If all the books disappeared…..

In a recent interview with Stephen Colbert, the British comedian Ricky Gervais discussed religion. Colbert, an avowed Catholic asked Gervais provocatively about the existence of God as prime mover:

But why is there something rather than nothing?

Gervais, an agnostic-atheist, countered that the question “why” was irrelevant. Rather, HOW was a much more relevant question.

Colbert, a monotheist would deny the 2999 gods of other religions, but maintains one ….the Judeo-Christian God.

Gervais simply denies one more God than Colbert.

Ricky adhers to the scientific process, exploring the eternal laws of the universe, without needing a recourse to theism to accept existence or manufacture morality.

But science is constantly proved all the time. If we take any fiction, or any holy book, and destroyed it, okay, in 1,000 years time that wouldn’t come back just as it was. But if you took every science book and every fact and destroyed them all, in 1,000 years they’d all be back — because all the same tests would be the same results.

What is interesting about this exchange is the elision of several hundred years of western philosophy.

Friedrich Nietzsche stated at the end of the 19th century, ‘God is dead’. This was not a triumphant declaration on behalf a race who had finally overcome millennia of slavery to the dreams and fairy-tales of their ancestors.

It was a melancholy observation of his times and a gloomy foreboding of the consequence of this for subsequent generations.

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Without an understanding of a realm of absolutes, it was not morality that is corroded….. but meaning and identity.

The 20th century found itself contending with existentialism, subjectivism, post-modernism and individualism.  We live in a culture of “alternative facts” in which even the foundations of empirical rationalism can be declared “subjective.”

If all the books disappeared from the world, along with all memory of what they contain, humans would return to campfire story telling dreamers. We would return to pre-scientific intuitive learners, oral historians, mythmakers and poets. 

We would become religious again.

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Knowing this, Carl Jung, following from Nietzsche, sought to re-understand religion and myth, plumbing the depth of our dreams to understand ancient narratives and legends and apply them to human psychology and culture building.

Should all the books of the world disappear, we would have to rediscover the scientific process.

This would require a relearning of an ability to know, to form meaning and have identity.

This would, as it did with the Greeks, the Hindus, the Chinese, the Hebrews, our scientific forbears (and all highly spiritual people), be forged within a framework of absolutes; a transcendental realm in which ideas and knowledge are – within the mind of God.

Game of Faiths

The HBO series Games of Thrones aired the final episode for Season 6 last Sunday to an epic 9 million viewers. The fantasy drama is  based on a series of novels by George R. R. Martin, which currently number 5 in a potential series of 7 books, and form the greater compilation entitled,  A Song of Ice and Fire.

With nods to J.R.R. Tolkien, the epic fantasy novels are set in a parallel world which shows many cultural, sociological and literary similarities to Medieval and Renaissance Europe and the Near East, with added mythical beasts and magical cults.

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Darker and more blood thirsty than Tolkien, the books and now TV series have incited consternation for the frequent demise of major characters.

‘Why the appeal?’ one may well ask!

To early impressions, the stories can seem amoral. Many of the “good” characters get axed [literally] quite quickly, while the wicked prosper. All manner of vices proliferate on page and screen. Terrible inequalities emerge between owner and slave, between men with power and women without, between kings with money and armies and peasants without, and so forth.

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While unsavoury in nature, this portrayal of the world bears more likeness to true human history than other romantic epics of literature, Tolkien’s works included.

One cannot read much history without encountering the same gruesomely bloody and immoral acts portrayed within Game of Thrones. George R.R. Martin, based much of the political machinations at the heart of the books on the British events of the Wars of the Roses. Some of the alarming and brutal customs including Cersei’s public walk of shame through the streets of the capital, or Tyrion’s ‘trial by combat’ come straight from Medieval history.

Moreover, the island of Westeros bears much historically in common with the British Isles with its long elaborate history of settlements, invasions and skirmishes between the Celts, Britons, Romans and Anglo-Saxons.

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History is brimming over with brutality. One reads of the Egyptian dynasties in which incestuous marriages were not uncommon, or Roman dynasties in which inbreeding created maddened rulers, cruel and drunk on power. Of course there were Persian rulers who impaled prisoners or crucified them publicly to deter dissent. One cannot read much of the most revered texts of the Judeo-Christian tradition,  the Old Testament, without encountering brutal accounts of parricide, polygamy, human sacrifice, cannibalism, slavery, attempted genocide and more.

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And so, the world of Game of Thrones portrays life as cheap, hard and subject to the power plays of ruling elite. Caught in the midst of these power plays are the vulnerable – the women, the disabled, the illegitimate and the lesser born. And why shouldn’t it be so, for this is in fact the pattern of history is it not?

Here lies an interesting differential between history and poetry. While most often written from the vantage point of the victor, history is (at least in name) concerned the “what” and “when” of events past. On the other hand, poetry addresses the “whys” of human affairs. Poetry is unapologetically biased, adding layers of meaning, morality, and destiny to human accounts, straying into the metaphysical.

We look to art and narrative to provide a reprieve from the random patterns of brutality that make up life.

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It’s interesting then to revisit the claim Martin’s narratives seem amoral or without redemption. In fact, the stories are framed by an epic quest of cosmic proportions. The stories embody a narrative of redemption, ironically while religions within the stories function like any other element of an intricate socio-political universe.

In Martin’s world pagan Druidic beliefs exist along side the the established religion, the Faith of the Seven. George R.R. Martin, a catholic in upbringing, based the Faith of the Seven on the Medieval Catholic church, replete with inquisitions and political machinatons. Further afield, mostly originating in the east are other faiths including worship of  The Faceless God, or god of death, The Horse God of the Dothraki,  and of the Red God, or the Lord of Light, a religion based on Zorastrianism.

These religions form part of the fabric of Martin’s world and provide characters with agency. For example,  Cersei uses the Faith of the Seven and its adherents for political advantage, but is later caught in her own trap and manipulated in return.

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Behind this however, Game of Thrones paints a background of a cosmic battle between the forces of death and of life. Beyond the petty doings of human men and women, with their iron suits, gold coins, wicked hearts and political ambition, lies a massive army of  evil undead which threaten to wipe out all humanity and bring an unending winter.

Game of Thrones stretches beyond history and religion, and reaches into poetry; it sings a song of salvation.

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This song is familiar to us all, since it follows the pattern of every Hero Journey.

It is Jon Snow who demonstrates he is a true leader, one worthy of this cosmic battle. He sacrifices for his men and gains their loyalty and trust. He is betrayed at the hands of his friends and murdered, but he returns from the clutches of death to prompt the Priestess of Light to declare him  Azor Ahai, the one prophesied to bring balance between light and dark, to end the Great Battle with the forces of darkness and death.

Jon Snow is a humble man, over-looked by nobles and princes, one willing to give his life for his friends, one betrayed by his closest brothers, one who returns from the dead, reborn with a unique mandate-  to restore peace and harmony to a broken world.

 

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George Martin’s study of history and religion within the greater context of mythology and poetry, informs us how modern and post-modern teachings have impoverished western culture. In an effort to encourage objectivity and tolerance in increasingly diverse political and religious melting pots, western tradition has eliminated any meta-narrative or song of salvation.

Martin, like Tolkien reasserts a grand narrative, an epic hero story, one which echoes with the same themes and motifs of all epic narratives throughout the generations.

The Golden Bough

The Golden Bough [1890-1915] is an anthology of comparative mythology and religion, written by the Scottish anthropologist Sir James George Frazer.

The book is in fact 12 volumes which analyse the narratives and rituals of the ancient world. Its central thesis is that originally, religions were fertility cults concerned with cyclical seasons. These cults revolved around concerns of life and death and almost universally featured the worship of and periodic sacrifice of a sacred king. This king was most often the incarnation of a dying god, who perished at the harvest and was reincarnated in the spring.

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Frazer proposed that mankind has progressed from magic through religious belief to scientific thought, however this legend remained pervasive into the 20th century, Frazer’s own era. He cited the examples of Osiris, Tammuz, Adonis and Attis, Dionysus and drew parallels to Jesus Christ.

The book scandalized the British public when first published, as it equated the Christian story of Jesus and the Resurrection with the pagan religions. Nevertheless, it soon became a staple of anthropology and comparative religious curricula.

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The book’s title  The Golden Bough, refers to  the adventures of the Trojan hero Aeneas, [Virgil, The Aeneid, Book VI] who leaving Troy after its destruction travels to Italy and founds what will become Rome. He is aided by the 700 year old sibyl of Cumae, who agrees to escort him into the underworld to find his father. To achieve this, Aeneas must pluck a branch of the Golden Bough, a sacred tree that only the gods can access. Aeneas’ mother Aphrodite assists him to pluck a branch of the tree and with it and with the help of the sibyl, he descends to Hades unscathed. There he greets the ‘shade’ of his father who shows him the river Lethe, or forgetfulness and beyond it where all the spirits of the unborn await. There are Aeneas descendants, among them great men such as Romulus and the Caesars who would one day rule Rome. Aeneas’ father also points him to the Gates of Sleep through which he can return to the living.

Virgil’s narrative highlights a few interesting things about the motif of the dying king, or the hero who descends into Hades and returns.  First, it is a classic hero journey, as developed in Joseph Campbell’s Hero with a Thousand Faces [1949]. The hero journey, also called the monomyth, is a narrative pattern favoured by storytellers, film-makers and script writers the world over. It describes the typical adventure of the archetype known as The Hero, the person who goes out and achieves great deeds on behalf of the group, tribe, or civilization.

Second, Virgil connects the hero journey to the World Tree, The Golden Bough or the divine Tree of Life. This common motif of ancient narratives connects the realm of the divine, the gods and their garden of Eden or paradise, to Earth. The branch or fruit of of the tree of life bestows immortality and so is restricted from mortal access. Access to life and thus to this tree becomes of obsessive interest to ancient heroes.

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What does all this mean and what importance does this narrative resonance have at a time such as Easter?

Many point out that Easter coincides with the pagan festival of the first full moon of Spring. Thus, the celebration of the death of a supposed god-king,  who later was resurrected to restore life to earth and to humanity is easily explained away as simple anthropological pattern that people of  a more scientific age should be well beyond.

But this is where things begin to go a bit strange.

The Christian celebration of Easter coincides with the Jewish full moon celebration of the passover, a feast which celebrates the liberation of the Jewish people from slavery in Egypt. Far from celebrating the sacrificial death of a god-king, the Passover celebrates the merciful sparing of the people of Israel from a plague of death in Egypt by the sacrifice of a simple lamb.

Within the ancient near eastern context, rich with narratives of dying and rising god-kings, Zoroastrians and Jewish narratives resonated with a typological hero, a servant king, who would bring peace and end the cosmic cycle of death and mend the polarities of light and dark. This king, the anointed mashiach or messiah, would not only restore life, but end all wars, suffering, illness, death and sorrow. While it was acknowledged that this king was a servant and would suffer, this king would also be politically significant and liberate the Jewish people from their bondages.

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When devout Jews of the first century AD declared the Jesus of Nazareth was this promised anointed one, the uproar and dissent caused within the Jewish communities of the Mediterranean caused even the Imperial Rulers to complain and seek to suppress it [Divus Claudius,  25].

Most significantly what this shows is that the Jewish people were the least likely people of the ancient world to equate a man to God, or to conflate pagan mythology of a dying and rising god with the advent of their mashiach.

Historians have posited that claims of Christ’s divinity or evidence of the resurrection were laid-over first century accounts of Jesus of Nazareth to satisfy mythical types. However, this too has been shown to be quite unsupportable. The earliest texts which report eye witness claims of Christ’s death date from the first century and the debates and unrest caused by the earliest followers of Christ are supported by secular historians such as Claudius [above] and Tacitus [Annals XV.44], Suetonius [Nero 16] and Pliny [Epistulae X.96].

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The fact that hundreds of so called eye-witnesses of the resurrected Christ were persecuted and willingly died to maintain this claim, caused unrest across the whole Mediterranean region and resultant persecution by the authorities.

So what can we make of these seeming contradictions? The Christ narrative seems to comply with mythical archetypes which resonate throughout world literature and point to cosmic reconciliation of death and rebirth. However, within the Jewish context, the claim that Christ fulfilled messianic hopes of ending the struggle between dark and light, restoring peace, ceasing the cycle of death and bringing peace – was vehemently opposed by large portions of the Jewish community and yet defended to the death by others.

It is perhaps what CS Lewis refers to when he states:

The old myth of the Dying God, without ceasing to be myth, comes down from the heaven of legend and imagination to the earth of history. It happens —at a particular date, in a particular place, followed by definable historical consequences. We pass from a Balder or an Osiris, dying nobody knows when or where, to a historical Person crucified (it is all in order) under Pontius Pilate. By becoming fact it does not cease to be myth: that is the miracle.  ~ C.S.Lewis [1970] God in the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics. 

Rather than simply assuming, Christianity, like any mythical belief, has roots in pre-scientific questions of death and rebirth, winter and spring, Lewis shows how in fact, the poetic resonance of myths and legends of all eras and cultures, created a prophetic typology, pointing forward to a solution to a cosmic and unsolvable problem.

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That solution came at Passover about 30AD, when a man died a criminals death. His blood not only averted the Plague of Death on humanity, but also initiated the release of humanity from slavery into glorious freedom.

His resurrection caused a radical revolution in the lives of his 500 odd followers and eye witnesses, who radicalised by the realisation of the fulfilment of all messianic hopes turned the world upside down in a quest to share the news, not only with the Jews, but with the whole world.

Because it has been the whole world who has been dreaming of this miraculous solution since the beginning of time.

 

 

The Magicians

The Christmas Nativity story is marked by visits from wise men [Matt 2:1], or Magi [plural for Magus Latin, or Magos Greek] from the East.

It is commonly believed to be wise men to be Zoroastrians from Persia.  The Prophet Zoroaster [c. 1500 BC]  was the founder of the Magi and “inventor” of both astrology and magic and the word, magi still survives in the modern-day words “magic ” and “magician”.

Harry Potter eat your heart out.

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Zoroastrianism was a monotheistic faith that developed in Persia from 1500 BC while Abrahamic monotheism can be dated to 2000BC. Zoroastrians, while astrologers and alchemists, were opposed to sorcery and their beliefs were marked by strong polarities between good and evil, dark and light and Messianism – a belief that a king will rise to reconcile the cosmic battle between light and dark.

The wise men of the East feature in biblical accounts of Daniel. Daniel served under two Chaldean-Babylonian kings, Nebuchadnezzar and his son Belteshazzar, and one Medo-Persian Darius. Daniel predicted the rise of a kingdom which would be greater than other kingdoms and take over the world.

 

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Old Testament scripture that dates after the exile is noted to be affected by Zoroastrianism as it takes on strong imagery of dark and light, motifs of angels and demons, heaven and hell. These polarities of Second Temple Judaism can be contrasted to the strong monotheism of traditional Judaism. In the Torah, the first five books, the Book of Job and other earlier writings,  God was ONE and held polarities of justice and mercy together. God [not an evil force] was to be feared as judge, Satan was more “accuser” than demon, bringing cases before YHWH for his judgement.  Death was a grey waste called Sheol, and the afterlife was a form of reincarnation.

Zoroastrians used their astrology to follow the signs to where the infant Christ lived with his parents. Their arrival signified the fulfillment of prophecies concerning the nations coming to see the light of Israel, bringing their tribute and fealty [Ps 72:11, Isa 60:11]. The arrival of the Magi to honour the birth of Christ is perhaps thus a look back to how Judaism was nuanced by the monotheism and messianism of the Zoroastrians. Or perhaps it is a look forward to the Age to come when all those who seek God in spirit and in truth, acknowledged the Messiah, the whole point of and culmination of scripture.

 

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St. Nicholas the Defender

Tradition tells us that Santa Claus is named after St. Nicholas, Bishop of Myra in Asia Minor, now modern Turkey. He lived 270-343 AD.

Son of wealthy parents, Nicholas had a reputation for secret gift-giving, such as putting coins in the shoes of those who left them out for him.

This practice is still celebrated on his Feast Day, celebrated on 6th December in Catholic, Anglican and Orthodox churches and has found it’s way to our December 25th celebrations of Christ-Mass.

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The modern name comes from the Dutch Sinterklaas, a derivative of “Saint Nikolaos”.

In 325, he was one of many bishops to answer the request of Constantine to appear at the First Council of Nicaea. There, Nicholas was a staunch anti-Arian, defender of the Orthodox Christian position,and one of the bishops who signed the Nicene Creed.

This council addressed the question of Christ’s divinity and humanity against the Arian position. Arius argued Christ was a created being, not co-equal with God. If this were true, Christ’s birth, death and resurrection had no power and the gospel was rendered a useless fable [1 Cor 15:14].

Tradition has it that he became so angry with the heretic Arius during the Council that he punched him in the face.

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It is fitting then that the patron saint of our most beloved holiday, not only initiated the tradition of secret gift giving on a feast day, but was the true “Guardian of the Galaxy” – defending the significance of the advent of Christ’s birth for generations to come.

 

 

Tommy Taylor: The Unwritten

Written by Mike Carey and illustrated by Peter Gross, “The Unwritten: Tommy Taylor and the Bogus Identity” is the first episode in a graphic novel series first released in 2010.

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The novel tells three interweaving stories. The first tells of three kids Tommy, Peter and Sue, facing the wicked wizard Count Ambrosio. Tommy Taylor has dark hair and round glasses and has a wheel tattoo which aches when his nemesis is near. [Harry Potter much ?]

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Tommy speaks the words of a spell defeating Ambrosio but injuring himself in the process. Bruised and dying, Tommy cannot survive the encounter but his friends know the prophecy and taking Ambrosio’s trumpet, they sound the final note.

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The second tale is set in the present day, Tom Taylor is a celebrity doing the rounds of comic conventions. His father, Wilson Taylor authored the wildly successful comic book series about boy wonder “Tommy Taylor”.  His father’s sudden disappearance at the height of his fame, meant Tom unaccomplished in his own right, has been the face of his father’s work.

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During a comic convention Q&A, Tom is accused by journalist Lizzie Hexam to be an impostor. Evidence emerges that Tom’s childhood records have been fabricated.

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Fans begin to agitate for the truth about Tom’s identity. One fan, steeped in Tommy Taylor lore, claims that Tom is the “word made flesh” and is the incarnate form of the boy written into the comic books. This fan theory is dismissed as the bogus ramblings of a crazy man but Tom is shaken by it. Framed as an impostor, pursued by crazed fans thinking him to be the real Tommy Taylor made flesh, Tom flees to Europe to track down information about his deceased father.

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Here Tom is framed for murder by Pullman, a mysterious hitman.

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The third tale is a behind the scenes account of sinister characters seeking to rewrite public opinion and conceal the truth of Tom’s identity.  In an epilogue famous authors such as Rudyard Kipling, Mark Twain, Oscar Wilde and finally Wilson Taylor interact with mysterious suited gentlemen who offer literary fame in exchange for adherence to their agenda. The ascendency or decline of these authors is determined entirely by the whims and caprices of these mysterious men.

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The three stories begin to strangely intertwine as the narrative continues. The mysterious suited gentlemen  frame Tom as a murderer but while Tom is being arrested, the winged cat Mingus, his childhood companion from the comic series appears to him.

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Once in jail, Tom encounters Lizzie Hexam and another inmate Savoy, both reporters who have planted themselves in jail to shadow Tom. Together they plot an escape. Lizzie reveals she is still in touch with Wilson Taylor the author of Tommy Taylor and uses an magic door knob from the comic books to break out from jail. Tom, Lizzie and Savoy, now mirror the three young characters, Tommy, Peter and Sue, from the Tommy Taylor stories. The door knob carries the three into a series of parallel stories.

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It seems we are a party three layers of authorship. While it seems that Tom lives in the real world while Tommy Taylor exists in the scripted world of comic books. However, increasingly it is revealed there exists a higher world vying for control of Tom’s life indicating he is perhaps the one and the same Tommy Taylor written into different scenes, but one with moral agency and self-consciousness.

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The stories explore the interesting nexus between fiction and the human consciousness. Is Tom in fact also Tommy, and is he still the subject of Wilson Taylor’s fiction?

Who are the mysterious suited gentlemen and is Wilson Taylor writing Tom into “real life” in order to subvert their controls?

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Like Sophie’s World – the text explores the interaction of author with characters of their literary worlds. The characters are granted life by the author; at what point do they have moral agency or free will of their own?

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At what point do we question whether it is in fact us that are the characters within someone else’s story? Who controls the forces within our world, wars, revolutions, famous ideas, cultural change. To what extent are we truly free?

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Count Ambrosio the arch villain of the Tommy Taylor comics, who breaks into Tom’s world and seeks to execute him, articulates the main point best:

Stories are the only thing worth dying for.

Stories shape our world, powerful story tellers influence generations to think and feel in history shaping ways. Stories shape political and religious ideas and shape cultural identities. It is for stories and ideals that people go to war, begin revolutions, sacrifice wealth and change laws and social systems.

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Who would seek to control our stories? And as agents within a story, how can we use the devices of stories to escape the powers that would control us?

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JRR Tolkien, philologist, linguist and lover of ancient narratives and myths, argued that:

Myths are not lies.

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Tolkien detested heaved handed moralism of fables such as Pilgrims Progress, opting instead to created internally consistent worlds with characters each with their own place within history and mythology. So serious was he about story, that he argued with CS Lewis, then a staunch atheist, that life was in fact a grand narrative into which the great mythical archetypes had intersected.

As a Catholic, to him the Christ narrative was the event in which myth…

…has entered History and the primary world; the desire and aspiration of sub-creation has been raised to the fulfillment of Creation.

For Tolkien and later Lewis who later wrote much on the matter, the ground and truth of the Christ narrative was that in it the Word became flesh.  The intervention of voice and hand of the author into history transformed history from a random collocation of events into a grand narrative imbued with profound meaning.

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To them both, this miraculous juncture gave ground to the struggle for meaning in their lives. In it, the author meets them and exonerates their quest for agency.

 

Heathcliff

This post is dedicated to Tamlyn, whose birthday it is today !!

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Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte is considered to be a classic of English literature. Written in 1846, it was published in 1847 when Bronte was 29 years of age. It was her only novel and her premature death meant she never knew of the popularity and fame the work would bring her.

The novel is characterised by its dark gothic tones and was met with mixed reviews because of its depiction of mental and physical cruelty. It challenged strict Victorian ideals of the day, featuring religious hypocrisy, immorality, class and gender inequality.

But its enduring popularity demonstrates that it is the depth of love between the two protagonists, Cathy and Heathcliff, both profound and tragic that resonates with its readers.

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Heathcliff and Cathy’s love story is caught up in a complex web of class struggles and human vice. Heathcliff is abominably treated by his adoptive brother Hindley and later, crushed by Cathy’s rejection of him, to marry the more genteel Edgar. Cathy describes the choice before her:

It would degrade me to marry Heathcliff now; so he shall never know how I love him: and that, not because he’s handsome, Nelly, but because he’s more myself than I am. Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same; and Linton’s is as different as a moonbeam from lightning, or frost from fire.

Foolishly she believes she can use her marriage to better Heathcliff’s position in life and have him close. In fact, he departs and returns a wealthy man but remains tormented even after her early death.

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Heathcliff is Byronesque, the archetype of the tortured romantic hero whose all-consuming passions destroy both him and those around him.

Lord Byron writing 30 years before Bronte, described his hero in The Corsair [1814]:

That man of loneliness and mystery,
Scarce seen to smile, and seldom heard to sigh— (I, VIII)

and

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He knew himself a villain—but he deem’d
The rest no better than the thing he seem’d;
And scorn’d the best as hypocrites who hid
Those deeds the bolder spirit plainly did.
He knew himself detested, but he knew
The hearts that loath’d him, crouch’d and dreaded too.
Lone, wild, and strange, he stood alike exempt
From all affection and from all contempt: (I, XI)

Doubtless, Bronte was influenced by such a character.

Interestingly, Emily herself was described by her Belgian teacher, Constantin Heger in heroic terms:

She should have been a man – a great navigator. Her powerful reason would have deduced new spheres of discovery from the knowledge of the old; and her strong imperious will would never have been daunted by opposition or difficulty, never have given way but with life. She had a head for logic, and a capability of argument unusual in a man and rarer indeed in a woman… impairing this gift was her stubborn tenacity of will which rendered her obtuse to all reasoning where her own wishes, or her own sense of right, was concerned.

So Emily Bronte wrote a novel of a man, Heathcliff who is Byronesque in character; perhaps she wrote of herself, wild and free yet trapped by the world she inhabited? Or is it Cathy and the choices she faces that Emily presents as though her own?

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Cathy’s choice has terrible consequences. The violence visited on Heathcliff by Hindley and others did not come close to the cruelty of Cathy’s actions.

When Heathcliff finds her dying in childbirth, he sobs:

You teach me now how cruel you’ve been — cruel and false! Why did you despise me? Why did you betray your own heart, Cathy? I have not one word of comfort. You deserve this. You have killed yourself. Yes, you may kiss me, and cry; and wring out my kisses and tears: they’ll blight you — they’ll damn you. You loved me — then what right had you to leave me? What right — answer me — for the poor fancy you felt for

Linton? Because misery, and degradation, and death, and nothing God or Satan could inflict would have parted us, you, of your own will, did it. I have not broken your heart — you have broken it; and in breaking it, you have broken mine. So much the worse for me, that I am strong. Do I want to live? What kind of living will it be when you——oh, God! would you like to live with your soul in the grave?

The novel is a figure of 8, completing one circle when, before Cathy dies, she is reunited briefly with Heathcliff. The second loop does not fully close until their children are fully grown and Heathcliff himself dies, finally reconciling him to Cathy in the graveyard.

The novel is a tragedy in all regards, except that shepherds report the ghosts of Cathy and Heathcliff haunt the moors. True love, thwarted by social class, race, hypocritical choices and hubris –  only finds peace beyond death.

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The choice Cathy made is not unlike the primal choice of humans to their maker. Their decision to take knowledge of “good and evil” was perhaps thought at first to better themselves and still maintain a relationship with God. But instead they perished.

And God, when they lie dying – sobs:

how cruel you have been – cruel and false. Why did you despise me? Why did you betray your own heart?…. you have killed yourself….. I have not broken your heart – you have broken it; and in breaking it, you have broken mine.

While Heathcliff is left cruelly to live on alone, the other story tells of the lover that followed us into death, and restores relationship with us beyond death.

That’s a love story I love to read again and again and again.

Valhalla and YOLO

The epic TV series Vikings tells of the ancient Norsemen and their raids on Britain, from the 8th century. The Vikings raided for food, land and wealth at times when their own lands were growing overpopulated.

Fearless in battle, they were motivated to seek honour in death. Regularly, the chieftain roused his warriors by recounting that all who perish in battle, ride with the Valkyries to Valhalla, the hall of Odin.

To the Vikings, victory was sweet but death in battle was sweeter still. Eternal glory awaited.  Consequently, the Vikings were formidable warriors, raiding east into Russia, south-east to the Caspian Sea and Black Sea, west as far as Greenland and Newfoundland, and south as far as North Africa and the Mediterranean.

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Today the dominant narrative is that beyond death, nothing awaits. The epithet YOLO or  ‘you only live once’,  means to live without fear.  A modern iteration of “carpe diem” YOLO is the catch cry of youths living large – whether by risky behaviour, fun loving silliness or challenging norms.

The two narratives have vastly different emphases of what lies beyond space and time, yet come to similar conclusions of how to live now. Both advocate courage in the here-and-now, to live boldly in the face of death.

What narrative do we live by? How do we face the inevitability of death and make our life count?

All you need is love!

Ever wonder what narrative the nudists are following?

It’s easy to understand greenies – a love for nature, the environment, animals and concern for natural resources becomes a passion and cause worth campaigning governements and big corporations about.

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But what about the nudists?

I lived in South Korea for a few years and become accustomed to the “jim jil bang” or “steam room” sauna and spas. Common across Korea and Japan, these spas are regulars for people of all ages, and while segregated by gender, are completely nude.

However, picnicing nude, playing sport nude, swimming and otherwise doing all of normal life, outdoor and mixed gender activities entirely nude,  is a curiousity.

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Not all nudist colonies espouse sexual libertarianism. Many seem to be communities of people living normal lives communally – in the nude.

In Byron Bay and other hippie communities around Australia, high proportions of the residents would consider themselves left leaning, green voters.  Within these communities, nudist colonies, nude beaches and other such activities are not uncommon.

These communities boast high density of artisans, permaculture experts and organic farmers, yoga and meditation classes and instructors and health professionals with a penchant for “herbal” remedies. Many of these would consider themselves to be highly spiritual people; nearly all of them would espouse pacifism. .

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The elements that unite hippies, greenies and nudists seem to point back to eastern mystical thought.

Interestingly, Hebrew thought, also an eastern faith, has a lot to say about the relationship between these ideas. Hebrew narrative places the first humans in a garden, in relationship to each other, the planet and the divine, without barriers.

Breakdown in relationship with the divine caused the first humans to feel shame and seek to conceal their previously uninhibited nudity.

The breakdown continued to spread into bickering and blaming between them, the death of innocent animals, and finally the murder of one brother by another.

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Within a dozen generation, the whole planet collapsed in a massive natural disaster wiping out all life.

So narrative synergies begins to emerge. These Eastern narratives are all reaching back to the Garden of Eden.

Nudists thus live within a highly ideological framework. Eastern meditation seeks to abandon the ego, abandon the self with its trappings and coverings which are the cause of the destruction of relationships with fellow humans, the planet and ulimately the divine.

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The ego constructs barriers by identifying a self which is different to others. These barriers lead to bickering, blaming, fighting and bloodshed. It is these barriers that must go.

It is the human ego that destroys the planet selfishly and we face imminent judgement by nature in the form of tidal waves, asteroids, ice ages or global warming. The ego must be denied.

It is true union with the divine that we seek and eastern thought via meditative practices, the shedding of the ego, the oneness of self with the earth and with fellow humanity, that restoration is found.

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Both eastern ideologies, Hebrew and Buddhist, espouse the centrality of love and peace.

But what is missing from the neo-Buddhist narrative – that is present in the Hebrew narrative is the “person” of the divine. In eastern thought, there is no person to know or unite with. It is the removal of “person”  in a search for nirvana that is the fountain of peace. All clinging to “person” creates attachment, and attachment creates pain and suffering.

And arguably one cannot truly love, without attachment and personhood.

So Hebrew ideology and eastern ideology embraced by hippies, greenies and nudists, a kind of neo-buddhism, agree on many things. But they part ways on this one core feature.

For the Hebrews, to believe the divine is a person, the divine must have feelings, thoughts, a heart and must suffer pain. For the divine to be restored to relationship with humanity, the divine must suffer pain, because it was humanity that betrayed and denied.

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When Noah and his family left that Ark after the catclysmic flood, God sent a rainbow and promised that never again would the world suffer in such a way.

Yet human ego still causes much bloodshed and destruction in the earth, more and more it seems with each passing year.

God’s promise to humanity, was also a promise to the earth, that something else, someone else would bear the pain and suffering caused by human “ego” or “sin.”

Nudists needn’t live in a forrest, eat vegetables, meditate and seek harmony with the planet and each other in order to save the planet and ourselves.

We humans need only look to the personal divine, the man-God, who took all the suffering we caused upon himself to restore relationship with us.

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This relationship is true Eden, true community, true harmony with each other and the planet, true shalom in relationship with God.

Krisis

The Greek word crisis /krisis/ means human or divine judgement, a decision, a sentence.

As part of narrative, the “crisis” is usually the turning point of the story, at which the tension reaches maximum point, the hero or characters are put through intense trial, until the “catharsis” , the purification, cleansing or resolution is found.

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The ancient world believed, something the eastern world still appreciates, that this world is built upon justice. 

Ancient beliefs such as Hinduism teach that our suffering is merited for past misdemeanors. Buddhism teaches that ego and attachment cause suffering and that is in fact, detachment which brings “catharsis” or cleansing and release.

In this way, story and narrative are built within an ancient understanding of the world and the consequences of justice, and injustice faced by the characters. For this reason, ancient stories, myths and legends, retold in comic books, science fiction and fantasy hold such power in our modern world. These stories provide a meta-narrative in a post-modern era which has done away with such notions.

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The popularity of medieval and ancient world narratives such as Vikings, Game of Thrones, Rome and other such sagas, though decried as violent, misogynistic, immoral, and licentious, simply illuminate the taste for a world ruled by justice, though harsh, somehow real and biting. These ancient worlds are populated by blood thirsty gods, vengeful warriors, power hungry despots, fates and powers.

It is within these worlds, because of their violence and darkness, that the voyeur can feel the bite of justice as characters meet their end. These worlds are Shakespearean and biblical in the darkness they portray. The world is wicked without much redemption.

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In our contemporary context, we speak of issues of “justice” such as issues of child slavery, human trafficking, the exploitation of women, racism and more. However, an ancient understanding of “justice” would indicate that suffering is the normal state of humanity by merit of our hubris and corruption.

To frame these issues as matter of “injustice” implies a high view of human value from which we have slipped, and justice would require the righting of wrongdoings.

But how is this possible in a world corrupted through and through?

Merely showing mercy does not deal with the “just” nature of the universe. We cannot “love” the universe into wholeness.

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This is where narrative helps. Epic narratives depict the “hero” as the one who experiences the crisis, the judgement, in place of the innocent victims. The hero achieves the “catharsis” or the cleansing, the expurgation and righting of wrong.

Those who would fight against “injustice” must understand their role, like the hero of narrative, is to undertake the trial in place of the innocent one, to suffer the death and judgement issued to them by a cosmos geared by “justice” and in doing so re-balance the world.

Philippians 2:5-8 explains the Christian truth:

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

Who, being in very nature God,
    did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
    by taking the very nature of a servant,
    being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
    he humbled himself
    by becoming obedient to death—
        even death on a cross!