Monday, June 19, 2017

Reforming the Reformation with Transcendental Calvinism


TRANSCENDENTAL CALVINISM

“As for Christianity in its less popular forms, it presents an aspect of the tragic doctrine of salvation, which to some extent preserves an echo of the ancient truth: the idea–pushed to extremes by Luther and Calvin—that man on earth stands at the crossroads between Salvation and eternal damnation. This point of view, if lived intensely and coherently, could create the conditions for liberation at the moment of death or in post-mortem states.”
Note 2, page 96, The Hermetic Tradition, Julius Evola



       
     What, if anything, remains of the meaning of Calvinism and Reformation theology, in the modern arena and world, after all these years? Gutted, as it were, by its own practitioners, whether hard-shell Baptists or so called emergent theologians, it has submitted basely to the wisdom, practice, and interpretation of the very world into which it had entered as a sharp and stunning rebuke. I have come across a few faithful Reformed men over the years, who sprang from the old stock, and can honestly say that had they ruled in the dark days of decision, things may have gone differently with the post-Puritanical West. Alas, modern Calvinism appears drawn to the secular world as a moth to the flame, and everywhere it has dominated, it has left behind a spiritual vacuum rapidly filled with atheism or liberalism, if not revolution.I wrote an older article about this, but it's been awhile. 
      Let us explore what may be done with the Reformation, even at this last gasp, the flickering flame of the dying West, before it succumbs to delusions of perfect earthlyutopia embodied in the Progressive Movement (Revolution). The Reformation began, not out of issues (which provided a mere pretext, and were ongoing) but a movement of the northern Germanic peoples. It was Luther's trip to Rome in 1511 which guaranteed that the Teutonic races would vomit up Catholicism and the Baroque.
The city, which he had greeted as holy, was a sink of iniquity; its very priests were openly infidel, and scoffed at the services they performed; the papal courtiers were men of the most shameless lives; he was accustomed to repeat the Italian proverb, “If there is a hell, Rome is built over it.” (T. M. Lindsay, Luther and the German Reformation (Edinburgh: T. and T. Clark, 1900), p. 44, cited on http://martinluther.ccws.org/footnotes/index.html#11 6-16-2017
Convinced (as we are) that Luther had some fundamental misunderstandings about Catholic doctrine, it is still true to say that the Roman Catholic Latin Church had doubled down on its particular and exclusive heritage, neglecting to preserve a strong stream of spiritual influence capable of drawing in the lately converted Northern spheres of influence (the Prussians were heathens as late as the 13th century), not to mention becoming increasingly juridical and “exoteric” in its doctrines and practices, as witnessed by indulgences and the cult of relics. If someone in 1500 had been told that in thirty years, all of Europe would be in flames in a religious civil war, even the most sanguine might have had pause or the most melancholic laughed out loud.
       The story of Europe's nightmare descent is incredibly complex, and we refer the reader to such works as Charles Williams' The Descent of the Dove, for example, in defending the “sins” of the Catholic Church: “Some sins do bear their privilege on earth” (Philip the bastard, in Shakespeare's King John). Or perhaps The Stripping of the Altars, by Eamon Duffy, or anything written concerning the iconoclasm in the Low Countries, or Peter Brown's work on the cult of the saints, in order to gain a rational perspective on indulgences, popular Catholicism, and relics. Whether or not the popes killed the medieval world order, it was certainly in a lot of trouble when Luther came along, and there are no shortage of villains to blame: Francis Bacon, Duns Scotus or William of Ockham, Jean Buridan and Rene Descartes, Rousseau...the list could go on and on. Owen Barfield (and by extension Rudolf Steiner) in fact argue that the Reformation and the modern scientific revolution is a necessary step in the necessary de-sacralizing of the world, which (surprisingly), is destined for re-sacralization at the hands of a conscious spiritual elite (see the works of Boris Mouravieff, in Gnosis).
      This movement to despiritualize the universe and collapse it into a fideistic “Reformation” with an “Islamic” character of civilization was occuring as part of a broad upswelling of humanity's soul in Europe, even outside the Northern European perimeter, and involved general laws of a deep complexity and scope which can be observed (see Oswald Spenger or Toynbee) in other world-civilizations, such as the Magian civilization in Arabia or the ancient Chinese civilization also. To seek to blame one particular man or sect is futile and counter-productive. What we want to do is understand what was at work behind the field of force in history, and discern what to do next.
Although this will be quick and skimming, it is hoped the reader can follow up any rabbit trails deemed important to him or herself. To sum up, Jean Calvin placed all the responsibility and glory upon God alone (thus denying the theomorphic nature and mediatorial aspect of primordial man), while Luther's emphasis on faith tended to obscure the necessity for individual struggle and effort (also on the human side). It was not so much what they taught, as what they did not, and where the tendencies of what they did get right, would lead, at that historical moment. Together, however legitimate in spiritual truth, these two tendencies added up to placing man in a highly negative and disadvantageous position versus the new secular tendencies emerging, which tended to isolate and physicalize man to such a degree that the only kind of God conceivable was a rationalistic watch-maker operating as a first cause, a kind of absentee Deist Omnipotence who left Creation without Love, magic, or any active Providence. If God is restlessly ordering in some kind of abstract and almost dementia-like manner, every fact in the universe, then if everything is important, nothing is, because hierarchy is absent. If hierarchy and mediation (human, divine, or otherwise) is absent, then rationalism quickly fills the vacuum: a world of magic and dark gods is far more likely to be converted than a clockwork world which operates like a machine – men who sacrificed to Odin could believe in Baldur re-born, but men who conceive of the world as empty space and dead matter find no meaning in the Cross. A world with no magic and no centers of conscious in higher tutelary powers (see the epistle of Galatians) is not a world in which the Incarnate Logos can make any sense, except in some kind of diminishing private sense with no public relevance or spiritual power. Look around you to see how that went.
      The medieval world struggled (for instance) with witchcraft, and how to make sense out of it, because it believed in the subtle, non-physical universe. When you look at a flat medieval picture, you are (in a real sense) not looking at a child's drawing, but a spiritual portrait of how they actually experienced (and could not help but experience) the world around them. Those Books of Hours, the Book of Kells, the ancient manuscripts – all testify that medieval man felt at least, and sometimes actually saw, numinous power peering through the world at them. They felt it because they were more perceptive than we are, and had more of their higher emotional centers and even intellectual centers intact, no matter how undeveloped their lower intellectual centers may have been.
Luther himself used to pick up the crumbs of the Eucharist off the floor, because it was Christ's body. Even Jean Calvin touches upon theomorphism in his opening to the Institutes (would that he had remembered it!):
Our wisdom, in so far as it ought to be deemed true and solid Wisdom, consists almost entirely of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves. But as these are connected together by many ties, it is not easy to determine which of the two precedes and gives birth to the other.
     Calvin went on to all-too-easily solve this dilemma in favor of a very voluntaristic image of God Almighty, who did not move the stars and hearts through Omnipotent Love, but through sheer restless and arbitrary power. However, his instinct was correct: man is the microcosm of the universe. The universe itself, is man writ large. And if Christianity is even remotely true, the destiny of both are tied together through the first born of them all: Christ Jesus the Pantocrator.
He who is the image of the invisible God,
Firstborn before all creation,
because in Him all things were created —
things in heaven and things on earth,
things visible and invisible,
whether thrones or dominions,
whether principalities or powers —
they have all been created through Him and for Him
      We are living through the re-creation of the Cosmos, in Christ, and it matters how we think, what we think, and why we think. As Owen Barfield noted in his many writings, it makes a difference what images the poet and the artist or thinker conjures before his mind, and what thoughts we allow to root inside our head, since man is not merely the measure of all things in Christ, but has the power to share in re-making a new world after the image of the Logos, discerned in Love, through the power of the Holy Spirit, in this final Age.
      The Reformation, then, is what we make of it (provided we keep an eye on “the iron clad laws of history”). Will we allow a too-strict concern with rules and traditions of men to determine how we interpret Luther and Calvin, damning us to go down the road of secularization and finally nihilism, or will we (like bees) take the pollen from what they have to offer and make a honey to cure the wounds which idolators have caused in the world? John Milton once said “the Reformation must be Reformed”. How might one go about doing this?
      In the first place, there are a great many wonderful Reformational legacies, too numerous to name in detail: the practicing Protestant who is devout can no doubt name many of these. Just as important are the spiritual-theological threads we find among the Reformational faithful, for example in Hermann Dooyeweerd. He is by no means the only one (we could cite several “mystical” Protestant authors by specific passage, including William Law and Jacob Boehme), but interests us as a specifically theological interpreter of the “possibilities”.
      Dooyeweerd touches upon the very topic which interests us: that our imagination is a gateway to the stirrings of the Holy Spirit, and provide clues about our future spiritual destiny, which is rooted in a primordial Being and will return with what we harvested in the prime material plane of our own histories.
Dooyeweerd’s understanding of perception is one of his most astounding ways of overcoming dualism. He rejects the empirical and phenomenological assumptions of a dualism between an independent observing subject and an independent object. Our experience is not of independent things, but of “individuality structures” that depend on man for their full realization and individuality. And the process of perception is a subject-object relation that occurs within the modal aspects of temporal reality, in a nondual act of perception....Dooyeweerd’s ideas on imagination emphasize the importance of seeing and intuitively imaging God, self and cosmos in a different way. In Dooyeweerd’s words, when our heart is opened to the transcendent reality, we see things as they really are. The transcendent light of eternity then shines through, illuminating even the trivial in our lives. Our theory itself becomes an act of worship, where we ascend from sphere to sphere, until we are left in apophatic wonder. But along the way, we help to redeem the sparks of God within his creation. For if temporal reality fell because of humanity, it is only through redeemed humanity that the world will be redeemed. Our imagination is an act that proceeds from out of our supratemporal selfhood. It is expressed within time, both within the temporal functions of our body or mantle of functions, and in the world outside of our body. We are simultaneously supratemporal and temporal beings. There is therefore a need to relate our supratemporal selfhood to our temporal functions. This relation between inner and outer is given by our intuition, both (pre-theoretical and theoretical). Imagination is an inner, intentional act, in which we form images. Our imagination is more than just fantasy, disconnected to reality. Rather , in imagination, we seek the “figure” within temporal reality. This is an anticipation of what reality may become, but which is presently only a potential reality. In finding the figure within reality, and in realizing it, we form history and fulfill the reality of temporal structures.” https://jgfriesen.files.wordpress.com/2016/12/imagination.pdf Accessed 6-15-2017
      If I am reading Van Friesen on Dooyeweerd correctly, our intuition, specifically our imagination, is a potential higher link to higher emotional centers, which whisper to us of what the world-to-come is, and invite our participation. To use Charles William's language, it speaks to us of how we may be privileged to begin to “co-inhere” in the Co-Inherence web that already exists, established through the Love of the Absolute, expressed in the Incarnation of the Second Person of the Trinity.
So that this is the very project which the Inklings (Lewis, Barfield, Williams, Tolkien) had engaged in: making a sub-creation out of the material world, which would be “baptized” and help to lead modern man back to the unutterable and quiet and homely mysteries of “the deeper Law”. It is the “pearl” of great price, spun inside the oyster shell of our short time here.
      Instead of seeing ourselves at odds with Rome and Constantinople, faithful Protestants should joyfully insist on hanging on to what they have gathered in their “fall” from grace, and re-uniting it with the fullness of the glory of God. This, after all, is exactly the boat we are all in since the fall from grace in Adam & Eve anyway.
      I propose a new term for an old movement in the Faith: Transcendental Calvinism.
      To return to the quote that introduced the essay, we will note that Calvinism, rightly understood, clears the ground for a re-valuation of man's being in light of God's free choice and high calling, which is to summon knights and their ladies from the dead bones and stones of the world, in free grace, surely, but also in all possible help and aid, prevenient or ex opere operato or otherwise, to create and restore a Free Will in man that was once there, in the Beginning. Calvinism, if embraced existentially, rather than aesthetically or ontologically, will burn down the weeds in the garden of the heart, and make things ready for the rain. Calvinism is a kind of short hand, which is true as a short hand, and therefore, quite readily, as an existential stance and response to its own temporary nihilism, which holds the believer in a kind of terrible but blessed tension and readiness, awaiting the legitimate return of the Lord, whether in the physical death and post-mortem state of the believer, or in this life, if spiritual sight should return in time. We believe that this is faithful to the intent, if not the letter, of the best of what Jean Calvin wrote. Thus we can define useful and true Calvinism as a kind of deliberately temporary Christian existentialism, designed to let the user function in a desacralized world for a period of time, provided that they are consciously seeking to phase out a fully literal Calvinism by (this is important) fleshing out what is inherently true in Calvinism at a literal level. 
      Dooyeweerd also advocates (in his theological writings, in which he developed Kuyper's idea of sphere sovereignty) a kind of spiritual “multiplicity in unity”. This is consistent with a perichoretic understanding of what the inner meaning of the Trinity's Love is. Although Dooyeweerd applied this to different “spheres” of law (eg., family, church, local community), we can put our point in his language and terms: God's grace and free sovereignty does not destroy man's sphere, but rather perfects it (Dooyeweerd would not, in fairness, acquiesce entirely to this, as he would regard the analogy as misplaced and medieval, but whether he recognizes it or not, it is the same analogy). Even the Westminster Confession confesses that God as first cause establishes, rather than destroying, the secondary cause of man's free will (this, of course, is the same medieval “Grace perfects Nature” analogy which Dooyeweerd rejects or thinks he rejects in a different context, but Dooyeweerd can be forgiven for believing that post WWII Holland would continue to have the sphere-sovereignty of its Christian bones, rather than succumbing to the Enlightenment's monadism of One Secular World). God's sphere of influence at the higher level is mediated through to us in a web of co-inherences, which (frankly) it is possible only to delineate in general outline or possibility, as they are actually experienced, or known theologically through the repository of the Church's doctrine and speculative “imaginings”. This web begins and ends in Christ Jesus, of whom not all the books in the cosmos (as Saint John put it), could hold all that could (and will) be written.
      God and man are polar beings, of a special sort. God is the “Self Beyond the Self” (contra Eastern mysticism). The sovereignty of a God who moves (as Dante said) the stars with Love does not destroy the free will of man's heart, who is eternally allured and tempted into following the calling to join freely with Love in re-creating the fallen Universe. Since man in his fallen state is immeasurably distant from that Love (in a sense), and yet still united with it, he finds himself existentially riven. This Anfechtung is precisely what Luther described psychologically in his legitimate experience of saving faith, and what Calvin is at pains to defend in the concept of “God alone is Great” (as Islamic as this may sound).
       It goes without saying that we can naturally and rightly embrace Luther and Calvin's great gifts to the Church, while throwing far away from us their tendencies and other opinions, such as the denial of the sacredness of the world, the reality of sacred and high magic, their political views (which tend towards Republicanism or democracy), their individualism and stubbornness, or heresies which crop into their polemics. There is still much to be learned from the magisterial Reformers, for we have fallen a long way down since then. God's high transcendent power and will, acting towards the Church in the gift of saving faith, alongside that of the magical and liturgical reality of the natural world, and a host of other ancient teachings from the Middle Ages besides, are all very real and (therefore) necessary to our time and place. What has been revealed, found to be true, bears good fruit, and is beautiful, is so for a reason.
      What does it matter if certain spiritual practices appear irreconciliable within a modern mindset? If they are True, then that is enough, and a way must be found to bring them together in a fruitful spirituality which can overcome the modern spirit of the Times. No one has to learn everything, except charity, which covers everything. Indeed, nothing less than all the gifts of the holy Church will aid us in the fight (eternal it would seem) against the wiles of the Enemy, who is adept (as Luther would say) at pressing upon every side, particularly that one which is most advantageous to our loss. God is free and all the glory is His, but man must make use of what he can, with the mind of Christ, to stretch out that one hand or take that first step. For some, this will involve a very different path than for others, but the center holds: it always holds, and we will find ourselves together again, if we each slay the enemy in front of us, our false self, which holds us back from a world that is yearning to go with us to our immortal and deathless God for redemption.
      Transcendental Calvinism would be temporary – and being so, it would live forever, for it would be one very important chapter in the re-unification of the suffering Church, and that final point, upon the holy mountain, where all those who are capable of standing in these dark days, would stand together, a motley crew, to be sure, by human reckoning, but in God's wisdom, just the band of brothers to overcome the world. A transcendental Calvinist confesses that, just as God's choice is free, so is His choice of means, be they icons, saints, prayers to the dead, high magic, philosophy, meditation, or whatever skillful means (upaya) leads to good fruit (judge a tree by its fruit, ya'll). The very insistence on God's sovereignty, election, and grace would guarantee a clean conscience and clear the air for the employment of what means lie at hand for the reconquest of Paradise. It is precisely in the recognition that Non Nobis, Domine (not unto us) be the glory, that man would gain a clean and unseared conscience to reclaim all the ancient techniques of re-imagining and re-creating the world, which would be judged solely upon their fruit, rather than upon the Protestant Reformers somewhat skewed and polemical “takes” on practices from the Middle Ages which they could not possibly appreciate or understand at the time that they delivered their doxa (opinions).
      This would help lead to a re-unified Church and to gnosis (knowledge), rather than dogmatics. And Gnosis is the only thing that will save the Church which our grandchildren will inherit, in an impoverished but still very dominant secular world which reduces everything to dead matter, empty space, and the rule of ones and zeros through the power of Money. All around us, the ancient practices and teachings of the Church are asphyixiated in the modern air. Faith (pistis) only makes sense in a sacramental universe, and the universe, precisely because man is sacramental, increasingly resembles a gigantic hologram dominated purely by physical causes and effects. Secular thinking creates a more secular world, in the sense of a legitimate illusion (maya), which must be overcome. And nothing but God and His deathless Love can uphold it against the forces which the modern world has unleashed. But with this, we can begin to re-imagine the World, as God first thought it, and even (perhaps) with a little bit of ourselves in the corner of the painting.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

The Mind and the World Co-Arise

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"Your life a construction, one day you will see, through the illusion, and into the dream." - Damh the Bard, The Cauldron Born

     It is a trite common place in PostMo society that "we create our own reality". You can see it in phrases like "re-inventing yourself" or "attracting wealth". Very complex, nuanced ideas from thinkers like Immanuel Kant filter down into pop culture and end up being used by charlatans and politicians to make themselves more popular and/or richer, or more successful with the opposite sex. Entire university study programs are dominated by a moral and cultural relativism which insists vehemently that people are simply too magical and complex to be pigeon-holed with stereotypes or laws or rules of any kind (unless you happen to be a white Christian male, in which case, you are cast in the role of villain-oppressor-enforcer; having this done to you gives you an evolutionary advantage, in that your instincts for self preservation are enlisted and directed toward thinking more critically about the new system of thought).
     Luckily, we don't have to spend aeons re-inventing wheels to get us out of this hell, given that it is obvious that the Leftist compulsion to purge the West of its spiritual foundations will, like cancer, eventually "kill the village in order to save it". If Plato's Timaeus is a rip off of Black Athena, or Jane Austen is actually (didn't you get it?) the foremost critic of Victorian spiritual culture, or if (hey, hey!) Alexander Hamilton is one cool multicultural dude, and if these realizations are supposed to regenerate a "New America", I guess it is just the natural consequences of generations (now) of indoctrination by the likes of John Dewey in "theories of truth". This is what happens when deep spiritual truths or philosophical reflections become "popularized" among the masses - something, perhaps anything worth knowing in those reflections, becomes "lost in translation" and ends up furthering processes which can only be described as diametrically opposite and opposed to their supposed spiritual progenitors. Can any thinking person possibly imagine that, insane as they were, our Founding Fathers would have endorsed (say) open immigration?

Why should Pennsylvania, founded by the   English, become a Colony of Aliens, who will shortly be so numerous as   to Germanize us instead of our Anglifying them, and will never adopt our   Language or Customs, any more than they can acquire our Complexion. Which leads me to add one Remark: That the Number of purely   white People in the World is proportionably very small. All Africa is   black or tawny. Asia chiefly tawny. America (exclusive of the new   Comers) wholly so. And in Europe, the Spaniards, Italians,   French, Russians and Swedes, are generally of what we call   a swarthy Complexion; as are the Germans also, the Saxons only   excepted, who with the English, make the principal Body of White People   on the Face of the Earth. I could wish their Numbers were increased. And while   we are, as I may call it, Scouring our Planet, by clearing   America of Woods, and so making this Side of our Globe reflect a   brighter Light to the Eyes of Inhabitants in Mars or Venus, why should   we in the Sight of Superior Beings, darken its People? why increase the Sons of   Africa, by Planting them in America, where we have so fair an   Opportunity, by excluding all Blacks and Tawneys, of increasing the lovely   White and Red? But perhaps I am partial to the Complexion of my Country, for   such Kind of Partiality is natural to Mankind.


Or that Socrates was a card-carrying Democrat, as Scott Buchanan (that old arch liberal) seemed to think?
 "Democracy, which is a charming form of government, full of variety and disorder, and dispensing a sort of equality to equals and unequaled alike."


NOTE: I like Scott Buchanan, and may be being unfair to him, but he was (as all "persons of importance" generally then were, of the highly liberal persuasion). He did, however, liken Science to the "black arts": science is "the greatest body of uncriticized dogma we have today". So he is forgiven simply for having written this sentence, a very brave and bold move indeed for a liberal, intellectually, and one almost unimaginable for a "liberal" today.

     It should be noted that the deleterious effect on American from immigration, both of the Irish (big city corruption machines), the Italians (the mob), and the Germans (left wing intelligentsia), has never been thoroughly probed or examined by our universities, for obvious reasons. Socrates was likely put to death, not for "corrupting the youth", but for inspiring young, elite men to critically evaluate the "democratic revolution" that threw the Greek world into such turmoil. And if Plato really got all his wisdom from Africa via Egypt, it is strange indeed that no one digs up any statues in Africa of ancient wise men, saints, sages, and heroes, at least none that resembled anything other than totems or idols. Phidias, they knew nothing of. It goes without saying that Jane Austen was a woman, presumably with considerably more wit and intelligence than the average or even superior man, and while she may have seen better than almost anyone the standard limitations of your average Queen Anne-era male protagonist, and may even have had a critical and cranky and materialistic streak in her character and makeup, her morality tales are practically sweeping indictments of almost everything the modern Left stands for, including "moral relativism" and superficiality most of all.
     If this is the cure for cancer, more cancer, then perhaps we may safely render ourselves of a second opinion. If the cure for the West involves ripping out the only healthy organs it has left, and maximizing the unhealthy "progressive growths", then it's time to consult a shaman. In this case, if you have read your Immanuel Kant and your Nietzsche, your David Hume and your Wittgenstein, and are thoroughly convinced that Western Man "cannot go back" to that shameful time in which men built cathedrals to honor to the Creator (as if we could actually have adequate knowledge of something supposedly so recondite as the absent Sky-Father-God, who is really, since you've read your Freud, just a projection of infantile or juvenile wish-fulfillment), it is time to dust off a copy of Owen Barfield's Saving_the_Appearances:_A_Study_in_Idolatry.
     You don't have to spend three decades of your adult life figuring out what the meaning of life is, that's the good news. We already have a way to speed that up considerably, if you have the requisite character and/or intelligence (enough of either one is usually sufficient to jump start the other) and discipline (you have to supply that on your own): you can do what thousands of noble and virtuous young lads and ladies did in bygone eras of unimaginable brutality and barbarism did - you can read the classics. And by the classics, I don't mean titillating French novels or decadent diatribes against the people who make your employment possible (Karl Marx?). I mean serious works of philosophy and religion.
     Owen Barfield's little treatise, even considered abstractly, has to rank as one of the top hundred serious philosophical books written in the last four hundred years by anyone. If you are going to "go modern", he is even more important, because he understands the postmodern situation from the inside out, and has passed beyond it. Along with George Parkin Grant's neglected collected works, including his thoroughly brilliant English Speaking Justice and Technology and Empire, I can think of no Anglo thinker who is more useful or necessary to our present situation. I say this because these works are not merely theoretical, but practical and germane to the current existential crisis in the West. Reading Plato's Timaeus is fantastically wonderful (you will suddenly "get" the Middle Ages); so is picking through Evola's Revolt Against the Modern World (where you will be treated to an evisceration or vivisection of almost all modern sentiments on Justice), or perhaps Aurobindo's treatise on the Bhagavad-Gita is more to your taste (want to know how God's revealing act hides, in that very act, the knowledge of the Creator through the "fall" of man?). Wait, you may think. These are religious questions. Worse, they are theological. No exegesis, just Jesus! No Justice, Just Us! I don't have time to involve myself in cultic activities. There are tenure tracks to be gained, promotions at work for virtue-signaling & political correctness, Almighty dollars to be captured in the global marketplace!
      But you don't have to be religious or even "pious" to understand Grant or Barfield. You simply are asked to follow a train of argument, and to think for yourself. No questions asked, nothing assumed, whereas many of the other "great works" of the modern and classical or pre-classical canon require a massive amount of preparatory work, like studying Dante, or an avid interest in some branch of esoteric wisdom which relies on personal perception and experience, like Eliphas Levi. I also include Valentine Tomberg's Meditations on the Tarot in this list, but some of the things treated in such works are so holy and profound that there is a great danger of being a child with a sharp sword in their hand. With Barfield (or with EF Shumacher's Guide for the Perplexed), there is no such danger. But you will have to think about it, and the work of thinking is primarily in following the obvious inferences in our own sciences, but simultaneously being able to separate yourself from your ordinary presuppositions about where those investigations should lead.
      Owen Barfield, to put it quite simply, dismantles the modern worldview in two hundred pages of easily understandable prose, using the tools which the modern worldview itself provides, combined with a mind that is willing to follow the clues where they lead after asking pertinent questions. And, in my opinion, Barfield does this better than anyone else, saving perhaps his teacher, Rudolf Steiner (who, once again, belongs in a different and more difficult category requiring more intense preparation and inward effort).
     Would it interest you to understand and actually know, to literally see, how the modern worldview of Science, Technology, and Progress literally eats itself up? Barfield catches it at the crime scene, in the very act of devouring its murdered victim, which is what he calls the "original participation" of primitive man in the Divine process of creating the mind and the world together. And how, pray tell, would he manage to pull that rabbit out of his hat? How could one possibly "prove" this from the evidence, given that amazingly progressed and evolved homo sapiens like ourselves weren't around to take accurate notes and conduct double-blind placebo controlled studies of the said events?
     All anthropology, especially English branches, approach the study of the evolution of language from the position that primitive people were just like we are, except that they "fell back" from the consequences of their thought and embraced superstition, "peopling the world with gods and goddesses", filling in the gaps of their naturally but nonetheless limited knowledge. By "just like we are", Barfield means that modern men assume one of two things: either than primitive peoples were animals or pre-human (which is difficult to hold as one moves into the dawn of history and the classical historical period) who had not yet evolved a sufficient cortex (but if they had, they would have immediately begun to "progress" like we have - they were "like us" in that they were the seed, and we the flower), or that they had adequate computing cortex power, and could represent the world in front of them and manipulate it abstractly, but that superstition or ignorance, prejudice or bias was too strong for them (or morality too weak), and that they therefore shied away from drawing the logically necessary conclusions which must be adduced from the evidence of perceiving the same world which we see, which obeys logically necessary scientific laws, easily discoverable (given the right conditions or sufficient time/effort) through empirical study of these phenomenon. Sound familiar? About right? This is what you have been taught since you were old enough to make words, through Sesame Street and kindergarten, Sunday School, youth camp and scouting, all the way through to the modern university. It's in every movie, from Jurassic World to Mississipi Burning. Modern people believe that they have evolved, and they equate that evolution with the whole panoply of modern political correctness. Think of PC as representing the watered down popularization of a mulligan-witches brew of an amazingly nasty range of origin, everything from Frantz Fanon and Marcuse and the Weathermen, to Richard Rorty and Karl Popper and Susan Sontag. In some cases the variety of poison is not an absolute indication of its worth, as a lot of partially useful stuff gets thrown in the pot. However, the odd good ingredient, or useful insight, is generally lost in the welter of conflicting and poisonous goo. All in all, the purpose of this melting pot seems to be either as a sedative (something for everyone) or as an acid (no one is immune to every poison in the pot). As a failsafe, the smell alone can kill you (if you can still smell), or one can simply be drowned alive in the pot like a rat, and go into the ingredient list. What survives, or floats on the surface of this scum, is an oozy, unctuous fake religion, an ersatz neo-Puritan modern morality play, in which the entire world can simply be comprehended as a kind of Aesop's fable. The universe, in this brew, is no more mysterious (as Thomas Carlyle once put it) than the "cooking of a dumpling". The sacred spell of the Past is gone, gone with the wind, dying the death of a thousand cuts from critics, who have proven that our hominid ancestors were incurable racists and sexists who undoubtedly would repent if they had a chance to do so, and whose metaphysical views have either nothing to do with their perverse character (if they can be co-opted) or can be dismissed as irrelevant (if they can't be used to augment modern power narratives).
      Just live your life, be nice, be politically correct; advance and continue to evolve. There, that's it! Even easier than reading a two hundred page book by some unknown Welsh barrister associated (suspiciously) with the reactionary and probably fascist group at Oxford known as the Inklings.
     Barfield doesn't bother with political stuff in his work - I simply use this as a net to point out that political scenes in the modern world are built on the superstructure of something larger, which lies underneath like a giant turtle that holds up their world. This superstructure, Barfield argues, is actually nothing but abstract ideas codified in modern ideas (which is exactly, as it turns out, what modern philosophy claims about all possible philosophy in all possible worlds, so no surprise it is no exception). Barfield has a very clever scholarly and empirical method for demonstrating this. But he manages to go down to the root, which is another very clever trick. He doesn't (for instance) spend his scholarly time attacking the British Labor Party or atheists or the 1968 Paris riots. Nor does he try to undermine science in any way.
     Quite the contrary, as to the latter point. Barfield believed that Science was part of the Providential purpose to clear the field of "original participation", and to make room for creative participation. Science provided an acid bath, which scoured the mirror of the soul clean from paganism; however, in a real sense, Science is "the last and greatest Paganism". Because even Science cannot confess God as He is, since it regards God as an object, who is to be filtered through the lens of Science. Nothing transcendent or numinous can come out on the other side, and thus, Science is left (as it were) standing alone on the field, the greatest of all earthly idols, and the only thing remaining. It is an idol, precisely because it takes as the totality of what is unrepresented, its own abstractions concerning that unrepresented, and this (specifically) while even being totally aware that this is precisely what it is doing on its own terms (thanks to quantum science).
      Science knows that what "is there" (if the question has any meaning whatsoever) is actually "dust" or "particles", which our eye represents to us a certain way thanks to our abstractions and the feedback loop between the eye, our abstractions, and our representations of "what is" to our selves as "the real world". A tree is not just a tree: it is an energy web which we cannot see, made up of particles which emit even finer energy particles and reflect light, both of which are even more mysterious. It is only by assuming our assumptions, and agreeing to treat things as if all we already thought we knew was true, that we can "go forward" and begin to run experiments on this reality we represent to ourselves, and draw conclusions. We suspend disbelief (a disbelief, moreover, which is demanded by strict Scientific calculation), and then proceed to "know" matter by manipulating as being "dead" and inhabiting empty space (which, also, we know is not empty, through Science).
     Science is an idol that "knows" itself to be such (on its own terms), but is helpless to stop pretending that it is such anyway, being unconscious of this in a deeper sense, as it does not "participate" in the numinosity of Creation. Its only function (besides providing us with acres of corn and anesthetics, very useful functions on its own level) metaphysically is to give man an opportunity to exercise independent and creative participation, which is the Recreation of the world in Christ, a return to the primordial state of original participation, and surpassing it.
     As hard as this is for modern minds to accept, Barfield demonstrates lucidly from textual evidence (direct quotes) and anthropology itself that primitive or ancient man did not see the same world visually, nor experience it inwardly, in the way which we do. When he perceived the "particles" or "dust", his soul had inner motions which revealed things directly to him as representations of what was unrepresentable: this made him create "idols" to represent what could not completely be represented, the One Being behind all Creation and all of perception of creation. Additionally, because of the inner motions of the soul, and because of the lack of genetic training caused by experience in the gymnasium of Creation, he did not even see the same thing visually which we see. Thus, he did not "people" the world with divine beings out of superstition, refusing to follow abstract concepts which we have bravely pursued, but rather, described what he knew was there, and what he saw. He did not have the option to abstract from the sense world, mediate the world through that abstraction, and then manipulate it logically: he knew it, numinously, and the experience was credulous and undoubting in the same sense that we credulously and undoubting and with good reason "know" the law of gravity is there. When Homer writes of the "wine dark sea" and the "tumbling sky", these are not superstitious metaphors or allegories, but what he actually saw and additionally, "knew" inwardly. Julian Jaynes makes this last and similar points, and with similar scholarly acumen as Barfield (who approaches things from anthropology and etymology), from a slightly different angle in his magisterial The Origins of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind.
     What we call "consciousness" is just the absence of original participation, and the power to perceive the world this way germinated and grew very slowly in man - it was still alive in the Middle Ages, although this was a turning point. It was necessary to achieve full independence from original participation, because it was not voluntary, in order that man might grow from a slave into a son. Still, the possibility remains that man may become "stuck" in the teenage years. Liberated from original participation, and confident that this is unreal and never existed to begin with, he is ignorant that the world is a gift or symbolon or eidola of God, and so constructs his own Idol, the last Idol, which is false consciousness of a world of empty space and dead matter, with only man's appetites and desire for more power over a helpless Nature to guard and guide him from destroying himself.
     What the ancients knew was "consciousness" was in fact the remains of the primordial state, dwindling slowly under the steady tutelage of genetic and cultural growth in the arena of the Fall, of dense matter, helped (perhaps) by the very tutelary powers which would be denied and cast out by the tutored new man:

          Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world               
(Galatians 4:2)

     Man cannot go back to original participation, but has to move forward into creative participation, in which Grace will perfect Nature, for nothing is lost, nothing is ever forgotten. The modern PostMo movement to paganism is still born, assuming it would even work, because the very "elementary spirits" themselves have changed under the Creation drama. Instead, man must clear away, with Reason, every Idol, and then destroy the last as he creatively learns to use even Reason to re-experience participation in and through the Christ, thus not only reclaiming all of his original birth right, but transcending it into that which is more.
     Owen Barfield assumes, along with Rudolf Steiner, that man will learn to judge the angels, and "see through" Science. How is all of what Barfield doing different from what the modern PostMo culture is doing when it "re-interprets" fairy tales? That is the subject of a second post, but to get it started, and to end this one, I will say that Barfield 1) believes something is there (the "particles" and behind them, God) 2) believes it is knowable by man, and 3) points the way towards doing so, not through rewriting "narrative" of abstract concepts, but through handling evidence at a meta-narrative level (what he calls beta-thinking, beyond abstract alpha thinking). Post Modernism is essentially either alpha thinking that thinks it is beta (but can't move beyond concepts or abstractions, albeit anti-concept and anti-abstractions), or else it is immature beta-thinking which prefers to wallow in florid inventions (Gnosticism) as opposed to handling in a mature way the subject matter of Creation. Barfield would say that magic is real, and that the world is a mystery, even though (temporarily) we have to learn to experience the world as exactly the opposite, in order to prepare, in the darkness, for the final participation. In this way, man uses Reason as a tool, rather than letting rational abstractions compel him to think and perceive in ways inimical to his true nature. This is not Post Modernism, but a restoration, regeneration, and transcending of Pre Modernism.