A month from now, on the 4th December, the Silent Eye will be giving its last talk of our year in Glastonbury. It has been both a wonderful and a challenging year, and we have learned as much about ourselves as we have about the culture and interests of Glastonbury.
For the December 4th talk, we have chosen to close our year with the subject of Esoteric Christianity. We are using the works of Maurice Nicoll; particularly The New Man, first published in 1950, to illustrate a dramatic perspective on the deeper meanings of the Gospels. This talk will focus on the secret language and metaphors used by those who documented the life of Christ.
Nicoll died in 1953, three years after the publication of The New Man. His was a long and dedicated life, during which he left behind a lucrative Harley Street psychiatry practice to work with G. I. Gurdjeiff at the famous Institute for the Harmonious Development of Mankind, which operated in an old priory, just outside Paris. When Gurdjieff closed the Institute, in 1923, Nicoll returned to England to work, once again, with P. D. Ouspensky, who he had known prior to meeting Gurdjeiff. Nicoll was tasked by Ouspensky to use what became the last decade of his life to document the ‘secret language’ of the Gospels.
Nicoll’s work, published in two books, The New Man and The Mark, preceded the use of typical 1960s and 70s ‘sensational’ headlines, such as Eric von Daniken’s “Was God an Astronaut”. Although Nicoll’s work was entirely revolutionary in its implications, his was a much quieter technique, one that used his psychologist’s mind to deconstruct the writing in the Gospels to uncover a consistent and hidden set of metaphors used within them.
When the New Man was published, in 1950, he gave it the modest subtitle “AN INTERPRETATION OF SOME PARABLES AND MIRACLES OF CHRIST”.
One example of Nicoll’s work is his conclusion that the Gospels use three different words for Truth.
Truth is at the centre of our search for meaning. All serious students of the spiritual are faced with this quest at some time in their lives. Often, our lives are marked by a long climb to some degree of comfort and material success; but ‘getting there’ can leave us feeling that something significant is missing.
We can have simple truths, such as the fact that it’s now a certain time of day, according to GMT. This is relative only in the sense that it relies on a shared convention. Such a simple ‘truth’ is an everyday part of our outer consciousness. It’s really just a fact. Facts are useful, but they don’t contribute much to our consciousness of higher things, in the way that, say, understanding does.
Understanding is something higher because it knits facts together into a kind of pattern – and that pattern lets us see something bigger – some sense of an underlying working that has larger implications. This was always there, but hidden from us until we had the ability to see (and feel) the whole. Facts are rigid things (stone); understanding is fluid, it can flow round a problem and yet retain its coherency, its spirit, helping us find new ways that actually extend our breadth of that understanding.
I can write down a set of Health and Safety rules for display in my office. These will make perfect sense and yet they are not the ‘spirit’ of safety. Such a thing would require a commitment to it, and an adaptability to probe what might be dangerous in new and evolving situations. This level of understanding could never be written down as a list.
Facts are a poor substitute for understanding; and yet they need to be written down because understanding cannot be transmitted. We can receive facts from others – the whole of education is based on this – but unless that set of facts takes root, like a seed in good soil, the plant of understanding that should mature may wither.
In his ground-breaking book, The New Man, Nicoll proposes that the Gospels (and other parts of the Bible) use the word ‘Stone’ as the literal truth – the set of facts, much in the same way that the Old Testament references ‘Tablets of Stone’ for the Commandments. These are really only lists of instructions at the level of the literal fact. For many people, this is sufficient. It is an important principle that writers of spiritual works must also be able to create simpler and easily digested snapshots of what they are trying to convey. This principle is used throughout the history of myth, for example.
In many ways, these seeds, although literal, are of the greatest importance, because they have the potential to connect the ‘higher’ to the ‘lower’. They have, in other words, the potential to be a seed. But only something that comes from a higher perspective of understanding has this power. Knowledge, alone, does not.
Nicoll proposes that Jesus’ lifetime was entirely about the connection of the higher to the lower. The higher being the Spirit; the lower, the personality, which itself grows as a result of our reactions to life but can never know the world of the Spirit unless the latter ‘reaches down’ into our reactionary world, infusing it with a seed of Being beyond the fact. In this process three words are used for Truth – Stone, Water and Wine. We have discussed stone above.
In our Glastonbury talk on the 4th December, will we be following this stem and exploring how the stone of fact becomes the plant of understanding and beyond, in a marriage of something profound, for which the wine is a fitting symbol.
The talk will be hosted by the Glastonbury Reception Centre.