So today is St George’s Day, April 23rd, and also Shakespeare’s birthday, this being the 451st anniversary of his birth. He was baptised at Stratford on April 26. Shakespeare was born into a very different world, before there was a United Kingdom of Great Britain, for example, and his life witnessed the union of the two crowns, and his friendship with both Queen Elizabeth and King James, as something of a court bard. He apparently helped carry the velvet gown at the coronation of King James 1st, as recently discovered by scholars. My father, George Daffern, named after England’s Patron Saint, whose day we also celebrate today, was brought up near Stratford in Warwick and had a deep love for Shakespeare which he transmitted to me as a youth, and I acted in the Brighton Dramatic Society and at Brighton Hove and Sussex Grammar School in various Shakespeare plays. I think it would be true to say that my love of Shakespeare’s language was one of the most important influences on my early life and my decision to become a poet. Here is a poem I wrote sitting on a wall in Stratford outside the Anne Hathaway house, which can stand as my homage to Shakespeare for this day:
THE PLOT, STRATFORD ON AVON, 1990
There is within the mind of man
a place of fire, a small still point
no pain can quench, nor fears disturb.
Ages may pass, and do, shapes shift Proteus’ parade, his colours into view, so many flickering flames and yet – what is it that we strive and stretch for ? What sharp ascendency, or fathomless delving
to the wells of being ?
A pageant maybe ?
Acted whence ? For what ? Which strolling players’
band beguiles us ? Or are we all an audience ? For whom ?
Time’s mysteries shall lay us by, all , one by one:
a stream of incandescent sparks, a bed of flowers
sorted in knots of colour, clues to home in by.
Beauty, ever beckoning, remoulds us onwards,
ever redeeming, and to redeem, through love, through mind: author, actors, agent, audience, and stage, so many spheres of sparkling tones
into an intertwining globe of light combined.
Yesterday, April 22, was also the day of St Anselm, one of my own intellectual heroes. He was responsible for inventing the Ontological Argument for the existence of god, which is a mighty piece of reasoning, and has well stood the test of time. It features in my board game, devised while teaching at Poole Grammar School called Philosophers Football, in which two teams have to prove or disprove the existence of God. Anselm argued that since the human mind, a mighty and wondrous work, can conceive of a power and a being even more mighty and wonderful than itself, as the radiant source of goodness, justice, love and truth, then that glimpse that we have in our imaginal consciousness, must in fact relate to something real, something having real Being (ontos) and not something purely fantasised. That the greatest minds among us have realised our own dependency upon a higher force, and a greater consciousness, a higher wisdom. All spiritual faiths affirm this, from Zoroastrianism, to Shamanism, to Druidry, to Jainism, as well as the traditional theistic faiths of Judaism, Islam and Christianity. Anselm’s argument can serve as a foundation for a new renaissance of wisdom as we all share our respective insights into the divine mystery of being itself. So yesterday was an important saints day here at the Castle of the Muses.
Currently, I am also revisiting Hegel and exploring the details of Hegel And The Hermetic Tradition by Glenn Alexander Magee, which is a masterpiece of intellectual detective work, revealing that Hegel had truly in-depth knowledge of hte ancient mysteries and saw his work as preparing a bridge in consciousness between the ancient faiths and a new universal esoteric wisdom tradition that could satisfy and nourish all of mankind’s deepest and most interior yearnings, as well as satisfy our hunger for justice and bread. The more I read and study Hegel, the more I wonder whether Marx ever actually read in depth his great works, such as the Phenomenology of Spirit. Marx traditionally corrected Hegel and turned him on his head – yet in order to revise a great thinker, surely one has to do hem the honour of actually studying them ? It would make a very important PhD thesis for somebody to actually study in depth the reading habits of Marx both at University and afterwards, and to find out how much of Hegel’s actual texts he had read and studied ? What was available to him ? Which volumes had he checked out of the library in Berlin ? My own suspicions, awaiting confirmation, is that Marx was essentially an intellectual dilettante, who had already prejudged Hegel before actually reading or studying him in depth and truth, but I suspend judgement. Many years ago I wrote a detailed study of Marx’s own esoteric interests and the milieu in which he was moving, and argued that a close study of the history of esoteric freemasonry revealed many interesting links with the movers and shakers of radical early communism. (This is available at http://www.lulu.com/shop/thomas-daffern/towards-a-history-of-the-interrelations-of-marxism-and-esotericism/ebook/product-17554324.html) In this work I took a detailed look at the rise of freemasonry in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, and examined the strange ambivalence of Marx and Engels’ attitude to freemasonry and related secret societies such as the carbonari. The work argued that the secret organisation of communist cells in fact owed a great deal to the earlier conspiratorial milieu of freemasonry and also found considerable overlaps in their ideological orientations. The work attempted to chart a course which is neither anti-masonry nor pro-masonry, nor anti-Marxism nor pro-Marxism, and instead it is an early essay in transpersonal history, which seeks to uncover the deeper patterns behind history from both a spiritual and scientific perspective alike.
It has to be said, however, writing 20 years after that original essay was penned, that in his reduction of philosophy to mere materialism, Marx did the European and global philosophical traditions a disservice, and took us back to a pre-Anselmian level of understanding. Indeed, a pre-Eleusinian level of wisdom. As Hegel himself states in the Phenomenology of Spirit:
“In this respect we can tell those who assert the truth and certainty of the reality of sense-objects that they should go back to the most elementary school of wisdom, viz. the ancient Eleusinian Mysteries of Ceres and Bacchus, and that they have still to learn the secret meaning of the eating of bread and the drinking of wine. For he who is initiated into these Mysteries not only comes to doubt the being of sensuous things, but to despair of it; in part he brings about the nothingness of such things himself in his dealings with them, and in part he see them reduce themselves to nothingness. Even the animals are not shut out from this wisdom but, on the contrary, show themselves to be most profoundly initiated into it; for they do not just stand idly in front of sensuous things as if these possessed intrinsic being, but, despairing of their reality, and completely assured of their nothingness, they fall to without ceremony and eat them up. And all Nature, like the animals, celebrates these open Mysteries which teach the truth about sensuous things.”
In other words, even the ancient mysteries revealed to their initiates that the things of this sensual, i.e. material reality, are not the only realm of being that we humans must learn to successfully navigate if we are to become philosophically mature. On the contrary as Shakespeare put it, “There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy..”
Hegel knew that ancient Pagan wisdom had at its best reached a level of intuitive and profound intellectual understanding that later Christian or theistic civilisations are largely built on, and that each layer of philosophical wisdom adds merely another layer of lacquer to the pre-existing wisdom of the insights of past generations. Philosophers come and go like twinkling fireflies in the night, or solar Buddhas that light up and glow with the remains of the day’s sunlight, as we now have installed in the castle gardens, yet the wisdom itself lives on forever.
This is the reason that I am organising a further Truth and Reconciliation Commission for Stonehenge meeting at Amesbury, Wiltshire, on May 16, 2014, which I hope readers of this blog will be able to attend if they are interested in these things at all. My view, as a philosopher and historian, is that the vestiges of ancient druid and pagan wisdom in these islands of Britain are important and that Stonehenge should be available for them to go and worship, say their prayers, do their ceremonies etc. as a living temple, without charge, and not simply capitalised on by English heritage as a touristic and archaeological monument. This is a view that I know has many resonances with the living pagan and druid community of the British Isles and indeed globally. But the challenge is philosophical as well as political. If we deny utterly the continuity of ancient wisdom through to modern times, and if we are content to live in a thoroughly secularised society in which all forms of spirituality are simply seen as relics from earlier times, then no doubt soon the gurdwaras, mosques, churches, synagogues and Hindu temples will also be turned into museums, and tourists charged money to enter and see what quaint beliefs people used to have. Is this really the society we want to live in ? Some political forces that advocate rampant secularism and materialism would no doubt wish for this. It was tried in Bolshevik Russia and Maoist China, and religious believers were persecuted and slaughtered in their myriads, in the name of false equality and political correctness, and their temples and churches defaced and destroyed. Philosophically however, such a secularised and despiritualised society, simply will not work – it comes apart at the seams. It replaces the love of truth with the love of power, and the bright dreams of visionaries are reduced to the rubble piles of Stalin and the apparatchiks of the state security services.
All of us, instead, who believe truly in the power of spirituality to shape and determine our lives, and who have surrendered to the mystery of Being, in all its rich panoply of display, as conveyed hopefully in my poem for Shakespeare, should come together and celebrate the magical fecundity of the many forms in which Spirit manifests itself in the divine unfolding of our life and times. This is surely the point of the ending of Hegel’s’ Phenomenology of Spirit, in which he states that history is the clothing in which Spirit takes form, age after age.. It is also the point of Shakespeare’s rich pageant of characters – each hero or villain or comic in his cast is another manifestation of the Self within us all, and each of us in turn, life after life, falls into enacting some aspect of the cosmic drama, as has been well explored in a book I have inherited from my late mother, Shakespeare The Thinker, by A.D. Nuttall.
Here at the Castle of the Muses we have also just celebrated Easter, with a most marvellous spell of fine weather, in which the roof of the castle was fixed from its leaking by friends up from Bournemouth. Miraculously the fine weather spell held exactly as long as needed to get the work one.
Easter also led to some interesting intellectual journeys and the close reading of Rene Girard’s important text I See Satan Fall Like Lightening in which he explores the anthropology of Christianity, and the complex relationship between Christian revelation and paganism, and other redemptive religious and spiritual traditions. Girard argues that human nature is by definition confrontational and conflictual, and that we have this terrible tendency to scapegoat and cast out anything new, innovative or truly wonderful. We might worship it, but because we desire to be like it, and such are the engines of mimetic desire, that we also have to destroy it, to conquer it, to supersede it. What we love, we also wish to destroy – how close love and hate are ! For Girard then, the crucifixion is the symbolic re-enactment of this innate tendency to destruction that mimetic desire manifests through the biological and animal realm of human eros and agonia. Yet the resurrection points us the true way out. It shows us to a realm of pure love which does not require destruction, but rather affirms mutual inter-being. Girard’s ideas are complex and little known except by a handful of specialists, and have an important contribution to make to the kind of spiritual peace thinking that IIPSGP specialises in, and point towards a possible interfaith theology of reconciliation, so sorely needed in war torn lands such as Syria, or Iraq or Afghanistan, or in Israel and Palestine, and indeed within our own societies such as the UK or the USA. From the fractured and troubled violence that besets us on all sides, Easter points towards a redemptive leap that mankind can make, if only we dare, and Girard’s anthropological theology shows partly how this can be done. Perhaps St George can stand for this cutting through of hate-as-love into the crystal clear realm of agapic love as surrender and sacrifice. St George has always been seen as a patron saint of warriors, yet the true warrior is surely he who conquers the ignorance that causes the will-to-violence through understanding.
So on this day, Shakespeare’s birthday (it is also his death day, for life and death are but one cycle of interconnected being) let us celebrate the magical unfolding of the highest wisdom, as the highest common factor, that we are all capable of achieving. Lets us strive for personal and collective enlightenment and insight, through study, prayer, reflection and service. Let us truly try to live up the newly issued Jaipur Declaration that emerged from the recent Jaipur conference on nonviolence in January 2014. And let us give thanks for poets such as Shakespeare, and for philosophers such as St Anselm or Hegel, or Rene Girard, who remind us to remain steadfast in our service to the muses, generation after generation, life after life.
It is also worth remembering that today was also the coronation day of King Charles 2nd, known as the Merry Monarch, who restored common sense and reason to the government of Britain after the religious fanaticism of the Cromwellian period. He also restored gaiety and fun to Britain, after the dour puritans had abolished Christmas, outlawed plays and theatres and generally tried to stamp down on every kind of merriment and natural spontaneity and jollity in the land. No wonder people celebrated with bonfires and dances and parties all across the land on this day in 1661 when King Charles 2nd was finally crowned at Westminster Abbey. Perhaps we should encourage King Charles 3rd to abolish parliament and restore our natural rights when he is crowned – now that really would be something to celebrate about ! All the swathes of disabling legislation enacted by parliament under the current party-ocracy could be swept away with a gentle monarchical revolution. And all the corrupt MP’s and Lords could go out and get an honest job ! Now there’s an idea.. think of the money it would save ! Trouble is when King Charles 1st tried it, they cut his head off.. oh dear.. Which reminds me, if I live long enough, I do intend to write a one act play about the young King Charles 2nd on the run after the battle of Worcester visiting Stonehenge with John Aubrey as his guide, in disguise, and waiting out for a whole day in the ruins, hiding from Cromwell’s soldiers. Something that really happened in history. What a dialogue they might have had there, about the fate and death and destiny of Kings and Empires, as witnessed by those stones standing since long before Abraham went down to Egypt with Sarah in disguise.. Note to self: sharpen those quills..
Happy April 23rd everybody !