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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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THE HELL PASSAGE: INFERNO CANTOS FOR TODAY

Since the performance on the ABC of a poetic drama of mine a quarter of a century ago I hadn’t written any poetry…until last Easter. The following two Cantos of Inferno poetry were composed entirely over the last Easter Weekend recalling that Dante descends to hell on Good Friday. (Actually I started the Thursday night).

I am attempting a religious and aesthetic experiment, imagining Dante updated and basing myself on a modern account of perdition. The source used (Una Revelacion del Cielo y el Infierno a 7 Jovenes – official website www.minluznaciones.org/) is not mine. So I have questions, as will likely readers, about certain truth claims involved. There was, though,  always one clincher convinced me the story was never pure fabrication but that something was experienced however debateable its articulation in places. Pros and cons as regards truth claims are given after the poem’s notes while Canto 2 itself includes an attempt to supply some meaning and explanation – if that’s possible! – around what’s most difficult in the alleged experience and hell doctrine more generally. Reasons to work poetically with the confronting Colombian Inferno journey (of 11th April 1995) and not other revelations today, some of which by contrast can be dismissed outright, are:

a) It’s more inclusive. It’s uncommon to claim, or just like Dante to portray, a journey to both hell and heaven (albeit I don’t tackle the vision’s paradise here), to give names and stress choices as opposed to just seeing relatives or celestial vistas or being rescued from hell if more rarely one claimed to have gone there. And this “revelation” lays claim to be some kind of OBE (Out Of Body Experience), not NDE or vision.

b) It feels a little closer to Dante’s intention. Even without reading Dan Brown’s Inferno one knows his treatment will not incorporate belief in hell or have “evangelical” purpose towards it such as Dante had – he wanted to warn and correct those gone astray. So any modern vision with that purpose seems a closer model for “update”. Not that one can hope to update the great Dante, one merely tries a little approximation!……That includes no terza rima juggling acts. Not even an adroit translator like Dorothy Sayers quite managed it without cheating words or distorting sense. Rhyme is very Italian whereas English is rhyme poor by comparison. Much poetry, not least Latin, doesn’t use it. I have kept nearer to the style of the Kirkpatrick translation as a good compromise for a form, three line stanzas, which though again fine for Italian I don’t like for English – it’s constricting for strong emotion and special effects. I didn’t use anything like it in my Puer Poems collection of verse. I’ve merely done my best here within constraints of the medium and time.

THE HELL PASSAGE

CANTO ONE

Of those great things by grace we would be shown
For us there was no warning nor no word;
Predestined paths are rarely known before.

Our little faith and new could not have guessed
At how pure revelation would transform
Our lives, guide all our thoughts and where we go.

Consider this. Where terror and where bliss
Outside of time are absolute, there soul alone
Can penetrate and spirit recognize its truth.

So, hearing you might understand
All suddenly – or slowly only as God
Wills – how justice by the Lord is done,

What is his “wrath” and is not so, and why
No self not holy can see God, nor deeply
Feel his love and mercy shed abroad.

It was one morning, ten o clock; we prayed
Before the outing that was planned. It was an
April morning, ordinary, but all at once,

Transfixing us, light through one window
Burst, its orb and brilliance soon outshone
Our earthly sun and in it angels gathered.

These all were glorious but more glorious still
Within their encircling radiance stood the Lord.
Human yet not of here his presence was. He was

Enrobed in white and gleaming golden
From his head as from the sandals of his feet.
Upon a sash we glimpsed the title, “King of Kings”,

But “Jesus of Nazareth I am”, he said.
He then declared that we must go with him,
A mystery for all the world would be revealed.

This was, he said, because his people at this
End of age had failed both him and all mankind.
Truth no longer is believed nor is proclaimed.

Truth is of other worlds, this world is relative;
Each soul must know, believe and understand
That hell and heaven alone make human destiny.

Of this we had no time to ask. Amid the room
A shallow rock appeared on which we stood,
The angels left as earth and darkness opened up.

As though from body soul was stripped, we fell
Into earth’s centre, the abyss, with speed
And force beyond all comprehension.

Before we even knew the place, blind terror
And dismay seized every thought. We trembled
In each limb and clung to Him who led the way.

I, Lupe, who had held his hand began to scream
“Not this O Lord, Forgive my sins, Is now already
Judgement day? Why bring me here? Take me away!”

I could not bear to look, I closed my eyes
Yet even closed I saw the same, my terror grew[1]
The Lord replied, “Lupita this you need to know”.

Great evil dark enfolded every place
Though through its night eyes still can penetrate
And now and then there burst out fire and flame,

Sometimes from even skeletons round which
Crawl loathsome worms. And in these carcasses
Of bones there live and cry what looks like mist.

This mist, all grey, the Lord explained were actual souls
What still remains to think and feel inside hell’s realm,
In bodies turned to death, not resurrection.

Even in paradise itself which Jesus
Promised to the thief,[2] are spirits who
Cloud-like await celestial bodies new,

Though their appearance may assume a form
Akin to that once owned on earth before
When looks were marred by illness or by age.

Outside of time all souls feel far more
Keenly than they do on earth. Each joy
Like every pain is magnified and thus

For sinners never sanctified, the soul holds
Record and recall indelible of
Every thought and crime they once engaged.

It’s felt as weight by bodies in perdition
And what soul vainly would cast off plays through
Its cage, much like an instrument, as torment.

Hell sees no sky or sun, there hunger dwells
Because no substance thrives, and thirst torments
Because no water is, but fire all spiritual alone.

Yet for some shades hope beckons still within
The flames so that they chase mirage and lie
Running to river and fruit that always fail

Amid those wastelands of lost mind and place
Where souls, even crowded in a moat of fire,
Can share no torment or communicate.

We passed deep caverns where dark chambers loomed
All prison-like, some sites of torture and
Of woe though passage walls were not unlike.

Misshapen monsters lurked near others shackled
To the sides above where still roamed demons,
Those not fled as many had at our descent.

Then earth was moved and hell’s shades shook
At sight of Him who bore keys to the infernal pit
Of choking breath, of stench and unrelenting heat

And screams. Sounds wrung of pain and of despair
Beat down like hailstones on our ears though soon
Exchanged for cries of mercy to the present Lord.

He, though through his hand I sensed and knew
The pity that he sometimes felt, did not delay
Towards those regions where our steps were bent.

We reached a valley, vast, filled with more souls
Than mind could grasp, millions from out each
Age and clime, each soul aware of self and God,

And they beseeching mercy for their lot. The
Ground was lava hot and on the valley’s floor
Were like deep cauldrons where a soul was caught.

We saw one man, all know his name, lodged there
Within a towering flame, his face half burned
Away, his body had been upside down.

He’d breathed his last one winter’s night, a madman
Murdered him, he bled to death, his soul like
Lightning left its mortal home for here.

Like many more he saw us and called out
And to the Lord most earnestly expressed desire,
Not for forgiveness but one final chance.

The Lord refused to answer him. We wondered why,
All unaware this person claimed he’d sold
His soul, yet had been saved by Jesus too –

Though, soon returned to pagan faith, he’d wished
Christ crucified again and had denied that heaven
Exists while hoping still for lives on earth.[3]

As we passed on, though only now he’d begged
More chance, this man changed tone and cursed the Lord.
And why? In truth because no soul that’s once

In hell can quite repent, much as the rich man
In the parable who thirsts and who cries out
For just one single drop to bring relief,

Requests the poor man Lazarus be sent.[4] He fails
To see the same wronged beggar God rewards
No longer can be servant at his call.

Beyond the valley and more nearly like
At home or club whole crowds of people danced
As though to party though they were in pain.

They leaped while mocked and goaded by dark fiends
Who yelled “praise Satan” and who whipped them on
While by the scalding earth their feet were torn.

Yet always healed again. All souls tormented
Any way experience injury and pain but just
As quickly heal to suffer every blow anew.

And every blow the fiends delight to give;
It is their sole revenge upon the God
Within whose image human kind was made.

Thus selfish pleasures found reward and yet
Through work of demons who were free. We learned
They have this liberty till Judgement Day

When Satan’s doom and his destruction they
Must share and all the damned fall with this
Hades into second death of the eternal fire.[5]

CANTO TWO

Upon the mountain of the Lord it’s said
That God’s own Cherub near the throne,
Once walked unscathed amid the stones of fire.

His born perfection shone more splendid still
By his adornment with each precious gem.
But then, through love of this, corruption came.[6]

From love of self, from vanity, ambition grew
To rise above the throne of God and for
That aim he was cast out and ever falls.

Accuser is the Satan’s name and all
His thought is accusation of the elect
Destroying who and what God still protects[7]

The devil is, so says the Lord, a murderer
From the first (and most of souls), a liar
And a thief[8]. Such persons you will find in hell.

Still led by Christ, we screaming passed so
Many scenes of loss and woe, but suddenly
Stopped by one soul in prison, Magdalene.

A deceiver now deceived she neither knew
Nor saw the reason for her fearful plight.
Those necklaces she tried to place were

Only black, devouring worms; the precious
Perfume that she dabbed was fire burned into her
With acid force and yet she could not cease

Her rituals. For all her luxuries she’d
Steal so that her name engraved was thief,
But she in pride stole love, time and attention

Too. She craved an audience, looked everywhere
For that, including for one former friend
Who spoke to her of God and themes she little

Cared to hear. She now asked where that woman
Was. “With me, in heaven” replied the Lord
And saying which he turned and we continued on.

Elsewhere and not from fiends but at the hands
Of false friends or relentless foes, damned souls
May always and again endure their loss.

Christ showed us where a violent man, six
Murdered people to his name, by those same men
Was cursed unceasingly he’d brought them there.

Yet others live and live again addicted selves.
We met one, Luis, who in youth believed the Lord
But not, Christ said, who had obeyed or served.

His world, his life was drink and in a
Drunken brawl he’d died. He stood before
Refreshment though no part of it could

Slake his thirst, what seemed like liquid burned with
Fire. He screamed Christ mercy all the while he seized
At drink again only to burn the worse for that.

One named Bianca, practiced in seductive ways,
Had lived with several lovers and cheated
On the last before she died of dread disease.

God she forgot but now this woman knew
Of love and pleasure’s dire reverse: a foul
And thorny serpent forced congress with

Her helpless form that suffers only ceaseless
Pain. Like others she called out. The Lord would
Only say it was too late and judgement set.

All these and more were sinners in our world
Some were blackslidden from their faith in God
And yet are not some saved whose tales are worse?

Was there idolatry of self and deed that
Set apart those damned souls that we just had met?
Why on the drunkard’s brow stood triple six?

We knew the measure given out we must
And always have from God again – the Lord
Had preached this on the Mount – but was it possible,

Should we believe, that hell’s great torments
God himself devised and that their nature
Was decreed from out of endless wrath?

The Wisdom of the Lord says no. The wrath of
God is separation from his life and place
Such as Christ knew as sin when on the cross.[9]

It is no more or less; hell was for angels who
Rebelled, not weaker man. God loves the world,
Does not intend one soul should die[10], still less

Responds as though to injury of honour.
This said, all evil outside God belongs
To powers infernal which yet stake their claim.

Within their place the separated then receive
From out their nature devil’s payment
At his whim or else of fiendish followers

For each attachment willed or otherwise to
Satan’s kingdom of this world, which is the
Source of all disease, dissension and deceit

We suffer still. This to combat and overthrow
The Lord was once made manifest on earth
And must again at era’s end return.

Hell’s torment is eternal for this cause:
As Lord of life the Lord can never in entirety
Annihilate one single soul or he is death.

Nor, since the Lord is love and of itself love
Must be free, can he compel but only warn or
Else appeal against what is opposed to life.

Unless by framework of the whole, by natural
Law and cycles which divide up time, divine
Omnipotence has limit through perfection.

For this, unless in part and through the
World-indwelling Son,[11] God does not see, cannot
Accept, the shapes and forms that evil takes

Outside first plan[12]. Upon creation’s second day
God would not say all things were good[13]
For through existence, though upheld by him,

Death runs, and on this earth the Satan reigns.
As all things are through God, no thing outside,
Hell’s realm is simple quarantine. It’s God

Withdrawn, or God, who’s fire, as fire alone
No other elements of life, the state
Most far from justice, love and the divine.

An infinite fall, its pit is bottomless
It is the great negation of all good
Whose root in Satan was self-love,

A love turned inward, not outgoing,
Ever vain, at last all parasite upon
Infinity, dynamic only to depart

Still further into nothingness. The Satan
Rules in hell yet to it Jesus holds the keys.[14]
This is because outside of time the Lord

Has power beyond materiality and time.
In these alone is evil fully free
To work, and inside them alone can it

Be caught, on some occasions now but
Fully only at the end of time when all’s
Resolved with heart and essence shown.

Each Soul that lives can only ever
Mirror God from whose own image it derives
So that, if what shines out is not divine,

No more protected and in a state of loss,
Soul must and only ever can be formed into
An image of God’s “wrath”. This image is

The Accuser within whom resides
An unrelenting will to obtain himself
As for his prey, eternal separation.

Recall the case of thieving Magdalene
Who had been branded for a thief
And yet whose motive will was vanity.

Likewise it is soul’s sin, not sins, that hell
Repays in endless repetition. Yet the effect
Must be expressed through one sin summary

Of all the rest in its self-will, or say
The one idolatry that once most lured the
Soul away from God. Its motion shapes the

Satanic self always replayed as role and
Name. Just as the redeemed have new
And secret names inscribed for God, [15] in hell

Thieves, Murderers, Drunkards and the like
Are branded such or else with Triple Six;
This way our God self shows as God reversed.

And this the soul becomes and must remain
When time has ceased. Its woe is not duration
Of an earthly kind, but one eternal present.

As even here a violent pain can cancel time,
So one day or a million days or none
Of agony, like heaven’s bliss, will be but “now”.

Lift us oh Christ from all despair and sin
From unbelief and pain. Such was our prayer.
We longed to see his paradise and only that.


[1] Seeing the same evil with eyes both open and shut strikes me as one of several authentic details. I note such an experience in my Cosmic Father and it is seriously alarming. I take it the occurrence indicates the person is seeing through the function of the second body or soul transcendent of normal bodily function. The group do feel soul has been torn from body as they descended.

[2] Reference is to Luk 23:43. It is believed to envisage an abode or waiting place of redeemed spirits, a “paradise” that is not the heaven of the Father/Creator that Jesus himself only enters after the resurrection. It is this place, peopled by souls able to appear in a form akin to that of earth, which NDE visions of a blissful afterlife if authentic presumably encompass. By contrast, as regards souls in hell, the Seven maintain that upon entry to hell each one assumes a skeleton-like “body of death“. Though one could suspect the legacy of some ex-Catholic, Latin American obsessions in the Seven’s imagery, in fairness the Bible does speak of “the body” being thrown into hell (Matt 5:29) and also to devouring worms and fire there (Mk: 9:48). The dead represented by skeletons as in the Ezekiel’s Valley of Dry Bones (Ezek 37) is as much biblical as anything medieval.

[3] All this is highly problematic and books such as The Gospel According to the Beatles and The Lennon Prophecy open up many questions which colour the poem here more than the comments of the Colombians. Lennon told his friend Tony Sheridan, “I’ve sold my soul to the devil”. Did he mean it literally? His childhood was haunted by spirits; he once told his stepmother he’s seen God. He was early on so irreverent he was banned from church. His student art was disturbingly profane. While living in America he claimed at one point to be “born again” to Jesus. Zefferelli’s Jesus of Nazareth film was a factor towards this, but later he reneged on it, fast forwarding the film to jeer at the crucifixion and proclaim himself “a born again pagan”. In the song God Lennon says he doesn’t believe in either Hitler or Jesus. His Serve Yourself lyric denies Jesus or anyone can save us. Though unlike the Colombians I wouldn’t call the Beatles “Satanic”, we must reckon it was Beatle George Harrison’s money funded what would otherwise have been the rejected Life of Brian comedy related to the gospels. Its distribution with its “Look on the bright side of life” could be considered spiritual pollution. Also Lennon’s Helter Skelter was seen as Satanic and an inspiration to Charles Manson as such.

[4] Luk 16:24

[5] Satan and demons inhabit hell but are not imprisoned there. Satan is even described as “Prince of the powers of air” (Eph 2:2). These work against mankind until aion’s (era’s) end. For dramatic purposes Milton’s Paradise Lost has them against the record exiled and imprisoned around the time of the Edenic Fall. Granted it’s said there are imprisoned spirits in hell rebellious against God (1 Pet 3:19) rather like the Titans of world myth, but they are not active or linked to punishment of souls in perdition. The future destruction of hell/Hades is indicated at Rev 20:14. The relative freedom of the demons is a point on which Christians seem to want to deny all or near universal NDE witness regarding features of hell, what the bible at very least implies about it and what the evidence of exorcism seems to be: demons will scream loudest at the command to be banished to hell since otherwise they enjoy some light and freedom on earth while they oppress souls. Note that demons scream at Jesus, “Have you come here to torment us before the time?” (Matt 8:29).

[6] Reference is to the account of Lucifer in Ezek 28. Traditional commentary like Augustine’s has it the devil fell through pride. Here I am suggesting before pride there was self-love or vanity. This seems more in harmony with what the biblical texts imply. “Your heart was proud because of your beauty, you corrupted your wisdom for the sake of your splendour” (v.17). Lucifer seeking to ascend above God is from Is. 14:13,14).

[7] Rev 12:10 maintains even the elect are accused by the Satan continually. No one and nothing is protected by God except by special favour because evil does not belong to God’s realm or direct consideration. Popular notions of divine omnipotence expect that Providence should intervene and rule whereas until era’s end God is not understood to do so unless exceptionally. Hence the importance of prayer even though it might seem to be only about what God wants or knows. God is as it were given pretexts to intervene through obligation to the righteous on earth. In Jewish tradition the world is virtually upheld by the existence of the praying righteous.

[8] Joh 10:10

[9] Christ’s cry of desolation “why have you forsaken me?” itself derived from words of Ps 22, is commonly but controversially interpreted today in an era of doubt as indicating a doubt in Christ’s mind never accepted in traditional readings. The belief was Christ became “sin for us” (2 Cor 5:21) and the penalty was to be cut off from his natural connection with the Father and thus to experience the pains of death and hell which is complete abandonment from all sensation of love, good, justice, in short, the world of Dante’s “Abandon all hope all you who enter here”.

[10] 2 Pet 3:9

[11] The doctrine of the Cosmic Christ as in Col 1:17. Little taught or understood but a clue to much Christian doctrine in its more “occult” aspect involving extended body or divine womb.

[12] That the creator is too perfect to look upon sin is asserted by the prophet Habbakuk, Hab 1:13.

[13] The Hebrew version of the Bible (Masoretic text) commonly used today omits God’s approval of this day .

[14] Rev 1:18

[15] Rev 2:17


FOR AND AGAINST THE VISION

Composing this poetry doesn’t mean I uncritically accept the Colombians’ report – I am conflicted about it as anyone would be. It’s just that I can’t reject the Colombian vision outright either for reasons given presently. But even if it were wholly false it still provides a pretext to look again at Dante and reflect on God, hell and evil more generally.

It’s possible to argue the Seven are the deluded victims of a collective hallucination, that they are inventing or misinterpreting an experience, a dream or vision rather than any true OBE (Out of Body Experience) of spirit journeys beyond this world. There are many OBEs and also NDEs (Near Death Experiences) in circulation. Many one could dismiss as delusional or possibly even as demonic deceptions. (My current prize for negative vision would be the doubtless sincere neurosurgeon Eben Alexander’s Proof of Heaven bestseller record of an NDE which I have more light heartedly poetized in the previous blog).

I think the Seven underwent some kind of experience. The following coincidences are too exact and too many to dismiss the story outright. I use an Event chart for the experience and apply the very revealing name, place and concept asteroids of modern astrology. The result is striking and much more so than for the details of, for example, the best selling Bill Weise’s alleged 23 Minutes in Hell (whose account is not unreasonably charged with containing certain embellishments and contradictions, not least for the time of the onset of vision. (Astrologers might however be interested in the detail that Pluto is at 0 degrees Sagittarius – religion and the far journey – when the Seven go to hell and the Sun is on the same degree when Wiese reports the same). No doubt both the Colombians and Wiese would, like Dante, have me damned to the Inferno’s Circle of the Soothsayers with Guido Bonatti for the means of confirmation. It nevertheless offers the main support they or anyone will ever have, and all Christian conservatives judgemental in this area should remember astrologers came to Christ’s birth. The pattern which I cannot reproduce on this page even with professional assistance (WordPress do better than this!) can be viewed at: bit.ly/187i5jH

PRO:

  • At the time of vision the LENNON asteroid was conjunct the CHRIST asteroid in the heavens in the “hell” zone of the pattern, the 8th….and The Part of Revelation falls within the same sector as though this was some kind of revelation and the Part is degree exact on an axis with the asteroid VERITAS (Truth)…. so did Christ and Lennon truly meet?
  • At “around” 10 am 22 degrees of Gemini rose, (coincidentally the same degree of asteroid DANTE in the inferno-visiting poet’s natus). This ascendant stands at the midpoint of asteroids ALETHEIA (Truth) and WISDOM at 20 and 24 degrees respectively, which while not conclusive is at least suggestive for some truth of the moment and its vision. The ascendant itself is more or less fortunately trined to asteroid CHRISTIAN in the ninth sector of religion and beliefs – the vision is one delivered to Christians. In the first house asteroid ANGEL at 3 Cancer rises and for a descriptively accurate event chart that’s appropriate. It is angels are first seen when the light appears in the room.
  • Indicative of a journey from hell to heaven with Jesus, the Jesus asteroid ISA at 6.58 Sagittarius is in tension axis with PARADISE at 6.02 Gemini in the hidden, otherworldly 12th house. HELL(a) then by favourable trine and sextile respectively aspects both PARADISE and ISA. HELL(a) at 8.02 Libra (sign of judgements) is itself in the fourth sector of the earth – the vision’s hell, a temporary one that awaits the Last Judgement, is said to be located deep within earth. This HELL(a) at 8 degrees is also suitably aspected to MALIN (devil) at 8 Leo.
  • The nearest eclipse shadowing events was a lunar eclipse on 15th April at 25 Libra, the degree of asteroid ISA (Jesus) in my birth data for Christ (see my Testament of the Magi) and variously important for themes of endings and apocalypse, a subject the vision treats, in The Pentecost chart for Christianity (see Christianity’s Destiny).
  • The alleged experience seriously is a Dantesque style journey of the soul and its choices. PSYCHE (soul) at 15 Aries fortunately trines religious Jupiter in its own sign, “religious” Sagittarius at 15 degrees with CHRISONSON (an asteroid I find works by “astrospeak” for Christendom) at its midpoint on 15 of shocking Aquarius deemed a world point. And in effect it is Christendom is shockingly addressed by Jesus in this vision.
  • JESUS/ISA is conjunct asteroid CHURCH on 7.26 Sagittarius. This 7 degrees is itself identical at Jesus birth with his PART OF WISDOM AND ALLEGIANCE which is what in effect he arrives to give and demand of his allegedly wrong minded Church at the time of the vision. Seven is the Bible’s sacred messianic number. Jesus on 7 degrees comes to meet a representative seven persons?
  • ORCUS (a name for hell) is closely conjunct a Mars at 14.58 Leo i.e. on almost one of the worldpoints, the most difficult of these, at 15 Leo. The group was called to share the vision of hell with the world. Astrologers are discovering ORCUS has a lot to do with situations of torture and it is certainly hell as a torture zone that the Seven see and witness to.
  • Opposition to Vanity is a theme of the vision and the Part of Vanity conjuncts this Mars. Mars itself like Jupiter is fortunately trine PSYCHE (soul) and the message to the world the church is said to have forgotten is there is a soul to save. Mars is on an opposition axis to CHRISONSOM, the mentioned Christendom asteroid and it is the Christian world that the vision’s Jesus seeks to correct.
  • Astrologers know there must be agreement of patterns. The intervention of specifically Jesus and now in judgement seems indicated by a destiny Midheaven at 19. 25 Pisces, conjunct Saturn at 19.21 Pisces. This exchanges fate and Saturn for the grace and mercy of the Jupiter which I maintain (see my Testament of the Magi) was at 19.23 Pisces at Jesus’ birth.
  • There are two asteroids that register for anything to do with God, the Greek THEOTES (Godhead) and the Sanskrit, BHAGWAT, (Lord). That this vision could actually be a God event is hinted at by the moon (timer and trigger of events) at 0 Virgo (natal sign of Jesus) on an axis with THEOTES at 0 Pisces. Meanwhile BHAGWAT at 19.59 just borders Jesus’s natal 20.02 Aquarius Midheaven, a religious power point.
  • The moon’s close square to Pluto belongs with the extremely painful elements of the initial experience while Pluto’s close aspect to Uranus bespeaks its highly unusual, exceptional nature. It is incidentally the case that this same Pluto at the time was crossing John Lennon’s natal LENNON asteroid. Pluto here is like blowing his cover, transforming his reputation, disclosing secrets about him.
  • The encounter with the beer addicted murdered alcoholic is suggested by asteroid BEER at 20.55 Virgo conjunct wounded CHIRON at 21.12 Virgo. 20 Virgo is the degree of Jesus’ natal sun so it may be relevant it is this backslidden, once believing Christian that most engages Jesus’ attention and pity (Lupe said she felt the blood come to his hand) in a hell scene he walks through mostly refusing interaction.
  • More cheerfully, when the group reach the Paradise I haven’t described, Jesus permits the seven to meet King David. I note that the chart whose sun is at 21 Aries, shows a Christ at 21 degrees and at powerful midpoint of these two DAVIDA(a) at 21 of Aquarius. And conjunct DAVIDA(a) at 20 Aquarius is SETTE (It. Seven). SETTE is an important asteroid which works. The mystic number seven as SETTE even turns up conjunct the conjunction with the names and titles of Christ at his birth. Here it’s seven people meet David at Christ’s behest.

CON

There is something uneven about the reports (as with many visions), but there is insufficient acknowledgement of that  by the Seven so one may suspect at least some embroidery of facts to round out the picture. One needs to recall even Dante’s words – and lesser visionaries have said the same – to the effect the vision fades, details get lost, one forgets and words don’t anyway suffice .

As one who sees in dream, remains aware
When the dream’s gone, of all it made him feel
While all he saw is lost beyond repair
Even such am I; my vision fades, until
It all but ceases… Paradiso. Canto 33:58-62 (tr. Bickertseth)

Admitting that he had glimpsed paradise, Dante doesn’t hide that he has also forgotten and filled in the details from other sources for purposes of the cantos. The Seven don’t admit to anything like this, but neither are we assured they did what God would tell the prophets to do, namely write down what they received (Hab 2:2). Failure to do this and quickly can lead to forgetting and then embroidery or contamination of the original message by personal or cultural factors – the Colombian delivery is very Latin American and, one senses a whole legacy of Catholicism and Inquisition imagery colouring it.

While I don’t think the Colombians have aimed to deceive, I believe they were people strongly under certain American influences from missionaries in Latin America whose ideas coloured or filled in gaps for whatever precisely they experienced and forgot. I suspect influence from especially religion writer Mary Baxter whose A Divine Revelation of Hell of 1993 wrote of her surely too many visits to or dreams of heaven and hell back in 1976 (St Paul and others never had so many!) Baxter’s bestselling works starting with the A Divine Revelation of Hell were translated into Spanish from 1993 onwards so that they could have been imbibed by the converts. (Baxter has subsequently had “divine revelations” on many subjects, each one a book and it looks like she could be another of the American Christians making a mint. I see various possible borrowings from Baxter there’s no need to detail here however….In fairness to Baxter, however, her Jesus does promise others will be granted similar revelations in coming years so that one could say the Colombians were her spiritual offspring.

  • Surely the clearest mark of the Seven’s borrowing (or unconscious assimilation) from Baxter is in the absurd suggestion that in heaven there are flasks that have collected the tears of the saints. Not only is this to literalize a metaphor borrowed from the Psalms and itself only employed because it refers to an historical oddity of Semitic cultures as regards tear bottles, but some of the deepest grief is numb and beyond any tears. Accordingly a lot of people stand not to have their record of earthly misery recalled and cured in heaven! But we do find this preposterous imagery there in Mary Baxter. It’s there like the Seven’s horned tunnel down to hell which I don’t find in other hell reports, though I suppose on that point we have to say there can be agreement of experiences, confirmation of eternal verities. But it’s suspicious because it’s hard to accept that Baxter is any reliable enough witness for anyone to be agreeing with!…..
  • Also Baxter’s entry to hell (perhaps more a vision than an OBE such as the Seven maintain) is not duplicated in, for example, an arresting, graphic account of hell by B.W. Melvin: A Land Unknown: Hell’s Dominion (2005) In this Jesus has the keys to hell and opens something in the misty door to his left. “As he inserted this key into the doorway that was arched like a gate, the mist parted, unrolling as a scroll, exposing a greenish-black narrow hole. In this hole appeared a tunnel that led neither down, up, sideways, this way, or that. It was just there: a vortex”. The spinning vortex then operates “like a roller coaster” gathering ever more speed as Melvin approaches his destination. Likewise Bill Wiese’s bestselling hell account has no horned entry or exit tunnel to his hell. It’s a Baxter speciality.
  • In a way it’s questionable that Baxter, the Seven or anyone at all should go to at any rate the heaven I have not poetized in the way described. In 2 Cor 12:3,4, St Paul speaks of once being in paradise where he heard things not to be told and that no mortal is permitted to repeat. This doesn’t make things sound as though access to the Christian heaven is too easy or details concerning it are readily available, they are mostly too ineffable! It’s true that Revelation which isn’t by St Paul describes heaven somewhat, but it’s unlikely someone like Baxter should know and see such minor and improbable details as tear bottles. An element of doubt attaches to many NDEs of paradise from any Christian standpoint. Might they be the biblical “lying visions”,(Jer 13:14, Zech 10:2), a false comfort?
  • .The best one can say is that if this is era’s end as the Jesus of the Seven maintains (it’s certainly the end of the Age of Pisces), then vision could be allowed to increase towards to its end. Visions are an expected feature of the last times
  • There is then the Seven’s understandably much criticized reference to hell pains for those who haven’t paid what American Christianity thrives on, namely tithes. This we are told Jesus supposedly demands as “his word”. In order to support the claim the Seven have to refer to a text in Malachi (Mal 3:9) rather than the gospels because obviously neither Jesus nor Paul made such explicit demand (though it is taken for granted of believers, that offerings will be made and that the rich must be rich towards God). As opposed to insisting on the need for offerings for the poor and for the church’s mission, if Jesus had said exactly as reported in the vision, he would be in self-contradiction and need to reinstitute the full Hebrew laws he is seen as fulfilling in their essentials by his life so as to pass beyond them. Whatever form of Protestantism the Colombians represent, (and some of their attitudes suggest residual Catholic beliefs and attitudes and the confusion of converts) it is a fact that American Pentecostalism has too often been a money greedy, tithes and more obsessed movement and I think the report is shadowed by that obsession.

If Jesus really did choose this group for a revelation he surely did so not least because they are so open to experience, so “there”, so totally unselfconscious in what they do and say whether in hell or heaven. But by the same token while they live the vision, they are extraverts unphilosophical with it. They leave too many questions unanswered, (they even fail to recognize the uniqueness that could recommend them and their difference from other visionaries (see below re Choo) feeling if they can cite a biblical text that’s even only partially relevant it will justify everything. This isn’t the case. Now and again they can sound rather unfair or just poorly informed in the way evangelicals with issues outside their scope or  biblical reference.

This unawareness is especially applies to their Lennon encounter. They make it seem he is being punished for his “bigger than Jesus” talk which he himself later repudiated and admitted was rather silly. I was never a fan of Lennon but he seems to have been a pleasant enough person though with a very dark and sometimes violent side. My poetry (and its notes) includes details from material more recent than the Colombian vision, which suggest why, if Jesus ever met Lennon, he might well ignore him. Moreover in his private life Lennon was plainly no saint and his song Imagine would become something of an atheist anthem. So, confronted with Jesus there would be problems, yet it’s not these very obvious issues the Colombians register.

The story of fornicating Bianca has to be problematic for non Latin moderns. It’s true there seems to be some subtext the woman is a natural liar and cheat who may well have spread AIDS besides, but her actual fornication extends to six lovers. In the era of sexual revolution much due to contraception, like it or not, that’s not so many by certain permissive standards. With payback like hers, just how are the seriously permissive going to be punished by comparison? An orgy or gang rape by foul snakes?! Interestingly I can least associate Bianca with the pattern. Bianca is in the 12th house of loss but is not related to asteroids suggesting either lovers or serpents. (She may represent the most embroidered part of the record and be there again with help from Mary Baxter). There is a slight justification for the imagery from Deut 32:22-24 where a fiery Sheol is source of animals biting and snakes attacking condemned persons, but it is uncertain how much the majority of Deut 32 is being referred to Sheol as hell as opposed to future conditions of life on earth. On the whole, modern hell visionaries like especially Bill Wiese tend to exaggerate how many references the OT has to hell as Jesus taught it.

These are the kind of issues the Colombians don’t address, they only report. For their readers it’s no answer re Bianca to imagine they have completely answered things by, for example, noting that St Paul declared fornicators (he probably had the orgies of Roman decadents in mind) won’t enter the kingdom of heaven. Without suggesting God and Bible approve fornication (occultly all fully consummated affairs could be expected to be recorded upon and have entered into the substance of the spirit body), at the same time it’s impossible a just God would not take time, place and background into some account in judgement of a life. Values and societies for better or worse do change taking people with them. Intention or motivation and situation count for something beyond the number of times whatever is involved has occurred. But then again, perhaps it’s less God’s judgement we are even looking at than the sort of torture fiends are supposedly able to impose. (The notion of torture from their hands is not expressly biblical but it’s not denied and it could be considered as certified by most reported visions/experiences of hell across the centuries).

Quite a lot of even those evangelicals who might be expected to welcome the Colombians’ alarming vision in fact don’t. They protest it doesn’t confirm a widespread  “once saved always saved” belief but seems to teach, almost Catholic/Latin style, a more “earned” salvation. That is perhaps the weakest of the purely religious objections because there is surely too much in the Bible to challenge it including the rather notorious, “work out your salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil 2:12), the fear being precisely that despite grace one might not make the grade but be thrown out like the salt that loses its savour (Matt 5:13), fall into the unbelief, hypocrisy or whatever that obtains final rejection (Heb 4: 6-8).

Where hell is concerned I am inclined to think like C.S. Lewis that if a thousand chances would be any use, a thousand chances would be given. Something of the kind is even suggested by stories one can find everywhere from books to You Tubes of people living wildly iniquitous lives and even suiciding and supposedly seeing hell and being delivered from it by Jesus. On that basis there has to be something behind the spiritual and psychological mindset of the damned that cannot be reached, though I do think, as per the section “Damned Unbelief and Damned in Time”, in my The Great Circle: Asia David and God Consciousness, there can be a complicating time factor in the judgement/salvation theme to which theology and philosophy have not paid sufficient attention.

The Colombian vision swerves between the genuinely ghastly and the distinctly controversial. I feel it’s regrettable this vision has always obtained the kind of instant, uncritical acceptance – or rejection – that it has done. The Colombians should have been asked, and perhaps asked themselves, more questions long ago. They are not theological; they are even “naïve” in a way that could be positive except that they seem to lack some discernment. In their lack of it and/or perhaps their insecurity about their relative uniqueness, one sees websites devoted to their claims cite a few other hell visionaries not in quite the same category as themselves. Chief of these I would count an author, Choo Thomas.

This Korean American woman has written a Pentecostal bestseller (over a million copies in many languages since 2003), Heaven is so Real, that no Pentecostal or indeed any Christian should ever have published if truth and justice concerned them and which probably only got through in the wake of the dubious phenomena of the Toronto Blessing which Choo’s odd physical reactions to her experiences duplicate. Ignoring that Choo falsely predicted the Rapture for 2007 and the Tribulation for 2009, she is between heretical, as with the nonsense about Christ’s blood made dirty by human sins, and cruel enough for a Korean gulag when observing her saintly often ill mother   screaming in agonies of hell for no other reason than that she had never heard of Jesus with whom Choo drifts straight off to further joys. This is nonsense or why did St Paul (1 Cor 15:9) refer to Corinthian believers who evidently claimed dead forebears for Christ? Or indeed why did the apostle mention those he seemed to think performed the Law in their hearts amid ignorance and who are justified by their thoughts (Rom 2:15)? Obviously being in the wrong time and place and ignorance alone do not damn, and no one should be teaching it. Visions like Choo’s lie if they teach otherwise.

Choo visits paradise at least seventeen times. By comparison we should hold it in their favour that the Colombians went once, and if they are for real and not just voices of another lying vision, they should be satisfied with the fact they did only go once, forget Choo and stand on their own feet. And though they may not have realized it, in fact their witness contradicts Choo’s not least in the peculiar matter of fish. Whereas one youth of the Seven plucks a fish out of a heavenly river and expects it to die but is told by Jesus it cannot die because nothing in heaven ever will – which is surely theologically correct! – Choo has Jesus going fishing with her and dead, caught fish being consumed in heaven. So really, for this and all sorts of things, the Seven should never have anything to do with  Choo, nor should anyone including for her nonsense about Jesus celebrating his birthday in heaven on Christmas Eve. Punish Choo by making her read my Testament of the Magi and understand for all time when Jesus was born! However, such is the madness of some branches of post Toronto Blessing Pentecostalism they would sooner listen to Choo’s fantasies and heresies than the evidence of the astrology that accompanied Christ’s birth and solves mysteries surrounding it that they should know but which they would call damnable.

FURTHER THOUGHTS AND READING

For those who might want it, these two Cantos will be included in a book I am issuing, New Poems and Two Celtic Dramas https://goo.gl/uz7m95 .

For those who might think I am merely obsessed with hell or have in comparison no distinct ideas and opinions about heaven, see my recently released Where From, Why Us, Where To?: Visiting Tahiti and Life Itself, an extended essay which has much to say about popular and religious notions of heaven and paradise.https://goo.gl/9Wpfiw

 
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Posted by on May 12, 2013 in aesthetics, astrology, Poetry, religion

 

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