Saturday, 12 August 2017

Reimagining CS Lewis's That Hideous Strength

I am currently halfway through listening to the excellent audiobook version of CS Lewis's That Hideous Strength ('THS'), read by Stephen Pacey (who played Del Tarrant in the excellent 1970s BBC Sci-Fi series Blake's 7).

From a perspective and through a lens derived from CS Lewis's best friend Owen Barfield; I can imagine a revised version of THS, in line with my understanding of our situation some seventy years on from the publication of THS in 1945...

One major difference would be that Lewis has his heroes (the St Anne's fellowship) essentially passive in their obedience to orders coming from the 'angelic' helpers. Nowadays, we would not receive these orders. We would have-to work things out for ourselves, as best we could. Or, more exactly, we would need to develop the spiritual perspective and abilities which would enable this working-out. We would need to develop what Barfield termed Final Participation.

Final Participation is something which can only come from the choice and will or each of us, as individuals. It cannot be conferred upon us - indeed the essence of it is that we are free and agent. Final Participation is precisely a personal, experiential effort-full thing. We need to look-within to seek god-in-us, to find our divine self - and to become aware of this.

Here and now - we aren't going to be able to wait or hope for leadership; probably we will be literally on-our-own: alone... at least in many practical respects. This because our current situation is not a recapitulation of monasticism or the like; the destruction, subversion and inversion of groups is at the heart of the evil of our modern condition.

A modern THS would perhaps be about the good characters, the heroes of St Anne's, individually and dispersed. About moral choices made alone and in the context of an overwhelmingly large and powerful Establishment of Evil that is not recent (like The NICE in THS), but has been in place and in control for at least two generations.

The angels ('eldils') would not be perceptible in the necessary state of consciousness of Final Participation; they would not visit, we could not see them - and neither would we hear them speak in words; not even words formed in our minds. Instead, angels would communicate directly by joining their thinking with ours.

However, we - in our thinking - would always be free and agent - in control. Hence we could block contact with the angels, if we chose. And we could not (merely) open our minds to them. Rather, we would actively be thinking is such a way that we could share in their thoughts, and they in ours.

How could help come? In defeating a vast and powerful evil Establishment, clearly help is essential. THS had the Original Participation magic of Merlin, and direct and miraculous aid from the eldils/ angels. What might we have, now?

Well, it would be imperceptible to direct observation. It would be behind the scenes - by synchronicity. Natural phenomena (rain, wind, sun, tides, earth movements...) would - 'coincidentlally' - favour Good and be hostile to evil.

Enemies would be repenting (as the situation clarifies) and changing sides, ceasing to do their evil duties, turning to sabotage the evil plans.

There would be events of exceeding improbability - actually miracles, but always explicable in terms of chance. Perfect-Storms of 'luck' - both good and ill 'luck' - good fortune for the Good and adverse chance for the evil. Cumulatively piling-on, and on.

(These being proximal consequences of distal and subtle angelic interventions; behind-the-scenes changes of arrangements; altering small upstream occurrences to generate large downstream effects...)

How about our own personal strength, motivation, will - and love? How could these be sustained when we are on-our-own? I assume there will be positive-feedback reinforcements of such things. As the situation develops, evil becomes clearer, becomes un-masked. Because evil is a trial of our strength and a mode of spiritual development; it may be like exercising in a gym - immediate effort being rewarded, some time after, by greater strength.

The key and core is motivation; the guiding principle is honesty; and the goal is love (towards which we are pointed by the discernment of the heart; which knows truth, beauty and virtue - and their opposites).

We must be self-sufficient in terms of motivations; but this is only possible through the gift of repentance from Christ. Trial and error will get us where we need to be; but only when error is acknowledged and repented.

The war is between those who acknowledge and experience the spiritual world, the immaterial world, the world of God; and those who don't. Between those who know we are all children of God and destined to become free; and those who believe themselves and everyone else to be evolved automata subject to rigid determinism alleviated only by randomness. Between those who take ultimate responsibility and look to god-within; and those who hope for external intervention for rescue.

The happy ending of a new THS would be very happy indeed! A world of free, agent, people affiliated in loving families and with close friends; a world therefore open-ended, of creativity. Not a utopia; but an active, developing, expanding, deeply-rewarding world of perpetual interest, challenges, increasing awareness and understanding - making, doing and thinking.

Saturday, 5 August 2017

CS Lewis in Newcastle and Durham - The Riddell Lectures (Abolition of Man) 23-26 Febrary 1943

Edited from Chronologically Lewis by Joel Heck
My editorial remarks are in [square brackets] - excisions marked by (...)

February 22 1943, Monday.

Jack and Warren take the 8:40 a.m. train, going to Didcot and then to Paddington, where they take the District Underground to King’s Cross. At King’s Cross they check into a hotel. Warren has a whiskey and soda. They arrange for tea and a morning wake-up call, and then they go to bed. The Socratic Club meets in the evening without Jack on the topic “Science and Faith” with speaker Frank Sherwood-Taylor.

February 23, Tuesday.

Presumably, the Inklings meet at the Eagle and Child at 11:30 a.m. in the morning, but without Jack and Warren. Warren and Jack awaken to tea and biscuits, then they go down for a breakfast of sausage and scrambled eggs in the hotel restaurant. They catch the Great Northern Railway train, with Warren settling down to read Joseph Conrad’s Rover and with Jack reading Mandeville. They leave the King’s Cross station at 10:00 a.m. They eat their lunch of hard-boiled eggs and sandwiches on the train, traveling through Huntingdon and crossing the Ouse River. They pass Selby. Warren and Jack travel through York and Darlington towards Durham. At 4:00 p.m. they cross the Tyne River [actually, usually called the River Tyne] and come into Newcastle. They check into their hotel, the Royal Station Hotel, a couple hundred yards from the train station, and then Jack sets off to meet his university hosts for tea. Warren has tea in the hotel lounge. Warren then unpacks and takes a stroll. He sees Newcastle Cathedral and museum, then the Castle, during this stroll. He stops at the Douglas for a beer.

Jack’s first Riddell Memorial lecture, “The Abolition of Man: or Reflections on Education” takes place at 5:30 p.m. in the King’s Hall, King’s College  [, the college being a large constituent division of the University of Durham - which was situated in Newcastle upon Tyne, about 20 miles north of Durham City where the Durham Division was located]. (...) An audience of around 500 is anticipated at each [lecture]. A speaker relay is organized to the Electrical Engineering Theatre and the Physics Lecture Theatre. There was quite a number of requests for tickets from individuals and local organizations (like the Newcastle Education Society). The host/chair is not recorded but it would likely have been the Rector [i.e. the senior academic administrator] of King’s College, Lord Eustace Percy [at this time, Eustace Percy was the Vice-Chancellor of the whole University of Durham, both Newcastle and Durham divisions].

Warren later takes Jack to the Douglas for a beer before dinner. After dinner, Jack and Warren find the only comfortable sitting room in the hotel - a writing room downstairs - where Warren reads Somerset Maugham’s Strictly Confidential, and then they go to bed early. Jack writes to T. S. Eliot about criticizing poetry as poetry, A Preface to Paradise Lost, Charles Williams getting them to meet, and agreeing about Virgil .

February 24 Wednesday.

After breakfast at the hotel, Warren and Jack catch the 9:20 train for Durham from Newcastle [actually, this 'Durham' here means Durham City - as distinguished from County Durham]. Warren and Jack arrive at Durham at 9:51 a.m. They leave the train, walk, and cross a high stone bridge [perhaps Prebends Bridge] over the Wear River [generally called the 'River Wear'] past the castle [also University College, Durham], cathedral, university and Bishop's Palace [actually, the Bishop's palace was in Bishop Auckland, not Durham City]. They walk the entire length of the walled city [actually, Durham isn't a walled city - it was defensively-enclosed in a loop of the river; but there are bailey walls around the motte of the Castle], spending some time on the banks, the wooded public footpaths on either side of the river. They climb the hill and pass through an arch into the Cathedral Close [actually called The College of the Cathedral - this contains the Dean's residence, which may have been mistaken for the Bishop's Palace], with a mixture of don’s houses and undergraduate hostels. The university is all around the cathedral. They enter the cathedral and spend some time there. They go down into the steep narrow-streeted little town to get lunch, which they do at a pleasant pub, The Castle, in its upstairs bar overlooking the river. They wish they had stayed in Durham instead of Newcastle. They discover the university bookshop, mostly with books of theology, but with a fair selection of general reading. Here Warren purchases a new Olaf Stapleton book, and he gets Jack to look into the Century Bible, which Warren is thinking of collecting. They return to the pub for a pint of beer. Then they visit the cathedral a second time, seeing the tomb in which the Venerable Bede is buried (died 735 A.D.), a fine rose window, and beautiful cloisters. They walk along the other side of the river and come to the train station until the 3:08 train arrives, which they take to Newcastle.

They arrive in Newcastle at 3:31 p.m. , and Jack goes off to his second lecture at 5:30 in King’s Hall . Warren reads, walks, has a pint of beer at the Douglas, and visits the train st ation. Jack’s lecture takes place after a 4:00 p.m. tea. Warren later meets Jack and his dinner guest W. L. Renwick, a professor of English at Newcastle.

February 25 Thursday.

After breakfast, they walk down to the bus terminus in Newcastle to ask about buses to Heddon [i.e. Heddon on the Wall, presumably hoping to see some of the remains of Hadrian's Wall], but it doesn’t work so they give up on the idea. They look at the castle again, then try to find Rogers, a bookseller and correspondent of Jack’s. This involves seeing a good deal of Newcastle, and they meet Helen Munro in the street, who lives in Newcastle. They chat with her. They see the gate of the University, a bas relief called The Call, 1914, Eldon Place [actually this should probably be Eldon Square], then stop at the Douglas for a beer and return to their hotel for lunch. Warren reads in the afternoon, Jack goes to give his lecture, Warren has tea, buys some cigarettes, and takes a long walk in the tower ['tower' may be a misprint for 'town']. Warren visits the station bookstall, where he purchases a novel by E.V.L. to read in the train tomorrow. After his third and final 5:30 lecture, Jack dines with the Rector, Lord E. Percy, tonight, so Warren dines alone. Warren also visits the bar at the Douglas. As soon as Warren gets to bed, Jack comes in, full of a plan to catch an early train to Oxford. They arrange for an early call to start the day tomorrow.

February 26 Friday.

Warren’s tea arrives at 6 a.m. and then again later at the usual time. Warren packs, dresses, and walks to the train station to see about book ing an earlier train that might get them to Oxford. He and Jack agree to take a noon train that should get them to Oxford at 9:40 p.m. They take a walk to find a pastry shop to supplement the sandwiches provided by the hotel. They then walk to the Newcastle Station to await their train. They go to the refreshment room at the train station for sandwiches and beer. The train leaves on time. At York they change trains for the first time and have sandwiches and tea in the refreshment room. They board an L.M.S. train. Warren finishes his book on the train, probably Somerset Maugham’s Strictly Confidential. They arrive at New Street in Birmingham and have to walk to Snow Hill because there are no taxis or buses. They get in line at the booking office, get their tickets, and find the 7:55 train to be on time. They arrive in Oxford at precisely 9:40 p.m. Although they wired for a taxi, there was none waiting for them. They walk with their suitcases from the station by way of George Street and the Broad. They come to Jack’s rooms at Magdalen College, where a supper has been laid out for them, including a bottle of beer. Warren spends the night in bed room number 11. F.

Friday, 4 August 2017

Owen Barfield on advanced spiritual warfare

Towards the end of his magnum opus Saving the Appearances (1957), Owen Barfield makes a vital, but chilling, point about the future of human imagination and how it was (and is, much more than in 1957) being poisoned and inverted by artists, writers, musicians and other creative contributors to the mass media (including especially the avant garde, high-brow, elite, academically-validated and critically-approved media).

[Edited from pages 145-6]

Imagination is not, as some poets thought, simply synonymous with good. It may be either good or evil. But so long as art remained primarily mimetic [i.e. 'realistic'], the evil which imagination could do was limited by nature.  

[But now that the artist has become self-conscious of his ability to create non-natural phenomena; he can create aberrations].

In so far as these aberrations are genuine, they are genuine because the artist has personally experienced the world he represents. In insofar as they are appreciated, they are appreciated by those who are themselves willing to make a move towards seeing the world that way - and ultimately, therefore, seeing that kind of world.

Barfield is saying that imaginings of evil will tend, more and more as they become more popular, to become realised in the actual world as we experience it.

In short, popular and powerful evil imaginings become social reality.

As modern Man comes to recognise that his imagination is an inextricable and necessary part of his perception of reality, and as he becomes more free to use his imagination; so there is a new possibility of corruption by imagination.

Barfield gives the example of the kind of surreal-hideous fantasy pioneered by Salvador Dali - but nowadays (and increasingly over the past fifty years) this kind of thing is the average content of majority, mainstream' officially-endorsed 'art' of all kinds. We live in a world in which 'subversive' is a term of artistic approbation.

In terms of the destined and desirable consciousness state of Final Participation (in which we become aware of the ways in which our minds, our thinking, participates in the making of the world as we experience it); it is therefore vital to become aware of the effects of our personal choices in the creation of perceived-reality - that is, the effects of our choices on the nature of the world, as we know it.

Since we cannot, in the end, resist Final Participation (it is our destiny), we have a stark choice as to whether it will be deployed for Good or evil.

Barfield hopes that our choices will be 'exercised with the profoundest sense of responsibility, and with the deepest thankfulness and piety towards the world as it was originally [unconsciously] given to us in original participation'.

In short, Final Participation will be positive and valuable only in a Christian context; even more shortly - it is our task and responsibility to return to the essential values and realities of childhood and early tribalism, but this time in a willed and conscious fashion.

This, I believe, relates to the hundreds of years of lack of success and retreat by traditionalism in the face of Leftism/ Liberalism/ Progressivism. Yes, we do need to return to the traditional values which were once natural spontaneous, unselfconscious; but no, this cannot be done by a restoration of the unconscious traditional situation; by instinct, by simply perceiving and accepting the traditional values in the world around us. That possibility is past (and was, anyway, pagan in its purest form).

Instead, we need to move forwards to an aware, thinking version of traditional values - which are not identical with, but which will retain the heart and soul and motivations of tradition; which, however, will not be identical-with traditional values, as if the traditions were a recipe for good living.

My understanding is that we cannot, and should not try to, recreate the past (not least because the fullest and most natural spontaneous past consciousness was pagan; hence only partially and distortedly true); but must move forwards into an unknown future that will, however, be in its essence deeply akin to the conditions and natural practices of early childhood or early tribal living; the difference being an inner, imaginative, free and agent, consciously-knowing and directly-experienced Christianity.

You may wish to order direct from your favourite secondhand booksellers from now onwards

I got this letter today from Richard Johnson - an excellent bookseller with expert knowledge who provides a personal service; who specialises in Inklings-related material, and whose prices are very fair. He is providing information on a new and punitive charge imposed by Amazon marketplace:

Dear book lovers,

Earlier this week Amazon decided to charge an extra 58p commission for every book sold by market-place sellers on their site. (Their CEO is now worth $90,000,000,000, so perhaps he needs the extra money!) 58p might not sound a lot, but for many small sellers it might make the difference between staying afloat or not. For example: Imagine I buy a book for £1, that I think I can sell at £5; a not uncommon scenario. I put it on Amazon at £4.99, and someone buys it; with the postage they pay £7.79. Amazon take their commission on the price of the book, and also commission on the postage; so up until last week I would have received £6.37. But they now take an extra 58p, so I now receive £5.79. I also have to pay a £30 monthly charge to Amazon for selling on their site; which might work out at another 40p per book. If the book is thicker than a large letter I then have to pay £2.90 second-class postage, plus c15p packaging. Ignoring running costs of storage, heating, etc, once I take off the £1 original cost, I might make £1.34 profit instead of £1.92, for a fairly significant amount of work; which is a 30% loss of income on that sale.

If the customer had ordered the book directly from me, I would probably charge them £7.50 including postage, so it would be cheaper for them, but using the costs above I would make £3.45 instead of £1.34; which might just keep me afloat!

The moral is: unless you want to add even more to Jeff Bezos' fortune, whenever possible please order books directly from small sellers (not just me, but all small sellers); I know it's a bit more hassle, but if you don't, in the end there won't be any of us left.

Thanks for reading this! Richard --

Richard Johnson
Kingsbury House
Main Road
LN13 0LD

mobile: 07754 384833

Thursday, 3 August 2017

Reincarnation and our ultimate divine destiny: two significant points where I disagree with Owen Barfield

Despite that I have been persuaded by almost all of Owen Barfield's philosophical and historical analysis; there are two important points where I believe he is mistaken. There are his view of reincarnation and his description of the ultimate destiny of each Man.

Barfield's view of reincarnation is that it is vital to the evolution - that is the developmental unfolding - of human consciousness. He sees the history of life in each person as a matter of living-through different eras of consciousness, with (to simplify) each human spirit reincarnated in each era - so that each of us can learn from the very different experiences of consciousness prevailing in the evolution of earth and society.  This process is building toward a ultimate state of divinity that will place each willing person onto a par with God.

Where this is all going is described in Barfield's 1944 collection of essays Romanticism Comes of Age in terms of a U-shaped curve. The human spirit began as spirit in a unity of blissful close communion with God - not incarnated and without a sense of self but conscious - indeed almost universally conscious, immersed-in-consciousness but not differentiated from it. Through the history of reincarnations the plan is for each spirit incrementally to go down the left side of the U; at each descent becoming more separate - until at the nadir of the U our self becomes utterly separate-from and autonomous-of God - with a distinct sense of 'self', but without consciousness of anything else.

At the extreme bottom of the U we are just detached selves, and regard other selves, indeed the whole of reality, as uncertain. We become alienated - even from our own thinking; which we come to feel is separate from our-selves.  In sum we are utterly free in thought - but confined within the bounds of our subjective selves, and unaware of any other reality.

Then Barfield describes a re-ascent up-the-other-side of the U; recapitulating the previously negotiated states of consciousness - but this time retaining our distinctive sense of self, hence our freedom. The ultimate, and fully divine, destiny of each Man is therefore intended to be a non-incarnated spirit life, again in blissful close communion with God, but this time having acquired our selves and our freedom. Thus we become as God: fully free, fully conscious.

My difference is that I regard reincarnation as possible but very unusual (for example the New Tetstament discusses the possibility of whether John the Baptist is some kind of reincarnation of an earlier Hebrew prophet; whether it is true it is certainly regarded as possible.) - but reincarnation is not a necessary nor an an intrinsic part of the process of divinisation.

And I regard ultimate human destiny as like God the Father, but not as an unincarnated spirit state, instead as an eternal resurrected life, with a body (like God the Father); and not in any kind of literal unity or communion - but instead in a harmony with God that is like an indestructible and total state of human love; but love of the same kind - yet elevated to the highest level - that we know from marriage, family and the very strongest friendships.

In other words, I accept the three stage Mormon description of human life as first pre-mortal spirit children of God; then life on earth as mortal incarnates; then death and resurrection to eternal embodied life - just as both Jesus Christ and God the Father are embodied. In essence, incarnation is seen as a higher state than spirit existence.

This is probably why reincarnation is so rare - and perhaps is not exactly re-incarnation in Barfield's sense when it happens - because embodiment is seen as a higher form of life, so there is a reluctance to reverse it once attained (and perhaps it cannot be wholly reversed - spirit life after death seems to be a very partial, and unhappy existence - probably without memory, self or freedom; which was why Christ's gift of resurrection was such Good News and so necessary).

I account for the differences between myself and Barfield, while nonetheless asserting that I am correct, by the assumption that Barfield (and his master Steiner) misinterpreted memories and visions of our pre-mortal spirit life as being life between-incarnations; and that they accepted the common mainstream Christian assumption that God the Father is a spirit and lacks a body.

My assumption is therefore that Barfield (and Steiner) had correct but partial intuitions, which they misinterpreted.


The Shire is not a utopia - but Rivendell is

I often get the idea, from the descriptions of the place, that modern readers often regard The Shire as Tolkien's perfect earthly society - his utopia; but that clearly is not the case: his utopia is Rivendell. 

Of course, the Shire and its hobbits has many good characteristics; but there is no doubt that Tolkien regarded the society as too limited.

As he said in his Letters; only exceptional hobbits are major characters in Lord of the Rings (even Sam, the most typical, is very unusual in his fascination with elves, and desire to read and learn 'culture'); by contrast, the average hobbits are depicted as narrowly materialist peasants (whose idea of bliss is eating, drinking and smoking); their main virtues are generosity and family loyalty but their main vice (a very serious one) is apparently spiteful envy.

This is made clear in the very first scene of Lord of the Rings:

And confirmed throughout.

Tolkien would have appreciated many aspects of Shire life - the countryside, a farming-based economy, the food and the pipeweed, the genealogy and maps... but Tolkien was a scholar and a writer: in The Shire he would have been as isolated and frustrated as those literary hobbits Bilbo and Frodo; who are always yearning for elves and dreaming of The Mountains.

For the likes of Tolkien, Bilbo and Frodo; Rivendell is the ideal place and society. He says so explicity, in very similar words; both in The Hobbit from Bilbo's point of view "Bilbo would gladly have stopped there for ever and ever", "[Elrond's] house was perfect...", then again in Lord of the Rings from Frodo's by re-quoting Bilbo's 'perfect house' paragraph.

Rivendell was beautiful, as safe as anywhere; full of noble and wise persons, ancient books, language, songs and stories...

Of course it was Tolkien's utopia!

Wednesday, 2 August 2017

How to be a visionary of Final Participation

Most recorded visionary experiences are expansions of perception – seeing or hearing things that other people cannot. For example William Blake saw angels and conversed with his deceased brother. Often these visions occur in altered states of consciousness – trances, lucid dreams, delirium or intoxication.

These are aspects of what Rudolf Steiner termed Atavistic Clairvoyance implying a throw-back or regression to an early type of consciousness more typical of childhood and tribal societies; and Owen Barfield classified as Original Participation. And in the scheme of evolution of human consciousness the aim is not to go back, but forward to a new state of consciousness that Steiner called the Spiritual Soul and Barfield termed Final Participation.

A visionary of Final Participation would not experience ‘visions’ in the sense of hallucination-like, quasi-sensory, perceptual experiences; but would instead experience imaginative thinking, or direct knowing. To put it simply: the visionary of Original Participation would experience things appearing in one or more of his senses; while the visionary of Final Participation would experience things appearing in his stream of thoughts.

It might be asked why this counts as an evolutionary development in consciousness? The answer would be that the imagination is a direct and unmediated form of knowing truth and reality; whereas perceptual experiences are prone to sensory distortions and require to be interpreted. Furthermore, the visionary experiences of Original Participation often occur in states of altered consciousness when attention, concentration, purposive thinking and memory may all be distorted or impaired; whereas in Final Participation the state of consciousness can be alert, clear and focused.

Finally, thinking is intrinsically capable of complete integration of any and all phenomena. Anything which can be thought about is included in the stream of thoughts, and can be subject to any or all of the analyses and manipulations of thinking.

This is straightforward enough; but of course very few people are aware of, or would endorse, the idea of thinking as a primary way of knowing truth and reality. And one reason for this is that typically thinking is much less powerful and compelling than perception. For example, people say things like ‘seeing is believing’ or ‘I’ll believe that when I see it’ – indicating that perceptual experience seems to overwhelm and impose itself in a way that thinking apparently does not. For instance, most people would be more likely to believe in the reality of ghosts or angels if they saw one than if they thought one (even though they are aware of the distortions and hallucinations to which perception is prone – and they would not necessarily believe in them even if they did see one).

Alternatively, people may only believe things for which they have what they regard as ‘evidence’ – and they will believe such things even when they think or perceive differently, and even when they cannot think it or have never had any confirmatory sensory experience; even when experience and common sense refute it.

In practice, ‘evidence’ is so vaguely defined as to be impossible to define or pin down – for some evidence comes from some trusted or authoritative source; but often enough people don’t know from where they got the ‘evidence’, and it could have been from sources which they do not trust or in fact disbelieve (such as the mass media, novels or fictional movies) but despite not knowing the provenance of their beliefs they nonetheless find themselves compelled to believe. Indeed, it is typical that a great deal of modern mainstream beliefs are false or have zero evidence, but are almost universally and indeed fanatically enforced on a global scale - for example the officially imposed assertions that people can change sex by means of drugs and surgery, or that political policies can control the earth’s climate.

Either way, it is clear that thinking is, in practice, low-rated as a human activity. People regard thinking as less important than action, or doing; less important than perceiving (feeling, seeing or hearing, especially); and less important than whatever is culturally-defined and propagandised. Consequently, people do not think very often, very diligently, very sustainedly about things; and they do not take much notice of the consequences of their own thinking.

It is perhaps regarded as little more than a waste of time, a joke or an excuse for idleness when someone claims to have been thinking. This applies even or especially, in academia; where to be caught thinking ‘in office hours’ would be even more shameful than to be caught reading a book! Thinking does not count as ‘work’.

It could therefore justly be said that – in the mainstream modern world - thinking is a low status activity.

Yet, for those who are – like me – convinced by the philosophical arguments of Owen Barfield (and of his acknowledged master Rudolf Steiner); thinking is the most important human activity and a necessity for the future evolutionary-development of our consciousness. Thinking ought to be our number one priority in life (number one, that is, within the prior, essential frame and context of Christianity).

What seems to be needed is that thinking, including imaginative thinking, become at least as powerful - indeed as overwhelming, as potentially motivating and life-changing - as actions, perceptions, and official/ media propaganda. We need both to know, and to feel, that thinking is real and true knowing.

Barfield therefore referred to the need for ‘strengthening’ thinking, and regarded Steiner as the most successful and advanced exponent of the necessary type of strengthened thinking. But how to do this? Steiner left behind various suggestions, instructions and exercises in how to strengthen thinking. For example to focus attention on some-thing, such as a plant, and try to experience its life as a dynamic historical and unfolding reality. However, my impression is that these exercises seem either not to work very well, perhaps only partially and very slowly; at any rate, extremely few people have apparently got anywhere near Steiner in terms of their ability to think in that visionary fashion which is destined for Final Participation.

So, something stronger and faster than Steiner’s exercises seem to be required. The weakness of Steiner’s exercises is, I think, a consequence of people lacking genuine, internal motivation to do them; which is itself a consequence of the subject matter being arbitrary. While Steiner himself, or Goethe before him, would be passionately interested in a plant, and in understanding a plant – this does not apply to most people. Genuinely motivated interest of the kind that will generate and sustain someone’s best efforts is something that cannot be manufactured to order; it is not arbitrary but is idiosyncratic. Indeed, such motivated interest may be unique and specific to each person; furthermore, many people do not even know what it is that most interests and motivates them in this way – since they have neither reflected nor developed their spontaneous, intrinsic nature (for example; they are instead dominated by the pressures of the social environment, expediency, the wish for immediate distractions and proximate pleasures, status, wealth; and things like envy, revenge, spite etc.).

Yet nothing else is likely to suffice in developing the intensity of thinking than that each person be pursuing his or her own deepest, most naturally arising fascination or perplexity.

So – we need to think in such a way as to strengthen and intensify the act of thinking – to increase its power to change us. But for this to happen we also need to take a step back – indeed the ultimate step back into the most fundamental of all considerations: metaphysics – our most basic assumptions concerning the ultimate nature of reality.

For thinking to be strengthened, our metaphysical framework needs to be one in which thinking (of the right kind) is real and true, and universally valid. If our metaphysical assumptions tell us that thinking is primary then our experience of thinking will be one of greater importance, seriousness and attention. It is the fact that the normal mainstream metaphysics of the modern West regards thinking as secondary, indeed trivial, that we find thinking so feebly impactful, so weakly effective in motivating us, as compared with other phenomena such as perceptions, actions and social conventions.

That thinking is indeed primary to human experience is the core argument of Rudolf Steiner’s early work culminating in the Philosophy of Freedom (1894); and Barfield’s Saving the Appearances (1957) – I refer readers to these books for a careful and compelling justification. However, in the end, metaphysics must be endorsed by our direct intuitions – which requires first that we acknowledge we indeed have primary metaphysical assumptions, then to make these explicit to ourselves. Only then can we evaluate whether or not we really endorse and believe our own assumptions – and if not, we may (indeed should) seek to replace them.

For thinking to take its proper place at the heart of Life; it must be of the greatest possible power, intensity and strength. Thinking should be experience – it should be experienced as much, in fact more-than ‘things that happen to us’. We need to know why and how that thinking which we make happen from our freedom and agency, from our real self (our soul) is not arbitrary nor wish-fulfilment, but on the contrary it is intrinsically and necessarily real, true and universal.

Thus prepared and equipped we can each commence work on the Life Task of intensification and strengthening of our own thinking! What does this entail? If you are already engaged in some spontaneously-arising creative endeavour then this may be straightforward – if you are a real scientist, artist or writer; then what you think about is already-decided – and the main difference is to take seriously, attend to, the actual process of thinking.

For me, a good example is what I have termed The Golden Thread. When I think back through my life, and what is important, there are relatively few things among the mass of dullness and duties – and these things seem to link-up to make a golden thread connecting childhood past with the present. It was taking this seriously, as a reality and truth rather than regarding it as some arbitrary fantasy; which helped me to become a Christian and of the mystical type. It also caused me to revise my subjective autobiography, to reshape my understanding of how my life had developed – including wrong turns, blind alleys, and descents into the pit.

Whatever it is that is your deepest motivation then forms the basis of strengthening your thinking. You will need to recognise (at a fundamental level) that you are dealing with something true, real - and in principle universally so, its truths and realities accessible to anyone competent; not merely a private delusion or day dream.

You may then learn from your experiences of thinking how best to intensify it. For instance you may learn that certain times of day are better for thinking; you may identify supportive attitudes, places or positions; helpful activities (such as reading, writing, doodling, walking, music…).

You will need to develop a habit of seriousness about thinking – so that you talk about thinking respectfully, lay stress on its primacy, refrain from casual denigration and invidious comparisons. It may be helpful to take notes, and to rehearse memories of thinking. A strategic devotion to thinking is the requisite.

You will find that creativity is nothing more or other than a consequence of primary thinking; it is a natural consequence of thinking from your unique and real self. While your true thoughts are in a universal realm, nobody thinks them quite like you do; and you will make discoveries in this realm (probably small discoveries, but personally valuable nonetheless).

You will quite spontaneously think about things beyond your past experience, beyond your senses, outside of this world and your times. This is the ‘visionary’ aspect; because the future visionary is a thinker, nor a see-er.

And with endeavour, and rapidly; your thinking will incrementally become strengthened; increased in power, motivating; rooting-you in the world and enhancing your awareness of everything true; curing the typical modern malaise of feeling cut-off, alienated because everything real and valid will come together and be related and integrated in your thoughts.

Tuesday, 1 August 2017

Coleridge's Polarity, as explicated by Barfield, re-explained as family love

In his masterful book What Coleridge Thought (1971), Owen Barfield identified Polarity - or Polar Logic - as ST Coleridge's core philosophical concept; and the key to understanding his completion of Romanticism.

I read this book twice, with deep attention, and was convinced by it; however, when I came to try and use the concept of polarity in my everyday life, with the aim of transforming my life for the better - I couldn't. Polarity was just too abstract.

This is probably unsurprising - after all a system of logic is not really the kind of thing which is fundamental; it is more of a tool than a basis for existence. The cognitive domain 'logic' is, indeed of interest to only a tiny minority of very specialised people who have had systematic training.

Furthermore, my experience has been that Christianity ought not to be based upon abstractions, but upon the core analogy of Loving Family Relationships - this is both the reality and the master metaphor (or symbolism) of the Christian religion.

Therefore I need to re-express, re-explain, Polarity in anthropomorphic terms - to make it a matter of human and divine relationships.

Polarity is a way of conceptualising necessary and inseparable opposites: the core physical example (cited by Coleridge) is of a force that coheres and a force that disperses; centripetal (centre-seeking) and centrifugal (centre-fleeing) - the varied combinations of such polar forces then accounts of the dynamic nature of the world, and life.

I then saw that Love - which is the heart of Christianity - is of precisely this nature; because love is a cohesion, a holding together, as with marriage and family relationships; and love is an open-ended creative force, as with children being born, developing, and forging new relationships.

Love is dynamic: it cannot be just cohesion or it will die, it cannot be just expansion or it will die - it must be the polarity of both, which is infinite in its capacity for self-renewal and strength.

Love comes from the dyadic relationship of man and woman, husband and wife, in cohesive relation for eternity and also open-endedly reproducing, having children who have children. The relationships cohere forever, but in a state of continual change and interaction forever.

Love depends on distinction: one person from another, man from woman, parent from child, each sibling from another, each friend unique; and Love also depends on the constancy of the fact of relationship. Many loving relationships changing by an organic, unfolding development. But each relationship sustained in its core nature - husband and wife, father and son, mother and son, brother and brother and so forth.

There are all, in Coleridge's or Barfield's abstract sense, polarities: the insight is true and it is deep. Yet when expressed in terms of relationships it is simple common sense and everyday observation... all we need to do is recognise the ideal for which our earthly family relationships are striving; and then we can know the actuality which will (if we choose it) be the reality in Heaven.

Monday, 31 July 2017

Owen Barfield in reverse

Owen Barfield typically explained himself by starting with evidence (for example the evidence for evolution of language, or for understanding human evolution as beginning with consciousness) and leading up to his conclusions.

However, I suspect it may be easier to understand Barfield if we begin with his conclusions, and then describe how these conclusions can be used to interpret the evidence.

This may be easier to understand; and it is also more correct - because evidence is always capable of multiple interpretations and therefore many people will get 'stuck' in the evidential stage of Barfield's arguments and never arrive at the point of understanding where the arguments were leading, or why.

For example, Barfield vastly documented the evidence for the evolution of meanings of words, and interpreted this as evidence of changing human consciousness. However, the fact is that there are other, especially cultural, ways of explaining the pattern of changes in meanings of words without invoking an evolution of human consciousness. (Indeed, Barfield's ideas are quite often misinterpreted as being  a type of 'pot-modern' cultural relativism.) The same applies to all other sources of evidence.

As so often, it is a matter of metaphysical assumptions. Normal mainstream modern people have (largely unconscious and unacknowledged) assumptions such as that bodies evolved before minds, and that minds evolved before consciousness; and that human consciousness is the same in all cultures and at all points in history. All evidence is interpreted in light of these assumptions - and therefore evidence cannot challenge these assumptions.

Therefore it may be helpful to start with the destination; to start with Barfield's assumptions. For example that There is a God, Christianity is true, God has a plan for the evolution of human consciousness, that this plan aims at making Men into Gods, and that the whole of creation is organised around this.

But the divine destiny entails Men becoming more and more free, as their selves become more distinct from the rest of creation - so that, individually or collectively, Men can and do refuse to go-along-with God's hopes and plans for our evolution.

Once this is understood, it may be easier to grasp what Barfield is saying.

Owen Barfield and Rudolf Steiner - the nature of the relationship

Owen Barfield regarded Rudolf Steiner as his master, as indeed one of the great thinkers of human history (of a stature comparable to Aristotle); and devoted much of his life to working for the Steiner's cause.

Nonetheless, in terms of Steiner's own writings for the public, Barfield's direct advocacy of Steiner was selective:

1. Christian Framework

Barfield shared Steiner's Christian Framework - although he wrote about it less often than did Steiner. Barfield regarded the birth, life, death and resurrection of Christ as the central and dividing event in cosmic history.

(Barfield, also shared Steiner's unorthodox - but Gospel-based - explanation of the dual God-Man nature of Jesus Christ as having been some kind of combination of two persons.)

2. Steiner's Philosophy.

My impression is that Barfield especially valued Steiner's philosophical works: that is his three early books - the first one sometimes translated as the Theory of Knowledge Implicit in Goethe's World Conception (1886) was one that Barfield sometimes described as Steiner's least read but most important book; the other two are Steiner's PhD thesis Truth and Knowledge (1892) and the Philosophy of Freedom/ Spiritual Activity (1896).

Steiner's ideas are usually described as setting-out an Epistemology (that is, a theory of knowing and valid knowledge) but I personally regard them as being more fundamental than that, and instead describing a metaphysics (that is setting-out the fundamental nature of reality).

For example; Steiner regarded the activity of Thinking as a the primary reality, and attempted to argue and prove this 'epistemologically' by evidence and reason and without discussion first assumptions. However, I would suggest that this is actually a metaphysical assumption, not an obvious conclusion - especially since this view about the primacy of Thinking seems to have been unique to Steiner at the time it was made.

(I should point-out that I personally accept this assumption of the primacy of thinking - which I regard as a major and essential breakthrough in human self-understanding; but I accept it on intuitive grounds, and not because of the 'evidence' for it.) 

3. What Barfield does not mention (much)

Beyond Steiner's basic philosophy; Barfield accepted and advocated Steiner's vision of world history as an evolution of consciousness - through different stages, starting with an un-free, disembodied state of total consciousness with no discrete 'self'; and incrementally moving through incarnation towards modern Man's state of alienated freedom, without consciousness of anything outside The Self.

Barfield's future destination of Final Participation corresponds to Steiner's Spiritual Soul - as being a state which combines freedom and consciousness for the first time. However, Steiner mapped-out a timetable for the evolution of consciousness, projected hundreds, even thousands, of years into the future; and Barfield did not seem to endorse this in his writings.

Nor did Barfield say much about the vast body of highly detailed and specific Spiritual Science (in agriculture, education, medicine, politics etc. etc.) which Steiner gave in the lectures of his last couple of decades. My impression is that Barfield was broadly in agreement with Steiner on these matters (eg in education Barfield supported Waldorf schools, and in politics the 'threefold' analysis ad recommendations); but Barfield could not confirm all of the many specifics of Steiner's output from his personal knowledge, and so said little about is.

The reason for this differential emphasis is probably that Barfield distinguished between those aspects of Steiner which he had personally validated and those aspects which he had not. Indeed, since Steiner was astonishingly productive of ideas and assertions (having given some hundreds of transcribed lectures per annum in his later years); so it would probably not be possible (even in principle, and even in so long as life as Barfield enjoyed) to check and validate everything that Steiner said.

On top of this; Steiner said at times (although he rather contradicted by his practice) that his intuitive and meditational methods of deriving Spiritual Science data were prone to error, and that therefore not everything he stated was expected to be correct; but that all should be testable by all properly-motivated people who were able to practice the Anthroposophical method, and who made the effort.

(Not many seem to have done this - Valentin Tomberg was an example of someone who, after Steiner's death, extended and re-worked Steiner's statements in a Platonic direction; and he was made to resign from the Anthroposophical Society as a result!)

In sum, I think that Barfield wholly endorsed Steiner's philosophy and his method ie. his Anthroposophy; however, while not explicitly rejecting it, he was somewhat partial in his endorsement of the many details of Steiner's findings ie. his Spiritual Science.

I would indeed put it more strongly: Steiner's basic analysis and the method of Anthroposophy is of vital importance to everybody; but the many thousands of stated findings of specific assertions of Spiritual Science are not essential, and indeed are mostly wrong.

In a nutshell: Barfield contains the necessary essence of Steiner. Most people will therefore want to approach Steiner via Barfield; turning to Steiner himself mainly for another perspective, and a different mode of explanation.

Note: I personally believe that the above is the best way for most people to approach the work of Rudolf Steiner; certainly it is what I do. Most of the vast body of purported fact that Steiner generated I ignore - furthermore I do not believe that human destiny unrolls according to a calendar projected millenia into the future. 

For this reason, for most people, it is probably best to approach Steiner via Barfield; since Barfield includes the best of Steiner and leaves-out the parts that are generally regarded (or at least I regard!) as unacceptable. 

Nonetheless, it is well worth reading the three early books of Steiner's at least - because these are potentially life-changing works of genius; and reading Steiner more widely but more selectively for the many insights scattered elsewhere. For example, my favourite thing of his is the 1918 lecture The work of the angel/ in Man's Astral Body. With Steiner - starting from the 1886 book on Goethe, by and large - the earlier the work, the better it is, and the later the more compromised.

Sunday, 30 July 2017

Owen Barfield's Final Participation defined simply and clearly

The state of consciousness of young children and tribal hunter gatherers is termed Original Participation, in Owen Barfield's nomenclature.

Original Participation entails perceiving the outside-world as intrinsically alive and conscious - including things that modern adults regard as 'dead' such as trees, rivers, hills, caves - and toys, books, buildings, cars... The world is seen and felt to be full of beings.

Actually, the child participates in creating this world - in recognising and evaluating the aliveness and consciousness; but the child is unaware of the fact and sees reality as out-side himself; himself as passively a component of that external reality.

The child understands himself simply to see, hear, touch smell and taste reality - he assumes that reality is out-there and that his senses merely give an objective picture of objective reality.

The child is immersed-in an animated world, hardly aware of himself; hence unfree. 

(In those cultures which followed hunter-gatherers, the older child or adolescent comes to recognise that his senses are not necessarily reliable, and that different people perceive the world differently. He knows himself as separate from that outside world; and because separate he knows himself as free: free but cut-off, alienated, no longer participating... For Barfield this situation of alienated freedom is seen as a developmental phase in the gradual, incremental evolutionary-unfolding of Man's consciousness towards Final Participation - in which he is both free and also participating.)  

To attain Final Participation is simply to return to exactly this child's basic understanding of the world as really full of alive and conscious beings - but this time in full awareness that we ourselves, by our thinking, are participating in the knowing of reality.

In Original Participation the child perceives (sees, hears, feels) the world to be really alive and conscious; in Final Participation we think and we know that the world really is alive and conscious; and that we have participated in making it so.

This Participation is indeed Final because it is the truth; it is the divine way of being.    

Tuesday, 25 July 2017

Chronologically Lewis by Joel Heck: a major new Jack and Warnie Lewis resource

Prof Joel Heck of Concordia University, Texas - our benefactor
I was extremely excited to discover what I regard as the single most imprtant new CS Lewis resource since the Collected Letters edition by Walter Hooper: a detailed, birth to death chronology of both Jack and Warnie Lewis by Joel Heck.

It is available free, in an 1146 page PDF file that can be accessed from Professor Heck's web pages:

I have already made several discoveries among the riches, for example an account of Jack and Warnie's visit to my almae matres Newcastle and Durham to give the Abolition of Man lectures in 1943; and I look forward enormously to the next weeks of exploring this thoroughly.

A big thank you is due to Joel Heck for doing this work, and for making it freely available.

Thursday, 20 July 2017

Trotter's feet, the moon and Tolkien's shamanistic creativity

Two rather shocking aspects of the composition Lord of the Rings, but which may throw light onto Tolkien's creative processes, include the business of the hobbit Trotter (from whom the man Strider was evolved) having wooden feet, and the matter of the moon.

First the feet:

The thing about Trotter's feet, and why he wore clogs or else had wooden feet, is an absurd, tiny matter which nonetheless threatened to subvert the seriousness and credibility of the narrative.

Why was Tolkien so obsessed with retaining the fact that Trotter made a trotting noise when he walked? Who cares?

Also, there is the recurring error of Tolkien describing people observing the New Moon rising in the evening (when in reality this happens at dawn, after the sun has risen - and therefore against a daylight sky, rendering the young-crescent new moon invisible):

What is more relevant than this error, is the obsessive way in which Tolkien 'niggled' at the story of the Lord of the Rings to ensure (almost) total consistency in the moon phases; failure to which was eventually (mainly) responsible for holding-up progress if the book for more than a year.

Why was Tolkien so obsessed with getting the obscure and almost undetectable matter of phases of the moon right, when he apparently was very hazy about major and obvious aspects of lunar astronomy - and did not correct them?

Rather than sputtering and pointing with incredulity; my interest is that here was a fact of Tolkien's creative process: a very important fact. Some things were very important to him - and he tried very hard to retain them; but others were regarded as changeable, flexible. There were things he revised-around; and there were other things he revised.

My understanding is related to how these ideas came to Tolkien - what I have termed his 'shamanistic' creativity; in other words, the idea that the primary story elements came to Tolkien in a dream-like state; and these he would always strive to retain.

The clearest example is described by Tom Shippey in The Road to Middle Earth:

Where Tolkien preserves the Black Rider sniffing, which seems relatively unimportant; despite the identity of the Back Rider changing from Gandalf to a Nazgul - which seems a far larger matter.

This is linked by Shippey to Tolkien's philological method of writing; which is why Tolkien always claimed (truly) that the language came first in composing his tales.

This neatly accounts for the Trotter affair, once Tolkien had the name and an idea of its derivation - he was pretty much compelled to try and ensure that Trotter had some reason from making a trotting sound - hence the idea of wooden contact-points with the road.

(And despite the obvious objection that it is ridiculous that a ranger, that is a tracker, would tolerate such noisy footwear/ feet - Trotter would surely have had wooden feet or clogs muffled with leather, as used to be done with horses shoes!)

As for the moon phases versus the rising new moon... my guess is that once Tolkien had found an objective inconsistency he simply could not leave it alone, and when unfixed continued to be tormented by it.

While the impossible observation of a rising new moon against a night sky was simply not recognised as a error, nor was it checked after being written; because the picture of such a moon 'came to him' in his 'shamanic', dreamlike (or actual dreaming) state - the vision of a rising crescent moon against a black sky (which is indeed beautiful and evocative) was therefore primary data (much like the sniffing rider in black).

And for Tolkien the primary data of his story should be preserved if at all possible; because this was exactly what made the story real rather than merely something made-up, manufactured, 'invented'.

Saturday, 24 June 2017

Half-way-through review of Robert Jordan's The Wheel of Time fantasy series

I am currently reading an extremely-long (14 volumes, each about 1000 pages) fantasy novel serial called the Wheel of Time, by Robert Jordan (the pen name of James Oliver Rigney Jr. - 1948-2007) the totality of which was published between 1990 and 2013, having been posthumously completed by Brandon Sanderson.

I say 'reading' but in fact I am listening on audiobook - the readers are the husband and wife team of Michael Kramer and Kate Reading - who are first-rate exemplars of this difficult craft.

I came to Wheel of Time via the wonderful novels of Brandon Sanderson, who completed the series; and a further link is that Sanderson's audiobooks are also done by Kramer and Reading.

Apparently Jordan's The Wheel of Time is very well known in the USA, where it was a 'best seller' - that is not the case in the UK; where these books are not stocked by shops or libraries.

It is a large commitment to begin such a long haul, and I rather doubt whether I would have done it if I had had to read rather than listen; but I am delighted by the experience so far. First thing every morning, and doing doing chores, and at other times - I listen to the books and am transported into a vast world populated by numerous characters.

What I like best about the Wheel of Time is that the invisible authorial presence, behind and permeating the text, is one of a wise and good man. That makes a big difference for me; because I find most authors to be ultimately untrustworthy - most good writers are, indeed, bad Men. 'Robert Jordan' was clearly a fine person.

The structure of the narrative is more like a serial than a single multi-volume novel or sequence of linked novels; when there is such extreme length, the overall story is backgrounded, and functions mostly as a thread to join-up the various scenes, and from which to develop character. The books are capable of depicting beauty and horror, moving me to tears, making me laugh, and sustaining my attention and interest. As a prose stylist Jordan is therefore good-enough - but not great or special.

(Something similar applies to JK Rowling, and to several other major fiction writers such as Charles Dickens. Not all great novelists are great writers - and most great writers are not great novelists.) 

Why is the book so very long? The main reason is that there is a large cast of characters - six main characters, but dozens of others from whose perspective we get to see things. The reason why the books are long is the detail - the scenes are described in more minute detail than I have come across elsewhere (except, significantly, in Brandon Sanderson - who I guess may have learned this from Jordan). Reading the scene therefore takes longer than the scene would take in real time - which is a 'Wagnerian' way of doing things.

(Wagner's operas, or at least the late ones, can be enjoyed only once it is understood that events on stage are happening in 'super-slow-mo'; the orchestra, not the voice, describing the smallest nuances of what the characters are thinking and feeling.)

The main strength of Wheel of Time is that it does extremely-well what Fantasy is supposed to do: it makes an inhabitable world in which the eternal and essential human things are dominant - a world of truth.

The importance of Fantasy is that the everyday modern world is one of lies and triviality; so people like myself almost need the Fantasy genre in order to 'exercise' the proper priorities and evaluations.

If you like the sound of what I have indicated, then I would recommend Jordan's Wheel of Time. Don't think of it as being 'like' some other author. WoT does what it does supremely well - and it is a delight to be able to enjoy it day after day, week after week, month after month... and still not have reached the halfway mark!

Friday, 16 June 2017

Owen Barfield's Metaphysics

Owen Barfield, much like Rudolf Steiner before him, regarded himself as doing a mixture of 'scientific/ empirical' and epistemological research - but to understand him I believe we need also to know (or infer) the fundamental, metaphysical assumptions which underpin and make sense of the rest.

By scientific/ empirical I mean especially Barfield's work on 'philology - the history of word meanings and their transformations; and what that history implies about the societies using the languages. And by epistemological I mean the philosophy of how we know, the basis or justification for understanding.

But underneath both of these are the metaphysical assumptions about the way that reality is 'set-up' - its structure, meaning, purpose etc; including what is our own personal stake in reality: e.g. Why we should care about this stuff! Why it is important to us individually and in what way?


So Barfield describes the evolution of consciousness - how it began with disembodied, spirits in Original Participation - a diffuse, interpenetrating consciousness in which we were mostly unaware of our-selves as distinct and free.

Then the middling state (which we are still inside) during which our selves became separate, agent, and free - but at the cost of losing the awareness of other selves and everything else - until we are selves cut-off fro reality, without participation...

And the future state of Final (final because fully-divine) Participation in which we are both aware of ourselves as autonomous, agent and free - and also participating in the creation and knowledge of all other reality, including other selves and beings.

But what is missing from the above is an explanation of Why all this happens; what is it all For? Who (or what) was it that set up this vast evolutionary scheme - and what is it all intended to achieve?

If we are indeed aiming at Original Participation - then what then? What is Original Participation needed for, in terms of the basic general set-up of reality?


I think the answers to all of these are implicit, and in some brief passages explicit, in Barfield's work - but these aspects are easy to miss in the books and essays; they are not given great prominence - nor are they set out plainly as the basis of further argument. Exactly this is what I hope to do.

In this task I have been greatly helped by the work of William Arkle, a little-known spiritual philosopher of the generation after Barfield, whose work I know about due to having lived in the same Somerset village as a child.

Arkle's great importance was in recognising the need to be absolutely clear about these ultimate, underpinning Why?, Who? and What for? kinds of question for the modern Man. Such things used to be able to be taken from granted - as I suspect they were, pretty much, by Owen Barfield; but no longer.

Arkle saw that this deep level of explanation is in fact the single most important thing to get clear and explicit - such that we can grasp and understand it intuitively and personally; and indeed so that we can decide whether or not this is something we which to live-by, cooperate-in and work-for.

If we are not clear about this, then we will always feel a deep sense of confusion about our destiny and how it fits with the ultimate scheme of things.

Naturally there will always be a sense of mystery about the human condition and Man's place in it; but lack of any reasonable clarity - even thought necessarily simplified - seems to be proving lethal to many people (who have apparently just-about 'given-up' on anything more than merely getting-through to death as comfortably, or at least painlessly, as possible).

Therefore, I think there is a story to be told about the underpinning assumptions of Owen Barfield's main work.


I will try to explain this in more detail elsewhere; but in a nutshell I believe Barfield assumed that God, creator of reality, had the goal of raising Men up to the same kind of fully-divine consciousness that He possesses.

The reason that God would have such a goal is something I have not found in Barfield; but Arkle's insight is that it was a deep longing of God for friends; that his human children should (eventually) grow up and mature to become the fullest and highest possible friends on the same level (rather as a Father's ultimate and ideal goal might be for his children to become adults who, voluntarily and with the highest possible assent, become his loving friends and co-helpers in the unending work of creative endeavour).

Creation was made with this as its major purpose; and the way that it was to be achieved was by a very extended scheme of evolutionary unfolding, akin to the growth and development of living things; but with the added complexity that each Man must consent to every step on the way.

In a nutshell, the world is a place for experiencing and learning - and including experiencing and learning to love (this view is more explicit in Steiner, but I think Barfield would have endorsed it). 

This process has several related but not identical aspects - the evolution of the earth and surrounding regions, evolution of human society, and evolution of each individual human self; all of which are extended across a very long timescale (probably many thousands of years).

Because this is a plan, some aspects of the future can be prophetically known - but because of the increasing autonomy and agency of individual human selves, the results are not precisely predictable, and there is potential for greater or lesser delays and departures from the plan.

Because God is creator, and we are his children; we have the possibility of a direct, inner, intuitive understanding of what-is-going-on: Which is how Rudolf Steiner and Owen Barfield were able to know about it. 

Something of this kind (in approximate outline) is, I think, helpful - and for some people, such as myself, essential - in getting the full picture of Barfield's work.

Monday, 29 May 2017

Big honour for me! - I'm on the Home Page of the web pages of the Owen Barfield Literary Estate

I'm feeling highly honoured that the new Home Page of the  Owen Barfield Literary Estate web pages includes my summary of the core of Barfield's 'message':

Owen Barfield (1898–1997)

Our destiny is to become both conscious and free

Barfield was writing for everybody and for all time — his core concern was nothing less than the divine destiny of each individual person and of all people collectively.

Barfield's immediate relevance is profound; it is to solve the core problem of modern times - which is 'alienation': i.e. the deep sense of meaninglessness, purposelessness, and isolation from people and things.

The understanding which makes this possible is that history, the present and the future can be understood as aiming at both consciousness and freedom (where consciousness means awareness of our thinking and ourselves, and freedom refers to free will, or human agency).

Barfield's scheme is that humans began as conscious-but-not-free; and we evolved — evolved in the sense of changing by unfolding according to a (divine) developmental plan — to become free but not conscious (which is where we are now, in modern times — unaware of meaning, purpose, relation) — and we ought to be aiming at the condition where we are both self-aware and fully-conscious. Engaged with (and participating in) reality as free agents.

Even more briefly, humanity began as conscious, became free; and is destined to become both — simultaneously.

Barfield proposes real, coherent, and clear answers to the most fundamental problems.

— Courtesy of Bruce Charlton

Thursday, 4 May 2017

The universal realm of the dream world in The Notion Club Papers - Tolkien's personal beliefs and experiences

Sleep experience, especially dreaming, lies near the heart of The Notion Club Papers (NCPs). One aspect of this is that there are multiple references to the idea that the dream world is a realm of experience which is universal - in other words, dreaming is a single, vast domain - with distinctive qualities, different from the waking state - that is potentially accessible by all people.

For example, through the course of the the NCPs, club members begin to dream of the same Numenorean material; and eventually Lowdham and Jeremy come to meet each other in dreams, and share a dream of a sea voyage in Anglo Saxon times.

Prior to this, Lowdham has learned of two languages in dreams, while Jeremy has had visions. Frankley receives in a dream the long poem about St Brendan (Imram) which also refers to Numenor.

The NCPs open with a description of how Ramer, by a course of practice and training - and with the assistance of Dolbear - becomes able to travel both in time and space in his dreams; visiting other planets, and seeing a from-above vision of the sped-up history of Oxford across many centuries.

In the discussions; club members refer to actual and possible encounters with hostile spirits during dreams - making the NCP dream world reminiscent of the Ancient Egyptian 'underworld' Duat/ Dwat where resided the gods, including malign 'demons' such as Set.

The 'plot' of the (incomplete) NCPs could, indeed, be said to be about how the club learns the shamanic practice of 'lucid dreaming' - that is conscious and purposive dreaming - as a way of contacting and learning-from a 'spirit world' which includes not just objectively-accurate historical data.

Such ideas are quite general in ancient and esoteric cultures; but are specifically similar to the 'Akashic Records' mentioned by various mystics, including Anthroposophy founder Rudolf Steiner. The Inkling Owen Barfield (Jack Lewis's best friend from Oxford days) was perhaps the leading Anthroposophist writer in England, and several other Lewis's close friends were also Anthroposophists: e.g. Cecil Harwood (who became Lewis's literary executor) and and Walter O Field (who was a companion on walking holidays).

The idea of a universal dream realm is also quite a common feature in fantasy fiction; I am currently reading Robert Jordan's vast The Wheel of Time epic (regarded by some as the greatest world-building fantasy since Tolkien) where the dream world of Tel'aran'rhiod has a vital and frequent role in the plot.

The importance of the dream realm is that it is also the mythic realm - and this links it (in broad terms) with Jung's Collective Unconscious. The NCPs assume that dream experiences are potentially real experiences - with waking-life consequences - as when the storm from The West which destroys Numenor breaks-through to wreak havoc on the modern day British Isles.

The idea is that knowledge may be obtained and communications may happen in dreams that are otherwise inaccessible to the waking state. The challenge for the Notion Club is to become conscious in dreams, to gain some control over the dreams while they are happening, especially so as to direct them - and also to remember and recount to the other club members what has happened.

I strongly doubt whether there was any direct influence of Anthroposophy on Tolkien (despite that one listed member of the Notion Club was the parodically-named Ranulf Stainer!) - but there is an unwitting convergence between the aims of the Notion Club members, and aims of Rudolf Steiner's spiritual exercises; which are supposed to have the side-effect of inducing 'lucid dreaming' with awareness of the dream state, increased recall and some degree of control of dreams.

At any rate - the broad idea of a universal dream world seems to have been one which at least fascinated Tolkien - but most likely was also an idea that he personally believed-in and had personally experienced.

Tuesday, 2 May 2017

Our destiny is to become both conscious and free - Owen Barfield in a nutshell...

Owen Barfield's nature and achievement is usually under-sold by a partial, and therefore misleading, summary; that states Barfield's goal was to prove by evidence that human consciousness had evolved; and that this evidence was provided mainly via 'philological' investigations into the changing meaning of words.

Of course Barfield did this - but he did so much more, and this achievement served a much bigger purpose than usually realised.

The problem is that the above description sounds like an essentially academic type of activity - and therefore of interest mainly to academics - presumably those concerned with the meanings of words.

But in fact; Barfield was writing for everybody and for all time - and his core concern was nothing less than the divine destiny of each individual person and of all people collectively.

Barfield's immediate relevance is profound; it is to solve the core problem of modern times - which is 'alienation': i.e. the deep sense of meaninglessness, purposelessness, and isolation from people and things.

The understanding which makes this possible is that history, the present and the future can be understood as aiming-at both consciousness and freedom (where consciousness means awareness of our thinking and our selves, and  freedom refers to free will, or human agency).

Barfield's scheme is that humans began as conscious-but-not-free; and we evolved - evolved in the sense of changing by unfolding according to a (divine) developmental plan - to become free but not conscious (which is where we are now, in modern times - unaware of meaning, purpose, relation) - and we ought-to-be aiming at the condition where we are both self-aware and fully-conscious - engaged with (and participating-in) reality as free agents.

Even more briefly, humanity began as conscious, became free; and is destined to become both - simultaneously.

So Barfield 'in a nutshell' is so much more than a scientist-philosopher of language and its change; he is a thinker about the most fundamental problems.

And Barfield is not merely an analyst of problems: he proposes real, coherent, and clear answers to these most fundamental problems.

Sunday, 30 April 2017

Owen Barfield's remarkable prophecies of 60 years ago

From Saving the Appearances by Owen Barfield, 1957.

Science, with the progressive disappearance of original participation, is losing its grip on any principle of unity pervading nature as a whole and the knowledge of nature. The hypothesis of chance has already crept from the theory of evolution into the theory of the physical foundation of the earth itself; but more serious perhaps than that is the rapidly increasing "fragmentation of science" . . . There is no "science of sciences"; no unity of knowledge. There is only an accelerating increase in that pigeon-holed knowledge by individuals of more and more about less and less, which, if persisted in indefinitely, can only lead mankind to a sort of "idiocy" . . . a state of affairs, in which fewer and fewer representations will be collective, and more and more will be private, with the result that there will in the end be no means of communication between one intelligence and another.

This has, indeed happened - with the added twist that people lack any explicit awareness of the fact; since they lack even the capacity to represent the problem to themselves. Furthermore, there has been a dual change: shrinking of interest into ever-more-micro specialisms combined with a narrowing of the criteria for evaluation. Not only do we lack a 'science of sciences' but we lack any overall evaluation by which we might judge whether science is progressing or regressing, making sense or degenerating into incoherence.

(see the chapter "Micro-specialization and the infinite perpetuation of error" in my book Not Even Trying: )

It may be objected that this is a very small matter, and that it will be a long time before the imagination of man substantially alters those appearances of nature with which his figuration supplies him. But then I am taking the long view. Even so, we need not be too confident. Even if the pace of change remained the same, one who is really sensitive to (for example) the difference between the medieval collective representations and our own will be aware that, without traveling any greater distance than we have come since the fourteenth century, we could very well move forward into a chaotically empty or fantastically hideous world. But the pace of change has not remained the same. It has accelerated and is accelerating. We should remember this, when appraising the aberrations of the formally representational arts. Of course, in so far as these are due to affectation, they are of no importance. But in so far as they are genuine, they are genuine because the artist has in some way or other experienced the world he represents. And in so far as they are appreciated, they are appreciated by those who are themselves willing to make a move towards seeing the world in that way, and, ultimately therefore, seeing that kind of world. We should remember this, when we see pictures of a dog with six legs emerging from a vegetable marrow or a woman with a motorbicycle substituted for her left breast. 

Barfield is here describing the capacity of imagination to make things worse rather than better - that a recognition of the power of imagination can be used to re-construct the world with dishonest purposes. As with the corruption of science, this works by changing both sides of the equation.

In the past sixty years; this has been the malign effect of the mass media. The mass media have grown and developed an addictive hold over The West; and thereby substantially gained control over the imagination - which it uses on one side to subvert and on the other to fill the mind with virtual realities; until the psychological effect is that the media have displaced reality as perceived by personal experience and reflection.  

A clear current example is in the realm of sex and sexuality. With respect to the sexes; on one side - the media (and its allies in professional academia) have incrementally reduced the understanding and distinction of male and female sexes into being regarded as nothing more than a mere social convention based on reactionary manipulations; and on the other hand claiming that surgical and pharmacological technology can change a man into a woman or vice versa. The resulting mixture of blatant falsehood and aggressive assertion (backed by state power) has (deliberately, strategically) thrust a profound confusion into societal discourse with an already massive and still growing destructive potential that affects both individuals and communities.

As for the domain of human sexuality; what would have been regarded (at the time Barfield was writing) as a chaotically empty and fantastically hideous world has come to pass. Many features of our contemporary world - a world actively endorsed and increasingly enforced by modern ruling elites - was depicted by Barfield in his 1984 novella Night Operation.

The appearances will be ‘saved’ only if, as men approach nearer and nearer to conscious figuration and realize that it is something which may be affected by their choices, the final participation which is thus being thrust upon them is exercised with the profoundest sense of responsibility, with the deepest thankfulness and piety towards the world as it was originally given to them in original participation, and with a full understanding of the momentous process of history, as it brings about the emergence of the one from the other.

Barfield was a Christian; who understood the incarnation, death and resurrection of Christ as an event of cosmic significance - the inflexion point of human (and divine) history. He saw history as centred upon the divine destiny of enabling the increasingly divine nature of each person and of humankind in general - of both Men and Man.

And the centre of this divine destiny is the evolution of consciousness towards the god-like state of Final Participation - that is full consciousness of everything; which is a necessary prerequisite for becoming full Sons and Daughters of God.

Yet our divine destiny of Final Participation has been ignored, then rejected, by nearly all individuals and all the Western societies; and this is the cause of Barfield's prophecies negative coming true - indeed leading to a spiritual situation even worse than he articulated.

On the other hand; it is not too late. As individuals we may - by our irresistible free agency - choose to return to the path of destiny; and if enough individuals do this - then so will society at large. 

Friday, 28 April 2017

How important were The Inklings to The Inklings?

Were The Inklings merely a club of Jack Lewis's friends, or were they a self-conscious and ambitious group with a cultural agenda? The answer is that there is evidence on both sides...

I have just listened to an audio recording Owen Barfield being interviewed in 1987, in which (from about 11 minutes) Barfield describes the Inklings on the lines of it being mostly a convivial conversation club - and down-playing any great significance or ambition for the group.

Among the other regular Inklings; this was also the view of 'Humphrey' Havard (a point he made in an audiotaped interview at the launch of Humphrey Carpenter's Inklings book of 1978). It was also the view of Hugo Dyson - who actively disliked the readings. Overall, I think that Warnie Lewis probably also mainly valued the social aspect. Although it was indeed Inklings stimulus and critique that made Warnie into a published historian of 17th Century France - his books were not concerned with any cultural agenda.

As for Charles Williams, it is much harder to say. Warnie Lewis's evidence suggests that he was the most regular attender (aside from the Lewis brothers) between 1939 and his death in 1945; which given the sheer busyness of Williams's life suggests that the group served an important function for him. Furthermore Diana Pavlac Glyer has documented several ways in which Williams's writings were directly affected by Inklings influence.

On the other hand, Williams tended t deny the significance of The Inklings meeting when writing to his wife or talking with his friends and colleagues associated with the Oxford University Press. The question is whether CW was being honest about this - my impression is that he was not; and was 'playing-down' the influence and importance of the Inklings meetings in particular, just as he played-down the importance of his time at Oxford in general.  

However, I think it is clear that for Tolkien and Lewis the Inklings meetings were part of a broader cultural effort - a highly ambitious attempt to change the direction of Western civilisation. That this was an aim of Tolkien goes right back to his schooldays, and has been documented by John Garth in Tolkien and the Great War; and it seems to have been sustained (in various modes) throughout most of his life.

And Lewis also had a cultural agenda, as seems obvious from his output for at least 25 years from the early 1930s (and The Pilgrim's Regress) until the Narnia Chronicles - and most obviously in those wartime and Inkling's influenced books That Hideous Strength and The Abolition of Man.

So a full answer to the question of the importance of The Inklings to its members would be very different for each of the members. The group was, overall, more important for the writers among the group than to non-writers (such as Havard and Dyson); and among the writers it was most important to the two most historically-important members: JRR Tolkien and CS Lewis.

After the Inklings evening meetings stopped in the late 1940s, and Lewis and Tolkien drifted apart through the 1950s - especially when Tolkien finished The Lord of the Rings; and Lewis wrote the Narnia books (which created a rift), took a job in Cambridge, and married - their interests and the nature of their output changed and their cultural ambitions faded 

For those who regard Tolkien and Lewis as authors of major cultural significance, therefore, The Inklings must also be regarded a group of major cultural significance - even though the group was probably merely an enjoyable 'talking shop' for many or most of its other members.

Tuesday, 4 April 2017

What is Myth? Answers from Tolkien, CS Lewis, Charles Williams and Owen Barfield

Edited by me from Romantic Religion: a study of Owen Barfield, CS Lewis, Charles Williams and JRR Tolkien. by RJ Reilly (1971) - republished version of 2006 from Lindisfarne Books, Great Barrington, MA, USA; pages 214-5. My editorial interjections are in [square brackets].

Barfield sees both myth and language itself as existing in the form of unconscious meaning before the existence of any individual thinker. Both myth and language point-back towards the pre-human time when all that existed was spirit, un-individuated meaning; the original phase of the cosmic evolution.

These myths (the Paradisal myths, for example) therefore suggest truth in a quite literal sense: they allude to the original 'way things were'.

[That is, myths allude to Original Participation.]

Both Lewis and Tolkien, by contrast, speak of the possibility of all myths being 'true' in some other existence than our own. Williams, too, feeling the call of myth, goes so far as to adapt the Arthurian Myth as a kind of objective correlative for his religious views.

But, quite plainly, Barfield has explained the origin and force of myth in a way that the others have not. They have used myth in various ways and with varying degrees of effectiveness, but they have not really said why. Or rather, Lewis, Tolkien and Williams have have used myth, or they have made-up new myths, as a means of avoiding conceptual argument, or as a means of speaking symbolically rather than rationally.  

There is nothing wrong with what Lewis, Tolkien and Williams do in using myths, so far as it works. But to the extent that it can be reduced to a set of rational propositions, it must strike the reader as making myth into something closer to allegory than to true myth.
True myth - in Barfield's terms, and in reality - is nearly impenetrable; because there are no 'ideas' in myth for the reader to penetrate to.

For Barfield, myth is the closest thing in Man's mental life to pure pre-logical thought; meaning which the rational intellect has not yet ordered. Myth is more of an experience than a 'thought' at all.

Barfield argues that the function of the imagination in the future will be to discover 'clear and distinct ideas', but it may discover these in the forms of William Blakean 'beings' rather than as concepts - these beings being explicable in something analogous to the way that the beings of the old allegories like Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress are explicable.

[Examples of such 'beings' would, presumably, include Steiner's demonic influences Lucifer and Ahriman - which Barfield also describes in detail in Unancestral Voice.]

NOTE: The above passages strike me as a highly insightful analysis of a topic of vital importance.

In particular, I am impressed by Reilly's point that neither Tolkien nor Lewis (in particular) really justify the importance and specific value of myth in their writings; but Barfield does - assuming that one can accept, at some level, Barfield's point that, in some literal sense, myths refer to the nature of our experience during a previous state of spiritual reality.

For Barfield (and Steiner), this previous state would be modern people's earlier incarnations at an earlier point in the history of earth; for Mormon Christians and some others, myth could refer to our pre-mortal, pre-incarnated life as spirits.

Monday, 20 March 2017

The importance of music in Life - the example of Owen Barfield

In understanding a person from the past, or even someone still alive - we tend to study heir works, their ideas, their personal experiences - we may look at their intellectual biography in terms of their reading, education, and groups in which they participated... But an aspect that is almost inevitably neglected, when it is an important factor, is music.

The importance of music can also be studied in terms of what kind of music a person most liked, perhaps their experiences of concerts and their own musical activities - singing, playing an instrument, choirs and orchestras...

But none of this gets close to understanding what music meant to that person.

This came to my mind recently in relation to Owen Barfield - because classical music was extremely important in his life. 

For example, OB told his biographer Simon Blaxland de-Lange that music was even more important for him than language - which is remarkable given that Barfield's reputation mostly rests on his studies and interpretations of language.

In a biographical note, Marjorie Lamp Mead wrote that: "throughout his life, Barfield’s love of music was a strong force.  For as much as he desired to be a poet, Barfield viewed music as the essential element in his life – even in preference to poetry."

Barfield's main modern editor, Jane Hipolito, wrote to me that Barfield had a deep love for, and considerable knowledge about, classical music - including most of the great composers and all of the major genres. She also said that when listening to music with Barfield she noticed that he paid total attention to the music with exclusion of all other activities - with an intensity that she has only seen matched by a few professional musicians. 

But the solid facts that Barfield experienced music with intensity, and that he himself regarded music as having primary importance in Life - are matters that we find it hard to make use of in understanding the man. 

Or, at least we find it impossible to use such information in any systematic biographical way - it is evidence, but evidence that we can weave-into our usual biographical accounts. We somehow cannot use musical appreciation as 'evidence' - and indeed even the word 'appreciation' trivialises what was actually a vital experience.

And this is an indicator of the limits of how we understand other lives by using biographical 'fact's. I am not saying that understanding of another person is impossible - in fact I am sure it is possible; but that this understanding does not and cannot emerge-from an assemblage of facts-about-them.