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Category Archives: Mysteries

“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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THE WHO, WHAT AND WHY OF MARY POPPINS

Where and How and When and Why – had nothing to do with them [The Banks children].They knew as far as she [Mary Poppins] was concerned those questions had no answers. The bright shape speeding through the air above them would forever keep its secret”

Late last year,  after more than fifty years and much fanfare, the film Mary Poppins Returns reprised the charm of the original blockbuster Mary Poppins.  This time the update actually had a credible cockney in Lin Manuel Miranda’s Jack;  but despite being a bit closer to the  spirit of the original Mary Poppins books, it still didn’t take us nearer to the mystery  of the peculiar nanny of Pamela Travers’  books – a saga oddly described by her  as her  “autobiography”. Without being either a Travers scholar or a strong MP fan, the following aims to satisfy some curiosity by hopefully solving a few supposedly unsolvable mysteries. (A whole range of academic essays on Poppins and her author does of course exist for those who want theories, and a standard text for those who want to know many facts is Valerie Lawson’s Mary Poppins She Wrote, 2010).

My  Who  of  Mary Poppins defines who Mary Poppins most nearly and essentially is. The What will describe Pamela Travers’ relation to myth and mysticism she is dealing with. The How will examine, in line with Travers’ own fascination with astrology, her birth chart that considerably describes this person who didn’t wish others to know much about her. I believe the following is sufficiently accurate, even definitive. What I remain least certain about is the extent to which some of Travers’ ideas were arrived at, intellectually by research (she was a keen mythographer as her study What the Bee Knows,1989 indicates), or more spontaneously from archetypal affinity and symbolic logic.

That MP remains quite such an unsolved mystery is regrettable. Travers, whom writers like Yeats and AE believed had a touch of genius, despite her general popularity, remains  somewhat unknown and underrated as a writer with  messages to convey. And among other things, Travers, who called herself, not an Australian but “an Irishwoman with a Scotch mother”, represents an interesting and significant case of Celtic displacement. Some things said here complement other observations re Irish life and culture on this site like ” ‘Real Irish’ and Irish Reality” https://wp.me/p2v96G-17D. The subject of Travers is even a bit personal to me because of Ireland, having lived like her  in Queensland, in Dublin and London’s Chelsea, travelled in Asia (where I’ve also lived) and been in and out of love with various Asian ideas and art forms. Travers’  questing thus has some  resonance for me…though I don’t think  I should have greatly enjoyed MP if I had read her as a child!

AUSTRALIAN BEGINNINGS  AND PROBLEMS 

If she had ever been more obviously an Australian writer, P L Travers (1899-1996), who always aspired to be a poet, might have been more appreciated above the entertainment level. However she was seriously out of love with her place of birth where in her late teens and early twenties before leaving Australia in 1924, she had been a successful enough journalist and Shakespearian actress. But though her father had died suddenly of an epileptic seizure when she was only seven and a half, as very much her father’s daughter, she didn’t even wish to belong because he certainly hadn’t.

Pamela Travers was born in 1899 as Helen Lyndon Goff in Maryborough, Queensland (the Helen name got dropped and Pamela assumed around the time PL was a Shakespearean  actress in Australia). Ever the fantasist, she claimed her father owned a sugar plantation there, though wealth and standing of this order applied more to her mother’s side – her mother was sister of the premier of Queensland. In fact, her father who remains a bit of a mystery to biography, was a bank manager (shades of Mr Banks) later demoted to a bank clerk possibly for health reasons (he was probably alcoholic). Travers, a name his daughter later assumed for literary reasons, was her father’s first name. His surname was Goff but Travers Robert Goff, who had arrived in Australia via a stint in Ceylon, was related to the Davis Goffs of Wexford and Galway. These were Anglo-Irish, probably rather horsey ones, who would later find PL’s obsession with Irish myth and life alien.

Travers Goff was, or strove to be,  ultra-Irish, carrying Ireland around with him (much as Joyce did Dublin) and insuring everything from horses to clothes would be Irish. Weeping over Irish poetry and past national woes, he was un Goff-like in everything save being Protestant, and managing to be born in London. The family disconnect seems so strong it’s tempting to speculate Travers Robert was illegitimate. (I find that idea more satisfactory than notions he was a talkative East Ender son of a shipping agent with an  improbable obsession with Erin’s isle! But even if his Irish origins constituted an elaborate deception, it should be recalled the mother’s side was Scottish and we are looking at some kind of Celtic family set up).

Though Travers Robert died young and after the family had removed to Allora in New South Wales, he was not the only Irish member of the household which included an Irish maid who liked to cast an air of mystery around herself and who cherished a strange umbrella with a parrot’s head – a first image supplied to the composite of being that would be MP. Although it was northern hemisphere mists and fantasy held the real glamour for PT, Australia had its influence. While PT complained Australians lacked a proper sense of tradition and the light Gaelic (rococo?) touch, numbers of her characters like Nellie Rubina,  Miss Quigley and Mrs Correy are based on persons known and observed in especially Bowral where the family removed after Goffs’ death. But arguably the greatest influence from Australia was the nature and atmosphere. The unusually brilliant and “near” outback  night skies made for a lifelong obsession with the heavens that Mary Poppins is able to touch, arrange or paint. But even more haunting were the  vivid twilights which seemed to convey some principle PT wanted to grasp, a  point and place of transition to which Mary Poppins belonged.

According to Travers, Mary Poppins had “arrived” to her  as a  fully fledged person or vision in 1934, but we know she had written a tale back in 1926 which included a Mary Poppins. So at least the name was well established but; her general  tutelage under the poet AE,  (who recommended letting fantasy emerge unfettered and writing something about the adventures of a witch), had been edging the author towards the magical nanny for some time.

Travers is supposed to have seen the MP name written in a book and just liked it, but I suspect she invented it. She possibly saw herself as a Mary from Maryborough who, like MP, who insists her  home is wherever she resides, “popped in” to people and places all the time.  Travers herself would voyage a great deal  internationally, but her true “home” remained an issue for her. However, reaching Ireland and getting involved with especially AE (George Russell), the Irish Blake, an economist, poet and painter, was the beginning of it. It marked her first engagement with her gurus (who would include Gurdjieff and Krishnamurti) because ever since the death of her father troubled the author’s childhood faith, she was on a quest for God and Truth liable to be confused with attachment to father figures.

Seen by many in England as a crackpot, AE  (for  Aeon of the new era)  was editor of The Irish Statesman and respected in Ireland but positively feted as a sage and prophet in America where he dined with Roosevelt and advised the administration. Travers could only feel flattered to be able to be mentored by AE (her “Zeus”)  and stay with him when he was away from Dublin at  Horn Head, Donegal, which he considered the power centre for Irish myth and revelation. There was no  affair – the married AE admitted not quite to understand women and was rather puritanical. And something in the romance of connection began to go wrong and it was Travers’ health. Possibly it was more psychological than physical, but the ailments began that would never quite leave her. AE recommended regimes and diets which sometimes worked but nothing ever really cured. AE recommended Travers live in England and visit Ireland rather than settle there, as the effect of the nation was so strong she could use the distancing. She went along with this and the first version of MP got written in Pound Cottage, Sussex (not to be confused with Stone Cottage in Sussex where Ezra Pound and Yeats sometimes lived and wrote). Later, and remembering AE’s recommendations, Travers, who spent most of WW 11 in America, on the suggestion of the Minister for Indian affairs passed a couple of fruitful years in Arizona. It was a region AE  had loved, and since Travers was relatively healthy there, one suspects she needed Australian or the similar Arizonian climate  for her precarious health as much as Celtic zones for mind and soul!

AE supplied Travers ideas and riddles to last a lifetime. Calling himself a Pantheist, AE had been involved with Mme Blavatsky’s theosophy which meant that Celtic myth blended in his mind with Asian themes (which they sometimes can do). Travers would both assimilate and question themes like the unity of all things. It was a huge loss to Travers when AE died in 1935. It was like another loss of another father and was the first loss of a guru.

The parent/child, teacher/pupil relationship would be more important for Travers than regular love. She never married having loved and lost in relation to the lazy, boozing and affluent bohemian lady’s man, Francis Macnamara. Everyone seemed to like him, even Yeats was willing to help him improve his writing, but he couldn’t be bothered. Despite the manifest weaknesses, Travers seemed able only to idolize him and even confessed that if she had written of MP for anyone it was for this “Irish poet” – who, ironically, admitted he had no care for children’s literature. She had intense relations in Sussex with Madge Burnand (a companion recommended for her English existence by AE) and  Jessie Orage.  There may or may not have been lesbian attachments involved but the greater obsession would finish by being the overwhelming desire of an unmarried woman of forty to have a child. In a sad, mad moment in Dublin in 1940, Travers selfishly and life-destroyingly intervened to adopt only one of two twins, grandsons of  Yeats’ first biographer, Joseph Hone, whose son’s family couldn’t cope with more children.

The repercussions would prove deadly.  The twins, one raised in wealth and one in poverty, accidentally met and finally discovered their identity aged seventeen. Neither quite recovered from the shock and the lies they’d been fed and both would fall victim to alcoholism. If Travers had wanted to assume the role of an intervening Mary Poppins, the experiment seriously failed. Or had she unwittingly demonstrated what was wrong with the character and ideas of her fictional creation whoever precisely she might be?

1

WHO: THE KEY QUESTION : WHO IS MARY POPPINS?

     

It’s notorious, and the subject of the itself somewhat fictionalized Saving Mr Banks film, that the author was twenty years wrangling with Walt Disney over how the mysterious nanny should be portrayed. Initially she wept tears of rage over the final result, (though she later settled down and decided the film was good at its own level). But just who and what was the Mary Poppins (i.e most essentially as she combines some traits of the author’s and other people’s character), writing of whose departure caused the author to drench her typewriter with tears. This itself points some  very deep complex and bedrock of feeling –  despite the fact that the nanny was anything but obviously appealing!  !n fact, hardly has children’s fiction ever contained a less attractive lead figure. Julie Andrew’s MP is “never angry, only firm”, but fictional MP is no fairly godmother, rarely smiles, almost always scolds and glares, threatens and berates and proves singularly unsympathetic to any condition a child could suffer like toothache. The children love and cling on to MP and want her back but only because they know, or just suspect, she is the pretext of their unique adventures and she will at least keep them safe.

Mary Poppins is, as the author kept insisting to Walt Disney, a character “with a dark side”. There is a lot of the witch about her and in awareness of the contrary,  difficult side of Travers’ character, her Irish mentor/guru, AE, had suggested she should write something fictional about a witch. However it was merely a trait in her character AE  felt she should express; there was no suggestion she was or should become a witch.  And despite her mystical explorations, Travers never became one, nor did she especially approve of the nowadays often related feminism. It was more a case, Jungian style, of seeing what the shadow self could be made to render up and transform into something positive. However, not to give too much credit to AE, although I have not read any James Stephens in years to check it out, I would suspect this member of AE’s Dublin circle and author of very ironic fantasy tales in urban settings was a likely influence upon Travers’ literary development.

MP wasn’t even conceived as a basis of children’s fiction but for anyone. The first pages were only written by the author for herself (i.e therapeutically), and only got further developed and offered for publication at the insistence of Madge Burnand. So while, for publication and remuneration purposes, it was expedient to keep the connection with children  once begun, I think we could say the real affinity is more with some writings like those of Kafka which will employ a fairy tale format to convey basically philosophical, often dark and grim messages. MP invites inquiry into reality because things aren’t what they appear. There is a whole world of marvels, dreams and mysteries that we should welcome and explore….but not uncritically either.

At their friendliest, MP tales have something of Wisdom literature about them, fable and parable or lyrical moments a bit like the poems of Rilke especially those where he personifies nature.  MP destabilizes and questions. In “Faithful Friends” Michael would repair some items with putty but has been forbidden to do so by Miss Andrew who wants them to stay exactly as they are. “Nothing does that”, interposes MP.  From the life and pen of Travers this  is almost guaranteed to be one of her nods in the direction of Buddhist impermanence teaching. So MP is first and foremost a teacher, more governess than nanny. When she leaves for the last time it’s said, “in the summer days to come…..they would remember Mary Poppins and all she had told them” almost as though some body of doctrine were involved.

Travers was notoriously secretive about herself and her work adopting her mother’s and the admired Beatrix Potter’s “never explain” principle. Accordingly she simply refused to answer questions about her chief creation.  The stern  manner and plain appearance of MP nevertheless owes something to Travers’ calvinistically unbending but well-intentioned Scottish great aunt, Ellie, who was generous towards Travers in her will. I should say, too, that the severities and austerities of the western guru, Gurdjieff, under whose spell Travers existed at one point, added to the emphasis on discipline and severity. The already mentioned Irish maid with the parrot umbrella played her part in building the mystery.

In a more than usually frank interview for the Paris Review but given when she was in her eighties, Travers insists the origins of MP were “entirely spontaneous and not invented”; however she admitted that despite always having had an interest in the Mother Goddess, it had “only recently”[!?] struck her that if one were to look for mythological origins of MP  then she “is either the Mother Goddess or one of her creatures” (1). She didn’t state which one, but I do so below with the greatest certainty possible.

Much earlier on Travers explicitly described the whole MP series as “autobiographical”. Apart from the fact the Cherry  Tree Lane setting is said to have something to do with a corner of Chelsea Travers often lived in (but with no park opposite and whose model might be Kensington Gardens), “autobiographical” has to mean philosophically and mystically. Travers explored many mythical and mystical traditions, East and West, though keeping close to the a degree of western Platonism as seems fairly clear from such as The Children in the Story where the three princes Floritain, Veritain and Amor are the Platonic trinity of Beauty, Truth and Love. The trio also seem to be on a casual basis with MP, able to laugh at her as the Banks children can’t. Again, it might be relevant that AE’s Dublin friends included Oliver St John Gogarty (the Buck Milligan of Joyce’s Ulysses). He took a fancy to Travers that was unreciprocated (perhaps because he was married), but she may have assimilated some of his ideas about bringing Celtic and classical culture closer together (in a sort of revolt against Yeatsian culture that Gogarty shared with Joyce).   

I think we can assume with AE that MP represents a figure of myth, a goddess. Even AE  wasn’t sure which though he suggested Maia who does appear in “Christmas Shopping” but according to the Paris Review article, he  had hinted to her MP might even be a modern version of Hinduism unsettling goddess Kali.  One of the key stories for the identity problem is,  in my opinion,  Full Moon from the first book. This  has adults locked in cages and treated like zoo animals waiting feeding time and the almost morbid atmosphere recalls a tale like Kafka’s “The Starved Man”. (The feeling of being trapped and punished is quite strong in the stories and “Lucky Thursday” in which children are left apparently permanently trapped in the kingdom of the cats, is hardly reassuring bedtime material).

Full moon celebrates a birthday and it’s not a birthday in winter as the children don’t drift out to it in winter clothes. The children  meet the  king of the beasts who is a Lion. The birthday turns out to be   Mary Poppins own, a fact drawn attention to by the hissing voice of a Hamadryad (normally a tree or tree spirit but apparently in this instance a snake)  near to the snakes who bow to her. A bear tells the children the Hamadryad is “Lord of our world” (the animal’s world) – “Lord of the jungle” hiss the snakes and in honour of the nanny the Hamadryad sheds a skin for her. The company call for “The Great Chain” presumably the Great Chain of Being of medieval philosophy. The children eventually wake from a dream but as though in proof it wasn’t that, find the shed skin is around MP’s waist.

This is not a story  that, so far as I know, has captured neo-pagan imagination like the celebrated Pan episode in The Wind in the Willows,  but it is in its way very pagan. It is  certainly making out MP to be a species of deity who has a life apart from that of mere mortals. Indeed, the point is made clear enough early in the first book when Amelia in “Bad Tuesday” asks what MP is doing. She receives the response, “”Oh, just going around the world you know’ said Mary Poppins airily as though going round the world was something you did every day”. So how do we see this? We know that the nanny arrives in Cherry Tree Lane on the East Wind. This could of course symbolize the author coming to Europe from the East, but it can also symbolize a deity nearer to home than Australia. In “The Marble Boy,” we learn MP is close friends with Neptune  in the Isles of Greece.

I think these details, plus the fact that the very last MP story has the nanny as niece of the Man in the Moon, hence lunar related, are enough to be getting on with and even to solve the problem. Travers was born on August 9th, so she is a Leo/Lion traditionally Lord of the Beasts. Is there a deity specifically celebrated in August? Yes. It is the moon goddess Diana, who was born on a Greek island, Delos, and who is herself  a lord of animals, of the hunt and nature. Traditionally Diana’s day could be celebrated in mid August or on any full moon of that month. Diana the huntress is typically portrayed with a hunting bow, but she can be portrayed with a poppy. Does Poppins, hide Diana Poppy? Diana is unmarried and childless, possibly lesbian, yet she can be a patron of children (Travers would disastrously adopt a child) as also, in the ancient world, the common people  and slaves. The latter point, despite Travers’ manifest snobberies and increasingly wealth, fits with her vague quasi-socialism which owes something to AE, to her admired Bernard Shaw and conflicts of her time in the context of which she declared, forced to a choice between Fascism and Communism she would prefer Communism by a small margin.

But Diana equates with MP in another way. Catholicism as opposed to Protestant and Orthodox churches,  holds a doctrine of the Assumption (or Ascension) of the Virgin into heaven. This festival, probably in rivalry with Dianic/ Artemis cult, got set for 15th August. There seems no question that in “The Other Door” which describes MP’s last of three departures and effectively ends the saga – later written tales would belong to earlier times within it – the highly emotional feeling is a form of Assumption, a religious event. “Then darkness folded its wing about her and hid her from their eyes”. This is a clear echo of the biblical “He was taken up and a cloud received him out of their sight” (Acts 1:9), especially as it’s said the Banks children will remember what MP has told them as though it’s a body of doctrine to be preserved.

Does the Diana association mean that Travers had crypto-Catholic yearnings or neo-pagan urges? While that could be, at least consciously I think we are obliged to say she didn’t. To insist otherwise  comes up against hard fact that she remained an Anglican Protestant and when living in Chelsea was a communicant at the local Christchurch.  Her case is a bit like that of the Anglican T.S. Eliot who also underwent a Gurdjieff phase and peppered his verse with references to Asian scriptures. Also, as regards Asian religions Travers significantly denied one of their  fundamentals, namely belief in reincarnation. Travers perceived herself as a pilgrim in line with the famous Bunyan hymn sung at her funeral. But the peculiarly religious tone to MP’s assumption seems underlined by the way in which Travers signs off from this crucial story of the third book with the inscription “Gloria in Excelsis Deo” (Glory to God in the highest). This, if it doesn’t render MP a divinity or convenient literary divinity substitute in some fashion, at least suggests writing about MP is felt to be Travers’ life vocation fulfilled.

Anticipating the why section at this point, I will suggest that MP is definitely a modality of Diana (Gk Artemis), an assumption surely certified by Travers’ birth chart. Original Uranus rising in her chart at 4 Sagittarius, fortunately trines asteroid DIANA at 4 Aries in the house of creativity and which in turn is in positive trine to Venus at 5 Leo in the ninth house of religion and classic writing. As further proof, the Greek equivalent, ARTEMIS, is at midpoint Sun and Venus in the philosophy and classic writing ninth house (Sun 16,  ARTEMIS 10 Leo, Venus at 5 Leo).

 A possible objection to the Diana identification is that MP with her parrot headed umbrella like the maid of Travers childhood ought surely to be a Celtic goddess. The weakness of that idea is that though there are many Celtic goddesses, no single one has the range of functions and characteristics attributed to Diana, a desideratum if one wants to mull widely over philosophical questions or help shape people’s character. (At a pinch, but at the risk of seeming too trite and popular, Travers might have taken the figure of the pagan/Christian Brigit, who cares for children, nature and fire and is an all-rounder Celtic goddess/saint). A lot of Irish goddesses are however either goddesses of war or healing, and plainly MP is not that.

But if MP is ultimately Diana/ Artemis, a Graeco-Roman goddess, why is she so ill-tempered as opposed to being transcendently self-controlled and benign? I suppose we could say that like St Paul she and/or her author  would never “suffer fools gladly”; but one can’t easily mention the apostle and the Travers’ alter-ego together as though they were naturally allied…. St Paul was very much critic and victim of precisely Dianic cult whose devotees caused riots in Ephesus over her. It can be allowed that the cranky side of Travers is reflected in MP’s “philosophical” teaching nanny role, but that can’t cover the whole picture, so one has to ask what else might be involved? The abrasive manner of MP invites questions as to the  teachings the children are meant to remember she told them…

11

WHAT is she saying and showing?

MP and her manner are really one of a piece.  Against neo-pagan romanticism, I would submit that the mythic as opposed to the outright divine will  always and inevitably finish to some degree like MP’s persona, a bit ugly, dark and/or unjust. Fairy tales from the Christian era may end happily ever after, but most pagan myth from almost anywhere comes with a sting in the tale, compassion very much a second thought I,f any.. A lot of even elegant Ovidian myth presents situations of rape. Celtic myth which was central to Travers inquiries into existence and “how we should live” questions, is less immoral than amoral. In the introduction to my play “Daughter of the Sea King”, an adaptation of a tale of the Welsh Mabinogion,  I reflect on my realization of the difficulty of working with Celtic material for dramatic purposes. (2)  This is due not only to the abundance of hard to include marvels, but to the lack of moral  structure that normally supports drama whose basis is an element of conflict. For the early Celts, where there isn’t the curse that makes for stasis, there is the mother culture’s all-acceptance that doesn’t lay blame where it could well be laid. Its all-acceptance belongs with a kind of  all-is-one, unitive, near pantheistic philosophy present in the early medieval Irish philosophy of Erigena.

I think that amid the mental corrections, play of ideas and imaginative perspectives of the Mary Poppins saga, Travers demonstrates –  with some honesty and symbolic logic – what certain problems of the imaginative life actually are, especially in relation to any starting point in the legacy of Celtic myth. The strangely dark and Dianic dominated world is where the Celtic dreaming may lead. Travers reveals the structure of myth (or a type of necessity within it), where it wasn’t quite admitted or perceived. We have indications of this in the following which is at once the possibility and limitation of all mythic  and mystical claims that all is one….which is where AE’s Pantheism would lead anyone to suppose it was possible to go. Travers allows for, perhaps hopes for, a mystical/alchemical union of opposites, but cannot honestly affirm that it is a particularly reasonable or likely prospect. If there is unity at some level there is plenty of duality at others. In “Happy Ever After”  unity’s existence at the moment between the old year and the new suggests virtual impossibility. Sleeping Beauty declares:

“And inside the Crack all things are at one. The eternal opposites meet and kiss. The wolf and the lamb lie down together, the dove and the serpent share one nest…..This is the time and place, my darlings – the only time and the only place – where everybody lives happily ever after”.

It is controversial enough, especially in writing supposedly directed to children, even if that isn’t quite the case, to assert there can almost never be happy endings; but it belongs with the way of myth, perhaps especially the Celtic.  I have written elsewhere on this blog of something approaching a Celtic curse and involved with a domination by the wrong archetypes. What is certain about Celtic myth is that, as in for example “The Dream of Oengus”, it has an exquisite, rainbow like beauty based on great longing and that could always be the basis of music and high art, but such writing singularly lacks   satisfactory  endings; and the compromise of having Oengus fly away with his love puts nature and fate well above the human value.

Arguably the most representative Irish myth –  and one can see a modern sculpture of it in Parnell Square, Dublin and  even in Antrim, N. Ireland – is “The Fate of the Children of Lir”. In this a king’s children are placed under a curse and turned into swans by an evil step mother and when they have suffered and survived everything for centuries and the curse is lifted, it is only to find they have so severely aged there is nothing to do but die.

More recent Irish fantasy such as might be compared with Grimm’s fairy tales, doesn’t notably improve on this. The Grimms tales are about problems, mostly overcome with some input from human will and a bit of outside magic, and they finish with happily ever afterwards situations, usually of marriage. There is a clear moral structure informing the whole  – though that could owe something to the Lutheran Grimm brothers’ anxiety to supply improving, positive messages and censoring their sources more than much early Irish myth got censored by the monks. Equivalent Irish fairy tales which usually involve  leprechauns and the little people, are more likely to end unfortunately. The little people are almost objects of fear, their assistance almost a liability and they too can be irritable  like MP. It’s Irish American with a dose of American optimism to arrive at fun and funny leprechauns!

The point of entry to the magic sphere is different. In the Grimms tales this can be familiar and domestic and almost anywhere from home to forest. While this may also apply in the Celtic, there is an undoubted association ever since the druids, of magic, vision  and the Otherworld with the twilight time that so fascinated Travers. In short, magic and its Otherworld source is involved with an alteration, not just of situation but of consciousness itself. It certainly also engages a degree of longing, but the longing may itself prove vampirish.

Faced with two twins  and ignoring advice to adopt both, Travers simply took the more obviously attractive one who also seemed the more manageable to her bossily Poppins-like fancy. Though a weakness for beauty is hardly unique to the Irish, it is sometimes enlarged among them because their Otherworld, when it impinges, is so exceptionally, obviously exquisite  nothing else appears desirable and worth striving for in compariso. The effect is to encourage belief with the (non Irish) Keats that “truth is beauty, beauty truth”. Which can be fatal to judgment as some of the most corrupt persons and cultures can present the highest levels of outward beauty and adornment. Lucifer and his offers can be beautiful, it is part of the seduction. “When the woman saw that the tree…..was a delight to the eyes and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit” (Gen 3:6). The fruit can then be handed to the husband who as male would have been less spontaneously likely to associate Truth with beauty alone, (though many still will do that). In Ireland’s Old/New Spiritual Problems https://wp.me/p2v96G-126  I example the case of Brian O’Donohue author of the bestselling Anam Cara for whom beauty of nature and soul are effectively sufficient in a way that cancels out more  Christian perspectives the ex-priest  could, superficially, be thought to be defending. 

Once the Edenic style misjudgement has taken place, and the thought initiative in a sensitive area for perception has gone to the side of yin or the female, whose energy is primarily reactive rather than active, psychologically woman takes over….. As she largely does in Celtic myth and then, instead of men speaking it, Truth gets strangely identified with hags who must be taken on trust by revolted males and aspiring kings. It’s the matriarchal situation. Accordingly it is with symbolic logic that Dianic Mary Poppins, the truth teller, though not outright ugly, is certainly not any pretty, graceful or charming woman. If she were to be otherwise within Travers imaginative and Celtic universe, she would be either the goddess herself that St Paul was at variance with, or the Catholic Mary with which some Christians later tried to supplant the goddess.

So, with MP as  Travers’ voice of wisdom,  on the one hand  –  however consciously or unconsciously –  she  finishes with a Christian compromise of sorts. But as her thought develops she also rightly suspects there may be  need to be room for a special kind of realization or teaching beyond the Celtic dream; or put another way, she is on the lookout for a solution mystically, esoterically  by or through “spirit” as opposed to just  O’ Donohue’s “soul”. This is the basis of her (rather Yeatsian) sympathy for especially Japanese culture and Zen because this is a system that wakes people out of the enveloping dream into sudden awareness. Celtic myth contains the latter just a little – homes and palaces may suddenly disappear! – but overall, awakening and Zen’s secular Pentecost seems less desirable than the dream because it is not salvation to another place but rather a new response to the present world. And even Travers herself didn’t like this world  too much! (Some of her demanding nature and snobberies are of the Celtic variety that can never be impressed by anything or anyone of this world because they don’t belong to heaven itself – the novelist Sean O’Faolain, another of AE’s circle, described his mother as someone who could turn the world to ashes!.

111

WHY is she like she is?

Pages could be written on Travers’ very revealing and apparently very accurate birth data. Salient points are the following.

Travers was born Aug 9. 1899 at around 12 pm with the sun in dramatic Leo at 16 degrees conjunct her 17 degree Midheaven career and reputation point and then Saturn in Sagittarius fortunately trines it. Just by itself this combination would incline to success and fame if with some Saturnian struggle and effort along the way not least through the parents and home base. Also, given that Saturn within the core combination is in the religion/philosophy sign, there would be an on-going struggle for self- definition and “meaning”. (Travers’ life story is the story of her reflections, the reason the MP books are “autobiography”)

The sun in regal Leo with Sagittarius rising describes a person with a great sense of entitlement in the course of their progress through life; Sagittarius rising supports, moreover, a self-image as seeker, pilgrim, philosopher. Leo is a sign much associated with children and popular, classic writing for them (Enid Blyton, Edith Nesbit, Frances Hodgson Burnett, Beatrix Potter, JK Rowling). The tenth house is anything to do with the career; so with communicating Mercury there Travers was well set up to become first a journalist, then a writer…but very much on her own terms. The affliction square (90 degrees) of Mercury to eccentric, nervy Uranus in the first house of style and persona and in the sign of often tactless, bombastic Sagittarius, bespeaks the native worry and celebrated cranky eccemtricity. It gives fair warning of the endless, bizarre quibbling with Disney over Mary Poppins. It is almost certainly only because Disney was a Sagittarian that he put up with quite so much from Travers. And it is only because Jupiter as ruler of a rising Sagittarius pattern rules the whole chart, could Travers lifelong get away with the behaviour and attitudes that would sink many another person and career.

But specifically writing of Mary Poppins was Travers’ fated role. The nanny is mouthpiece of her questing and is fortunate for her because asteroid MARY at 1 Scorpio conjuncts expansive, philosophical Jupiter at 2 Scorpio. The fact that this conjunction is in secretive, fixed sign Scorpio in the twelfth sector of hidden things and the unconscious, bespeaks the fixed and almost exasperating secrecy around MP. The author won’t tell; but sometimes she doesn’t herself know all the answers because this Mary is hidden away in recesses of the mind.

With the sun opposite the Aquarian 4th house cusp of home and father, there could be uneasiness or conflict around home and father, especially with the ruler of the paternal sector being erratic, separative Uranus. Travers would memorably leave home and her father would early depart from her. The apparent accuracy of the chart to what must be within a minute or two of time correct is signalled by, for example, the way that Travers’ sun, ruler of her Leo sign and destiny, would conjunct by transit her fourth house cusp of family, origins and home on the very day, Feb 9,1924, that she memorably sailed away from Australia – she only ever made one return visit..Not liking Australia is reflected in the way asteroid AUSTRALIA at 6 Scorpio is in tension square to Venus (any likes and loves) at 5 Leo.

This compares with the way the moon, a general ruler of home affairs and feelings, at 14 Virgo stands in opportunity aspect to IRELAND at 14 Scorpio. So the Irish affinity was authentic – but in a haunted way as the asteroid is in the 12th of the unconscious and hidden influences. But the fact that IRELAND is also square the author’s sun bespeaks the beginning of health problems there – I said that Australia would probably have been better for Travers’ health and with a sun line through Queensland according to Astrocartography that is likely. Ireland could also compromise Travers’ reputation as much as inspire her. The adoption of the Irish baby, Camillus Hone, was a fiasco that shames her and is Leonine feeling for children gone horribly wrong.

In mitigation it could be said that Travers was not particularly well set up for either marriage or motherhood. Marriage would always be problematic given separative Uranus rising at 4 Uranus opposing the seventh house cusp of unions at 2 Gemini. The house of children (the fifth) is ruled by Neptune in the sign of Gemini (twins) It follows the disaster of her adoption of one of two twins is reflected in the fact Neptune is in affliction square by Mars  – misjudgement about a male child! Between the square of Uranus to Mercury and then of Neptune to Mars there is major potential for bad nerves and ailments of all kinds.

Also for potential bisexuality. It is often speculated that Travers was a lesbian, the theory supported by the intensity of the attachments and arguments between Travers and the women at Stone cottage, the fact that Gurdjieff had a notable lesbian following in Paris where Travers like T.S.Eliot would visit the guru, and because before the time such things were so accepted, Travers let herself be photographed in semi nude shots. The matter of nudity can be discounted in the case of a Leo for  whom it’s almost par for the course. Even Leo Jackie Kennedy was happy to be photographed in the nude; it belongs to the general sun worship and “exhibitionism” of the sign. The long standing crush on Francis MacNamara doesn’t bespeak a lesbian. However, I have always contended that above all other supposed possible signifiers, the basic building block for bisexuality needs to be a stressed/afflicted Neptune –  when Neptune doesn’t idealize and romanticize it dissolves boundaries, sexual, ethical or whatever and under affliction aspect does so in ways that can be problematic. So it looks as though, like Susan Sontag (Saturn opposite Neptune), Travers was bisexual reluctantly and by default from frustration.

It may or may not be coincidental and relevant that at 23 Aquarius the asteroid LONDON is in Travers’ fourth house of home but also, when relevant, any last home. Despite travelling and residing in numbers of place, the author did spend a lot of time and certainly her last years in London’s Chelsea, which had been home to everyone from Henry James to AA Milne of Winnie the Pooh, Some Irish notables like Oscar Wilde and Bram Stoker (of Dracula fame) had also lived there but they didn’t gift the area with the fairy dust treatment of Cherry Tree Lane.

Leo is a sign much associated with children and popular, classic writing for them (Enid Blyton, Edith Nesbit, Frances Hodgson Burnett, Beatrix Potter, JK Rowling). The tenth house is anything to do with the career, so with communicating Mercury there Travers was well set up to become first a journalist, then a writer…but very much on her own terms. The affliction square (90 degrees) of Mercury to eccentric Uranus in the first house of style and persona and in the sign of often tactless, bombastic Sagittarius, bespeaks the native worry and crankiness. It gives fair warning of the endless, bizarre quibbling with Disney over Mary Poppins. It is almost certainly because Disney was a Sagittarian that he put up with quite so much from Travers. And it is only because Jupiter as ruler of a rising Sagittarius rules the whole chart, could Travers get away with the behaviour and attitudes that would sink many another career. Capricorn and its ruler Saturn ruling the second of income and possessions bespeaks both the wealth and fears around it – Travers never left banks, lawyers, agents alone for constant checks and worries about income possibly engendered by some Leonine extravagance but mostly just her bad nerves. Saturn in or ruling the second can indicate the extremes, little or much money or both conditions in the course of a lifetime.

Specifically writing of Mary Poppins was Travers’ fated role. The nanny is mouthpiece of her questing and is fortunate for her because asteroid MARY at 1 Scorpio conjuncts expansive, philosophical Jupiter at 2 Scorpio. The fact that this conjunction is in secretive Scorpio in the twelfth sector of hidden things and the unconscious, bespeaks the fixed and almost exasperating secrecy around MP. The author won’t tell, but sometimes she doesn’t herself know all the answers because this Mary is hidden away in recesses of the mind.

With the sun opposite the Aquarian 4th house cusp of home and father, there could be uneasiness or conflict around home and father especially with ruler of the paternal sector being erratic, separative Uranus. Travers would memorably leave home and her father would early depart from her. The extreme accuracy of the chart to what must be within a minute or two of time is signalled by for example the way that her the sun, ruler of her Leo sign and destiny, conjuncts her fourth house cusp of family, origins and home on the very day, Feb 9,1924, that she memorably sailed away from Australia – she only ever made one return visit..Not liking Australia is reflected in the way that asteroid AUSTRALIA at 6 Scorpio is in tension square to Venus (any likes and loves) at 5 Leo.

This compares with the way the moon, a general ruler of homes and feeling for such, at 14 Virgo stands in opportunity aspect to IRELAND at 14 Scorpio. So the Irish affinity was authentic – but in a haunted way as the asteroid is in the 12th  house of the unconscious and hidden influences. But the fact that IRELAND is also tension square the author’s sun bespeaks the beginning of health problems there – I said that Australia would probably have been better for Travers’ health and with a sun line through Queensland according to Astrocartography that is likely. Ireland could also compromise Travers’ reputation as much as inspire her. The adoption of the Irish boy, Camillus Hone, was a fiasco that shames her and is Leonine feeling for children gone selfishly wrong.

In mitigation it could be said that Travers was not particularly well set up for either marriage or motherhood. Marriage would always be problematic given separative Uranus rising at 4 Uranus opposing the seventh house cusp of unions at 2 Gemini. The house of children (the fifth) is ruled by Neptune in the sign of Gemini (twins) and the disaster of her adoption of one of two twins is reflected in the fact Neptune is in affliction square by Mars. Misjudgement about a male child! Between the square of Uranus to Mercury and then of Neptune to Mars there is major potential for bad nerves and ailments of all kinds.

Also for potential bisexuality. It is often speculated that Travers was a lesbian, the theory supported by intensity of the attachments and arguments between Travers and the women at Stone cottage, the fact that Gurdjieff had a notable lesbian following in Paris where Travers often pursued wisdom  and because before the time such things were so accepted, Travers let herself be photographed in semi- nude shots. The matter of nudity can be discounted in the case of a Leo. Even Leo Jackie Kennedy was happy to be photographed in the nude; it belongs to the sun worship and “exhibitionism” of the sign and recently fans of the Leo tennis star Stefanos Tsitsipas were surprised by his Instagram declaration “I like me better naked”. The long standing crush on Francis MacNamara doesn’t bespeak a lesbian. However…..I have always contended that above all other supposed signs, the basic building block of bisexuality is an afflicted Neptune – when it doesn’t idealize and romanticize, Neptune dissolves boundaries, sexual, ethical or whatever and in affliction does so in ways that can be problematic. So it looks as though, like Susan Sontag (Saturn opposite Neptune), was bisexual reluctantly and by default from frustration.

It may or may not be coincidental and relevant that at 23 Aquarius the asteroid LONDON is in Travers’ fourth house of home but also, when relevant, any last home. Despite travelling and residing in numbers of places, the author did spend a lot of time, and certainly her last years, in London’s Chelsea. The place had been home to everyone from Henry James to AA Milne of Winnie the Pooh. Some Irish notables like Oscar Wilde and Bram Stoker (of Dracula fame) had also lived there but they didn’t gift the area with the fairy dust treatment of Cherry Tree Lane.  And some fairy dust might as well have been thrown about. In her final years the extravagant Leo settled for an address in the royal borough and, no matter that it was only a terrace house in Shawfield Street, nowadays and not far away I see from press report that Chelsea Crescent is Britain’s most expensive street. The average property price is  x74 the national average and  small terrace  houses sell for 12 million GBP. What  might Mary Poppins say to that, one wonders?

NOTE:

(1)  Paris Review, PL Travers: The Art of Fiction, No 63, Issue 86, Winter 1982

(2).  New Poems and Two Celtic Dramas   https://goo.gl/uz7m95

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
 

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APOCALYPSE AS A GAY ISSUE

APOCALYPSE AS A GAY ISSUE

Improbable though it sounds, upon examination Apocalypse and associated themes like Antichrist and era change can be considered a rather gay theme both as regards its definition and opposition to  the idea. I don’t say this –  however relevant it is in a minor way – simply because of a recent controversy in Philadelphia. That American city, it means brotherly love and is name of one of the seven churches of Revelation (Rev 3 7-13), has had strife around a drag queen, hired in the interests of “diversity”, to storytell to children in a public library.  Controversially  the drag queen is named Annie Christ.

The Drag Queen Story Hour, not itself new, was launched in San Francisco in 2015 but struck a more radically odd note in 2017 when a drag queen called Xochi Mochi, dressed ominously as a five horned god/demon, “entertained”, if she didn’t frighten, children at Long Beach. What’s different now is that Philadelphia’s storyteller is suggestively named Annie Christ (quickly spoken Antichrist)…. Well, at least she didn’t call herself “Rapture”, something implicitly promised to those souls past and present symbolized by Revelation’s church of Philadelphia.

RAPTURE AND THE ARCHETYPAL

There are Christians who question whether the doctrine of so-called Rapture (of the believing prepared section of the church) was ever traditionally held, though something of the kind does seem indicated by certain parables of Jesus and St Paul to the Thessalonians. Some maintain it was the nineteenth century invention of an Anglo-Irish priest, but that’s disinformation (see Ireland’s Apocalyptic puzzles https://wp.me/p2v96G-19s ).

Yet even if Rapture belief could be proved to be only modern, that still wouldn’t favour its automatic disqualification from consideration. Since truth about the end times is said to be largely sealed up until its time approaches (Dan 12:9), new realizations are theoretically possible with the passing of time.

By those who emphasize it, the end is usually forecast as something due “soon”, though suddenly or quickly would seem nearer both the original sense and the perennial one. Whether one believes Rapture teaching is old or new, it should be recognized that parallel to the biblical theme there’s a more mythic/archetypal one.

The chief mythical/archetypal equivalent of Rapture to heaven and the marriage banquet of the Lamb, is the story of the youth Ganymede suddenly snatched to heaven to serve at the banqueting table of Zeus who seizes him in the form of an eagle. Over time, suddenly  disappearing Ganymede would even became a symbol of resurrection in a Christian art that stressed an immortality that entails being specifically, materially, raised from earth to heaven. The Thessalonian account of Rapture has those in their graves first taken up before the living are snatched away (1 Thess 4:7).

Jupiter is the Bethlehem Star and thus a major planetary symbol of Christianity (see Christianity and the Jupiter Difference, https://wp.me/p4kNWg-mb ), but the largest moon in the solar system orbits Jupiter and has been called Ganymede.

The Jupiter/Ganymede connection represented symbolic logic for sky-mapping astronomers, but for skygazers and as regards Christianity, the connection of this unlikely pair overlooks how in essence Ganymede also represents a gay myth and archetypally Jung’s ascensional Puer (child, boy or youth) impulse more psychologically. As such it has all the elements of special fate, shock, novelty, separation and speed liable to surround gay persons and/or issues. It’s a typology which, however, has more to do celestially with Uranus than Jupiter or any moon of Jupiter. Suitably, at the Pentecost birth in AD 30 of a would-be raptured Christian church, Jupiter and Uranus were in perfect fortunate aspect.

Myths of Uranus (Father Air) symbolically encompass birth control (Uranus tries to prevent Gaia from giving birth) and also castration; Uranus is castrated by his son Saturn who is restrictive Father Time – Uranus is a free principle outside of or ahead of time and the times one lives in, and this allies Uranus with the futuristic/prophetic grand plan of anything.

PROPHETIC URANIANS

Given the wide and shifting range of reference, it follows that Uranus enjoys associations not just with the prominent castration theme of his story, but “different” sex, or at least whatever or whoever is out of the family way – mythically Uranus is not well related or even clearly related in any family terms. His origin is abnormally uncertain – he can be fathered by Aethyr, or by Chaos or parthenogenically by Gaia. He can be born from day (Hemera) or from night (Nyx) or Gaia who can be seen as his mother parthenogenically but may also be his wife!

In harmony with  such fabulous levels of variation, across time and cultures we find the crucial “eunuch” word linked to Uranus’ castration theme can itself prove ambiguous and changeable. It’s a floating signifier that may or may not be taken literally where castration is concerned. Cross culturally, and certainly by Jesus’ time, eunuch was a quite loose, broad term that could include anyone different and out of the family way.  It was  thus nearest to the modern concept of “gay” or traditionally suggestive expressions like “confirmed bachelor”. All astrologers know that unless Uranus is somehow prominent and emphasized in a (male) birth chart, the individual will not be same sex inclined. It’s the reason in the early modern period that produced the first Gay Lib movements in Germany, gays were called Uranians (surely a more accurately descriptive term than gay or queer!).

Apocalypse is associated with above all two biblical figures, the prophet Daniel and John the Revelator who plainly knew the book of Daniel very well, while Daniel admits to some major influence from the much less apocalyptic Jeremiah but nonetheless revolutionary, almost heretical proponent of a “new” covenant.(Jer 31:31). What joins all three prophets is a strong handle upon the Uranian principle in some fashion.

DANIEL THE EUNUCH

According to Jewish tradition, including Josephus, Daniel was a eunuch in Babylon. We can’t be certain of this but it’s highly likely and the claim lets character and themes fall into better place. The prophet Isaiah anyway tells King Hezekiah (2 Kings 20:18) that even some of his sons will be taken away and made eunuchs in Babylon, and undeniably it was common for royals and elite males of defeated nations to be rendered eunuchs.

It is indicated from the outset that Daniel belongs in the royal/aristocratic bracket (Dan 1:3). That he was chosen with some other Hebrew youths for a special courtly education and because he was “handsome and without blemish”, might just indicate he was not castrate; but in context and for the king who had ordered it, castration would not be deemed any blemish in the way it could be for Jews to whom it would impose an outsider status. (You couldn’t enter the temple, but this would soon be destroyed, so Daniel would not be affected at that level). Also relevant is that nowhere do we read of Daniel’s marriage or offspring.

It is impossible to tell whether Daniel’s radically protesting Puer style character could have owed more to inborn traits or the psychological effects of castration (though it’s said unless castration occurs before adolescence there is no real alteration to the nature and direction of the sex drive); but in no time the Uranian, in-your-face type factor kicks in. Though Daniel  sits at the royal table, he does not wish “to defile himself” with the king’s (doubtless non-kosher) food and drink, so he appeals to Ashpenaz, the palace master of eunuchs to help him and his immediate Hebrew friends.

Many Christian conservatives are obsessively attached to the supposed superiority of the dated, often inaccurate King James bible; but it is believed at this point in the story the KJV is more accurate than newer versions with its “God brought Daniel into favour and tender love with the chief of eunuchs” (Dan 1:9). Ashpenaz is sympathetic but fears for his own head if Daniel should look worse for wear on a different diet; however he doesn’t interfere with his  guard or steward with specific care for Daniel who agrees to a test that Daniel and his friends, drawn into the challenge, must look as well or better after ten days for their vegetarian and teetotal regime. This test they manage to pass with flying colours and in consequence the steward arranges for them them to continue the whole of their royal training under the same conditions again with success which after three years the king recognizes.

It’s pretty clear what’s going on here. Handsome eunuch Daniel has taken the fancy of the eunuch/gay palace master, sympathetic to his style. Uranian tastes run to the original, different, revolutionary and futuristic, so the palace master is more willing than most would be to lend a sympathetic  ear to an attractive stirrer.

There is some parallel to the case of Jeremiah (who for all sorts of reasons we should assume was gay). When his prophecies bring him to imprisonment in a miry pit, it’s a kindly Ethiopian palace eunuch appeals to the king to secure his rescue. (As though to repay the deed centuries later, it is an Ethiopian eunuch through the intervention of the apostle Philip, becomes the first African Christian and noticeably, though not himself a eunuch, Philip is uniquely recorded as being raptured away from the eunuch’s sight (Acts 8:39)  – horizontally, not vertically like Elijah,  but my point is that “eunuchs” and rapture themes have a way of going together (and if Elijah wasn’t a eunuch, then his unusual lack of family and his running war with an aggressive woman, Jezebel, puts him somewhat within the Uranian frame).

Reverting to Ashpenaz,  the club, the gay grape vine exist and things happen. Favouring needn’t automatically imply it’s done for expected sexual returns. Looking back I could cite at least three cases where I have radically intervened in lives, pulling strings in a way that changed personal prospects, and for little more than that I had an idle fancy for or curiosity about the youth concerned. Of course such interference in fate happens outside gay society too and notoriously so in the casting couch as the #MeToo movement keeps reminding us, but it  has traditionally happened rather more within gay circles due to their being at society’s margins.

Involved in the case of Daniel is the rather spectacular point that – so far as I know – not even gay theology has stressed and developed, namely that God is seen as using and working through the Ashpenaz connection and its attraction. In which case, how much are you prepared to argue God disapproved and never intended the nature of such attraction?

Daniel survives his diet and worse (most famously the lion’s den – celestially the lion is the opposite sign to Uranus-ruled, skies and air associated Aquarius) and with suitable originality went on to describe, as no biblical figure had ever done before, the grand plan and course of the ages. He is shown into the far future and the finale of the little horn, the presumptuous prince, the Anti Messiah who becomes the Antichrist and Great Beast of John’s Revelation.

JOHN THE BELOVED

This youngest of the disciples who leaned on Jesus’ breast at the Last Supper has been portrayed in traditional Christian art as coy or feminine for doing so. Art’s “feminine” John tradition (the basis of Dan Brown’s crazy theory that Leonardo’s Last Supper John is really the Magdalene) perhaps began as art’s nod to the way that believers, male as well as female, are (almost queerly) rendered “brides” of Christ. This however can ignore the church is also a “male child” snatched/raptured to heaven (Rev 12:5) like Ganymede. However, historic John was not notably either bride or child but rather  Jesus’ “son of thunder”, bold enough to be at the cross unlike other disciples, and another of the “in your face” protesting types as I think we can detect from his writing.

If in line with tradition and Jung, who detected psychological connections between the Gospel and Revelation, you believe that John authored Revelation, then the “son of Thunder” certainly found his voice and his roar in the last book of the bible! As against much of the bible, Revelation is pictorial to the point of cinematic, and I would suspect that there are points in the text where its words simply attempt equivalence to something seen or felt rather than anything uttered for the author’s hearing.

Given how unlike Jesus’ voice-print and usual expression it is, one might question whether the Jesus of Revelation specifically said he will spit or vomit the Laodiceans from his mouth, as opposed to just indicating severe disapproval. The given words (Rev 3:16) sound more like a “son of Thunder” utterance!

In the same way, no matter what the mystery of the 144,000 of Israel symbolizes, it sounds more like John interpreting    something  than the reported angel speaking to him when  the Revelator is shown  a crowd of  men who it’s said  are virgins who haven’t “defiled themselves with women” (Rev 14:4). Though I will attempt an explanation near the conclusion here, at face value this is a rather impossible idea. It is in contradiction of such as the biblical statement the marriage bed is undefiled (Heb 13:4). So unless, improbably, orgiastic extremes were envisaged, the men couldn’t  automatically be defiled with women. But just like Daniel who doesn’t want to “defile himself” with royal foods, thundering John doesn’t want sex with women; he favours in-your-face attitudes from protesting persons with lives lived according to Uranian impulses favourable to separation and difference, persons who belong like Uranus more to heaven than earth. Even if, as is quite possible, the real meaning is  these men have not been spiritually defiled by the world/earth (often identified with the female principle), the choice of imagery making that point, still raises a few questions about the author.

The character, attitudes and eros of the Beloved Disciple is a subject in itself. I interrogate it in Part Two of Testament of the Magi, (https://goo.gl/x8KASy) so there’s no call to enlarge on it here. But this much can be said. We do know a few things about John from extra-biblical sources which, whether they represent literal historical truth or more likely just reflect a general impression of him, are still in keeping with the rather Uranian profile proposed here, like for example the explosion against the heretic Cerenthinus in the bath house or the strange doting on a rather church-troubling nuisance of a youth at Smyrna as reported  in  Eusebius The Church History  sourced from Clement of Alexandria.

AN EROTIC AND ESOTERIC MOMENT

And then, in Revelation itself, surely one of the most futuristic, in-your-face testaments of all time, there is a strange, almost erotic but certainly esoteric moment when the Revelator sees the triumphant Christ returning to earth as the White Horse rider. His robe is evidently fluttering and raised by the speed of the horse, allowing the Revelator to glimpse the name “inscribed” (tattooed?) upon his thigh.

It happens that by tradition Jupiter is not just arbiter of truth, exponent of any doctrines or philosophies but also ruler of horses and in medical astrology ruler of the thighs, For someone like Jesus born under Jupiter, that planet’s bodily zone can quite appropriately declare the identity of the person, especially when it also amounts in itself to a doctrine of divinity: “King of Kings and Lord of Lords” (Rev 19:16). But to be realistic here, nothing quite alters that where we focus attention is a key to our mind and preferences. And in the final analysis, it cannot be said that the average straight male will usually direct focus on the thighs of other men.

However true and revealing John’s observation may be in itself, at this point there is still surely something homoerotic in the vision and uranian in the mention of it. But then there may be things one might need to be uranian to be able to see or know at all, which is perhaps why Isaiah controversially implicitly ranks the eunuch higher than those who have offspring (Is 56:5).

THE TURNING OF THE AGES, CHRISTIAN AND AQUARIAN

I

Isaiah may not rank the heteronormative as high as some conservative Christians, but almost nowadays it’s a commonplace among those who anticipate a “soon” Rapture,Tribulation, Antichrist and Millennial age under a returned Christ, the gay revolution, and its toleration , is itself regarded as a harbinger of the end. It’s all part of “as in the days of Noah, as in the day of Lot” (Luk 17:28). So in their view Sodom and Gomorrah necessarily returns. And disregarded amid this despite everything scholars remind them, is that the men who want Lot’s daughter, (not to say sex with angels!), are clearly bisexual, even satanistic rapists; but even at that, and no matter how irregular Sodom’s sex may have been, sex sin in not even cited by Ezekiel in his summary of the city’s evils (Ezek 16:49/50).

As there’s no smoke without fire, there is however no point denying that there can be an element of Sodom returned in, for example, the kind of exploitation of the under-aged in everything from prostitution to porn that the highly politicized gay establishment hasn’t help correct lest exposure harm the reputation of the larger community; and there has been a controversial hostility towards freedom of conscience and belief in the sometimes vindictive cases brought against Christian businesses by gay activists. And let’s not talk about problems like the behaviour of exhibitionists and those drag queens who interrupt Christian services and suggest a kind of demonic opposition a la Annie Christ.

But none of this is the whole or even the main story; and it is certainly not because any Antichrist is approaching that there are more gays in the world and we keep hearing things gay. Obviously gays are more visible and “come out” because there is no longer legal ban on their very existence and voice. But it’s more complex than that, and it belongs with what might seem to some the “mystery” that so many people are also turning vegan or that there is a move to renewable energy and that technology makes remarkable advances.

Quite simply, while on the one hand society is disintegrating  in ways consistent with the sign of the current era, Pisces, (and negatively so through such themes as drugs, addiction, fake news, confused mysticism and misplaced permissiveness to the point of decadence), as against this situation themes of the incoming Aquarian age also impinge. The general drive is thus increasingly towards Uranian individualism, self-perfection, a refusal of what seems earth-bound, which can even include consumption of meat. Increasingly the impulses are Uranian, upwards and aerial, a case of “there’s nowhere to go but up” a la Ganymede. But along with this, sex and relating themselves becomes more Uranian.  This means, means there will be more same sex attraction and less standardized gender roles – many Aquarians like Princess Stephanie of Monaco have always even looked more androgynous than the average person.

Unless as regards the terrible hypocrisy and corruption allowed to surround it, there are no “signs of the times” and here shouldn’t  even be extreme shock, in the revelations concerning the Vatican and its ubiquitous (supposedly 80%) homosexuality just revealed in Frederic Martel’s In the Closet of the Vatican. An  institution supposedly run on total celibacy is not going to attract too many red blooded heterosexuals and the chart of the Vatican shows gay relevant Uranus in the house of sex in easy trine to a hidden Mars (men) in the hidden twelfth; so that matter has always been pretty obvious and hardly news.

Quite what the new customs, values and laws and even understanding of love might be when the Aquarian age is finally, fully arrived we can’t yet know. It is however impossible that the gay/Uranian theme, which biblically and in many societies is only a hidden stream in previous ages, under a specifically Uranus-ruled age will not become more accepted and mainstream. The controversy around gays is a battle that conservative theology and attitudes will lose. Rather like insisting on the basis of the bible that the earth is flat, conservative insistence on the inherent evil of anything gay associated as already caused irreparable damage to individuals and churches in its failure to reach new understandings; but one reason it can and will hang on to its position in the immediate is because what I have been saying can be too easily dismissed as explanation through the supposedly verboten, or just foolish distorting lens of mere astrology. There is, it will be said, no behaviour and values modifying Aquarian age on the horizon, there is no such thing…….Really

WHY THE BIBLICAL MILLENIUM SEEMS NECESSARILY IDENTICAL WITH THE AGE OF AQUARIUS.

  

It should be noted that in Revelation Jesus is pictured more than once as a Lion, the lion of the tribe of Judah. The ideal or lodestar of an era will always be in its opposite sign, which for Aquarius is Leo, the lion. In the currently ending era of Pisces, Jesus, born under Virgo, sign of bread and the wheatsheaf, is the bread come down from heaven, the ideal of many in the Piscean era. But more is involved than just this.

The Second Advent proper, which is the visible return of Christ to earth at the end of the Great Tribulation, (not any more hidden Rapture event which furnishes the opportunity to escape the Tribulation time), is plainly envisaged as an Aquarian/Uranian event. The symbol glyph of Aquarius is lightning and the Coming of the Son of Man is compared to the lightning which crosses the heavens (Matt 24:27). But this is still not the clincher.

During the Millennium, a vast temple is to be built. It is described in great length and technical detail by the prophet Ezekiel. In Ezek 41: 18-19 we learn of the interior: “And on all the walls all around in the inner room and the nave  there was a pattern. It was formed of cherubim and palm trees, a palm tree between cherub and cherub. Each cherub had two faces: a human face turned towards the palm tree on the one side and the face of a young lion turned towards the palm tree on the other side.

There are echoes here of Ezekiel’s introductory vision of the divine chariot with the four living creatures with their faces, one of a human, to the right the face of a lion, to the left the face of an ox and then an eagle. These are clearly the four elements (air, fire, earth and water respectively) and also their signs Aquarius, Leo, Taurus and Scorpio, the latter anciently often represented by an eagle rather than a scorpion. Whereas however Ezekiel’s initial and initiatory vision is on the level of all that’s permanent in existence, the millennial temple keeps to the symbolism of the age: the axis polarity sign  of the human but would-be angelic/cherubic Aquarius is with the more divine, messianic lion.

GUYS FEELING “DEFILED” BY WOMEN.

I will now have a speculative go at interpreting the almost impossibly strange statement from John the Revelator about the 144000 Virgin Israelite males who have not “defiled” themselves with women. As I’ve said, this is not even a regular biblical idea – it sounds almost more like a gay one than anything. It does so even though it can be conceded many men do feel a little compromised in their being by women to the extent woman is “earth”, the Dionysian swamp of nature so vividly described by anti-feminist feminist Camille Paglia who is sympathetic to those men, often gay, whose masculine protest against the female principle has functioned as a motor to much civilisation.  On the religious plain, however, I think immediately of the gay poet, Auden, who was pretty self-indulgent around men, yet felt he had sinned against God when he went to bed with a woman. It wasn’t natural to him to do it.

Whatever else the 144,000 are and mean,  when they are first referenced in Rev 7 they are to be ‘sealed” (protected?) before Tribulation plagues can manifest, so they stand at the midpoint of something – specifically the ages or aions. It would be symbolically fitting if the dying age of Pisces, “ruled” by Neptune which is about mysteries, the hidden and disappeared, ended with the disappearance of the Rapture  and   “Behold I show you a mystery” writes St Paul in connection to that subject. It would  also fit if, by contrast, the new age of Aquarius were birthed at the return like lightning across the skies of Christ’s return to Jerusalem. But whatever one envisages or believes, in-between an end and a new beginning John seems to assume an interval between the two ages, an interval taken up with the marriage in heaven and the Tribulation on earth. The 144.000 could thus be seen as marking a crucial transition point, a  point of rest, reversal and a taking breath rather like the half hour of silence in heaven at the beginning of Rev 8 which follows the first reference to the 144,000 in the previous chapter.

To appreciate the meaning one  also has to consider how Revelation  presents its extreme subject matter.  It describes in the only way anyone would be able to millennia in advance,  what sounds like and could be a description of a super-destructive global conflict, a WW111. It describes these effects as though direct judgements God, a sort of Jove’s thunderbolts rather than what God permits, though biblically “the wrath of God”, like damnation is really always the absence of God. Mindful of just this kind of active/passive reversal, on the same basis, if we were conveying the same vision today, we might as  easily speak of the 144,000 women who had not defiled themselves with men. It could well amount to the same thing as men not defiling themselves with women, if it reflected those concerned  were are all essentially Uranian and  they had not, like Auden, done what was unnatural to themselves.

I don’t wish to suggest my speculation unlocks the only possible meaning of the very real mystery of the 144,000, but it would make a degree of symbolic sense that, at what is effectively the brief interval or midpoint of two ages during which a marriage is celebrated and one which itself queerly renders both sexes involved a “bride of Christ”, there should be a still point. At this point and with and through some persons or principle can occur the  reversal of energies towards the new age which releases a new eros with a fresh sense of what’s  natural and will unite people. The 144,000 who sing “a new song” ( Rev 14:3) can represent the new force of  reversal.

CONVERGING PERSPECTIVES

To  admit the archetypal and symbolic to the subject of revealed apocalypse is liable to place a more perennial, eternal “now” upon the more future orientated “soon” of prophecy. The big question of our times is nonetheless whether the two perspectives are drawing ever closer together towards a more literal crisis and fulfilment. What about the uptick of quakes and volcanoes, the radical climate changes, the fact that according to a centuries old prophecy the current pope is the last, that prominent Jewish rabbis expect the third temple will soon be built, that their Messiah will soon arrive (even this year) and even a red heifer necessary for dedicating the new temple has been born?

In some articles on this site and also McCleary’s Additions, I have tried to keep up with developing ideas and possibly significant events in this area. These are not trivial questions, certainly they are more serious than the irreverent trivializations of the subject into which the people of Philadelphia have been caught.

 

 

 

 

 
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Posted by on February 14, 2019 in culture, ethics, gay, Mysteries, psychology, religion

 

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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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STAGING SWEENEY FRENZY: Irish parable or problem?

 

The legend of Sweeney’s frenzy or madness ( Buile Suibhne) carries a variety of messages and can be read as a parable of unresolved issues in Irish life.

If only for some impressive poetry, it has received occasional literary attention as in Flann O’Brien’s rather Joycean dense and difficult At Swim Two Birds,  Sweeney finds echoes in T.S. Eliot while the late Seamus Heaney  provided a modern “version”, basically a  translation, Sweeney Astray. But  the legend itself  has never really undergone the more psychological examination it deserves. It’s only in recent years that psychiatrist, Peter O’Connor of Melbourne, (in Beyond the Mist) has given any Jungian interpretations of even standard Irish myth, never mind medieval legend…Perhaps one needs to be here at the safe distance of Australia to conduct objective inquiries into the Irish psyche?!  Arguably the last word in displaced Celtic  consciousness and resultant inquiry was the case of born in Australia  PL Travers of Mary Poppins fame. (See https://wp.me/p2v96G-1gU).

This has been Sweeney’s year, at least in music –  a Sweeney song cycle  by  composer Neil Martin was premiered in Dublin on St Patrick’s day and I see that in July that Clonmel Junction Arts Festival in Tipperary combined music with readings from the legend.  (I gather that this year a mad Sweeney character is in  a TV series American Gods but I haven’t seen this and know nothing about it, not even if the above images owe anything to it). But staging Sweeney, the original mythical character?

At the beginning of this month I had one of those moments of apparent enlightenment where everything clicks and connects and I realized things I had not seen many years ago in this story. I began to envisage its dramatic re-telling as outrageous tragi-comedy. For presentation and style it should be somewhere between Beckett’s minimalist dead pan and Denis Johnston’s more flamboyant and dream filled The Old Lady Says No, but anyway something recalling revelatory moments of Irish drama while telling us something about the current spiritual condition of the nation.

At first blush, it seemed one could hardly go wrong if I tried – I was at Swim three or four Birds.  All sorts of issues and questions nicely and neatly  lined up for the tragic or comic treatment on a stage I imagined riven by flashing lights and sudden intervals of darkness suggesting confusion and general destabilization of familiar thought and worlds. Sweeney’s “madness” could be a mental condition, a case of bad nerves and undiagnosed tinnitus, or part of a larger unacknowledged element of troubled spirituality within the culture. All this could be suggested in the course of extracting the true meaning from behind the layers of high fantasy and propaganda interwoven with  the sources of a complex tale.

Things begin with an excitable “King” Sweeney (more like a local lord) who hates the sound of a saint’s bell and the thought a  church can built on his land without permission. But that someone could be cursed  by a saint to perpetual nakedness for his reactions (and  later to  die by spear point, a curse not able to be undone by another saint more merciful), invites questions like what really is a curse in Ireland  – many have long felt Ireland has existed under one!  It also raises question the significance of nudity in religious and secular terms, (I happened to have recently explored the latter theme  in the unusual perspectives of Naked in Thessaloniki: Riddle and Sign https://wp.me/p4kNWg-fD). Especially near its conclusion, the Sweeney saga in its kitchen level humiliation of the king drinking milk from a bowl of cow dung, has an element of the hidden, unfamiliar, sadistic Ireland that has sometimes lurked in the shadows behind the walls of orphanages, schools and  convents. Finally exposed, it has half traumatized the nation some of whose once trusted leaders had apparently been acquiescent in unacceptable conditions that have woken many from easy past loyalties,    

So, here were themes like plums for the picking. Sweeney  seemed an open sesame to some catharsis and national therapy session via drama. The characters were forming in my mind and making themselves heard……

Eorann:  What are you doing there, putting your hands to your ears? You should be ashamed of yourself, a silly paganish man that calls himself a king but can’t stand the sight and sound of a handsome bell resting on the sacred bosom of a holy saint. 

Sweeney:  You know the sound grates on me something terrible. 

Eorann:  More like the holy man grates on your dull conscience and you don’t want to sing a psalm of praise or repentance when it’s time to do so.

The character of Saint Ronan would obviously be crucial. Behind all the hagiography about “God’s faithful servant”, he is a vindictive wretch and one who opens up questions about what may have been flawed in the practice and beliefs of some Irish religion over the centuries.

Ronan:  Sweeney was in such devilish frenzies he seized hold of my painted psalter and threw it into the lake. Screaming against my bell, he said he preferred the sound of birds in the trees and the rushing waters of the glens. I stayed calm, rewarded with heaven’s blessing. An otter rescued my psalter. Brought it to the bank, not one precious painted page damaged by water. A miracle! A reason I could forgive Sweeney his unspeakable wickedness. I did so for a good example, though it’s not right or possible  to  pardon fully. Given heaven’s clear mandate to rid us of druids and replace their power, there must be signs of authority with impositions of penance. And my curse has the salutary grace of that. What upstart heresy was it taught grace was free and forgiveness absolute? For the good of all, Sweeney must suffer to shiver  naked in the night airs as long as he lives. He can hardly complain when I have brothers singing psalms stood  night long in the freezing waves of the ocean.

I was not sure if the sufferings of Job element to Sweeney’s story and his laments call for a treatment by chorus as he makes his way to the perhaps historically real Valley of the Madmen in Donegal or whether his faithful companion Loingsechan would be sufficient for the role. I envisaged the character of Loingsechan as an appearing and disappearing figure, almost a stage Irish type, a wise/naïve who sounds and acts a bit dim at the same time as he knows quite a lot. Sweeney is liable to forget who he is….

Loingsechan:  Forgotten again? Well, I’m used to it. I’m Loingsechan that some say is your natural brother and some say is your foster brother. But that’s only the beginning of the confusions people have around me  because they can’t agree what my name is, or should be, or if I’m under a curse like Ham that saw his father naked. Some say my real name should be the word that can’t be mentioned among Christians, whatever that is. I’m not striving to discover. I don’t draw attention to myself talking to people, even to my wife who’s disappeared off, the saints alone know where. I just keep travelling and keeping myself to myself when you’re not in one of your moods for the lively talking.  

However he later complains:

Loingsechan:  Aren’t I the loyal relative that’s always going around collecting peat or sticks to burn to keep your head and feet head warm against the night airs? And don’t I say to the holy prudes who keep looking or refuse to look, King Sweeney of the blond locks and the blue eyes, he doesn’t look too bad at all, now does he…? I mean, with or without clothes there’s not a man among us can have quite the fabled beauty of Naoise that Deidre loved. What do they expect?

The weird nature of the curses on Sweeney which I imagine Loingsechan asl confusing with a curse on Ham whose true meaning he will need to discover, may in the original texts  have been intended to evoke memories of the more striking effects of Gaulish Celtic warfare which included spear carrying naked warriors as recounted by  Posidonius.

NAMING A BLOCK OR WHAT ?

So far so good, but then after a few pages of notes, outline and sensing the voices, I suddenly stopped. It’s not advisable to do this mid flight because inspiration should be taken at the flood. It may not return at a  later date. Even so  I stopped, consented to it, willed it.

“Never say never” is sound popular wisdom and I don’t say it’s impossible I would resume. I just don’t sense it’s likely. It’s true that following some ghastly weather I felt suddenly tired and in my experience you need to be in top form to write even a poem – there’s something a bit athletic about the process. But that alone can’t explain my complex and conflicted mind in the matter. It was somewhere between just not wanting to finish, imagining there was no point (it’s hard to get anything to stage these days and my track record for being heard for anything in Ireland is abysmal) and that it probably wasn’t quite my fate to engage with the themes involved. These are points I return to in conclusion.

But if anyone wanted to be almost superstitious in the matter, it could be suggested that there was something else. It could be argued the Sweeney name partakes in, or itself names, a kind of curse that hampers expression, a reason it might be better to leave him to music! Consider that T.S.Eliot, beyond a couple of fragments, could never finish his Sweeney Agonistes which, despite its modernist content and non Irish setting, was influenced by awareness of the Irish material. The artist can never quite dissociate from whatever energies  the archetypes represent.

The early Irish gave a high status to poets, not least because they associated them with prophets and prophecy. It’s not hard to see how they might think so. The poet wouldn’t need to be any Nostradamus; things would need only to happen around them. I have given an example in the introduction to my first poetry collection Puer Poems.(https://goo.gl/avJhm7).In it I recount how I presented a copy of the introductory poem, Puer, celebrating the  archetype, to an actor who I felt exemplified the type. The poem happened to include the words, “and if he fell he’d bleed and bleed”. I managed to give this to the actor around the time he would shortly be performing  in a play with blood in its title. But he would also fall badly during performance, getting rushed off to hospital having bled across the stage or the dressing room, I’m not clear on this. The matter was never fully explained to me and that could have been because a notable star of screen may have been more responsible for events surrounding this than some would care to admit. All I know is that I was disconcerted by the news.

THE SAINT, CURSES AND A BIT OF THEOLOGY

There are twelve Celtic St Ronans, one of them a venerated evangelist to Brittany, so I have no idea to which Ronan the above icon applies. The half or wholly mythic saint of Sweeney’s Frenzy was St Ronan of Finn.  That St Ronan’s cursing is nonetheless  as good as canonical hagiography is bizarre and raises questions. Christians, not even saints and especially not saints can pronounce a curse as opposed to stopping and binding them. Ronan curses Sweeney more than once. That an Irish saint would even be thought to do this reflects a strong identity of early medieval clerics with the earlier druids much feared for their bans and curses. It also reflects a one time liturgical over-reliance on the Psalms and chanting them, which we know the Irish did. Some communities kept a perpetual round the clock chant. The psalms are more emotional than strictly theological and do thus include a few imprecations. Any influence from this might have been more balanced out if the liturgical  exercise (employed like a spell)  hadn’t been almost at the expense of the rest of the Old and New Testaments and theological teaching in general.

I looked into the often ignored, rather complex esoteric field of curses and exorcisms when I wrote Temple Mysteries and Spiritual Efficiency  (https://goo.gl/Xi1jv8 ).  Here I”ll just say it would be possible for someone to as good as curse themselves, a point of which presently; but the nearest any Christian leader might come to pronouncing outright curse on someone would be to refuse to declare a sin forgiven, normally if it was believed it was never genuinely repented in the first place (Joh 21:23 ). More in condemnation than outright curse, the disciples can shake the dust from off their feet against those who won’t hear their message (Matt 10;14). But in Christianity everyone is deemed under a curse anyway so that without divine intervention, often the result of prayer, individuals are constantly open to forces of evil whose powers over the earth it was the purpose of Christ’s incarnation to undo (“The Son of God was revealed…to destroy the works of the devil” 1 Joh 3:8). This is a work not completed until the Second Advent when the earth is reclaimed from the end times Antichrist.

St Ronan, either as cleric or person, fails to forgive (in the first instance almost comically because he feels disrespected that an infuriated  Sweeney dashes in  naked after his wife tears the clothes off his back). This offence taking is so unchristian it has to represent druidism. “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” ( Matt 6:14,15). Such would be the standard Christian position, though in cases of extreme offence (such as some Irish have suffered under child abuse where time is needed to heal and it’s a special virtue to forgive at all), even if and when seeking justice, the victim still needs – for their own good since hatred corrodes – to “let go”, accepting that “Vengeance is mine, says the Lord” (Rom 12:19).

The fact that the early Irish church promoted tales like those of St Ronan, is proof positive that no matter what St Patrick may have taught more evangelically, there would be little clear notion of forgiveness in the early Irish churches. We know there wasn’t or there could never have been the perverse labour of the Irish Penitentials that would greatly influence medieval Europe through some of  Ireland’s missionary monks. These imply the very opposite of any “amazing grace” but serve instead  a religion of salvation by works in harmony with the British Celtic heretic monk, Pelagius, for whom Christ was a perfect example, not a redeemer. What sociologically the penitential system bolsters is clerical power modelled on the ways of the druids and the value system of the Brehon lawyers.

Quite why Ireland was so merciless to sin and committed to the most difficult possible salvation by law and works is a mystery. A contributing factor could be the “matriarchal” dimension to the culture. Women are liable to be both more and less forgiving than men. They may forgive in pity and emotion, but alternatively may feel they augment their power by withholding forgiveness or behaving like witches to apply curses.

As I pointed out in a previous article on Ireland’s perennial spiritual problems (https://wp.me/p2v96G-126),  the crucial issue of the Irish and grace is anticipated by St Paul epistle to the Galatians i.e. to a basically Celtic – if by the apostle’s time fairly Romanized – Christian community. Oddly enough, however, exceptionally for the whole New Testament and almost against what I have just said above, the apostle declares to his Galatians, “But even if we or an angel from heaven should proclaim to you a gospel contrary to what we proclaimed to you, let him be accursed…I repeat if anyone proclaims to you a gospel contrary to what you have received, let that one be accursed” (Gal 1: 8,9)….We might interpret this as tantamount to declaring: let St Ronan and the brehon lawyers who inspire the legalistic spirit of  the penitentials be accursed”!

But St Paul doesn’t direct church members to pronounce curses on legalists. As I also said above, within Christianity people can only really be self-cursed. Rather as “the wrath of God” is not like Jove throwing thunderbolts but more like what happens when a basic fund of divine protection is removed so that evil takes its full and natural course, so it is with any “curse” in the Christian context. The Hebrew style that colours much of the bible’s expression is “extraverted” and often says God does something when it plainly means God allows it. Harmonious with this, what the Jewish  apostle effectively declares to the Galatians re potential self-curse, is that if certain fundamental principles of the spiritual realm are ignored, benefits are almost automatically deactivated or even go into reverse, backfiring on the individual.

Spiritually gifted though the Irish may be, arguably their Penitentials applied by a few ruthless saints (like Colmcille in permanent penance for starting a tribal war), indicate they have given away their spiritual power and rights, handing them over to  bureaucrats of religion who dole out more duties than inspiring ideals. “For all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse” (Gal 3:10). This situation is seen as  ruling out, or lessening, any claim upon divine blessing and protection, the more so if one doesn’t also reject the spirits of place, the apostle’s “elementary spirits of the earth” (Gal 4:3). He associates them with precisely Galatian practice and certainly feminist post-Christian thealogians like outspoken Irish American Mary Daly would gladly restore them.  I considered this old gods matter in Ireland’s Old/New Spiritual Problems (https://wp.me/p2v96G-126 ) where I suggested the nation remains in strange psychological thrall to especially the deathly Morrigan archetype (which some ill-advised neo-pagans are attempting to contact and channel !)

SWEENEY AND THE ULSTER SHADOW

At the everyday level, I don’t wish to imply that the Irish are chronically unforgiving. They are not. If anything they are more conciliatory than the at times rather shrilly self-righteous and intransigent citizens of Ulster.  Influenced by Calvinism, those north of the border are  less inclined to share the view further south that everyone’s a sinner, but more prone to take the moral high ground permitting attitudes too close for comfort to siege mentality and  cultural apartheid. But whether  the Irish, especially historically, have quite forgiven themselves or left matters of forgiveness to God, is another matter, and confusion in that area may have  had  a few consequences for the spiritual life and collective destiny.

I find an odd and potent symbolism in the fact the Sweeney legend is based in the kingdom of Dalriada, a province of historic Ulster. Sweeney banished to a tree within the kingdom of both the  High King and the original centre of Irish Christianity, is like a symbol for Ireland itself and even perhaps  a warning of its destiny. Sweeny as Ireland is someone doomed to lose history and culture to those who take the heartland, dismissing what it represents as little more than a threat to the settlers’ indelible connection to an idolized Britain and/or King Billy, a  point to which I add a few words in note (1).  At this level of reading one could perceive  the Irish destiny as subjection to an essentially materialistic system (which despite the Bible and Calvinism is what Ulster, supreme servant of Victoria’s empire, has always represented) and subject to this because a potential spiritual liberty was never quite accepted and claimed. Ulster and its plantation then  arrives to function as a kind of psychological cum spiritual shadow to what Ireland is, could or should be. It was often remarked that Viking and Norman settlers in Ireland became “more Irish than the Irish”. With Ulstermen development seemed to be in the opposite direction, the desire to more British than the British and thus truly an opposite or shadow force.

Yet if only mythically, the centrality or supremacy of Ulster for Ireland cannot quite die. It would be Belfast born writer C.S.Lewis invented Narnia with its high king at Cair Paravel (its model Dunluce Caste in Antrim). Ulster is a  strange “game of thrones” territory and one is hardly surprised that the super-successful TV series  (based on novels that can’t be attributed to any Irish American author though they are as intricate in their way as The Book of Kells)  should be mainly filmed in Ulster with its rather bleak landscapes in harmony with the region’s bleak and contested history.

But beyond any shadows, Ireland’s beloved emerald colour esoterically relates to transcendent, high ray spirituality and is the Venusian colour of love. The colour emerald subsuming the colours of the rainbow, surrounds God’s throne (Rev 4:3); but in a variety of myths emerald is also the colour or stone of Lucifer, Hermes et al who steal or claim to possess it. There’s no need dismiss this symbolism as entirely irrelevant to Irish destiny. I pointed out in the ” ‘Real Irish’ and Irish Reality’”  feature (https://wp.me/p2v96G-17D ) the rather astonishing fact that in the chart for modern Ireland, asteroids Lucifer and Theotes (Godhead) are locked in close combative conjunction. Eire  represents among other things spiritual influence and conflict

TO LAY MY BURDEN DOWN

I don’t think Sweeney means just one thing, but if it’s true he can equate with Ireland, its loss and  its silencing, then I think I should dodge the bullet he might deliver me in the role of interpretive artist. Years ago the director of the film Jesus of Montreal remarked he hoped its lead actor wouldn’t perform the part too well or it might not be fortunate for him. The archetypal dimension really can impose and take over in creative, original ventures.

I have had to learn that especially in trying to convey to the world that, (enlarging on the theories of astronomers  D’Occhieppo and Hughes) I have well and truly solved the mystery of Jesus’ birth astrologically down to the last asteroid, impossibly supplying data of a kind even the layperson can grasp, like the names of Jesus’ ancestors in his house of origins. But no matter the truth level involved and that the pattern still works today, when it comes to Christ truths, the principle “he was despised and rejected” (Is 53:3)  is par for the course . Even as a doctor of religious studies, published author and astrologer, and even while every tin pot, half crazed theory about Jesus gets proposed and promoted, I have never in years been officially published in this area or allowed so much as an author’s op-ed in the press of Australia, UK or Ireland on this vital theme, in its way like some Dead Sea Scrolls Discovery. (the relevant Op-ed is included in “The Magi at Era’s End” https://wp.me/p2v96G-ip

In the one exceptional case of major Jesus-related material, one must just be resigned and leave a blind and secular world to its devices – “make the hearts of the people dull…..lest they understand with their hearts…” (Is 6:10). But otherwise I’m not prepared to hurt myself going around with begging bowls to  literary and artistic elites for Irish and Sweeney material. As it is, my treatment by what Kevin Kiely would call Ireland’s more or less West Briton set prominent in relevant elites where I’m concerned, already beggars description. It could put in the shade what James Joyce suffered in Ireland around publishing the single word “bloody”. My part in Sweeney madness was for even a day or two to imagine composing anything in the line that might register somewhere.

The hugely conflicted but where Ireland is concerned at times unconsciously hilarious Louis MacNeice, exclaims (in Autumn Journal) “Why should I want to go back/To you, Ireland, my Ireland? The blots on the page are so black/That they cannot be covered with shamrock…”  A bit extreme, but even so I might need to remember, and people should perhaps be more aware (although I know there’s wisdom in the old saw “never complain never explain), that:

  • I have never had a single poem published or broadcast in Ireland. This is odd given a poetic Celtic drama of mine managed to get performed here in Australia and other poetry would have been broadcast the national broadcaster told me  had it been published first. Also, through Toronto, I have a whole mini epic “Coming to Syracuse”  recorded and nicely presented with visuals that has never obtained any Irish mention or support. https://wp.me/p2v96G-sG despite its pretty high standard. Fortunately I forget which literary or culture critic of The Irish Times it was (possibly  Fintan O’Toole)  who never even acknowledged receipt of a book, handed them by a would-be helpful fellow journalist, that contained the relevant play with some of my poetry. I do remember I had to ask a Dublin friend to go and collect it.[This in the same now “Globalist” Ireland where like  Gregory Betts you can be declared honorary Irish poet without passport or ancestors to support the identity. Re Globalism see my Irish Changes poem https://wp.me/p2v96G-1kp ]
  • Last year the RTE national broadcaster refused to showcase anything poetic of mine because legally  it has already been published, even if only on the Net or Indi – the exact opposite situation to the mentioned Australian one where not being published was the problem! They required I offer something virgin. When I did so, rather efficiently and quickly on return to Australia, I never received acknowledgement.
  • I have never got a smidgen of  real interest  out of Poetry Ireland whether visiting in person or contacting by email with material. When I last visited their centre and spoke  to a polite enough  couple of the team, I left behind for their publication manager a copy of my Raphael and Lucifer and other Visionary Poems https://goo.gl/DWsnZH with its updated Miltonics.  I explained it had been described by one of the few UK houses to accept metaphysical verse, as poetry to the highest standards. It had been recently refused solely  because of promotion problems. It was deemed unhelpful that I neither live in Europe nor am already known as a performance poet. Promised a reply from Poetry Ireland, which might have tried to help as I am an Irish not UK citizen, I would no more hear further than from the RTE.
  • The Irish Times has never given me a voice for anything whatsoever, its religion editor, uninterested back in 2016 even to allow me space to comment on, or be interviewed topically about, the same sex marriage referendum. This is despite my published doctorate on the varieties of gay spirituality marking a world first from any religious studies department.( https://goo.gl/1Pr94i ) so that I could well be considered an expert voice. Other subjects I proposed like the Christ material were simply ignored.
  • I have never got material into the Irish press  of a more tabloid kind like Is the Patrick Prophecy for Ireland Encoded? (https://wp.me/p2v96G-MR) . “We don’t do anything like that” was the brief response from The Irish Examiner to which I had been recommended to apply. With regard to the potentially popular astrological Christ theme, after being left waiting to see Jerome O’Reilly at The Irish Independent, this journalist took time  to glance at only the title of the page, handed him and declared “We wouldn’t do anything like that”. In which case just what would he/they do or even take the time to considering to do? The title was “Proving an Historic Discovery and Answering Pope Benedict’s Question“. I’m not a Catholic, but let none say the Irish Press doesn’t do news and  features on Popes! Pope Benedict had openly wondered what we should think about the eminently plausible D’Occhieppo/ Hughes thesis on Christ’s birth. I alone have the sensational answer and proofs.

This by no means exhausts the list of complaints, it merely lists some ironic highlights that I remember and that are relevant here.  Nobody needs this and I’m finally at an age (my Sweeney inspiration came hard upon my 71st), I am not  prepared to trouble myself with needless, abrupt dismissals or to waste time promoting myself night and day on the Net to obtain some gone viral status that protests an unjust treatment.

The ironies are nonetheless exquisite. If it weren’t that boasting has been an allowed part of Irish culture, I wouldn’t say here (what’s nonetheless a truth  it might by now be embarrassing for some to admit),  that I am closest, at least thematically and sometimes more, to the tradition of Yeats. Also that the standard at which I sometimes write can reach to better than much that gets published and called “Irish poetry” today. If, following Seamus Heaney’s decease, Brendan Kennelly is supposed to be Ireland’s leading poet, then I can write to and above that standard as should be apparent from even just my Judas stopped at Dublin ( https://wp.me/p2v96G-Bm ) which is satirical of Kennelly’s distasteful and super-profane Judas cycle of poems. I consider the limitations of modern Irish poetry  in Why Ireland Needs Yeats 2015 and more (https://wp.me/p2v96G-xA).

Enough said!  As the Taoist sages would have it, “to retire is best” and I  can’t disagree. Nunc dimittis! Why burden myself further?  I’ll not start quoting the gospels on such as casting pearls, but where Ireland is concerned it’s tempting to conclude with Yeats’ words over the Synge controversy: “You have disgraced yourself again”. And, as I would see it, by not living up to full potential….. I only regret that Ireland has never helped me, starting long ago when in the late ’80s I first offered some poetry, to live up to my own full potential.

NOTE (1). Ulster is not simply a place or a controversial  intervention in Irish history, it is almost an entire mind-set and worldview insufficiently interrogated. As such it has had major influence on international values and is so much an Other to Ireland it really is a species of shadow. Ulster mind has been influential through especially Scots Irish emigration to America, Several signatories to the  Declaration of Independence and several presidents including the ruthless Andrew Jackson of bad reputation for his treatment of Amerinidians, have been of Scots Irish origin. America’s religion of the radical fundamentalist and homophobic kind, its gospels of the prosperity and no gun control variety and even its masonic mysticism, all these have links to the heritage of the Scots Irish who took their exclusiveness to America where they established societies that banned Irish immigrants. I don’t wish to get into partisan politics and write as though there was never wrong on the Irish side, but there is nonetheless something particularly objectionable, even and especially at the spiritual level, in the Ulster/King Billy connection. Idolized for winning the Battle of the Boyne against the Irish and saving a  beleaguered Londonderry, the fact is William represents Real-Politik lies and deceit on steroids. King Billy only warred in Ireland because he obtained support from The Dutch, Germans, Danes and even exceptionally the Pope, to be against what England’s James 11 was trying to do through Ireland.  Billy had support solely on the grounds that if, as was likely, the international force would win, William would protect Catholic rights. At Limerick following Ireland’s last stand at the Battle of Aughrim, the Irish sued for peace on the basis they could avoid persecution. William agreed. When he returned to England he went back on all agreements with Europe and Ireland, the old pattern of confiscations returned and the whole system of crippling Penal Laws that would ruin native Ireland for a century went into place. Busy thanking God for their saint, King Billy, Ulster never protested for Ireland and never has. Into the modern era, Home Rule to Brexit Ulster has never ceded an inch in respect of Irish aspirations in their own land; it has not appreciated and scarcely admitted Irish culture even exists. Britain has always existed to serve a monstrous sense of entitlement without concern for  or appreciation of the place the descendants of the planted  have made their home. This sort of thing breeds misunderstanding and infects the spiritual life of a people.
 
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Posted by on November 12, 2018 in creativity, culture, Mysteries, religion

 

NO ONE COMPARES 2 SINEAD O’CONNOR, OUT AND PROUD AS A MUSLIM

THE BURDEN OF SINEAD

The ongoing saga of the life of Sinead O’Connor, aka Magda Davitt, and now Shuhada (Martyr)  Davitt to reflect Muslim identity, is liable to evoke sympathy and exasperation in equal amounts. She’s had a hard time from her abused childhood, but she has also played up, even openly admitting to enjoy being a trouble maker.

Who really is this strikingly chameleon, name changing singer and just what is she doing? To what extent is she victim of dire circumstances and a delicate psychological balance – she has at times threatened and attempted suicide – or is she, despite everything, a genuinely, independent moral and intellectual agent? A common enough, if half whispered Irish reaction to her painful, very public saga is, “she’s mad, God help her”. But is that quite true and the proper reaction? (It’s increasingly recognized Ireland could use more psychology and mental health care).

I heard the sad/mad evaluation being  expressed back in 2016 when Sinead had gone off the radar somewhere in  America and was threatening to end her life. When dining outside in sunshine at a restaurant overlooking the beach at Bray, I was told I was close to Sinead’s then Dublin home (since sold off to pay various debts). What struck me having wandered down the seafront to see the house, was how unkempt and untidy the garden was. Obviously this latest Vicar of Bray couldn’t be expected to wow fans and the curious by doing tidy-up beneath their gaze, but couldn’t a gardener have been hired? The condition of the place seemed a metaphor for a larger issue, not necessarily madness but some unresolved confusion of which arguably we now witness the latest episode.

The news this October is that the singer is now at last “very very very happy”  as an out and proud convert to Islam which is the summation of truth that renders all scriptures redundant. This turn of events certainly adds colour to the increasingly diverse, quirky and troubled Irish spiritual scene, helped along by another rock star, Bono, Christian promoter of the profane and virtually  Satanistic poetry of Brendan Kennelly’s Judas cycle. (See  my Judas Stopped at Dublin https://wp.me/p2v96G-Bm ). But even so, Sinead is almost sui generis in reflecting and enlarging certain problems.

In fairness to surprised and bewildered Irish onlookers, it’s not as though already and for years now Sinead not been rather vocally Christian, following her definition of that, as an ordained, dog-collared, whopping crucifix-wearing priest of the Irish Orthodox, Catholic and Apostolic Church communion. In this phase she was “the property of Jesus” and asserted it was Christian beliefs helped her through the torment of her abused early years (for which her brother certifies) and believed the Trinity (which Islam denies) is real.

The breakaway Catholic sect to which Sinead belonged from the early nineties was evidently a very broad church because its pop star priest  managed to be and remain ordained within it despite her status of mother to four children through four marriages and known both to have significant relationships with several other men too before outing herself as a lesbian (in preference, it seems, to admitting to what looks more like free wheeling bisexuality).

RELIGIOUS THEATRICS ?

   

It is too easy to dismiss all this as only “madness”. It is not as mad as Jesus person Britney Spears shaving her head to  print 666 on it. In fact it corresponds rather neatly, if in the most extreme form, to something quite distinctive which is not so rare. It belongs to the behaviour of  persons born like Shuhada (and Spears) under the religion and philosophy sign of Sagittarius, a “mutable”, travelling sign (of the pilgrim and pilgrimage) disposed to often spectacular changes of belief, opinion and lifestyles triggering many disputes with friends and foes alike.

For reasons of space and discretion, I will cite only one notable example that I have had direct interaction with, namely the late Buddhist scholar and art critic, Danish born Tove Neville, author of the definitive work on The Eleven-Headed Avalokitesvara in Asia. She, like Sinead, could also tell you of a very difficult childhood though not quite to the level of Shuhada’s. But when I stayed with Tove in Kyoto many years ago I came away feeling one would need twelve heads to manage  all she was saying and doing.

Tove had converted to Buddhism and been initiated to one of its esoteric orders some years before and was practicing the faith with a zeal fit to outdo the apostles. She felt compelled to stop in the middle of a street to pay homage to gods in wayside shrines; if we entered a temple she had the Japanese aghast at how she broke the silence to sing in praise of all Buddhas. If someone did something wrong they received lectures and even hell fire sermons from her. She conveyed me an esoteric secret (one that is not supposed to be revealed if it applies to you), that she was a bodhisattva “come to bring peace on earth”. This exalted position in the Buddhist hierarchy meant she was truly enlightened, the reason she saw fit to do various un-Buddhist things like landing  into Japanese steaks and drinking fine wines. She informed me she was entitled to live beyond the rules due to her initiated enlightened status.

Tove, a former journalist with White House connections was a scholar, a pleasant enough person in herself and quite  sane too, if eccentric, but eccentric like another Sagittarian, the German poet Rilke. He likewise suffered from inflation and exaggeration of religious affect to the point he thought, as in Love Poems to God, there was no barrier between him and deity so that he  even added to and helped complete and perfect God: “Are you then the All….Am I not the whole?”. It was this constant sense of either being or needing or deserving  to be in unmediated contact with the All which towards the end of Rilke’s life made him, like Sinead, sympathetic to the Islam which declares God has no Son/Mediator. (Even in her priestly phase Sinead was super-inclusive  evading any problems around salvation maintaining God saves everyone whether they want it or not).

Like Tove, Rilke’s sense of enlightenment was the indulgent one. Mean and even cruel to his wife, he was lifelong promiscuous, in short lacked any sense of his much vaunted sacred in terms of the holy or the unholy (sin)  which is why any Christian style mediation of the divine was never in question. No one has quite the sense of entitlement and a preacher’s moral high ground as Sagittarius whose “do as I say, not do as I do” attitude could describe many a problem within the religious circles in which they are prominent.

Almost predictably a Sagittarian was John Bunyan of Pilgrim’s Progress and I wonder if his sometimes excessive, opposite feeling of extreme sin and unworthiness to the point of black depression is what inflation in the style of Tove Neville and Rilke is trying to avoid. Balance is just not easily achieved, or perhaps not even desired, under this sign ruled by Jupiter (the Bethlehem star itself) which is involved with forgiveness and inclusion but not absolutely.

In fact, the philosophy of this sign and its planet of affinity favour theory, hence doctrine and dogma; and this element of affairs is emerging in Sinead in no uncertain fashion when she declares all scripture is redundant in the light of Islam and warns she will tolerate no anti Muslim statements to her site.

PAINTED INTO A CORNER?

In effect, Sinead could have a problem that a trendy, Hollywood style conversion to Buddhism might have helped her avoid – she even now sometimes looks rather  like Diane Perry, aka Tenzin Palmo, the Londoner who spent twelve years meditating Tibetan Buddhism in a Himalayan cave! Sinead likes change and development (emphasized under Buddhism’s “Impermanence” doctrine), but Shuhada has painted her mutable self into a traditionally strict and fixed corner from which she cannot now disengage short of the life threatening option of turning infidel. Her whole body she reports, trembles with ecstasy as the hijab is put on her. Other women might by contrast shake with horror that a woman in Iran who removed her hijab this year in protest for women’s rights has been sentenced to twenty years jail where she could well rot and die besides since against International law Iran doesn’t trouble to give medical assistance to its prisoners.

Our too often blind or timid media fail  to stress, and almost certainly Shuhada hasn’t researched, how almost every Muslim majority country is between dangerous to nightmarish for Christians and all religious and social minorities including of course gays as Sinead should know. In Pakistan Christians as infidels can even be deemed “unclean” rather like untouchables in India and popularly spoken of as fit only to clean toilets. It is because she had drunk from a Muslim cup of water on a hot day that Christian mother, Asia Bibi, has been nine years in solitary confinement on death’s row for blaspheming Mohamed by her action….indirect blasphemy it would seem so sensitive are Pakistani sensibilities, yet sensibilities hardly anyone would dare criticize lest they be considered “racist”, the reason police in UK didn’t deal with Asian child sex gangs for years, the reason it’s only Christian, not Muslim child abuse is liable to hog the news !

Everyone knows Bibi didn’t really blaspheme Mohammed but the courts have so much popular opposition with murder threats against both them and Bibi from Muslim fanatics if ever the unfortunate woman is released, that justice is delayed or even can’t be done. This and many other unspeakably unacceptable situations in not just Pakistan ( consider the bashings and murders, the attacks on homes and churches everywhere from Egypt to Khazakhstan) should make us question those like Sinead who now demand an almost one-sided toleration, in effect censorship across society, on behalf of all persons and things Muslim. Perhaps Shuhada is “very very very happy” that she is inevitably reported and celebrated in minorities oppressive  Pakistan like a trophy. Anyway  it’s her stern warning against criticism that finally breaks the pity spell for me as regards this “martyr” who doesn’t know what real martyrdom is.

As said, I think that for the “mutable” person Sinead is she has made a poor choice for one of her theatrical temperament because, unless age will now tire and subdue her verve, she has nowhere dramatic to go in religion unless she does something still more radical….like donning a burqa or leading a wholesale crusade to turn the Emerald Isle a Muslim Green. And I suppose she could always change her name to Fatima.

But you never know what Shuhada will do. Given her influence, one can only hope she doesn’t confuse Ireland’s confused, half traumatized religious situation still further, though it wouldn’t be entirely surprising if she did.

A MIRROR OF FATE

In describing the remarkable mirror of Irish life and destiny presented by the 1948 Irish Republic chart (see article  https://wp.me/p2v96G-17D), I mentioned how Ireland exceptionally showed a close conjunction of asteroids Theotes (Godhead/Trinity) with Lucifer indicative of almost a transcendent spiritual conflict developed at the heart of modern Irish life (and just  possibly reflecting the late Fr Malachi Martin’s extreme claims about a measure of actual Satanism among Catholic leaders).

However, Shuhada’s own pattern shows tensions rather similar. In her ninth house of religion and beliefs she shows a remarkable conjunction of surprising, separative, controversial Uranus at 24 Virgo bracketed by Lucifer at 24 and Theotes at 23.  (It’s the sun rules her religion sector and it has been the transiting sun that in its conjunction to her expressive natal Moon conjunct Church conjunction, brings news of her final separation from her priestly church role).

I will not say more concerning her chart than to point out that Mars ruling her home and family origins and perhaps her mother, is conjunct her destiny and career Midheaven which reflects how she constantly brings her family issues into the public arena.

Shuhada’s pain and depression has more to do with a natal affliction square between Venus and Saturn, always a bad aspect but especially for a woman as it undermines esteem and leaves an unloved feeling and in this case martyrdom too since Chiron the wounded healer conjuncts Saturn worsening it. But I am not so sure that apart from this unenviably negative aspect the chart is really quite that bad or difficult. There would not have been so much fame, success and sympathy if things were otherwise.

A case could be made this person is dramatizing to some degree and enjoying it. Whether she is or not, this latest turn in the saga with its don’t criticize tone, if it does not exhaust my stock of sympathy it does rather deplete it.

 

[For the interface between types of belief and the expression of beliefs following astrological factors, see  The Astrology of Beliefs  https://goo.gl/oN9aQe ]

For more on the poet Rilke see two articles on this site  Rilke,Singer of Hades Parts 1 and 2  https://wp.me/p2v96G-mM

For a recent article on John Bunyan and his Pilgrim’s Progress, see: https://wp.me/p6Zhz7-7s

 

 
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Posted by on October 29, 2018 in astrology, culture, Mysteries, psychology, religion

 

IRELAND’S APOCALYPTIC PUZZLES

IRELAND AND THE AGES

Ireland enjoys a strange place where the apocalypse is concerned, and it’s not just because of medieval forecasts of the disappearance of the island ahead of the Antichrist’s rule, or St Malachy’s twelfth century forecast of the Popes which, if valid, would render the present Pope the last in line.

Just as distinctive is how it’s now widely thought an Anglo-Irishman, John Nelson Darby (1800-1882), was largely responsible for promotion of a now influential, supposedly unprecedented apocalyptic doctrine, more widely held in America than elsewhere, of the so-called Rapture. This is a disappearance and resurrection of (believing, prepared) believers prior to the Tribulation period dominated by the Antichrist. Especially one popular religion writer, Dave McPherson, made a name for himself  popularizing  theories of  a “Rapture hoax” and  of the Victorian origins of theological material supporting such as contemporary bestselling “Left Behind” fiction etc.

But according to respected scholarship, Darby didn’t originate Rapture doctrine per se, though he did eventually include the belief within his general futurist outlook. But it’s of some value to understand what he did believe and why. And there is an odd connection of sorts between medieval Irish end-of-days prophecies and the Darbeyite  notions  that were evolving  at Conferences in the 1830s at Powerscourt House, the Anglo-Irish Ascendency mansion at the edge of the Wicklow mountains. Quite simply, it’s a teaching of deliverance and there is a similarity of sorts between the concept of a purely fated Irish deliverance  via catastrophe and a more awaited,  invoked and earned believer’s Rapture, both events avoiding the Antichrist.

CRISIS AND CATASTROPHE

irish-flood

I have touched elsewhere on the Patrick prophecy of Ireland’s submersion (https://wp.me/p2v96G-MR) which is recorded in a seventh century biography of Ireland’s apostle.  A forecast along similar lines is said to be included in a ninth century document  now lost, of St Columba. More recently new agers note a forecast from the (American) spiritualist Edgar Cayce which claimed Ireland will disappear under the waves in an instant.

St Malachy of Armagh’s prophecy of the Popes is concerned with the world, not Ireland, but it obviously belongs to Ireland’s association with apocalyptic prophecy. That Malachy was a prophet even St Bernard of Clairvaux who knew him affirmed. We may doubt  however that his original forecast contained more than the number of the Popes till the Antichrist rather than the latin mottoes now attached to each pope. These could have been added in the Renaissance for political and family dynastic reasons within Italy. If the mottoes are authentic and valid unlike other forecasts they don’t promise deliverance from the Antichrist, only that the last Pope will protect his flock during the persecutions of the Antichrist. This hardly speaks to the current situation. It is admittedly interesting that the last Pope is called “Peter the Roman” and Pope Francis does call himself and behave as bishop of Rome, wandering and shopping in the city like an ordinary citizen. On the other hand, one could hardly regard him as protecting his flock in the times of the Antichrist! Even supposing that person was now present and active, Francis’ protests against the now worldwide persecution of Christians are strangely limited, and Chinese Catholics feel he has recently betrayed them into the hands of their atheistic government which is demolishing churches (1).

Regardless, if ours are at all apocalyptic times or approaching them, it might be well to understand some details concerning that and which not least the career and reputation of Derby raises. (This article is a continuation of reflections on Irish spirituality and religion more generally as in Ireland’s Old/New Spirituality issues  https://wp.me/p2v96G-126 

ANGLO-IRISH MISSION PROBLEMS

Nelson Darby’s father, who inherited a large estate with a castle in Ireland’s Offaly county,  intended his son for the law. But after an exceptionally distinguished study at Dublin’s Trinity College and some legal training, Darby opted to be a priest of the established Church of Ireland. Like Bishop Bedell in Co Cavan  who had tried to introduce a Gaelic bible two centuries before him, Derby took his role with unusual seriousness. This included succouring and converting the Irish poor of the Wicklow mountains and living in near poverty himself to do so. He was unexpectedly successful and hundreds converted to Protestant faith. This suddenly stopped when the Church of Ireland’s Archbishop Magee of Dublin intervened to insist upon converts taking oaths of Allegiance and Supremacy to the Crown. To become Protestant was to become English. Darby, who believed in the Irish right to be Irish, was disillusioned and appalled, and in the course of a long convalescence following a riding accident, his biblical studies led him towards certain reflections, the first major one in the tract form he often used and called Considerations on the Natural Unity of the Church of Christ” in 1828.

It became clear to Darby that existing “Erastian” views of Christianity (which as in Ireland allowed the  faith be practiced and extended in cooperation with the governing authorities), was profoundly wrong, albeit high levels of church state relations (and rivalry) had been virtually normative since Constantine established Christianity in the fourth century. Even Protestants, the Lutherans, the Anglicans, the Calvinists, had fallen for the old trap. It therefore had to be that there was a true church within the churches, a church of the Spirit. (The rather gloomy, exacting character of Derby instead of finding his church of the Spirit eventually founded the rather narrow Plymouth Brethren  sect instead – his future career as a religious independent embraced bible translation and much travelling in Europe and America as a missionary for true faith).

MARGARET MCDONALD’S VISION

Darby’s change of mind from 1828 onwards ran parallel to, rather than was directly influenced by, various movements of a revivalist kind in Britain and America with its “Great Awakening”. Something was “in the air” to which Darby indirectly belonged.  A few years after Darby declined from his church’s and Trinity College’s then beliefs (now a subject of scholarly inquiry), a pre-Pentecostal visionary in Scotland, Margaret MacDonald announced, supposedly under inspiration, an unfamiliar teaching. The true and spiritual church would be protected and taken by God before the persecutions of the Tribulation and the Antichrist. Citing the parable of the ten bridesmaids (Matt 25: 1-13) she asserted that the five admitted to the Marriage of the Lamb are those with the oil of the Spirit. The rest who don’t have oil with them and whom the bridegroom doesn’t know and who are excluded, are those unprepared Christians who, to attain any salvation will need to suffer through the persecutions of the Antichrist.

The assumption that Christians would be persecuted at the end of days seems to have been what numbers of influential early Christians, especially Bishop Irenaeus, assumed all believers would undergo. They associated their final and resurrected redemption not with any Rapture but a “resurrection of the Just” at the end of the seven year rule of the Antichrist. Undeniably a resurrection of those martyred during the Tribulation is referred to in Revelation (Rev 20: 4-6) where moreover it is confusingly called “the first resurrection” though in broad  context it means the first kind of pre Last Judgement resurrection. (At the latter everyone who has ever lived is raised to gain or loss).

Darby would have known something of the proto-charismatic movement though meeting charismatic Irvingites present at the Powerscourt Conferences at the Irish Versailles of Powerscourt House south of Dublin in the early 1830s. He did   also  once attend a meeting in Glasgow at which MacDonald gave utterances, but he didn’t even record what she said and  never showed marked interested in charismatic phenomena. He originally believed in the post-Tribulation picture and only came to pre-tribulation Rapture beliefs a decade after witnessing MacDonald. The noted Plymouth Brethren theologian F F Bruce finds no likely connection with MacDonald and it is even believed his change of mind was under the influence of writings of the pre-millennialist  Dominican Jansenist, Bernard Lambert. (2)

DISPENSATIONALISM

All that is certain is that Darby did not invent any pre-tribulation Rapture which constituted a hidden stream of belief in which even some Jesuits may have been involved. What he did pioneer is the “Dispensationalism” into which Rapture doctrine could be most neatly, credibly slotted with this Secret Rapture ending the age of Grace while Christ’s openly manifest return to the world marked the beginning of the next age. Dispensationalism and the related Futurism teaches different ages (basically seven) affecting revelation, laws or covenants, like the Dispensation of the Patriarchs, the Dispensation of Moses, the Millennium under Christ’s rule, but with all these phases of history centred around the Jews.

Darby’s real prophetic originality would lie not in any late accepted Rapture doctrine, but in assuming against all common belief of his times, that Israel had a unique destiny. Israel would and must be, (as it is today), re-established as a political entity for the promises of God and redemption to be fulfilled – in short, Dispensationalism had affinities with, and may be said to have anticipated,  contemporary Christian Zionism. (To whatever extent feelings about an Irish right  to a separate identity and its links to the practice of faith may have coloured all this, is an open question).

As regards the post-Tribulation redemption doctrine that Darby eventually rejected, there is a simple way of proving this notion, even though accepted in some early Christian quarters, it was always misleading or illogical. What most typically supports Rapture doctrine in Paul’s writings, especially in Thessalonians, refers to a resurrection/transformation that takes place in the air. Christ never leaves the clouds of heaven to touch earth to effect it, it is essentially hidden. This is quite different from all that occurs, including “resurrection of the just”, when he arrives, post-Tribulation, on earth. His feet are then not on the clouds of heaven but on the Mount of Olives and the streets of Jerusalem.

Even if the Rapture idea had gone out of fashion and even memory, it follows that McDonald’s position was no more original than Darby’s broadly similar but later acquired  position.  In the fourth century we read: “For all the saints and Elect of God are gathered, prior to the tribulation that is to come, and are taken to the Lord lest they see the confusion that is to overwhelm the world because of our sins” (On the Last Times, the Antichrist, and the End of the World, by Ephraem the Syrian, A.D. 373). Moreover, in speaking of apocalypse, St Paul promises his believers at Thessaloniki they are not “appointed to wrath”. (1 Thess 5:9). This in itself means something rather specific and relevant to the larger picture…

All NT Christian notions of Tribulation are basically identical to the OT’s book of Daniel’s “seventieth week” which gospellers and apostles view in the light of Christian developments. The seven year Tribulation is “the time of Jacob’s trouble”, an expression derived from Jeremiah (Jer 30:7) and described in Daniel as  “a time of anguish such as has never occurred” (Dan 12:1). It marks the time of final woe for the world and especially the Jews as the world turns against Israel, although  the nation will be delivered. This dark time’s outpouring of divine wrath (in effect divine absence or withdrawal of protection against events) is what is associated with “the Wrath of the Lamb” (Rev 16:6). This “wrath” is more or less parallel to “the Marriage of the Lamb” (Rev 19:7). The latter, if its imagery can be supposed to bear any relation at all  to traditional Jewish weddings, would last seven days, prophetically seven years. St Paul therefore has to mean that the believing prepared can escape the Tribulation/ Wrath. If you are not “appointed to wrath” (of the Lamb) you can attend the marriage feast (of the Lamb)  because if you are sufficiently aware and ready,  you are able to escape the universal woe in the way the Rapture idea uniquely envisages.

It seems likely that the emphasis placed by some early Christians upon a post-trib “resurrection of the just” as opposed to a pre-trib Rapture of the believing prepared, had an almost more psycho-social than theological basis. In the first, persecuted centuries it would have seemed that the believing community were either already under the rule of the Antichrist (Nero was the first to be seen as a type of Antichrist) or shortly to be so. It might require a period of sustained peace and toleration to even envisage any other fate than martyrdom and restriction. I suggest this situation blinded early understanding to the fact that deliverance could be associated with  an unexpected moment, even a time of pleasure and recreation like that of the bridesmaids awaiting the groom.

THE SHIFTING FOCUS OF PROPHECY

“We see through a glass darkly” admitted St Paul, and on apocalypse the churches may be said to have done just that. Until the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD, followers tended to believe Jesus would shortly return. Since however Jesus himself had declared, the gospel must be preached throughout the whole world first, second advent was unlikely to occur very soon and within  in a generation! Jesus had also said the generation that witnessed the budding of the fig tree (arguably the foundation of a new, independent Israel, not one colonized and divided by Rome), would be the generation of the apocalypse. (Matt 24: 33-35). That could be a good time off.

After Jerusalem’s dramatic fall to Rome had partially fulfilled Jesus’ apocalyptic forecasts, it was easier to have recourse to a biblical principle that scriptural reference can be not just linear but cyclical in application (Ecc 1:9). Another apocalyptic attack on Jerusalem and another temple could be involved – had not Jesus forecast a future Antichrist would enter another, evidently new temple?

It also became easier to admit that Jesus had only partially fulfilled messianic prophecy. He had been all of the messiah as Isaiah’s redeeming Suffering Servant, but not David’s ruling, triumphant heir. More attention was paid to this point when towards the end of the first century the book of Revelation portrayed a whole Millennial triumph and earthly rule which would fulfil all the prophecies like those of Ezekiel. This outcome  would moreover allow fulfilment of all the covenants made with those antecedents to the Christians like Abraham whose promised destiny was to own and rule lands never fully possessed by Israel and which he would need to be resurrected and able to enter a Millennial kingdom to see fulfilled.

THE CHILIAST STARTING POINT

The earliest Christians like Justin Martyr were basically Chiliasts or Millennarians, taking a fairly literal position on messianic prophecy and the Millennium. On the basis that biblically a day could often mean a year or something else, they assumed that, given a six day creation, there should be a six “day” history of humanity with the Millennium its seventh day, a Sabbath of rest. They of course took the six day creation literally whereas today we might speak of a seven millennium salvation story or priestly history.

And we do need to propose something of the kind, because the seven millennium pattern, however unusual and pre-scientific it sounds today, bears a real connection to something: the pattern and symbols of the ages more celestially, Jesus being born around the dawning of the age of Pisces (effectively St Paul’s ‘age of grace”) . This highlights a fact which symbolically and thematically has all kinds of significance for what biblically preceded Pisces in the ages of Taurus and Aries and should yet succeed it in the Aquarian – the utopianism assumed of the Millennium fits very well with Aquarius. The very concept of a Utopia and the word Utopia derives from the Aquarian Thomas Moore, while the number 7 in biblical numerology is the number of perfection and completion.

At least some false prophecies and misunderstandings about the end times  could have been avoided by merely realizing an aion or age, lasts something about 21000 years. Some early Christians employed a kind of Archbishop Ussher style chronology which they deduced from the Genesis genealogies. But due to major discrepancies between the  Hebrew Bible and Greek Septuagint version, the dates and genealogies could be as far  as 1400 years out from four millennia originally assumed to precede Christ. For the Hebrew and Samaritan bibles Adam to Abraham makes 2000 years, whereas in the Septuagint they are 3400 years. As a result, no one knew whether they were in or could hope to be inside a millennial Sabbath of not. No matter what a person believes and what precisely will happen, current apocalyptic feeling and expectation at least corresponds neatly to the cuspal situation between the eras of Pisces and Aquarius. Pisces with its Neptunian mysteries can well end in mystery and disappearance much as it began with the hidden birth of Christ, Aquarius with its blatant manifestations could well start with the lightning shock of open revelation. Symbolic logic and archetypal pattern attends thinking of the lost or rejected Darbeyite kind.

TOWARDS  A PURELY SYMBOLIC FAITH – AMILENNIALISM

    

Gradually, as Christians and Jews drew ever further apart in the second and third centuries and the ultra-transcendent viewpoint of Greek philosophy influenced theology, there was less and less emphasis upon the literal and historical fulfilment of biblical prophecy – or anything at all. What wasn’t a symbol was almost vulgar, which is virtually the snobbish position of the  church father Origen who wasn’t beyond despising “ignorant”, uneducated Christians. Christianity began to lose contact with history, covenant and any Jewish roots. The mystically unnameable overtook the prophetically nameable. The symbol-driven medieval Catholic synthesis was on the way.

On the ground however, Christianity didn’t lose contact with the course of events at all. Between them, those allies in favour of things Roman, Ss Augustine and Jerome, created a quiet revolution for a church newly established in the fourth century. Jerome didn’t even hesitate to alter the text of even the first known commentary on Revelation to rid it of chiliastic features in favour of amillennialism, dishonestly attributing Victorinus’ changed commentary to the known heretic, Cerinthus. The outlook of these scholar saints compelled them to symbolize so much  that they turned the millennium into a foreshadowing of the present time, the rule of the church over everyone and everything with any promises and covenants to the Jews cancelled out and re-applied to the benefit of Christians.

The effect of what was effectively a replacement theology was and remains devastating. While in fairness to Augustine he lent some support to Jews,  in the Greek East St John Chrysostom was declaring against Jews in terms so extreme they would one day gain even Hitler’s approva , by untethering bible and prophecy from history, covenant and the objectively real, the door was opened to both future anti-Semitism and medieval ecclesiastical triumphalism which culminated in Popes declaring they owned the world or even the universe. The Last Judgement would then follow this time of privileged church rule. This is how St Malachy (or his suspect, maybe later added papal mottoes) sees things because his Last Pope oversees a rule of Antichrist directly followed by the Last Judgement. This is unbiblical – the Last Judgement is for some future time following the earthly millennial rule of Christ the scholar saints had got rid of.

If like Derby and in harmony with a periodic radical bent within Irish thought, you peel away the often Erastian traditions of the churches whose logic and reason are almost more Aristotelian than Hebraic, you are left with a rather Quakerish picture in which personal responsibility and bible take on new dimensions. Both these may appear chaotic, the bible presenting an array of contradictions real or imagined that await resolution. As a scholar and trained lawyer, Darby’s response was to seek to impose order and consistency and not least around the legal issue of covenants. The result was his Dispensationalism that was also eminently exportable and that in America would be widely popularized away from Darbey’s heavy style in such works at The Scofield Reference Bible and the chart filled, rather fabulously illustrated Clarence Larkin’s Dispensational Truth (which last nonetheless opted for a mid-Trib Rapture).

Before concluding I will insert why, no matter what you what you believe and make of Rapture doctrine, it does appear to produce the kind of common sense, logical consistency Darby aimed for.

1) In Luke Jesus speaks of a time when one shall be taken and the other left Luk 17:34. This is preceded by mention of people going about their normal business when the event happens. This picture then agrees with the Pauline view that people are talking in terms of “peace and security” (1 Thess 5:3) at the time that disaster in the form of apparently Rapture and Tribulation, strike. This scenario could hardly occur at the time of the extraordinary, life and death, catastrophic situations associated with the Tribulation period. If anyone finds Luke’s picture at variance with words in Matthew 24 and 25, then almost certainly this should be referred to the fact Matthew’s gospel is the most Jewish one unlike the Gentile one of Luke. Hence reference is to especially the Jews and believers present at the time of Tribulation who see he Temple abominated and so on and are told to flee rather than prepare for any bridegroom’s arrival. That season to the extent it is “The Time of Jacob’s Trouble” is not primarily about the persecution of the believing prepared.

2) Any straighforward reading of Revelation surely supports Rapture. Its first chapters are taken up with addresses to seven churches in Greece and Turkey (which may be equally or additionally symbolic for types of churches across history). Following this the seer hears a trumpet which summons him to heaven (as Rapture doctrine assumes) where multitudes are then seen celebrating the enthroned Lord. After this there is nothing more about the redeemed until nearly the end of the book, but there’s much about the misfortunes of the Tribulation era for those on earth. If the church is mentioned at all, it is in a separate visionary section which portrays a woman clothed with the sun giving birth and her child snatched to heaven before a dragon can seize the child from her. We know the early church as represented by Victorianus understood the child to be the church and therefore the woman Israel who originally birthed the church, not as per medieval interpretations, Mary, whose son ascended to heaven, not snatched there from the devil.

3) Already early on In Revelation in the message to Philadelphia, there is a promise of protection: “I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming upon the whole earth” ( Rev 3:10). This is quite plainly a reference to the general apocalyptic Tribulation that much of Revelation is about,  and being able to escape from it.

More could be said, but if earlier persons and churches failed to see these simple points just mentioned, they were as blind to them as the first Christians were around issues affecting kosher diet, circumcision and the Gentile world. It is never assumed believers can and will know all Truth all at once. It is said the Spirit will lead into all truth (Joh 16:13). It is accordingly false to dismiss Rapture doctrine and/or elements of Dispensationalism as only and automatically late heretical invention when what it seems to be able to do is to clarify and enlarge upon what, on examination, can be seen as already present in the records.

AN IRISH SPIRITUAL PESSSIMISM?

One could call the intense, depressive, not entirely attractive Derby one of the Irish pessimists. Certainly it was another aspect of his originality that Darby did not follow the Victorian and Darwinian hope of the West for unlimited evolutionary improvement in the world. The world would continue evil and even become more so unless and until purged through the apocalypse and the setting up of Christ’s Millennial kingdom. Paradoxically, this made Darby (who preached in England and Europe) popular in “optimistic” America  where as the country grew but away from the legacy of the Pilgrim Fathers, there was a feeling that the future of Christianity was anything but assured.

The element of hope lay chiefly in what preparation and belief towards the last things might obtain in terms of escape from the worst.

Despite Ireland’s reputation for spirituality, expression of this is often closer to nameable prophecy than unnameable medieval and international mysticism. Darby is closer to St Malachy than other Irish prophets in anchoring his assumptions in historical development. This is something Ireland has always needed to do and still does if it is not to finish with either anti-Semitic feeling (such as some politicos have recently been accused of) because God is not Lord of any Covenants and history, or a spirituality of only symbols  more or less interchangeable and so as to render the whole Judaeo-Christian tradition disposable.

One historian has recently written on how the Irish became Protestants, by which he means not literally so but rather in the way American Catholics are now half Protestant in their independence of authority and reliance upon personal conscience. There are however limits to how far religious pick, mix and switch can go. The popular new age Irish spiritualist, Lorna Byrne, (she who has angels in her hair!) forecasts Christians will one day be worshipping with Muslims at Mecca. While that may well not be true (though if the Tribulation and its one world religion developed who knows?!), if Irish Christianity cannot now absorb something more biblically and historically grounded in the way Darby’s Dispensationalism and Futurism strove to be, they will only have symbols to deal in and belief may then go just anywhere, even into the hands of the prophet of the Antichrist itself. Sometimes pessimism constitutes wisdom.

Notes

1)  If vision can foresee it, the Pope’s fate is more likely the assassination that the Catholic Seeress, the late Jeane Dixon, foresaw years ago for whoever would be the last Pope. It is a forecast Francis may know of since he once stated he hopes he won’t be assassinated. Dixon maintained that after the last pope’s death someone else would be enthroned in the Vatican and institute some kind of global faith. If so such a person existed and did that, he could only be the second beast of Revelation 13, the Antichrist’s prophet who generates belief in the masses. Right now especially conservative Catholics might say their Pope was preparing the way to the false prophet. He has already said atheist unbelievers are saved people of diverse beliefs all worship the same God under different names and claims to relationship with Christ are suspect. With these ideas he undermines Christian purpose and identity.
2) Timothy T. N. Stunt “Influences in the early development of J.N Darby” pp. 44-68.
 
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Posted by on October 18, 2018 in culture, Mysteries, religion

 

“REAL IRISH” AND IRISH REALITY (Symbols, Archetypes, Fate)

CALLING YOURSELF IRISH TODAY

Recently the Dalai Lama found himself in hot water for suggesting that “Europe belongs to the Europeans”. Nowadays it has become trendy to call any defence of borders, any species of national identity, “fascist”, the  obsession of  those who  risk being called  “the far right”.

Back in 1972 Paul and Linda McCartney were targets of criticism for singing “Give Ireland back to the Irish”. How might they answer postmodern trolls of the “hard left” and Globalists today for the same sentiments? They would probably be assured that – really – there is no such thing as Ireland or the Irish to give or return anything to! Ireland’s  current president, Michael Higgins, a friend of ultra  Globalist, George Soros, has called Ireland “a home for everyone” as though Ireland had not already had centuries enough of uninvited persons making Ireland their home. But as early as 1988 and just ahead of the Celtic Tiger years of a Europeanizing or just borderless Ireland, such was almost but not quite the message of the ground breaking, ultra-scholarly, widely praised R F Foster ‘s Modern Ireland (1600 -1972). This was effectively an economic and statistical history of Ireland. Its chronicle was so dense in its chosen emphasis it sidelined theories about Ireland and the Irish as virtual irrelevance, sometimes “Anglophobia” itself as against the shifting allegiances, regroupings of people and parties, fluctuating economic trends that compose the true picture, the “real” story.

At one level you can’t dispute the truth that across recent centuries, behind all the national myth, dreams, and political rhetoric, grim fact opposed much that was declared and hoped for. But no new and revisionist data can quite alter the fact that, just as a sense of home is natural, every society automatically and from psychological necessity, will define itself along nationalist lines. The Irish as a too long colonized people (the only colonized people in Europe) would perhaps especially do so. Anciently, the chief deity of the Celts appears to have been a version of Mercury, god of speech and persuasion, who is portrayed taking people captive by his words. Yet even eschewing Mercurial rhetoric, it must be conceded, and ironically so, that in the case of Foster’s new style historiography, the picture finishes Irish of a sort almost despite itself in that it has unintended affinities with the more shape-shifting elements of Celtic myth. And questions can well be asked about that, because myths are revealing for the societies which entertain them.

So I will examine, sometimes from the little explored angle of the symbolic and archetypal, just what “being Irish” means and why both in the past and present it has represented a tenacious ideal but one curiously difficult to pin down and realize in practical terms. Which also means, despite the cultural and psychological importance of what’s involved, any idea of Ireland and Irish identity is threatened anew and increasingly today, not just by the deconstruction of unpatriotic intellectuals but by the current social picture with its controversial patterns of Irish emigration outwards and EU migration inwards.

THE IRISH PSYCHE and THE DREAM FACTOR

Influenced by the writings of Joyce, Freud notoriously maintained you couldn’t psychoanalyse the Irish. Jung was more optimistic he could get to grips with at least the mind of Joyce, and it is by more Jungian means we should progress towards understanding. But of that presently. I will begin with a simple point of basic psychology which some Irish and Celtic people I have discussed this with have found illuminating.

I suggest for that a significant number of Irish (and Celts generally, especially Gaelic Scots) the music of the bagpipe can symbolize something about the psyche itself. Behind the tunes played on the instrument there is a single, one note drone. Visually it can be thought of like a permanent dark screen across which play the light and movement of life as expressed in melody; but it’s the screen is the core reality. That indelible impression is arguably the source of the Celtic dream which has affinities with the Hindu notion of world dream or Maya. The permanence and prominence of the  “screen” as somehow what’s most true, is liable to render everything else relative (or even unreal), more or less a projection only, sometimes futile (extremely so in the case of such as Samuel Beckett) and fit in one’s waking mode for ironic dismissal and satire. The latter is an Irish art form in itself. This negativity, dissociation or just doubt in the face of the normal course of life and events is often only redeemable by particularly brilliant symbols temporarily overwhelming the dark  like so many deities of light – Yeats’ Cathleen ni Houlihan crossing the stage as though an incarnation of Ireland itself!  This mindset encourages asking with Joyce the questions in Ulysses like: “Signatures of all things I am here to read….Am I walking into eternity along Sandymount Strand?”. I would take the implications of the assumed affirmative response  rather sensationally further.

Unmanaged by mental exercises or mystical teachings, the more fundamental “drone” side of the Celtic mind may be identical with the Hindu notion of the personal atman which is said to be identical (could one but realize it) with Atman of God/Soul in the Upanishads beloved of Yeats. The similarity is quite likely valid and a case of real affinity because there is plenty of evidence that ancient Ireland preserved elements of myth and law with parallels in the Vedic tradition which represents the furthest east expansion of the Indo-European tribes who spread as far as northern India three thousand or so years ago. The physical transformations of the Ulster hero Cuchulainn recall the shape shifting of some Hindu gods and more generally Celtic myth has something of the jungle-like quality of much Indian myth.

(There is a more secular version of this mental division. It has been noted in the poetry of for example Louis MacNeice that there is a certain juxtaposition of inner and outer, an observation of  the flux of images (in effect Kant’s phenomenal world) as against the noumena, the unknowable things in themselves. The main point, no matter how one describes or evokes it, is that the Irish mind is not firmly placed in the here and now, never completely and rigorously materialistic).

AN ISSUE OF RACE?

I would not insist, and have no evidence for a claim, that all Celts experience the drone phenomenon; but I believe they do have some sense of intense transcendence I shall mention later. But keeping to the drone factor, here we immediately run into a major problem. You don’t catch the Celtic dream by infection and only little by cultural assimilation (though Jung might allow anyone could pick up on the spirit of place). It is almost certain that it derives from that mostly forbidden source of anything today, namely race, and with the most unmentionable of reasons too, because isn’t “ Indo-Aryan” race theory what fascism is about?

But even if one can allow a race dimension to the picture, superficially there would anyway seem to be certain practical objections to it. Those Aryans beloved of fascist theory and the early Celts according to Roman report (plus even a few indications from Irish myth), were predominantly blue eyed and blond to order. So how could there be genetic inheritance? And then, as Oliver St John Gogarty once remarked of even Irish nationalist Yeats, despite what the poet claimed, he was English, not Irish anyway. So genetics might seem irrelevant.

Gogarty’s charge is actually rather misleading because whatever intermarriage may or may not have taken place and effected among Yeats’ Anglo-Irish forebears, we do know that the Pollexfens of Yeats’ mother’s side were of Cornish stock. Celtic Cornwall is probably the most dream fed, occult inclined quarter of England and this could explain the Yeatsian mindset at the more “racial” level. Likewise, despite claims to be Irish, Yeats’ own idol, Maud Gonne, may not have been this, but she did have an ancestry in the north of Scotland.. I would judge that – usually –  a strong vein of Celtic feeling can be associated some degree of genetic input.

Round Galway there are many “black” Irish of Mediterranean appearance, almost certainly testimony to intermarriage over the centuries with the merchants from Spain. The very fact most Irish are not blond and blue eyed could actually be because (apart from many Irish Gaels apparently anyway deriving less from Ukraine and Austria than from Galicia in Northern Spain and being perhaps related to the darker Basques) as is well known, blue eyes and blond hair represent recessive genes. Yet we repeatedly hear of Viking and Norman invaders and some English settlers becoming “more Irish than the Irish” within a generation or two following intermarriage. And do we not see the part Irish individual turn out oddly strong-to-type like the Greek-Irish free speech advocate, Milo Yiannopoulos (Hanrahan) whose personality is extravagant enough for Cuchulainn and Irish myth itself. (For the curious or unaware where Milo is concerned, the following YouTube can supply an idea https://goo.gl/GwZ57r ; to be noticed is the refusal to be PC and so attack whatever’s off limits like feminism and Islam etc. There’s a touch of Oscar Wilde’s will to dazzle and shock).

A reasonable inference would be that the mental characteristics of the Celts on the genetic plain are the opposite of recessive. Something genetic goes on. Why did we hear some years ago that rural Cavan is so high in the nation’s academic and IQ stakes? Possibly because, as historicans know, it was the original centre of Irish druidism which produced the main scholars of the society. Sometimes, just occasionally, it can be even fair features and red hair are retained in parts of northern Iran, India and Pakistan and right up to the borders of West China where Celtic type burial relics and custom have been found. Once upon a time Indo-European tribes went very far. (My original interest in this subject was prompted back in the seventies and in the Himalayas when to my astonishment I found myself in front of a Nepalese who might have been Ireland’s Free State leader, Michael Collins).

As a footnote to any search for the Celts since Mil and the Milesians arrived from Spain, it should be noted  that a variety of features in the art, music and even Celtic languages as they differ from the European, point to what DNA research somewhat substantiates. While the Irish are not Arabs, they do have traces of North African, Berber/ and Egyptian (Coptic?) Cretan and even Middle Eastern peoples in the mix, all of them able to reach ancient Ireland by sea from Phoenicia, Egypt and Morocco via perhaps long sojourn in Spain This might shed more light on the builders of dolmens and the mythologizing genealogies which look back to Greece, Egypt and Mesopotamia. I find  significance in Bel being a Celtic sun god with Beltaine his feast, because it is widely accepted Bel is or echoes Baal. Arguably a couple like Maeve and Ailill bespeak an ancient Mesopotanian, quasi-matriarchal type, (biblically like King Ahab dominated  by his persecuting queen Jezebel). When not directed at Baal, Israel’s apostasy was in service of Baal’s Asherah denounced by the prophets. This echo of the remote Middle Eastern past is suggestive for the Irish cult of trees in which the Ash was the druid Tree of Life..But if we keep speculation  to the two main places of origins, continental Europe and northern Spain the one could perhaps say  the more surrealistic, Finnegan’s Wake  side of Irish  character and early myth is suggestive for the north Spanish connection, while early Fianna myth seems more continental European.

The majority Celtic input as regards population and culture cannot be passed over, but questions can well be asked about what looks to be some inconvenient truths in the realm of ethnic inheritance. Whether genetics applies or not, I shall now turn to what I consider one or two enduring features about the Irish.

IRISH “DIFFERENCE”.

It can seem odd to propose, but on examination it seems true enough to state, that almost the most essential character of the Irish is “difference”-in-itself. Difference would appear to be a relative value rather than any fixed and permanent one, but I suggest the Irish, (rather like gays in relation to straights), are definable by precisely a sort of permanent alienated difference from the Other, or Others; they are the eternal variation on a theme, having like Joyce’s Jewish Bloom a sense of being liminal. (What really is more permanent exists at a Platonic, symbolic level that underlies the philosophy of Ireland’s ninth century thinker, Erigena. This level of otherness, another version of the Celtic Otherworld is a subject in itself and functions sometimes as a basis of Irish wit, a sense of the absurd and paradox as ideal and real clash).

The Jews have been called a “feminine” race as being the bride or handmaid of God. The Celts have always liked to travel (but rather less when forced by emigration as the home turf also counts!) because new places present new ideas and possibilities to absorb into whatever the energies of their core being are. In short, their development is dialectical – thesis, antithesis, synthesis. (Arguably Irish history itself progresses in antithetical waves, one generation more revolutionary, another more constitutional). But what prevents movement is bad almost by definition. Joyce’s Dubliners is very much a portrayal and protest against stasis and stagnation. (Even given more opportunity, it is unlikely architecture would have been a leading Celtic art if only because of  stone’s  permanence as against the impermanence  of wood said to have been favoured by the druids – evidently a touch of Buddhist feeling on that point). A reason Ireland has so dangerously, even self-destructively accepted the damage the EU has been doing it, is because – at least at the outset –  it looked like the prospect of a wanted, needed change which  it was (wrongly) assumed could be easily absorbed. It is an error to assume Ireland is root and branch conservative.

However, only  recently in the work of the late John O’Donohue has an overt emphasis on the dialectic and other more Mitteleuropa ideas, as from Goethe, been imported into Irish thinking at the more conscious level (see https://wp.me/p2v96G-126 They have of course long been a principle at more unconscious levels where they have been in suppressed conflict with what was often the straightjacket of Catholic Thomist/Aristotelian values. In fact, the swirling decorations of everything from La Tene art to the Book of Kells bespeak the dialectical impulse further implied by the ancient Celtic obsession with the number 3.

By contrast, England, in some respects  the great intellectual and imaginative exception within Europe, would present less a dynamic (in effect extraverted)  contrast such as at least sometimes Italy and Dante, so important to Joyce and Beckett, supplied, than a wholesale denial.  Those who rather cynically maintain that England was “necessary” to Ireland’s development, ignore how exceedingly difficult England was to adjust to with it’s almost automatic repression of the possibility of any substantial variation upon itself – it even worked to abolish the native language and laws along with appropriating national land and uprooting whole populations on it  The home turf, natural scenery and nature are something many Celts have been almost mystically attached to, but if you believe in Locke’s  tabula rasa minds, then such attachments can be ignored..

Despite inevitable cultural  percolation  over time, Shakespeare, Dickens, Shelley (the latter strongly protested England in Ireland) being prominent at the literary level, most essentially England presented a series of psycho-social  exclusions with values  almost too opposite to ever quite assimilate. Everything from its most representative philosophy, the materialist, Lockean empiricism with its tabula rasa of mind abominated by Yeats, to its social organization in cliques which would permit an empire to expand everywhere but be ruled by a virtual caste system, all was a tough nut to crack. You needed to become English to socially interact at all – in order to shine, Oscar Wilde promptly disposed of his Irish accent upon arriving in England; Yeats never even had one. But a century after Irish independence, from his professorial position in Oxford, revisionist historian  Foster shockingly refers to the voices of historic Irish nationalism as “Anglophobic”.

IRISH RHYTHM

If “difference” was a core value often repressed, less repressible and arguably another genetic feature, is access to a certain unique rhythm which others may appreciate but not quite have in the blood. Some of it is, after all, almost manic, Dionysac. Over the centuries even hostile reports of Ireland conceded the Irish love of and skill with music (albeit liable to be regarded as an aspect of lazy national dolce far niente values!). Within and beyond the music is not infrequently a quite special driving energy, well reflected in the thunder and lightning of the modern Riverdance phenomenon which freed Irish dance from the no arms polker skipping originally imposed by careful priests. Dancing is in fact behind quite a lot of what the Irish do and not just in the lilt of the linguistic expression. A surprising phenomenon of recent years is the Irish OTT wrestling which has a lot of virtual dance in its unusual expression in variance on a common theme.

The rhythm points to an ongoing, implicitly eternal energy symbolized in the eternity knots and circles of traditional Irish patterning, and while this can be associated with a quieter, sometimes plaintive, melancholic strain of feeling and music, more essentially (if one wants to make the often meaningful Indian comparisons) it is a dance of Shiva whose Celtic equivalent would appear to be the horned Cernunnos who sits Shiva-like cross-legged on the Gundestrup bowl. (Some scholars regard this figure as the Irish Jupiter, but I doubt it and the fact we don’t know more about this figure at the literary level, is because he was almost certainly a rural, Pan-like deity of the third order or farming class rather than the druid elite).

The rhythm is simply everywhere from the earliest flowing artwork to the lilt of the largely discarded language which still echoes into the English as spoken and which is incidentally oddly distinct from the harsher tones of Ulster accents. The latter accompanies the more “no nonsense”, iconoclastic attitudes of the Scots Irish which, if one reached back far enough, might take one to the blue faced Picts renowned for a bellicosity the English and Romans could never tame and raised a wall against. Ulster was at least notionally the centre of ancient Ireland and associated with the High Kingship. Tudor English policy could hardly have chosen a more sensitive area for Plantation or selected more fortress mentality agents of a colonization away from any Gaelic world. To this day there is intense Ulster resistance to any proposal Irish language might be taught in schools as helping make any bridge between north and south.

CELTIC INTUITION

Last and briefly in this section I would add intuition as a core characteristic. It could hardly be quantified and made a statistic, but it seems fair to say the intuitive function is more used and represented among the Celts than many European peoples. Telepathy, prophetic dreams, water divining, sometimes apparent healing ability, reading symbols and directing “second sight” upon affairs are fairly common.   They are often seen as inherited and running more in some families than others, which if so would again tend to support a rather ethnic as opposed to purely cultural view of the people. The high status originally enjoyed by poetry and the poet in the traditional society was tied to assumptions that the extreme intuition of vision/prophecy was involved. To the extent Yeats laid much emphasis on these factors he is the truest Irish poet within modern times and see re Yeats also under archetypes.

For what the point is worth, those rare people who claim to be able to perceive auras maintain people of Celtic extraction have a strong green ray in the aura, the real basis of Irish green obsession, not just the often electric green of grass in Eire! Whatever is or isn’t involved, it often seems stronger than in many other places. People swear by the gifts of past and present figures like Biddy Early (a witch), Joe Cassidy (a diviner and healer), and Lorna Byrne (a psychic) the latter exceptionally claims to see angels and entities not  now and again but all the time. (See my Joe Cassidy, an Irish phenomenon   https://wp.me/p4kNWg-bA ).   At this point one borders less intuition than something more purely occult. In this connection I suspect  that elements of the St Patrick story, which have him challenging druids claiming to levitate and fly,  may not be pure fancy but reflects conditions and people of an ancient society with something of Alexander David- Neel’s celebrated reports of magic and mystery in traditional Tibet.

PART TWO

ARCHETYPAL AND SYMBOLIC EMPHASIS IN CELTIC THOUGHT

Before turning to what perhaps most neatly describes who and what the Irish are today, I shall turn to the more historical question of archetypes and archetypal emphasis, something always crucial in understanding people psyches. We have a description, of sorts, of Celtic religion from the Romans from Caesar to Lucian. This is thought to be fairly reliable but it remains suspect to the extent it can seem too easy to parallel certain deities with leading Roman ones, like Mars or Mercury when archaeology and art appear to indicate quite a few additional deities. These fit nowhere, unless perhaps they belong to the quasi-Hindu “jungle” of much native myth. Moreover, what myth comes down to us scarcely concentrates on divine figures in their own right but emphasises rather issues like kingship, just rule, land possession, warriors  and healing.

I think however the Roman view need not be too distrusted, especially not on the basis that the classical world represents centralized stateism so that  Celtic  fluidity of myth reflects nothing but Celtic anarchy. Given anything like a Jungian concept of a collective unconscious, one will support the notion that in all myth everywhere there will be, or ought to be, and as primary, gods of sun and moon, Mars and Venus types etc, namely archetypes related to the visible planets and which function as trans-cultural, universal symbols. Any absence of or variation upon this root pattern can be significant and demands explanation.

So….all that can really differ as regards a Celtic pantheon is:

a)  the just mentioned plethora of local deities of hill, stream and wells, these being much akin to and precursors of later cults of the saints. This is what we might expect of an originally nomadic society which is making sense of things as it goes along. Also a society with often rather fluid tribal boundaries. The tribe itself will have its particular god or gods,  but these can be changeable following the tribe’s fortunes.

b)  a greater fluidity in definition and function of the major, trans-tribal gods. For example, according to Caesar the chief god of the Celts was Mercury, (Ogmios, Lugos, Lugus, Lugo, Luga  across Europe but in Ireland Lugh). A confirmation scholars miss for Lugh having to be more essentially Irish Mercury than anything, is that he is “Long Arm” and hand and arm are by tradition ruled by Mercury/Gemini). While Irish Mercury can function conventionally as the usual symbol/patron of roads, communication, commercial transaction and various arts, he can have a touch of Mars about him too when the category of arts extend to making implements of war. Also when he is sometimes a light and kingship factor merging with the solar god Bel or Belenus (of the Beltaine festival). Lugh, whose festival of Lughnasa fell in August (i.e under the ultra solar sun sign of Leo) Lugh is often regarded as the Irish sun god……It is incidentally my guess, that the lack of Irish cosmology and origins myth as opposed to intricate concern with mythologized genealogies, is involved not simply with clerical editing (monks have recorded and preserved the creation myths of many societies) or even tribalism, than with the native Mercurial  sense of continuous creation and, where possible, identity with, participation in  creative flow rather than any process considered  wholly from outside. Then too,  as perhaps the most dramatically inclined of the known Celtic groups, Irish feeling for interchangeability among the roles of divine figures  could reflect a native desire to assume all roles within the drama of existence.

c) By contrast to the fluidity of the Celtic gods, the chief deity for the Romans was Jupiter who as thunder bearing Taranis is a lesser figure for the Celts. A fairly benign and versatile but not creator father god, The Dagda (the good god), possibly represents a Jupiter figure for Ireland, especially as he controls weather and is a druid, a religious function. Dagda exemplifies a Jupiterian bounty and fortune through especially his famous, (proto grail) magic cauldron. However, he is not any powerfully cosmological, philosophical or refined Jupiter but a more Falstaffian, Rabelaisian one. If Rome regarded Mercury as effectively chief god of the Celts. that impression seems right as reflecting the restlessness and general eloquence (“gift of the gab”) of Celtic culture. Also, if we allow possible Indo/European connection, Mercury is the wisdom of the mind. In Hindu religion, rather surprisingly it’s Mercury, not religious and philosophical Jupiter (named Guru in India), is arbiter of wisdom and even of ultimate “enlightenment”. This is because it supports “discrimination” between types and levels of thinking.

While much could be said about Celtic myth and Gaulish custom before and beyond it (all significant for Ireland in its way – the Tain epic has warriors fighting in chariots which happened in Gaul rather than Ireland), the following is what seems distinctive about pagan Celtic religion and thus ruling archetypes psychologically.

1) There is no completely distinct Celtic sun god (it could be Bel or in Ireland Lugh), nor a Mars whose role seems distributed around various deities like power around the tribe.

2) The existence of Angus (Mabon in Wales), a god of love, beauty and youth – like Yeats the Celts can rage against age. This god may or may not be an aspect of youthful Mercury but especially as the child who tricks his illegitimate father, The Dagda,  he gives the impression of being Ireland’s trickster figure. Though he brings couples together and is entranced by a woman, at another level  he may represent a type of the (Uranian) Puer (boy/child) archetype Jung associates with homosexuality. (I use my intuition here which years ago, so a Buddhist scholar assured me, correctly guessed the esoteric secret most Buddhists don’t know, namely that Manjusri/Monju, a rather similar figure, is the gay god). The Ancients did regard the Celts as considerably same sex inclined, something they never ceased to be – report of same sex unions was one of the reasons the only English pope gave England the right to invade medieval Ireland. (It looks as though Ireland accepted “marriages of brethren” along the lines of some eastern churches, Ireland having had more contacts with the East than post Patrick Roman officials cared to admit). If the depiction of depression  is a feature of Irish myth (see below), then Angus could be a kind of redemptive, surprise and change bringing  influence, an Eros as against a Thanatos (Death) principle. Insofar however as versatile Lugh and  not Angus is Mercury, it is noticeable how much Yeats (himself a Mercurial Gemini like an earlier  national poet in English, Thomas Moore) is related to the Lugh archetype. Asteroid Lugh conjuncted his rising moon, while Luga,, a continental variant name, squared his moon at birth).

3) Despite the radiant glamour of some Celtic goddesses and the existence of a few potent, fate ridden  love stories – tragic Deidre anticipates tragic Isolde, Irish princess of Cornish lore – there is no clear Venus/Aphrodite equivalent serving the love principle fully (or very cheerfully!). There are only minor Minerva type figures of wisdom or healing, or goddesses of wells and rivers like Boann (Boyne)  the mother of Angus, and then a goddess of the Sovereignty of Ireland. She herself is a triple goddess, Eriu, Fodla and Banba (or she is Morrigan who might be all three together). Quite simply, Irish myth seems more linked to nature than to society and the relation to the goddesses ( who may appear temporarily as hags) could well reflect need, desire and struggle in relation to an originally difficult terrain. Divinity as a smiling or playful Venus is more likely to emerge in sunnier climes as of southern Europe.

4) There are also numbers of Celtic lunar goddesses, some of them again trinities like supremely the Sovereignty of Ireland. There are a variety of goddesses associated with motherhood and/or fertility, chief among them for specifically the Irish, Danu. But as with Mercury’s overlap of functions, goddesses may also be involved in war, death and destruction (Some Celtic women, Amazon-like and like the British Boudicca, did venture into battle and a small minority of Irish women like child abusing nuns or singer Sinead O’Connor’s sadistic mother, can have a very dark side). Such lunar divinities hark back to pre-Venus figures like Babylonian Ishtar who served both eros and war. The mythology suggests matriarchal tendencies at some level, but despite even the apparently woman favourable to permissive Brehon laws, the reality on the ground,  was that the majority of the women who weren’t wealthy and privileged,  suffered disadvantage – many of St Patrick’s first converts were women including because the faith appeared to favour women rather than otherwise.

5) A sort of shadowy, sinister male Trinity group Taranis, Teutates and Esus, a Trinity whom Lucian even regarded as the chief gods of the Celts (though they are not clearly so for the Irish), and who allegedly required human sacrifice.

6) A shadowy Dispater or Pluto figure, “father” of the Celts according to Caesar, and possibly a version of the withdrawn Creator god or “the unknown god” St Paul refers to among the Greeks at Athens. The dark and hidden nature of this Gaulish god with no clear Irish version might have bearing on what I am calling the Celtic atman or drone factor. If there is an Irish equivalent it would perhaps be Midir, a lord of the Underworld and foster father to Angus rather than progenitor of the whole race. But if Midir is a Pluto variant  this could explain his unexpected relation to Angus, especially if the latter is once seen as a Uranian, naturally ascensional,  brightness-surrounded  archetype who would resist age, and any lasting dark and downward motion. Despite his centre of power, where he appears  Midir is not a notably sinister figure like classical Pluto, but merely mysterious; nonetheless,  in his insatiable desire for compensation for an accident occasioned by Angus, there may be suggestions of remorseless, inescapable Plutonic demands and insistence, ultimate fate.

7) An Irish  god of the sea, Lir or Ler and his son Manannan mac Lir, may equate with Poseidon/Neptune. The archetypal fits are that one of the saddest Irish myths is The Children of Lir, and Neptune (especially in astrology) is sorrow and tears, while Poseidon is a god of horses or perhaps the waves ridden as such; and the Irish sea god, associated like Poseidon with equine imagery, leads to the final point.

8) Finally, and in view of what’s mentioned later, I note there is more than one horse goddess (Macha and Epona) and in Gaul a male deity Atepomarus, a healing god with some associations with the classical sun god Apollo, but perceived as a great horseman. This has some connection with the otherwise mostly absent or invisible Celtic Jupiter given the ancient and perennial connection of Jupiter with religion and Sagittarius with the horseman.

What if anything might all this point to on the archetypal, psychological plain? To the extent, love and benevolence, even good fortune and material wealth are worldwide associated with Venus and Jupiter, the Celtic emphasis, even though Mercury is commercial, is quasi-ascetical in line with historical fact and self image as in “land of saints and scholars”. Knowledge and self-realization have usually counted for more with the Celts than financial success of the more notable kind. And the saying “happy wife, happy life” will not readily apply in this society. We know from earliest myth as of the Tain that it doesn’t. King Ailill and Queen Maeve are not on good terms and Maeve is no Venus but a bullying virago. However, note she is really a type of lunar goddess since, again suggesting the mystery of Indian affinities, her husband’s 27 window palace is redolent of the 27 lunar mansions of Vedic astronomy/astrology. The druids were reported to be great astronomers so we cannot ignore this dimension.

It remains hard to determine to what extent the Irish record of tribal  invasions represents a mythologized history or something more psychological. It is possible a symbolization of a Celtic war with  depression is conveyed through figures like the dark Fomorians and Balor. But given that the Celts do appear to have a depressive vein (too often “cured” by alcohol), the psychological dimension, a war between conscious and unconscious, cannot be ruled out possibly as one of the more distinguishing features of Irish myth. Here darkness may not be just something seasonal and wintry, or deathly and irremediable, but a symbol of defeat and living death.

Weakness of solar emphasis could owe to little more than Irish cloud and rain, but coupled with a “distributed” Mars too, it might point to a degree of matriarchy that hands things over to the lunar factor which, like Mercury, is changeable. It can be  women who go on the offensive or stir the men to Martian activity. Although the Celtic raids upon Rome and Delphi were dramatic and long remembered, overall the Celtic impulse has not been imperial, unless at the remote beginnings of Indo-European expansion, violence historically having more to do with tribal raids and skirmishes (i.e. home turf, lunar issues). One could almost say Irish Mars is Mars negative, more defensive than offensive; and if that seems a bit  generous in the light of history, it must be recalled, and despite Lucian’s mention of human sacrifice in Gaul, that Ireland is the only country in the world where Christianity managed to be introduced without producing martyrs. Also early Irish myth likes to think of the Fenian band as defenders not extenders of the kingdom.

It would be a bold thesis, but I can’t help wondering if what distinguishes and confuses Irish myth away from many norms, is its intimations of those archetypes now more clearly associated with the outer, previously invisible planets, Uranus, Neptune and Pluto. In modern psychological astrology which emphases the archetypes, these planets register forces more generational and spiritual than the inner planets. Main features of classical mythology rather neatly equate with the visible planets. It would be consistent with both the tribal element of Celtic thought plus a heightened spirituality if there were to be more reflection of outer planets drives and symbolism.

HOME TRUTHS AND FATED FACTS

If he couldn’t fathom a patient and make them speak their problems, Jung would resort to what would disclose the problem and make them talk, namely their horoscope. We shall do the same with the riddle and often hidden facts of (modern) Ireland. I shall take the uniquely fated crossroads moment between past and present when after eight hundred years Ireland (more or less) obtained what it wanted. A return of its land through a divorce from England via achievement of a Republic status. (18th April, 1949, 00. AM . UT , Dublin)

It is remarkable how accurate the picture is. I can only describe salient features of a detailed pattern of huge significance.

The moment in time is shown by asteroid IRELAND in the house of leadership and destiny, conjunct of all things but suitably, THE PART OF DIVORCE while several planets fill the opposite fourth house of land, origins and history. The land is what Ireland desires to regain, so this house contains all of Sun, Mars, Venus and the fated nodes in a new beginnings sign, Aries. Since by long tradition Ireland was always represented by home-loving, musical and earthy Taurus, which was suitably the sign of the sun at the time of the Easter Rebellion in 1916, there is a message for the future, of which presently, in the strong Aries input for the Republic. However, noteworthy is that the Taurus tradition continues to the extent all-important Mercury  falls in the sign in the creative fifth sector conjunct asteroid YEATES (sound vibe, not spelling, determines asteroid meaning and usage). This is as good as to define Yeats as the truest to tradition for modern Ireland,  something I have always maintained against certain claims to the contrary. See for example: Why Ireland needs Yeats 2015…and more  https://wp.me/p2v96G-xA

FROM THE FLIGHT OF THE EARLS

The crossroads moment also looks back to the past – vividly. There is no Ulster asteroid but I knew if an O’NEILL asteroid existed it would be meaningful. The greater part of Ireland’s problems in recent centuries go back to the fatal Tudor plantation of Ulster and the Flight of the Earls in 1607, especially clan O’Neill and Hugh O’Neill of Irish High King lineage, a departure which effectively lost Ireland its ruling elite and with it something of its identity and culture.

I am not a romantic, uncritical admirer of the old clan system which could have used some reform, but deceit and wrong was nonetheless practiced upon O’Neill and the clans. This is clearly shown by asteroid O’NEILL in the house of the land and origins at 12 Aries opposed to a Neptune at 13 Libra in the destiny and rulership house suggestive, via this “afflicting” opposition aspect, of precisely deceit, theft, and/or suffering imposed. Yet by extension even the new leaders could well confuse or fail to defend past legacies of identity and culture. The marks of the past overshadow present and future.

Ever since the Flight of the Earls, the Irish have had to find their way amid disadvantage as much socio-cultural as economic. It is generalization only, but broadly what would happen is that while the peasant and farmer on the land (Celtic society’s traditional third order) would be symbol and protester of many things and supposed bearer of tradition, power went to a half hidden, town and village based rising commercial middle class. This could only thrive under existing restrictive laws by a degree of shady dealing which become ingrained and would compromise the standards of Irish life and politics for generations. Their mouthpiece and deliverer was the rather brash and loose living Daniel O’Connell (it was joked you couldn’t throw a stone over the workhouse wall without hitting one of Dan’s bastards).

Asteroid O’CONNELL from the house of lawyers (he was a lawyer) is tellingly in affliction square the Republic’s would-be socially unifying Venus and exactly square its fatal Saturn in Leo in the house of religion which is the promise of the eventual end of Catholic triumphalism and hegemony in Ireland.

The as, when and how of Catholic Emancipation and its achievement ahead of the catastrophe of the Great Famine, put Catholicism, O’Connell’s class and especially the priests (acting now as a substitute Celtic elite) into power in a way that would subsequently choke national life at every level, worsening relations between north and south. It would identify being Irish almost wholly with being Catholic when ironically a lot of Irish nationalism and modern culture would subsequently derive from Irish Protestant sources – necessarily so as Catholicism would not allow the independence and modernity of thought involved. In the 1930s in shocking betrayal of values and promises of the 1916 revolution, De Valera virtually reduced Ireland legally to an arm of the Vatican and there was a major exodus of Protestants, artists and writers. The emphasis on Aries in the Republic’s chart is, I believe, a key to the fate of the increasingly rejected Catholicism within Ireland as suggested below.

CELESTIAL MARKS OF DIFFERENCE AND STYLE

The theme of Irish “difference” that I have stressed, is superbly shown by the status of Jupiter. This planet is symbol of a person or nation’s philosophy, beliefs and the basis of freedom. Placed. in the second house of personal values (as much as wealth), it is strong on 0 degrees of independent, freedom loving, would-be different Aquarius. This signals emphatic difference, but besides that something of the shocks and surprises of the Celtic Tiger years are anticipated by this additionally wealth-registering factor in an erratic sign in the possessions house.

Although the Celts historically didn’t – consciously – stress any Jupiter deity or factor, this Jupiter is still crucial for defining the (modern) Irish including the perennial wit (which often has a sharp edge and the (sometimes helpless) laughter  – Swift, suitably for an adopted if reluctant Irishman, was a Sagittarian. Jupiter is theoretically ruler of the whole pattern because Sagittarius, (“ruled” by Jupiter), rises over the horizon at its birth. This rising point will define the body of the people, their persona, temperament and mythos. At one level Sagittarius is the priest, the philosopher, the prophet and pilgrim. At another level it is the sportsman and undeniably Irish sports, especially Gaelic football and hurling, are defining for Ireland and influential  on the international level.  Temperamentally, Sagittarius is the Irish as  ”broth of a boy” or “the wild Irish girl” type who can never have enough of the fun. Except that Ireland can’t quite have all the fun of the fair. 5 degrees of Sagittarius rises, but behind it at 8 degrees rises the planetoid, Chiron, the wounded healer, insuring tears may accompany laughter and melancholy visit the party and never quite be banished. Even so, the intensely “Sagittarian” approach to life and luck is reflected in the Irish expression of “Good luck”. This is “Go n-eiri an bother leat”  which means, “may your journey be successful”, the quest, the trip, the adventure rated higher than, say, the acquirement of worldly goods.

With the body involved in the ascendant, classic Irish beauty among the women from Maud Gonne (Yeats’ own Cathleen ni Houlihan) to Edna O’Brien, to singer Sinead O’Connor whose 5 Sagittarius ascendant degree exactly conjuncts Ireland’s, is essentially the Sagittarian one. (Tragic Sinead who now wants to work for the dying, with her Venus and Sun below her ascendant seems to embrace the nation’s suffering, wounded Sagittarian Chiron).  Recall amid all this, and bespeaking Sagittarius, there were the Irish horse goddesses and that from the Gauls onwards many observers, like Richard Stanihurst in the sixteenth century, have been declaring the Irish make fine horsemen (they needed to be so since the Irish traditionally resisted any use of the saddle!). But Jupiter and Sagittarius transcend so that, even if and when the drone psychology doesn’t apply to them, many Irish, especially men, feel a sort of higher self and wider existence upon them through the racing and riding of horses and national sports generally which are almost a substitute or supplementary religion.

So…the restless Irish who travel, go on pilgrimage or who, through desire for adventure or from economic necessity, emigrate far and wide and who seek fun, all this is covered by shades of Sagittarius. And the horseman is the distance traveller as opposed to the more local one of Gemini and Mercury. But above all, Sagittarius is the sign of belief and organized religion, and of course the Irish are traditionally and typically religious, so unsurprisingly  the rising 5 degrees of Sagittarius positively trines asteroid CHURCH in the ninth house of beliefs and religion. We are now ready to cover those most vexed subjects, religion and sex.

THE IRISH AND SEX

Astrology may suffer misinterpretations but the skies don’t lie and they tell the truth about the Irish and sex. EROS at 5 Aquarius is loosely conjunct expansive Jupiter but in exact favourable aspect to both the image-giving ascendant and the marriage and unions associated descendant. This reflects the Irish mostly reckon to keep sex within bounds (and might even expect of it little short of the alchemical wedding itself!);  but since Aquarius is many ways different/queer, it’s a promise that one day Ireland could accept gay unions as is also the fact that the gay planet, Uranus, is in the nation’s house of marriages.  (It could equally and also indicate that divorce would eventually be legalized and perhaps rather easily had recourse to once  instituted)

Sex strictly speaking nevertheless belongs with Ireland’s eighth house which holds Pluto. This can involve very intense sex and, some maintain, it rules pornography. As symbol of transformation generally, Pluto is certainly a promise of profound changes that personally and/or socially the Irish can and will undergo regarding sex. With Cancer on the cusp of the house this sector is ruled by the moon.

The Republic’s moon is in steely conservativeCapricorn. This fits for the more familiar side of things, the Ireland set up by De Valera and rather mercilessly portrayed in Patrick Kavanagh’s poem The Great Hunger, with its the cold world of the lonely bachelor, unromantic and frustrated, “married” to his mother and patting his horse for comfort. But if lunar Capricorn at its Saturnian worst risks being this, notoriously it can manifest as its extreme opposite, the libertine like the supposedly life and sex-hating Samuel Beckett who used prostitutes and had marathon sex (some said three days with just intervals to eat and drink) with the nymphomaniac Peggy Guggenheim.

Though these are two extremes, it seems fair to say there aren’t just Italian stallions. Ireland of the horses can be exciting in its own way. Within the eighth house Eire has the wow factor of all of CERNUNNOS, SIVA and MAEVA (i.e. Maeve). (Even in the fifth sector of love affairs and romance there’s DIONYSUS!).

All this rather points to huge reserves of raw sexual energy, though I believe MAEVA has a lot to do with bestselling novelist, Maeve Binchy, feminist recorder of an Ireland in social and sexual transition. Binchy regarded herself as a modern mouthpiece of mythic Maeve  and went annually to Lisdoonvarna, home of Brian Merriman the eighteenth century poet whose Midnight Court poem protests Irish sex repression, to recharge batteries as Maeve’s voice to the modern Irish. However….raw energy (backed up by the addictive, exaggerating quality of the Celtic dream function) can still be dangerous and not everyone really wants or needs it. So I suspect, rather as some rabbis have discovered a few tantric principles to channel sex better for the sometimes insatiable and Freudian-minded Jews, Ireland might use a bit of tantra to achieve especially the full body orgasm that among gays has been found to cure their too frequent and dangerous sex addiction. See article What gays want and need  https://goo.gl/ZVxWR9

As it is, the relations between partners in Ireland remains, as it always has been, a little strange due to its high degree of independence. Husbands and wives rarely seem close and intimate, a characteristic reflected in cool, different and gay-inclined Uranus in the nation’s marriage house, but conjunct PAN. While this combination could again indicate couples might use some tantric relating, if partners seem so self-contained, hardly needing one another, this may be because the Irish are almost pre-wedded to nature or their “soul” function stressed by  John O’Donohue and here symbolized by the conjunction to PAN. This incidentally fits my speculation about a real difference between soul and spirit that O’Donohue’s theology fails to grasp; soul, even among Christians, is always somewhat pagan and nature-bound in contrast to Spirit with which O’Donohue confuses it. See my Ireland’s Old/New Spirituality Problems https://wp.me/p2v96G-126the

THE IRISH AND RELIGION

Finally, what about religion? With the ascendant exactly trine CHURCH, the society was and always will be somewhat church associated, though never to the extent it once was. In the house of religion stands a dangerous Saturn in Leo, a warning within any pattern to any kind for leaders and leading authorities (“Saturn in Leo, king dies” – Hitler had it and eventually lost and died) and since Saturn is order but also restriction, the church could be oppressive of the society and was.

But ultimate spiritual scandal was waiting to bring  down Irish religion in the Catholic mode. The late Fr Malachi Martin, once a Jesuit Vatican insider, shocked many by claiming Satanic rites took place in the higher echelons of the church. I can’t tell similarly dark and occult meanings attached to  some of the patterns of abuse and cover-up in Ireland that when finally revealed would traumatize the nation, occasioning distrust and lapse from faith. However, I do notice something remarkable in the Eire pattern the likes of which I have never found elsewhere before. The asteroid THEOTES (Godhead/Trinity) conjuncts LUCIFER. Conjunctions represent what is either very joined or opposed. The message seems to be that God and devil are in outright spiritual conflict over Ireland and it could suggest that what has been involved in recent scandals is sometimes more than just sexual.

The sun represents the ultimate will, life direction and identity. Unless and until the nation formally redefines itself, Aries, the self made man, represents that will. Unless you care to say Aries could represent “the fighting Irish”, as said, a Taurus sun that shone on 1916’s Easter Rising might have better represented the national mind, the “matriarchy” and culture generally and especially the arts; but with Aries, the patriarchal sign, attention shifts towards the more gritty writers like the overrated Seamus Heaney and the nihilist Samuel Beckett and the Judas sympathizing poet Brendan Kennelly (see my article, Judas Stopped at Dublin. https://wp.me/p2v96G-Bm ).  These  were all Ariens. Aries tends to be either very evangelical like General Booth of the Salvation Army (and Ulster’s Ian Paisley), or militantly atheistic like America’s Madilyn Murray O’Hare, or both, a sort of “evangelical” atheist like Richard Dawkins.

Here then is the basis for Irish secularization and revolt against Catholicism. It began with the young men of Ireland who refused the mothers of Ireland about going to mass. The priests weren’t worth it. Finish! The only trouble is that – looked at from the Protestant sidelines as I do – what you also get is Rob Doyle’s nihilistic, anarchic, aggressive, Here are the Boys and a considerable breakdown in the society with all the usual chaos of problems, drugs, crime, STDs etc. Even those one time rebels like Edna O’Brien who spoke for a greater freedom, are unhappy with what Ireland has become and is becoming. A dose of secularism may be useful to change a few archaic laws and free a few minorities, but the Celtic world has been consistently and insistently too spiritual and Christian too long to lose faith without losing its compass and suffering harm. Some religious renewal or truce with the spiritual past is needed, and even some truce with the right of people post post modernism  to define themselves – it has anyway been  an Irish obsession and reflex action since at least the times of St Colombanus who was an original in defining Europe too.

The slide from Catholicism when not into indifference into some form of neo-paganism is nonetheless simpler than a surprised world might be imagined. It results from how for too long the Catholic emphasis has been upon symbol and ritual rather than history and theology – biblical literacy and a firm grasp on a Judaeo-Christian tradition is largely absent, a reason an element of anti-Semitism easily finds expression (see below). The individual  slips into a kind of Jungian universe of floating symbols, none more significant than another but some more attractive for the purpose of experiment and new invented rituals. I am not certain if it’s coincidence or not, but with Lora O’Brien one of the more vocal and published writers on an Irish return to the old gods, we see asteroid O’BRIEN opposite that dangerously  over confident, tradition bound Saturn in Leo in Ireland’s house of beliefs. But then didn’t Edna O’Brien, author of A Pagan Place , though not herself finally pagan, question the role of the church in Irish life? Watch those O’Briens!

LUCK OF THE IRISH

Amid its diverse messages it must be admitted the Republic’s chart is not an especially  fortunate one. Under the usual rules it cannot hope to be so when its crucial Part of Fortune exactly conjuncts of all misfortune-registering features, black moon Lilith, (notorious among continental astrologers for trouble), the goddess whom early Irish monks once identified with the Irish Morrigan, figure of battle, death and doom. As I stressed in Ireland’s Old/New Spirituality Problems https://wp.me/p2v96G-126the   refusal, or just inability, to somehow banish or transcend this too central archetypal influence  makes for block, for depression and failure . Not to do this, not to understand itself more, and so not to be more understood by others, is regrettable because the Irish difference is not just any difference such as might separate Belgium from Holland, Norway from Sweden. It has value as being a real exception (at points almost quasi-Asian) within the West which represents quite other, certainly more this-worldly and matter-of-fact inclinations.

Douglas Murray has written persuasively of The Strange Death of Europe. It might not be inappropriate to speak of a dying Ireland. At any rate it’s hard to be optimistic of much future change either from what one observes is going on or from the telling celestial pattern I have interpreted. Especially if one of Ireland’s prophets, St Malachy of Armagh, is to be believed, we are anyway supposed to inhabit the end of days. The present Pope is supposedly the last in his line and hence the appearance of the  Antichrist pending – albeit an alleged prophecy of St Patrick from a seventh century biography has it Ireland won’t suffer the false prophet’s rule  because it will disappear beneath the waves! If Malachy’s prophecy has any validity, the ultimate  form of authority  Ireland supposedly wouldn’t see would necessarily entail the kind of attempted New World Order that would abolish all borders and disregard all differences.. But without considering this most drastic of prophecies, Ireland has already lost borders enough, perhaps to the point of no return for a small nation.

It is true that there have been times in its history when Irish society seemed to have been brought to near ban and extinction and it has more or less recovered. It might actually rally again. But practically  there are limits, and the international outlook is not helpful to any  self-assertive and descriptive project. Around one in five people in Ireland are now migrants from wildly different cultural and religious backgrounds. It shouldn’t be called “racist “to notice that in tourist spots in the West or even in central Dublin, souvenir shops can be incongruously manned by migrants from Asia and around the world. Not necessarily those persons but some new migrants to Ireland are said to have illegally entered the country through the ineffective border of British Ulster. I don’t suggest those in the souvenir shops and elsewhere in Ireland are dishonest or disagreeable as individuals; many are perfectly pleasant and helpful, but that’s not quite the point in the cultural  circumstances. Same goes for the many pleasant and enterprising Poles who immigrated in large numbers in the 2000s. Irish is theoretically the first language of Ireland, but practically it is no longer the second but the third spoken language of modern Ireland because there are so many Polish speakers.

All one can say is that Ireland struggled valiantly for centuries to achieve some degree of independence, to have borders and the freedom to express a distinctive, separate cultural tradition. This was something many and sometimes reluctant members of the Irish diaspora in America and beyond,  looking for a point of reference, a  mental homeland, (if not  somewhere they might actually return to) hoped Eire could one day achieve. But within only a few decades the country finishes in virtual rejection of its historic strivings through a more than generous multiculturalism, the price its often corrupt leaders have paid to have an Ireland of (admittedly needed) motor roads plus some subsidies from the EU, that organization of fanatic bureaucrats and reckless globalists. And Ireland is even due, unwisely in comparison to Austria, Australia and other nations, to expose itself to still further meltdown and dissolution by signing on this  year to a UN agreement that all and any migration is an absolute human right to be always assisted.

Though what passes for good literature in contemporary Ireland raises some questions, there have been real strides made in the realms of art and music. And now that it’s not a compulsory subject, enthusiasm for Irish language is actually increasing. But the progress is too like the last burst of a candle flame before an almost inevitable extinction. Except that as with reserving ancient art works it’s important to know the anthropology of people groups, the shape and pattern of their traditions, there’s little left to say or do about the Irish idea – except as individuals to carry and the remains of a culture. One does so in, as it were, a portable ark for the interest of whoever it may serve. But unless change could be thorough and rapid, the reality is that a lot more than just the romantic Ireland of O’Leary is in the grave as Yeats lamented. It’s more like an Ireland of any distinct description  is in a box on the way to cremation and at the hands of Rob Doyle’s aimless  hedonistic rebels (along with the too many dubious politicians, some of them, as the academic Denis MacEoin has been highlighting, rather anti-Semitic too. ( https://www.gatestoneinstitute.org/10126/ireland-anti-semitism). It’s a tragic shame, a huge irony and a great loss but, as the very un-Irish T.S. Eliot might say, “This is the way the world ends, not with a bang but a whimper.”

                                                                                       

( 22/7/2019 )  Irish Changes: A Poem in a time of endangered free speech https://wp.me/p2v96G-1kp

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
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Posted by on September 19, 2018 in culture, current affairs, Mysteries, psychology

 

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GREG SHERIDAN’S “GOD IS GOOD FOR YOU”. A MAJOR BOOK WITH AN ODD FLAW

Greg Sheridan’s God is Good for You: A Defence of Christianity in Troubled Times is for multiple reasons a timely, important book easily recommended to believers and sceptics alike. Critical acclaim has immediately attached to it. I will however dwell chiefly on what I consider to be a hidden flaw that threatens its edifice and entails an error of understanding that ironically contributes to the kind of spiritual impasse for Christianity and the West that Sheridan is exercised about.

The book is the work of a successful Australian political journalist and it’s perhaps only his being well known and highly regarded that apologetic work of his kind could get past publishing within the current climate of opinion.  This climate is well evoked at the book’s outset and in conclusion. Sheridan even goes so far as to characterize Australia as effectively atheist or soon to be so. He regards the media today as almost the enemy (tending to ignore or misrepresent religion) and I won’t enlarge on quite how much I know that scandal to be true.

It is tempting to classify Sheridan’s offering with last year’s more secular bestseller, Douglas Murray’s The Strange Death of Europe. Both authors push back against a crisis in western thought and direction, Sheridan being more concerned with the extent of the erosion in faith and the glib dismissals of Christianity by often intolerant elites whose dismissals additionally entail a contempt for western civilisation at a dangerous moment for it. Sheridan demonstrates that this civilisation and often the best in it too, is far more dependent upon the faith than the average reader is likely to have been aware. (Especially Christian readers may finish shocked at how much they haven’t been told, that their leaders haven’t defended and even religious schools haven’t taught).

For many, both with and without faith, God is Good for You could be an education in itself for its range. It’s readably about history, philosophy, theology (including how to enjoy and profit from reading the Old Testament and not just the New), along with  many facts about society and even science you may not know. And there are meetings and interviews with various leaders of Australian society vis- a-vis faith. (The author is Catholic but very fair and open around non Catholic Christianities).

PASSING ON A FAITH

…..But none of this is quite my concern here which is rather with one, almost hidden point. It’s nevertheless a crucial one that opens upon something that potentially undermines, or at least confuses, the apologetic thrust of the whole book and reaches into one of the chief reasons Christianity is insufficiently defended or proclaimed, (or is wrongly proclaimed), and either way loses power and adherents after the manner Sheridan regrets and would redress.

St Paul asks “But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him?” (Rom 10:14). Sheridan would reasonably enough answer that a lot of belief is derived from family and school but for various reasons these are not currently vital sources for communicating Christianity and this must be faced. (It’s true many church schools may as well not be such!)

But despite his  quasi-evangelistic call to teach more and better, Sheridan has a surprise for us. Not only is his spouse a Sikh (I don’t wish to be personal but St Paul counsels believers should not be “unequally yoked” with unbelievers, 2 Cor 6:14) but more significantly since mixed marriages do inevitably occur,  in consequence it seems his three sons are of the religion too (p.90). This strikes a note more obviously counter to St Paul’s concern with raising one’s children in the instruction of the Lord (Eph 6:4).

Under elements of neo-Catholicism Sheridan somehow justifies his position, which includes attending Sikh services, by assuming that there can be great divine wisdom in non Christian religions  – theoretically Sikhism is monotheistic. So for Sheridan, while it’s perfectly true that Jesus is the saviour and even saves from hell (which he believes in since there must be “justice”), at the same time other systems can be true.

However reasonable this may sound, the position would for a start ignore that Sikhism, though monotheistic unlike the Hinduism it broke from, still teaches auto-salvation through multiple incarnations. In short, it denies grace, which is so original and radical in Christianity it distinguishes it from all other faiths as C.S. Lewis, one of Sheridan’s influences, affirmed when questioned on world religions. Christianity maintains evil is too engrained in life, nature and humans for anyone to reach perfection by their own efforts alone – and there’s anyway a limitation on the time for even  the best of would-be compensatory good works since we die once only and then is the judgment (Heb 9:27)!

A DISHARMONY OF FAITHS

It may be trendy or multiculturally convenient to maintain all the higher religions are essentially the same,  namely ways to God that make for love and peace. But it’s a far from obvious fact upon honest examination. Insisting upon it  ends in a fair deal of intellectual dishonesty, and that flight from any objective truth (or just the plain obvious) which is a part of the West’s sickness as Sheridan otherwise maintains.

Buddhism is theoretically atheistic and again allows no room for salvation as per Christianity; and the Buddhism of Burma, supposedly the religion’s purest, nearest-to-original form, when it comes to peace and toleration is clearly no paragon. Islam explicitly denies the divinity of Christ and the Koran enjoins execution and/or subjugation of infidels in stark contrast to the original Christian outlook like that of Tertullian, whom Sheridan cites, that though the gods of the pagans are demons, Christians are still to tolerate them in their beliefs. Polytheistic Hinduism is always hailed as a model of inclusiveness, but in its contemporary nationalist form under President Modi is anything but; it is currently turning a blind eye to the persecution of Christianity, the burning down of churches and beating even elderly worshippers senseless. (It belongs to the atheism and decadence of the West that the persecution of Christians outside the West is little reported or protested and concern with feminism enjoys more attention).

Even supposing claims are correct that God has supplied some vision to the higher religions, practically it doesn’t get through. At the grassroots in Asia people will say they are Buddhist or whatever, but  really they are  animists, devotees of local spirit or ancestral cults or gurus and shamans revered as though God (this somewhat happens among the Sikhs with their ten holy gurus).

FINDING THE PRIMORDIAL FAITH

It should be apparent from St Paul’s approach to Athenian paganism (Acts 17)  that he was not so much looking like some modern Christians to “dialogue” with existing faiths as guardians of  supplementary truths, as to uncover the world’s primordial faith, “the unknown god”, the creator who in world myth withdrew from human evil. In my The Great Circle: Asia, David and God Consciousness  https://goo.gl/ZHYQPw  I look into whether Asia, like Greece and the ancient West, ever had or has an unknown god, and the answer is yes. In some cases like the mostly Christian ethnic Karens of Burma (hated and persecuted by Burmese Buddhists),they had heroically waited centuries for the fulfilment of tribal visions that one day some stranger would arrive to bring them news of the true God.

Christianity is not a faith like Islam with a major conquest theme, but it is a religion of mission. Christ’s parting command, the so-called Great Commission, is to go and preach the gospel and to teach (Matt 26:16-20). Teaching rather than just rite and ritual as in most religions, is crucial to the Judaeo-Christian tradition and its notion of spiritual health. Otherwise it’s a case of “My people are destroyed through lack of knowledge” (Hos 4:6).

I would certainly agree with Sheridan that Christian religion is hardly being taught today, but would go further and maintain it has compromised its “evangelical” teaching task. It has done so to the point of substituting “the example” of charitable work alone to justify its existence, to cause least offence in a PC world and even perhaps to cover over what some may privately regard as the stigma of what the gospel message actually is, by emphasizing “unconditional love” to the exclusion of all else.

Undeniably Christianity is and teaches many things, but one still needs to be aware how at its core its message is one of deliverance from especially death and, by extension, hell’s destruction. Sheridan believes in hell while admitting to the difficulty most would feel as regards a perdition that’s eternal and/or apparently escaped from by an act of faith alone, two problems that receive astonishingly little treatment today given their controversial status within the whole.

A CORE DIFFICULTY

Actually, there is a perfectly simple, if nothing else logical reason to think of hell as eternal and it’s not, as per the Puritans, because God is so severe in righteous wrath against sinners he can never be appeased of their offence. It’s because, like heaven, hell stands outside of time in an intense eternal present (1).  God authored time which is a function of the (fallen, imperfect) material realm, and there will be a point at which God abolishes time along with the evil it permits. Where you are spiritually at that point fixes your essence into a single direction of will towards or against God.

It can seem reasonable enough to propose, and reassuring to believe, that evil souls will simply be annihilated (the sometimes chaotic contradictions of Pope Francis’ beliefs now countenance this along with atheists in heaven),( 2) , but to the extent God is “Lord/Author of Life” (Acts 3:15), divinity cannot destroy any immortal soul. Otherwise God becomes like Satan who Jesus says was “a murderer from the first” (Joh 8:44). God can only prevent and finish evil  through its exile and quarantine. It would follow the soul must, if need be, remain fixed in its (unregenerate) nature within the “eternity” which is outside time. This state, a very intense now, can well be portrayed as a sub-existence in tormenting “fire”, because everything exists through God and God is (spiritual) fire – albeit a lot more besides. But if God is rejected and separated from, there is only the divine fire left to subsist through, not the other elements which would render the fire creative and liveable rather than consuming and destructive.

Despite everything, Sheridan believes belief matters. It is important because no belief is exclusively rational but involves the will. It follows that for Christians to stress the importance of belief in Jesus is to stress that the will is and must be God-directed. This however allows Sheridan to argue that any talk about the claims of God upon us, or of deity being “jealous” around us, means we must be loyal and devoted to the Good. And this is something non Christians can unconsciously be, like the sheep in the parable of the sheep and the goats of Matt 25 where  the sheep are surprised to learn they had been serving Jesus by their actions all along.

TRUTH AND NAMING

There is truth in this perspective on the biblical picture of our destinies, but if taken too far it potentially undermines Christianity’s leading idea of any specifically “saving” belief and the obligation to  proclaim it.

Sheridan’s  universalist assumption is meaningful to the extent that many across history will never have known anything about Jesus and can hardly be condemned, especially not to hell, for that. As the apostle indicates at Athens, “the times of ignorance God overlooked but now he calls all people to repent”. (Acts 17:30). The statement is harmonious with another of the apostle’s claims that in the Last Judgement the thoughts of those outside the Law may condemn or excuse them before God (Rom 2:15). (And long before Paul Hebrew scripture has God declare: “I will have mercy upon whom I will have mercy” (Ex 33:19)  – a statement incidentally counter to all post-Thomas Merton trendy Catholic notions that heaven and hell are things we simply choose, not what God chooses or predestines). So there isn’t and never should have been, as per some lunatic medieval teachings, notions of automatic damnation for all except those souls who are baptized and  consciously, deliberately Christian.

But Sheridan’s universalist take on doctrine is misleading to the extent that being loyal to what you fancy as good (and which may not even be so) can never automatically amount to the same as being unconsciously devoted to the Christ self-described as “the Way, the Truth and the Life” (Joh 14:6). The gospel position is that Truth and Goodness are ultimately a name, not ideas. If you have the opportunity to connect to Christ then you should do so and in disregard of the claims of history, tradition and family upon you, salvation being linked to specifically calling upon the Name and especially in self-critical “repentance” (it means “mind change”). The original teaching  was always “Whoever calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Rom 10:13) and “there is no other name under heaven….by which we must be saved (Acts 4:12).

With this emphasis to its doctrines Christianity has always had an edge of urgency about it (which has perhaps affected the drive and engagement of western civilisation) where its “proclamation” is concerned. This is because there is understood to be a real struggle within the mortal time frame which is a theatre for our possible deception or injury by the forces of evil. These forces are seen as ruling this world and are the main source of human suffering and even what principally Christ incarnated to confront (1 Joh 3:8)  So there is this dramatic undercurrent “… night is coming when no one can work” (Joh 9:4) and “today is the day of salvation” (2 Cor 6:2)… not your next incarnation or when you agnostically shuffle this mortal coil and find out what’s what!

SUFFERING, EVIL AND HADES

Though the supposedly definitive Nicene creed states, “we believe in all things visible and invisible”, plainly most Christians inhabit modern scientism’s materialist swamp alien to all mystery and don’t so believe. Sheridan rightly says if you can’t accept angels and demons you could have a hard time with Christianity and I agree. Certainly you’ll have a harder time explaining evil in the world (and a few miracles too) and Sheridan himself is weak in this area going little further than rather conventionally  to proclaim suffering a mystery and blaming the necessary existence of freewill which can’t be cancelled at every moment.

Reading him on the suffering theme I incidentally baulked at finding yet again the common error which has Jesus on the cross voicing doubt and despair at divine goodness in a sort of terribly human identification with us and human woes. Will even educated Christians never learn that Jesus was piously reciting from Israel’s death Psalm 22 (though now often seen as prophetic for his death)?  This  contains the forsaken cry, but any despair in Jesus’ case is part of the atonement sacrifice itself which involves temporary separation from the Father as he carries or becomes sin and  as such  undergoes what souls in hell must experience. This is “destruction” or  living death, severance from every source of the Good. Even atheists experience God indirectly in this life through whatever is good within it. Hell by contrast is Dante’s “Abandon hope”, the gospel’s “outer darkness”, final separation from the light – hence the sun itself is seen as dimming at the crucifixion.

Today, those who believe in an afterlife have decided most people just go to whatever or wherever heaven is (Sheridan quotes Australia’s former Prime Minister, the Catholic Tony Abbot, to the effect perhaps only Hitler and Stalin go to hell). But in the world of the New Testament,  the ancient West and arguably some other places like China, belief was that the soul, and just about everyone and everything including Lesbia’s sparrow, went to the prison of Hades and remained there. The gods did not spare or cure death though they might spare a few heroes to Elysian fields. Homer’s view of the afterlife in the Odyssey is particularly ghastly.  Blood alone brings  mournful ancestors to the surface and let’s them speak. Christianity arrived to confront this pessimism but Hades/Hell, though considerably challenged in their power  (Christ is seen as now having the keys to death and Hades) remain in place  and  I think if we are honest with the gospel  record, Hades/Hell is  seen as being – by and large – still the default fate of an unregenerate humanity….unless.

It is possible that if they even think about it at all,  deep down humanity even half believes and expects this negative outcome unless other influences from lively faith intervene. The last poems of D. H. Lawrence, for example, are surprisingly  depressing in this connection. He imagines his soul and that of others embarking for Hades,  but though he hopes “the oblivion god” may lead him to some kind of new dawn (reincarnate him?) it is hardly a strongly felt hope.

RESURRECTION FAITH

My father died some weeks ago and before this he had suddenly informed me as I put him to bed one evening, that this was the end and Jesus had told him he would soon take him to himself. The next day I couldn’t get him up  up or communicate with him, so he was taken to the hospital and passed away, faster than expected, within twenty four hours. Some people do have intimations of an end and some devout Christians might report an angelic message, but by any standards this experience and its claim, which took me off guard, could be considered a bit exceptional. But plainly it seemed downright extreme to those to whom I happened to mention it. I was impressed how much people couldn’t really deal with the subject of death, Jesus or the afterlife. It became clearer to me how little Australians (and probably many others in the West) believe or have any religious feeling. It’s the sort of thing should ring alarm bells for the churches;  but it doesn’t and it won’t because as Sheridan puts it, Christians seem to lack adequate “situational awareness” – some even imagining their society is somehow still Christian – leading to poor strategies(3).

Reading Sheridan, I was likewise impressed how little his Christians, even the devout, observant ones, seemed to have any clear notion of what form the afterlife might take and what mean and for whom, such as their relatives – the Christian afterlife is supposed to begin as a spirit in “paradise” such as Jesus promised to the penitent thief, which is a waiting place distinct from heaven and preceding the resurrection of the dead which entails the assumption of a new spiritual body akin to that of Christ after the resurrection.

I am not an evangelical, one of whose qualifications to be such would be belief in an inerrant as opposed to an inspired bible. However, when it comes to the afterlife I do sense that evangelicals are nearer to truth than the kind of hazy, confused modern Catholic and Anglican thinking represented by some of Sheridan’s interviewees like former PM  Tony Abbot. Beliefs like theirs neither quite help the self nor move the world, certainly represent no kind of gospel hope worth the proclaiming or like early Christians and  persecuted North Korean believers today, risking life and limb for. Abbot regrets that he doesn’t seem to hear from God. Again, I am not an evangelical to suggest such as Abbot should be hearing daily from Jesus (something surely reserved for the few, if any!),  but if he never has a few divine messages and intuitions there might be reasons. Belief should be clear, informed and committed if it is to work for you. There is such a thing as spiritual efficiency.

St Paul suggests that if you don’t believe in the resurrection your faith is futile (1 Cor 15:17); you might as well eat, drink and be merry and tomorrow die. I don’t like, and don’t think it’s quite possible, to go too far in deciding who is a “real” Christian by such standards as they’re highly orthodox, terribly “born again” , very prayerful or whatever. But I am coming to the conclusion that to possess some deep conviction of “the sure and certain hope of resurrection” could well be a litmus test for the definition. Unquestionably it was almost the central, original formula for Christian belief and identity:  “if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Rom 10:9).

If nothing else Sheridan’s book can make you think about many things and essential ones. I will always wonder whether his book doesn’t arise from a kind of half unconscious penitential compensation towards society for what the author doesn’t seem to have been convincing his own offspring about in what could be deemed a dereliction of Christian duty. But  this doesn’t detract from the objective importance of the book’s information, statements and remarkable honesty.

NOTES

(1)  Conventional depictions of hell and some NDE accounts (of whatever validity), do seem to include a sense of time along with the possible anachronism  of free roaming, tormenting demons. Time in this case, along with any demonic freedom, would be a property of the pre/ temporal hell which is ultimately thrown into “the lake of fire” (Rev 20:14),at the end of time,  the true hell which is existence through God as “fire” alone.

(2)  I evoke Francis’  contradictions in two satirical poems, Heaven for All  https://wp.me/p2v96G-8y  and Ichabod or Papal Glory Departing, https://wp.me/p4kNWg-6c  (These poems incidentally allow the possibility that some of the issues Sheridan raises are in fact end of era, “end of days” type matters, a fulfilment of Christ’s anticipation of a loss of faith towards the end (Luk 18:8).  

(3) The remarkable blindness of churches  to the spiritual, and even just social situation, is reflected in the way over recent decades they have relentlessly targeted the gay issue, first just opposing the gay minority’s right to exist, then opposing gay marriage as a threat to family and society.  Ironically, if they wanted to criticize and reform society towards more Christian lifestyles, it is the vast un marriage of heterosexuals which should have been their primary concern. It is precisely amid the loosened  or non family friendly structures of a permissive society that children are not raised to any religious beliefs and just pleasure or the convenient become central life values. Yet how often did clergy seriously preach against the drifting, the unattached or the serially divorced? Almost never. It was only gay marriage was unnatural and unholy; and this targeting  of a minority only further alienated society from the churches seen as bastions of arbitrarily undemocratic views. This feature of modern social history is a good illustration of Christ’s words that the children of this world are wiser in their generation than the children of light (Luk 16:8). (The previous article entered on this blog, Today’s Christian Image Problem is relevant to the question of lack of “situational awareness”).

 

 

 
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Posted by on August 14, 2018 in Mysteries, religion

 

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