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“MUSLIM” GOETHE AND SOME WESTERN CONFUSION

FROM A MOUNTAIN STREAM

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

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

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

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

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

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

NO RELIGIOUS VACUUM

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

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

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

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

A QUASI – ARIAN WEST?

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

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

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

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

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

 

POETIC FRAGMENT ON THE TRINITY AND CREATION

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NOTES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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ZEN IRISH STRANGE: “Soshin” Maura O’Halloran as saint and goddess

(Shrine to Maura O’Halloran as Bodhisattva Kannon, goddess of compassion and wisdom)

VARIATIONS ON A THEME OF IRISH SAINTOOD

What and who people consider makes a saint is revealing. In the case of Zen devotee, Maura O’Halloran, it says much about contemporary spirituality that she and her life quest (memorialized in Pure Heart, Enlightened Mind, 2007),  has managed to capture attention on quite the scale they have. Reflections on Dublin’s Maura belong with concerns of my last article on this site (Reimagining Irish Religion), and I’ll be concluding with a rather radical  explanation (one that has surprised even me) of what often passes for meditation and enlightenment. .

Maura O’Halloran (1955-1982) who died aged 27  in a coach crash in Thailand, is now worshipped by some in Japan as a saint and  manifestation of Kannon, the bodhisattva of compassion and wisdom. The title “Soshin” (rhymes with  Oisin, name of the Irish hero, as O’H gladly noted), means not simply enlightened,  but one who is open, the great learner. Maura was/is considered to be all of that to a remarkable degree.

There is no doubt this Irish, or Irish American girl – she was born in Boston USA but mostly lived and studied in Ireland – was many things from political activist, mathematician, intrepid world traveller (exploring Latin America took up a year of her short life), accomplished diarist and would-be novelist, and altogether a person of boundless curiosity and energy.

But a saint she was not, nor any conventional Buddhist. She freely admitted she had not come to the religion as the cure for suffering it presents itself as being. She admits hardly to have suffered, been fortunate and done almost whatever she pleased. And where her monastic career is concerned, she stated from the outset, “I hardly know what I am getting into”. It had all begun  by chance, a recommendation for accommodation when she doesn’t know where to go but an arrangement for cleaning work supplies her bed and board.

I am not a Catholic accustomed  to a cult of the saints, but whereas, for example, the child saint St Therese de Lisieux with whom Maura has been compared, was a real saint if you believe in specifically saintly persons and ideals, the comparison with St Therese borders the absurd. If anything it belongs with a current vagueness around many spiritual issues. For the quasi-hippie that was O’H, there was more than enough vagueness. There was no real plan, direction or sense  of vocation to the life – unless what derives from the supposedly denied ego’s. Maura  was always as remote from conventional nun material as it’s possible to be. For exam[e, while temporarily back in Dublin and away from monastic strivings, she wonders if it’s genuine feeling or the effects of whiskey that she feels it’s “comforting to know men are still falling in love with me”.

The saint in the kitchen

SAINTLY OLYMPICS

Obviously, however, there are reasons for the extreme claims made for and about St O’H and they are linked to the exceptional, well nigh preternatural mental and physical energies she applied to the Soto Zen system as she trained for priesthood , This included such as regularly sleeping four hours a night in meditation position,  the over three thousand prostrations at one ceremony for the dead, regularly achieving right answers to thousands of koans (riddles that can trigger Kensho/ enlightenment) within only a few months, not years or a lifetime. But it’s mostly technique and luck, often too just good health and high spirits. And in between supposedly the most advanced realizations, O’H can still write to her mother to inquire what she thinks she should be doing with her life.

Even the friendship and the service rendered some cantankerous and insensitive monks, one of them cruel to a cat, she  can describe as suiting her own purposes no matter how obscure. When she goes out on required begging expeditions that some would regard as great hardship and humility in a western woman, this turns out to be almost a carnival in which she is showered with goods and offerings and sometimes followed up by fascinated Japanese  media.  Japan is Asia’s Sweden for sheer secularism, so it was doubtless rather fascinating and entertaining for media, more so than for the Irish equivalent in more recent times tracking the nation’s gone-Muslim Sinead O’Connor!).

O’H does what pleases her, and though I recognize Japanese Buddhism is flexible, some say heretical, around basic Buddhist rules like no alcohol and meat, this pioneering nun certainly relishes, sake, Campari, whiskey, beer, fish and ice cream amid lots of laughter with the monks and occasional outings to jazz bars. If she suffers hardships on the path it is very much because her curiosity about the system and her evident desire to achieve within it is spurring her ever onwards. It’s almost as though she’s in Olympics training and there are echoes of the early Irish saints who challenged themselves to live and achieve in remote places like Skellig Michael, or to pray and recite psalms by night standing in sea water.. But I also perceive O’Halloran as true to certain values she expressed early on in some improvised poetry:

How dare you place my life beneath the microscope of yours? Demand to know my plans, contemptuous of my dreams? My diffuse career, my wasted talents are my business and pleasure. Insensitive to uncertainty’s charms, you Insist on an edifice of definitions and destinations.  [Exact quotation but as I took notes from a Kindle version I don’t supply for this or other statements any text references]

This sounds a rather petulant, defensive note. Is it so unreasonable to expect a few “definitions” from persons saying and doing radical things? Never once in her book do we learn why the convent-educated girl, who at one point wanted to meet and emulate Mother Teresa (she attended the same Loretta Convent school as MT)), ditched Christianity or the notion of God. The only really philosophical question she raises is what is the ‘I”. This inquiry when not pursued in the wake of powerful but strange ego-dissolving experiences, causes her to wonder if no-self could be explained (like ideas of God) via the philosophy of Lacan and patterns in linguistics, themes she might explore if she left for doctoral studies in Paris as her mother hoped she would as opposed to passing extended time in a monastery.

I’m pretty sure that despite family concerns about her beliefs (her mother baulked at all the prostrations to idols), O’H never gave the traditionally big questions much thought. Her attitude in Japan looks to have been similarly pragmatic to the one she adopted earlier in Hawaii with the Hare Krishna people when she discovered she had insufficient funds and nowhere to go. She questions the view of devotees who maintain nothing we see on earth is as beautiful as Krishna in the beyond, but she doesn’t recoil from donning Hare Krishna garb and go out dancing to the god in the street and worshipping at his shrine. Judaeo-Christian notions of truth and idolatry don’t enter the picture. Nor does she grapple with the problem of evil or moral issues; throughout her memoir she insists several times that everyone, just everyone, is good. She can thus be almost enraged against even her beloved Go-Rishi Zen master when he complains that too many Japanese girls are loose living. This seems a predictable enough thing for a Buddhist monastic to think or say, but it offends O’H’s conviction everyone is good in their way and there’s no right or wrong to define.

But then she believes there’s “nothing” really anyway. She decides that she herself is ‘nothing’ and at one point weeps “funereal tears” over the realization. She decides one does or should not help people and creatures because it is “right”  but simply because they exist and as part of a “process”, one which means that nothing and no one ever dies. There is no creation or destruction, only flow. “I am process and thing…I am the spit in my mouth, I am my mother”….though apparently less so her late father whom she considers to be now a nothing she will not see or know again. (Elaborate ceremonies for the dead O’H participated in did not  reckon to revive souls or direct them anywhere but rather hoped to revitalize the energies they represented, Within the flowings of the flow the more nun side of Maura does nonetheless have scruples about insects and leftovers. She feels she should protect insects and lady bugs whom she ought not to vacuum up lest they needlessly suffocate. This brings on a laborious phase of picking up each dead spider and insect to respect it, even a phase of eating cast off potato peelings. But it’s a phase like almost everything in the basically merry 0’Halloran universe where problems like disease, wars and, Hitlers don’t exist.

There’s an Irish expression “a broth of a boy”. We could surely call O’Halloran “a broth of a girl”, good hearted, happy go lucky, ready and open to almost anything rather like modern Ireland’s globetrotting, atheist novelist the late Maeve Binchy, so many of whose characteristics O’H shared as a Gemini.  However, it must be said the more worldly Binchy (the nearest approach to an Irish Dickens) had wider ranging sympathies and if anything deeper  human feelings..

IN PARENTHESIS: IRISH JAPONAPHILIA

Any Irish Japonophilia (and it’s more for certain traditions and art forms than the society as a whole which in its modern version St O’H frankly disliked), didn’t begin with Yeats’ enthusiasm for Noh drama and Sato’s sword. It may be said to have been launched by the writer Patrick Lafcadio Hearn (1850-1904) who wrote up a lot on the national mythology and ghost stories, married a Japanese woman and turned Buddhist. A new wave starts with the Jesuit priest William Johnston, author of Christian Zen (1971) and numbers of books on Zen and Japan. Johnston belongs to that side of Irish culture that produced the medieval nature solitaries, the meditating Culdees, not the better known Irish missionary saints. And along with modern Jesuits generally (whom Ireland’s dissident Jesuit writer, Malachi Martin, charged with weak or absent notions of Christ’s divinity), Johnston’s aim, like the current Jesuit Pope who disapproves “proselytism”  was simply “conversation” and appreciation of different traditions.

I don’t have to hand a copy of Christian Zen which I read years ago, but I do know that the author worked with a tradition and understanding of Zen that is basically philosophical, not esoteric. Zazen such as St O’H pursued is most essentially a sitting meditation practice which follows the mind and watches the breath, emptying oneself towards eventual enlightenment. The sort of principles Johnston highlighted were the kind which,  due to his influence, one could nowadays read on the Net shorturl.at/vAPV1 .  These suggest a more vivid, deepened Christianity can be realized if,  Zen style, one practices simplicity (accepting the kingdom of heaven as a child), engages with silence (“be still and know that I am God”), follows the breath (because the Spirit is associated with breath), lets oneself be open to change, to repetition of words (biblical statements as mantras) and so on.

All this  can of course be helpful towards a type of spiritual efficiency, even if one puts to one side, major issues, which the subjective emphasis of Zen ignores, such as regards a Creator and the problem of good and evil. With its “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life” Christianity has an irreducible objective, truth-pursuing dimension.  But the question posed by St O’H’s experience and that Johnston never examines, is whether some Zen is in fact almost more esoteric and occult than philosophical in the way Johnston and other Christians portray it as being. Even Thai friends of the O’Hallorans tried to insist that Buddhism is probably better seen as philosophy than religion. They said this in an effort to comfort family members who felt insecure  that the “religious” choices of Maura were of a kind which didn’t assure  future meetings in heaven. It is however rather elitist to suggest that for most of its adherents Buddhism doesn’t function as a religious or even occult system with the Buddha regarded as the deity he denied he was. And Maura did describe Buddhism as her religion. It was moreover her long term aim to see a Buddhist temple erected in Dublin along with classes given in the faith (at the same time as she would proclaim the unity of all religions).

AN OCCULT ZEN?

Outside Toshoji temple, Maura at right

There remains a very real mystery to the St O’H story. Female nuns, saints and deities are rare enough in Buddhism as the striking career of English born Tenzin Palmo (Diana Perry) has highlighted in recent times (It used to be that women could do little more than pray to be male in their next incarnation!). But not long after her chance arrival at Toshoji temple in Tokyo, Maura’s Zen master, Go-Roshi,  is forecasting,  and as a foregone conclusion, that she will be enlightened and known for it. O’H will think Go-Rishi emits light. On occasions there are sessions with Go-Rishi that he strikes her. Sometimes he embraces her (Buddha famously wouldn’t have women approach anywhere near him). It is hard not to feel this particular Zen master’s role is more like that of a Hindu yogi who gives shaktipat (passes on the spiritual energies by a laying on of hands). She herself may  eventually respond as though the kundalini has been raised.

Following enlightenment  helped along by some physical pounding, St O’H writes “I felt possessed, no longer human, an incredible energy surging through me”. (Some of this energy went into shouting and bellowing sutras like a man for a couple of days till she suffered a sore throat and had to stop). There were prolonged fits of laughing and crying. Japanese media people who visited the temple felt frightened by her room there, It seemed to be full of ghosts, a possible warning things were not all as they appeared; but if so it was something the saint ignored by reminding herself ghosts feature large in Japanese culture (a reason Lafcadio Hearn had written of them). So it meant nothing, similarly to claims her features seemed to have changed.

I have the suspicion that O’H could have attracted and experienced the spirits that standard Zen normally has no truck with, and perhaps because she had already opened herself to them by her worship of the gods in Hawaii. If so, those in Japan simply picked up and worked on what had already begun to manifest (through her aura?) but that was almost more Hindu than Buddhist. Though it could be a fluke I wouldn’t care to overstress, a potential for negative effects and outcomes is suggested by the natal pattern which shows the sun closely conjunct asteroid Lucifer.

It was one of St O’H’s odder ideas that she had been minded to commit suicide by 26 because she felt  she could and would have done everything she wished by that age. In the event, her life was cut short at 27 when she died in a coach crash (the driver fell asleep at the wheel) outside Chieng Mai in Thailand. It was one of the places she had wanted to visit en route back to Europe and Ireland that she planned to visit a possible last time before  greater work for the Zen order might prevent it.  Her father before her had died in a road accident in his forties. Rather like the poet Shelley who a few days before his early death declared that if he were to die soon he had fully lived life and couldn’t ask for more, St O’H spoke and wrote of how she didn’t need to live any more having done and experienced all she’d ever wanted. It was a big claim and more than most members of Hollywood and the music industry’s substantial “27 club” of the soon departed would have maintained!). Whether she had really understood the possibilities of life is another matter…..

ABOUT MEDITATION AND ENLIGHTENMENT

 

….Likewise there is the question  is whether westerners, Christians and just anybody, quite understand what constitutes “meditation” and “enlightenment”. Even in their Asian homeland these can assume different forms, the Japanese and Zen Kensho variety of enlightenment  registered more by lightning flashes of consciousness as opposed to the more dream-like samadhi type absorptions of India. Both of these high points are liable to discard or transcend the verbal/scriptural dimensions of their respective faiths and even any nameable deity, a trait which has rendered them increasingly popular today among those with hopes pinned upon new world orders and one world faiths promoting a general “Oneness” and “Inclusivity”.

Such is obviously the very opposite of Judaeo-Christian notions of realizing the kodesh or “holy” which is involved (at some levels) with being not shocked or absorbed into oneness, but separate and apart as is the Creator, who, though sustaining creation is also outside and above it, not automatically touched as a result of yogic style practices. In which case what are meditation practices doing and touching since plainly they do have effects?

The following is fairly simple though elaborated it could doubtless fill books. It belongs with suggestions of the previous article on this site, “Gay Sex, Pleasure and a Paul Problem” and the latter part of my book The Great Circle: Asia David and God Consciousness shorturl.at/iuO37 in which I explain why the mystical journey of especially the later Thomas Merton can’t be called Christian. My position is, I believe, fairly unique and perhaps most anticipated by the atheist, Marganita Laski, whose work on Mysticism pointed in the more sexual direction I take.

My solution however can answer to such questions as:

Why is there in Asian and New Age mysticism such emphasis upon a Oneness that can’t be explained or described and has beyond itself no explanations in the face of evil, which O’H typically denies really exists. Also, why and what could be the basis of the dissatisfaction felt by model mystics like a cherished acquaintance of O’H’s in South Korea seen as the soul of kindness, the spirit of ecumenism itself – she meditates four hours a day Buddhist style at the same time as she attends mass? Then again why is it that the Dalai Lama’s French Buddhist assistant, Matthieu Ricard, admits to be in almost permanent states of joy?

MEDITATION IS…?

The answer to this question and which occurred to me in the course of recently looking into gay tantra ( https://wp.me/p2v96G-1na) is occult/ esoteric. What meditation is and does is perfectly consistent with its being a function of the human soul/aura/body electric rather than additionally or alternatively the spirit body.

To avoid mere sensation and a degree of distortion that might otherwise be in involved as regards the variety of techniques, I won’t say that all meditation is masturbation, though it comes close to that at its own level; I shall speak instead of soul-stroking (or massaging).

The biblical OT nephesh (soul) and the NT sarx  (flesh’), itself related to soul (psyche)  as opposed to just body, (soma), sustains the body during life. If suitably cared for and trained through especially breathing, it does what it should in terms of love.  Soul is what heals and is healed. (God restores the soul. Ps 23). It also carries and conveys any eros and love attachments (“the one that my soul loves” as the Song of Songs has it from the Shulamite woman).  If you stimulate this soul/subtle body in certain ways either physically or mentally you can arouse good feelings, however conceived, of harmony and of unity. Really control it and you might even finish in a state of near permanent bliss akin to erotic bliss or mother love.  Love can function and instinctively be, or seem, endless as in especially the case of mother love often exampled in Buddhist teaching and preaching when charity is the subject.  And because the root function of soul is joining and creating life or keeping body and soul happily and healthily in motion, necessarily the sensation will be principally of ”oneness” – often wholly non verbal –  with persons, nature and life.

The animal soul no more thinks than do animals; but although it doesn’t do so, with a kind of dog-like fidelity it is still willing to ”serve” the embraced other. It follows that calls to a generalized compassion and  “world service” is usually the message that the ‘enlightened’ convey to followers. But a more specifically willed, chosen, ethical and divine love belongs with the realms of Spirit. It is through the spirit level of the subtle body that specific vocations and directions could be known and any hearing of the divine occur. It is spirits rather than the Spirit  that  sometimes communicate through and directs soul function – St Paul virtually dismisses all religions, divinations and false loves to the level and works of sarx only, as in Gal 5:16-21. His rhetoric lays it on thick, but one gets the drift.

Arguably, the reason that a highly spiritual soul of St O’H  aquaintance, like the Swiss woman in Korea called Virajananda, feels “incomplete”, is because her  well-massaged, much consulted “soul” is minus the complementary or directing force of spirit. Spirit (OT Ruach and NT Pneuma) are what grant some room to male Logos and would allow some of the consistency of doctrine to emerge above soul’s formless, mind-chemicals type of love/bliss feelings that mental concentration and breathing engage..

It is because Japanese culture is more yang “masculine” in outlook than Asia’s more typically yin “feminine” ( which  works towards  states of more dreamy samadhi bliss), that lacking any relation to the Creator, Zen  renders its enlightenment a  more masculine, awakened “explosion” of knowing. It will be this, even if it’s not clear exactly what the knowing is and is about– apparently in O’H’s case chiefly that the nature of being is mu,  an all connected “Nothing”. Another way of symbolising and explaining what’s going on  would be to say that Asian mysticism is “Neptunian” while Japanese Zen is more “Uranian”, hence about shaking and waking rather than sleep and dream.. And, though I can’t demonstrate the point worked out in various articles of mine, for the West and Christianity, the Spirit is best symbolized by Uranus. In non theological Asia this means Uranus will be experienced more in its modality as lightning and  shock than as the awakening to God and  set-apart individualism that is culturally alien to the general Asian and Buddhist “no-self”.( I won’t enlarge upon this symbolism of O’H’s birth pattern, but for those it might interest, it is rather clear that both O’H’s talent and confusion are involved with a crucial conjunction of Jupiter with enlightening Uranus in very close tension square with mystical Neptune).

But to be frank about it, in quite a lot of Buddhism, especially of the Japanese and East Asian a variety, even given the best possible descriptions, one can’t be certain what’s going on and quite what is believed, even if and when the person is “awakened”. With Zen it is possible to say and believe almost anything. Perhaps trying to shock me (not into enlightenment but confusion!)  when I was admiring the Buddhist art collection of a former Prime Minister of Thailand, Prince Kukrit, who had been educated royal style in Hinyana Buddhism but was privately a devotee of Zen, he assured me, “The Buddha was an old fool”. St O’H doesn’t even mention green tea among her range of beverages, but even this could affect what is going on and is perceived since it can be used by monks as an aid in some meditation.

Years ago a noted Buddhist scholar kindly conducted me around temples in Kyoto. Every time we met some guiding monk or abbot we would be politely handed green tea in small saucer cups. I was not warned about the super high grades of temple teas with the result that later that day I  collapsed and in a way it was feared I might be having an epileptic fit – there was no danger in my case it would be enlightenment satori ! Clearly I’ve never had the robustness of St O’H – living and travelling in Asia would always be a health hazard for me. But what might even just green tea have added to the variety of feelings and realizations St O’H records?

I think there is too much about Maura O’Halloran we just  don’t know and now never will do. Less like a saint setting foot on Oriental shores than Ireland’s swaggering sea queen Grace O’Malley shocking the Elizabethan court,, the cult of St O’H is an original instance of new age craziness. It is even an odd form of form of “the luck of the Irish” O’H felt she had, and that hasn’t been unhelpful to her promotion. She may have discovered that everything is a kind of “nothing”, but she herself was all of something.

A ceremony acknowledging the priested and enlightened Maura (at right)

 
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Posted by on March 13, 2020 in culture, religion

 

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RE-IMAGINING IRISH RELIGION

LOST INSPIRATION

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.

SIX IRISH POETS AND THEIR RELIGIOUS ISSUES

AUSTIN CLARKE

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

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.

JOHN MONTAGUE

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”

SEAMUS HEANEY

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.

EILEAIN NI CHUILLEANIN

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.

PAUL DURCAN

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 Dublinhttps://wp.me/p2v96G-Bm

PAULA MEEHAN

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.

THE POETIC CHARGE AGAINST CATHOLICISM

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 .https://wp.me/p2v96G-19s

  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.

PART TWO:  DEFINING AND RE-VISIONING IRISH CHRISTIANITY

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, https://wp.me/p2v96G-16w  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!

DEFINING “CHRISTIAN” AND THINKING RESURRECTION

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.

FOUNDATIONS AND ST PATRICK

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 https://wp.me/p4kNWg-mb)

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.

A   CONFUSION OF ANGELS

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.

A  RE-IMAGINED IRISH RELIGION

….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. https://www.jns.org/why-is-ireland-the-most-anti-israel-country-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. https://wp.me/p4kNWg-rw

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 https://wp.me/p2v96G-16w

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. https://wp.me/p2v96G-Hm

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 (https://wp.me/p2v96G-1b2 ) 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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GAY SEX, PLEASURE AND A PAUL PROBLEM

      PART ONE: MARKS OF ABSENT PLEASURE

AN ARGUMENT WORTH HAVING

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

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

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

RADICAL BEYOND THE BLINDSPOT

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

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

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

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

PLEASURE

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

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

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

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

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

  St Mary’s Cathedral, Tokyo.

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

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

IMPLIED OR ALTERNATIVE BEAUTY

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

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

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

FROM ICON TO ABSTRACTION

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

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

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

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

A FEAR OF BEAUTY?

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

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

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

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

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

BEAUTY TURNED INWARDS”?

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

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

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

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

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

REVISIONISM AND “GOD’S WORD”

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

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

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

REVISION FROM THE FIRST

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

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

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

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

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

“GREAT MEN MAKE GREAT MISTAKES”

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

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

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

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

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

SEX THROUGH A GLASS DARKLY

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

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

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

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

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

BOXING AND VIOLENCE FOR THE GOOD?

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

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

THE SARX/FLESH PROBLEM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FLEEING SENSATION AND PLEASURE

MIKVAH FOR RITUAL PURITY

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

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

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

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

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

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

DEFINING PURITY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

—————————–OOO——————————

PART TWO: ENGAGING WITH PLEASURE

A TIME FOR…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A TIME FOR EROS?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A  CERTIFICATION?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TICKING ALL THE BOXES?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A SPIRITUAL EXPERIENCE? USES AND ABUSES

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

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

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

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

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

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

A SPIRITUAL ANTHROPOLOGY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  AN OVERSTATED MYSTICISM

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

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

BEAT ONENESS AND EROTIC WRITERS

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

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

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

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

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

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

SEEING FURTHER

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

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

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

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

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

 

NOTES

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

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

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

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

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

7 Vines, op.cit. p 13

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
 

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IS SCOTT MORRISON A VIRTUE-SIGNALLING HYPOCRITE?

IS SCOTT MORRISON A VIRTUE-SIGNALLING HYPOCRITE?

 The Prime Minister of Australia, Scott Morrison, who passes for some kind of Pentecostal Christian, in answering a privileged media Muslim’s charges of his inadequate management of “Islamophobia”,  declares his coalition party has “no problem with Islam”. Really?

While any decent citizen would hope and assume the nation’s leader wouldn’t indulge in hate speech and spread Islamophobia as such – Christian conversation is supposed to be always gracious (Col 4:6)! –  “no problem”, bespeaks virtue-signalling hypocrisy or just ignorance. No Christian, without disloyalty to the many oppressed in Muslim majority countries, can call themselves Christian who fails to have a few questions and problems around a faith that in so many places denies rights to and seriously oppresses their fellow believers (along with those  of other minority faiths and social groups from women to gays).

ScoMo’s Christianity is too like the “Liberalism” of those feminist Swedish politicians who, despite appeals from Iran (where last year a woman was sentenced to twenty years for removing a hijab in protest), proudly wore Muslim garb to make for goodwill with Muslims leaders. https://goo.gl/s4pq75  It doubtless gave them feelgood highs which is what a lot of political moralizers crave, but it won’t do if truth matters.

Like the return of the repressed following a too long sexual ignorance and repression, to some extent “Islamophobia” flourishes where open statement and simple fact is allowed little to no scope in public forums before the radical screaming begins that aims to shut down free exchange of ideas and free speech  as “far right” or “fascist” or “racist” discourse. Liberal  Sweden is  incidentally one of the worst western offenders in this area. Not to mention  how the will of much of its citizens has been ignored, the PC country is plausibly accused of sending Christians to their death in Muslim countries they tried to escape while the political establishment welcome Muslim migrants with open arms https://goo.gl/iSRMZd  It also has nothing to say that the city of Malmo is now emptied of its long resident Jewish population due to unchecked anti-Semitism.

That there are many good and peace loving Muslims need not be questioned, unless to indicate they don’t tend to be particularly conservative and orthodox. Regardless, what is perhaps most disconcerting about almost any major issue that presents itself concerning Muslims and faith issues,  is  that, as in the case of Waleed Ali calling out the Prime Minister  the protest and the complaint are one-sided.

Unlike Christians and Liberals of the West, the Muslim position evades self-criticism, it is loud in condemnation of perceived prejudice towards itself, but contributes next to nothing that might reform the oppressions across the greater part of the Muslim world, oppressions against which nearly all complaints an Australian Muslim might make are pinpricks. That more Muslim voices aren’t raised against injustice may itself betray some of the constraints adherents of the faith (whose meaning is “submission”) live under. This is usually a degree of pressure exerted by conservatives and fundamentalists who hold much of the power and call the tune and through what is often the apostasy charge or social ostracism threat. Not things in harmony with broad-based human rights.

In fairness, Christians can well ask – and even should ask as Scott Morrison fails to do – is, in how many Muslim majority states would Christians be allowed Ali’s platform and scope to point out that Christ’s final injunction to his followers was to preach the gospel in the whole world?  Evangelism should, like free conversation, be a basic human right of Christians and anyone at all. Islam denies this and much else to Christians like building or repairing  places of worship and whenever possible always has been doing this. Wherever it is a majority the religion  has normally  demanded Christians, Jews and all infidels to be respectfully subordinate and if not converting to pay crippling  jiza taxes  if they are to be tolerated rather than executed. While no Christian would wish to defend the misguided vision and barbarities of the Crusades, it must always be recalled the trigger to the fiasco was an appeal by Middle East Christians to the West to intervene against the level of oppression suffered. .

DON”T USE THE  “ISLAMOPHOBIA” WORD LIGHTLY AND FOR MERE VIRTUE-SIGNALLING

Before anyone starts raising the spectre of “Islamophobia”, they should recall not only the good-willed Muslim neighbours they understandably don’t wish to offend, but the following facts – a few among the all too many which Christians should consider it their duty to protest.

Maldives (quoting from The Guardian UK’s list of the 25 worst places to be Christian in 2018  https://goo.gl/dXDojK      Converting from Islam means forfeiting Maldivian citizenship, and owning a Bible is punishable by death. Churches are banned; Christian migrants and tourists also have to meet in secret and cannot own Bibles.   (No need to list it here but it is quite common in especially Muslim central Asian republics like Kazakhstan for bibles to be confiscated and destroyed and any teaching from it to risk arrest).

Brunei: Jail for celebration of Christmas https://goo.gl/QLhpcd

Algeria you could be forced to worship in a tent, not a church https://goo.gl/xtDnFE

You are not safe among  migrants everyone regards as only and always innocent victims, Christians have been thrown overboard for not converting to Allah https://goo.gl/yiK9as

Christians are not safe in Muslim communities in Netherlands https://goo.gl/oBDD1i
In Germany   https://goo.gl/mSxWFB
even in  England    https://goo.gl/Ht6fid

Christians (thanks largely to PC concerns which favour Muslims) though the most persecuted group in the Middle East are least likely to be selected for immigration https://goo.gl/cwEXzj

Where Pakistan is concerned one hardly know where to begin and what to include the abuse levels are so overwhelming. The infamous blasphemous  laws alone are  used to extort money, property, be revenged on families etc but the abuse is ubiquitous.
Christian children suffer in schools https://goo.gl/FjsibH
Rape, abduction and forced conversions are a major ongoing problem https://goo.gl/NnZ6tS . The case of Asia Bibi is better known than most – she was accused of blasphemy on absurd grounds including the crime as an “unclean” infidel of drinking from a cup of water on a hot day, and after 9 years in solitary, often beaten by vicious guards, she was acquitted of all charges but is still in hiding unable to leave the country because pious Muslims want her dead more than to leave their country as would be best. This isn’t cricket to put it mildly, but why is Australia or anyone playing cricket with Pakistan? Is it too much for ScoMo or his henchmen to suggest the sports will stop till the laws change? What is the all – accusing  Ali saying about the injustices of Pakistan?

Egypt – home of Waleed  Ali’s forebears  is not a safe place for Christians according to Guardian report of last year https://goo.gl/Urd9hQ

None of this touches on the woes, the discrimination against and sometimes massacres of Christians across central Africa from Zanzibar to Cameroons and perhaps especially the endless violence of Sudan whose ultra Muslim president is wanted for war crimes there has been so much genocide of Christians and animists in Sudan. The policies of Boko Haram (somewhat known from a media that rarely reports attacks on Christians), the vigilante groups ;pursuing Christians in homes and colleges in Kenya, Uganda, Somalia, all this goes on and on, sometimes more, sometimes less, but generally clearing the world of infidels before Judgement Day as per the fundamentalist vision of things.

I could conclude the links with a heartfelt condemnation from a British journalist and former MP of the indifference of so many people, even sometimes clergy, to the situation of many Christians globally https://goo.gl/3K7zSg  This was back in 2011 and it’s worse now.

It is neither hopelessly irrational nor automatically prejudiced to raise questions about the cultural assimilation potential of some people from these regions.  Fear of being called “racist” , something whipped up by especially the hard left, was what caused police in UK not to deal for years with the scourge of  criminal sex grooming gangs in Newcastle, Rochedale, Rotherham and Oxford  imported from the nation mentioned above for a particularly bad human rights record. It is also post-Christian and controversially so, to rail on the basis of an “equality” fetish, against suggestions that the often most persecuted Middle Eastern group, Christians, should not be given some priority for migrant intake – an “equality” obsession so warped it has actually seen Christians put last and least rather than first and most.

MORE FEMINIST, SECULARIST APPEASEMENT?

Helped by a hefty dose of ignorance where the affairs of religion are concerned, the current religion and rights situation in the world makes not only for injustice but absurdity. One can tell something in the value system is going seriously wrong when the very proper commiseration of the NZ Prime Minister with victims of the Christchurch massacre, passes from commiseration to theatrical identification  by  a donning of the hijab (that Swedish feminist gesture again) and   announcement of the  broadcast of a nation-wide, memorial ceremony with two minutes silence including afterward the Muslim call to prayer in which all were encouraged to join, even men were encouraged to wear scarves in solidarity with Muslims. Though I don’t endorse all that  NZ’s  Brian Tamaki says – he is, a leading pastor of Pentecostal persuasion (like ScoMo) – he has protested the inclusion of the Muslim call to prayer in the broadcast ceremony, and arguably he has a point if one considers what might be intended and could be involved.

The effect of Ardern’s  togetherness gestures is to be  rewarded by her image beamed  onto Dubai’s world highest building and Sheikh Mohammed telling her 1.5 billion Muslims respect  and thank her. Superficially it hardly makes sense Muslims should love the unmarried Great Mother with child  who in parts of Pakistan and Gaza would be more likely to find herself at the bottom of a well for offences to honour and morality! Since however joining in the symphony of praise  is even the tyrannical President Erdogan, (whom to criticize entails the imprisonment that has affected numerous journalists and women), Tamaki is not too far off in feeling he sees a declaration of Allah as the true God of NZ and notes that Ardern has removed mention of Christ from NZ’s parliamentary prayer.  Different cultures and faiths read signs in different ways, What is so appreciated by Muslim millions (and Waleed Ali over in NZ and embracing the infidel PM) is the implicit shift towards mainstream acceptance of their religion, the move towards absorption and submission that New Zealand’s agnostic PM’s appeasement encourages and that ScoMo is not going to question. In his role of politician rather than Christian, Scott Morrison  just hopes for the “indigenization” of Islam in this part of the world, when in fact an increase in its demands and its enlargement are  more to be expected.

INTERROGATE  PCISM  BEFORE IT’S TOO LATE

Secularist, humanist, post-Christian and hard left dismissal of Christianity has gone so far that (despite even atheist Dawkins’ warning that Christianity is soft against some alternatives), it risks producing a sort of sharia situation by default. Pressing for laws against “hate speech” and “racism”, though Islam is a religion not a race,  by increasingly placing “Islamophobia” under the hate/race category, freedom for expression and any critical views are compromised. To combine, to be together, is the new religion. But the self congratulating  “tolerant” crowds doing this aren’t and  won’t be mourning  and standing in silence for the innumerable Christian martyrs to blatant intolerance in fact.

These matters are matters for Judgement Day and examination of the ever deceptive human heart.. But today, since the views of the PM and politicians are hardly clear and owe much to pragmatic voting concerns, what Australia needs is a visit by the likes of Douglas Murray (author of The Strange Death of Europe). Such a person is needed to challenge and interrogate the too easily held and expressed views of the arguably ungrateful and presumptuous Waleed Ali…… That’s if the PC screamers wouldn’t start campaigns to ban Murray from these shores and if media, to its disgrace, doesn’t continue the one note mantras about “tolerance”, “diversity”, “equality” and “multiculturalism” in a way to hide truth. The distortions and virtue-signalling  overtaking  public discourse is suggested by the ironic rather than funny opening of Murray’s latest Spectator article:.

“I return to Britain just in time to find some online warriors trying to pin the New Zealand massacre on everyone who has ever spoken out against Islamic extremism or mass immigration, including me”.

Yes, this is the ridiculous level to which public debate and those who lead us have degenerated. And alas, it’s almost symbolized by the likes of Scott Morrison unable to speak up and, bumbling awkwardly before Ali. May Australia have more courageous leadership, honest media  and church leaders with more insight and backbone!

 
 

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THE WHO, WHAT AND WHY OF MARY POPPINS

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

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

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

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

AUSTRALIAN BEGINNINGS  AND PROBLEMS 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1

WHO: THE KEY QUESTION : WHO IS MARY POPPINS?

     

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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WHAT is she saying and showing?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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WHY is she like she is?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NOTE:

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
 

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THINKING ABOUT THE VATICAN GAY CLOSET

The inevitable response from Catholic critics to Frederic Martel’s In the Closet of the Vatican is that it lacks substance, he’s got it wrong about his probably 80% gay Vatican and that it’s all worth little more than gossip. While of course it’s possible Martel has got a few facts wrong, one can wonder how often in his over 500 pages. Hadn’t controversial reports since 2015 from such journalists as Emiliano Fittipaldi and Gianluigi Nuzzi made no impression or given no warning that more was present to be revealed? I wouldn’t expect the critics to consider any astrological dimension, but the guilty charge is so strong even  “the heavens declare” in this case. Uranus (anything to do with gays) is in the Vatican’s sex sector making easy trine to Mars (any men and sex) in the sector of the hidden!

Though I’m not suggesting Argentina’s Pope Francis is gay, – and Martel insists he isn’t – had conservatives never heard the common saying in the Pope’s nation of origin, “todas las curas son maricones” (all priests are faggots)? People get the idea, even if most priests won’t be as hypocritical  or on occasion blatant as some Vatican gays about their preference. Hidden, undeclared (closeted) homosexual clerics is a massive problem for Catholicism .  But Martel makes no claim that his 80% are all active. The most many can be accused of, but it’s bad enough,  is assisting cover-ups through complicit silence, sometimes reluctant, of serious scandals. That situation is surely even a reason why, when given the opportunity by an outsider (in this case a gay French writer) to just talk, so many are ready to blab to someone  used almost as a therapist or father confessor.

Before offering a few original perspectives and imagining improvements, I must emphasize what should be obvious, namely that for professed Christians hypocrisy is unacceptable and corruption more so and there’s no cure for them but repentance. Scandals known before Martel’s expose like the 2017 revelations about a top Vatican official, Msgr Luigi Capozzi’s cocaine-fuelled gay orgies iare disgusting; and it’s unpleasant to hear of sexually harassed Swiss guards and arrogant, high placed clerics using migrant male prostitutes whom they insult and underpay (others who do pay properly feel so guilty they get embarrassingly tender with them).

This said, I am neither so shocked as conservative Catholics at the given picture nor smugly assured like some American evangelicals that we are only witnessing further proof of the “end times” evil of the Roman “Whore of Babylon” soon to fall – which the Vatican might anyway do, because how much scandal bad press can any institution sustain? What  however I believe is finally coming to light is a more perennial, ingrained problem that is too often a tragedy for those involved and the result of chronic misunderstandings of theology and psychology that must be addressed, though I am not confident they will be.

Years ago in Latin America I was invited to give a talk to a group of self-confessed gay priests. It was the rather neat, pretty but queeny priest among them who took sudden exception as utterly ridiculous something I said about the book of Revelation  as regards the erotic (see the sub section “An erotic and esoteric moment” in ‘Apocalypse as a Gay Issue”. https://wp.me/p2v96G-1eT . The fact he didn’t grasp or refused to consider the rather obvious point involved, has its connection with the ongoing problem of gay priests in the Vatican and beyond it.  Because there really shouldn’t be quite such a problem with homosexuality. And what the gay Martel perceives as an irony – the strangely “homoerotic” Vatican with its images from Michelangelo including the ignudi (nude youths) painted around the Sistine Chapel alongside a clothed prophet Jeremiah a figure with whom the artist identified himself,  carries its own hint towards the solution. 

THE TRAGEDY OF IGNORANCE

But first things first. The “tragedy” I refer to is the one well represented by Martel’s lead-in story with ex-priest, Francesco Lepore. For him as for so many youths in Italy until quite recently, there were few places beyond entering orders for the more introverted, sensitive type of youth to go to hide or cure an attraction to the same sex. He might hope to self-cure through denial, or, if he couldn’t quite achieve that, as one who was often mother’s boy, he could feel the Great Mother, Mary, would always forgive him anyway. But there was often something more.

Lepore admits to how the church positively drew him towards itself through the senses, the scents, sounds, colours, the mysterious rituals and costumes in which you could lose yourself – plainly a bit like being in mother’s skirts and in parallel to the way gays almost dominate the woman’s fashion industry. And  that’s a point I take to be rather important because of things that emerged pre-Martel among the earlier revelations from Fittipaldi and Nuzzi.

In harmony with the tendency of especially people of Latin background to assume a role or pose (recall singer Madonna’s hit, Vogue, with its “strike a pose”) some Vatican clerics felt easy with being distributors of mass when dressed for the ritual, but equally easy with going to gay bars for fun nights and pick-ups once they were in civvies. Dress made and unmade the man, the personalities, their roles and responsibilities.

Something is going wrong here and it’s more than a case, as evangelicals might plausibly maintain that these priests were never remotely “born again”, because similar problems can be found among the community of the born agains too. It’s more like a whole historic blind spot is involved, one that can’t imagine being gay to be anything but (as Pope Benedict had it) a condition “objectively disordered” if not plain evil rather than in the majority of cases something perfectly natural to those involved, inborn, and even in its way vital to religion.

It is customary to start citing Leviticus 18 or Romans 1 (Protestants) or Natural Law (Catholics) against any idea of anyone being born different and meaningfully so. However, if I am not to get immediately and lengthily bogged down in answering the objections (which can be done), I must say directly that, psychologically and spiritually dominated as it clearly is by the Puer archetype, Christianity is “ascenional”. It is earth-denying and/or nature-denying more than any other faith. To that extent it is arguably the most “gay spiritual” of the world faiths with Buddhism perhaps some rival (its monks and attitudes are often quite gay),

This means Christianity is indirectly, and in some fashion that needn’t automatically affect woman’s rights (though ignorantly and crudely it may do so) against the feminine, the Dionysian swamp or raw nature. The point is well stated in Camille Paglia’s Sexual Personae which underlines the vital importance and inevitability of gay vision to human culture which is ultimately always a war against nature.

So much about Christianity is anti-gravitational, “contra naturam” – St Paul even says divine election and salvation itself are “against nature” – that just this standpoint is likely a cause, psychologically and historically, the faith sets its face against anyone or anything that, as though in rivalry, claims to be “naturally” against nature. Witness the tirade of St Paul in Romans 1 which I am quite prepared to state (as I do say in the poem and notes to A Saint’s Mistake https://wp.me/p2v96G-yS ) includes some real error and exaggeration and constitutes something Jesus never intended or would approve, something one can tell given certain hidden, unexplained facts concerning even Jesus’ original address to Paul which speak to him at more than one level. 

POSSIBLE REMEDIES

In quest of remedies for the gay clerics problem, it must of course be acknowledged there can be none at all without first some transparency, especially for those within the Vatican which is supposed to function as beacon and example for all of Catholic persuasion. It’s unholy to remain silent in the face of, say, child abuse, from fear you yourself might be outed as gay (which is not the same things as paedophile). Better to be openly gay and better far to be able to affirm the positive value of being so.

So, for a start obviously and ideally one would  simply hope that the gay priest could sooner or later be out as gay (not automatically banned from orders as is increasingly proposed) and  free to find the soul mate …..which might also be the best term for whatever partnership could be established and hopefully not changed by the week.

Gay marriage (described by Pope Benedict as “the legislation of evil”) and the drive to so-called “gay marriage equality” represents an essentially secular ideal involved with wider social movements to equality. It was originally necessitated by legal problems over inheritance and adoption. Marriage is nonetheless very much about the making of families and this is not what gay relationships are usually or chiefly about. They are friendships, partnerships, unions and should probably be called such, and in the case of priests perhaps not even too precisely defined. Who knows precisely how the unmarried prophet Jeremiah and his secretary Baruch with whom he lived might have described their connection, or again the centurion with his boy/servant that Jesus healed in what is the nearest thing to a blessing accorded a same sex union?  I don’t consider there should be any need to formalize the connection except by personal declaration. (David and Jonathan declared they had a berith, which can mean variously covenant or marriage, but the matter was purely between themselves, not subject to public ceremony). To whatever extent the priestly relation would be sexual (and I would define chastity in this case as principally involving sincerity and fidelity) would likewise be a private decision perhaps influenced by – despite everything! – such principles as St Paul’s “better to marry than to burn”.

 I say all this because I believe, ideally and usually, relationship should be aimed for and as far as possible acknowledged too because it is vitally  important not to be attached  –  as plainly many  Vatican and non Vatican clerics are attached – to the closet. This reduces life to a kind of perverse game filled with rumours, secrets, gossip and an often demeaning humour. At times it is a sort of Catholic version of Genet’s The Maids with the priest as a species of bitter drag queen rather than any representative of God. In this uncertain space whose very repressions are almost loved, objections like the Latin American priest’s can be raised as soon as eros and change are frankly broached, and Mother Mary’s pardon can be lazily preferred to any engagement in the life of the Creator. Indeed, as Martel emphasizes, some of the most ardently homophobic, traditionalist priests are the most self-indulgently gay. This truly is unacceptable, but one might have to go into the subject of the poles of pleasure and self-denial to understand how the contradictions involved might ever come about.

THE PRINCIPLE OF PHALLOS

It can be made to seem, and in the early Christianity of the Fathers, influenced not least by ascetical values of Greek philosophical thought, it was made to seem that Christianity is all about self-denial, especially where any eros is concerned. We are, after all, told to take up the cross and deny ourselves (Matt 1:24)…so shouldn’t we be denying sexual pleasure? As with so much of the bible there is paradox and apparent contradictions to resolve. Jesus also tells us to love our neighbours as ourselves, an almost impossible task if one is to hate one’s deepest, most self-defining urges. It is even easy for some to claim just this is meant if one takes the statement that if possible we should be eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven (Matt 19:12), eunuchs however being by Jesus’ time a broad term that didn’t automatically signify castrate or even chaste but instead different and out of the family way. Origen who decided to take Jesus literally and castrated himself, later believed this was sin.

It was certainly rather crazy too, but was related to the idea that God somehow disapproves pleasure and punishes those who desire it. However, as has been observed, and most recently so by would-be church sex reformer Nadia Bolz-Weber, God created the clitoris which has no function at all outside of female pleasure. So we may well ask, is it likely God would wish to deny men all pleasure?

In the post-Freudian, post neo-Buddhist world that shapes our vocabulary and expression, I think we would be well justified to understand the demand to deny our selves as meaning something more akin to denying the ego with its wilfulness and cravings, while to love our selves means not ego but our deeper, greater selves that are related to God and others. We are not meant to be pleasure addicts, but we should still love our natural being and be able to take some pleasure in its affirmation.  And men, certainly, should not, like the neo-platonically minded St Augustine, regard every sexual feeling as arrogant uprising by the flesh in defiance of a holy God.

For gay men, and even to a degree straight men (for whom the penis is a form of power, or competition and at worst inclining to just control and even rape), there has to be a new acceptance and appreciation of phallos, the physical but also, beyond it, the spiritual dimension of the phallic. Something to the effect could hardly be more stressed in the inevitably little commented, little known story of Jeremiah’s loin cloth which again I have poeticized https://wp.me/p2v96G-Hm

From the beginning of life when the Jewish male is circumcised, the phallus is made to seem of interest to God, something that belongs to and, as it were, partakes in God. What this may do and mean for women is a subject in itself that need not be dealt with here; sufficient to affirm there is a subtle danger that amid contemporary emphasis on the rights of (and wrongs done) women, a new kind of de-spiritualizing, emasculating of men sets in that is not healthy but which unexpectedly gay men and vision might even help to overcome.

Emasculation did not take place in the case of the gay Michelangelo who stands in the Vatican pointing a way out of the confusion Vatican society has got itself into. Like Jeremiah who opposed the cult of the Queen of Heaven, but unlike the Vatican gays who look to mercy from Mother Mary, for the Sistine Chapel’s Last Judgement fresco, Michelangelo’s Mary, hardly any queen, is almost cowering away from the decrees of her Son. But at the same time, beyond the wall fresco and between the depictions of the prophets on the ceiling frescoes are the twenty Ignudi, the naked youths. The late art critic, Sister Wendy Beckett, found them highly enigmatic. She couldn’t understand their function (and nor really has any art critic unless to say they represent a perfection) but I think this should not be so difficult to grasp. It is simply a complement to other tendencies of Michelangelo’s essentially gay thought and vision.

SOME NAKED TRUTH?

   

Only recently a new star tennis player, the Greek Stefanos Tsitsipas, shocked and puzzled fans by posting to social media: “I like me better naked….when you put clothes on you immediately put a character on. Clothes are adjectives, they are indicators….When you don’t have any clothes on it’s just you, raw and you can’t hide”.

Quite so. While the side of nudity one tends to hear about from  religion is some version of a “naked and ashamed” theme, this isn’t the only side the scriptures present, and neither is the “just sex” meaning that a secular world gives to nudity by contrast. The prophet Micah, for example, declares “I will go stripped and naked” (Mic 1:8).  There are a variety of functions and meanings to nudity (I interrogate this subject in Naked in Thessaloniki: Riddle and Signhttps://wp.me/p4kNWg-fD), but what is certain is that the prophetic tradition that the Vatican tends to downplay in favour of its rituals, is a rather nudity-as-truth one.

It is psychologically and symbolically correct that Jeremiah and Isaiah (another “naked” seer) should be set among the ignudi. It’s all part of the same thing: the clothed and the unclothed psychologically complement one another and interact; and in many respects nudity as for the ancient Greeks is a male, not a female theme. As a point of symbolism, it is male nudity that symbolizes “truth” because the male genitalia are exposed, exterior to the body, “solar”, not hidden as for females and “lunar”. Woman can symbolize truth as beauty, but truth is not always only beautiful. A mixture of Christian and secular values have rendered art and Hollywood and Playboy’s display of women natural in a way it traditionally wasn’t and spontaneously, symbolically isn’t. Put on an event like the World Naked Bike Ride that is legally able to dodge the “indecent exposure” charge and there will be more males, often gay, in attendance. Throughout nature it is the male of the species is colourful and/or exhibitionist.

At the risk of more self reference, I would point to the message of a chance realization in my poem Baroque https://wp.me/p2v96G-IS  It is based on an experience had while in Sicily where I visited a church, not without charm and power of a kind, but ultimately oppressive in its highly ornamented style (like a weighed down, over-decorated wedding cake – the pic below is not the place in question but a typification). Because I didn’t care to sensationalize,  I didn’t outright state the chief thought  prompting  the piece. This was the feeling upon stepping outside into a sunlit square, of an imperious need for a kind of renewal by just light, sun, and endless sky being naked to which would be like a  baptism in its own right. Enough to say the poem which ends

The point of reception is here, now, even
This temple, the body; with this I greet change.

carries  more the thought of the second image than the first.

   

The statement is a purely personal one. It doesn’t belong with any programmes queer or other encouraging people to disrobe inside or outside of churches to protest something. However I would say that, just as Martel found some of the most rabidly homophobic Vatican clergy were the most actively gay, I am suspicious of those gay clergy and some non clerical gays  who too readily deny any real value to eros for their own or anyone’s condition and so treat nudity as little more than something else to ban, and little more than an aspect of modern pornography.

What dismissal of the erotic as part of the gay equation (which is taken up instead with rituals of the closet) can mean in real terms, is a flight from reality and change. It can accompany a disappearance into Mamma’s, or Mother Church’s or Mother Mary’s skirts, with a whole idolatry of clothes and ceremony  at the expense of a more “naked” and abrasive “male” truth. And  this must sometimes be pursued if there is ever to be reform. The ignudi as symbol of truth, change and perfection got painted in the right place.

 

 

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APOCALYPSE AS A GAY ISSUE

APOCALYPSE AS A GAY ISSUE

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

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

RAPTURE AND THE ARCHETYPAL

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PROPHETIC URANIANS

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

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

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

DANIEL THE EUNUCH

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

JOHN THE BELOVED

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

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

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

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

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

AN EROTIC AND ESOTERIC MOMENT

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

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

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

THE TURNING OF THE AGES, CHRISTIAN AND AQUARIAN

I

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  

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

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

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

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

GUYS FEELING “DEFILED” BY WOMEN.

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

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

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

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

CONVERGING PERSPECTIVES

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

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

 

 

 

 

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

 

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DISSIDENT ABOUT DANTE

DANTE AND HIS STATUS

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

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

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

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

A PARADISO PROBLEM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PROPHETIC SEEING OR FAKING JUST WHAT?

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

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

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

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

IMAGINATION AND IMAGE

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

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

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

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

ODD HEAVENLY CITIZENSHIP

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MARIA AND BERNARD OBSESSIONS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SEEING AND APPROACHING GOD: BEATIFIC VISION

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

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

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

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

THE INFERNO

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

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

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

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

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

FINAL IDENTITY TAGS

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

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

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

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

READING DANTE TODAY

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

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

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

FROM CHRISTIAN EXPERIENCE TO NEO-PLATONIC VISIONS

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

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

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

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

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

SPIRIT AND SOUL

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

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

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

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

DANTE THE MAN

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

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

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

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

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

FAITH AND VISION SOULED OUT

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

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

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

NOTES

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

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

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

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

4) Barbara Reynolds, Dante  p.296

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

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

 

 

 

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STAGING SWEENEY FRENZY: Irish parable or problem?

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

However he later complains:

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

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

NAMING A BLOCK OR WHAT ?

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

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

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

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

THE SAINT, CURSES AND A BIT OF THEOLOGY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SWEENEY AND THE ULSTER SHADOW

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

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

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

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

TO LAY MY BURDEN DOWN

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 
 
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