” message, he was simply unhappy with things Dante and his opus represent; and these did have critics from the first. But the sheer popular success of Dante as a new style poet employing  the vernacular would soon render his legacy hard for especially any Italian to question without bringing the house down.

The very language Italians now speak is the dialect of Florence which, by a nineteenth century political fiat it was decided, because of Dante, would be privileged above all other dialects as the national tongue. And for all time the vignettes of Dante’s cosmic journey have captured essential Italian character as surely as his contemporary, Masaccio, captured still recognizable Italian looks. Dante is taught in schools like so much bible and Shakespeare. So many of his lines are undeniably haunting like the famous “E’n la sua volantade e nostra pace / ell e quel mare al qual tutto se move “, (in his will is our peace/ that is the sea towards which all being moves”) words which seem to come from afar, drifting like a bird over a bright scene.

PROPHETIC SEEING OR FAKING JUST WHAT?

So altogether Dante can’t be avoided, so much so that as a national or international treasure he can scarcely be criticized either. He himself, with shameless vanity, declares himself as early as Inferno’s Limbo region, equal companion with Homer, Ovid, Virgil and others. He doesn’t go so far as to say he is the equal of the biblical prophets; he nevertheless as good as assumes their mantle as though he was one of them, especially as (even while admitting he has forgotten and can’t describe much of it), he claims to have seen or visited heaven itself. Biblically at least, it is only prophets who have been admitted to heaven and the council of Yahweh (Jer 23:18).

Any errors or memory lapses are plastered over and concealed, with exclamations “I saw, I saw” as though he really did see. Affirmations get chanted in tones fit for Isaiah and offered as though pure scripture …. at the same time as the poet incongruously calls upon Apollo to be his muse and evidently thinks so highly of this figure of pagan myth, he even seems to approve his cruel skinning of his musical rival. the satyr Myrsus. While obviously I am not Dante, I chance to be one of the very few today who has produced anything like visionary/metaphysical poetry and I know I could not, whether seriously or in play, treat of inspiration in Dante’s cavalier manner. One stresses as a sort of honest courtesy to readers what any inspiration means. (1)

By the time Dante arrives at the Paradiso, he has learned some lessons, but the overall impression is still of a rather self-glorifying and at times unforgiving soul. The enraged cursing of the already damned Filippo Argenti in Canto 8 of Inferno and still more the treatment of Bocca in Canto 32 where Dante actively tortures a hideously damned soul whom he impels to speak through a promise he doesn’t keep, has something obscene about it, while having Virgil exclaim in praise of the poet’s rage against Argenti, “Blessed the womb that bore you….” is disconcerting if not distasteful.

In presenting himself and/or Beatrice as redeemed, enlightened spokespersons for the inspiration of a world in spiritual darkness, Dante is necessarily compelled into some painful exaggerations or scripture-ignoring distortions at times preposterous. For example in Paradiso Canto 21, Beatrice (who has become Dante’s mentor in place of Virgil and as a vehicle of grace is teaching him including through her celestial beauty), become brighter than the sun itself in the heaven of Saturn, can’t now smile at Dante lest he be burned to a crisp. It is not possible, especially not before the general resurrection of believers, that Beatrice could be either so powerful or transformed as to do this. Dante has already accorded her power beyond perhaps the angels.

IMAGINATION AND IMAGE

But in modification of this severe judgement and to repeat Yeats, the latter was, however unintentionally, right to define Dante is the imagination of Christendom. Yeats meant this approvingly but “imagination” can have a downside and be deceptive. In religion it can bolster the vain dreams of the false prophets (Jer 23:16) and Dante largely reflects directions of the western imagination  to whose shape his vision conforms. It does so even when it makes assumptions of a kind which turn the Judaeo-Christian tradition on its head and psychologically into a kind of idolatrous expression of soul over spirit.

Dante’s is the supreme religious literary expression of a larger western idolatry of the image, and thus of the desire to see rather than to hear God, to contemplate as opposed to interact with God and to shift ordinary religious experience into a matter of seeking favours and contacting with intermediaries from saints to angels rather than deity. Dante himself embarks on his saving quest through the intervention of no less than Beatrice, St Lucy and the Virgin working together. What he discovers  about God is arguably less than what one might derive from the seventeenth century Metaphysical poets.

While, as said, Dante like many people today claiming NDEs, admits that he has forgotten much of his paradise vision and that he can only reconstruct it, the reconstruction is too often unsatisfactory no matter how glorious the poetic tones and images that sustain it. It corresponds neither to what the scripture he otherwise often refers to in the Commedia indicates about the afterlife, nor to the kind of things we might reasonably generalize from the diverse testimonies of NDE experiences today.

Nor does it satisfy the ethical sense or spiritual feeling to read of the dubious persons supposedly enjoying high blessedness in heaven like for example the emperor Justinian (seen as super corrupt and even demon possessed by some Greek Christians according to Procopius’ The Secret History). Numbers of Dante’s glorified notables have been chosen largely to fit the poet’s political theories and bolster his underlying conviction about the need for a secular saviour. This should be someone in the style of Emperor Henry V11 who had inconveniently died, someone independent of the corruptions of the papacy and ruling within an ideally church/state divided world, fulfilling the greater destiny of Rome first outlined by Virgil, Dante’s guide through hell and purgatory.

ODD HEAVENLY CITIZENSHIP

Because the emperor Constantine’s established toleration of Christianity in 312 rendered the Virgilian ideal at least possible, this ruler (albeit criticized by Dante’s Justinian for transferring the imperial capital from  West to East ), is still glorified in heaven. The level of distinction is in blind disregard  that this emperor only formally converted on his deathbed, having largely used the church to further his position and support imperial unity, while he himself was guilty of murdering his wife and son. Arguably Constantine also stands as chief inspiration of the evil of most subsequent holy wars because of his dream that he could win battle victory under the sign of the cross. (Here, if ever, was a lying dream no Christians should have ever endorsed, given its source in a clearly unrighteous person not even at the time adhering to the faith).

The Holy War ideal is nonetheless celebrated in Dante’s heaven of Mars where knights of Christ, crusaders etc, have their reward. The whole of Paradiso is divided up into heavens of the seven planets (lowest moon and highest Saturn) in accordance with some notion of universal “justice” which with “love” should rule all things including celestial cycles. Saturn as a symbol of highest heaven below the Empyrean is odd given that across history, and certainly in medieval times, Saturn was a devil planet, source of misfortune, and misery. Dante places in this exalted sphere the dubiously uncorrupted St Peter Damien, a fanatical ascetic whose enthusiastic condemnation of gays had inquisitorial effects. St Dominic, a major promoter of the Inquisition, is found in Dante’s heaven of the sun.

In fairness, it would obviously be hard for anyone from poet to theologian to convincingly imagine the divisions and rewards of heaven; all would probably be unsatisfactory. Dante’s celestial levels at which souls are able to manifest to him (they really dwell in the Empyrean and elsewhere) are a sort of appearance only within the larger celestial rose, an exquisite garden overseen by the Virgin for Christ. It may sound all terribly mystical, but Dante’s distribution of bliss and glory is really quasi-philosophical; and as opposed to the would-be objective, schematic arrangements that ensues, it would have been closer to Christian tradition to have simply housed souls according to either or both of

a) how closely the individual had been to fulfilling the divine will and generally “knowing” the heart and mind of God (like the Beloved Disciple or the prophet Jeremiah to whom some of his contemporaries compared Jesus) or

b) emphasising the qualities of the planets over their order outwards to the Empyrean. Thus the poet could have put the heaven of Venus (signifying love) at the summit, if only because the Christ of the last things, the apocalyptic Christ, is self-declared as “the Bright Morning Star” (i.e.Venus) who has overcome Venus as Lucifer who is source of evil). Or again, since the Paradiso describes a progressive increase of light, Dante could have placed the Sun at the planetary summit.

One of the weakest points of the celestial organization (indeed of the Commedia’s entire system of value judgement at its three levels) is exemplified by the treatment of Cunizza da Ramono within   the level of Venus. Having earlier doomed to the hell of incontinence the unfortunate Francesca da Rimini, who surely had some case for divine forgiveness, Dante lets off the also real life Cunizza lightly, even glorifies her. A sort of Good Wife of Bath figure, she had had four husbands and two lovers, and left the first husband to become mistress of the poet Sordello, (whom Dante meets up with in Purgatorio). She is permitted to rejoice and she even laughs that she has forgiven herself because she has at last found the meaning of love in its divine aspect and thus she can make what was her occasion of sin the basis of redeemed life.

Ignoring that one could well stress God alone forgives sins (Mk 22:7) and that all redemption has something to do with “predestination” (as higher up even St Bernard concedes) never human choice alone, Dante’s depiction has to be understood against his system of values more generally. According to this – and it would have seemed more meaningful to medieval persons imposed on by tradition and parental authority – we have an inborn nature that must be fulfilled. Denied, it becomes unhealthy and will run to evil. This is true enough, as is also a belief that if God forgives us we need to forgive ourselves too. Even so, here and at points throughout the Commedia, Dante’s treatment of evil finishes over-rationalized, at times shallow vis this emphasis (perhaps never more so than when he attributes what today we would call homosexuality to mostly bad wives). To cite an Italian example against him, Italy today is the chief centre of revived practices of exorcism. Its exorcists would be the first to insist evil can run deep, and some bad impulses can even result from such as occult involvements and family curses, a case of the sins of the fathers visited to the fourth generation ( Ex 20:5). Much more is involved than a few thwarted impulses.

MARIA AND BERNARD OBSESSIONS

Having read and written in the past on this subject of exorcism and its effectiveness (2), I would further add that the effectiveness of exorcism (some are carried on over years!) can be weakened by another factor which features as one of the stand-out contradictions of the Paradiso and which I would associate with especially St Bernard of Clairvaux.

At almost its highest point of the Paradiso, from the Empyrean emerges Saint Bernard of Clairvaux. St Bernard is one of the most important figures in the Paradiso because it is his prayers to the Virgin permit the poet to “see” God. However, even if by divine grace Dante was granted some kind of visionary glimpse of the Beyond, we can rest assured he did not see St Bernard in highest heaven. Not only do the gospels famously declare “The first shall be last and the last, first” but Bernard could be grateful if he was even permitted the level of Dante’s moon.

At one time the almost uncrowned ruler of Europe for sheer influence with its rulers, as a preacher of the Crusades that caused the unnecessary death of thousands and an interferer in lives – his unrelenting attacks upon the philosopher Abelard as a heretic was behind the attack on him and castration, Bernard was one of the maddest of the Catholic mystics. This was less because he was so unwashed his fragrance was hard for his devotees to manage, but because he was an eccentric who believed the Virgin had fed him drops of her breast milk. Bernard couldn’t doubt this and nor could Dante and all devotees  because had not Bernard declared one only needed to have the Virgin perpetually in one’s mind never to be deceived?

Bernard’s devotion to the Virgin which Dante so trendily follows, helped form a vision which turned the West towards a cult of the Virgin exceeding anything prior to it. As in Dante’s vision, Christ for Bernard, though notionally acknowledged as redeemer, becomes as good as subordinate to an all-encompassing vision of the Virgin’s glory, “empress” of heaven.

Standard Catholic teaching is that the Virgin is venerated, not worshipped, but practically that can hardly be said to hold and one needn’t look far in the Paradiso to trace the effects of Bernard’s doctrines upon Dante’s representatively western/catholic spirituality as they are already dramatically present in the Purgatorio. In Canto 5 there is the case of Da Montefeltro the leader whose place of death was unknown but to whom the poet endeavours to supply an ending and a pious one to somebody religiously indifferent. Staggering towards the river losing his lifeblood.

There my sight failed me and my last word sped/ Forth in the name of Mary; there headlong/ I fell; there left only my body dead.

Hell shrieks in rage at this saving of this soul, in effect by Mary at a very last minute call. Here if ever is the neo-medieval gospel according to St Bernard. Last minute conversions are not a feature of biblical record, the individual is supposed to be working out their salvation in the virtual purgatory of this life (Phil 2:12); but there is undeniably the case of the thief on the cross – whose same day transfer to Paradise itself bespeaks a system of grace in which the toils and waiting of Purgatory have no place. The thief however makes appeal to the crucified Jesus, not to the Mary beneath the cross. This is entirely consistent with two lead statements from earliest tradition and which exclude Mary from any salvation equation: “Everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved “ (Rom 10:13) and “there is no other name [than Jesus] under heaven, given among mortals by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).

SEEING AND APPROACHING GOD: BEATIFIC VISION

Dante’s Bernard-inspired distortions of the original doctrine, are not limited to this rather crucial point. They enter to infect the whole aim, attitude and basis of his Paradiso vision, which is to “see” God, the Beatific Vision. In Canto 32 we read, what by some standards could be called pious blasphemy, the following words of Bernard to Dante: “See that face resembling Christ/closer than all; for that bright light alone/can make you fit to look on Christ”. This is then followed by around a page of the bliss and glories of Mary as the angels chant “Salve Regina” to heaven’s own “empress”.

There is much that’s between ignorant and shocking here. Fit to see Christ? Dante and Bernard should be aware that in numerous instances like 1 Pet 1,2 the original message it is the Spirit who sanctifies and prepares whether souls or church to become faithful disciples or devoted bride of Christ. Moreover – at least theoretically – there should never anyway be any problems about “seeing” Christ any time, anywhere.

As the human face of God, as divine incarnation and mediator, Jesus is simply available, as in his lifetime, to be approached. In Revelation the redeemed of many nations plainly see the enthroned Redeemer as a matter of course (Rev 7:9,10). Nothing could be further from the author of Hebrews with its “let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness” (Heb 4:16) than this remarkably over-awed approach to a Jesus so unavailable that it takes Bernard and the Virgin working together to make even the hope of seeing him possible. This is a whole new alternative religion and absolutely no longer one of “to God through Christ” than “to Christ through Mary” and in a way to render the Trinity virtually irrelevant save as Dante’s parting, suitably abstract and impersonal image of the intermeshed circles which sustain existence. This is scarcely Christianity; it is a colourful new form of neo-platonism.

And before briefly descending to Inferno level, reverting to the point made about weakness and contradiction introduced by the influential St Bernard, practically his Marian cult would successfully undermine fundamental spiritual energies of the faith. One arguably sees this in even the embarrassing failure of two modern popes to be able to exorcise. This was something which early Christians were well known for doing without prior permission of bishops and boards of clerics and in the name of Christ alone, not Mary and the saints under whose patronage, amid elaborate rituals, the exercise now exists to what is often its confusion – absurdly, modern exorcisms can function like therapy sessions that are carried on over years, never coming to any real conclusion, just as Dante never – quite – gets to see God despite the prayers of Bernard and the Virgin!

THE INFERNO

Even as a teenager when I first encountered Dante, I was disappointed with the conclusion of Inferno which has an almost pantomime Satan at the bottom of hell, tormenting not just Judas Iscariot but Brutus and Cassius. Surely this pair who rid the world of the tyrannical Julius Caesar, himself opposed by righteous individuals like Cicero (accorded a place in Limbo), couldn’t deserve the lowest point of hell for being “traitors”. Shouldn’t figures like, say, Caiaphas (who is higher up among the hypocrites) and Nero (who’s nowhere) be there? Of course it makes no sense – except that Dante is fixated on the need for a just imperial ruler and Brutus and Cassius interfered with the foundations of the empire he admires. But condemning the pair with Judas is like making Julius Caesar a Christ figure he very obviously wasn’t.

Which reminds us how much Dante’s is a political text and a semi-pagan one. The sins of hell are not organized as they could be according to, say, the ten commandments, but rather notions of virtue and vice as defined by Cicero and Aristotle (the latter being appropriated around the time by the philosophy of St Thomas Aquinas). Thus the sins of love and lust can’t be covered by the circle of incontinence alone which carries the adulterous tragedy of Francesca da Rimini, but much further down hell will deal with seducers and panders under the head of Fraud. “Sodomites” and suicides are treated under the head of, and thus in the circle of, Violence because they have been “violent” against nature or the body. It all gets quite intricate and involved, more so than Purgatorio and Paradiso which have fewer sections. It also gets colder as Dante and Virgil descend rather than hotter, though sight is never really lost to effects of any nether gloom such as would apply to the nether gloom of especially Tartarus, prison of the fallen angels, that Dante doesn’t portray.

If Irish otherworld journeys influenced Purgatorio, it is believed the third century apocryphal Apocalypse of St Paul was the main inspiration for the Inferno and its gruesome, torture chamber type details and its icy lower depths. Necessarily so since the bible has little to say about hell apart from affirming its existence and declaring that (through a body of death rather than of resurrection), there is a gnashing of teeth and some torment by worms and by thirst, and then that at the end of time as we understand it, the Hell/Hades zone gets thrown into a lake of fire for “eternity”.

The Inferno is nonetheless truer than other parts of the Commedia to things we can know about the afterlife, if not from the Bible then negative NDEs. Those persons who report experiences of hell, frequently refer to pain and harm vented on them from tormenting demons. These demons moreover seem to torment people in relation to a single sin, or if demons don’t do that, the person torments themselves in relation to one besetting sin, like the alcoholic who is thirsting for and being burned by alcohol.

I struggled over this in my own poetic experiment, an attempt at an updated Danteque journey as in The Hell Passage (3). The poem drew upon especially one reported vision from South America of a visit to hell led there by Jesus. The sinners allegedly encountered on this journey sometimes had their besetting sin branded on them as surely as Dante can know the sinners and their sin by the circle they inhabit. Is this even likely, whether literally or more symbolically, since sin is of all kinds and is present in everyone?

FINAL IDENTITY TAGS

My (provisional) conclusion is that since hell is most essentially about separation from God and whatever makes for that, it could be that one besetting sin is what confirms that separation. And since everyone’s final identity is with and through God, in hell personal identity becomes whatever is not God. Alternatively some inhabitants are shown as branded (as none of Dante’s sinners are) not with a sin but with 666, evidently people who have taken the mark or who willingly would do so given the chance, an action which insures separation.

The activity of tormenting devils seems hardly credible or fair – if they are really fallen angels, why aren’t they themselves tormented? – but perhaps their role should be seen as the equivalent of biblical claims to the effect that (until finally overcome by the returning Christ) the world belongs to the realms of evil. Ultimate damnation would include the tormenting demons too. The final destination of damned souls is not Hades/Hell but the Lake of Fire, evidently a mirror of God who is “fire”, and entails an existence through God as fire but nothing else, hence God negatively experienced in proportion to the degree of spiritual separation.

Given how much Dante is prepared to send doubtful cases like Francesca da Rimini to hell and blast the already suffering damned, curiously, if generously, he is still concerned about who is lost and saved according to their beliefs. It prompts him to allow the good pagans Cato and Statius a place in Purgatory and the Trojan prince warrior Riphaeus even a place in heaven’s sphere of Jupiter for his righteousness. And it obviously pains Dante that Virgil has to return to the Limbo of the good pagans (among whom he includes that author of the arts of seduction, Ovid!). It was for this kind of juggling with doctrine some early critics considered Dante’s work heresy, but the salvation problem he wrestles with is and should always have been a non question.

Despite his wide reading in bible, Dante, like many to this day, never absorbed how St Paul teaches that ignorant pagans outside the Law will be judged “or perhaps excused” by their thoughts at the Last Judgement (Rom 2: 14,15). While undeniably the bible appears to assume that once the individual has heard and understood the gospel, they have responsibility for their decisions, no one is automatically damned for what they cannot even hope to know. Besides which, the whole subject of ultimate salvation is anyway subject to the statement, “I will have mercy upon whom I will have mercy” (Rom 9:15), which however is not a give-away. It is certainly no justification for notions that Dante sometimes borders on and that a modern Catholic mystic like Thomas Merton renders explicit, namely that each soul independently “chooses” whether they will be saved or damned.

READING DANTE TODAY

There are many benefits from reading Dante, and today perhaps especially from the enforced work of imagination which takes the reader outside of normal existence to hear people doing what everyone should periodically do, which is to assess their lives and motivations. The contemporary restlessness and materialism virtually imposed on everyone by media and the rat race, renders this imagining and self-distancing task increasingly difficult.

At the same time, we may also be drawn to awareness of something else we ought to know.  Dante is an imaginative summation of a particularly European way of perceiving reality but which is a distortion, at times even a negation of the Christianity it seeks to defend. There is a reason why deity for the poet, even as the love that moves all things, is so remote and abstract while women from Beatrice to Maria are so magnified, and a reason the religion of Jesus and the prophets becomes a faith politicized to the point of violence and corruption. The noted rationalism and romanticism of Europe are all of one psychological and philosophical piece.

Around the fourth century and the times of SS Augustine and Jerome, who between them rid Christianity of its chiliastic legacy (the prophetic dimension that believed Christ must return to Israel to rule in the Millennium – for Dante the Second Coming is reduced to the Last Judgement), it was reported that spiritual gifts (the charismata) of the early church were rare to non existent. One of the features of especially speaking in tongues was that the person did not usually know what it was they were saying to God (1 Cor 14:2). This was the original Christian via negativa, the not knowing which is nonetheless revelation and an uttering of the mysteries. This element of secrecy apart, it was assumed that individuals should relate to God more or less directly in a basically personal way and entering before the throne of grace boldly (Heb 4:16). And even if the glorified Christ or the enthroned God the Father were not exactly like humans, the long tradition of biblical references to their hands and eyes indicated an essential identity with the human. Christ is even described as the “icon”(image) of the invisible God (Col 1:15)

FROM CHRISTIAN EXPERIENCE TO NEO-PLATONIC VISIONS

The fourth century revolution began a movement away from anything like this, and  it transposed practice to another level. It was no longer a case of saying unknown things to God but rather of not knowing or describing deity at all who must be described in negation (not good because beyond good etc) reached through the darkness and silence (the language of heaven itself according to the late medieval mystic, Meister Eckhart!) or who perhaps even was darkness or a superior Nothingness, attained by mental exercises rather than any more spontaneous means. These exercises needed to travel far, high and long as God became ever more remote, much helped by the influence of one of Dante’s own inspirations via Thomas Aquinas, (the latter high in the realm of the Sun) ,namely the Greek Pseudo-Dionysius.

Dante didn’t fall for the deception of the Donation of Constantine, but like many directly or indirectly he fell for Dionysius. Medievals decided this mendacious writer must be identical, as he tried to make out he was, with St Paul’s philosophical convert in Athens, not some fifth century subtle underminer of the entire Christian tradition via neo-platonic means.

Greek philosophy which was favourable to contemplation, almost despised the body as a prison of the soul and which held notions of a remote unmoved, mover deity, had never been entirely at home with the Hebrew legacy and its anthropomorphism dismissed in passing remarks of Dionysius. The Greek church had moreover been introduced to poisonous levels of anti-Semitism (Hitler would even approve it) through the Golden Mouth preacher St John Chrysostom. Pseudo-Dionysius is almost the summation of a Greek dissociation from a disdained Hebrew legacy. At the height of Pseudo-D’s system are angels, who, far from being co-workers with the faithful as per Rev 22:9, are exalted beings like Platonic ideas virtually barring the way to the hidden deity.

The anti Hebraic mindset of the Greeks was for all practical purposes sealed by the 8th Council of Constantinople in 869 which rid itself of the bible’s trichotomy or threefold anthropology of the self with its, Body, Soul and Spirit, substituting in line with Greek rationalism, a dichotomy of simply Body and Soul. Soul was now  what contained Spirit, a spirit as intellective spirit more or less reduced to Reason, the same Reason that underlines Dante’s entire rationalizing treatment of evil.

Originally, however, human spirit under the influence of Holy Spirit is what shapes and helps organize the imagination of soul. Soul (Gk psyche) is the reactive yin type function, the Hebrew/biblical nephesh or animal soul (the basic radiant aura or astral body of esoteric traditions). It is often what St Paul means when he refers to the “flesh” or lower nature which is more than just “body”  and which  is perceived as in conflict with the spirit (Gk pneuma, Heb  ruach) which should be allowed to dominate it. (One can picture the trichotomy as either body and animal soul nephesh together, with beyond it  spirit ruach  and then neshamah, the divine lamp,spark or higher soul, or you can portray the trichotomy as simply body, soul and spirit. Either way you have a possible reflection of the interactive Trinity that the simple soul/body dichotomy does not permit),

SPIRIT AND SOUL

If one reduces the whole drama of the self to simply a dualistic contrast and conflict of soul with body which in no way reflects the interactions of the Trinity, one is left with Logos or Word seen as purely masculine Reason tasked with dominating an unruly and despised purely feminine body. Whether in religious or cultural contexts, this distorts the masculine yang factor in man and God alike. What is masculine becomes a fixed, often cold, inflexible Reason, not a higher lyrical, adaptive, creative force. God is not a Creator whose creation can be also be poetry and sung over ( Zeph 3:7).

There is a Spirit of God, but there is also a Soul and Christ is that Soul; and because Soul is for humans the problem of what’s “fallen”, it is into the image of the perfected Christ to which the believer is supposed to be conformed (Rom 8:29). This does not and cannot happen in Dante where Christ is a dim figure, a cross, a griffen, “our pelican”, a wheel, because soul function  through the form and the work of woman (a Goethean  Ewig Weibliche  Eternal Feminine leading us ever on), has almost completely taken over obscuring the person. Dante in his ascent  instructed by Beatrice as a model of divine grace, is also teaching him via the beauty she embodies. This is problematic. Beauty is a reactive  yin force, its power dependent upon power before or beyond it.

Effectively substituting for the person of Christ, Beatrice even examines Dante in what is the equivalent of the believer’s presentation before the bema or judgement seat of Christ (Rom 8:10, 1 Cor 3:15). The entire image of Jesus  in the Commedia is suitably odd, empty or just vague. As said, it can be glimpsed (reflected in Beatrice’s eyes! ) from the head of the Christ-linked griffin in Purgatorio, to the forming and reforming cross of the heaven of Mars whose inhabitants are supposed to be close to Christ because, as or like crusaders, they literally took up the cross! And Dante at this level of heaven even identifies himself as a kind of Christ figure because of his exiled life! But ultimately, unlike other, especially female figures of the Paradiso, Christ is never quite clearly drawn, never quite characterized. He is an object of catechism, a sort of functionary to manage salvation, a precious symbol, but never quite either a recognizable person or inspiration. (Admittedly, over seven centuries later this treatment remains basically consistent with controversial statements  from  Pope Francis in July 2017 to the effect any claims to personal knowledge of or relation with Jesus can be dangerous and harmful; it is collectively through the mediation of the Church community and Mary that one may know of him).

On the social plain, the spiritual result of mis-vision in Dante’s style is that the very abuses he hated can still thrive because the outer forms (objectivised Reason) are respected as a sufficient perfection  and spiritual development (through controlled exercises rather than inspiration) can continue. And they can and will do so because they take individuals the way of soul rather than spirit. This is liable also to mean via the inspiration of women, for Dante from Beatrice to the Virgin. But this is not the way of will-shaping and correcting Spirit working on spirit as indicated by Jesus from the first in rejecting the salutations of the woman who praises the mother who bore him and the breasts that gave him suck (Luk 11:27), insisting only those that do the divine will are blessed.

DANTE THE MAN

A brilliant, erudite walking encyclopaedia of a man, Dante with his quirks is almost the epitome of the “mad” genius and poet, perhaps starting with the near crazy obsession with the indifferent and early deceased Beatrice dei Portinari. Eros and sexuality (the realm of especially “soul”) is one way to understanding the poet and not just of the Commedia but La Vita Nuova where he discovers Lady Philosophia.

Dante scholar Barbara Reynolds points to a connection in feeling and reference between the treatment of the sodomites Brunetto Latini in hell and Forsi in purgatory which she takes as a virtual confession of homosexual involvement (4). While we needn’t greatly doubt her – Florence like ancient Athens was a leading centre of openly expressed same sex feeling and art in especially the Renaissance, and Dante’s mentor Brunetto Latini was gay. But I am just not sure why Reynolds speaks of “homosexuality” when obviously in Dante’s case she should be speaking of bisexuality.

One of the clues that this orientation was the case is the astonishing way, often noted, that Dante simply never mentions his wife (from an arranged marriage) and mother of his children,Gemma (to whom he is anyway believed to have been unfaithful). I am however less surprised than some by the silent avoidance. It may not be quite  PC to say it, but it should be recognized that bisexually inclined men are often seriously bad news for wives. Dante exquisitely joins two other major  bisexually inclined poets: Shakespeare who famously bequeathed the wife he hardly lived with his second best bed, and the bible’s King David who loved Jonathan but banished one of his wives, Michal, from his bed without reprieve lifelong. From the outset doubtless Beatrice represented at any rate one way for Dante of dealing with his creative and erotic complexity. Obviously she represents an anima figure who carries the weight of his massive imagination at the same time as her inaccessibility helps prevent his being too overwhelmed by the opposite sex and by eros generally.

If Dante has been more “homosexual” even within his bisexuality, he would likely have developed spiritually more along the lines of Michelangelo who reflected himself in the rather anti woman and even rather gay prophet Jeremiah (5). And he would have given a quite different emphasis to portrayal of the Virgin. Rather notoriously, Michelangelo’s Last Judgement  fresco portrays a very human Virgin figure, almost cowering away from a commanding Christ figure. Anyway, I  consider Dante’s sexuality could use more critical attention as it affects his work. So too could another theme, not liable to be emphasized and even downplayed in academic circles.

As he enters the region of the fixed stars, Dante makes it very clear he was born under and takes the character of Gemini, the celestial sign of words and communication but also division. In a way, this is a vital piece of information for all sorts of reasons (including to some extent the poet’s rather experimental, flitting eros). Europe is traditionally put under Gemini and certainly Christianity, born at Pentecost amid a speaking in tongues, belongs to the sign. Also born under Gemini was modern Italy which has taken Dante’s language for its own (reflecting the indelible role of Dante,incredibly the horoscope for Italy shows a conjunction of asteroids Dante and Virgilius in the hell section of the chart) (6),  and so too were Dorothy Sayers and Barbara Reynolds who have translated and popularized Dante in modern times. Even if you say that politics is of Capricorn, the fact is that democracy itself, the idea of divided church and state, a prominent Dantean theme, is of Gemini. Quite simply Dante is a Geminian person broaching a mass of Geminian themes  and thus for better or for worse his opinions can both reflect and make what the West is in itself – which has been a rather dark/light, changeable phenomenon in harmony with the sign’s “mutable” status.

FAITH AND VISION SOULED OUT

Dante never went to any heaven, or if he did it wasn’t like the one he described. The Paradiso is the equivalent of Bernini’s stunning  but questionable The Ecstasy of St Teresa in sculpture. Dante was a visionary poet who incomparably faked rather too much of his vision because ultimately it arose out of  soul function rather than descended on him through the spirit function and depended too much on virtual orgasm. That vision and mystical religion  could  be thus dependent to  some extent is inevitable and we needn’t automatically dismiss it for that – unless  it’s allowed to become  the whole story which, when soul takes over at the expense of the impulses of Spirit, it risks doing so that religion falls towards the sensationalist idolatry which is also materialism.

I am not saying that Dante was a false prophet (if he had a sin it was overweening vanity!) but that he was sometimes victim to those who were, and that he expressed their beliefs by default at a particular point in history to which he was somewhat hostage and has left others hostage too. Dante is, as Yeats had it, the imagination of Christendom, but sometimes unfortunately so. Because what the European imagination in its Christian mode has too often done, is, like a divided Gemini,  run in one or other of the opposed directions of  elaborate superstition and reductive humanism, pursuing a religion of numerous pious forms or alternatively political agendas because in both cases it is not grasping God aright at the centre.

Dante’s God of (remote and static) light and love joined to his dream of an elusive perfect ruler,  a Roman rather than the early Christians’ Christ of history, the Millennium and Jerusalem (Dante turns the Second Advent  within historical time into the Last Judgement beyond it), is also remote  from original and authentic Christianity. It is so adrift in a sea of intricate symbols and allegories (each episode organized to give four different possible meanings) it could be appropriated by almost anyone today from New Agers to one world, one religion Globalists. The turns of history and culture are so peculiar such might yet even be the case.

NOTES

1) In Raphael and Lucifer p.10 I write:

So may you, Inspiration, now draw near
To assist, reveal, declare because
More felt than seen by me or anyone
The forces are too bright and dark
Too fair and foul to be directly held….
It’s thus by symbol and through fantasy
You will convey the truths unrealized…..

2) Temple Mysteries and Spiritual Efficiency esp Chapter 6   https://goo.gl/Xi1jv8

3) The Hell Passage https://wp.me/p2v96G-7e

4) Barbara Reynolds, Dante  p.296

5) Jeremiah’s Loincloth   https://wp.me/p2v96G-Hm

6). A Picture of Italian Life and Mind  https://wp.me/p2v96G-Nc

 

 

 

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SELLING LEONARDO’S SALVATOR MUNDI AND PURSUING AN ELUSIVE IMAGE

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There is a time for everything under the sun. That includes the sale of Leonardo da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi painting (now finally certified to be his and not a disciple’s) in New York’s Christie’s on November 15th.

Astrology has a bad name because it claims to be able to predict issues and like meteorology often fails at the job. When it does appear to have correctly predicted things it is then dismissed as a system of irreligious fatalism or unscientific divination that must have worked due to everything from intervention of fallen angels (St Augustine) to just chance. Neither judgement is correct.

The fact is that though astrology can foreshadow events that astrologers would often need to be outright prophets to be able even to imagine ahead of time, what it really does is certify events as they happen. This it does with great clarity as in the case of the Leonardo sale.

Leonardo whose birth data we know approximately from Vasari ( 9.40 pm,  23 April, greg, 1452 at Vinci),  was born with Saturn at 14 degrees of the arts and luxuries sign of Libra. Saturn is about antiques and property. On the 15th November, action-generating and competitive Mars is transiting conjunct Leonardo’s Saturn at 14 Libra. This is an indication both of the involvement of competitive auction and, rather importantly, that the picture really is Leonardo’s or this kind of  degree exact agreement wouldn’t be occurring.

Mercury, the news and communications factor, is at nearly 13 of Sagittarius for the auction date meaning it’s suitably in the artist’s first house (his image, his body) loosely conjunct his ascendant degree –  6 Sagittarius was rising over the horizon at the birth as given. Since however  Leonardo wasn’t born in the era of digital timing, it’s very likely the position of Mercury at auction is telling us he was born some time a bit later than assumed with Sagittarius at or nearer 13 degrees at birth. Undeniably the more important events of a life are liable to engage the angles of a nativity and an individual’s ascendant angle is sensitive.

THE SALVATOR MUNDI THEME

Events in religion, which in its way the sale and widespread discussion of Leonardo’s painting is, enjoy some association with the Galactic Centre presently in late Sagittarius at 26 degrees. On the day of the auction, transiting Saturn (antiques, tradition, the historical) enters this degree.

What about the moon and the theme setting sun?. I can’t tell at what time a price will be agreed, but whenever it is the event-timing moon will be in Libra and we have seen the relevance to both the event and the cost value of the picture of Libra due to Leonardo’s natal Saturn in the sign.  (Leonardo incidentally also had visionary Neptune in Libra on O degrees at birth. This degree being a world point and within conjunction of Leonardo’s Midheaven (career, reputation and destiny), Neptune is a factor in the artist’s becoming world famous not least for the mysterious sfumato and chiraroscuro effects which “dreamy” Neptune naturally favours. Also on a world point and thus making for fame was Mars at 15 Aquarius, futuristic sign of inventions for which Leonardo was in demand and very notable).

The sun is at 22 Scorpio on 15th November and this is interesting at the more religious level.

In the correct and still working birth data which in enlargement of the D’Ochieppo and Hughes (astronomers) thesis for the birth of Christ I claim to possess, the asteroid Leonardo is at 14 Virgo. This means it is in what’s called semi-sextile aspect to the mentioned transiting Mars and the natal Saturn which are conjunct on the 15th November. This might not seem important because a semi-sextile is a minor 30 degree aspect – except for one vital point in this instance. Semi-sextiles are deemed to be financial and the 15th is going to produce major issues around finances. What is the painting worth? Will it produce record breaking bids? (It is set for one hundred million). The fact that Jupiter and Venus are conjunct in the heavens (they were exact on the 13th) bespeaks a time of big money deals, this pair in aspect is typically about wealth and any lifestyles of the rich and famous.

But what is the painting about? On the 15th November the sun is at 22/23 of Scorpio. In the natus of Jesus the asteroid Salavat (Salvation) is at 21.59 Scorpio, i.e. one minute of a degree off 22 Scorpio. There is no Salvator (Saviour) asteroid, so Salavat  ( Salvation) is the nearest we can get to it, but I have found after years of working with them that the asteroids have a way of signifying facts through many languages and neat variations on a theme rather in the style of Joyce’ Finnegan’s Wake. There  is also no World/Mundus asteroid or none in aspect unless one cared to allow Universitas (world) in very wide conjunction at 28 Scorpio.

THE JESUS IMAGE IN ART AND LIFE,

Given the prestige of Leonardo and the sheer ambition of the painting, we may legitimately ask how successful (beyond purely aesthetic  considerations) it actually is in conveying an image of Jesus whether as person or saviour. In terms of mystery it is obviously reasonably successful, an effect arrived at by supplying, and not for the first time in a Leonardo painting, an androgynous edge to its subject. This however is not per se inappropriate for someone even biblically described as both incarnate Logos and feminine Sophia (masculine Word and Feminine Wisdom). For these issues see my recent Jesus and Sexuality you tube  https://goo.gl/L7KR2C                     ,

Even so, did the Jesus who worked as a carpenter (more likely a builder or stone mason) and went fishing with his disciples, look quite like this or even anything like this? Actually if, as I seriously maintain, it is possible to arrive at accurate, working data for Jesus’ birth, then we can more or less know what he looked like. I have discussed this at some length and worked towards an image based on the most characteristic features and  interactions  of the natal sun sign and rising sign, the chief factors governing an individual’s appearance. To my surprise and sometimes frustration, the relevant article, Colton Burpo’s “Real” Heaven, Akiane’s Jesus and New Christ Images  at https://wp.me/p2v96G-lH  published in Feb 2014, easily remains after years the most visited of my blog offerings  despite what I consider more substantial writings on religion and some major poetry for the exploring. Plainly people really are interested in just what Jesus looked like!. In a way the emphasis belongs with the almost endless ironies that attend the whole Jesus theme…..

EXPENSIVE IMAGES AND PRICELESS INFORMATION

The auction of a Jesus image involving huge sums of money is ironic both in relation to the relative poverty of its subject historically and the fact that, such are the vagaries of fortune,  it is not so long ago in 1958 that the picture had been sold in auction for a mere 45 GB pounds! …..

Art is of course art and religion is religion and they only sometimes meet, but I could be allowed some disgust at the fact that while almost obscene amounts of wealth, plus plentiful media coverage, get directed  upon a beautiful but imperfect Christ image, it is next to impossible for me to present as author, as doctor of religious studies and astrologer what in its way is as good as priceless information, gold of the Magi itself, the clearest demonstrable solution to millennia old mystery surrounding the birth of Christ. Where others speculate I can prove. But this is ignored (as is that the theory I enlarge upon is one that has long enjoyed considerable academic support and was declared by the scholarly Pope Benedict as distinctly plausible as theories of the birth go).

Forget the too often whorish world of Anglo-American publishing about which I could tell some tales.  I am ashamed of the places of my two nationalities (Australia and Ireland)  that have not had the least room for indications of my information. For example, before last Christmas six leading papers of Australia failed so much as to respond to a proposed author’s op-ed on proof of an historic discovery. I have not got anything into Irish media either, whether the Irish Times, the Irish Independent or, despite my direct appeal while in Ireland this year, the national broadcaster’s Sunday Miscellany which is supposed to specialize in original material from authors. This isn’t good enough.

Because it’s wrong to cast pearls and would demean the subject to go around with a begging bowl insisting to be heard, there are limits to how much, how often I ever deal with this subject which I have carried and represented for years. But where our leaders of opinion secular and religious in their dismissive arrogance are

 

 

 
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Posted by on November 14, 2017 in aesthetics, astrology, Mysteries, religion

 

HOW MUCH SHOULD WE LIKE GAME OF THRONES?

FORTUNES OF A BLOCKBUSTER

One could say that HBO’s big as Ben Hur Game of Thrones series is like the proverbial curate’s egg  “good in parts”. If so, approaching a seventh season touted to be something of a continuous nightmare, viewers may, like Clive James earlier on in the series, ask themselves why they are still watching. The question is pertinent if like James you don’t relish the by now distinctive violence and aren’t especially interested in the (effectively soft porn) sex either.We may have a clue to the fandom and sometimes addiction Thrones engages from the fact devotees include politicos such as Barack Obama, David Cameron and Julia Gillard. I suspect they and audiences generally appreciate depictions of the unvarnished ruthlessness they increasingly sense politics is about. And as people love to hate a bad character, the series offers plenty of opportunities to do just that. The tradition of the Jacobean revenge drama has returned….with a vengeance!

THE GOOD

     (A picture of Dark Hedges, site of Princess Aryas’ escape. Incredibly I was told this is now N Ireland’s most visited natural site (bar presumably Giant’s Causeway) and certainly the tourist traffic and crowds are all apparent)

What’s good about GOT has always been obvious enough: the sheer spectacle (realized across Ireland and 32 locations from Morocco to Iceland), the twists of plot and the intrigues, the well choreographed battles etc. The production alone is enough to fascinate anyone, especially if like myself you have ever had anything to do with drama or scripts. When in Ireland recently and on a trip that included some of the series’ locations, I was told more people are involved in the production of GOT than the whole civil service of its Northern Ireland home. So I have enjoyed insights into that side of things having moreover watched the series in the best possible way. This is not on TV but via DVDs which include features about precisely the settings, the production, the actors, the script writers, meanings and symbolism viewers might otherwise miss – some expect the series and its books to become the subject of doctorates!

More certain is that there are always going to be less than academic debates about how the epic ought to wind up. The script writers who have already imposed some variations upon the first volumes have now got ahead of the rather displeased author (who supplied only a few clues as to his final intentions) and are preparing for the last and eighth series before the final volume of the epic has been written. One might guess that the stoical, romantic Jon Snow, bastard of House Stark, will discover his true origins and (the author’s original intention of marrying him to Arya being dropped) get to marry the long suffering, reformist Daenerys, mother of dragons and so bring peace to the seven incurably warring kingdoms of Westeros. This would fit with the epic’s at least intermittent sympathy for underdogs and women. The dragons belong, incidentally, to the more magical side of an epic fantasy more realistic than magical or “poetic” in any Arthurian style and located in a para-medieval world that is nonetheless pagan and has existed for millennia.

I don’t know if and how much Irish mythology may have influenced the author, but with or without its influence there are real affinities for a work like Lady Gregory’s Complete Irish Mythology in its sprawling nature and tendency to switch between the big picture and the small item. For that reason I should perhaps not have been so surprised as I was  to come across a copy of an Irish translation of GOT in a Dublin bookshop this June. Not that the author’s writing style notably recalls anything Irish, and due to certain bittiness I never found reading  GOT that easy by bestseller or any other standards. I will not try to summarize the plot here, there are plenty of sites on the Net where you can find explanations and summaries including précis of each season and episode on Wikipedia, but beginners might use Game of Thrones for Dummies at http://www.thedailybeast.com/game-of-thrones-for-dummies .

AND THE NOT SO GREAT

Ultimately however, and despite some satisfaction at how much GOT has put not just Ireland but even and especially its dourest corner (Northern Ireland) onto the emtertainments map, I am not a devoted fan, more an interested observer. The cultural critic in me is fascinated by the fact the series is quite such an unprecedented hit and there are things I want to understand about this. How much is this blockbuster real art and a mirror of the times with a message, or just overrated sensation and questionable entertainment? I will concentrate on what’s most controversial and sometimes just bad, because this is where the crux of the popularity question resides. It does seem that so often there’s a widespread liking of the series despite this or that, and the doubt list grows.

When two of the lead actors of the series, John Dance and Kit Harington were introduced to the literary source for the series, the former thought the books “frightening” in their thickness (how could one read so much – the first volume alone is over 750 pp?!) and the latter felt the material “the weirdest”. Lengthy Tolstoy himself couldn’t outdo this bestseller – except for literary power. Game of Thrones and its sequels are not classic literature. They can be over-complicated with, in places, a constant addition of characters making up for strength of narrative – quite a lot of readers and viewers do give up on account of the intricacy, something compounded by even the author’s bizarre use of names. These are often either unnatural, forgettable tongue twisters like Viserys Targaryen or they are too similar for comfort. For example, the leading character (as opposed to the hero) who is the dwarf Tyrion of house Lannister, must hold its own against among others, Tommen, Tywin and the whole house of Tyrell and the house of Tully, and Samwell Tarley and Brienne of Tarth and Theon Greyjoy, Tion Frey… and quite simply the author has a running love affair with the letter T.

Ordinary names, words and titles get altered around like Joffrey for Geoffrey, Jon for John, Eddard for Edward, Maester for Master or Meister, Olyvar for Olivia, while numbers of royal or noble characters like Sir Jamie have inexplicably to be written as Ser. There can also be mythically suggestive names like Cersei which is obviously Homer’s Circe though Cersei isn’t really like that anyway. This queen of intrigues is not a solitary witch but a very socialized woman. House Lannister into which Cersei is married is an echo of Lancaster in the Wars of the Roses which is one source of author George R R Martin’s general mythology. Its chief inspiration is admitted to have been The Lord of the Rings, though perhaps even CS Lewis’s Narnia just a little to the extent winter and snow is a theme – the motto of the northerly House Stark is “winter is coming” .

LANGUAGE AND ACTING

The profusion of often weird names is almost minor against the strangeness of whole sections of the drama being interspersed with quite lengthy orations and conversations in an invented foreign tongue associated with especially the Dothraki people. Subtitles offer no translation. I take it the idea is inherited from certain late experiments of Tolkien with Elvish, but it’s hardly either very entertaining or revealing- in fact it’s boring.

Odd too is the crazy patchwork of accents among the actors, posh, cockney, north country, Irish etc which I imagine belongs to an increasing pop culture, post modern will to include and diversify at all costs, even if it doesn’t really fit natural expectation for the characters involved. But it also belongs to increasing emphasis on the visual over the auditory, a preference for strong presence over powerful delivery. (Sometimes there is near incomprehensible gabble or whisper instead of clear diction, though again that’s hardly unique nowadays to GOT). A few of the actors, especially among the younger ones, struck me as pretty weak. They delivered their lines in ways that trivialize or infantalize the sense, but then you later realize they were probably chosen because they are otherwise versatile – good acrobats, dancers, horse riders, swordsmen, good lookers or whatever.

Both book and film script are free in their use of the vernacular. Together they convinced me for once and for all that, paradoxically, vulgar talk and four letter words simply don’t automatically lend realism and power to drama at all, they may even reduce it to the atmosphere of a kid’s playground. ( I have just been re-reading that strangely violent Victorian classic Wuthering Heights, and find it loses no power by simply noting someone began to curse).

It’s true there are nowadays journalists to tell us that when things hotted up between Prince Charles and Princess Diana they might scream at one another fit for the gutter. But that’s still not necessarily representative for them or  royal history or anyone. More typical of royals and aristocrats across history has been their inability to unbend and leave the high style or etiquette. Before her execution Marie Antoinette even said “pardon” to her executioner when she tripped on his foot. Occasional verbal outbursts may therefore be the reality for individuals, but fiction and drama offer summary (caricature) only, and thus authority figures can’t afford too much characterization via the merely exceptional or they become less credible…..And the atmosphere for actors and audience itself evidently risks infection. It’s almost but not quite amusing that in one of her DVD interviews Cersei actor, Lena Headey, employs variations of the F word so much, so often she sounds like a case of Tourette’s syndrome!

VIOLENCE

The fantasy is set in violent “medieval” times, but some of the violence like that periodically directed upon a blind Arya by the Waif in the black and white house of the heads, seems pointless and unexplained. Series Six included skull crushing, eye gouging and burning at the stake  (of a child) so one wonders how and why the seventh season is supposed to be more violent. With DVDs it has been easier to avoid some of the gorier and morbid violence by fast forwarding. Extended scenes of torture are quite simply unnecessary, especially in a show which is ultimately entertainment and fantasy of sorts. The torture and castration of Theon, dubious character though he might be, are objectionable and morbid as is also portrayal of his humiliation – he is to be gradually reduced to the animal or to a contemptible non entity called Reek. (Much later in the series he is deprogrammed back to reality and dignity or sorts and even helps save Princess Sansa from her marriage cum imprisonment. It is one of the oddities of the story and its often disjointed script’s lack of exposition and explanation that we see the pair jump off battlement walls in what seems as though in despairing suicide only to find them hail and free later).

I have only read book one, but the TV series seems true enough to Martin’s violent realism which is persistent, ugly and everywhere. If I open Volume One taking just a sentence or two at random I get (and this is mild) “Blood had gushed from the boy’s mouth as he collapsed, and more was seeping from the slit in his belly, pooling beneath his body. His palms were cut where he’d grabbed at the blade. She backed away slowly. Needle red in her hand….”

We learn the production company use a concoction with blueberries for vivid blood, and they make it all sound very funny, but one gets weary of blood streaming from mouths, eyes, stomachs, and sometimes necks. Series three ends with “The Red Wedding”, a spectacular and breathtaking orgy of bloodletting and decapitations at a wedding banquet. This is overkill (no pun) for what is only fantasy; but if you insist it’s life and  history, then life has enough of it for us to need to get away from it. However, if we aren’t being offered “realistic” blood for the inspection then we have to suffer such as Tyrion vomiting badly. I am not aware how the Belfast production unit composes the vomit.

SEX

I suspect that a recent confession by Dame Maggie Smith that she  probably couldn’t become an actress today because she would lack the now requisite courage to keep removing her clothes, is influenced by the nudity of GOT. There’s plenty of bare flesh and sex in Thrones but a major part of it has to do with Lord Baelish’s (Littlefinger’s) King’s Landing brothel. It is used in plots against enemies and to manipulate people. The dwarf Tyrion through perhaps inferiority complex, gets through many women but almost loses his heart to one whore.

I would agree with Clive James that the sex is basically Hollywoodized (one might say Playboyized) as it directs upon women. An emphasis on women might seem only natural and inevitable except for one vital point. If you are not directing porn as such (and in fact adult film actors were brought in for some of GOT’s sex scenes), stage and TV portrayals of nudity have long been justified provided they were essential to the plot and perhaps reflected also something more like honesty, vulnerability, spontaneity rather than glamour. Not only is some of GOT’s exposure of the glamorous whores and the lesbianism of some of them irrelevant to any plot, but a key element in the story, a princely homosexual intrigue with major consequences, a trigger to the religion/inquisition threat to House Lannister, is almost skated over by comparison. Its psychology is unexplored and its expression little shown. In short, if relevance and realism were any criterion, a series as frankly outré as GOT should have shown more male and less female nudity. That it hasn’t raises question of artistic integrity, sexual equality, etc. (Granted there was intended to be a nude scene for Kit Harington’s popular hetero Jon Snow character, but it didn’t proceed because the actor broke his ankle….life on set in GOT is dangerous!….but if it had gone ahead would it have been relevant save as gratification for Harington’s fans?).

The sole light relief from the controversial slave market erotica of the brothel and the suggestions of primitive sex among the Dothraki is in my opinion the hilarious first night of the jubilating, innocent Tommen with his queen. The young and exquisite Dean-Charles Chapman reports it was extremely demanding to perform. This can be believed and he deserves a medal. However you won’t see more of him clothed or unclothed as he has committed suicide out of the palace window rather than been killed off like his mad brother Joffrey and so many others.

AND THE MEANING IS?

Although a story doesn’t have to have a meaning, with the source text stretched over vastly more than War and Peace, and drawing in huge audiences across years, meaning could be expected. We may have to be satisfied with absorbing a general message or even just a feeling about life rather than anything more philosophical or theological though sometimes the story veers in that direction. There is a whole plot line in the conflict of new and old religions, specifically one that holds to seven gods and the other to a new god of fire and light, the latter suggested to the author by Zoroastrianism in its struggle against polytheism. The supporters of the one god are fanatics or hypocrites. Their behaviour appears to look back at the medieval inquisition and thus fictionally seems like a dig by the agnostic author at Christianity especially as it’s followers of the old gods who seem a little more enlightened and generous. It does however get suggested, contemporary style, that perhaps all the religions are the same anyway.

Unless the series’ conclusion will indicate otherwise, I think all that we can derive by way of “message” is that war is always more or less futile, that human existence offers bleak prospects, that just survival is the main game and that amid it any meaning arises from purely random individual acts of wisdom, courage and generosity. The dwarf Tyrion exemplifies the wit to survive but, with a nod towards feminism;  it’s if anything the women like Arya and Catelyn Stark and Daenerys who beyond using the mind own some generosity. Jon Snow and his sidekick Samwell Tarley are not a bad second for male consciousness. ….

OR THE MORAL AMID AMBIGUITY IS?

Apart from random acts of sense and kindness there is no real moral principle or centre to this story of “you win or you die” situations. Even the better characters are distinctly flawed. Catelyn Stark has been rotten to bastard Jon Snow though she has the grace eventually to admit it. Her principled husband Eddard, one of the more attractive characters of the saga, launches the drama in a cruel way, insisting on the beheading execution of a soldier who having escaped an attack from the supernatural White Walkers and who thus provides useful news, is seen only as having deserted his post. The better characters don’t necessarily have more fortunate endings than the worst. Call this pagan amorality or postmodern moral ambiguity, but in the final analysis how really true to life is it if realism is any kind of aim?

The ultimately amoral quality of the saga is well represented by its treatment of one of its main characters, Ser Jamie, twin brother of Queen Cersei. From the first the pair are in incestuous relationship which they have justified from long standing Egyptian-style tradition. In a fantasy readers may allow them this alibi, but what they cannot or should not allow is that Jamie in covering for this affair throws Eddard’s son, young Bran, who espies the pair from the castle window, to what is intended to be the child’s death though in fact it will be life as a cripple. Although this is criminal behaviour and pointless too (since would the child understand the situation or be believed if he reported it), Jamie is still allowed to emerge as something of a kindly, admirable hero. This marks an improbable character development which if it avoids ethical questions seems scarcely true to life either..

SOME CELESTIAL MARKERS

It might take astrology to explain the retiring author of GOT, his tastes and aims, and in fact I mention it because it does supply one or two clues to his influence and  and the virtual  cult he has launched. George RR Martin (born 20th Sept 1948 at 9.25 pm Bayonne, NJ) saw light of day with Sun in Virgo. He also had a Saturn hard on him at 0 degrees of that sign, a feature which belongs with the painstaking slow labour of his novels but also the over-intricate plot and the narrative theme of a celibacy which stands in contrast less to romantic love than to sexual chaos.

The actual concept of a “game of thrones” owes something to natal Venus conjunct Pluto in “royal” Leo, with the Venus then in positive aspect to Neptune (any fantasy and any film). Venus is the lesser benefic i.e. rather fortunate, and GOT was fortunate to get off the ground after its rather shaky pilot experience. The ultimate success and huge outreach of the series is helped by the expansive and fortunate aspect of fortunate Jupiter to Pluto (fame deserved or otherwise often shows this signature) and Pluto itself on a world point besides. Then too Uranus is found on another world point, at 0 Cancer, sign of Martin’s own nation, America. The grit and murk and the whole theme of war is however due to two factors, first a moon in bellicose Aries exaggerated in its effects through its easy trine to Jupiter and then Mars in the sign of Scorpio. The latter also has something to do with the raw sex.

I am struck by what I feel is the significance for the whole GOT phenomenon of the odd, disruptive if sometimes brilliant Uranus positioned extremely on a world point in Cancer. This is the sign of America, home, family and standard domestic values and pragmatism rather than philosophy. Notice GOT is suitably a production of HBO (i.e. Home Box Office)! In certain respects Martin’s fantasy challenges in  Uranian style, even smashes up, the happy home with its bleak, undomestic worldview which no philosophy supports unless the anti philosophy of a post Christian postmodernism. North Korea with its mad cult of a ruling family (not to say ruthless conduct) was born a few days away from Martin with Uranus in Cancer.

SYNCHRONICITY OR INFLUENCE?

   

With Uranus on a world point the author can, and with exceptional ease, do as art and artists often can, namely anticipate, mirror and/or influence the times. It’s well known that beheading and hanging are frequent in GOT. The series was launched in 2011 (under Aries, sign of war and of the head!) prior to the major development of ISIS so notorious for brutality, vengeance and beheadings. Isis was founded in 2004 but only became strongly active when America withdrew from Iraq in 2011. So here life could be said to follow art… if art didn’t influence it a little too. We can’t know if the organization’s younger western recruits and the likes of Britain’s Jihadi John, active in 2014, would have been encouraged in a lust for heads by the images and action of GOT.

Also during the age of GOT, in 1916 Britain’s ever controversial Channel 4 initiated what critics have called the worst show on TV, namely the dating game Naked Attraction. Individuals select a date from among persons behind glass screens whose faces are blocked out but who are otherwise naked. What is obviously controversial about the show is not the nudity per se, such nowadays can crop up at least briefly in other programmes or on the streets as in events like The World Naked Bike Ride. What’s controversial is the spirit of the thing, the show’s affinity, however sanitized and polite,  for slave market and brothel style objectification. Boundaries are broken when bodies and body parts can be assessed for attraction like so many items in a shop window. If (cable) TV hadn’t pioneered in erotics via GOT, one wonders if this kind of show would have reached a national broadcaster and the mainstream. The same could be said about rape. If there wasn’t rape in GOT, would it have got itself against protest into the popular Poldark series? (And we know enough about the attitudes of Poldark’s late author to be certain he wouldn’t have wanted it in any adaptation – he objected to the BBC’s earliest version of Poldark, when the hero’s wife was portrayed as sluttish).

If we look back in time rather than forwards it is at least ironic and, as they say, “goes with the territory” that of all places in Ireland it is the region of Ulster should play host to (and by now be half colonized by) GOT. Ulster has been famous for violence  and not just in recent centuries but back into the mythic past, which as said may have influenced Martin, where Ulster’s hero, Cuchulainn, plays hurley with severed heads. In some respects GOT carries shades of the Roman games, but it may carry some of Ireland’s wilder, darker side too.

TOWARDS THE END AND BACK TO THE QUESTION

With all this in mind I return to my original question about the popular culture phenomenon that is GOT. How much should we like it? Given all the barriers to appreciation I’ve outlined, one can’t offer more than qualified praise. This raises questions about those whose admiration is uncritical. What is it they truly value and enjoy? Can it be  the challenge to accepted standards and censorship and with that the charm of belonging to the avant-garde in-group who approves it that  we should suspect? It so, that could be serious. The fact remains that until laws and cultural values imposed greater sensitivity, executions and many forms of punishment were spectator sports. People enjoyed viewing death and torture in the public square or in the Roman amphitheatres. Too many probably still would – even today there apologists for the cruelties of the bullfight as “culture”. Arguments to the effect film and drama somehow sublimate and keep vicious desires within limits are dubious. Rape, torture, and violence generally can always be conveyed by shouts and screams off stage. By contrast images can sow seeds and foster obsessions. And as said, who knows if Jihadi John and his Beatles band or the insufferable Sally Jones weren’t encouraged as children of the West by modern entertainment of the GOT variety?

If you find elements of GOT plain distasteful, why keep watching? There are interest groups and persons from Christians to the Turkish army, from feminists to PETA who have their objections and even acting in the show can leave people with second thoughts (Jack Gleeson who fulfilled a childhood ambition to perform in a blockbuster by playing King Joffrey, is now debating whether he wants to act any more – he’s reverted to philosophy and theology studies at uni!). So the question why watch is meaningful. In my own case the answer (excuse?) is the very human one that I like to finish what I’ve begun and having travelled so far I wish to see what more of Ireland gets onto film, know how the saga ends and have a still clearer picture of what the bizarre phenomenon of the books and its series means, my writer’s purpose in the first place..

If it ends with the dragons as virtual saviours, since symbols and archetypes may be obscure but cannot lie, I might be forced to conclude the whole enterprise was as bordering devilish as some imagine it to be (with Lucifer in direct aspect to the author’s Venus and Mars, his sex and violence themes, that can’t be entirely ruled out!).  The dragon is a variant of the serpent and in apocalyptic vision is a form of the devil. It is interesting just how many books and films of recent vintage have promoted images of dragons and serpents as friendly, helpful, harmless or unreal really. (Though I haven’t read it and can’t say it belongs to what I have in mind, top of several  fiction lists of 2016 has been a novel, The Essex Serpent ).

I suspect that in years to come GOT could be seen as an aspect of the kind of general collapse of values and self-deception memorably described in a recent non-fiction bestseller, Douglas Murray’s The Strange Death of Europe. I wouldn’t be surprised however if once the series comes to an end amid arguments between author and adapters  about how it should end, it will die a natural death and be little remembered unless as a staging post in large and super-expensive TV production. (I could imagine a fate la bit like that of the once incredibly hyped and for its time costly and spectacular Taylor Burton Cleopatra film).  And we who took GOT seriously might then seem as silly as the curate who managed to find his egg good in parts. But time will tell.

 

 

 

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Posted by on July 11, 2017 in aesthetics, creativity

 

PRINCE CHARLES AND THE POETS: A CONUNDRUM

 A CONUNDRUM

charlespoet

Thinking outside the box, being or just seeming eccentric has its uses. It has had the latter In the case of Britain’s Prince Charles in everything from useful experiments in architecture and the environment to the training of unemployed youth. When It comes to literature, and despite Charles being a patron of the arts (and known for a highly traditional Shakespeare fan), the picture is more complex peculiarly so and with what looks like subjectivity to the point of self-contradiction. It does so not least in relation to poetry as the expression of beliefs, an area in which Charles once famously declared he wishes one day to be “defender of faith” rather than “a defender of the faith”.

Yet if Charles’ major predilections when it comes to poets and poetry was anything to go by, it might be more accurate to describe him as defender of unfaith. His personal relations with especially two notable poets presents nothing short of a conundrum, though I have begun to see the conundrum entails a form of understanding that makes his position almost inevitable.

As described later, I have had dealings with at any rate one of the two poets considered here. They were two very different individuals who were rivals for the position of poet laureate – Ted Hughes (1930-1998) narrowly beat Kathleen Raine (1908-2003) to the position in 1984. Hughes, easily Britain’s most controversial poet since Lord Byron, despite all the scandals became almost family to the royals. A great natural storyteller he often read bed time stories to Princes William and Harry and since his death in 1998 Charles has erected a shrine (with stained glass!) to the poet at his Highgrove home and given permission to a hidden memorial on crown land in Dartmoor. Charles used to fish in the wilds and dine at home with the poet and his grandmother was, the poet alleged, almost flirtatious with him.

THE WILDEST POET SINCE BYRON 

by Rollie McKenna, bromide print, 1959

Women tended to find Hughes irresistible and were the problem of his life starting with the brilliant but difficult poet Sylvia Plath whom to this day many feminists choose to regard as virtual murder victim because Hughes’ infidelity drove her to suicide. The claim gained weight because death seemed to cling to Hughes like a leech. Assia Wevill, the married woman for whom Hughes left his wife, duplicated the gas oven suicide taking her daughter by Hughes along with her; another lover, Susan Alliston, died young of cancer, and Hughes’ son by Plath suicided in a fit of depression  – in this some saw genetics, some saw a curse, some said Hughes had been a domestic tyrant in a way to affect his son’s mind.

Bad though his record was, I feel it is possible to overdo the scandal of Hughes with women and similarly his reputation as virtual black magician due to his (rather Jungian) interest in the occult, alchemy, Cabbala, astrology, and shamanism – he deemed poetry a form of magic. If Hughes’s sexuality could, like his poetry, be volcanic and even sadistic, it’s a fact that when he first kissed Plath (who wanted to be a Cathy to this Yorkshireman’s Heathcliff) she drew blood from him like a vampire. But the faithless Hughes did love and respect Plath deeply (his last major work Birthday Letters is testimony enough to that) and arguably lifelong there would have been fewer flings and infidelities if the romantic pair had reconciled as intended and Plath survived. As it was, an irresistible man left rudderless and confused by his fate, followed the line of least resistance. Hughes may never have been the ogre many believed, but in one less obvious sense he was one.

As modern and especially British poets go, Hughes can be considered spiritual but not healthily so. Indeed, especially if poetry has anything like the magical function the poet assumed, then Hughes has purveyed little short of spiritual pollution itself. The early poems which brought fame in such collections as The Hawk in the Rain and Lupercal represent his Tarka the Otter or Kiplingesque line in verse. They project unusually forceful feeling onto the life of fauna and are healthy enough. After Plath’s suicide a new more shamanistic, less coherent, incomplete but highly dramatic and mythic form of verse takes over in the collections Crow and Cave Birds and this colours Hughes’ work across the next two decades.

THE TED HUGHES MASTERPIECE

The genesis of the cryptic Crow – Hughes’ masterpiece in his estimation  and that of at least some critics – arose from more than one impulse, but coming to terms with the death of Plath definitely had something to do with it.It’s a protest against common existence and notions of fate and God, to which it supplies alternative answers of a sort, even if because for Hughes poetry is “magic”, an act, resolution is like a shamanic dismemberment and reconstitution of self.  If the answers are personal they are perhaps perhaps indirectly also for England whose national psychology fascinated Hughes (author of the difficult but important Shakespeare and The Goddess of Complete Wisdom which  addresses this). And Britain for Hughes was symbolized less by its heraldic lion than the enterprising crow, the Celtic god Bran’s totem.

In the beginning was Scream

Who begat Blood…..
Who begat Adam
Who begat Mary
Who begat God
Who begat Nothing
Who begat Never
Never, Never, Never

Who begat Crow…..

hughescrow

It is hard to summarize Crow or even adequately excerpt from it; one can at best supply something of its flavour, relentlessly negative, profane, grotesque with its essential protest against creation.

“A final try’ said God. Now LOVE’
Crow convulsed, gaped, retched….
….And woman’s vulva dropped over man’s neck and tightened

The two struggled together on the grass
God struggled to part them, cursed, wept….”

Adam and Eve along with God regularly diverge from all canonical portrayals.

God ran and told Adam
Who in a drunken rage tried to hang himself in the orchard

The Serpent tried to explain, crying “Stop”….
And Eve started screeching: “Rape, Rape!”
And stamping on his head”

After creation God had been called upon to take it back and he suffers a nightmare which tells him to do better. Crow, a trickster figure, emerges to help correct things in the course of which he invents the chaos of sexuality and goes in quest of his female half.

At this level of story some might take Hughes’ picture to be almost humorous in a Monty Pythonesque fashion. But there’s enough of it and it becomes clear the inversions and negations of the canonical are a launch pad for the development of statements that cannot be taken as other than abusive and profane as Crow becomes some kind of image or shadow imitation of a Christ figure as in The Risen

When he soars his shape
Is a cross, eaten by light
On the Creator’s face…..

…In the wind-fondled crucible of his splendour
The dirt becomes God

And though the particular words aren’t within Crow itself but Cave Birds, one could guess that essentially the poet’s beliefs and attitudes as in A God, amounted to the following insulting grotesquery directed upon crucifixion and notions of salvation.

Pain was pulled down over his eyes like a fool’s hat…
He was helpless as a lamb
Which cannot be born
Whose head hangs down under its mother’s anus….

His patience had meaning only for him
Like the sanguine upside-down grin
Of a hanging half-pig…

He could not understand what had happened
Or what he had become

Though the verse is complicated, I doubt that the attitude that gives rise to them is. It may be almost too easy to make diagnosis of Hughes’ spiritual condition. Around the time of Plath’s funeral, Hughes had said he did not seek to be forgiven and if there was an eternity he would be damned (1). Did Hughes mean he would suffer his own guilt forever in refusal of all grace and redemption, or, since refusal of forgiveness can entail refusal of repentance, at some level there was nothing to repent of anyway? Either way the attitude seems singularly harsh and negative and it duly gives rise to negative effects. Almost everyone would agree there was something for Hughes to be sorry for. An attitude of ongoing self-criticism that tries to learn from failure, is almost fundamental to the Christianity that married and buried Hughes but did little else for him. Whether psychologically or spiritually, the guilt or unrepentance envisaged could automatically cut the individual off from God leaving them in precisely the death-dominated nay saying dark in which Crow operates.

CONSEQUENCES OF A SINGLE CHOICE

If Hughes had reflected more upon even just the symbolism of his beloved occult sources, he might have learned something. The images of alchemy include the mutilation of the screaming lion’s paws, an image of the lion (Hughes was astrologically a Leo) needing to be cured of his defiant pride if the process is to continue. Arguably Hughes represents only the latest among notable Leos engaged upon some theatrical collision course with deity. One thinks of Jack Miles God: A Biography, which aims to cut God down to size. Among poets there is Robert Graves who invented the White Goddess and more famously Shelley who waged a long war against a half believed in deity. Some critics have seen revolt against God in the both the fiction (Pierre) and poetry (Clarel) of Hermann Melville. Leo philosopher, Feuerbach, reduces God to nothing but a reflection of the human mind. Jung’s The Answer to Job does much the same. Leo simply does not readily admit to faults minor or major, is not humble…..like the devil one might say – in my always correct data for Christ, Lucifer (the asteroid) appears in the sign of Leo. (2).

So much of Hughes poetry is insalubrious and gratuitously violent (persons fainting outright at readings was not uncommon), one is inclined to think Prince Charles didn’t absorb too strongly what was written or said beyond the earliest offerings. Or perhaps core messages were passed over as being akin to merely Monty Python entertainments to which, like the Goon show before it, Charles was partial. (Eric Idle’s popular but distinctly godless song, Always Look on the Bright Side of Life from the Python team’s The Life of Brian, was performed for Charles’ sixtieth birthday).

KATHLEEN RAINE, UNEXPECTED ROYAL GURU

reinebook

Though the intrepid Kathleen Raine who died at ninety five after being hit by a car didn’t qualify for a Highgrove shrine, a personally commissioned  bust of her stands in Charles home among others representing a special influence. Some have called the pair soul mates. Exceptionally for royal custom, Charles attended the poet’s anachronistic funeral in Westminster Cathedral (anachronistic because Raine considered her brief conversion to Catholicism a mistake out of harmony with her beliefs and life work), and with the Queen’s permission he arranged a memorial service at the St James’ palace chapel. At that service it was mentioned how Raine regarded her connection with Charles as a fated part of her life mission. So this was a poet who had become another of those almost but not quite family figures. Prince and poet engaged a lively correspondence and Charles used to call in at the writer’s Chelsea home in Paultons Square for tea and cakes and pep talks where he was distinctly encouraged to pursue paths less travelled, was assured his position was the hardest and loneliest in the world but that he must  not surrender one inch “to the riff raff”.

In contrast to the relation with Hughes, Charles had to have been very certain about what Kathleen Raine represented as chief co-founding editor of the magazine Temenos (founded 1984). It began as a review “devoted to the arts of the Imagination” with the understanding that most meaningful  expressions of art are related to the sacred). Suitably impressed, Charles became its patron and later gave room space and lecture time in his new Academy of Architecture to those engaged on Raine’s project. He was so impressed by it the magazine became the Temenos Academy Review, effectively the review of a school Charles sponsored that was devoted to promotion of the Platonic Good, True and Beautiful across cultures. Charles himself contributed an article, A Sense of the Sacred – Building Bridges between Islam and the West. The magazine had been originally inspired by the work of Henry Corbin in France, an Islamic scholar who taught the fundamental unity of the Abrahamic faiths, though I think that emphasis minimally reflected any beliefs or interests of Raine who was drawn more to the faiths of Asia.

IN PARENTHESIS: BELIEFS OF PRINCE CHARLES

charlesmus

Charles’ Temenos contribution is the sort of thing which especially early in the century fostered rumours about a private conversion to or profound affinity for Islam, a point on which I shall briefly digress though I can’t possibly know truth in this matter. Undeniably there were visits to Muslim shrines, a donning of Muslim garb, controversial words uttered about the possible integration of Sharia Law to Britain and at least one Sheik (Mohammed Naim al Haqqani, Mufti of Turkish Cyprus and a Sufi Grand Mufti) would affirm that Charles was unofficially Sufi, a Muslim in his heart as Allah accepted (3). It could however be that HRH’s enthusiasm (he has spoken of “the perfection and beauty of original Islam”) was the expression of an earlier era when few knew the finer or any details of Sharia, when Islamism had not emerged and appreciation of world faiths had a stronger aesthetic emphasis (If Charles is enamoured of Islamic art he fancies Greek icons too in harmony with Raine’s connection of the aesthetic with the sacred).

It belongs with Charles’ “out of the box” treatment of themes that recently he has bemoaned the relative silence of media in the face of the genocide of Middle Eastern Christians. This is not like a convert’s talk. What is known and certain is that Charles has been strongly influenced by the universalist religious ideas of Swiss writer Frithjof Schuon, who regarded at any rate mystical Islam as a potential unifying force in the world and converted to Sufism, though also being associated with Amerindian tribal religion and other systems in his quest for primordial faith and perennial wisdom.. Mark Sedgwick in Against the Modern World probably gives the best description of Charles’ belief and I cite this in note. (4)

RAINE: LINKING THE AESTHETIC AND THE SACRED

As said, Raine founded Temenos to promote precisely   “imagination” and a sense of the sacred. This was to be furthered amid modern deserts of materialism and ultra-rationalism. She considered all true poetry a form of Platonism and genuine poets Platonists at heart, though perhaps like Hughes she believed verse could be “magic” too. At one time and in imitation of Yeats, Golden Dawn ceremonies got performed in her home. At least a couple of poems seem to indicate she saw or was visited by spirits (The Elementals, In Paralda’s Kingdom).

A major, ground breaking  authority on William Blake, and a noted admirer of Yeats, (both figures seen as representing “imagination”), Raine was a distinguished critic and significant advocate of neo-romanticism in especially poetry. She was herself by general consent an accomplished poet if unevenly so as she half admits in her final Collected Poems. This  excised some pieces, the sort of soppy, sentimental, rather confused personal stuff you feel shouldn’t be there – KR’s love life had always been troubled and in the case of gay author Gavin Maxwell, guilt-ridden as she had (some said successfully) cursed him in a fit of rage when he couldn’t reciprocate her desires.

When not about love or urban and rural scenes, the more mystical or philosophical of Raine’s verse tends to oscillate between awareness of being isolated as perhaps a fragment of a larger whole and awareness of somehow being or warmly included in that whole.

Thus:

I am a wave
That will never reach the shore

I am an empty shell
Cast up upon the sand   (The Unloved)

……It is enough now I am old
That everywhere above, beneath
About, within me is the one
Presence…     (In my Seventieth Year)

I am old and alone but boundless
All is everywhere
Once is forever (A Love remembered)

This emphasis early on and continuously supplied KR a kind of spontaneous affinity for Hindu identity mysticism, though she did not realize this till late and the last two decades of her long life. Before that and as the daughter of a rather repressive Methodist preacher, she had been in flight from Christianity, unclear even what the word “God” meant. Earth’s great cry of joy and woe that KR hears and then a consubstantiality with the earth she feels is perhaps…..

….What men called God
Before the word lost meaning. This
That needs no doctrine to make plain,
No cult to offer or withhold
A union more intimate
Than breath of life…….  

Sometimes rejection of or by God (however described), strikes a strange note.

God in me beats my head upon a stone   (Storm)

Stranger still are statements as from Judas Tree to the effect that if it was remarkable Judas was a betrayer, it was almost more remarkable the other disciples, “So stupidly, so tentatively faithful” were stayers. The poet realizes she has more often been a betrayer (of Christ?) than Judas, but sorrowed less for it and isn’t like Judas hanging on a tree.

While Raine could hardly claim to have betrayed anyone to death, it seems plain enough that between her critical and poetic work for much of her life she was a nay saying neo-pagan. It was the combination of a belated discovery of India and then the discovery of herself by Charles, that gave Raine more purpose in life and something approaching specific direction of faith. It then took the form of hymns to Shiva (Prayer to the Lord Shiva, Nataraja, Millennial Hymn to the Lord Shiva) and even addresses to the sun

Sun, great giver of all that is……
How address you greatest of givers,
God, angel, these words served once, but no longer…
But no myth, as before our eyes you are or seem…
Am I in you or you in me….?                          (To the Sun)

In some sense and in a poem dedicated to Charles, she could see how by tradition kings were sun identified. (Legendary Kings).

The Millennial Hymn to Shiva, asks who else can we pray to with the days of praising the Creator over and so much of the world being destroyed, than the Lord of destruction, a destruction that purifies. In the violence of Shiva, Raine seems to find some resolution of the passive and aggressive elements of her divided self.

MEETING KATHLEEN RAINE

raine        rollan-1

                         Kathleen Raine                                               McCleary in 1987

Back in 1987 I knew Ms Raine chiefly for her well informed, insightful critical work, but I knew she had founded Temenos and was generally a promoter of the neo-romantic. I was hopeful she might perceive myself as a neo-romantic, more especially in poetry where I had produced material working towards a loosely tantric, East-West aesthetic. Earlier in the decade I had enjoyed an international critical success (in prose) on East-West cultural and religious issues as a result of living many years in Asia, but poetry was a sudden new arrival in my life. Even today I remain surprised at just how proficient some of the work like the Anuradhapura I offered to Raine, actually was given that it came without any real precedent. The poems now in Puer Poems (the title influenced by Jung’s theory of the Puer archetype I somewhat celebrate) (5), had nonetheless hit a brick wall. There wasn’t a magazine or publisher would give it the time of day for almost any reason. It’s wasn’t the writing itself was bad, it would have been hard to maintain precisely that. It was always something else. You must go through magazines first, magazines objected the poems were too long or exotic. It was quite clear anything neo-romantic,  East-West or “occult” (one of the poems evoked theatre in terms of kabbalistic concepts) was simply not to be considered. You need to be Yeats or Ted Hughes before you can be tolerated for such interests.

Since I lived in Chelsea when I wasn’t overseas, I decided to wander down the Embankment and call at Paultons Square and ask for a poem or excerpts of some to be included in Ms Raine’s esteemed magazine so that I might have the recommendation of it to wave at recalcitrant publishers. As I thought it might appeal to her, I was even bold enough to present myself as having some affinities for the world of Yeats. This was not as foolish or presumptuous as it might sound. Even a department head for my first degree on meeting me years later, remarked he wasn’t surprised at my development as he had always registered me as a type of young Yeats and within a year or two of meeting Ms Raine, a rara avis, a poetic drama based on a Celtic mythic theme, had been accepted by the ABC in Australia. Contemporary Irish verse which has largely followed the British modernism Raine abominated,  contains little or no romantic, mythic or religious content. I can state unequivocally I am closer to Yeats than any of Irish nationality writing today. (I could also claim to have been continuously discriminated against because of it too!).

So…. theoretically there was no special reason for Ms Raine to refuse me the favour of a page or two of print in a sizeable review. I knew I ticked most of the boxes or seemed to.

Having described Ms Raine and meeting her in my memoir, I won’t say much more than this. When she got round to checking me out more particularly CV wise, and I mentioned that my internationally well-reviewed The Expansion of God had been published in Britain by SCM (a respected publisher of theology and philosophy), she almost choked with horror gasping “Oh, so you’re a Kistian!”. And while I sat (quite likely where Charles would sit in full view of her dancing Shiva bronze), she launched into a lecture, almost a tirade, about the superiority of India over the West, the nonsense of Europeans trying to bring any religious wisdom to it, etc etc.

Raine’s biography states that some considered her an autocrat. Sensing as much myself, I felt virtually certain in light of her shock that I would not be accepted whatever I said or did and that I would be sentenced without trial. Unsurprisingly, the details of the later refusal proved not just mean in the context of my thankless task of being published for the kind of material Raine should support, but suitably absurd. How could someone admitting I had something of Wordsworth, then object I exceeded his expression of the egotistical sublime by admitting the purely private to my verse. Here was an objection (surely a Jungian projection!) from someone herself embarrassingly personal in her own verse to the point of complaining (since Raine was once celebrated for beauty) of her thin hair and old breasts and whose revelations include how she managed her cat, “Is Pussy coming to bed?”  (I see my little Cat). My own work would seem downright impersonal by comparison. And any religious prejudice was ironic too since, however Christian I might be personally or in the published book I’d mentioned to her, the reality was that the material that would constitute Puer Poems unlike more recent work such as Raphael and Lucifer and Other Visionary Poems, (6) had nothing Christian to it at all. Conservative Christians might even raise objections to the content, and given the way I’d employed religious and mythic imagery I didn’t believe in, I could almost have been taken for a Buddhist or Yeatsian theosophist.

POSSIBILITIES AND LIMITATIONS OF POETRY

Poetry can be and do many things. At its higher reaches it can function to change perspectives, further unity through new thought syntheses, grant vision to people. Accordingly it can be all of Ted Hughes “magic” and national definitions and likewise Kathleen Raine’s “transcendence” and evocation of the Beautiful. However, even Raine’s devotion to the Platonic Beautiful cannot avoid the Good and True.

The greatest originality can never entirely circumvent basic psychological and spiritual principles. If, like Hughes, one refuses anything like “repentance”, one will be left raging in the dark, and if like Raine one dismisses all issues of truth-in-belief in favour of the claims of tradition, love, inclusion or whatever, one will merely finish in self-contradiction…. not to say the discrimination that officially one’s position may claim to be opposed to.

Raine may establish Temenos to unite cultures, beliefs and creativity across the board, but practically she would be strongly opposed to and exclusive of all Christianity (outside possibly the Meister Eckhart ultra-mystical “heretical” kind) and caught in the branches of her own Judas Tree. The position exemplifies the biblical statement “Whoever is not for me is against me and whoever does not gather with me, scatters” (Luk 11:23).

THE UNIVERSALIST PIPE DREAM

Prince Charles has never been notably fortunate in his gurus – the “Jungian” adviser the late, Laurens van der Post (another Chelsea resident and a friend of Raine) has been shown to be such a lying fraud and some claimed a pedophile, he is today best forgotten and unmentioned – but I suggest that where poetic gurus are concerned, the complication repeats itself if more mildly. More mildly, but not with less potential significance for the Prince’s credo, and perhaps increasingly that of many who incline to the same would-be universalist views.

One sets out to include everyone, to defend “faith”, to love the world over its component national or whatever parts, but one finishes with discrimination in fact. At its worst, it is precisely tolerance, acceptance and inclusion of all people, races and faiths that in Britain has allowed the Trojan horse scandal in education and the sexual exploitation of minors through police fears of “racist” charges if they point to crimes and values protected within specific cultural and religious groups. In this way the moral ideal breeds the immoral one and the religious ideal fosters spiritual pollution.

Arguably the truest., most appropriate poetry for our times would be prophetic satire, nothing more, nothing less. I could envisage a sort of update of the bible’s Prov 7 with this time a lost, aimless Europa and her unruly offspring wandering “in the twilight, in the evening, in the time of night and darkness”. But I sense it is already too late to tackle the momentous subject of rapid western decline in all its daunting complexity. Albeit from a different perspective, I share some of the pessimism of Raine’s Millennial Hymn to Shiva. in which already there is something less to warn against or correct than to resign to and mourn. It is has become apparent to me that writing well and relevantly today only raises insecurities and resentments in those who determine the face of literature. I mentioned last article the case of a leading Australian poet who while giving me the back-handed praise rather like Raine’s Wordsworth compliment that I had the musicality of Virgil (not a bad hit – tell the Dartmoor shades of classics translator and astrologer  Ted Hughes that asteroid Virgil conjuncted my sun at birth!), the fact I had included such “hopelessly archaic words” as “conduct” and “bestow” meant I could not be published with Penguins.

The rapidly increasing decline of the West is due not just to its materialism and PCness but among other things its artistic decadence, pundits like Raine invoking light but too often fostering darkness. As said, this decline is a theme already almost too large, too late for any one person or artist to tackle and after much striving to be allowed any kind of voice, finally I refuse to attempt such tasks, though my Beyond Dover Beach is a gesture in the direction (7). As the Taoists have it, “to retire is best”. In my own case I am satisfied that retiral and silence are the appropriate response. “Where there is no vision the people perish”. But if help is not wanted, often it is not right to insist upon giving it either; casting pearls never helped anyone or anything.

As to Prince Charles and because he does enjoy influence, one can only hope he is more fortunate in future with his gurus of art, avoiding the contradictions into which they could lead him and others.

NOTES

1) Jonathan Bate, Ted Hughes: The Unauthorized Life, p.219
2) Testament of the Magi: Mysteries of the Birth and Life of Christ, goo.gl/I28aCm
3 ) Alleged Sufi conversion https://goo.gl/MF2qYF and  for continuous updates over the years on Charles’ statements and gestures vis-à-vis Islam see https://goo.gl/YnNndW
4) “…..Charles’ own position might be described as anti-modernist Jungian and Emersonian universalism. At the opening of his Institute of Architecture he defined “spirit” as that overwhelming experience of awareness of a oneness with the Natural World, and beyond that with the creative force we call God which lies at the central point of all….It is both ‘pagan’ and Christian and in this sense is surely the fundamental expression of what we call religion”. In the same speech Prince Charles spoke against “scientific rationalism:” as “destroying the traditional foundations on which so many of our human values had been based for thousands of years” Against the Modern World: Traditionalism and the Secret Intellectual History. Mark Sedgwick. Oxford University Press 2004. n. 45 p 328.
5) Puer Poems  (2011) goo.gl/ymnMmr
6) Raphael and Lucifer and Other Visionary Poems (2016)  goo.gl/Xqd5BF
7) Beyond Dover Beach: A Poem of our Times http://wp.me/p2v96G-gY

 
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Posted by on February 6, 2017 in aesthetics, Poetry, religion

 

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RAPHAEL and LUCIFER: Religion, Vision and Verse

raf fix 2

Lucifer, the Prince of Air, descends to the lower hells to teach his minions how to launch a great deceit upon a sophisticated but unsuspecting humanity. Elsewhere the foreseeing Archangel Raphael explains and reveals what this will be, but will his warnings be heeded?

RAPHAEL AND LUCIFER and OTHER VISIONARY POEMS is unusual as poetry today and definitely different in its ideas.

VIDEO  recording from WildSound of Part  One of the four part  Raphael and Lucifer  mini-epic is available at this address: https://goo.gl/SkBFL1

THE BOOK with essay and notes is available on Amazon  at http://goo.gl/C32i3H and The Book Depository at  http://goo.gl/YOyEB0

(The book’s brief INTRODUCTION is reproduced below).

IN CASE YOU WERE WONDERING – THE PROMOTION QUESTION

It’s not because Raphael is  “just” poetry, and certainly not any kind of “bad” poetry that this published author’s rather ambitious project doesn’t come with the imprimatur of  standard publication and promotion. One of the few UK publishers who accepts both religion and poetry today, acknowledged this is poetry to the highest  standard; but since I am not known for a performance poet nor am resident in UK for promotion purposes (so vital in publishing today), they couldn’t afford the risk of taking me on.

Actually they suggested  a certain Australian publisher might oblige. Of that story perhaps another time, but sufficient to say any religion/poetry combination is seriously hard to get through any hoops anywhere today. Agents don’t normally reckon to represent verse of any sort. Also I am not living in a metropolitan area to be in contact with the club of “right” literary persons and circles – who probably wouldn’t be interested anyway. Years ago a leading Australian poet refused me for Penguin New Poets for presuming to include – despite what they admitted was some superior “Virgilan”  writing –  “such hopelessly archaic words as ‘conduct’ and ‘bestow'”. …..

With almost everyone and everything to hinder  – the reason I abandoned anything poetic as a waste of time for over two decades – all the more reason  if you appreciate this project, that in the interests of supporting a wider range for poetry today (not to say freedom of thought more generally) you care sufficiently to  “like” it, review it, buy it, share it but essentially do whatever helps spread the word in a world of social media.

                                                         RAPHAEL AND LUCIFER:  THE INTRODUCTION (REPRODUCED) 

All the poems in this collection are to a lesser or greater extent visionary or metaphysical in a way poetry today doesn’t tend to be. Even so, they are still much involved with contemporary issues, persons or feelings. In theme and style however, Raphael and Lucifer stands apart from the rest of the collection as being a mini-epic.

Raphael is a deliberate experiment on two levels. First and obviously it is an exercise in poetic composition, specifically an adaptation, or at least evocation of, the now half lost traditions of epic and the Miltonics of especially Paradise Lost. (Mini-epic looks back to Catullus).

Second, there is an exercise in presenting and representing some often ignored, virtually censored but still developing ideas with regard to human origins. My own views as a doctor of religious studies are more fluid and liberal than those of any true blue creationist would ever be, but broadly I accept notions of theistic creation and ID (intelligent design which last, incidentally, is not the province of specifically Christian thinkers only). Given my bias, I have become increasingly aware how such belief can too easily finish treated in ways which leave meaningful argument, new facts and simple logic out of the picture. The situation can be unhelpful to the cause of truth generally and the spiritual life more particularly (even the question of divine existence and speaking of it in schools may now be involved) and we need to consider this.

Poetry is one medium that has always supported wide and sometimes unusual perspectives on things. Also, from the mythical Orpheus on through the Roman Lucretius and the English Milton and numerous tribal bards around the world, poets have been concerned with the nature of things, the mystery, spectacle and origins of life. Modern poetry has largely abandoned the theme although Ted Hughes stirringly translated Ovid’s curiously biblical evocation of a creation in the celebrated Metamorphoses. In my own case it has been appropriation of the mysteries of existence (and effectively the popularization of unbelief too) by media gurus like David Attenborough and Brian Cox, spurred me towards some poetic reaction.

Though both creationists and evolutionists can be charged with a literalism that insufficiently appreciates Genesis as poetry, it could be objected no one not a scientist, whether evolutionist or creationist, can really enter their arena of contention today with much authority. I disagree. It is well known and notoriously so, that the greater part of the educated public that bought Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time was not able to understand it. The smallest minority of us are qualified scientists (or theologians) but this need not preclude us from drawing a few general conclusions about life and our place in the universe. Sometimes the issues science presents to laypersons invite almost more the application of some logical and philosophical thinking than negotiation of the most rarefied physics and mathematical theory. If Richard Dawkins openly disdains even to reply to dissenters, it is maybe time for dissenters to dismiss the blizzard of scientific data thrown at them in favour of more insistence upon examination of the basic reasoning involved with it.

Apart from the fact – a generalization but not unfair – that the operation of evolution is extrapolated from evidence for examples of micro-evolution not notably demonstrated at the macro level (which instead reveals sudden changes), essentially we are faced with two parties who claim a guiding authority for whatever declarations they make. In one case the authority is the bible and on the other “science” with its methodology. But just as biblical studies can open upon considerable divergences of opinion over sources and the interpretation of texts, so the empirical science which gets packaged for popular consumption makes claims which often conceal the range of speculation, theory and disagreement behind them. It is not unreasonable for example, to stress, as would especially creationists, that there can be quite a gap between “observational” science which treats of data reliant on tests that can be repeated, and “historical” science which offers data not directly testable and observable.

Since moreover even evolutionists are compelled to concede the limits to any account of origins via natural selection and genetic mutation alone, practically much of the argument beyond the welter of facts boils down to two differing treatments of a time factor. There is the story of a development across a time span necessarily assumed rather than absolutely proved to be almost infinite in order to cover for observed changes in the absence of a Creator to guide them. Then there is the narrative of a more designed creation over a short, or at least shorter, time span by a Creator who wouldn’t need time on an extreme scale for the often statistically improbable accidents and transitions of evolution to arrive at present human life. For both parties so much is involved with just interpretation of their facts and a species of faith that there can never be too much agreement. At most one can hope for the open discussion by no means always in evidence.

We hear much of the prejudices of creationists because they can seem obvious – almost everyone knows at least a little about Genesis which can then be dismissed as mere myth as against recently made scientific discoveries whose authority will go unquestioned. We hear less of the insufficiently examined a prioris, prejudices, even eccentricities of atheist evolutionists. These are well symbolized by the way in which the distinguished Genome Project scientist, Francis Collins, an evangelical but one who nonetheless accepts evolution, is still dismissed as a clown by most fellow scientists simply because their position is effectively that today no one but an atheist can be a true scientist. This is unacceptable and absurd, especially now there are some scientists in the style of Francis Crick, the pioneer in DNA research, prepared to attribute life on earth to extraterrestrials because of the difficulty of letting evolution account for just everything.

No more need be said in introduction. Any further points can be referred to the notes and the postscript since otherwise there is a danger the reader will not open themselves to the spirit of the poem and will approach it with already too many arguments to absorb it for what it is on its own level.

 
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Posted by on April 2, 2016 in aesthetics, Poetry, religion

 

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JESUS AND WABI-SABI: THE STYLE AND IMAGE QUESTION

JESUS AND WABI-SABI

WabiSabi2

THE MISSING PORTRAIT

What Jesus looked like has been a subject of endless speculation and artistic representation. Almost inexplicably the most popular article I have written for this blog has been Colton Burpo’s “Real” Heaven, Akiane’s Jesus and New Christ Images http://wp.me/p2v96G-lH. I suspect its popularity could be involved with its inclusion of an attempt to make theological sense of certain biblical claims about Jesus’ appearance and go some way to “identikit” a true image of him aided by the true and still working astrology for Jesus I claim to possess.

But something was absent from that exercise because I didn’t know it until recently. And because I believe the heavens do “utter knowledge” as per Ps 19, do tell us the truth and help to reveal real mysteries, I have to add the following to my perception of the subject.

There are many asteroids in the heavens and many will be irrelevant to us because they are just names that must land somewhere. Even so, name, place and concept asteroids when significantly placed in a birth chart repay our attention. Accordingly I believe the following fact has some value. It tells us something about the appearance of Jesus and even supplies clues to the nature of incarnation because the relevant celestial factor was within conjunction of his ascendant (the body, the personal style) at the time of birth.

WABI SABI: CONCEPT AND ASTEROID

The relevant asteroid is the almost untranslatable wabi-sabi, a key concept in Japanese aesthetics, especially Zen aesthetics, and of chado, the related tea ceremony. It involves beauty of a special kind, unconventional and sometimes, though not necessarily including what might seem almost ugly or at least a little rough because it can include imperfection. Yet it can be elegant – the tea ceremony and raked sand and stone Zen garden obviously are. Overall and typically however what is wabi-sabi is modest, unpretentious, muted, evocative, rustic or rooted in nature, intuitive, intimate and inward, unstated or understated. It is often accidental, muted, more shadowy than light, perhaps incomplete, faded or asymmetrical, more interested in the detail than the grand plan.

Wabi-sabi is almost the complete opposite of the West’s typically measured, idealized and idealizing, rationalized, finished, explicit and “solar” Apollonian beauty which aims to shine like the midday sun rather than lighten with the beginning and ending of things as of early dawn or evening twilight. Within the West something like desire for wabi-sabi is expressed in Robert Herrick’s famous poem, Delight in Disorder which begins “A sweet disorder in the dress…” and after enumerating examples like a loose shoe lace finishes, “Do more bewitch me than when art/ Is too precise in every part”. Yet, if we examined the “precise” figures and proportions of the Apollonian up close we would find that they too were imperfect. The perfect circle is never perfectly circular nor the perfect square square. It is only a matter of degree and perspective. The perfect circle is a Platonic idea.
Zen

THE BEAUTY UNDESIRED

In the Colton Burpo article, I suggested that Isaiah’s prophesied Messiah who “has no beauty that we should desire him” (Is 52:3) means most essentially that he won’t manifest the style and appearance of the hoped-for conquering hero, himself perhaps a Hebrew militaristic version of the radiant, Greek Apollonian male ideal. While I still believe that is the main and original idea (especially as no Messiah could be ugly since even just a priest was required to be without blemish and note that anyway modern translation like the NRSV’s may substitute majesty for beauty), wabi-sabi can still enlarge upon and illuminate the original prophetic claim. It can extend it into something more positive and spiritual than just a declaration rejecting a type of historical or cultural bias in a people’s expectations.

Wabi-Sabi involves a beauty that reveals itself essentially to the trained, teachable and alert mind, these being essentially humble. The tea ceremony is not the Last Supper or Holy Communion, but practitioners of the ritual must prepare themselves and even (like entrants to Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity) bend beneath a low door to enter. They must also dress and act simply, because in the ceremony all become equal. Only given the right mood, attitudes and gestures will the beauty of the ceremony reach into awareness and become an epiphany of existence.

SEEING AND SEEING THROUGH

Surely something of this attached and attaches to the Jesus of the incarnation. His appearance is elusive. He does not immediately impress in the Apollonian fashion and he does not aim to. Speaking of perception generally, the Jesus of the parables, citing Isaiah, warns the people will look without seeing, will hear without listening (Matt 13:14).

The Catholic church currently has a well meaning but often contradictory Pope who has surprised many by proposing that atheists can be saved although it’s a biblical dictum that no one can please God unless they have faith (Heb 11:6) ). If one accepts that statement then in line with its claim I would suggest one might always need to have a degree of faith for the eyes to be sufficiently opened to perceive just what the beauty of Jesus was and is. I suggest that (again a bit like the tea ceremony principle!) the beauty would be integral, something that would satisfy and express at more than one level…

The biblical tradition is much opposed to the idol and by association somewhat the image too, often the psychological cum spiritual servant and equivalent of the idol. The idol/image can paralyse and confine the mind especially if it seems very ideal because then appreciation becomes essentially intellectual. There is no identification with it because we are not and cannot hope to be like it. Even in just everyday life men especially can pursue the perfect woman in terms of appearance though she may not in any sense be a soul mate or even someone who could gratify authentic erotic desires. She is desired as a possible possession, the token of an ideal to be seized or won. However, as said, true beauty is and needs to be integral, satisfying and fulfilling at more than one level – the psalmist even suggests we “taste” and see that the Lord is good (Ps 34:8). As the poet Ben Johnson suggests in “Still to be Neat” and in agreement with the mentioned Herrick on the charms of simplicity and occasional disorder:

Such sweet neglect more taketh me
Than all the adulteries of art:
They strike my eyes, but not my heart (Italics mine)

And of course in religion and for its devotion the heart must be struck. The eyes easily deceive and mislead.

There is no grounds with heretical and culturally blinkered Gnostics to maintain that Jesus was necessarily ugly and stunted or even to think of him as what the French in their own a nod towards wabi-sabi values would call un beau laid (a beautiful ugly person). As already indicated, the assumption is not even strictly possible in terms of traditional Jewish culture and values, nor could it fit any more Christian theological notions of Jesus as “A Second Adam” free from the effects of anything like original sin. Jesus would have to have been attractive and even ideal in some fashion but just not in any merely standard and obvious way. Humanly any beauty would be somehow elusive and inclusive as indeed might even be the heavenly kind too – I think of one alleged afterlife experience of Christ in which the person describes Jesus’ face and person always slightly changing as he gazed at it.

Certainly at the level of teaching, but doubtless too in some respects as regards his appearance, with Jesus one is always invited and required to see more and beyond. One needs to reach into a spiritual world beyond the material and everyday rather as an aim of wabi-sabi is to reach into “the Invisible” (even if for disciples of Christ the Invisible is not a revelation of a world that evolves from nothing only to transform back into nothing as per strict Buddhist philosophy).

A SOMETHING OR NOTHING AND THE ANGEL OF THE LORD

Wabi-sabi is relevant to and has coincidental affinities with Christianity in terms of its revelatory style rather than core philosophy because for Christianity there is creation of something that will return to something. What is mysteriously revealed in Christ – hidden in plain sight wabi-sabi style but often missed by almost everyone from liberal Christians questioning incarnation to Hindus teaching Jesus as one of numerous “avatars” to Muslims proclaiming a non-composite Oneness that denies God can have any “Son” – is “The Angel of the Lord”.

This figure is the “form” or visible manifestation of deity and for early Christians the pre-incarnational Christ. This person appears to humans as a human even while it is declared at Sinai that no one may see God (the Creator) and live (Ex 33:20). Thus a judge of Israel, Gideon, encounters this person, first as a man in the field then suddenly panics because he realizes he has somehow encountered God and so fears to die. (Jdg 6:22). The slower father of Samson is at first just puzzled by sight of an angelic man whose name he eventually asks only to be told it is too wonderful to be said, (again a bit like the wabi-sabi revelation that can’t quite be stated, the YHWH name revealed to Moses was not to be pronounced or taken in vain by Jews).

It follows that the eyes of Jesus’ disciples need to be opened to see who and what Jesus is – and to initiated disciples he and it can of course even be perfectly “solar” as at the Transfiguration. A solar, regally messianic Jesus exists – as such he is “the Lion of the tribe of Judah: (the lion is always symbolically solar) and the figure of apocalypse itself. But within time and towards his era, to this age which is the age of grace, the age of Pisces which Christ’s birth introduces and which is now drawing to a close as belief declines (perhaps in line with Jesus’ question/forecast of Luk 18:8), Jesus is more hidden and simply evocative of many things. He is so like the symbolic ruler of Pisces, Neptune.

It is crucial, expected and a proof of correctness of any major issue in astrology that everything must agree and be mutually enlightening. Thus, if we presume to say that Jesus is the very essence of Neptune, hidden ruler of the era as astrologers maintain, then it is appropriate that the eminently “Neptunian”, inclusive aesthetic of wabi-sabi be complemented and echoed in the asteroid that musteriously rises at the birth.

Most western representation of Jesus, even including through the early icons, is more or less Apollonian at very least in being fixed rather than elusive and evolving. This corresponds to the fixity of some early creedal statement and Apollonian models in earlier pagan and imperial art rather than the element of fluidity in biblical narrative which carries such information as that Jesus “increased” in wisdom and favour with God and man. (Luk 2:53).

Through participation in life Jesus’ wisdom is increased and I think it would be true to say, though many would disagree, we can perceive some enlargement in Jesus’ realization of his person and mission as his work continues. Thus in the apparently early Sermon on the Mount Jesus’ programme seems largely to be perfectly living out the life of the Jew in a Jewish society still under the Law whereas later realization of purpose and destiny seems more absolute, mystical and universal. And whether that impression owes more to Jesus or to those recording his words, there are undoubtedly some gaps, puzzles and apparent contradictions in the gospels with which commentary has been wrestling ever since. Wabi-sabi style the reader is not permitted the luxury of the completely finished work (with Mark’s gospel absolutely not!) but must instead work and live with the material to grasp some of its elements. The gospels have their real and distinctive literary style yet they are also rough edged or etched like a chado cup. Sometimes the problems of reading can be resolved by scholarship and background awareness of historical factors, but not infrequently resolution may come with something like a Zen flash of insight. Regardless, any tensions inherent in the understanding of the gospels, Jesus and incarnation are not usually sensed or expressed through western religious art of the standard kind.

The test and drama of Jesus’ life was that the divine nature and characteristics are present but condensed. They needed to be claimed, realized, taken with faith so that Jesus struggles like an ordinary mortal unaware, (unless by vision and faith), that his being cannot fail in ordinary human ways when faced with ultimate challenges of his fate. (I endeavoured to stress this point in my poem The Hidden Deity, http://wp.me/p2v96G-wZ).The human Jesus, though theoretically and in the long term his Second Adam nature could always be renewed, is still temporarily subject to exhaustion, stress, hunger, frustration, temptation. The divine is neighbour to the human in Jesus, there is a rather wabi-sabi blending of effects, including that of time.

Wabi-sabi is about a beauty subject to time and gesture rather than one that aims at a timeless transcendence. Jesus is “perfected through suffering” (Heb 2:10) because as long as he is within time he (on the human side) is in some sense incomplete, developing and growing into the potential he has. To that extent Jesus might be called “imperfect” or unfinished; certainly he is in a position where he can become “sin for us”, something which outside of time in eternity he could not strictly be. Once out of earth time he is seen fully for what he is more divinely as in the visions of Revelation which conclude the biblical record.

AN ALTERNATIVE AESTHETICS

Can we draw any comparisons at all with anyone known who has wabi sabi near the ascendant? Assuming a correct birth time, one instance would be the poet Walt Whitman of the once notorious Song of Myself. In this his rough (but almost deliberately assumed) persona is offered to the world like an incarnation of something – in his case the new democratic American or even the new gay male. The essential point amid the obvious difference with Jesus is that there is the same distinct sense of “This is my body”, the self in some fashion offered, very exposed to and for everybody and yet still a mystery.

The matter is beyond present scope, but with Whitman in mind I imagine (thinking of Camille Paglia’s Sexual Personae and her provocative but meaningful statements regarding gays and the formation of the West’s crucial Apollonian aesthetic which almost dominates in Christianity) that wabi-sabi might be a clue for analysis of aspects of gay aesthetics and desire. These don’t as often imagined all readily correspond to the Apollonian. They can be also be more shadowy and even murky (as in, say, the erotics of leather, bear or grunge cultures, the glamorizing of industrial settings or docklands as sites of desire. These zones belong more to the elements of earth and water than the fire and air through which much spiritual imagery customarily tends to translate). Anyway, if the Apollonian is considerably gay perhaps we might say that wabi-sabi at the secular level was closer to the concept of queer.

A SIMPLE AND UNAFFECTED BEAUTY

Walker2

Reverting to specifically images of Jesus as I discussed them in the mentioned Colton Burpo feature with its “identikit” work on Jesus’ figure, practically I think the wabi-sabi finding could encourage one to place a bit more emphasis and focus upon the exampled Virgoan images as they contributed to the exercise. One needs for Jesus an appearance not ultra-special but just generally pleasant, healthy, open and attractive in an almost country boy way, not notably dramatic, alluring or shining forth like his ancestor Solomon – noticeably Jesus prefers the lily of the valley to the glories of Solomon! I illustrated this earthy, almost plant-like attractiveness through the late Virgo screen actor Paul Walker and a Walker-like portrait of Jesus from artist Richard Hook.

Quite what we might want from (western) painters is still hard to say. All religious art, not to mention the image of Jesus, is having a hard time. Modernism hasn’t helped and probably never will. It is itself becoming repetitive and tired. Probably we need a new romanticism in art with elements of Caspar David Friedrich, Turner and Blake to convey a different, more fluid, growing essence of life and hence in Jesus too as “Lord of Life”. Perhaps it is an oriental or a new form of East-West art which is needed; the one certainty is that new inspiration and some change is required.

 
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Posted by on June 17, 2015 in aesthetics, religion

 

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JUDAS STOPPED AT DUBLIN: A Poem of Spiritual Pollution and Ablution (in Yeats 2015)

   Judas    Dublin

This blog and my books are sufficient witness that as writer and poet I don’t oppose criticism of Christians, Christianity or any religion. It is, or should be, a general democratic right though increasingly non-western religions, not just militant Islam, oppose such. (Hindu nationalism, emboldened under Modi, shows a sudden increase in persecution of Christians with last Christmas believers even attacked for carol singing!). Even so, I still find unacceptable some levels of lampoon and abuse of beliefs that – practically – are the psychological and cultural equivalent of racism. Their unimpeded expression amounts to a pollution of the social atmosphere. To surround religious issues with gutter talk and obscenities is not “satire” or “free speech”, among other things it’s just aggressive bad manners….

To revive an old issue, but as it happens at a relevant time, Brendan Kennelly’s The Little Book of Judas (2002), a selection with additions to the  400pp The Book of Judas (1991), is a case in point. I was reading Judas in early January before the Paris massacre, but though its poetry is one of a kind, it  seems newly topical,  especially now  those of us outside France finally know more about what Charlie Hebdo beyond the tragedy really represented,  and could wonder if Christians didn’t  always have  more reason than Muslims to be offended by it. (With at last report 70 churches in Niger torched, Christians have paid more than enough for the ultra-secularist rights claimed by the cartoonists  and defended by  sympathizers as though the quintessence of western freedoms they never quite were). Whatever, I don’t accept that material like Judas can be justified as ‘really” therapy (discover and express your inner Judas!) or a special kind of truth telling society needs. Nothing and nobody terribly needs it………[This introduction is continued below with the notes]

JUDAS STOPPED AT DUBLIN: A POEM OF SPIRITUAL POLLUTION AND ABLUTION IN YEATS 2015 (1)

PART ONE: POLLUTION

Judas I am, so damned I’m full of
The highest of wisdom you wouldn’t
Believe, (though you need to for sure).
A reason don’t pray for me please,
You’ll only be cured of yer Oirish lies
And deceit and forgiven when you stare
Down my tunnel of darkness faithfully
Hearing my own and Beelzebub’s verbiage.

Which I couldn’t stop if I tried.
Just as I couldn’t do ever. You maybe
Heard how, irrepressible always,
My saucy questions and filth made it,
To that Last of the Suppers at which,
You may trust me, I wasn’t blootered (2)
Unlike B Behan being himself as usual.
I had too much to spout out
At that solemn occasion and later
Because, you know, Jesus couldn’t have
Done things so well – “salvation” and all that –
Without me as enabling guide and
A Mouth the better to have your attention.
Consider for even the average occasion
Jesus keeps butting in with his talk
And you’d need to remind him
To pass you the salt. [3]

My power with words has good nuns transfixed
And they writing me letters, recognizing
My insight which conveys them
More grace and insight than
Counting their beads and swallowing bread,[4]
While the youth of mixed-up new Erin
They come to me just as to Jesus –
Even their favourite old rocker
From Joshua Tree says I fly high as
The Holy Ghost flies (3) (while I talk Spiriteff).(5)
But it’s fine if and when they blaspheme:
Their laureate told them it’s hatred of God
Brings the soul back to God and
Fair needs foul any time.(6)

I’m the very best voodoo. I visit
The poet by night and can raise him
Higher than Keats for skill in that negative
Knowing that absorbs things from
Grass blades to angels.[7] I let him hear
Voices, his own, your own, Erin’s own,
Lucifer’s, you name it, there’s no
Psychic or shaman will be in contention.
Hearing my voices my poet, alert, grabs
His pen or the laptop – instant creation!
Any labour of mystics – and isn’t the poet
A mystic? – that can’t combine all the input
From awareness all’s’ One, has not
Yet found truth, not learned with the Serpent
That truth too’s a lie. Come join me on journeys
Through muck of the mind, for some it’s a way
Of the cross, for others just fun. Whichever
It’s all much the same, your chance for
Some carousel rides at life’s fair where it’s
Laughter will save and purify “soul”.

For you too can hear me, you eventually will,
I really can’t hold back the words more
Than I can my bladder and bowels. Beginning
Is what I most do and am replaying always;[8]
I don’t understand the meaning of “end”.
Nor for that matter “empty”. It’s a fact
The colostomy bag of my verse
Is so full there’s hardly room in
All those houses of Erin that publish
To contain the treasure of dark pearls
And slime that I pour over pages and
People when I’m not wandering
Dublin to see the night sights, the sick
On the streets, the dead in the Liffey.
It all so reminds me of beauty, indeed
Is beauty itself as the pen of the
More mindful of poets always knew
Since Jim Joyce could look out at sea
And think it fine as a nose-dirty hanky.

Humour, it’s something I’ll always retain.
I like to see life’s funny side,
Like Lazarus back from the grave and
Begging for tea or Flanagan asking
How much he’d receive for nailing
You know who to what and just when.
And then that day I was thinking
God was an unmarried mother in
Limerick, somewhere out West. God
Hasn’t heard half my jokes yet. I tip him
Good Morning and suggest that Nazareth
Folklore carries some interest. But I don’t
Have reply. Never mind, I persist in the
Hard work that’s mine though I can’t know
Why it is I’m the chosen any more than
A poet from backwaters Kerry…. You
Want my advice? Off with you all if not
To Lough Derg, then for penance I’ll say
Take a look at yourself, see just who you
Are, like Cromwell, Hitler and lords of IS
I say there lies your labour and duty.
Let nothing constrict your imaginative
Life, your sublime logorrhea or cheek.

PART TWO: ABLUTION

DALKEY  Dalkey Bay Twilight

Dismissed but not followed we may pause.
Where are we? Today perhaps anywhere:
Dublin Bay, Dalkey, Killiney, even Dover [9]
And there surveying the sea you’ve remembered
Or those oceans imagined which are always
Moving within you whose secrets in essence
You know. Whichever, just look and hold
Those waters in view and hear them. For now
It is evening, and the tide is returning
But winds gusting and high waves are rising
With new force under twilight’s soon darkness.
They sweep in, rushing forward the time of the
Curse-ridden final degree of the fishes, [10]
Its wild depths, long and notoriously site
Of too many drownings, of suicides, losses,
Of lies and betrayal, all that supports
The great sum and weight of human despair.
“Then where”, soul inquires, “is the place for
Our shelter, where the protection that there
Surely must be? Does not even the deepest
Level of darkness precede or hide light?”

Maybe and sometimes indeed, but an age
Must have end and the weather and fashion
Of minds obscures the divine which
Itself is already and mostly withdrawn.[11]
Till all times and seasons will change it’s
Evil that reigns. All rule by the Good,
All justice, protection, these mark but
Intervals only, favours to right deeds
And faith. But if prayer asks the wrong God
Or the right name too late, souls risk
To become or to stay victims still.
Too many voices will silence soul’s hearing
Of God and too many voices lend
The divine many names. Beside the
Oceans of time and of life the peoples
Are waiting, but waiting for what?
For whatever flatters the human,
Appears the most easy and binding.
A new name will arise, but will only deceive.

I thought us alone but he hears us,
The traitor, the one born of this sign.[12]

“No, but how strange”, muses Judas, I take
The so minor role of the old cheeky kisser.
Me? Wouldn’t you think it’s another example
Of how God is always making wrong choice?”

Well, for love neither of God nor of man could
Your choice alter ego, that poet presuming, check
Any words on his tongue or committed to page.
His being could never envisage a too lowly task
On the stage of this so ugly beautiful world
That invites the uses of art…Be assured, then,
Since your mouthpiece in Dublin disfavours
All thought of vocation that’s minor
Your role was never so minor (the while
Its choice was far from divine). Beelzebub
Smelt out the weakness, saw how your mouthpiece
Could finish those non serviam labours
Of JJ, how, using a vocal psychopomp’s aid [13]
In a few years alone with the laughter of fools
He could spirit whole mesmerized masses away
From reasonable mind, conduct them with flair
To the summits not of Sidhe but the silly.[14]

“Conduct”, can it be I’ve uttered the word,
That word deemed “too archaic” now issuing forth
Like a symbol from out of the maw of
Spiritus Mundi, seven letters of sound  [15]
Forbidding a poet, myself, to be published?
Seven letters, seven, the all-sacred number?
Yet how suitably suspect and banned
When the behind-scenes secular venom
Is busy excluding whatever that’s sacred
It can. For from homes of the poets
To publishing houses the last degree’s
Arts are simply perverse and unholy
Can’t bear or share light, can’t teach or inspire
Too often double-faced to the core,
In feeling or ethics but few levels
Higher than what might fill Dante’s inferno,
Whip and spur into action dark minds in
The houses of Erin’s children abused. [16]
See them, poets when not raking in muck heaps
Chasing the most arcane, technical word
While injustice enlarges and genocide follows [17].
Hear them, Judas’ comrades, the artists
Moaning, protesting the power of who or what
Limits and censors, hear them blaspheming
At home yet cowardly docile not to offend
The rule of belief that threatens and struts
In the role of implacable bully abroad.
Saeva Indignatio! Swift,Yeats, who
Could express, who seize the world’s now
Brim full cup of mad reeling?

Who was it the “tolerant” Voltaire pursued?
Whose career was he eager to hinder?
The same one who’d learned the rule is:
Be too kind to be kind at all. It’s the same [18]
For the good, though alas and by contrast it’s
The small leaven leavens the lump. No poet
Is called to deep feeling and friendship with evil
The project’s too easy, caught and spread
Like a cold. Who is it needs to feel through,
With or for the mind of a traitor?
Why justify (by)ways of Judas to man?
Sing him no more, you need only summon
His name and he’ll come to you and to Dublin –
Be assured he’ll make his home and hearth there.

BONOKennelly2

 [ Intro cont ]……In the wake of the Paris massacre it was surely rather irresponsible of Salman Rushdie to propose that all religion “is a medieval form of unreason that deserves “fearless disrespect”. (With 39 people including the author’s Japanese translator dead on account of his The Satanic Verses one feels Rushdie of all people might express himself with more restraint!)

As we have seen, in societies and faiths beyond the West considerably less than Kennelly’s high and persistent level of poetic profanity of which my poem gives only moderate evocation, entails far severer consequences. I don’t of course approve those consequences or agree with their ideological basis, but some permitted western literary freedoms should give us pause to reflect just how long-suffering especially Christians have been, (and shouldn’t have to have been), in relation to the values of a supposedly democratic society. For example, jokes about crucifixions – any crucifixions whether of Christ or anybody – should be deemed unacceptable whether on a  religious or humanistic basis. Such gallows humour isn’t humour. The abuse of Christianity being”democratically” tolerated only heightens the impression outside the West that it is not simply “infidel” but is so contemptibly infidel as to be undeserving of respect or rights. (a sort of attitude as in extremist  Niger that If you can’t support it over the insult to the prophet, you can’t complain if we destroy your places of worship in retaliation!). Muslims at this point ignore the reason Christians tolerate abuse of their faith which is because, unlike Islam, their belief system is most essentially a faith to be recommended and chosen, not imposed. It is not ultimately a political faith that envisages certain rights to imposition  – Islam means Submission – some would maintain globally. Democratically however Christianity and any faith still has rights that could and should be more affirmed to basic respect in the public forum.

Publishers and leaders of opinion in media have something  to answer for in what has happened to the sheer values fog overtaking public opinion in recent decades. Personally I don’t believe any publisher would be justified to issue what Kennelly produced. And though undeniably Ireland in the last century has known too much censorship for which Catholicism is not guiltless and though – fittingly for a betrayal theme! – it was a UK rather than an Irish publisher issued Judas, it is still controversial that, so far as I know, the Irish literary establishment has never seriously criticized Kennelly. Rather and as usual they (like the eccentric Bono) hastened to flatter the Kennelly of the profane and obscene ramblings that became a shock value bestseller by at least poetic and Irish standards. It is moreover amazing given the remarkable inflexibility of  Ireland’s management of such as its abortion laws, that Kennelly didn’t run anywhere near foul of the existing but never applied blasphemy laws. Be that as it may, in this year of the Paris magazine massacre and Ireland’s Yeats 2015 (see my blog for Nov 2014), we should think again about what western values are and where going. And I do have more right than most poets and writers to protest what (as indicated towards the conclusion of the poem) I claim from long experience is the situation. I don’t incidentally care if my criticisms should chance to give a little belated publicity or sales to poet and the publisher, Bloodaxe. Let them take what’s little better than blood money anyway. It is more important that truth be stated and recognized regardless. It’s the only possibility of some freedom from pollution, some exorcism of the rot.

NOTES TO THE POEM

1) The title echoes Carlo Levi\s memoir,  Christ Stopped at Eboli. Dublin has long been the residence of Judas poet Brendan Kennelly, formerly English literature professor at Dublin’s Trinity College.
2) “Blootered”, one of many Irish slang expressions for drunk. In the poem Unauthorized Version, dramatist Brendan Behan arrives at the Last Supper drunk and demanding Jesus to give him more drink. See Brendan Kennelly, The Little Book of Judas, Bloodaxe, 2002 p.78. Another Last Supper poem will speak of Judas preventing a bomb going off.
3) Kennelly op.cit. The Dinner p.167-9
4) There is a kind of person, especially in religion, who will always treat denial as higher affirmation, obscenity as the disclosure of beauty and blasphemy as the greatest praise. With its reviews of Judas publisher Bloodaxe cites Sister Stanislaus Kennedy who declares Kennelly’s “poems shine with the wisdom of somebody who has thought deeply about the paradoxical strangeness and familiarity and wonder of life’. Judas/ Kennelly must have laughed.
5).”The Book of Judas – Reviewed by Bono”, http://u2_interviews.tripod.com/id133.html
6) Kennelly, op.cit, SpiritFuck  pp.125/6.  This poem alone but many others would place Bono decidedly in the wrong in identifying/associating/comparing anything in Kennelly’s work with the Spirit  (Blasphemy of the Holy Spirit Matt 12:32 is believed to mean calling demonic evil good and divine good evil – Jesus warns the Pharisees not to blaspheme by attributing his work to the devil). The work of Kennelly and Bono, the literary professor and the rocker has been surprisingly intertwined and supported one another as high profile figures in Ireland. While I don’t vouch for all the following evangelically inspired article has to say,  the sheer mystery, often just wild ambiguity of Bono’s influential take on Christianity is treated in the following feature http://www.holybibleprophecy.org/2012/08/12/u2-frontman-bono-christian-or-antichrist-by-elliott-nesch/      And I’m bound to say from the astrological standpoint evangelicals wouldn’t care to acknowledge, I am fascinated that for someone who has so played around with Christian doctrines and reguarly acted MacPhisto on stage, we find Lucifer on an angle for Bono and what I empirically judge to be the regularly Antichrist factor, Achristou, conjunct his ruling Saturn, the devil’s planet in the devil’s sign, Capricorn.
7) Reference to Keats’ theory of negative capability whereby one loses oneself in identity with the other. “Hatred of God…” is from Yeats’ Supernatural Songs and  ‘fair needs foul”  from Yeats’ Crazy Jane Talks to the Bishop.  While it would be possible to misunderstand Yeats here whose meanings were not negative or radical in the style of Kennelly, some mystery does attach to just what Yeats did believe and what kind of darkness it sometimes embraced for himself and/or Ireland. I examine this in Secret Yeats and the Hidden Arcana:  http://bit.ly/1jt9zOH
8)  Beginning is the title of one or Kennelly’s earlier, successful and celebrated persons – fittingly for an Aries, the sign of beginnings but not famous for concluding anything.
9)  Dalkey bay is just south of Dublin. For the inclusion of Dover consider Matthew Arnold On Dover Beach and my poem Beyond Dover Beach  http://bit.ly/1gLlckG                        .
10)  Dolphins, which can be sometimes seen off Dalkey Bay, were anciently one of the symbols, perhaps the original symbol for the sign of the fishes, Pisces. The 29th degree of Pisces is deemed evil and unfortunate. To live as now at the end of the age of Pisces is comparable to living on the unfortunate last degree of the sign. Especially anything maritime from floods, tsunamis, major pollution of the seas and the drowning of refugees will be highlighted.
11) Although optimistic Christian philosophers and theologians teach otherwise, biblical and early Christian tradition is that the Creator is withdrawn and the devil rules the world. All understanding of and relation to God, all understanding of suffering should be predicated on that ignored belief. See my Cosmic Father, and The Great Circle http://amzn.to/128eGOQ
12) There are ancient traditions to the effect (endorsed in modern times by the seeress Jeane Dixon from alleged vision) that Judas was born under Pisces.
13) JJ is James Joyce to whose negative attitudes I would regard Kennelly as heir. See Why Ireland Needs Yeats 2015 and more. A psychopomp, Mercury being a good example, travels between heaven and earth or between conscious and unconscious. as per Jungian psychology.
14) Sidhe (fairies) is pronounced Shee
15) Yeats:The Second Coming “….A vast image out of the Spiritus Mundi  troubles my sight…”
16) The Murphy and Ryan reports shocked Ireland by revealing decades of abuse, some of it almost fit for the Inquisition, practiced without restraint within church institutions like orphanages.
17) Irish and western poets have been almost wholly absent from  protest of anything like the persecution of Christians in Muslim lands from Egypt to Pakistan and the genocide in Iraq and Syria.
18) Voltaire had an irrational dislike of the dramatist Marivaux and sought to keep him out of the Academy possibly due to the fact Marivaux was a Catholic who was not a supporter of the Encylopedie.. The celebrated quote about kindness is from Le Jeu de L’Amour and du Hazard.

 
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Posted by on January 25, 2015 in aesthetics, Poetry, religion

 

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