Friday, August 4, 2023

Strange and Blessed Fire 1: The Entrusted Fiat


And as we trace the rise of successive communication channels or links, from writing to movies and TV, it is borne in on us that in order for their exterior artifice to be effective it must partake of the character of that interior artifice by which in ordinary perception we incarnate the exterior world. Because human perception is literally incarnation. So that each of us must poet the world or fashion it within us as our primary and constant mode of awareness. And the mechanical or mass media of communication must at least parrot the world in order to hold our attention.

Marshall McLuhan, “Catholic Humanism and Modern Letters,” The Medium and the Light, p.169 

The Eternal Body of Man is The Imagination, that is, God himself
The Divine Body } ישע Jesus we are his

William Blake, “The Laocoön, Complete Writings,  p.776

Even in the midst of the most peculiar experiences we still act in exactly the same way: we make up the greatest part of experience for ourselves and are hardly ever compelled not to look upon any event as “inventors. What all this adds up to is that basically from time immemorial we have been accustomed to lie. Or to express the matter more virtuously and hypocritically, in short, more pleasantly: we are much more the artist than we realize.

Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, Part V, aphorism 192

Three slogans, mottoes, quotes, each already present in these pages, interlock to form the Trinity of a poetic theology.

Slightly paraphrased, these are from Nietzsche: We are all better artists than we realize, i.e. perception itself is art, and with perception we create the world internally and project it outwards.

From Blake: Jesus the Imagination; Christ is the imagination and/or the imagination is Christ.

And from McLuhan: Perception is Incarnationthe very process of perception incarnates spirit into matter and thus in every split second the mission of Christ on Earth is modeled in miniature through the senses of each individual; fashioned light has evidently abolished pure chaos. 

And when the three are combined, when each element of the trinity rings in synergistic harmony with the other two, everything shifts. The three sides of this figure are Perception, Imagination and Christ, the Word.

Christ is perhaps the easiest entry point. In Christian orthodoxy and in Gnosticism andusing different termsin Neoplatonism, despite their many doctrinal, practical and political antagonisms, all agree that “Christ” or “the Logos” or “the Mediator” functions as a perfect union or interchange between Matter, containing both form and substance, and Spirit transcending both and contained by neither.

Blake saw this as being precisely the role of the imagination: to give shape to divine vision. The faculty of the imagination, which we all possess, was granted to humanity at the same instant that we were created in the image of God. As the one who imagines, imagines a creature who can also imagine. Like God, we have no limit to our imagining.

For Blake, it is irrelevant if Jesus Christ is a historical figure or not. Both time and existence, let alone history, are categories that have very little meaning to the role of Christ. The fallen state that Christ redeems us from is that which convinces us that our imagination is not all-powerful.

And Jesus said unto them, Because of your unbelief: for verily I say unto you, If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove, and nothing shall be impossible unto you.

Matthew 17:20 (KJV)

Ye of little faith” is the central message of the New Testament, just as “have no other gods before me” is the perpetual mantra of the Old Testament. The two have a very similar aim. 

Yahweh’s warning to the twelve tribes of Israel to let nothing interfere or block their faith in the absolute omnipotence of the Father (the One) is a direct parallel, in collective rather than individual terms, to Christ’s repeated admonition to his twelve discipleswho will head the twelve tribes in Heavento let nothing interfere with their faith that through Christ they can accomplish all things.

Single vision and Newtons sleep” is one way that Blake famously describes how we cheat and deny the imagination’s full dispensation. We succumb to “natural religion” to “Deism” to the idea that the world is how it passively appears to the senses. Barriers are erected: science, money, power, possessions, love of people, love of country, nature, government, reason, knowledge, art, music, lesser gods: all must be sacrificed to the One.

As the Word is the mediation between spirit and flesh, sensation and intellect, the sensesseeing, hearing, tasting, smellingare media which congeal to form one sense: touch, the common sense, haptic synesthesia. This is the imagination, Jesus Himself.

It takes away nothing from the Gospel that there are mythological and historical prototypes of Jesus Christ, prior avatars and redeemers and mediators and messiahs, prisca theologia. Christ, as the Manichaeans asserted, is eternal. He was there in the Garden as the Luminous Jesus. He was the Buddha, Zoroaster, Pythagoras, even Adonis, Dionysus, Krishna.

Regardless of doctrinal classificationCatholic, Gnostic, Neoplatonic, Hermetic, Kabbalista figure of the intermediary appears: the Logos. We may as well call this the Christ.

Yet as He is not confined to a particular time, He is not isolated to a single place. This is the answer to one of Giordano Bruno’s central critiques of Christianity. Just as there is no centre to the universe, there is no single and central figuration of Christ. 

This teaching is illustrated in C.S. Lewis’ Narnia stories, in which the Logos appears as the great lion, Aslan. Aslan is allegorical to us, but Christ would be allegorical to the Narnians. Christ is a singular event, but he is a singular event across all worlds and dimensions.

But the Logos also has a more microcosmic role. As every instant of perception transforms and projects outward the raw, unorganized data of the senses into a fully-formed, orderly and largely beautiful world, Christ transforms the chaos of matter into spirit. Perception is Incarnation.

This in turn parallels and reenacts the creation of the world from chaos. Chaos is transmuted into cosmos at every moment of perception. Christ is one name of this process.

And, as Nietzsche explained, perception is artistic in character. We can merge this observation with Blake’s insight of Jesus the Imagination. The more actively we incorporate imagination into the act of perception, the more we embody Christ.

In addition, as Joseph Campbell elucidates, the movement from sleep to wakefulness also parallels the original act of creation and so the Incarnation.

The cosmogonic cycle is to be understood as the passage of universal consciousness from the deep sleep zone of the unmanifest, through dream, to the full day of waking; then back again through dream to the timeless dark. As in the actual experience of every living being, so in the grandiose figure of the living cosmos: in the abyss of sleep the energies are refreshed, in the work of the day they are exhausted; the life of the universe runs down and must be renewed.

Joseph Campbell, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, p.266

Therefore the more active and imaginative our perception is, the more Christlike it becomes. We move from single to double to even quadruple vision.

As Plotinus wrote, the states or hypostases of matter, psyche, nous and the One are really epistemological or psychological states. Jesus the Imagination can be viewed as the medium or pole that connects through these states. 

The more actively we perceiveJung’s active imaginationthe “higher” we advance towards pure Spirit; from the golden guinea Sun to the Hallelujah choir of angels, to the Platonic Sun behind the Sun, to the eternity that may open up at every “point” of time and space.

This aware and active imagination may be called “Christ,” but it does not need to be limited by a single term, much less an exclusive system of thought or religion. To call it Buddha-mind works just as well. It can even be expressed in secular or scientific terms. It could be be called a vision of Pan or a hierophany of the Holy Ghost. 

“Christ” might work as a term because it is already supercharged with meaning like all great poetry. As in Renaissance Neoplatonist Henry Cornelius Agrippa’s Three Books of Occult Philosophy, a text still highly respected and consulted by current occultists, the name of Christ is the highest magic. 

Hence at this time no favour can be drawn from the heavens, unless the authority, favour and consent of the name of Jesu intervene; Hence the Hebrews and Cabalists most skilful in the Divine names, can work nothing after Christ by those old names, as their fathers have done long since; and now it is by experience confirmed, that no devil nor power of Hell, which vex and trouble men, can resist this name, but will they, will they, bow the knee and obey, when the name Jesu by a due pronunciation is proposed to them to be worshipped, and they fear not only the name but also the Cross, the seal thereof; and not only the knees of earthly, heavenly, and hellish creatures are bowed, but also Insensible things do reverence it, and all tremble at his beck, when from a faithful heart and a true mouth the name Jesus is pronounced, and pure hands imprint the salutiferous sign of the Cross.

Neither truly doth Christ say in vain to his Disciples, In my name they shall cast out Devils &c. unless there were a certain virtue expressed in that name over devils and sick folk, serpents, and persons, and tongues, and so forth, seeing the power which his name hath, is both from the virtue of God the institutor, and also from the virtue of him who is expressed by this name, and from a power implanted in the very word. Hence it is that seeing every creature fears and reverences the name of him who hath made it, sometimes even wicked and ungodly men, if so be they believe the invocation of Divine names of this kind, do bind devils, and operate certain other great things.

Henry Cornelius Agrippa, Three Books of Occult Philosophy, Book III, Chapter XII, p.201

On the other hand, “Christ” may be too tainted with the bloody history of the organized Church(es). We must be wary of the limitations of connotation.

In any case, reading the message of Agrippa's ancient predecessor Plotinus, and in reverse order from Plotinus back through the tradition to Plato himself, as epistemology and psychology rather than as mere ontology renders visionary experience as immanent, not transcendent. 

Nietzsche, the arch-critic of the false values associated with transcendence, can reenter at this point. Nietzsche, as we know, was no critic of Christ as Christ, but of the otherworldly doctrines of priestly Christianity, derided by Madame Blavatsky as “Churchianity,” which devalue and make meaningless the Earth, the body and its desires, and the senses themselves. 

But as these false “higher” values have in turn become devalued by the empirical explorations of modern science, a dangerous phase of nihilism has swept over the West and by extension everywhere else. As official Christianity had already disenchanted and desacralized this world, the actual lived world, when it itself became dethroned all deeper meaning evaporated. 

We have abolished the real world: what world is left? the apparent world perhaps? . . . But no! with the real world we have also abolished the apparent world! (Mid-day; moment of the shortest shadow; end of the longest error; zenith of mankind; INCIPIT ZARATHUSTRA.)

Friedrich Nietzsche, Twilight of the Idols, p.51

Nietzsche’s insights on the devaluation of values, may also be traced through the historical understanding of meaning within language. Master literary critic, Northrop Frye, maps out this evolution or devolution of language employing, like Joyce in Finnegans Wake, the work of Giambattista Vico as guide and scaffolding.

To Vico’s four phases or ages of human development, also related by Vico to tropes of language, that of Gods, Heroes, People and the Ricorso, Frye adds various correspondences of his own concerning the use of language.

Hence, in the age of the Gods, linguistic expression is poetic, written language is hieroglyphic and the principal trope is the metaphor. For the age of Heroes, these three correspond to the allegorical, the hieratic (simplified and more monosemic priestly hieroglyphs), and the metonym. For the third phase of the cycle, that of the People, language is vulgar, demotic and most often used for mere description.

In The Great Code, Frye greatly expands upon these basic correspondences and I’ll stretch these ideas even further. In the first phase, in the age of the Gods, there is a metaphoric identity between subject and object. Puns have a power and words can affect and alter the “outside” world. Poetry is definitely a magic. 

At this “time” there was no separation between gods, spirits, men and animals. Even “inanimate” objectstrees, rocks, mountains, rivers, firewere animated, contained anima or soul.

Words of powerhieroglyphs of Ancient Egyptian religion, Inuit oral poetry about a time when humans and animals could communicate to and transform into one anothertestify of the first phase. The mysterious and manifesting abilities of the human mind were everywhere evident. Words spoken carelessly could have strange and potentially terrible consequences. Things desired could happen through the expression of words.

Evidence of the this first phase can be found in the earliest Mesopotamian verse, and in the Finnish epic Kalevala which, according to modernist mage Allen Upward, although transcribed only in the nineteenth century, reflects a pre-Homeric mythological consciousness in which there was no distinction between gods, wizards and bards.


In the very earliest time,
when both people and animals lived on earth,
a person could become an animal if he wanted to
and an animal could become a human being.
Sometimes they were people
and sometimes animals
and there was no difference.
All spoke the same language.
That was the time when words were like magic.
The human mind had mysterious powers.
A word spoken by chance
might have strange consequences.
It would suddenly come alive
and what people wanted to happen could happen —
all you had to do was say it.
Nobody can explain this:
That’s the way it was.

Nalungiaq, Netsilik Inuit poet, edited by Edward Field, Shaking the Pumpkin, p.45

The ancient poet did not sing for the mere love of singing: he knew nothing about Art for Arts sake. His object in singing appears to have been intensely practical. The world was inhabited by countless hordes of spirits, which were believed to be ever exercising themselves to influence mankind. The spirits caused suffering; they slew their victims; they brought misfortune; they were also the sources of good or luck. Man regarded spirits emotionally; he conjured them with emotions; he warded off their attacks with emotion; and his emotions were given rhythmical expression by means of metrical magical charms.

Poetic imagery had originally a magical significance; if the ocean was compared to a dragon, it was because it was supposed to be inhabited by a storm-causing dragon; the wind whispered because a spirit whispered in it.

Donald A. Mackenzie, Myths of Babylonia and Assyria, p.237

Thus it is that when mans eyes are lifted up to behold the heavens he sees the celestial gods in the shape of men. The Gods of mythology are unseen and mightier Wizards performing similar wonders on a grander scale. The divine epics and scriptures tell over again the old folktales; only the part of the enchanter is taken by the God. The wizard has vanished from the Iliad, vanished from the Hebrew chronicle of the world, vanished from the literature of all the celestial religions, because he has ascended into heaven and become Zeus and Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. The wizards of the Kalevala are the archetypes of the Elohim of Genesis.

Allen Upward, The Divine Mystery, p.37

Ezra Pound, much impacted by Upward, wrote of the very real metamorphoses present in pre-Platonic Greek poetry. Frye found signs of the first phase in the most ancient parts of the Bible. Owen Barfield, an Inkling associate and inspirer of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien and also a devotee of Rudolf Steiner, taught of an early stage of “original participation,” a state of non-duality without individual personality, which can be readily compared to Frye’s first phase.

The essence of original participation is that there stands behind the phenomena, and on the other side of them from me, a represented which is of the same nature as me. Whether it is called mana, or by the names of many gods and demons, or God the Father, or the spirit world, it is of the same nature as the perceiving self, inasmuch as it is not mechanical or accidental, but psychic and voluntary.

Owen Barfield, Saving the Appearances, p.42

Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn initiate and author, Arthur Machen, independently finds vestiges of this “participation” in fairy tales and in The Thousand and One Nights.

“When man yielded, he would say, “to the mysterious temptation intimated by the figurative language of Holy Writ, the universe, originally fluid and the servant of his spirit, became solid, and crashed down upon him overwhelming him beneath its weight and its dead mass. I requested him to furnish me with more light on this remarkable belief; and I found that in his opinion that which we now regard as stubborn matter was, primally, to use his singular phraseology, the Heavenly Chaos, a soft and ductile substance, which could be moulded by the imagination of uncorrupted man into whatever forms he chose it to assume. 

“Strange as it may seem, he added, the wild inventions (as we consider them) of the Arabian Tales give us some notion of the powers of the homo protoplastus. The prosperous city becomes a lake, the carpet transports us in an instant of time, or rather without time, from one end of the earth to another, the palace rises at a word from nothingness. Magic, we call all this, while we deride the possibility of any such feats; but this magic of the East is but a confused and fragmentary recollection of operations which were of the first nature of man, and of the fiat which was then entrusted to him.

Arthur Machen, “N”, The Great God Pan, p.310

In this first phase, therefore, words and things are interchangeable. Words transform things and things can become words. In shorthand this can be notated as w=t. 

In Vico and Frye’s second phase, however, words are greater than things. They become ideal and abstract, Platonic forms, archetypes, symbols of the ideal. Metaphors continue as metonyms (substitutions or representations), but they are allegorical. Words represent higher states and logic becomes all important. 

If in the first phase the transcendent is interchangeable with the immanent, then in the second phase the transcendent is the dominant focus. Words are greater than things (w>t).

The basis of expression here is moving from the metaphorical, with its sense of identity of life or power or energy between man and nature (“this is that), to a relationship that is rather metonymic (this is put for that). Specifically, words are put for thoughts, and are the outward expressions of an inward reality. But this reality is not merely inside. Thoughts indicate the existence of a transcendent order above, which only thinking can communicate with and which only words can express. Thus metonymic language is, or tends to become, analogical language, a verbal imitation of a reality beyond itself that can be conveyed most directly by words.

Northrop Frye, The Great Code: The Bible and Literature, p.7-8

As the second phase fades and gives birth to the third, there is a total flip and things become more significant than words. In this phase, basically our own phase, words are only referents, although no longer to transcendent ideals but to common abstractions or to things that are empirically evident. Language is descriptive, rational, scientific, prosaic. 

Poetry, and the arts in general, is merely decorative, sensual, nostalgic. It is not expected to have metamorphic power, and in fact a poet who believes that his or her words could actually transform physical reality risks being institutionalized. 

Words have been fully tamed. Their primal and god-sired etymologies have been forgotten. This phase corresponds to what Barfield called “idolatry,” a transitional phase comprising the entirety of history in which the individual emerges in progressive separation and alienation from all other beings and Being itself. 

Each step within idolatry is a step further into meaninglessness. An idol is a thing or a person or an idea experienced as being isolated from the eternal. Duality. Waste land. All is immanent and nothing is transcendent (w<t).

What then is the Ricorso? I think there are some presigns of this returning phase in our mo/pomo era. Poet William Carlos Williams’ assertion of “no ideas but in things” points towards this. Other hints can be found in phenomenology, in analytic psychology, in writing like Finnegans Wake and Jack Kerouac’s “sketching.”

In the return, the description of the third phase deepens to the point where thought and language are understood as always being a part of the describing process, perhaps analogous to the popular conception of the observers’ co-dependence on the observed within quantum physics.

McLuhan’s characterization of the electronic media would also seem to map onto the Ricorso, but McLuhan’s own media analysis clearly reflects Frye’s third phase, things over words, while Frye himself tends to assert words over things. This second phase, fit into McLuhan’s own schematic, would be dominated by the medium of print.

Yet what would a first phase analysis look like? Would analysis as analysis even be possible at this stage? Any attempt would be less like analysis and more like magic.

The path back to the participation of the age of gods, which in Owen Barfield’s less cyclical and more linear conception is called “final participation”—a return to non-duality with the personality intact—for Barfield and Steiner before him is revealed in the Incarnation and ministry of Christ. Yet as emphasized previously, this essentially Christian perspective need not be (but can be) restricted by orthodox formulations and dogma.


  1. Fat trembled. "Yes," Dr. Stone said. "The Logos would be living information, capable of replicating." "Replicating not through information," Fat said, "in information, but as information. This is what Jesus meant when he spoke elliptically of the 'mustard seed' which, he said, 'would grow into a tree large enough for birds to roost in.'"

    "The Logos would be living information, capable of replicating. Replicating not through information/in information, but as information....As living information the plasmate travels up the optic nerve of a human to the pineal body."