Quis ut Deus?

‘Am I more like God than you because I am stronger?’

*

… It was, it seems, the Romans, that most militaristic of empire building peoples

who first insisted that St Michael should be seen, that is, depicted,

in a military light, the Commander-in-Chief of an ‘Army of Angels’, as it were.

*

After Constantine’s defeat of Licineus at the Battle of Adrianople AD 324

which the Emperor attributed to the Archangel Michael he had a painting

of the Saint slaying a Dragon commisioned for the Michaelion,

a Christian Sanctuary nearby, which was previously dedicated to healing waters.

*

This lead to the now standard iconography of Archangel Michael

as a ‘Warrior Saint’, who slays a single-headed Dragon.

*

All empires rely for their dominance, to a certain extent,

on military prowess but the militaristic mind-set of the Romans

infiltrated every aspect of their culture,

and their newly acquired religion, alas, was to be no different…

*

In following this route the Holy Roman Empire

made the same mistake that extreme Islamists of today make

when they perpetrate terrorist acts in the name of ‘Jihad’,

that is, they confused the edicts of an inner conflict with its outward projection.

*

Or was it just a straightforward case of demonising ‘the opposition’,

and are these the same thing anyway?

Line across the Moon

(Above: photo by the author)

The neighbour and I were speaking softly, last night, looking through the spring buds at the rising of the full moon. We were talking about the Covid-19 epidemic and its lockdown.

“I’ll be glad when this is over,” he mused

I nodded my agreement, but privately held other thoughts…

What exactly is ‘this’ I wondered? Have we really thought through what we are all going through?

Many things have come to a ‘harvest’ over the past few years, among them are:

The state of world politics has grown bleak. Particularly in the USA and the UK – which, not surprisingly, seem to be linked by far more than a common language and historic genes. So much that we took for granted as ‘the normal state of civilisation’ has been swept aside by the force, abuse of information and the power of the super-rich. We all seemed to take a breath and wait for the natural intervention of hidden guardians who would keep the faith with kindness and the kind of liberal values many of us thought were the established bedrock of our societies.

But that didn’t happen. Instead, that ‘old order’ seemed weak in its ability to do anything. Stronger, perhaps, in the home and communities that watched with horror as so much that had been hard-won was torn apart, as a wild dog might destroy a fine meal.

On another important issues, the general concern about ecology and looking after the Earth seemed subsumed by the single focus on a gas – carbon dioxide – now increasingly dubbed ‘evil’ despite being an utterly essential molecule of life. The complex relationships being modelled as ‘climate change’ have become so polarised that no alternative viewpoints are possible without being pilloried. I’m content to let the experts agree that their simulations, plus ‘much faster than ever before’ warming is taking place. But I’m not going to declare war on a gas that, until the start of the industrial revolution (1760 – 1840) had declined to such an extent that oxygen-breathing life on Earth was about to be threatened with extinction. Global warming may well be central, but our concern for the planet should be on a wider front…

Ironically, this is happening despite politics. Electricity generated from renewables (especially wind power) has now developed to such an extent that nuclear power is generally reckoned to have no future at all. I can only see this as an example of a much more potent ‘will of the people’ than the manipulation of political opinion during a once-in-five-years election that supposedly represents democracy. The alternatives to democracy are terrible, but are we really sure we have democracy in the first place?

And, now we have Covid-19. It’s a deadly ‘novel’ virus believed to emanate from bats via pigs in the ‘wet-markets’ of China. It has cut through the world’s societies without regard to any kind of status, wealth or privilege – though, like any illness, it infects the poor first, and hits them hardest. Most of the jobs being lost are lower paid ‘caring’ jobs that we’ve suddenly found so essential.

As I write this, the British Prime Minister is in intensive care in one of London’s top NHS hospitals, suffering from the deadly virus… in a country which has yet to begin to face the difficulties of ‘Brexit’ that lie ahead in our severed world.

And, it was this more that any other thing that has happened that made me think of a different level of meaning to what is changing all our lives.

My neighbour was staring at a beautiful full moon that had just emerged from behind the trees. It was so clear you could see its features with the naked eye. Quietly, he said, “It’s like someone has drawn a line across the moon… no-one can take their eyes off it.”

In that moment, I saw a new meaning to the Covid virus and its world-wide epidemic of misery and death. It was forcing us all, young and old, rich and poor, to think differently and as a single life-form.

The most potent part of this thought is the fragility of our world; not ‘world’ in the sense of nature – that will go on regardless of man’s waste, greed and folly – but ‘world’ as the way we live our daily lives.

The shock we are all feeling is a result of our previous way of life coming to an end, and of all of us staring into this face of the unknown ‘land’ where almost everything we took as inviolate is gone or dramatically changed… No longer will any British politician – regardless of ‘left’ or ‘right’ affiliation – be able to say that state money on a vast scale should not be spent from the country’s reserves to help people in need. That is already happening under the Conservative government’s own plan; recognising that those needy people are the very molecules of the economic system, itself – its life-blood.

All it took was a threat bigger than politics and more immediate than ‘climate change’.

That state of ‘gone’ may be temporary…or it may not. For the first time in living memory, nature has looked us in the face and dared us to survive. The scientific bits of how this happened are important. I’m not looking for some action of ‘God’ in this catastrophe. But, collectively, we are awakening in a world changed beyond belief in the shortest of timeframes. The power of this change makes politics look irrelevant. But perhaps the politics that might replace the stagnation of our present systems of government will find their birth in what the philosopher Gurdjieff would have called a ‘necessary shock’ to the system of regular rotation of events.

The archetypal ‘bully’ is on the floor, struck by a chance blow as we fell. But we can be first on our feet, and a changed and dramatic future may await those who can ride this energy of the new as the spectre of the world-virus fades from sight…but not from memory.

A ‘line across the moon’ indeed. Here’s to the sunrise…

©Stephen Tanham

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit teaching school of modern mysticism that helps people find a personal path to a deeper place within their internal and external lives.

The Silent Eye provides home-based, practical courses which are low-cost and personally supervised. The course materials and corresponding supervision are provided month by month without further commitment.

Steve’s personal blog, Sun in Gemini, is at stevetanham.wordpress.com.

Wisdom Breathes Out?

(Above: the sculpture to commemorate the executed members of the Resistance in Arras, Northern France)

We seem to be wrestling with the recognition that an age is coming to an end, and that strange forms are filling the world with casual madness, behaving as though nothing hangs over, us; no piper calling for the line to the clifftop.

The word ‘wisdom’ is to be used cautiously. It is subjective. One person’s wisdom is another’s folly. And yet, looking back on a series of events, we can clearly see where something was ‘wise’. Perhaps we don’t see as clearly where something was unwise? Maybe we don’t feel good if our opinions were part of something that led downhill… we’ve all been there.

Wisdom implies a developed sense of consequence. The ‘wise’ woman or man has enough information to have formed a mental and emotional model of what happens in a given set of circumstances. They can play, with some success, the game of consequence, running events forward in their heads (and often hearts) to see what the pattern of results would be.

Emotions can run away with us. We can wilfully turn away from that small voice of learned consequence to embrace the rush of something wonderful, knowing that it has the potential for chaos, but makes us feel good at the time – especially when our lives are hard and we can see the opulence of others. To lash out is satisfying if you live in a state of constant struggle. These states can be, and are, exploited by those who can spend vast sums getting into our minds…

Information can be facts or opinion. The entire history of science has been a struggle to establish facts – repeatable, dependable… and sometimes ‘boring’ – but only because the truth is becoming complex; and black and white may be fun to as revenge, but deadly when exploited by those who know their own wealth was built on the most subtle of decisions. But facts are the basis of truth, though the finer levels of truth involve a state of mind in which there is another kind of knowledge – or perhaps ‘presence’ would be a better term.

One fact is that we live in a complex world. A world so evolved in its social and political systems that solutions to societal or economic problems are, themselves, necessarily difficult. Ascending populist politicians are keen to present themselves as ‘disruptors’. Their ‘unique’ insight into tangled and emotive situations is popular with supporters when they pronounce that something should be smashed to make way for that which is self-evidently more vital.

Like the best lies, there is some truth in that. Throughout mankind’s comparatively short history, the idea of necessary destruction has haunted us. The ancient Hindu civilisation even codified this phase of a society’s changes by allocating it a god – Shiva, partnered by Vishnu, the preserver on the opposite side of the sentiment. The two were not at war, but rather Janus-like faces of the essential processes of ‘development’.

All these things are at the heart of how mankind thinks and feels about itself at present. No-one would deny that we are living through a period of ever faster change. The sense that no-one is really driving the bus is everywhere, just as it would be in a stock market at times of market ‘peaks’ when traders know that things have gone too far, and instability is about to wreak its consequence, but the first to lose their nerve will lose face and money if their caution is premature.

We have little idea how much of our society, our world, is build on confidence. Tumbling confidence snowballs like an avalanche. The landscape looks very different when the work of the falling ice and snow is finished…

An important part of any society is the idea that there are ‘elders’ of that civilisation. Elders, in this context, can be political or specialist. Either way, they will have gained this status through being wise in what they do. We could characterise the present stage of western politics by saying that we suffer from a lack of elders – at least elders in power.

Elders in a specialist sense are those who are genuinely experts; the kind of people you would expect a parliamentary enquiry to summon to assist. Their knowledge would be wide and their wisdom greater. Their approach would be characterised by an absence of self-interest, a sense of them having glimpsed another world, one in which the act of selflessness was inherent for the greater good.

There are pressures in modern society that have resulted in us facing new challenges, some of which are severe and from which we may not recover. In the opening paragraphs, we looked at how wisdom is based upon the mixture of knowledge and experience – leading to a developed sense of consequence. The societal structures that support these in a healthy society collapse if the fundamental respect for truth is eroded. For the first time, we face a barrage of populist opinion eager to rubbish facts as ‘fake news’. The consequences of this are dire, and may take whole generations to correct.

The way we communicate has also changed. The online world has given our children limitless access to the apparent glitter of ‘celebrity’, a world where you can be famous for simply being famous. This vacuous layer of society distracts from the real and important issues into which each new generation needs to be carefully inducted – if they are to contribute to the age to come with their fresh viewpoints and, eventually, mature wisdom. The world of celebrity, like that of media, is owned by billionaires who have their own agenda for how society should develop.

I’ve written, elsewhere, about the corrosive effect of social media when it encourages people to seek out the virtual company of those of like opinion. The ‘echo-chamber’ is well documented, and is the very opposite of that which fosters wisdom; in which the open exchange of views and experience is central to societal maturity.

We face many challenges, but the human species has proved resilient in the past. Let us hope that there is still enough wisdom extant in the planet to engender a spirit of unity to face what lies ahead.

As individuals and families, we need to look to our own values and invest, selflessly, in that which is true and that which endures in that truth.

Either way, our future is going to look very different.

©Stephen Tanham

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit teaching school of modern mysticism that helps people find a personal path to a deeper place within their internal and external lives.

The Silent Eye provides home-based, practical courses which are low-cost and personally supervised. The course materials and corresponding supervision are provided month by month without further commitment.

Steve’s personal blog, Sun in Gemini, is at stevetanham.wordpress.com.

The Whirlpool

Underlying image by Gordon Johnson on Pixabay

It begins with a feeling… A feeling that something has fallen: like a vital bridge being destroyed.

As it develops, you sense the landscape being stretched, allowing forms of life alien to your own to enter the world.

And then you become conscious that there is a velocity, here – that we are all going somewhere we didn’t ask for. After a while you realise that the world is not only changing, but is being buffeted from the same place…

That place is the centre. The place from which the tearing winds are coming.

Soon, the low roar, the dull moaning, gain strength. They become a voice… and there is anger; an anger that won’t go away, like a wild beast dying.

By the time you see that, the whole world is moving, beginning to spin, tearing loose from everything you thought was fixed and, and… ‘of the elders’.

It’s too late… is it too late to do anything?

The riven world is full of creatures, creatures gloating that their views have triumphed against the overburdened weight of the controls that kept the world from breaking up, from spinning, from feeding that dreadful centre.

You look again at the place from which the noise is coming; only you can’t see it any more. It’s gone… spinning, faster and faster, it has become a vertical pit into which everything is being sucked – a whirlpool of hate.

You look at the far edge of the red whirlpool and see millions of people staring back at you – only they’re staring back at all of you and they’re screaming and shouting and laughing as the edge of the red water washes them faster and faster into more energetic screaming and shouting.

They are the opposite of what you believe yourself to be, and they generate the strongest of emotions in you… until you realise that this emotion, too, is hatred, and that your loathing of the hateful creatures is adding to the red spinning that now sucks in you, as well as them.

Fighting despair, you raise your gaze to look beyond the descending red waters and see – far away and behind the forces of the vortex, dotted here and there – a set of people whose eyes are not red, who are not shouting… not even speaking. No energy flows from them into the redness, though you can see and feel their pain. There is a different way to react… or maybe, not to react at all, simply to hold the good that was, so much of which is being sucked, like wreckage, into the red whirlpool.

The new knowing lodges in your heart. It breaks the force of the red gravity that had pulled you nearer the centre of that dreadful noise. You are moving backwards on the boiling waters, holding the eyes of the others who are holding yours… do not feed it, they whisper, gently.

It is calm, now. The dreadful vortex has gone, taking much of what you loved with it. But the waters that remain are the same waters that gave rise to a new world, long ago. The energy of renewal can begin its work.

The world is washed with its tears, but there is hope. There is no choice, now – you must be an elder, even if you are young… especially if you are young.