Ionel Talpazan (1955 – 2015): Illustrating a UFO Swarm (No Date Given)
Classicist Robin Lane Fox (born 1946) sets aside a chapter in his compendious study of Pagans and Christians (1986) to discuss the topic, current in the 1980s, of “close encounters,” a phrase originating with the Ufologist J. Allen Hynek and made popular by cinema director Steven Spielberg in his Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977). Fox’s study surveys the religiosity of what scholars now refer to as “Late Antiquity,” a period comprising the centuries from the Third through the Fifth during which the Roman Imperium saw its organizational collapse in the West and, perhaps more importantly, the demise of Paganism as the public religion of Imperial society and its replacement by Christianity in the form of the Church in its Latin, Greek, and Coptic branches. The religiosity of Late Antiquity has, for Fox, a peculiar flavor. It runs to intensity, not only in the contest between the old religion and the new, but within the old and the new, where disagreements over belief set people at odds theologically. Another element in that peculiar flavor is that, on both the Pagan and Christian sides, theology absorbed philosophy, which, at the time, the school of Neoplatonism dominated. This absorption of philosophy into theology resulted in elaborate systems of strict syllogism, on the one hand, interconnected with mystic speculation, on the other. Folk-religion also infiltrated these systems and along with it, the motifs of magic. People of Late Antiquity all over the Mediterranean world had vivid, personal encounters with gods, angels, and demons. Although Fox criticizes the arguments of E. R. Dodds in the latter’s Pagan and Christian in an Age of Anxiety (1966), he acknowledges that in the folk-basis of Late-Antique worship, prophylaxis against bad luck played a prominent role. Such prominence indicates a linkage between the psychological state of anxiety, longstanding and pervasive, and the character of religious practice. The mere appearance of a god — on the road, at sea, or in a public place before a crowd — placated the ubiquitous unease of the age.
There are two options now before me; before America; before the West; before Christendom, as we all approach what seems to be a cultural crisis hundreds of years in the making: either to panic, or to commend our spirits to God, so renewing our pledge of fealty to him our Captain, and then to keep fighting, and before all else to keep praying.
There must be a demonic aspect to the present crisis. Our adversaries on all sides are too various, distributed and yet spookily coordinated for any merely human agency to have organized them so well. Another clue to their demonic inspiration: they are rather dense, as befits an army dedicated to confusion and disorder. They make stupid, obvious mistakes, such as threatening election officials – a federal offense – and then posting recordings of those threats online.
Synchronistically, I just finished the book Daimonic Reality: a Field Guide to the Otherworld, by Patrick Harpur. I have been reading about demons and angels a lot over the last five years or so. I had not wondered why, until yesterday morning. The topic is interesting, but so are many others. Why had I got on to it? Perhaps, I then thought for the first time, out of the blue: perhaps, it has something to do with our present crisis. Perhaps I have been prepared. Or we: for, I am not special. Lots of people in recent years have begun to take angels and demons rather more seriously than had been the case since 1900 or so.
Whatever the outcome of the present electoral controversy in the United States, it seems that we are bound soon to some radical political crisis, that will profoundly shape the American future – and, so, the future of all Christendom, such as she still is.
Having followed the link in my latest Philosophical Skeleton Key on prayer to a prior post in which I set forth some of the metaphysical prolegomenae thereto, commenter Hambone there wrote the other day:
Kristor, you said:
Having no way to comprehend spiritual realities, I could not even understand quite exactly what the articles of the Credo properly mean, or what I was meant to be doing in worship.
I’m somewhere in the middle of understanding this post and applying it – I have long struggled with making my faith *real* rather than mental affirmation coupled with ritual observance. What ARE you meant to be doing in worship? And how does that flow from the fundamental spiritual nature of life?
Commenter Rhetocrates then suggested that my response should be promoted to a post of its own:
That’s the $64 question, isn’t it? I’m still working on it. One never finishes working on it. One cannot. Worship is fathomless. How not? Its object is infinite. We cannot begin to have a complete answer to your question.
But, I can say a few things about it.
W. K. C. Guthrie (1906 – 1981), Orpheus and Greek Religion (1952): Guthrie, a Cambridge classicist, regards Orphism – taking its name from the legendary prophet-singer Orpheus – as the first religion to emphasize cosmogony and eschatology. For Guthrie, Orphism counts also as the first thematically moral religion. Guthrie argues that Hesiod adhered to the Orphic faith and he cites details of the Theogony to prove his case. Even more boldly Guthrie presents the thesis that cosmology, as distinct from cosmogony, derives from Orphic lore; he sees Plato’s Timaeus, for example, as an item in the genre of Orphic discourse. Indeed, Guthrie sees Plato as an Orphist. In Plato’s philosophy, after all, the seeker of wisdom wanders like an orphan in this punishing world. By dint of intellectual and moral askesis the wanderer might fulfill his obscure desire to go home. One of the etymologies would have it that the name Orpheus stems from orphanos, which English borrows from Greek via Latin, a derivation fitting itself rather closely with Guthrie’s thesis. Some stories tell that Orpheus hailed from Thrace, but Guthrie affirms his Hellenism. The Thracian connection seems to Guthrie a metaphor. Orphism differed so much from the reigning theologies of the archaic period that it struck people as having a distant provenance – in some accounts, a Hyperborean one. Orphism stands in tension with the Dionysus cult; and in the myth preserved by Ovid in his Metamorphoses, the Maenads murder Orpheus in a classic sparagmos. In the Imperial centuries, however, Orpheus and Dionysus seem to have merged, with the former’s irenic quality overwhelming the whole. Orpheus’ expertise on the lyre affiliates him with Apollo. Through that affiliation, Orpheus maintains his status as the first lyric poet and the first musician.
When you think of the cockatoo, think of me…
From the late, great traditionalist blogger Lawrence Auster comes this min-essay clarifying the meaning of transcendence. Auster points out that unless our activities, loyalties and institutions have meanings that transcend their merely physical elements, we cannot understand them, love them, or act to protect them.
In a postscript to the essay, Auster observes:
My main purpose in this discussion is to get at the root of why we our letting our culture be destroyed. I’m saying it’s because we have lost the experience of the transcendent as it is related to our specific culture, and therefore we don’t have the will to preserve or defend our culture. [Emphasis added] The transcendent needs to be understood not only in relation to the idea of God, but in relation to culture. If the transcendent is only experienced in relation to universal morality or God, then we end up with modern conservatism, which worships universal ideas of democracy and puts 99 percent of its moral energy into opposing abortion, but which fails to defend our culture as a culture from the innumerable ills that threaten it from without and within. It is no coincidence that both neoconservatives and evangelical Christians favor mass non-European immigration. It is because they lack a sense of the transcendent quality of our particular culture and nation.
Provided they spring honestly from motives of true charity, and to the extent that we are sane, our deepest loves must point toward reals. They must be reliable guides, or they would interfere with survival, and we would not have them.
So then also likewise with our deepest sorrows.
Easter is the only reason to be optimistic. If the Resurrection didn’t happen, then no man can be resurrected. In that case, death will certainly and totally consume all the things we care about. Life might go well for a time, to be sure. But it will all end in sorrow; and that end, that sorrow and pain, will be permanent, and incorrigible, and total. It will take all of us, and all our works. None of it will come to anything. All will be lost.