Time and the New Age
It is a balmy -44 C this morning here in the Great White North. That’s with the wind chill factored in. It’s not the worst I’ve experienced, but it is very nearly the next best thing to the worst. I fear for the animals.
It seems, then, a good plan to remain indoors and put thought to paper, if that’s still an acceptable way of still stating the case in these times. The last time I ventured out in such frigid conditions virtually every system on the Jeep broke.
Today, I want to speak to the issue of “time and the New Age”, as there is much talk about this presently, but without much in the way of insight into the meaning of time and “New Age”. It should be of interest to everyone.
There is, as said, much talk about a “New Age”, “Age of Aquarius” etc, and much of it is vague talk. There is much talk also against the idea of a “New Age”, it being often denounced as “occult” or “satanic”, largely by fundamentalists and conservatives. Some of what is called “New Age” thinking is indeed superstitious. But it is equally true that the denunciations of New Age thinking are just as much rooted in superstition. There seems to be no end of superstitions at our “end of history”.
So, let’s put such New Age thinking and its current antagonists and enemies in the broader context of time and history.
The first declaration of a “New Age” — the first prototype for this in Western terms — was, of course, Christianity itself with its Gospel of a “new testament”. Millenarian thinking is tightly bound to the influence of the Book of Revelation which, in many ways, influenced Western man’s new posture and attitude towards time and history. “Conversion” in this sense meant having one’s faced turned in a new direction and one’s attitude attuned to the future. This is what the word “conversion” signifies, of course — a complete “turning around”. A Christian, in that earlier context, was someone who was longer fixated on the old and staring at the roots or into the past, but someone with a “manifest destiny” (as it has come to be called in more debased, ideological terms). History, as such, ceased to be eternally cyclic and became progression towards a future goal. This new attitude towards time is Christian, and the first law of Jesus, which is the law of forgivenness, is central to this revolutionary attitude. Forgiveness frees the mind from the past and from repetitive cycles — frees the mind and spirit for new work and new labours and new creativity, for the pre-Christian world did not know of “forgiveness” in such terms. It was ruled by the lex talionis, the law of vengeance and revengeance — “eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth”. Wotan and Thor chasing each other in cycles of revenge across the starry heavens for ever and for ever.
So, the Book of Revelation is less interesting for the enigma of its contents than it is as an expression of this new “apocalyptic” (disclosing or unveiling) attitude towards time as the progressive revelation of the Kingdom of Heaven in and through the world, and of history as the process of godman-making.
It is for this reason, too, that one must distinguish between “faith” and “belief”, and therefore between the psychological attitudes of anticipation or expectation as these pertain to the shape of time. The Christian could not expect, but only anticipate for the Christian could not know “the hour”. Faith is always openness to the future, belief (or observance) is bound and beholden to the past. It won’t do to treat faith and belief, or anticipation and expectation, as being synonyms. Expectation is attuned to a predictable recurrence of same. To put it in more prosaic terms — one can expect the hour of the sun’s rising, but the Christian could not expect the hour of the son’s rising, only anticipate it. And Jesus himself made plain how little he thought of “faith” as mere observance or routine. This difference between the moods of anticipation and expectation mark the difference between prophecy and prediction, or the prophetic and the clairvoyant or “fortune-telling”, and this difference still informs the conflict of “the two cultures” of arts and sciences.
When you understand this, you will have come a long way to understand William Blake’s “Spirit of Prophecy” and his view of the prophetic role of art against the “single vision” and reductionistic or rationalistic materialism of Bacon, Newton, and Locke — the spirit of prediction and control — for to Blake this marked the difference between a consciousness open to eternity and infinity and a “Selfhood” closed up within itself as “system” against eternity and infinity, and consequently also against the spirit and “the Kingdom of Heaven”. The passage from St. John that marks this freedom contrasted with the trap of prediction and control is relevant in Blakean terms, and also marks the difference between the moods of anticipation or expectation,
The Spirit bloweth where it listeth and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth. So is every one that is born of the Spirit. John, 3:8
It is for this reason that one should bear in mind, that Blake is the teacher of freedom against “the mind-forg’d manacles” of determinism and materialism, or what we would today call “scientism”, and of the prophetic spirit against “system” — the reductive and predictive.
The next great millenarian or New Age thinking of which I am familiar was that of Joachim of Fiore at the turn of the European Dark Age in the 12th century. It was then highly influential (and considered heretical) and continues to be influential to this day. The importance of it in interpreting all subsequent Western history down to the present cannot be underestimated, for it forms a continuous thread or narrative across generations that informs much of the meaning of “the Modern Age” itself, for people seem to forget that what is presently called “Modern Age” — even though now run its aged course into “post-modernity” — was once also called “New Age” — Novus Ordo Seclorum — in its self-conscious youth.
The very earliest beginnings of what we call “the Modern Era” and the “modern mind” (or, mental-rational structure of consciousness) can be traced to its seed germs in the 12th century. Then, as now, the anticipation of an incipient “New Age” was also denounced as heresy and as satanic. And against this “irruption” of New Age thinking in those days the ecclesiastical authorities instituted the Inquisition, which in our own time has once again been dusted off, rehabilitated and restored under other names but which are, nonetheless, the secular equivalents or parallels of the Papal Inquisition. But what was later to grow into “Reformation” and “Counter-Reformation” are traceable to the 12th century.
The doctrine of the Joachimites stated the conviction that Christendom could be divided into three ages, as summarised in the Wikipedia article on Joachim de Fiore as follows,
- The Age of the Father, corresponding to the Old Testament, characterized by obedience of mankind to the Rules of God;
- The Age of the Son, between the advent of Christ and 1260, represented by the New Testament, when Man became the son of God;
- The Age of the Holy Spirit, impending (in 1260), when mankind was to come in direct contact with God, reaching the total freedom preached by the Christian message. The Kingdom of the Holy Spirit, a new dispensation of universal love, would proceed from the Gospel of Christ, but transcend the letter of it. In this new Age the ecclesiastical organization would be replaced and the Order of the Just would rule the Church.
The monastic orders of Christendom always had an uneasy relationship with the Papacy and the Roman Church, and Fiore’s doctrine gave overt expression to that suspicion of the ecclesiastical authority and organization — the “system” of its day as Holy Roman Empire. In the “New Age of the Holy Spirit” then about to unfold — the successor to the Age of the Father and Age of the Son — the hierarchical Church would subside, if not dissolve, and be replaced by an “Order of the Just”, “the rule of freedom,” and the communion of universal love based on Fiore’s interpretation of the Book of Revelation.
Whatever the truth of Fiore’s vision, Blake would probably say that Fiore was genuinely moved by the “Spirit of Prophecy”, for what he prophesied largely came to pass, albeit in forms and ways that might be construed differently than foreseen. Whether it was prophecy or self-fulfilling prophecy might not even be a pertinent question, as Blake would suggest it was the work of “Imagination” and thus of the Holy Spirit itself in any case. Regardless, Fiore’s doctrine appealed to something already latent in the mood of the times, drew it out, and it fanned it into a flame that eventually became the Reformation. Fiore’s teaching of a New Age of the Holy Spirit and of a new “dispensation”, inspired many new “protestant” sects and other New Age prophets who were then also viciously and brutally persecuted and repressed by the Church, ironically bringing the Papacy and the Church into further discredit and degeneracy as foretold in Fiore’s prophecy.
But of importance to note is this: that the doctrines of those various sects eventually became the ideologies and secular political parties which we today know as liberalism, conservatism, anarchism, and socialism. They all have precedents in Reformation sects. They are secularised interpretations of what were once theological controversies about the nature of the soul and its destiny, but which have largely forgotten their historical roots in the gospels. When Luther dissolved the monasteries, and sent the monks and nuns into the secular world to, in a sense, act as leaven to the “fallen world”, those monks and nuns, numbering in the tens and hundreds of thousands, took their theological commitments with them into the “civilian life” of the secular time-world and transformed it. The Age of Revolutions, of which the Lutheran was the first in the series that made “the Modern Era”, is traceable to Fiore’s earlier anticipation of the dawning of a “New Age”. And there is, in fact, a certain reasonable elegance to Fiore’s doctrine that history was assuming the form of the Christian Trinity.
Mark this, then: whenever there is any talk of a “New Age”, regardless of how aberrant it may first appear, something is afoot. Millenarianism is often the announcement of a significant change in the structure of consciousness. It is easy enough to dismiss Fiore’s doctrines as the irrational ravings of a “mystic” (or as seditious if you happen to be orthodox and churchly), but the fact is those “ravings” have very largely influenced the shape of the Modern world. And there are even traces of Fiore’s creed in Mr. Fukuyama’s thesis of “the end of history”, in his assumption that the “reign of freedom” that was the theme of Fiore’s New Age of the Holy Spirit has now been finalised and concluded in the form of “liberal democracy”.
For, consider this: the 12th and 13th centuries witnessed “the first scientist” (the Franciscan monk Roger Bacon), the first recognisably modern poet in the form of the Troubadour (William of Pitou), the first early attempts at perspectivist painting (Giotto), and other “innovations” besides.
There may be more unrecognised, unrealised “truthiness” in Mr. Fukuyama’s announcement of the end of history than he himself understands.
Fiore saw the advent of the “New Age of the Holy Spirit” beginning in 1260. The most recent talk of the closure of this age and the advent of another probably begins in our time (relatively speaking) with Emmanuel Swedenborg, who announced the advent of a “new church in the heavens” beginning in 1757. That was, coincidentally, the year of William Blake’s birth, and Blake likewise prophesied the advent of a New Age. And from Blake through Nietzsche to Rosenstock-Huessy and Jean Gebser (to name just a few) the anticipation of a New Age in the making has been just as notable, and just as controversial in our day, as it was in Fiore’s time.
Contemporary millenarianism, even up to and including last year’s Mayan Calendar craze, has deep roots in both history and in the human psychic makeup. Even contemporary Christian theologians now speak of the “end of the Pauline Era” and the advent of “the Johannine Age“, so New Age thinking is something quite a bit broader than neo-paganism or “occult” and so on and so forth. Gebser simply calls it the Integral Age as the incipience of a new structure of consciousness he calls “the integral consciousness“. And it is certainly nonsense and greatly myopic to name Carlos Castaneda, for example, as the “father of the New Age movement”, as he has been called, when this contemporary “New Age” phenomenon is traceable back some two centuries, and even earlier, continuing a dynamic and evolutionary and revolutionary sentiment that has deep, deep roots in history. For as Blake put it about the “Spirit of Prophecy”, whose name is “Los”,
“I behold Babylon in the opening Streets of London, I behold
Jerusalem in ruins wandering from house to house.
This I behold: the shudderings of death attend my steps.
I walk up and down in Six Thousand Years: their Events are present before me.”
The halls of Six Thousand Years are, for Blake, the present world age now about to come to an end, as he announces in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell,
The ancient tradition that the world will be consumed in fire at the end of six thousand years is true, as I have heard from Hell.
For the cherub with his flaming sword is hereby commanded to leave his guard at the tree of life, and when he does, the whole creation will be consumed and appear infinite and holy whereas it now appears finite & corrupt.
This will come to pass by an improvement of sensual enjoyment.
But first the notion that man has a body distinct from his soul is to be expunged; this I shall do, by printing in the infernal method, by corrosives, which in Hell are salutary and medicinal, melting apparent surfaces away, and displaying the infinite which was hid.
If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, infinite.
For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro’ narow chinks of his cavern.
The last 6,000 years are the world age of Vala, or “the Shadowy Female”. Her name alludes to “veil” and the veiled world. She is “nature” in its material or physical form, and is associated with Maya. Her name appears in Norse mythology (as Voluspa in the Edda) as well as in Vedic Sanskrit literature meaning “enclosure” (hence Blake’s reference to man “having closed himself up” behind the wall of the natural or physical senses).
Vala is the “shadow” form of the Eternal Feminine called Enitharmon, but otherwise called “Jerusalem” in Blake’s poetry. As the “Shadowy Female” she is called “Babylon” and is this time-world, while Jerusalem, the true Eternal Feminine, is reduced to beggary — “Jerusalem in ruins wandering house to house” — the Shadow having come to eclipse the Light. Babylon is, in effect, Jerusalem’s shadow.
This is the situation which Blake was convinced is about to end, and which is also the meaning of Gebser’s “diaphaneity” or “translucency” of the integral consciousness, the end of the confusion of the shadow and the light in which the true will shine through the false or “the veiled”.
And I have little doubt that Blake would consider the (former) neo-conservative Francis Fukuyama with his “end of history” the prophet of Babylon the fallen.
That “Babylon” is actually “Jerusalem” veiled might seem strange. But only recall what I have named “Khayyam’s Caution” after the Persian poet Omar Khayyam about the nature of the false and the true: “only a hair separates the false from the true”, and for Blake, just as eternity is hidden in the hour, so is “Jerusalem”, the Eternal Feminine, hidden within Babylon or Vala. For Blake (as for Gebser also) the New Age will arrive when the “doors of perception” open to the eternal and infinite which is presently hid in the secular (or time-world) and in appearances of the finite or de-finite.
This seems to be, strangely enough, a very common theme of all present New Age thinking — the anticipation of a direct and an immediate perception of the eternal and infinite (or “spiritual”) which is hidden in the limited and phenomenal, otherwise called “the secular” or time-world.