Category Archives: Poetry



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  (A translation is here  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!


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.


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).



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.


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 )   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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The fate of religion and a society’s vision has a lot to do with poetry and poets, the bearers of vision – in  early Ireland poet and prophet were virtually identical . The classic example of poetic influence historically is the revival of Jewish faith under the prophetic careers of Isaiah and Jeremiah, the former the voice of a sublime messianism, the latter the voice of a “new covenant”.

In parts of Ireland today churches are often empty, some even being demolished. The astonishingly rapid decline of Catholicism in Ireland in the twenty first century, though not total and having several causes including grave clergy scandal, renewed emigration and controversial replacement migration forcing increased multiculturalism upon an unprepared often unwilling population, is nonetheless a conundrum.

It is one paralleled by the strange weakness of Irish literature at the spiritual level. How and why is the native tradition in religious verse so limited despite the long and celebrated intensity of national religious observance and devotion? Where is the devotional or metaphysical contribution?. How and why since full Republican independence in 1949 do we find little more than a religiously deconstructive kind of contribution from the nation’s artists, especially the poets?

Somewhere something is lacking. I will offer some radical perspectives and will even endeavour to “re-imagine” Irish religion which I regard as long founded on certain misconceptions exposed by recent developments. But first, because it’s scene setting and neatly introduces some main issues for the modern crisis, I will briefly summarize Andrew Auge’s rather Catholic dismissive, A Chastened Communion: Modern Irish poetry and Catholicism (2013).

This study examines the religious deconstruction and/or adjustments that six leading poets have been making since the modernist/elitist Denis Devlin (1908-1959), not reviewed by Auge, left the Yeatsian legacy behind and wrote some genuinely metaphysical if rather abstract religious verse. Much inspired by Pascal and St Teresa of Avila, God for Devlin is both absent from and imminent to creation in a way that allows unexpected brief moments of illuminating grace. But deity is basically remote. There’s nothing very Irish or relevant to Ireland’s future development in Devlin’s contribution save perhaps in his rejection of Teresa’s extreme division of body and spirit, the sort of question that troubled our first poet.



Auge’s first poet is Austin Clarke (1896-1974). HIs outlook belongs with the common image of a repressed, traditional Catholic Ireland. “Being sent to penance, come Saturday/ I shuffled slower than my sins should”. His evocation of sometimes extreme situations as in Mnemosyne Lay In Dust ( 1966) which evokes experience of an asylum, are almost more suited to fiction and memoir.

From childhood Clarke suffered under the over-zealous examinations of conscience in the confessional occasioned by little more than some masturbation (theoretically a mortal sin in Catholicism), but the long term result was he suffered serious nervous breakdown followed by a year in an asylum and then a soon failed unconsummated marriage. Clarke’s stylish poetry includes scenes and situations from the distant mirror of medieval, Romanesque, Ireland and its tensions ignored by the literature of the more Protestant or secularist Irish literary nationalism.Instead of Joyce’s outright rejection of a Catholicism that gets exchanged for a secular priesthood in service of aesthetics, Clarke gradually works his way to a transmutation of values which grants him a certain independence, finally making him almost a prophet in relation to the persons and system that almost destroyed him.

Accepting that any poet is always to some degree a heretic towards his faith (Milton would be a supreme example), Clarke comes to realize that there can be an over-indulgence in continence. Even the eyes of the spirit may not be opened where sensual imagery is denied, while excessive self-scrutiny can become a transgression against innocence, a persecution of incarnation. He realizes, as implied by the Book of Kells with its half hidden elements of the erotic, eros is part a total energy, a continuum not to be completely denied. (This is incidentally a point I made in different connections in the previous article and earlier offerings). He also learns from traditional Irish repentance poetry as of Gearoid Denvir, that he can define his own sins himself, achieve a measure of autonomy and self-absolution and with this he can overcome some of the paralysis which, like the characters of Joyce’s Dubliners, he had experienced.

With this new confidence Clarke later assumes a species of poetic/prophetic role. Enlarging on the practice of a scrutiny of wrongs, in the sixties and well before the time the scandals of the Irish church became common knowledge, he was pointing the finger at the physical abuse of boys by Christian Brothers,(“Corporeal Punishment”) the cruelty of nuns towards exploited unmarried mothers, (”Unmarried Mothers”) the politicking and dubious financial dealings of church leaders. It was an interesting development even when it did not always produce the greatest poetry – Clarke’s opus is of uneven quality. He was perhaps essentially a satirist who agreed with Swift the world is mad and he hoped with the medieval Irish philosopher, Erigena, that all would be forgiven and saved. (It’s beyond present scope but what Clarke perhaps needed to know along the lines of Rabbi Boteach’s Kosher Lust: Love is not the answer, is that there is less (biblically at least) a distinction between love and lust than between two kinds of lust, one an acceptable part of life even reaching into the psychology of the relation to God).


Patrick Kavanagh (1904-1967) was less prophet than (when thinking religiously and patriotically) a would-be mystic who falls against some unresolved contradictions. Born in rural Monaghan and rejecting standard nationalism in favour of “parochialism”, he sought any Irishness in a mysticism of local landscape and feeling harking back to early Gaelic writing like the Dinnseanchas. His ideal was a kind of Christian nature cult or animism which however never quite worked for him.

The post-Famine church had set the chapel against the well, locating all spirituality inside the often aesthetically inferior church building to the detriment of all traditional local sites associated with saints and miracles and often involving pilgrimage and festival dismissed as only superstitious. However, actual alternative experience of the wells doesn’t render the poet the hoped for levels of inspiration; at best they and the penitential pilgrimage site of Lough Derg (which looms large for numbers of poets including Heaney, who regard it as almost the epitome of Irish spirituality), suggest beyond the trivialities of popular piety, the real power of community and sharing. But gradually rural life with its domineering matriarchs, like the mother in Kavanagh’s masterpiece (The Great Hunger) and ugly churches becomes tomb-like. The poet will search new life and meaning in the city and community.

Anyone who has ever felt, as many have, including the poet AE with his talk of ‘the earth breath”, the peculiar “magic” of the Irish earth will be sympathetic to Kavanagh’s aims and intuitions. There is a magic but it’s a damp, GreenMan kind remote from the sun and deserts of early Christianity, (though it may have something of the first spring of the Song of Songs about it). Kavanagh doesn’t want Celtic nature feeling limited to churches or even just an altar with its “real presence” bread. Yet if one includes the altar and extends outwards into the world, has one not then arrived at simple pantheism with nothing really Irish and Catholic left? At this point one may feel that Kavanagh, like too many Irish Catholics,lacks either the theological knowledge or just liberty to go further and resolve the problems. The subject of the Irish and nature is in any case a big and historic one as is apparent from the medieval “Colloquy of the Elders” in which St Patrick is imagined  in argument with the hero Oisin over fundamentals of the native outlook.

But for Kavanagh the materialistic city would for years only present him another problem. His response was to try to evoke country and landscape within corners of urban landscape, bringing an extension of the rural into the urban. What he instead eventually realizes is “a placeless heaven”, essentially internal to himself (one might say archetypal?). The mysteries of nature are eternal to himself and he can impose them upon a scene. An urban scene like the Dublin Grand Canal can become renewing in the way a holy well was once supposed to be. It even reflects what in the poet/mystic’s mind is something of the flow of being that must be released and that can be the more positive side of what’s urban. Similarly to Clarke, Kavanagh has a felt need for the liberating flow suggested by everything from early Irish art to healthy eros. Spiritual health and inclusion is suggested by: “Give me ad lib/ To pray unselfconsciously with overflowing speech”.

This borders on a plea to be able to speak in tongues, something I always feel Joyce sought to do at some level in especially Finnegan’s Wake. Little or nothing of the sort has ever really manifested in Irish Catholicism as it has in some American and other Catholic circles under the so-called charismatic movement. This situation could reflect a strong underlying element of formality within Irish culture and religion that does not easily “let go”, but that a poet might always arrive to question as the mark of something lacking.  Which in a way it is. The problem is compounded by the fact national soul life is not helped by loss of the natural rhythms and  concepts of the mostly discarded native language.


A lot of modern Irish poetry has originated from Ulster, and John Montague (1928-1916) would be a prominent figure in this and one more directly engaged with the Ulster condition than the more celebrated Seamus Heaney. Montague shares with Kavanagh a strong feeling of place,  he likes traditions and dolmens but it’s not his main concern which is more  psychological. His        father was a Republican activist, a reason the poet was born in the America where his father was exiled, though early on the poet would live with relatives and be educated in Ireland. Montagu who believed “revolution is interior” is not easily summarized, but at the core of his poetry was a will to achieve cure for the wound occasioned by Irish partition and Ulster religion. Although not opposed to the Republican movement per se – Montague regarded the protests of a Bernadette Devlin and her followers the necessary release of a kind of “Blakean energy” – when it came down to it, the poet sought to bring not just people but ideas together, and via a mode of thinking more symbolic than literalistic (Ulster can be very literal minded!).

In works like The Bread God (1968), Montague re-visions the mass as a thought mode in its own right beyond familiar ceremony. He does this in the wake of trying to understand Ulster Protestant, especially Paisleyite, hostility to the mass as simply an idolatry linked to papal imposition, end-of-age scenarios and a whole range of assumed facts. At the same time Montague (never notably devout but church linked through a Jesuit uncle), was aware that a type of Catholic thinking might imitate or invoke just this Ulster Protestant response by the way it made the mass an object, the worshipped wafer, as in Corpus Christi processions. Still more this bread could become politicized, even rendered the sum of Irish identity itself as in the alienating Dublin Eucharistic Conference of 1932 which attributed Irish character, identity and survival most essentially to a Eucharistic devotion.

Even so, not only was the Ulster Protestant ignoring that Catholic mass certifies the presence of both Christ and the community in a sort of extension of incarnation, but that the ceremony is not just a recall of the past but an anticipation of the future. And this is how people of whatever persuasion could and should be thinking, joining together in awareness of the mythically charged Irish past (Ulster was mythically extreme long before its wars of religion and colonial plantation) but looking towards an interactive, open future.

Here could be another kind of “transubstantiation”. Common humanity and cooperation are more easily discovered amid symbolic and mythic modes of thought, more able and willing to improvise, especially as, (contra Yeats and his poetry of fixed cycles), history does and doesn’t repeat itself, but always requires us to respond.

It will be apparent that Montague’s remedy for the new Ireland is a kind of de-mythologization and re-mythologization of the whole concept of mass in which the layperson is very much a kind of their own priest to the task, somewhat as in the vaguely Protestant drift of Clarke. But I would note that like Kavanagh he does also perceive other registers of understanding. Montague recognizes language as authenticity related. In “A Grafted Tongue”  a second language is as “harsh a humiliation /as twice to be born…speech stumbles over/lost syllables of an old order”


By contrast, the less Ulster-engaged Seamus Heaney sought and (more or less) arrived at his own understanding of “grace”, which is a freedom away from the type of piety shaping his youth and as exemplified by especially his mother. That Heaney was genuinely devout in youth is reflected in the fact he visited the classic site of Irish penance, Lough Derg (which features in his  Station Island of 1985), three times. He began to perceive certain traditional Irish attitudes, especially of guilt and self-sacrifice as undermining regular action or else productive of the wrong kind of action, one based on the  resentment (or perhaps ressentiment as Nietzsche might controversially define it) of the downtrodden, and promoting some merely self-righteous vengeance.

Heaney arguably saw this kind of sweeping but only part true psychological summary of his fellow countrymen too much and well. It morphed into a sometimes unreasonably distanced, much criticized position away from what for Ulster Catholics of the Troubles era were often issues of basic justice as regards voting, housing, education and employment, everything that left them second class citizens under a quasi-apartheid. Nationalists on hunger strike to press their cause thus become for Heaney only a kind of belated Catholic fanatic and/or inheritor of ancient Celtic blood sacrifices – in his strangely ugly way of writing, Heaney says of one hunger striker who died, he “rotted like a pear”.

Aware he couldn’t offer either what fellow countrymen wanted politically, nor effect through poetic showings like those in North the kind of exorcism of root ills needed, Heaney retained his sense of guilt. Poetry had itself initially seemed to him a form of self-sacrifice or monkish vocation, repayment of a debt to God along the lines of the version of atonement theology on which he had been raised.

What he gradually discovered, however, was that much poetic inspiration came suddenly and unawares like a sort of unmerited grace and joining him to the flux of being. In short, poetic inspiration seemed almost the contradiction of religion. Christian poets generally have not been disposed to regard inspiration in this way, but Heaney is sunk in some mental Ireland of the perpetual guilts, among other things assisted by, as suggested in Canto 6 of Station Island, a cult of the Virgin that hampers a man’s natural relation to women. He will nevertheless strive towards what makes for freedom; he will not sin against its imperatives.

In one section of Station Island, a visionary account along Dantesque lines of visiting Lough Derg, the poet (who had once suffered like many academic Irish males pressures to become a priest) encounters a missionary priest he knew. He had died young in Africa and thus in many respects seemed, like the hunger strikers, to have wasted his life. Heaney also meets a ghostly James Joyce from whom he learns that when he refused to take the sacrament “I made my life an instrument of grace”. But Heaney cannot follow the completely secular alternative in the aesthetic priesthood of Joyce. Something mystical remains however awkwardly.

Also on the island he had learned from a Carmelite priest that poetry itself can be redeeming and read as prayer. But then, thinking of the negative way of the Carmelite St John of the Cross, Heaney understands Ultimacy in terms of “nothing” and “dark night” and so “when there is no thing that gives, there can be no demand that the gift be reciprocated”. This leaves Heaney free of “atonement” and reparation ideas of poetic labours and released to a more Wordsworthian ”wise passivity” towards reality. In this and with the God question left open, it’s “nothing”, or perhaps the death at the centre of all, that will supply inspiration.

A collection, The Squarings, attempts to articulate whispers, feelings, insights at this horizon edge of things. I don’t feel Heaney succeeds, but the project is meaningful for a type of Celtic knowing hard to convey yet vital all the same. It has something in common with the philosopher Heidegger’s idea of Being revealing itself in the light space, the Lichtung. It may have even more to do with German music, and I think that Heaney, less skilfully than the late poet and essayist Brian O’Donoghue, makes a way towards inclusion of the Germanic within the Celtic that always needed to be realized.

Heaney is too complex and verbally riddling with his ideas to summarize here. The main point however is that this post-Yeats, supposedly representative poet, gains the freedom of an alternative spirituality which hides or denies deity by ridding himself of a native self-sacrifice theme which he regards as the secret of an Irish paralysis akin to the one portrayed in Joyce’s story, The Dead…… I will add another less familiar way of summarizing Heaney.

Heaney was born in 1939 under the fighting, self-affirming sign of Aries that his Ulster Catholic upbringing repressed and which he let repress. Restrictive, demanding Saturn closely conjuncting his identity-giving sun reflects all of the repression, the hard work and guilt surrounding any will towards escape, firm action or self-justification. Heaney’s opus is often Saturn coarse and graceless, but since his sun closely conjuncts the Mars of modern Ireland’s foundation, he would be nationally influential, dragged into cultural conflicts and expected to take the sides he didn’t. His natal opposition of Jupiter (religion, faith) opposite Neptune (mysticism, self-sacrifice, vision) across the axis of the (Virgo/Pisces service signs, bespeaks his rooted spiritual conflict around service of all kinds.


Auge’s chapter on Eilean ni Chuilleanin’s poetry is headed Relics and Nuns in the poetry of Eilean ni Chuilleanin’s Poetry and subtitled Sifting the Remains of Irish Catholicism. This could be a bit misleading in the context of the whole book and my use of it here, because Eilean’s work does not present any obvious problem in relation to church decadence and decline. If there is a problem it is almost in the lack of any overt one and what that might betray regarding modern Irish religion.

Like many women in Ireland and outside it, Eileain ni Chuilleanin (b.1942) regards the nuns in her life, even the more eccentric ones, as a positive influence. Many Catholic women have felt the freedom of nuns from standard roles and the high culture of especially the teaching nuns, to be a liberating, even rather feminist example. In recent years when it has been impossible to deny all witness to the abuse and sadism of some nuns in such as Ireland’s Magdalene asylums, Catholic women have still been inclined to lay much blame for this on the use and abuse of nuns themselves by priests, bureaucrats and politicians rather than wholeheartedly condemn the women who enlivened and enlightened their youth.

Eileain, whose career has been rather successful by Irish and poetic standards, (she studied at Dublin and Oxford), attended a convent school and three of her aunts were nuns. We may not be so surprised as she herself is, that when she wants to write poetry, she so often mentally presented with the image of a nun. This leads to various musings and affirmations in which holy female figures convey mystery as in The Anchoress, Agnes Bernelle, St Mary Magdalene preaching at Marseilles  They can  imply a mystery of being or of a change into which they shimmer. The poetry generally would imply that Irish Catholicism can be judged against, improved, and developed by the faith of nuns, (or even ordinarily pious women) whose role may even somehow elide with those unfortunately abused by the few nuns that failed. It’s a case as per The Architectural  Metaphor of…. “Help is at hand/Though out of reach”

Influenced and possibly over influenced by the extreme Irish enthusiasm for the relics of St Therese de Lisieux brought to Ireland in 2001, Auge thinks of the nun and Eileain’s  nuns in terms of the philosopher Levinas’ theory of “the trace”, the something that exists between being and non being, between past and present, not tangible, not representable, something that lingers on after it has passed. The nun seems a bit  like the absent girl in The Absent Girl    who “searches for a memory lost with muscle and blood/ She misses her ligaments and the marrow of her bones”. But Auge is thinking especially of the poem The Brazen Serpent which manages to identify Moses’ Brazen Serpent with the True Cross.

Not to get into arguments about that poem, I sense the real issue for all the poetry of Eileain is this. To the extent the nuns represent things divine, it is as the Sophia, the Divine Wisdom, the feminine side of God. And Sophia can include knowledge and witty inventions in her character (Pro 19:21).

But at this point we touch on the little considered subject of the divine Yin/Yang (Catholicism associates the Sophia with the Virgin rather than God, thus avoiding if not compounding the definition problem). However;  to the extent “male” Logos initiates where “female” Sophia reacts, the Wisdom side of the faith does risk losing and becoming relic and trace, no matter how temporarily inspirational, given lack of sufficient, appropriate engagement with a Logos itself needing reform. Their modern situation is such that the nuns remind more than they reveal. Logos must be made to realize what the positive contribution of Sophia is, or Sophia will go to waste and Ultimacy itself be insufficiently seen or felt for the merely human input.

Eileain often sees the female body in terms of physical structures like the wrecked ship in The Magdalene Sermon, and the nun may even be the church; but the fact remains that though Sophia is a builder (Pro 9:1), Logos is the cornerstone and holding frame (Eph 2: 20,21). Eileain’s poetry is interesting for its unusual vision and implications; it doesn’t necessarily point to the future as it might and perhaps because it can’t quite do so where Logos is misunderstood or wrong…… The next poet’s contribution belongs with the problem of revealing and declaring truth from a more outsider position.


Priests are not a “trace” for Paul Durcan (b.1944). He has not had major problems with them (he respects many and has not joined the “paedophile priest” chorus), but he has long set his face against the hierarchy which, following his traumatic upbringing, he has made it easier to criticize. It is remarkable that Durcan has retained his sanity and humour in view of his story. His father was a circuit judge who got his son out of university and into an asylum where he was threatened with electric shock and a lobotomy because he was judged “too sissy”.

The prolific Durcan, best known for the collection Daddy, Daddy (1990), is not gay, he has been married with children, but original perception of him was that he was as good as an insolent, outsider gay. Auge rightly perceives the problem as somewhat linked to traditional binds affecting Irish masculinity.

The Irish male under centuries long colonialism was regarded as a weak, “feminine”, underclass figure. If he ever resisted (like the Fenians condemned to hell by church hierarchs) he was a barbarian lacking in proper manly self-control. There were no models for the male beyond sportsman, chaste solider (like arch nationalist Padraig Pearse who plainly was gay orientated) or the ubiquitous celibate priest. Even close male friendships could be suspect of homosexuality. And I would add that Ireland beyond Dublin used to be a place where it was not safe to be gay. Robert Drake, American author of the literary study The Gay Canon (1998) was crippled and part brain damaged for life when two homophobic thugs attacked him in Sligo in 1999. Violence of all sorts used to be easily excused. Durcan records his father thought it was no more than Protestants deserved when in the worst, most purely gratuitous case of IRA violence, ten innocent Protestant workers at a road block got slaughtered in January 1976.

Durcan would always be strong enough – and perhaps socially well connected enough – to fight back, buoyed by the conviction that the hierarchs uttering extreme things pompously (like declaring to allow any divorce in Ireland would be like releasing Chernobyl upon the nation), were ridiculous hypocrites. Even the titles of his verses would declare it like, Cardinal Dies of Heart Attack in Dublin Brothel. However this did not belong to a simple anti-clericalism. More spiritually it develops towards an examination, or rather re-examination, of images of Jesus whom he decides has to have been somehow androgynous, something he believes everyone should be somewhat. In effect, as stressed in my previous article, this matter is, (or at least should be) an unavoidable one for theologians and artists alike.

The undeniable fact is that Jesus is biblically described as both Logos (male) and Sophia (female) and then as married to a church with both male and female members. Short of ignoring this in the usual manner, how one treats of this matter stands to affect everything from art to social attitudes. Durcan was entering unfamiliar territory indeed, because it’s the Virgin rather than Jesus that is liable to be imagined and dialogued with in typical Irish Catholicism.

In his mature years Durcan would become an admirer of Ireland’s first female President (1990-97) Mary Robinson, a Catholic married to a Protestant who was prepared to embrace difference in people, including sexual. Durcan has also come round to the view and, in a measure of agreement with the implied position of Joyce in especially Ulysses, that fatherhood is a problem for Ireland and the Irish male may need to father himself. The troublesome father is a curse upon Ireland. It is common to portray parental problems (as in Kavanagh’s The Great Hunger) through the figure of the matriarch, but if this figure is a problem she might not always be where the trouble starts.

While Durcan brings to light perspectives and conversations long overdue in Ireland, because like Kavanagh he is not always theologically sophisticated enough to manage his own questions, he has also, however unwittingly released into the Irish atmosphere something bordering on spiritual pollution. Durcan’s style and themes would function like an invitation to the work of a leading poet Auge does not review, namely Brendan Kennelly. This poet’s 400 page succes de scandale, his stink bomb offering The Book of Judas (1991), may be said to have undermined clarity and respect in the whole area of religion – much of the collection is just abuse that only Kennelly’s academic status allowed him to get away with. The situation deserves poetic treatment – I give it some in “Judas stopped at Dublin


According to an Irish Independent article for her sixtieth birthday, Paula Meehan believes “two lines of poetry can save a life”. You could call that faith! Poetry has certainly been good for Meehan (b.1955) helping to bring her from the Dublin tenements of her youth to Ireland Professor of Poetry to Trinity and University Colleges Dublin in the wake of much general travel and experience.. Except that she supplies poetry a new autonomy as virtual scripture in its own right, Meehan recapitulates many of the issues for the other poets here, the repression, the problems of Virgin cult, management of the flow of life and eros, the desire to read and feel landscape, tracing it even in the urban scene etc.

Meehan can be all ways radical but sometimes and in some respects is closer to tradition and even the Yeatsian legacy too. This is apparent in the strong and haunting poem that made her reputation since 1991, “The Statue of the Virgin at Granard Speaks” It was inspired by the tragic death in 1984 of Ann Lovett, attempting to give hidden birth outdoors at night before a shrine of the Virgin. The poem’s irony is that the Virgin herself is trapped. Denying her role in which people “fit me to a myth of a man crucified”, she admits that for Anne, “I did not move/ I did not lift a finger to help her/ I did not intercede with heaven….” This because she is really a symbol or goddess of something else, “who cries out to be incarnate/ incarnate, maculate and tousled in a honeyed bed”.

The mid eighties was a time of Marian obsession in Ireland following strange reports of “the moving statues” in a Kerry church. Children first saw these and then churches across especially the West of Ireland were reporting the same. Noticeably, like the late Victorian Knock apparitions, the visions were at once very Irish for dream/vision yet untrue to national character in being silent. They supplied no messages unless implied.

Unknown to the Christianity of St Patrick, the history of Ireland’s Marian devotion begins just prior to the Norman invasion and was at its strongest during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries’ severe English repression of Ireland and following the mid nineteenth century Great Famine. In short, the Virgin functioned as symbol of resistance and identity against the invader and death (and for the sort of reasons mentioned earlier, a male symbol could be more complex for men under repression, the Virgin could simply be sympathetic). In the mid 80s when some Irish laws and traditional values were beginning to be questioned, arguably the silent Mary can be seen as defending a threatened conservative national self-image.

Meehan’s development would be towards letting the goddess/archetype of Granard appear and speak as she finally does in “One Evening in May”. The poet hopes she will never regret being “bound to her rule for life”, the goddess having eventually declared, “Do my bidding”. Yet the authority and appearance of this figure could be disconcerting (her body is starry but she has “a great snakeshead”).  Meehan as in “The Man who was marked by Winter” can concede this goddess force may be pitiless and blind towards human nature. (I feel Meehan’s goddess has kinship with Robert Graves’ dangerous White Goddess). However, as Meehan seeks both vision and control, she must and does make adjustments to her object of dreams.

Her response develops in ways both feminist and Buddhist (though she always denies being a Buddhist despite poems like Dharmakaya). Like the shape-shifting shaman and his spirits Meehan will instead move between worlds, between rational and irrational, ancient and modern, urban and rural. The concern not to let herself and others be swallowed up by the visionary  forces of soul has brought her to work among addicts and prisoners (Meehan would see goddess energies in the heroin plague of Dublin in the eighties). A generalized Buddhism reflecting a strong influence from Beat Poet, Gary Synder, allows Meehan a distance, Zen or other possibly even Tibetan to the extent that  in Tibetan Buddhism one can create and dissolve worlds and gods. Meehan will also keep the earth goddess power under control by sharing record of this deity with especially those women who tell and share their stories.

The aim becomes a “democratic” spirituality. Instead of being in the hands of any elite group or patriarchal figures like priests and beholden to “doctrine”, vision will pass instead to women who share and modify what’s revealed, who accept the spontaneous and free ways of vision as perhaps exemplified in the ultimately inexplicable “My Father Perceived as a Vision of Saint Francis”.There is no reason why Meehan’s father should suddenly appear as that saint amid the musings of this poem.

But the prototype for  this strong emphasis upon vision’s power (and not necessarily accompanied by the Logos function of words), is the dream life of the poet’s grandmother. The latter used daily to recite her dreams to family and these dreams could function as prophecies – they were reportedly as impressive as any visions of St John on Patmos in Revelation! Although Meehan’s upbringing was loosely Catholic, the grandmother as evoked in verse gives a rather witchy even sinister impression as in “That Night There Was a Full Moon, Little Cloud”. Granny is hemming a shroud and knows the poet’s “black sin”, whatever that is, tells Paula her name should be “harlot” or “scarlet” and that she will have a song written in the blood of men who have displeased her.

Meehan is, as Auge concedes, complex; but I think it would not be too wrong to summarize her position as radically if unintentionally Jungian, a world in which symbol, archetype, the unconscious and perhaps very much the shadow, are paramount. I sense too that Meehan holds a rather special place within the new brew of Irish spirituality. Despite her visionary welcome of the wild and unprecedented, her persona is mild and almost dainty, quite similar to the continuously angels-aware Lorna Byrne who is now a cult figure translated into thirty languages and for many a new religion in itself and for some a natural development from their troubled Catholicism. More on Lorna in Part Two.


Certain themes have emerged from these six poets that seem fairly negative and disturbing. We learn that:

1) Irish Catholicism has been not simply repressive but traumatically so to the point that for  health and sanity’s sake one might need to become one’s own priest and spiritual adviser –  a (sort of) Protestant position.

2) It also forgets, ignores or represses the original Celtic Christian nature mysticism so that what remains of this is no longer vital.

3) It has promoted an attitude of guilt and self-sacrifice undermining of practical action in the world, while through Virgin cult, it has helped confuse realistic relations of men with women.

4) It is however ironically nuns more than wives and mothers who make up for some of the damage and represent the better and visionary side of the faith and possibly its future.

5) Even so, individualism of most kinds, especially for men, has risked being the object of virtual persecution until quite recently (when toleration of homosexuality has been portrayed by conservatives as bordering madness or irremediable decadence).

6) Religious doctrine has been so rigid and rationalized some would prefer a life lived according to vivid symbolism and what  one  could call “myths to live by” (title of a bestseller by Irish American Joseph Campbell) letting go not least of the ubiquitous Virgin cult in favour of “Our Lady of the Facts of Life”.

It can be argued the poets cited are not quite fair or representative. Maybe. However, if one adds to the mix facts like how for centuries the hierarchy would be almost the diplomatic ally of the oppressor, a hinderer of much national identity and resistance instead seeking rather its own authority, keen to render Ireland as under De Valera’s government the world’s most Catholic society, a colony no longer of England but of Rome itself, the pressing question is: why did the Irish  engage with a version of Christianity so unhelpful?

Three obvious, but not completely sufficient answers are that:

  1. There was obviously a lack of choice, variety and debate. Protestantism appeared, politically at least, an even worse solution, though we do know that where the ambitiously called “Church of Ireland” made concessions to the native language and/or did not require allegiance to England it did make some headway .

  2.  Once  Ireland had lost its main leadership through the Flight of the Earls in 1607,  priests became a multi-functional substitute elite. This might have mattered less if priestly loyalty was not so firmly attached to Rome as alternative power base which only bolstered many British and Protestant fears at the same time as it failed to serve national identity at a time of increasing national identity throughout Europe..

  3.  The Irish were in  thrall to a religion of fear. While the hellfire sermon in Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist, is by any standards extreme, something of the kind would still have influenced many. As Auge points out, even before the confessional and the regular confession of Clarke’s youth became a major feature of Irish life (the sacrament was previously more communal and even just annual), many were fearful of the possibility of dying without priestly absolution. It is not possible short of outright denial and heresy to erase hell from the Christian creedal picture, but it should be possible to speak of it in more acceptable terms as considered in later re-visioning here.

I think there was another reason, possibly the most important, for the general stasis, but I shall consider that in the next part where it is indissociable from definitions of Christianity and Irish Christianity and any revisioning of them.


I shall introduce  with a personal reminiscence  the unexpected answer I think is most nearly correct relative to the final question of Part One about the strange Irish attachment to a Catholicism often experienced as more wounding than healing.

On the occasions of the passing of both of my parents there were elements of the kind might be included in a study like La Legende de la Mort, (a record of death-associated experiences among the Brittany Celts, a people more voyant and spiritual than the French). Years ago, my father had been amazed to see my mother’s spirit depart from the bed in her hospital room and twenty four hours or so before he himself died he had suddenly informed me he would depart because Jesus had visited and told him he would soon be taken.

If something of this order was once more common, it isn’t now. In 2019 a leading Australian journalist of Irish background, Greg Sheridan, published a book God is Good For You. In my review of it,  I mentioned how little people he interviewed, even people of faith, strongly believed in survival in any meaningful form. This was similar to my own experience of people’s attitudes and responses following my father’s passing. The point is significant and raises questions, not least in relation to Irish spirituality and its history.

Anticipating what I have to say presently and which seems provable beyond just an impression, my idea is that much Irish attachment to Catholicism until quite recent times with its distractions, has been involved with a sense of quasi-salvation from structure and pattern rather than belief as such.

Moreover, the bizarre paradox I see as attaching to Irish Catholicism from medieval to modern times, is that it would manage either to justify, or at least sufficiently excuse, a kind of distinct unbelief and this unbelief’s related attachment to pagan customs such as the original Patrick Christianity would not and never justify.

In 433 at the hill of Slane Patrick won a contest against the druids in terms of their revered authority and magic, but across time he would lose against them more intellectually, as gradually the druids, or the druidic spirit among Irish leaders, made a comeback. Of this presently and also  concerning another quiet modern transformation of belief in the way that mild speaking, wildly popular Lorna Byrne is quietly drawing a lot of disaffected Irish (and Christians worldwide –she is translated into over thirty languages) into a substitute, default faith in angels. They are supposedly everywhere one looks if one can only look closely enough!


Various people and churches have at times sought to define by creed and/or practice what it signifies to be Christian. There are nonetheless two early and minimalist ones from St Paul to keep in mind.

“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 there is no resurrection of the dead , then Christ has not been raised and if Christ has not been raised then our proclamation has been in vain and your faith has been in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God….” (1 Cor 15:13-14)

But resurrection here means something quite specific. It is not continued existence as a spirit in some heaven or purgatory, nor reincarnation in another body, but rather the eventual acquiring at the Rapture or Last Day, of a new, more divine, versatile kind of spiritual (“pneumatic”) as opposed to earthly body. In effect, this fulfils the belief statement of Job 19:26 “And though… worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God…”

The ancients believed Celtic religion was a form of Pythagoreanism and that the Celts were fearless in the face of death because of their belief in some form of immortality. Even so, by the above Pauline standard, and despite a few early Celtic saints concerned about the site of their death and hoped-for resurrection from it, lively expectation of a new immortal body and existence, is absent to a degree that, at least at this level, the Irish barely qualify as Christian. It is probably true to say that traditional, average belief held vague expectations of a place in purgatory. Be that as it may, some kind of insistent imagining seems to go elsewhere than in the direction of heaven and resurrection.

A lot of significant Irish literature is about graveyards and the post-mortem condition. What is deemed the greatest Irish language novel, Mairtain O’ Cadhain’s Cre na Cilla, Churchyard Clay, is set there. It is a rambling, plotless, rather Rabelaisian record of the arguing, cursing, reminiscing dead. There are affinities with Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake which is about the wake prior to the burial. But whether it’s Brendan Behan’s Richard’s Cork Leg, set in a graveyard, or Yeats’ repeating purgatory in Purgatory, or many plays of Beckett set in indeterminate somewheres, all we receive is a sense of a meaningless, aimless continuation, not even a pagan voyage to some Tir na Og, Land of Youth. It would be hard to say what belief, unbelief or agnosticism is really entailed behind all this. When the Mary Poppins author, P.L Travers, asked her Irish guru the visionary poet AE, (the Irish Blake and reputedly a theosophist), what he believed about the afterlife he admitted he’d never thought about it.

One of the most significant novelists of modern Ireland has been John McGahern and his work is felt to successfully reflect the borderlines of traditional and modern and the effects of change. In That They May Face the Rising Sun (2002) the characters attend mass as a regular ritual but without any special belief in its meaning. In Amongst Women (1990) the sceptical, unbelieving head of the family, Moran, decrees daily reciting the rosary simply because it will help keep the family together. (“the family that prays together, stays together”). Out in the fields through love of the country his children discover the meaning of the Benedictine ‘to work is to pray”. This is a family open to nature and its rhythms.

In many ways the life of Moran and his alienated family make sense of life through order and symbolism; it’s a way of managing what the Irish supposedly find hard to do – living in the present as opposed to the past or the future (even if it’s the graveyard!). Moran is a disappointed man who fought in those Irish Independence Wars forgotten and ignored in the new Ireland but in which he could perceive himself mythically as a sort of Cuchulainn. Also in a (rural or small town) society where emotional life is rich but intellectual life could be limited, people are minimally or accidentally understood. However, their  unexplained, hidden selves are respected and associated with through ritual.

Moran, who is not a believer, is puzzled that the priests seem to be afraid of death, don’t talk of it or anticipate beyond life beyond life. To the extent this is true of Ireland’s priests (I wouldn’t say it universally was), the reason is surely simple. There can be no easy, reassuring answer because, mired in secondary considerations, there is no simple Pauline statement of faith they would be ready and willing to affirm. The afterlife subject is instead hopelessly tied up with trying to decide, Dantesque style, what level of merit the person might represent for entry to whatever zone of purgatory or heaven, (not to say if inadvertently they might not be more qualified for a place below!). For most of its history Irish religion has been about merit to an excessive degree, so before proceeding a bit of history must be referred to.


Asked what “Irish Christianity” means, probably most people would answer the faith of St Patrick. Patrick was the British, probably Welsh, missionary to an Ireland evidently not the pagan matriarchal utopia of some colourful modern imaginings – many of the first converts were women and Patrick said the condition of female slaves in Ireland was terrible.

Ironically, as becomes apparent from an honest reading of St Patrick’s Confession, (an at times wandering, slightly confusing testament that doesn’t answer questions we would like to know such as about his relations to the Roman and Gaulish churches), that the faith of the national saint has little in common with that of most Irish over the centuries.

Protestant claims to own the saint are not quite the fanciful chauvinism that might appear. Patrick’s faith, strongly Pauline and Trinitarian, knows no cult of the saints or Mary or purgatory, is all about faith and is  not far off what some evangelical missionaries and/or charismatics might write today, not least since Patrick believes he hears from and is guided by messages from the Spirit. The closest to any Catholic note is the mention of some converts becoming what sounds like dedicated monks and nuns.

Patrick’s mission was chiefly directed, strategically by the looks of it, on the Northern half of Ireland, the main centre of druidism and secular power. (There appears to have been some Christian presence related to Eastern churches earlier and in South Ireland, but it was not system-challenging like Patrick). Famously Patrick won a battle with druid power that was a landmark for Irish religion at Easter of 433, but I suggest the victory was partial only. The druids would make a comeback and they have more or less ruled the religious landscape ever since, either  through  the spirit of their own teachings or Rome’s.

Kidnapped as a youth, Patrick’s education was incomplete and he regrets his lack of learning, mentioning that the Irish aristocrats held it against him. Ireland would soon play a major role in saving the inherited culture of the West. If the country’s elite were so many primitives in a bog they would not have been able to do this. It is just unfortunate that the outlook of the elite  remained stuck in the druid mould where specifically faith was concerned…if they could be said to have “faith”.

It has been plausibly speculated that Patrick’s mission could have been encouraged by those in Europe at odds with the at one time influential heretical teachings of the British/Welsh monk Pelagius. This widely travelled monk taught salvation by works, Jesus being only a good example to follow. Since Jesus can be rather hard to emulate, practically such a doctrine can become a burden to carry! And in any case it was unbiblical.

However it struck some chord in the Celtic regions. Arguably the religious fate of the Celts, with its strange repressions and stuckness was even anticipated by St Paul in his epistle to Galatians written to the Romanized Celts of Galatia in what is now modern Turkey. Galatians is the justification through faith epistle that was Luther’s inspiration for a Reformation Ireland never had. Paul insists believers are already justified by Christ and an almost automatic curse is upon anyone who promotes otherwise and legalizes the faith: “you foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you?….for all who rely on the works of the Law are accursed” (Gal 3:1,10). He also exclaims (and one thinks of Celtic treatment of fairy thorns, and offerings to the sprites etc) “How can you turn back to the weak and beggarly elemental spirits? (Gal. 4:9).

Has Celtic management of spiritual essentials been as undermining through history as Paul anticipated it could be? Do we perhaps see the root error of Celtic Christianity starting with the revered but impetuous aristocrat Columcille (St Columba) who, unable to forgive himself for a tribal battle he had occasioned with massive loss of life, then perceived almost the rest of his life as necessarily a penance.

The druids and/or druidized Irish leaders, and especially their brehon lawyers, converted to the faith, but they not only sought to retain many native customs but their own power too (the bans and curses of the druids had always been much feared); but some also fell in love with laws of Israel and in no time invented super severe penitentials (whose punishments might stretch over half a lifetime and more). These rules accompanied Irish religious on their missionary travels across Europe, missions that included the novel custom of private confession that would become part of western Christianity. Early Irish love of the Hebrew legacy is symbolized by the odd way in which the annalists decided that the prophet Jeremiah made his final exile in Ireland where he married an Irish princess. (Someone managed to ignore this prophet had been forbidden to marry but hardly appears to have been the marrying kind in any case).

Irish contribution to the West at the crucial early medieval period was often more civilising than spiritually redeeming as such. Most essentially the gospel is a call to general repentance (metanoia/ mind change) with acceptance by faith of forgiveness through the messianic Christ (i.e, universal anointed high priest to manage sin and atonement) (Mk 1:15). The implications in terms of grace is what has often been deemed the distinguishing, most original feature of Christianity among world religions. (Christianity and the Jupiter Difference

The Bethlehem Star itself was Jupiter, universally star of grace, good fortune, religion and the teacher/guru, not Saturn symbol of law and custom. All the world religions in effect teach, like Buddhism with its wheel of the Law, systems of auto-salvation, effortful practices to increase merit and decrease ill effects (bad karma); but the absolute free and new beginning under God begun  by a will to place faith, is the Christian “good news” to the world.

If repentance was genuine something of its fruit in improved conduct should accompany it; but good deeds do not define, or earn, but only reflect and accompany salvation because “by grace you have been saved through faith and this is not your doing …not the result of works …”lest any should boast” as St Paul has it (Eph.2:9). The early Irish conversion, which in effect is a will to sanctify oneself so as to become an angel if not another Christ, was very much a way of merit earned. For centuries  St Patrick’s Purgatory, the penance island in Donegal’s Lough Derg associated with the saint by late legend only, would be a, or the, sombre symbol of painful, effort-ridden Irish religion.

The Irish church never became fully Pelagian i.e. teaching nothing but works, but its elitist priests and saints both absorbed and, penitentially-minded, contributed to, the western church’s strengthening of the role of priest as the supreme Christian, mediator of Christ’s sacrifice. This sacrifice was seen as continuously repeated in the mass, a sacrifice added to rather than already achieved once for all time as per Heb 7:27, an epistle that implies what 1 Pet 2:9 states, namely that there is a priesthood of all believers, not of any exclusive priestly caste. This new, early medieval Celtic and Roman Christ is a half redeemer whose example and death are sufficient pretext and essential building block upon which the believer can build their fund of merit for themselves or even others in order to qualify for salvation.

Unsurprisingly, the situation was little inspiration for poetry of personal devotion. Needed would be someone from a more diverse historical  and cultural background like the Dante of medieval    Florence whose imaginative universe has fascinated so many Irish poets (even Heaney), whose spiritual  labour is to put everyone in their merited place at every level. Dante does so with the mind of a sentencing judge, not least in the purgatory, an extra-biblical idea said to have owed much during the medieval era to Ireland’s Lough Derg and tales around it. But metaphysical poetry like that of the English seventeenth century that engages conversations, arguments and relations with God is still scarcely possible because hardly even imagined. Instead the Irish poets fall back on the main alternative, some wonder at God’s creation.

Based on the tribal system and organized around monastic centres, the much vaunted early Celtic church whatever its virtues was not truly democratic. There is no concept as in the house churches of the Roman empire like the one addressed in Ephesians, that there could be a church with pastors, teachers, prophets etc (Eph. 4) all playing their role. There is simply someone with priestly function and (often part or wholly secluded) monks and nuns who if not at prayer and meditation are likely working at decorating scriptures themselves little discussed or taught.

Post Patrick, as far as contact with deity is concerned, there is a twofold localizing and distancing effect at work. Local holy sites and popularly acclaimed holy persons (saints) are a hoped for point of local contact. The distancing effect arrives with late medieval Marian cult where the Redeemer, biblically the supposed one and only advocate with the Father,( 1 Tim 2:5) is only approached through “the Mother of God” whom a half feared Jesus will never refuse. (Among medieval  bardic poets and reflecting the confusion entertained by Marian cult I think it was Philib O’Huiginn exclaims “Oh Jesus you left even your mother distraught”)

Somewhere between these two poles of near and far guardian angels sufficed for spiritual contact and special appeals. Ignoring that in the NT the saint word is applied to all believers, mention of saints’ prayers rising (Rev 5:8) would justify ever more elaborate doctrines of the special status of holy souls with God. (The Roman church ignoring Celtic and Greek style sainthood by local vote, evolved elaborate ways of deciding if a given saint was truly in heaven and able to receive and grant prayers or not). At this point I shall jump from the historical perspective to a modern one that’s currently almost unavoidable.


The new Catholic, semi-Catholic or post Catholic religion of Ireland is, or is fast becoming, Lorna Byrne’s faith in angels which she claims to have seen continuously around her from birth (a world first?!). Her belief in these spiritual helpers is promoted in books translated in over thirty languages (and, over the objections of some, sold in churches). She is now a familiar figure on TV and media generally. If a person’s Catholicism has already encouraged prayer to a guardian angel, the switch to Byrne’s ubiquitous angels is easy; but for all sorts of reasons those angels, if they’re not imaginary, aren’t Christian ones including for the following.

The biblical angel word means “messenger”, because they are bearers of messages on direct divine command. The notion angels can hang around “unemployed” if we don’t keep them suitably occupied is between hilarious and heretical. Angels, whom it’s forbidden to worship, are fellow workers with believers and prophets in the cosmic struggle the gospel addresses (Rev 22:9). As such they are portrayed as doers, who will at least occasionally intervene in the affairs of the world. Byrne’s angels can only advise or send feathers for signs but they do it all the time.

If and when angels intervene on God’s behalf, biblically it’s not a secret. From earliest childhood Byrne’s angels tell her to keep quiet about them. It seems they have chosen her without any special consent on her part. Unlike Gabriel to Mary, Byrne’s chief helper/teacher angel can’t be named (though she does claim to have dealings with the archangel Michael). Overall the picture is less one of vocation than something like psychic lineages in which because an ancestor engaged the occult some unwitting descendant receives the energies in whatever form they can understand.

Angels assist worship and knowledge of God.  This is why an angel will support the kind of proclamation an angel tells Paul and Barnabas to pursue despite opposition from religious authorities (Acts 5: 17-21). The reason there’s any gospel to proclaim is because neither angels nor Christianity teach like Byrne the basic unity and equality of all religions (Acts 4: 12) or the reincarnation (Heb 9:27) of souls.

Whether it’s imagination or real, I don’t consider Lorna Byrne a wilful deceiver, and I don’t question her kindly desire to help people, which she sometimes can and does. She absolutely appeals to the sentimental side of Ireland. She is also the perfect pupil to her unearthly mentors. Her deprived background and dyslexia have protected her from any doubts that could arise from intense study in religion or bible. In the same way, her situation has helped prevent trenchant criticism of whatever she claims. And now as regards especially universal religion, Byrne (who even envisages Christians worshipping at Mecca), can nowadays seem to chime with recent statements from Pope Francis that understandably trouble some Catholics who regard him as an anti-pope. Certainly, to declare as Francis has done that any proselytizing is wrong, flies in the face of Christ’s parting command to proclaim the gospel worldwide and Paul’s statements “Woe is me if I do not preach the gospel” (1 Cor 9 :16).

Lorna Byrne (b.1954) is all of a mystery, but an astrologer might note that along with the likes of Heaney and others who make big waves in modern Ireland, it helps that she was born under the Aries so emphasized in the birth pattern of the Republic. At the same time, one could note that her Saturn directly aspects asteroid Lucifer, name of that deceptive being who can manifest as an angel of light. Byrne is certainly no devil, but she does appear to be a source of insufficiently challenged teachings misleading from no matter what Christian standpoint.


….Now finally for the re-imagining I’ve been leading to. In the wake of what’s already been considered, the following is obviously “Utopian”. It aims to stimulate thought, spark a few ideas, perhaps encourage a few new practices in the way just imagining things sometimes can.

The situation of  twenty first century Ireland both departs from tradition and, as  in the Byrne angel cult, radically develops it in broadly New Age ways.  There has of course always been change even amid the apparent conservatism of centuries.  The religion of Patrick, embroidered with a cult of local saints and holy sites, was eventually absorbed into the religion of Rome (which it in turn influenced). It disposed of much that was native from the anam cara (soul friend) to what looks to have been something like same sex unions, (which if so suggests some influence from medieval Eastern Churches which countenanced such). The Irish are perennially  good at sainthood and can achieve it almost anyhow, anywhere….like Maura “Soshin” O’Halloran (1955-1982) now deemed a Zen Buddhist saint worshipped in Japan as an incarnation of the goddess Kannon. If she had lived (and not died like her father before her in a road accident) she would like to have taught Ireland Buddhism along with the unity of all religions from a temple in Dublin (where there is however a Centre). I expect to devote an article to the O’Halloran phenomenon…… But short of such exotic, ultimately apostate developments, I shall consider how Ireland might  now be otherwise Christian.

Since the twelfth century Roman takeover assisted by English ambitions and Ulster’s reforming archbishop St Malachy, the only real alternative until modern times was a Protestantism that was political and didn’t appeal. Very belatedly we may ask what it could have done as an alternative and even how it could present itself as any distinct, viable option today.

Where it used the native language and didn’t impose loyalty to England as the price of conversion, Protestantism enjoyed some success. It would probably have enjoyed rather more if it had ritualized itself. For many Irish the flow of existence needs some organization and meaning via ritual, so….

1) The early Irish monks chanted the Psalms round the clock, some of them reportedly even did so standing in the sea. The Psalms as against the total biblical legacy is a bit limiting. Just as modern Ireland reads Joyce’s Ulysses round the clock for Bloomsday, I see no reason why the Bible couldn’t be read round the clock in selected churches.

2). Many Irish also need and value retreat. The spirit of the meditating hermits, the Culdees, remains. As the late mystically inclined Sean Dunne (1956-95) had it in The Hermitage:

A house for quiet built in the woods
One good place for a man alone…

Church of Ireland Sunday worship was never enough. Buddhism is wiser here than Catholicism here or Protestantism, despite the latter’s urge towards self-affirmation it is dead to reasonable spiritual individualism –   both Catholic and Protestant systems fail to see it should be possible to allow temporary vows lasting as long as the person feels is helpful and appropriate.

3) Both Catholicism and Protestantism in Ireland could use more and different forms of art and music. Irish Catholicism has too many “naturalistic” plaster saints around its churches and Protestantism too little of anything. As regards art, I don’t need either Yeats or Soshin O’Halloran to incline me to the conviction there are certain aesthetic strains of affinity between Ireland and Japan that could be developed in the direction of ornament, of li type impulse, of feeling for nature and zen type plainness (of which St Mary’s Cathedral Tokyo is a good example). There are even other Asian traditions of affinity (like the extreme detail of Tibetan art where everything has symbolic significance); and as regards music something akin to the more vibratory, meditational raga music of India could be employed on occasions in lieu of standard hymns. The insistent drone of the Celtic bagpipe is already half way there.

4) Because they lack saints, non-Catholic Christianity in Ireland (and elsewhere) lacks many festivals and the rituals prominent in traditional Catholicism. But rituals of some kind are almost a psychological necessity for the Irish. Whereas historically early Ireland made the mistake of turning Christianity back into the system of law St Paul warned against as contrary to the new era of grace, modern Irish Christianity could nonetheless well assimilate the not forbidden Jewish festivals. It could perhaps adopt the menorah (representing the seven spirits of God and the seven planets according to Josephus) as a symbol. The Jewish festivals are defined as moedim, times of special meeting with God, and some Christians who have experimented with the festivals do find them occasions of easier prayer, increased vision and renewal. Even just lighting a Sabbath candle and sharing a Sabbath meal could be meaningful. On the rare occasions I have attended a Shabbat meal I have been struck by the powerful and peaceful atmosphere it can evoke.

Regardless, it is beyond high time Ireland and its Christians sorted themselves out about Israel. It is disgraceful that Ireland could be nowadays described as perhaps the most anti-Israel in Europe.  It’s  a biblical injunction from the first not to be anti-Semitic ( Gen 12:3) but the Irish situation owes something to wildly distorted understanding of the Palestinian cause as somehow related to Irish issues plus, to add to the confusion, some alienating behaviour by those Irish who do support Israel like Eileen Byrne of the Justice and Equality department. This person is all for reminding people about the holocaust and Jewish identity at the same time as she has been involved with replacement migration hurtfully imposed upon those regions trying to preserve Gaelic language and culture. I can’t say more here than that massive (re)education and healing in this area is required, especially as in America it used be the Irish and Jews were often closely and politically involved. Both represent people groups who have suffered and endured a lot. Joyce through the Bloom theme of Ulysses, was aware of various Jewish/Irish affinities.

5) Modern Christian ritual in Ireland could use a new Rosary, one based on a more Trinitarian outlook and biblical/prophetic references. Even if you feel it can be justified by tradition and theology, there is too much evidence from Ireland that Marian cult is not experienced as psychologically helpful by many believers, especially not young ones. But objections can be raised against the rosary in itself including that (by tradition) its introduction is attributed to St Dominic, founder saint of the Inquisition. Why inherit from and affirm him? When I was growing up the mood was ecumenical and I was not encouraged to think of Catholicism as “wrong” or terribly different from Protestantism. It took residence in Mexico to persuade me something might indeed be wrong and the system considerably different. The cult of the Virgin of Guadalupe, clearly Mexico’s true deity, alerted me to just what levels of paganism Catholicism can cover and excuse via its Marian cult.

There are differing versions of the Rosary, but listening to it with its sometimes single Pater Noster to ten Hail Marys in a section, one could receive the impression that for all practical purposes, Mary is the redeemer or guarantor of salvation. (Jesus is supposed not to be able to refuse his mother anything!).

The rosary is based on the main events or mysteries of Jesus’ life leaving out all the teachings in between the events, and it concludes with the non-biblical assumption of Mary into heaven to be crowned its queen. Mary as queen and virtual co-redemptrix is patent in the medieval poem Stabat Mater which finishes entreating Mary to deliver from hell. Just by itself the Stabat Mater, memorably arranged by leading western composers, amounts to a collection of statements contrary to some of the most central, explicit biblical teachings. See my article following the Notre Dame conflagration and the last choral music sung there.

6) Beyond the problems of Marian cult, Irish Christianity, too often hurt by radical gloom and doom preaching, needs to re-visit its basic proclamation. While serious issues like hell and the last things can’t honestly be censored from core doctrine, there are more or less reasonable ways of presenting them. Hell especially has always needed an understanding closer to that promoted in Eastern Christianities where the same (spiritual) fires that burn the damned, illuminate the saved because the matter is considerably one of will and perception. Why God would irremediably damn anyone and especially as per Anselm’s medieval atonement doctrine, because sin had “offended” the divine honour makes little sense. There has to be more behind this and there are surely more logical, saner answers, a matter I touch on in review of Greg Sheridan’s God is Good for You

6). If one revises the message, it matters who will teach and proclaim what’s agreed. Ireland has been a mostly biblically illiterate society and its religious organizations, even Protestant, have reflected hardly anything like rabbinical instruction and organization. Any believer is supposed to know the bible and if need be argue over it like the commended Berean Jews in Greece who didn’t automatically accept what Paul told them but got down to study, waiting to be convinced (Acts 17:11). The first churches reckoned to distribute roles, pastors, teachers, prophets etc; there was no idea of a single presiding priest.

There is a distinct gay/queer strain within Irish culture – the ancients noticed a strong, openly expressed same sex disposition among the Celts. Whatever one makes of that, one of the subjects religious Ireland still needs to argue out is the question of sexuality,  something which always colours spirituality. It is a subject which has too often and still is cornered by inflexible fundamentalists unwilling to see that in some respects the same sex theme even constitutes a hidden biblical stream as indicated for example by this poem and its notes.

Irish Christianity needs to reach greater theological sophistication in this and other areas if it is to be relevant and develop. If it is not to finish ignored as is happening, especially Catholicism will have to get beyond the evident attachment of some new nationalists to the oppressive De Valera ideal of nationhood. In this gays were without any rights and protection, divorce was unthinkable and women, even in extreme situations, would never have abortions. Irish mismanagement of issues  like these had been so misguided Christians should not even be surprised at the national turnaround and not treat the  legal changes as the prime symbol of a purely secularist rejection of Christianity.

A recent  youtube about How the Most Catholic Nation left the Church seems oblivious to the idea the churches could actually have contributed anything at all to what has happened.  The turnaround has to a considerable extent been a vote against a backlog of outrageous clerical failures and a  belated correction to a virtual medievalism in aspects of the laws that had caused more than enough suffering.  Even if one’s personal theological position allows only for strictest tradition, a nation must still allow a few concessions to dissenters or it is a theocracy, not a democracy, and one that is not honestly giving to God and to Caesar their dues. The theocratic tones of the new nationalism have effectively doomed that movement’s chances at a crucial moment in Irish affairs.

But can and will there now be any creative development? Some might say the times being what they are, the more pertinent question is whether prophecies like St Patrick’s concerning Ireland’s end beneath the waves, or St Malachy’s forecast that would render the current Pope the last, will prove true. Even without any Wagnerian finales, borrowing from Douglas Murray on Europe one could well speak of “The Strange Death of Ireland”, because arguably there soon won’t be an Eire to salvage and preserve.

My above suggestions towards change embrace certain images, but also basic truths, about Ireland as tribe, clan, nation, race or whatever. There has been and even into fairly modern times, such a thing as a “land of saints and scholars” (even if as regards the sainthood it is as surprising as Maura O’Halloran’s and in scholarship as perverse but uniquely encyclopaedic as Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake).

Ireland, which effectively holds the last sizeable traces within Europe of the Celtic peoples and their culture, is too old and too young, too long alone within Europe as a colony and needing to be re-established from that, to manage the kind of social experiments, adjustments and massive immigration the nation’s irresponsible leadership has placed upon it in cooperation with a considerably myopic Europe itself in decline. The latter should now and again have been answered as by Hungary and Poland with a few firm refusals. Ireland of the welcomes cannot to its existential peril be the world’s doormat. The welcomes doormat ideal, evidently believed by the nation’s eccentric current president, is a mark of spiritual decline in itself because the only reason even Christianity is inclusive is because it can be exclusive also. Like any major institution and movement Ireland must always balance the two principles. A secular Irish leadership that ignores this prepares for a blowing out of the candle, the arrival of Patrick’s flood or the long Beckettian silence.

I began with affirming the importance of poets and poetry for religion and I briefly reviewed a book which included the problems and difficulties of six poets in the face of Irish Catholicism. This made for clarity in the face of a problem, but those considered sow few seeds towards spiritual renewal; Except perhaps sometimes Clarke, they don’t really speak in the high tones that poet and critic Kathleen Raine would maintain traditionally accompanies and triggers any vision – a lot of modern Irish poetry under the influence of American poetry can finish a rather prosy, meditative monologue on subjects great and small and often the latter. Soul is neither grasped nor sought.

It belongs with the current situation that a haunting, fairly traditionally presented poem about lost or absent faith, Denis O’Driscoll’s Missing God, gets quoted only in the Epilogue to Auge’s study. Its afterthought status is hardly surprising. I’ll not be vulgar and talk about the fate of my own religion relevant poetry, visionary, metaphysical etc – sufficient by way of complaint is included in the last section of my Staging Sweeney Frenzy article ( ) and its last section “To Lay my Burden Down”.

However, I do think in conclusion it might be necessary to stress that a true optic on the time and its possibilities is almost certainly not available to us. There are doubtless gaps resulting  from a degree of censorship, something which  must be seen as an ongoing, perennial Irish problem. Formerly it operated under Catholic influence, now through the secular prejudice of cliques. A handle on the Irish soul, fate and character that poetry should address, may need to be found in unexpected places.  But then,  historically, and not just in Ireland, this is where a lot of significant religious poetry has issued from and with it some recovery of soul.






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Posted by on February 28, 2020 in culture, Poetry, religion


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


  Avoca: The Meeting of the Waters

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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






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IRISH CHANGES (A poem in a time of endangered free speech)


[On 16th July, a distinguished, award  winning investigative journalist, Gemma O ‘Doherty, who had been highlighting disturbing levels of crime, corruption and cover-ups in modern Ireland, had two youtube channels permanently removed by Google – its European headquarters are in Dublin’s docklands – including  for alleged  “hate speech”. Prose  comment on the issue follows the poem  along with Notes]


By a city’s black pool where lodged
The unbanished raven of Morrigan, who,
Doom’s queen, cast dark shadows on Erin,
Will and fancy would choose for avoidance ]1].
And Dublin, against what centuries
Dealt it as fate, would achieve that. It became,
Despite all, a theatre of life, half rococo,
Ironic, where, like mistress and flunkey
Arriving to further a turn in the plot,
Each dweller would add their own story
Would bespeak some new sign, at best
Gifting by chance an epiphany’s light.        [2]

Greece, Rome, Middle Ages, Baroque
Aren’t strongly evoked by symbol or relic,
(The feeling for these is near wholly absent),
And no force of invasion would quite
Leave its mark…Unless you’d insist that
Through love of pure abstract opposed
To the real, the inhabitants joined with
Colonial power to let Georgian angles
Direct lines of sight. Such might seem a reply
To the circles of Kells and a natural motion
Still central, essential, embracing the all. [3]

Between the lure of sea and bay and
Sight of cloud-swept hills beyond,
So little fixed by monument and time,
The city set more store elsewhere: in thought
And myth, the last self-made, divided up,
Renewed by who within themselves became
The tales and most points in between to find.
No calm and darkened sanctuaries
With altars and their candle flame
Preserving mysteries of eternal kind,
Could quite engage to stop or slow
A circulation of ideas with images,
Some from afar, Formation’s sphere,
Some local only, near as terrace door. [4]

James Joyce, I never liked you much
But take for truth you understood the
Genii loci of your home, its formed and
Re-formed mysteries, their darting motions
Of exchange. But little more you grasped
Because, to speak in tongues – which was your aim –
You were not aerial enough to raise
Even your Talmudic mind above
The barren Qlippoth zones of earth,      5]
The tar black pool. You wanted matter
Meshed with spirit, strove for union of
Midden heap with air; you hoped for
End to boundaries, borders, tribes.
It can’t be done, a reason why
At night in dream it’s always done
Replayed forever with the same result,
And plain to see no washerwoman cleans
The linen’s stains in waters of your riverrun.

But woken in the realms of day (where
Bloom selves would be better left
To liminality of gays), the nightmares     [6]
Leak their poison out. It falls on free society
Where dislocated characters of dream assume
Real life; and they undo what lies between
Howth’s Giant Head and Castleknock
And lands beyond the monster feet with fields
You thought were lasting, but are not.    [7]
You should have known, you maybe did,
Your Dedalus maze leads but one way. It goes
By secret path direct to Babel’s tower.
Delusion-ridden, proud and doomed.    [8]

It’s true this time the imperial plan         [9]
Rules fields go last, not first. Already towns,
And suburbs wither, seedy in decline.
And though a Liffey bridge now bears your name
Near towers of sleek modernity
(Prime centres of the censors too),
Essential unities are lost. It’s said
The rural parts (that bear tradition, but
At cost too great) will follow suit
Its populations must depart, make way;
In time replacements will arrive,
Already in the towns they do, sometimes
By stealth, if need be, night – it’s justified,
It’s unopposed. If voiced, a people’s pain,
A nation’s right, will stand condemned as
Merest race, or border-conscious sin,
At best an ignorance that should become
More generous, more pleased to “share” [10]

Long centuries which denied the name
And land too many gave lives to reclaim,
Are in brief years ignored, dismissed
And near erased supporting aims of
New imperialists, the bureaucrats and
Mediarats that oversee a holocaust
Of inclusion. Acceptance too for even those
Without intention to belong or learn, the
Unappeased, the mad enraged, all judged
As equal with the rest, new sudden inheritors
At law, of land and place that some
Would even spit at while – near
Dispossessed and drowned in debt –
The new despised scarce dare complain.
But then, why bother to resist
When all from priest to media,
As though a basilisk rose and stared,
Can offer only silence or more lies
When vandals strike a sacred place?     [11]

Fit for a Finnegan’s list but little else
There’s hardly more than names remain. There’s
No Sinn Fein, (ourselves alone), nor is there
Fianna Fail for warriors, (they’re nowhere found),
Nor Fianna Gael, tribe of the Gaels, (they’ll soon
Be a minority), all names like these
Are meaningless in light of day;
When crime gains hold across the land
And many who rule, or so pretend,
Do so through only lies and from amid
Enlarging swamps of rank corruption.

It once was said that Albion gnawed
At Erin’s flesh, a planter where he’d
Neither owned nor sown. Now prisoned again,
At first unwittingly, to new plantation lords
Europa’s progency sucks Erin’s blood,
This time it’s likely to a lingering death.
She is too limited, too almost delicate
And new remade to bear the rude
Attentions of a ravening beast.
But lulled by bribes and blandishments
She still consents, sleep-walking to extinction,

Indecent from the first, Europa’s line,
Which birthed the monster widely feared
Awaits to snatch the maiden for its
Nimrod’s plan of babbling building Babel’s
Tower of artificial unity again.
So, here at last from nightmare steps, Yes, HCE
That’s Mr “Here Comes Everybody” himself
With Mrs ALP, this time a shambling, ambling,
Trousers only Deutsche Frau, a Washerwoman
Smacking stains, flip flap, flap flop, who wants
To talk, to be familiar, put up welcome signs
To one and all at your expense for your own good. [12]

Ireland you could resist, you maybe will, but,
Like a Noah’s generation, one who                         [13]
Eats and drinks and lives the usual way
Right to the end, heedless of darkening skies
And thunder’s roll, you may accept to hear
The lies, put off the day, prefer deceptions
Of a dreaming sleep to revelations of
A risen wake…. Whatever’s chosen and
Is done, there’s no eternal round to trust,
It’s but a fable for the blind; the truth is
What is gone is gone and neat avoidance
Has its term. Your utter end, so Patrick                 [14]
Thought, is drowning flood. But whether that’s
For near or far, meanwhile from Dublin
To remotest field you’d need to wake
To ban the raven and reclaim a name.



[1] Dublin is literally Dubh Linn, Black Water or Pool. Morrigan is goddess of doom, death and chaos. One of my Ireland-related articles theorizes this goddess is an important archetype for Ireland, never quite confronted or exorcized. Her depiction in a central Dublin sculpture is meaningful, albeit she is not expressly Dublin-related in myth. See “Ireland’s   Old/ New Spirituality problems”  especially sub- sections, “Who owns the Sovereignty of Ireland?”  and “Soul and Face”.
[2] James Joyce had a theory and aesthetic of “epiphany”, explored especially in his Dubliners stories.
[3] Kells i.e. the Book of Kells illuminated manuscript which contains not only circles but swirling patterns which embrace human and natural
[4] Even where Ireland has been dominated by Catholicism there has always been an alternative thought mode, close to native temperament and imagination. It is mystically independent of Catholicism and similar to the likes of Jewish mystical Kabbalah. The latter  imagines reality in spheres like the Sphere of Formation joined to a whole tree of life scheme by lightning flash.
[5] Qlippoth is the lowest of spheres or the evil reverse of all the spheres in mystic Kabbalah, a sort of earth hell.
[6] In his Ulysses and Us, critic and doyen of Irish studies, Declan Kiberd, supplies an account of Bloom’s character as an experience of liminality almost gay. However, an authentically gay character along these lines (and arguably the value and meaning of homosexuality is involved with a socially needed liminality) might  produce something more poetic and affecting as in the case of Jamie O’Neil’s accomplished novel in Joycean mode, At Swim Two Boys.
[7] Finnegan’s Wake envisages Dublin as a giant spread out between Howth to Castleknock, suburbs of the city.
[8] Babel and its associated tower is associated with Nimrod (Gen 10:10) whose name means “rebel”. Babel was built to prevent the spread and formation of people and nations (Gen 11.4)  which God then insures by imposing the variety of languages. A distinction of nations is assumed to the last page of the bible. Anything other than nations is an imperialism, something  which belongs only to God. The “broken” half finished design of the  Parliament of Europe building (see image above) is variously seen as modelled on the tower of Babel, either suggesting an incomplete work of unity awaiting fulfilment in our days, or as (unconsciously at least)  symbolizing  the traditionally recorded judgement upon such efforts. But the point is that any New World Order risks becoming like conquering Nimrod a species of human imperialism. See next note.
[9] This stanza is much involved with journalist Gemma O’Doherty’s expose of  various aspects of social and political life in Ireland. According to Michel Gorbachev, March 23rd in London, “the EU is the new European Soviet”. What critics of the EU like O’Doherty maintain is suggestive for  this idea, is not least the censorship and ideological labelling which renders all dissenters, “far right” enemies of state, “racists”, or something negative. Such  labelling aimed at suppression of free speech and regardless of plain facts  is characteristic of the communist systems in the  initial stages. O’ Doherty regards Ireland as a chief zone of experiment in this direction being small enough to impose upon and exploit.
[10] The extremely pro-Europe, Soros friendly Irish President, Michael. D. Higgins, has made clear in a recent Leipzig speech that Ireland iexists simply to “share”. But who shares what with just whom and why? Why should Ireland, long exploited and colonized suddenly be a still more invaded home for the world”?
[11]  Echoes of events in especially the cathedral city of Tuam, (often called the most Catholic town in Ireland), and its surrounds. Churches have suffered attacks on their images and in the Cathedral square the elevated statue of the bishop who helped found the cathedral, has had its head sawn off. If reported at all, such events are improbably dismissed at the work of drunken louts ignoring for example that the bishop’s statue would require a  planned midnight operation with tools and ladder while a pattern of decapitation bespeaks a specific ideology and a warning to religion in Ireland. But fear prevents the truth being spoken.
[12]  HCE or Humphry, Chimpden Earwicker, alias Here Comes Everybody,  and ALP or Anna Livia Plurabelle are main all-embracing, all -inclusive symbolic if not always quite archetypal characters in Finnegan’s Wake to the point of dissolution of identities. But in fairness to Joyce’s dissolution of things to the point of chaos  and his basic rejection of any conventional patriotism,  the linguistics of his vision are still to be seen as a revenge upon a form of imperialism Joyce did question, namely, the  imposition of the ultimately alien English language. As  regards ALP, and because archetypes are real, Mutti Mummy Merkel is well and truly a Great Mother Washerwoman with natally five planets in water, four in mother sign Cancer, the sign most associated with chaos.
[13]  Noah’s generation. “As it was in the days of Noah….”Matt 24: 37/8
[14]  Re St Patrick’s supposed forecast of Ireland’s end, see “Is the Patrick Prophecy for Ireland Encoded?”


You don’t have to endorse everything Gemma O’Doherty says to be appalled at the action taken (16.7.2019) at Google Ireland to close down the two youtube channels of this veteran, award-winning investigative journalist. Over the years O’Doherty has researched numerous issues and exposed too many crimes and abuses to merit quite this kind of treatment. Ironically the charge against her includes “hate speech” against gays, i.e. homophobia.

I happen to be gay and published on gay issues and I don’t buy it. I am not so thin skinned, easily offended and needing protection as to dismiss all O’Doherty says about crime, corruption and cronyism in today’s virtually Mafia Eire merely because she finds LGBTQ rather “silly” and potentially dangerous if pushed on young children in schools. These are anyway ideas that many people have. Gemma could be said to have a blind spot and/or information gap as regards gays, but it’s hardly a major subject with her in the first place, and should not justify a case against otherwise important work. Providing it’s decently enough expressed, best leave contentious matters, anything from gays to immigration open for debate rather than automatically censor them out on some PC basis. The decline of free speech of all fronts is currently a great problem of our times as O’Doherty  has often had occasion to declare.

What like many people O’Doherty fails to understand when she generalizes on sexuality issues, is that there is considerable difference between gay and queer theories and identities as I recently stressed in an article. (“Rainbow questions in a gay month” ). Moreover, if there is a connection between LGBTQ and globalism as O’Doherty now suspects (which may sound mere conspiracy theory alarmist to those totally unacquainted with these matters), it has something to do with highly politicized, basically hard left Queer theory. This, while it talks individual rights and may get called liberal progressive, can entertain more radical agendas many would baulk at if they were clearly acknowledged. As it is, there is increasingly ’s a hard left tendency to use all and any sexuality issues,(along with exaggerated talk of “racism” and “patriotism”), as a pretext to accuse society and individuals of prejudice. They then employ the laws rather than the wider democratic system to alter society’s direction, early moving to close down consensus politics  and free speech as in Communist societies,  and tyrannizing over what are matters of conviction for people.

An  example would be the recent UK sacking of a doctor for refusal to accept as a woman and address as “madam”, a six foot tall man retaining  a full beard,  (the refusal was deemed infringement of equality laws). This, belongs with the kind of social revolution entertained by Queer’s Cultural Marxist agendas. It does not belong with gay theory nor the opinion of the average gay person.

As someone who carries no card for left or right but votes according to whatever strikes me as the best in policies and persons at the time, perhaps I should look to be suing people if they opportunistically judged my poem guilty of one or other PC failure.  Would I be supported? It’s most unlikely and I would be wasting my time to protest. Today’s political talk is very one-sided, considerably media supported in what is altogether an increasingly serious situation about  which people  need to be more aware. Whatever…if Google (its European headquarters are in Dublin and O’Doherty and supporters have been demonstrating outside it these last few days) dislikes “prejudice”, then I dislike the censorship of free speech….. And if anyone cares to be aware of the kind of censorship from the Irish establishment I have myself suffered and for issues quite removed from O’Doherty’s concerns, see the final  section (“To lay my burden down”) of my article “Staging Sweeney Frenzy: Irish parable or problem”






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Posted by on July 22, 2019 in culture, current affairs, Poetry


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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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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).


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!


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?


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.


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)


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),


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.


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.


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.


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

3) The Hell Passage

4) Barbara Reynolds, Dante  p.296

5) Jeremiah’s Loincloth

6). A Picture of Italian Life and Mind




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Grottoes of Catullus  at Sirmio ( modern Sirmione) and bust of the poet

I visited Sirmio in late May 2016 so would seem to have had plenty of time to  gather my thoughts poetic or other on the subject of Catullus! It will be evident I consider him a pivotal figure for poetry and art generally.

Despite great gulfs in time and culture dividing us  (but not temperament completely – he was a self-declared  Celt), Catullus (c.84-54 BC) is nonetheless a figure haunting me since adolescence for anything poetic, not least the idea I might  write some poetry myself one day. I regard this poet, along with the  Petrarch so important for his rediscovery, as giving me Italy and the West itself, which having  lived so much outside Europe in Asia and Australia, presents itself as a distinct, precious entity in my mind that I can’t take wholly for granted.  (I am not a globalist who like Macron doesn’t understand what “French” art could mean.  I believe in the value of difference, and even consider the West under threat rather as per Douglas Murray).

This is the last poem I will publish on this blog for reasons given along with the notes below.


You hoped for a century’s fame but fate,
Sometimes kind and surprising and often
Ironic, gave more. It granted millennia
And your birthplace, Verona, city of lovers,
By the rarest of fortunes and under
One barrel only, preserved written word
Of your pleasures and sorrows and pain
Long endured in the service of Venus’
Adulterous muse. Yet It was through
And beyond her before a too early
Ending, you arrived at more than just
Wisdom – new freedom of being as
Poet and person – and, though childless,
Bequeathed so much that’s Europa’s alone.


Sirmio; first home to wake inspiration….
See there those absolutes of blue and blue
A lake and sky, joined in transcendent
Reverie that, island-like, an isthmus meets.                 1
They’ve breathed together as the centuries pass
And still do now an era changes sign
Imposing images and words that guide
The slow and mighty turns of history’s round…..         2
A change that daunts, by many also mourned,
Though we must hope that what serves truth
Remains with western consciousness of self
And will to stand a single voice alone
“Caesar I am not keen to please you”                         3


No homage to person or place were better
Than that Sirmio’s pilgrims laid praise for
Homer aside, disapproved those violent
Thrills that were play for the offspring of Zeus,
Gods by Plato condemned yet who in
Centuries after still taught ambition
To monarchs looked down on from high
Palace ceilings. Likewise dismiss all Pindaric
Praise for the human as athlete, the riders
And wrestlers, victors in base competition
Securing each loser shame and rejection
Their limbs often needlessly injured
Even sight itself dimmed before time.
Nostalgia for old Hellas’ ways is misplaced.
Recall but the weight of their darkness, how
Olympian favours extended through
Earthly life only, never challenging Hades
And death, no matter how unjust and lamented.
The bard’s fickle gods loved especially heroes,
Steered the likes of Odysseus homewards
Ignoring the others, companions and crew.


Flowing from Helicon’s streams, or tuned
To deceptive notes of a lyre
The muse was not heard in her fullness.
Amid stock, high sounding phrases of epic,
Their images glinting like sun on too
Weighty armour, the branches and fruit of
Poesia’s tree, natural shelter and fare
For insight and vision could scarce put down root.
Love’s lure and excitement, soul’s motions
Not closely recorded before you,
The struggle to personal knowledge and mythos
With willing refusal of popular value,
Such needed to flourish elsewhere serenely.
It would thrive amid requisite leisure
And dawning awareness that words, syntax
And passion of themselves could make music
And from rhythms first practiced on tablets
Of wax towards a finished perfection
On polished papyrus, their destination
Home villa, the forum or library box.


By deep blue and glassy Barcarus                      4
Was almost an Eden for new language
And dreaming – for life without competition
Directed to pleasure, above all to
The friendship that was lifelong your passion.
The city by contrast gave fame though love failed,
And betrayed. The most adored woman proved
Faithless, the idolized youth vented scorn.
But beyond disappointment, heart and mind
Much divided, you divined woman’s being,
Not just as beloved, held meaning,
Deserved new, wider description. From poets
Not least since, like Ariadne abandoned
On Naxos, soul itself was a woman,
And to know it served justice and truth.


Through you as lover and dreamer and
Satirist sometimes, the incoming era
And mind of Europa was forming,
Piecing together a varied mosaic
Composed of ever more self-aware persons.
Though by nature divided and doubting
And often protesting, Europa’s descendants,
(Vaunting uniqueness and aided by arts.
Where Eros and love would  be often supreme),
Could never quite live in social denial
Of what was  a woman and soul’s vital place.


You did not wish but imagined endless
Slumber in Hades. Did you never consider
Your words, like sunlight through branches,
Might pierce the veil of any dark’s dreaming
Or force an occasion to answer the questions
Of those who  heard you, feeling  addressed
And as though independent of time?
If your spirit had listened and answered
What might then questioners say in departure
Or homage? Surely not “Hail and Farewell”                        5
But rather “Hail now, tomorrow and always”.

(Another Catullus Poem,  Catullus Redux: A Complaint  at )


1  The ruins of  the supposed villa home of Catullus stand  at the end of an isthmus that juts into the lake appearing to be almost an island

2 The turning of the ages is assumed. Catullus lived near to the onset of the Piscean era with its distinctive themes which are now giving way to those of Aquarius

3  Catullus XC111

4 Barcarus – ancient name of  Lake Garda

5 Famously Catullus writes Ave atque Vale  (Hail and Farewell)  to his deceased brother.  Here  I am suggesting Ave atque Ave is appropriate for the poet but whether in Latin or English the poem cannot sustain precisely that

The above is likely my last poetic entry to this blog. There is no advantage to putting such material out only to be told, as I have been in UK and Ireland,  this means that legally it’s published which these days no broadcaster or publisher seems to want or even allow. The whole thing is, and for me always was, a Catch 22 situation. Years ago and after I had a poetic drama broadcast with the ABC, they couldn’t broadcast other examples of my work (such as in the belatedly indie published Puer Poems) that hadn’t been published first. Which they were even prepared to recommend but to no effect with some truly insulting Australian publishers. In more recent times the likes of the RTE in Ireland couldn’t broadcast my work for their author-showcasing Sunday Miscellany because it was out on the Net. They said I could offer them new poetry – the poem 1793 :Before the Guillotine (September 2017 of this blog) is that, but I couldn’t obtain an acknowledgment for sending it. It is a waste of time, truly a waste of time, to produce almost anything for the minds that deal in broadcasting, and publishing, above all poetry which these days must conform to certain post modern standards including that they contain nothing metaphysical or religious, another barrier. Truly Catullan satire would be needed to address the abuse and the mean, small minded nonsense that the various literary establishments can represent. My article Prince Charles and the Poets gives a little idea of some of my long standing problems which I don’t expect to be resolved in my lifetime and which are so severe it might take half a lifetime just to describe them anyway!


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Posted by on May 17, 2018 in creativity, Poetry



There is little enough celebration of Easter or any probing of its meaning today in specifically verse..In turn Australia, never the most poetic of nations, has become so  secular (or perhaps multicultural and fearful to offend those like Muslims who deny both the death and resurrection of Christ  occurred), that this year’s Good Friday TV contained not a single programme related  to the day. The following poem thus fills a poetic gap of sorts and is even a small act of  poetic justice in the face of blind secularism/multiculturalism.

Poems of mine can be found throughout this blog, but I have not written any poetry for a while – the last entry was for last September. This latest offering, composed very quickly by my usual standards, came to me (or at least the idea for it did) unexpectedly, while driving my car on the Tuesday of this Easter week. Because it was so quickly written and carries various implications, I may yet edit  the piece. It would nonetheless seem foolish to hold it back at this Easter season simply because I did not consider it as perfect as I could wish. But then, beyond poetry, I don’t think too much of art generally as regards the Resurrection theme (see comment below).


A trembling of the earth alone gave sound
When Life revived. The pre–dawn air was still,
The sky dark amost as the Hades just traversed
And conquered too.

Though present and aware, no seeing angels sang
The moment that gave second birth to earth and soul
And most of all to bodily form, not owning which
Even lasting soul could live as homeless as the damned.

After the earth had moved and shouting soldiers,
Terrified, had fled their watch
The brooding silence had returned and
Lain across the hills of Zion’s troubled land
As though in wait for who at dawn
Might understand and celebrate
The range and scope of mystery.

Beneath the high serene of April sky
Within the second Eden of a garden’s place
What Nature’s Lord, the Morning Star, achieved
A passionate woman was the first to know.
And then the youthful bosom friend, the friend
Of soul. Both these while others spoke in fear
Were able to believe if little more than
Joyful fact. Full forty days were needed to absorb
The greater truths and fifty till the Spirit sealed
With fire and tongues the new and growing
Powers now opened to belief on earth.

For once revealed, the force of resurrection
Grows – the reason earth still travails to its liberty (1)
And still no heavenly choirs have sung the theme
Of life reborn and wholly changed.
Instead, towards an age’s end
And even as belief declines  (2)
They wait, like us, who now and here
See more a light of noon than dawn
A promise of the trumpet’s blast
That raises even those in dust. And thus
On Easter’s morn we feel us sealed
And called beyond as not before.


1)  Rom 8:22 …..the whole creation groans and travails

2)  Luk 18::8  ….When he returns will the Son of Man find faith upon earth?

Until I started searching for pictures to accompany this poem, I had not quite taken in how curiously limiting and defective resurrection themed art is. You have little choice apart from archaic, misshapen mostly medieval images  and modern, kitschy, mainly American, emotion based ones, almost none of which suggest the mystery of spiritual, physical and natural power involved. Between ancient and modern Claude Lorrain captures something of the first Sunday mood in its dreamier mystical, peace/shalom aspect, but, though the artist can’t be blamed for it, there is no notable connection to historical detail and setting. Michelangelo’s Renaissance Risen Christ sculpture presents its own problems as discussed by Frank Salmon  ( )  who points out how vastly more crucifixion than resurrection has engaged art and artists.  I feel faced with one big  artistic distortion, and for the first time have some sympathy for the aniconic position where religion is concerned. Better no image at all if the image can only be inadequate. However, all that is a subject in itself..



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Posted by on March 31, 2018 in Mysteries, Poetry, religion



[Of all the poems issued on this blog and elsewhere I have the least understanding of its original impulse.. It has something to do with impressions of places and people experienced while living in France years ago. In that sense it was always around; but I finally put things together because an overseas radio programme which invites poetry but accepts nothing already published, even on the Net, wanted complete novelty. So I made an effort to oblige. But from long experience I know that, sadly ,media can’t be trusted to be reliable or helpful. After hearing nothing from the given address,  on inquiring I was improbably told nothing had been received; however I could apply again to a certain person but it might take up to six months for a decision. Which seems about right as I re-applied and have never heard again. Not so much as a line of acknowledgment. So I shall “publish” here on the net… which disqualifies me from being broadcast. The literary scene or those who manage it remain as tiresome and tortoise slow as they ever were across the centuries. …..Perhaps.I should write a poem in the style of Juvenal warning against the folly of writing poetry for anyone or anything today?!].


Crisp as fresh bread day dawned
The air was still as marble steps, the sky
Serene as female faces calmed –
Such mild and quiet harbingers of good you’d say.

But now past noon there’s just this noise
The crowds, the faces I refuse to see,
The narrow streets, the high and dusty
Tenements, their shadows pressing down
Towards our destination in a wider space
Beneath a harsher light where all is seen.
Till then across worn cobbles
On and on wheels grate and tumbrils lurch
Behind slow beasts born strangers to
The grace and speed of race and hunt.

Shut quickly as a fan our hunting parties
Like the dance were gone with all
Our private pleasures and affairs.
I’m all that I have been and done
This self which half evaporates amid
What’s so immediate, so material.

Yet what’s mundane may still conceal
Some mystery a shade sublime
When like a ritual it repeats. How strange
The cock crows all days good and ill,
And sun shines down on war and peace!
Small doubt it’s Nature is supreme
Although it posts no messages of hope
Nor tells of life beyond our end.
But who’s to say, who even could,
What is our purpose and the Truth?
Philosophies of God or gods or none
Are quests in vain unless perhaps
The atoms re-engage in much the way
Lucretius thought they formed at first.

Yes, Nature is the Absolute and beneath
Its sway there’s always inequality and rank
Such as with pride I rightly show
And such as some will always own.
There’s continuity of sorts in that
As in the dialogue of selves. The mind runs on
To insist “I am”, the reason why perhaps
Mad legend tells how on the stream
A poet’s severed head still spoke and sang.
For when it seems there is no more to say
There always is; there’s always will.

Show well I must, defy all Hades that is dark…
Towards the fated square wheels grate
And tumbrils lurch. Breathe deep, dream
Summer skies, be calm. Release.

Readers can find other poems of mine on this site and in the books  Puer Poems, New Poems and Two Celtic Dramas and Raphael and Lucifer and other Visionary Poems all available from Amazon and the Book Depository. Still other poems if more occasional can be found at the less used, McCleary’s Additions, blog


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Posted by on September 13, 2017 in Poetry





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

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

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


by Rollie McKenna, bromide print, 1959

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

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

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


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

In the beginning was Scream

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

Who begat Crow…..


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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



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

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



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

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


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

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

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


I am a wave
That will never reach the shore

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


raine        rollan-1

                         Kathleen Raine                                               McCleary in 1987

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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Nowadays when some sectors of the church are taken up with the subject of end times and there is an abundance of often fanciful You Tube dreams of alleged apocalyptic relevance, it’s ironic that ignored or dismissed is one of the more solid grounds for declarations about our  times as one of endings.

If there was nothing more to derive from the heavens than one indisputable fact (but I will be considering whether there might be more), there is this. An astronomical/astrological era lasts approximately two millennia( more like 2100years). The world stands at the end of the same era of Pisces (the fishes) that was inaugurated around the time of Christ’s birth about which magi (astrologers) knew something – including doubtless that among other things Pisces is a sign of suffering and the martyr. Now, as though something was coming full circle, it’s especially Christian faith (whose original secret sign under persecution was once the fish) is either declining in its heartlands, persecuted in regions of its third world growth, and/or suffering persecution, sometimes even genocide, in Muslim majority societies. Some of these were, like Turkey, the earliest homes of Christianity too. (Only western secular indifference and PC attitudes affecting media and governments obscure quite how widespread and extreme this situation is).

Just before his ascension Jesus is reported as declaring he will be with his disciples till the end of the aion (age or era), but it is not stated what era. Later it would be said the Christian era is “the age of grace” of unspecified length, but in the ancient world more specific meaning could apply to an aion and it is highly likely in this case Jesus was indicating the more timeable celestial era.


In era terms we stand at the equivalent of the final degree of the sign, i.e. 29 degrees of Pisces. That degree conjuncts a star long been regarded as one of the worst in the heavens. And suitably it’s since a total solar eclipse on that degree in March 2015 (and amid a rare and peculiar sequence of blood moon lunar eclipses begun the previous year), that the world as we know it began seriously and more rapidly to unravel. It has been doing so in ways traditionally associated with the negativity of 29 Pisces – drownings, floods, suicides, murders, theft, deception, despair, the victim, the refugee – in short, just the scenario presented by the cruelty and deceit of ISIS, the chaos of mass migration, the genocide of minorities and the natural disasters that destroy whole communities.

As everything returns to the seas of origin and does so with much of the extremism associated with any last (anaretic) degree of a sign, hope among secularists is pinned on a new globalism and among the more spiritually inclined on some would-be all-inclusive religion. Even the current Pope (himself theoretically the last according to the prophecy of St Malachy) seems to be edging in that direction even while Christians die in ways that recall the first Roman persecutions. Overall there’s little more reigns than last degree, last phase chaos, the confusion and blurring of everything. Amid this the West’s long standing objective ideals of democracy and free speech are threatened by a weak, confused, largely godless political correctness. And paradoxically, the latter often concedes and almost masochistically, to the most extreme of belief systems and customs that can only undermine its own values. (Negatively Pisces is about  masochism and any indiscriminate charity and permissive toleration!).

But serious though it is, does 29 Pisces really bespeak and anticipate the likes of the biblical Tribulation whose occurrence would be little short of the end of life as we know it? The non astrological answer can be in the affirmative if the times demonstrated a notable continuation of the problems already observed, especially if, like the pattern of natural disasters in recent years, they increased in frequency and/or intensity. That is what birth pangs do, and the apocalyptic end is said to be heralded by precisely “birth pangs” (Matt 24:8) at the same time as, harmonious with the mentioned situation of Christianity worldwide, a distinct decline in faith, a “falling away” also features  (Luk 18:8), (2 Thess 2:3). But beyond such general indicators, is there, could there be any astronomy/astrology of apocalypse?

The answer is a conditional yes and here’s why.



Despite what some imagine, astrology is empirical. It looks to what has happened before under certain factors to see if these will be repeated. It’s a case as per Ecc 1:9 of “what has been will be”. Needless to say, earth, society or climate-related apocalypse has never happened in recorded history, though great wars and disasters have always occurred. So there’s no single factor can serve as example…. All the same, some real sea changes in human history and consciousness do occur with the change of eras following the precession of the equinox, or apparently so. It follows one can look at that within the narrow frame of known history as a first point. I’ll summarize about this very briefly before considering how the information might fit in and illuminate other issues of our times.

4000 BC to 2000 BC corresponded to the “feminine” age of Taurus the bull whose character as in the development of Egypt’s state cult with its immortality obsessed pyramids necessarily idealized the afterlife and sex mysteries in line with its opposite sign Scorpio. (The character and activities of an era is given by its sign, but its ideals are drawn from its opposite sign, all signs having a positive or negative potential expression-wise).

Taurus was overtaken around 2000 BC by the “masculine”, more patriarchal age of Mars-ruled Aries the Ram, an era of Lebensraum wars as in the Bible and concluding in extreme blood baths as of the Roman arena. Aries’ ideals lay in the opposite sign, Libra, sign of Laws and marriage. The Old Testament covenant and prophecy are very much about Law and marriage. The ideals of many societies of the period were enshrined in their laws.

Two thousand years ago the “feminine” sign of Pisces, a sign “ruled” by grace-bringing Jupiter and compassionate Neptune opened to more female values like forgiveness, generosity and service; but its ideals, when not focussed on Christ himself (whom there is good reason to believe was born under opposite sign of Virgo), inclined ever more to the scientific, analytic and material concerns of this earth sign as in Enlightenment philosophy under whose values at least in the West the era is now ending  and standing on the cusp of the next more individualistic and Utopian Aquarius/Leo age.

The fact that Jesus was born in Bethlehem (house of bread, bread being associated with the wheatsheaf and harvest sign, Virgo), fished with fisherman on Galilee, performed the miracle of loaves and fishes, spoke parables of the great harvest etc, distinctly links him and Christianity to the Pisces-Virgo era.

In effect, Jesus belongs to the previous age too. He claims to fulfil its Law and becomes the last sacrificed ram/lamb of Aries and the first “fish” or fisherman of Pisces, resurrected like Jonah who emerges from the whale. To the extent Jesus is self-identified in his body with the Temple (Joh 2:19), implicitly and indirectly he may even be said to relate to the remote, earlier Taurus age because the Temple cannot be founded without the ashes of the red heifer, a creature of Taurus.

So, if anything like this astro-historical scheme is accepted, and undeniably the bible’s “dispensations” of Law and Grace more obviously connect to the succession of the eras than other faiths – Buddhism is over five centuries out and Islam over six centuries – we can ask another question.  The question is: does the symbolism for the current closing era and then for the succeeding Aquarian era (which biblically would correspond to the  Millennium), betray that these eras are meant to be identified with what is now happening and may soon occur? Does Christ once again straddle the ages and link to the coming Aquarian one? Here are some reasons to think that could be.



Unless many students of prophecy have got it wrong, the Bible appears to divide its end times apocalypse and Second Advent into two parts whose symbolism could be considered striking in context of era symbolism.

Extremely, yet in its way not inconsistently with the extremism of any last degree, there is:

  1. a hidden Return of Christ for the believing prepared (the time when “one shall be taken and the other left” Matt 24:40, often called the Rapture). This effectively delivers persons from the very last trials of the age, namely a Tribulation period under an Antichrist figure.
  2. There is also: an open return of the Messiah to the world that ends the seven year rule of the Antichrist figure and inaugurates the ideal Messianic kingdom.

The first of these endings is evoked and anticipated in Jesus’ apocalyptic parables. These speak in terms of harvest, of prepared virgins/ bridesmaids and the need not to be drunk with the servants etc and so are redolent of key symbols of Pisces and Virgo (both are servant signs and Pisces is often inebriate) and  the whole picture overshadowed by what seems like a sudden great disappearance. Significantly, any state of absence, invisibility and disappearance is associated with Pisces and its ruler Neptune. That would cover for the end of an era in an extreme of its nature.

The second of these scenarios is about almost the opposite, namely a very visible event, sudden and surprising (the other event was that also but under cover of invisibility). This event is compared to lightning going from one end of heaven to the other (Matt 24:27). The image is harmonious with the lightning glyph of Aquarius, a sign ruled by Uranus, planet of the sudden and surprising and the very opposite of hidden. So this bespeaks a sudden and absolute irruption of the new era.

The biblical Millennium is effectively a Utopia, a concept beloved of Aquarians (the word and concept was invented by an Aquarian, Thomas Moore).

What is almost the biblical clincher for the assumption that the age to follow any Piscean breakdown is the Aquarian age and that consequently apocalypse is not to be seen as  in some far distant future or never, is this…..

Whether Ezekiel’s prophecy of the end times, millennial temple is more a symbolic vision of various realities or the forecast of a literal temple, either way the fact is its walls are decorated with figures of cherubim who have two faces, one a man, one a lion (Ex 41:18-19).

This has to be the archetypal man of Aquarius with its opposite ideal-supplying sign, Leo, the sign of the lion and royalty. And as Christ is “the Lion of the tribe of Judah” and in specifically the apocalyptic book of Revelation (Rev 5:5) in which he comes to claim his kingdom, once again the messianic connection fits.



One other piece of symbolism from a parable of Jesus would support ideas that the present Pisces to Aquarius era cross-over could be indicated for apocalyptic events.

There is a theory, popularized by the notable Albert Schweitzer in his The Quest of the Historical Jesus (1906), that Jesus was a failed apocalyptic prophet who wrongly foresaw the end time as happening soon and for his own generation “this generation will not pass away…..(Luk 21:32). One point used to support this hypothesis if anything denies it.

Given various biblical references, the fig tree of the parable is reasonably enough often believed to be Israel, its people and nation. It is when it sprouts forth new buds there will be a generation who sees the apocalypse. Israel at the time of Jesus was not a united people, not a nation, but a divided colony. Israel would not be reconstituted as a people and a nation until modern times.

A biblical generation can be 120 years, 70 years, 40 years or even the 50 years of a Jubilee. The fact remains however that Israel is currently 68 years old from its modern foundation in 1948 (following a UN vote for its existence in 1947). At that rate one could argue, and many now do, that an apocalyptic scenario should begin soon….which if so would obviously associate it with end of Piscean era events. [Events since 2017 like Trump declaring  Jerusalem eternal capital of Israel and moving the US embassy there, while a host of special events have been associated with the Temple Mount and increased calls for a rebuilding of the temple, all are seen as involved with the end of era generation]



The following is a peculiar, increasingly emphasized apocalyptic speculation. I have serious reservations about it, but it is appropriate to comment on it here given its unusually astronomical/astrological nature by the standards of those who normally exclude such an emphasis from their prophetic speculations…..

Pointing to a possible apocalyptic scenario or its general beginnings, is what some perceive as an unusual astronomical sign of the northern autumn of 2017. It falls just after Israel’s two day Feast of Trumpets (falling specifically on the autumn solstice 0 Libra which means a world point in astrology) and in relation to the constellation of Virgo. Some believe the rare pattern constituted corresponds to the “great sign” (portent) in the heavens of Revelation 12. Whether it does or not, biblically the sign has always invited serious examination. The bible talks about “signs” but not a “great sign” or “portent” in this way that seeks almost to draw attention to itself. And if the skies of 2017 do hold what Revelation might anciently have been referring to, then that pattern would undeniably be a rarity not seen in thousands of years.

Even if the right factors are being correctly observed and there is thus some apocalyptic significance, obviously it could still be a general one rather than the time indicator of one event.  And  it’s a crucial question, one embarrassing even to those convinced of a portent but who don’t wish to be mere date setters, whether the sign is timing a specific event like the Rapture and/or the onset of the Tribulation( whose timing it was long thought we weren’t meant to know anyway) or just pointing to imminence more generally.

Before proceeding to the sign astronomically, it is necessary to consider its symbolism and why the scenario of Revelation 12, often associated in especially Catholicism with the Church and Marian doctrine, is getting associated today with a more Protestant doctrine of end-times.. The modern take on the sign is logical enough.


The given scenario is one in which a crowned woman (clothed with the sun and with the moon under her feet and twelve stars at her head) gives birth to a man child who will rule the world but who is snatched to heaven away from a seven headed, ten horned dragon. The frustrated dragon seeks to devour the woman who flees into the wilderness where she will be preserved for a period half that of the seven year, world-destroying Tribulation.

Tradition has to be wrong about this vision. It is not and cannot be about the lives of Jesus and the Virgin. Jesus is understood to have ascended to heaven triumphantly having conquered evil. He is not described as snatched to heaven to avoid the forces of evil. Mary moreover is widely believed to have ended her days in Ephesus; she did not have to flee anywhere actually or symbolically, certainly not to any desert.

The snatching away however is the same harpazo verb St Paul applies in his epistles to the Rapture/transformation of prepared believers at the Last Trump. The woman ought therefore to be Israel or the Virgin daughter, Jerusalem, who (within John the Revelator’s lifetime has just given birth to the new and persecuted messianic faith (the first Christians were Jews) even if not all Israel accepts it and will accordingly experience the end of the era differently from those of the faith. She will not herself be snatched away but she will be protected during the time of increasing troubles on earth the Tribulation..

Granted the woman’s “man child” who will subdue the nations sounds as though it could be Christ to the extent this looks to a stated future role of the Messiah (Ps 2: 4-7, Rev 2:27 etc). But since it was early Christian doctrine that believers must share in the rule of Christ over the future kingdom, the man child is better seen as a reflection of Christ, or even his “body”, finally unified with him in the Rapture/resurrection of the Last Trump. Elsewhere the church is the bride; but as with all symbolism there is a certain fluidity. It is not the church’s devotional relationship to Christ but its role more politically that seem to be hinted at. (Personally I believe the man child could be the symbolic equivalent of the Puer or boy/youth archetype functioning here as an alternative symbol to the Bride because the Puer archetype has considerable association with flight and Gaymede type myth of being seized to precisely heaven). It is because of this resurrection/transformation that any kind of contribution to organizing the next era in the wake of  Tribulation’s apocalyptic disasters is possible for anyone in addition to Christ.(Rev 20:4).

So…is the “great sign” in Virgo something to do with the cut-off event of a Rapture and an end of the age whose absolutely last brief phase is the period of historically unparalleled Tribulation? The main events of Jesus’ known earthly life and the church’s foundation corresponded to or ”fulfilled” the spring to summer festivals of the Jewish calendar. Any future events involving Jesus thus might engage the autumn festivals of which the Feast of Trumpets would be one, indeed the first in sequence.

While as said I don’t consider the 2017 sign, if relevant, need absolutely time or introduce the season of  Rapture/ Tribulation, if one cares to suppose that it does, then wouldn’t that anyway just be more of that tired and tiresome “date setting” that flies in the face of all gospel talk like that of Matt 25:15 about not knowing the day nor the hour etc?



,,,,,The surprising, at first sight heretical answer is “not necessarily”, because it seems something important might have got hidden in plain sight, is encoded and marks something we could usefully be aware of. More than not knowing the day nor the hour, what most of us didn’t know was the Jewish custom and expression that was second nature for Jesus when speaking of apocalypse.

It could be Jesus projected the whole apocalyptic theme upon the cosmos. The Feast of Trumpets was traditionally associated with marriage and the marriage of the Messiah (the Christian “Marriage of the Lamb”). Marriages lasted seven days (and note the “Marriage of the Lamb” occurs during the seven years of end-of-era Tribulation), and the Feast of Trumpets which was the New Year and beginnings festival in the northern autumn, was traditionally a favourite time for unions. The festival lasted across two days from a new moon agreed upon by rabbis who had actually witnessed it with their eyes. It was also customarily never certain when the bridegroom would leave his father’s house for the house of his bride’s parents. Only the father would know  as per Matt 24:36. 

The message may be that events like the Rapture and/or the onset of Tribulation could only be associated in any era or year with the new beginnings of the annual Feast of Trumpets (that’s assuming events affecting the church can and should register against Jewish feasts, which is debateable ). Since the Feast lasts more than a day and, as said, the Father alone knows when the Bridegroom departs for the bride, it’s true that no one could ever exactly know which day or time marriage would take place.

The arguments against the Feast of Trumpets, however suggestive, is this:

The hidden or  Rapture return of Christ is seen as a harvest and ingathering, a season which in Israel is associated with the barley and wheat harvests. This bespeaks early and late spring respectively – late March into June. The season of Trumpets is associated with the grapes harvest and its treading is associated with wrath, which the Rapture is not (“we are not reserved for wrath” says St Paul assures believers). The first and spring feasts were fulfilled by Jesus close to one another. Would not any resumption of the feasts connection with their messianic fulfillment therefore be once again realized in quick succession (Trumpets, Atonement, Tabernacles) at Christ’s second coming to judge the world?. This leaves the Rapture event free floating but located somewhere in spring, the season which by Jewish tradition is the time of any redemption which supremely any Rapture type event would be. The day and hour are not known but the season might still be.


Any reading of the alleged phenomenon of 2017 involves how one regards a highlighting of the Virgo region of the heavens. There is a constellation of Virgo the Virgin.  Below and adjoining her are the constellations of Hydra and Drago – the latter two almost certainly have some bearing on Revelation 12 ‘s image of the seven headed dragon pursuing the pregnant woman, while above Virgo is the regal constellation of Leo.  With its nine stars, although it’s a separate constellation, Leo can if one likes be seen as a kind of crown to Virgo, or becoming such when very exceptionally three transiting planets (not stars) make the pattern up to twelve. But why should anyone assume this against customary understanding?

More traditionally the star cluster of 12 stars, Coma Berenices (Berenice’s lock), is itself seen as a sort of twelve starred crown to Virgo  not the stars of Leo plus some rare transits. Virgo with Coma  Berenices with its twelve stars is almost certainly what the Revelator was referring to. This is a serious problem one can have with the 2017 speculation.  Another is that every year in northern autumn the sun will be at the head and descend over the constellation Virgo radiating or clothing it and the moon will pass somewhere at her feet though only exactly every 19 years. In 2017 however, those who think that Leo’s stars should constitute Virgo’s crown, and planetary  transits make up the requisite 12 stars to “crown” the woman, will also stress that the likewise cyclical (but once every 11/12 year) movement of Jupiter,the king and messianic planet, have been in Virgo from November 2016 into September 2017 signalling pregnancy, emerging between the woman’s legs marking a suitable gestation period there.

But again this is to take liberties. There is not the precise nine months some non astronomers and non astrologers imagine, because the forward and apparent retrograde motions of Jupiter take it outside the confines of the womb area during the total transit period which is more like ten months.  (This is an objection visually demonstrated by religion writer, Joel Richardson, in his You Tube  at  which all those pushing the 23rd September sign should have absorbed). Further confusion is occasioned by the fact that many of us would say Jupiter was anyway in Libra rather than Virgo in 2017 though this touches on a technicality of measurements.

There are two forms of astrological and astronomical measurement: the tropical which measures all signs from 0 Aries in any given year, and the sidereal astrology little used today outside India, which calculates from what is seen against the backdrop of the constellations. In tropical astrology the signs, called after the zodiacal constellations, are measured in 30 degree sectors from O Aries in the northern spring when the sun crosses the ecliptic. The vernal point is what moves very slowly backwards across time against the literal constellations. It is this movement marks the change of eras as described above. As it happens, if one disregards the visual zodiac entirely, there is enough of potential significance for the relevant period employing the tropical system but I’d say it has more to do with developments in and for America and Israel over coming times rather than as imagined specifically the extremes of such as  Rapture and Tribulation.

So, mystery and questions remain even if we dismiss the alleged Sept 23rd sign



Even if you doubt that specifically 2017 and its sign heralds the extraordinary and question if we are quite at the end of an era (despite widespread feeling amid already high stress levels that we surely are), the fact remains that if life is unusually and violently disturbed that situation is not about to improve. From  2018 onwards the world will begin to feel renewed effects of the historically wars and disasters associated Saturn/Pluto cycle which oversaw WW 1 and 2. It could well oversee WW 111 or preparation towards it,  even if that doesn’t correspond to the wars of the Antichrist as such. But trouble there will be so that forewarned is forearmed.

Anyone could be more and better forearmed given awareness of matters that inside and outside the churches aren’t known or taught because of a narrow intellectual and spiritual legacy. This is one that despite the Magi at Christ’s birth denies anything can be known via the heavens and astrology (the latter simply the symbolic interpretation of what astronomical data reveal).

If only to avoid embarrassing errors, it is high time the churches became more acquainted with astrology. They should do so not just because from the Magi it is a key to elements of the faith and is not the biblically forbidden “divination” some make it out to be – the Talmud and the Essenes would never had used it if such were the case – but to avoid the exaggerated claims that pass for Christian “prophecy” when celestial signs get treated without context or background.

A chronic example has been the fuss about the red moons. I believe they represent something, specially moves towards increasing calls for and moves towards building the Temple, especially as modern Israel’s Temple asteroid has been affected, but only within a larger picture and they could never hope to be sufficiently appreciated without some knowledge of astrology. One can’t like Biltz, Hagee etc just draw attention to a red moon, declare it a sign and start forecasting. It must for a start be l inked to the astrology of modern Israel and be understood as part of a process. This almost random visible sign treatment only is not what the Magi did and it’s not what the astrologer should do today (though some might say almost anything for sensation!). The astrologically illiterate Biltz, Hagee line is little short of the omen astrology (looking at the heavens and uttering forecasts as opposed to the study of connecting cycles, degree patterns and symbols) that biblical prophets condemned.


Some basic knowledge of astrology, indeed the language of astro-theology, would be enlightening and make it harder for certifiably failed prophets like Jonathan Cahn to make sensational forecasts of doom for dates which don’t show the kind of negative potential alleged. The irony however is that the likes of Cahn will still be published, still invited to Christian media channels despite repeated errors, something the bible allows to no self-declared prophet, while by long tradition the astrologer remains the persona non grata, the unbiblical heretic, even the black magician (the early church father, Origen, called the Magi devil worshippers and Bishop St John Chrysostom thought astrology was so evil it would have been better if they had never come to Christ’s birth. Clearly there’s a problem here!)

Escaping Herod, the Magi disappear into the night carrying their secrets with them. At the end of the age their mission heralded, can we finally know what they knew and more that we should know today? I strongly maintain so and because, as T.S.Eliot has it in Little Gidding :

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive at where we started
And know the place for the first time.

With the facts, data, interpretations and revelations of Testament of The Magi: Mysteries of the Birth and Life of Christ (none of it so far of any interest to secular media which is ever less Christian and ever more anti Christian), you can go back to Christ’s origins  and then from there through to the present in ways never before experienced. And perhaps, like the wise bridesmaids of the parable, you can more easily keep the lights burning, ready for anything.


With this book the mysteries of Magi, the Bethlehem Star and much more are certifiably solved. The data, still working for Jesus issues and events to this day, is fingerprint exact down to the last descriptive asteroid and Part.  The book radically develops a theory about Christ’s birth first proposed in the 70s by a notable Austrian astronomer Ferrari D’Occhieppo and enlarged upon in some aspects by the British astrophysicist, David Hughes. In his The Infancy Narratives (2012) Pope Benedict cited the D’Occhieppo thesis which he thought plausible but wondered what we should make of it. What indeed when the theory was still incomplete?

This book completes the edifice to a point it could not now be improved upon or seriously rivalled….. A big claim but that is almost the problem. Many may  prefer to ignore the evidence simply because it is so impossible to dismiss; and of course within religion let along the secular world, there is a huge prejudice against “astrology” to the point it is almost impossible to be heard. But here is a picture that defies statistical probability, one it that couldn’t be invented. No previous theories work or not sufficiently across the range of issues that must always be addressed in advancing any claim to have discovered the holy grail of all stargazing. Arguably this book belongs to the times discussed in the article above. Secrets of the beginning of the era can perhaps only be disclosed at that same era’s end.

The Magi at Era’s End: A Poem followed by a feature indicating how its information is true and works vividly to this day

Testament of the Magi is available at Amazon

 The Astrology of Beliefs













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Posted by on November 3, 2016 in astrology, Mysteries, Poetry, religion


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