Saturday, May 25, 2013


It must be said (for subscribers to the Sintesi) that the Inkling project manifests a decidedly “Dionysian” accent: that is, it is the spiritual striving of those who do not possess the Truth innately, but are able to aspire, yearn, and perhaps awaken to that Truth through art and particularly the vegetative mystery rites which survive in the Dionysian mysteries.
The other characteristic of solarity is that of a light that arises and fades, that it has death and resurrection and a new death and a new dawn and, in other words, a law of becoming and self-transformation. This is Dionysian solarity as opposed to the Apollonian principle. It is a virility that aspires to the light through a passion that cannot free itself from the sensual and telluric element and even from the ecstatic-orgiastic element typical of the lowest forms of the Demeterian cycle. The association, in myth and symbol, of feminine and lunar figures to Dionysius is, in this regard, rather significant. Dionysius does not accomplish the transition, the change of nature. It is a still earth-bound virility in spite of is luminous and ecstatic nature. The fact that the Dionysian and bacchanal mysteries were associated with the demeterean mystery, instead of with the purely Apollonian mystery, clearly indicates to us the final point of the Dionysian experience: it is a “dying and becoming” in the sign not of the infinite which is above form and the finite, but of that infinite that is fulfilled and delights of itself in the destruction of form and the finite, harking back therefore to the forms of telluric-demeterean promiscuity…

JI Packer, a Protestant theologian, remarks somewhere that the Celt manifests a deeper apprehension of spiritual realities than their Anglo-Saxon counterparts, which is bourne out in the history of Puritan theology (think John Owens). Indeed, Evola cites the Celt as specifically prone to the matriarchal side of spirituality, and therefore, the Dionysian path may represent the closest collective approach such a spirituality can make to Tradition. So,when we praise the Inklings, please keep in mind that their approach is in some ways indirect – Williams, Barfield, Lewis, and MacDonald were all to some degree Celts. Everyone but Tolkien, who of course had a Catholic or more Roman approach to spiritual matters. 

Mouravieff comments on racial differences in Gnosis: the Russian (for instance) often has two magnetic poles in his personality, which stymie each other. Since Dionysian striving represents a common situation for the aspiring-noble, modern man of the 19th and 20th century, Mouravieff attempts to explain Tradition as if speaking to Dionysius; that is, he tries to strengthen the longing, and to properly diagnose the poles within the seeker, so as to enable magnetization.

This is precisely what the Inklings, and more specifically MacDonald, are doing in their fiction.
Here is MacDonald on self-knowledge, or introspection:

“Afterwards I learned, that the best way to manage some kinds of painful thoughts, is to dare them to do their worst; to let them lie and gnaw at your heart till they are tired, and you find you still have a residue of life they cannot kill.”
 “Joy cannot unfold the deepest truth, although deepest truth must be deepest joy.I wished to be…no longer a man beside myself.”
 “….I was almost glad that I had sinned…”
“The hot fever of life had gone by, and I breathed the clear mountain-air of the land of Death. I had never dreamed of such blessedness. […] I lay thus for a time, and lived as it were an
 unradiating existence; my soul a motionless lake, that received
 all things and gave nothing back; satisfied in still contemplation,
 and spiritual consciousness. (Phantastes 314)
 Thus I, who set out to find my Ideal, came back rejoicing mat I had lost my Shadow. If my passions were dead, the souls of the passions, those essential
 mysteries of the spirit which had embodied themselves in the
 passions, and had given to them all their glory and wonderment,
 yet lived, yet glowed, with a pure undying fire. They rose above
 their vanishing earthly garments, and disclosed themselves angels

of light. But oh, how beautiful beyond the old form! (Phantastes
 “Alas, how easily things go wrong! A sigh too much, or a kiss too long, And there follows a mist and a weeping rain. And life is never the same again. (235)”

 Owen Barfield points out that MacDonald is allusive, but not elusive – he puts his finger on the truth and does not merely have an “inkling” but speaks whereof he knows:
Is there not in this poem a certainty, a grounded knowledge? It is not content to stop in imagination and hint and suggestion. One feels that its meaning, its openly expressed meaning, reaches right down into the solid earth and right up into the empyrean. It is the resurrection of the body—in terms of the body.
Just because MacDonald focuses upon the Phantastes or feelings does not entail a neglect of will and thought:
Anodos is oblivious of any evil menacing his House of Alma, the “fairy palace.” However, this palace contains twelve halls of dancers/statues representing shades of feeling. (These twelve satellite halls reappear as the mood chambers of the wise woman in The Lost Princess.) Presumably it is because MacDonald is describing only the areas of life which are [42] the concern of Phantastes that his fairy palace is solely a palace of the feelings. Anodos, however, does experience “wilful” aspects of feeling when he pursues the marble lady out of the palace, and “intellectual” aspects of feeling in the library of the palace
In one of MacDonald’s letters to his wife, the melding of Christianity with vegetative rites becomes somewhat plainer, breaking out into the clear daylight of his prose:  
Some of the dark closes & entries look most infernal, and in the dim light you could see something swarming, children or grown people perhaps, almost falling away from the outlined definiteness of the human, . . . Dearest, you must come here with me, you would be so interested. It is like no other place . . . You know Edinburgh is built very much up and down hill; and so in some places narrow closes, some so narrow that your little arms could touch both sides, run [22] from top to bottom of the hill through these great, tall houses. Glancing down one of these I was arrested. It was Very narrow and went down, as if to Erebus, and suggested bad and dangerous places, down into the unseen and unknown depths. But across the upper part was barred the liquid hues of the sunset, against which stood the far off hill with some church, tower or something of the sort in relief against the infinite clearness. . . . Dearest, I hope you will not be frightened tonight. God, the Sky God—the Green Earth God be with you, our own God, as David says.
(Letter from MacDonald to his wife, 1855, in Sadler 87-88)
MacDonald seems to be wrestling with reconciling the mystery religions with Christianity (female with male).

Indeed, Anodos himself confesses this to be his own project during his sojourn through Faerie Land:
“Perhaps, like a geologist, I was about to turn up to the light some of the buried strata of the human world, with its fossil remains charred by passion and petrified by tears…
I won’t unveil every detail of the plot and structure of Phantastes, although in brief it is the story of a man’s quest for the “White Lady” & his renunciation of her in favor of a “better man”, partly due to the fact that the protagonist continually tries to “touch” or “hold” her prematurely, thus destroying the magic that is re-creating them both. Sir Anodos, in this story, is unable to distinguish between legitimate and auspicious impulses which lead to salvation, and those which lead to damnation (eg., the summoning of his shadow in the chapel of darkness wtih the ogress). It is a fugue or dream state: Sir Anodos acts on blind impulses, which are automatic – some are good, others are bad, although, the ending reveals that even the bad is the “shape which the Good was forced to assume” at that time and place to bring greatest help.

MacDonald’s world corresponds to a post-mortem state – the main character has “died” and is journeying through the intermediate worlds, looking for his polar being, and for heaven.
I do not think that the Inklings’ work is for every reader; some will be put off by the “childlike” qualities of Narnia, Middle Earth, or Faerie Land. However, I am maintaining (for all that) that what we have here is not ordinary children’s fantasy, but complex and spiritually subtle allegories which are meant to “land upon the precise and needed point” in order to generate spiritual change. That this change would occur in the Dionysian individual is another, less obvious point, which would explain why their work was largely rejected as the century wore on. Men increasingly dominated the landscape with a sub-Dionysian spiritual state. 

What the Inklings are really doing is charting a course through “Fairie Land” (either in this life, or the next) which is valid for a certain kind of spirituality. As such, those individuals can and should read them to great advantage.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

George MacDonald - II

Poets of the Reunion

Here is Chesterton:
The originality of George MacDonald has also a historical significance, which perhaps can best be estimated by comparing him with his great countryman Carlyle. It is a measure of the very real power and even popularity of Puritanism in Scotland that Carlyle never lost the Puritan mood even when he lost the whole of the Puritan theology. If an escape from the bias of environment be the test of originality, Carlyle never completely escaped, and George MacDonald did. He evolved out of his own mystical meditations a complete alternative theology leading to a completely contrary mood. And in those mystical meditations he learned secrets far beyond the mere extension of Puritan indignation to ethics and politics. For in the real genius of Carlyle there was a touch of the bully, and wherever there is an element of bullying there is an element of platitude, of reiteration and repeated orders. Carlyle could never have said anything so subtle and simple as MacDonald’s saying that God is easy to please and hard to satisfy. Carlyle was too obviously occupied with insisting that God was hard to satisfy; just as some optimists are doubtless too much occupied with insisting that He is easy to please. In other words, MacDonald had made for himself a sort of spiritual environment, a space and transparency of mystical light, which was quite exceptional in his national and denominational environment. He said things that were like the Cavalier mystics, like the Catholic saints, sometimes perhaps like the Platonists or the Swedenborgians, but not in the least like the Calvinists, even as Calvinism remained in a man like Carlyle. And when he comes to be more carefully studied as a mystic, as I think he will be when people discover the possibility of collecting jewels scattered in a rather irregular setting, it will be found, I fancy, that he stands for a rather important turning-point in the history of Christendom, as representing the particular Christian nation of the Scots. As Protestants speak of the morning stars of the Reformation, we may be allowed to note such names here and there as morning stars of the Reunion.

Now what interests us here is not the “alternative” dimensions of MacDonald’s theology which in any case were “alternative” relative to Calvinism, but rather the extent to which he rediscovered the Tradition on his own. Take his Phantastes, for instance, the volume which yelled at Lewis in the bookstall, until he purchased it and had his imagination baptized.

Phantastes has a decidedly “romantic” theme, in that a man is baptized Anodos by a bequest from his dead father and his fey grandmother, and sent into Faerie Land in quest of “he knows not what”. This takes a turn toward the “eternal feminine”, as various female figures either protect or assault him in his progress on the way, in which he meets a knight with rust-colored armor, who warns him against the a particular lady. Indeed, MacDonald seems to have entirely spiritualized the erotic in this fantasy; we would not follow the modern turn in seeing this as merely an underhanded sublimation, but would rather point towards (say) Mouravieff’s doctrine of “polar beings”.

Among other remarks, MacDonald has his character wonder aloud if “all men have souls”. At one point in the story, Anodos goes to the “Church of Darkness” where the ogress is reading the Scripture, explaining how darkness is not merely coeval, but dominant, over Light. It is there that he finds his shadow, which attaches itself to him, and renders him incapable of rightly discerning Faerie Land.
“So, then, as darkness had no beginning, neither will it ever have an end. So, then, it is eternal. The negation of aught else, is its affirmation. Where the light cannot come, there abideth darkness. The light doth but hollow a mine out of the infinite extension of darkness. And ever upon the steps of light treadeth the darkness; yea, springeth in fountains and wells amidst it, from the secret channels of its mighty sea. Truly, man is but a passing flame, moving unquietly amid the surrounding rest of night; without which he yet could not be, and whereof he is in part compounded.”
Here is one critic who attempts to point out in what way Phantastes falls short (not merely artistically but poetically) of Dante’s masterpiece. Of this “falling short” there is of course no question.

Again, what interests us is how MacDonald was able to work out some of these moral or spiritual truths about the Self on his own. We know that he read Novalis, for instance, and some of the Church Fathers, such as Saint Gregory of Nyssa. In Phantastes, he mentions Cornelius Agrippa and Albertus Magnus in a short story within the story about magic, in which (interestingly enough) he suggests that Love is always more powerful than magic, and that all magic of the operative sort meant by the word nowadays implies a sort of danger or risk to the practitioner.

What does he propose for us? MacDonald attempted to make the Good both real and beautiful, which is to say, alluring. However, rather than paint in the lurid colors of esoteric magic, he spoke in the fairy tale. It is in the medium of poetry and fable and “mythopoeia” that such deep truths can be safely and innocently communicated, particularly to modern man, who is “lost” to direct routes back to God. And this is what makes the Inkling project memorable: that MacDonald began the effort to rebaptize one faculty of man (Imagination) in an attempt to hallow what has so often been a source of evil and seduction, and thereby cause man to “forget his forgetting” and to remember the primordial Beauty from which he sprung.

More excerpts from MacDonald’s work, and a closer investigation into the mechanics of his project, as well as closer correlation with Tradition, are to follow, but we may take the following as the germ of his philosophy:
““All that man sees has to do with man. Worldscannot be without an intermundane relationship. The community of the centreof all creation suggests an interradiating connection and dependence of theparts”.