This key is simple to explain, but I have found it opens lots of doors; it explains lots of things. Idolatry is the worship of something less than the Most High; of something other than God. Simple, no?
The tradition of modernity is to repudiate tradition per se. It’s right there in the term: ‘modern’ is from Late Latin modernus, from Latin modo, “just now.” So ‘modern’ means “what is just now.”
Traditionalists take the modern tradition with utmost seriousness, thoroughness, and consistency: they repudiate the tradition of modernity.
Traditionalists are the iconoclasts of iconoclasm. So likewise are they then the true postmodernists. In their hearts and in their minds, and so far as is possible in their acts, they live into whatever it is that shall inevitably ensue, once modernity has finished eating itself, and collapsed; once the people have awakened and shaken it off like a nightmare or Soviet Communism.
Traditionalists are ransacking the cupboards on the morning after Belshazzar’s Feast, looking for the coffee as the sour dregs of the Party lapse into biliary nausea, bitter existential regret, and alcoholic coma, and as the Persians begin to assemble their siege engines.
Back in 2011, a little more than a year before he died, my dear friend and master Lawrence wrote to me privily, and I responded likewise. Looking for something else altogether in my Journal of that year, I came across our exchange. I now share it with you, confident of his evangelical approval thereof, as an apologetic exercise of potential benefit to readers who might have known us, both – or, who have never heard of either of us. Lawrence wrote:
Michael Willman (1626 – 1679): Creation of the World (1668)
The Romanian born anthropologist Mircea Eliade (1907 – 1986) led a hectic life in his thirties. Embroiling himself in politics on the right, he became a target even so of right-wing ire on the accusation that his novella Domnișoara Christina (1936) partook in pornography and obscenity, but the very next year he enthusiastically espoused the Iron Guard’s program that Romania should reconcile itself with its Byzantine, and therefore Christian, origins. No one in the 2020s knows anything about the Iron Guard except, when hearing it mentioned, to categorize it automatically with “fascism.” Eliade left Romania after the Communist takeover in 1945, migrated to France, and taught in Paris; he migrated to the United States in 1956 and lectured at the University of Chicago and elsewhere on the topic that obsessed him in the second half of his life – the meaning and function of religion, especially of the sacred. That Eliade had a stake in Romanian Orthodoxy is not contradicted by his opposition to “spiritualism.” In his twenties, Eliade read the French writer René Guénon (1886 – 1951), and came under his spell. Guénon also opposed “spiritualism,” by which he indicated the various theosophical banalities descending out of the Nineteenth Century, including Theosophy itself. Guénon wrote a hefty volume on the fraudulence of Helena Blavatsky’s mystical posturing and the quasi-criminal undertakings of her dubious followers. Elsewhere Guénon consistently emphasized the radical difference between his own Traditionalism and the somber but hollow tenets of Blavatsky’s Secret Doctrine (1888). Theosophy belonged to pseudo-initiation and counter-initiation, Guénon argued. These Guénonian attitudes became Eliade’s own; they inform his work. With Guénon and Julius Evola (1898 – 1974), Eliade constitutes the stable core of what might be called Twentieth Century skeptical esotericism.
This post supervenes my recent post On Some Happy Corollaries of Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorems (so you might want to review that post, and the earlier posts it cites in turn, in order to find yourself quite oriented in what follows (sorry, dear reader: not everything is TLDR)).
There is much talk in traditional cosmology of a stack of heavens above our own, and likewise of hells below. The hierarchy of angelic choirs echoes that stack. Most pagan pantheons feature such hierarchies of gods, with a Most High God above all gods, whom they worship, and who lives in the Highest Heaven which is above all the heavens. There is talk too of other worlds parallel to our own (such, e.g., as Jotunheim in the mythic scheme of the Vikings), that might communicate with each other (as at Ragnarok, when the giants of Jotunheim make war upon the men of Middle Earth and the gods of Asgard), so as to form a world of worlds.
That sort of talk struck me at first as fantastic, and so relatively irreal – despite its irresistible odor of concrete factuality, and its ubiquity in the traditions of Earth, and thus its uncanny tinct of credibility. There is also the difficulty that there is a certain beauty in the notion, that cannot be found in the flat idea that our world (however generously conceived (as with the various sorts of branching cosmoi proposed by this or that metacosmology)) is all there is. Then at last there is the ancient conviction of the Great Chain of Being, no link of which might be concretely missing if any part of the chain were to find concrete instantiation.
When I confessed last week that I had for much of 2020 struggled against the sin of despair, my confessor replied: “I’m struggling with it myself. 90% of the confessions I hear these days include that one. I’ve never seen anything like it. I’m shocked.”
A guest post from commenter PBW:
It’s Saturday. As Friday waned, the old world died. All of the old certainties were bound up with aloes and myrrh in linen, and laid to restlessness.
Now we wait. There are rumours of Sunday. I have heard, and I believe – as so many have, as so many have not. Some who have believed have made new worlds and all who have believed have made new lives; lives inconceivable on Friday. Some who have disbelieved have built fortresses of unbelief; all who have disbelieved have turned their faces from the east. But all who hear these rumours have been put the question extraordinary, and all have been obliged to answer.
This Saturday, empires have risen and collapsed. Hosts of hosts have lived and died. None of the understandings of Friday can be re-imagined, save the one stubborn link, and that one passing over Calvary.
When will night fall on this expectant Saturday?
Son: Hey, Dad, can I ask a question?
Father: Sure, kiddo, what’s up?
Son: Well, I’ve been wondering about the Atonement.
Father: O, great. Another easy one. At least it’s not about girls, so maybe I can help. What’s the question?
Son: I can’t see how the death of Jesus helped us. I get that God wanted to help us get back to him, but I don’t understand why he didn’t just make it happen, the way he did when he created light. Why send his Son to Earth, and then have him killed? Why was that necessary? Why did Jesus have to die?
Hippocampus Press – 2017
On the universal degeneracy of so-called higher education in the contemporary USA, I have made myself clear in any number of articles and essays since the mid-1990s. Recently at The Orthosphere I described the last few years of my college teaching career at what I called “Upstate Consolation University,” supplying anecdotes about students and colleagues who reflect equally the functional illiteracy that has afflicted American culture for the last forty years, at least. Can PhDs really be illiterate? Yes. While they have the specialized knowledge of a trained bureaucrat-scholar, they yet lack anything resembling the broad education of actual eminent minds in decades and centuries now remote and by the current generation completely forgotten. The young faculty members lack philosophical depth – and that translates into an inability to employ intuition or imagination so as to transcend the boundaries of their narrow graduate school instruction. Are American undergraduates illiterate? Yes. But they are more (or is the word less) than illiterate. I would say that they proudly know nothing, except that pride requires knowledge of something and undergraduates have no knowledge of their lack of knowledge. Still and all, their attitude is a prideful one with no discernible basis. The cohorts of college graduates will not preserve the civilization that they inherit. Indeed, they are not aware of inheriting it; their awareness fixates itself entirely on their devices. Being past that, but holding it nevertheless as a background or context to my late-in-life contemplations, I pursue the leisure of my retirement, which consists mainly in eclectic reading of items high and low, with the recognition, late in life, that what is classified as high might really be quite low and vice-versa.