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.

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17 responses to “Time and the New Age”

  1. alex jay says :

    “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”

    Therein – in the most succinct explanation I’ve encountered – lies the distinction between optimist (faith) and pessimist (belief) … and my personal schizophrenic world-view.

  2. Abdulmonem says :

    Joachim of flora made his pilgrimage to the holy land at the age of 24, when the holy land was under the rule of islam and at the time when islam was at its golden age, and contacting god is in fashion through the activation of the spirit. He returned converted and went into retreat and came with the three period theory which imitate the Islamic position in a somehow modified version to assuage the reaction which nevertheless accused him of being heretic.. God is father to nobody and has no son and he is a nonhuman phenomena and the spirit which is the tool of consciousness, which is the only activator to the human consciousness . Contact is available to everybody. Yes separation is the chronic disease of humanity not only between god and his creation but between religion and religion and culture and culture. There is only one God whether we like it or not. Truth must be revealed. Even the wood work with the crescent in the horizon and the man at the other end trying to traverse from one side to the other is indicative of the process of conversion inbuilt in the human form. We are all living in a time of change, not only human change but nature change.

    • Scott Preston says :

      The Trinity of “God in three persons” is not a controversy that I care to poke even with a 10 foot cattle prod. Arguments about the divine nature and whether it can manifest as three persons has been the cause of war, slaughter, mischief, and mayhem in history, not unlike doctrinal controversies in Islam between Sunni and Shia. Somehow, the Hindu Trimurti (or Great Trinity) of Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva — also God in three persons — has apparently managed to endure without the controversies of the Christian Trinity.

      Nonetheless, whether the Trinity is true or untrue in some “objective” sense, the shape of Western history to date has by and large conformed to the model, which is why some say that the Bible is “the blueprint of history”. This unfolding of reality according to a pattern (the threefoldness of the Trinity or the fourfoldness of the Gospels) is the work of what Blake would call “the Imagination,” and the role of belief in shaping reality and even weaving time and space into patterns according to an apparently pre-ordained design.

      This design or pattern, arising in Imagination, then is “discovered” or “revealed” as the hidden, “occult”, or essential meaning of history and reality — as something even objectively self-evident. So, issues of its reality or unreality become quite moot.

      This is the peculiar character of the creative Imagination and the generative role of belief in shaping reality. If I believe that “You create the reality you know” — the whole shebang, past, present, and future — I will tend to act in such a way as to make that belief real, and so reality will appear consistent, constant, and continuous thereby affirming and confirming the “truth” of my belief. I will see its truth revealed in history and realised in every day life. If, on the other hand, I believe I am a victim of circumstances, meanly and cruelly plopped into a given hateful world and awful reality, and believe that Satan is the true god of this world, then by my beliefs, guiding my Imagination and my acts, I am very likely to make it so, and it becomes a self-confirming, closed feedback loop.

      This is what Castaneda refers to as “intent” or intentionality — to intend a world is the act of the Imagination in alliance with individual or mass belief.

      Under such circumstances, the only criterion for judging whether a belief is “true” or “untrue” is whether the belief promotes life or death, health or disease, creation or destructiveness, Genesis or Nihilism, and which we can judge directly from our own experience, of our individual and socio-historical lived life, and not via inscrutible dogmas or abstract and impenetrable metaphysical doctrines.

      For the only truth that is worth a damn is what leads to insight into, and thereby illuminates and makes transparent to us, the meaning of our own lived lives. Everything else is abstraction and a fog of metaphysics.

    • Scott Preston says :

      It just occurred to me, and maybe I’m off base here, but the difference between the Muslim outlook and the Christian outlook may have to do with the question of the immanence of God in his creation. You can perhaps clarify, but I should probably go back to the Qur’an again and review this.

      For the Christian, God descending to meet man on man’s terms is not corruption of the divine nature. In Genesis, God declares his creation “good” (and of course, in English “God” and “good” are related words), so for God participating directly in this creation is not corruption. Creation is “good” only because God is immanent in it and makes himself manifest through it. If God were not in his creation, it would in fact not be “good”, but evil. It is not the world that is separate from God, but ego consciousness.

      This informs Blake’s statement that “God becomes as we are so that we may be as he is”.

      I can’t recall from the Qur’an whether God/Allah ever participates in his creation or is permanently “transcendent” or beyond, unsullied, as it were, by physical existence. But this is what seemed to get Halaj in trouble when he declared “I am Truth!” — God immanent in man. If that is the case, the problem for the Muslim is that it is not man that keeps himself apart or separate from God, but God who keeps himself apart and separate from man.

      You may need to clarify for me, Abdulmonem, whether Islamic teaching ever allows for God to be immanent and to participate in his own world and creation, or is always aloof from the world.

  3. Abdulmonem says :

    Thank you Scott, the fear is from the closed feedback loop. God is everywhere and his power of manifestations are in everything . In the quran there is a verse which says, I am with you, wherever you are and whenever you are. The divine breath that gives you life and give me life is with us, that is to say he is with you with me and with everything. I am only not with the idea of limiting his manifestations. He is the one that gives life to all numbers.
    on the question of conversion , I wanted to say it is a two ways street , it is a movement from light to darkness or from darkness to light. The man in the wood work is leaving light to darkness , is consistent with the vision of Blake and Neitz
    I think the man who made the woodwork is an ambient visionary.

  4. Abdulmonem says :

    I like to add that there is no difference in the outlooks of the Christian and the Moslem or for that matter the Jew or Hindu as far as the oneness is concerned. It is our creative imagination and its grade of its perceptive capacity and this a matter that can not be resolved, that is why the quran keeps repeating that god will resolve the differences among you. The question of truthfulness, justice and honesty is the divine criteria that saves anyone of us, that is why it is said that a just heathen is better than an oppressive Moslem. The story of the Moslem taking refuge with the Christian emperor of Ethiopia at the time is indicative.

  5. Abdulmonem says :

    Another point I want to emphasize, lest I may be misunderstood. Islam is not better than Christianity or any other religion, after all the quran does not speak ,but people speak through it, so is the matter with other books, and that is why we have so many church and sects. This multiplicity is indicative of the different interpretations, and this can not be eradicated without resort to truth and honesty and that is why the quran summarized all the directives send to humanity in two words ,justice and truth . The crises we are living is the result of our refusal to abide with the two pillars of the human actualization. Wining this life is not the goal, and that is the lesson the human never learned. It is not to live because living is a must but how to live.

    • Abdulmonem says :

      Still another point, in my comment on the man of flora , I only wanted not to forget the contributions of other people. I am learning from you now, but this does not make me to forget the others, specially god the source of all knowledge. In this context I like to mention that at the beginning of chapter two of the quran we read Alef lam meem as the tool of downloading the divine knowledge, it remind me of the AUM of the hindu. It seem we are living in a very revelatory period, in line with the verse of the quran which reads, we will show them our signs throughout the universe and through the tablet of themselves. that what we have conveyed to them through our messengers is the truth. Please endure with me for the only reason I an saying this is my feeling of your honest desire in seeking the truth.

      • Scott Preston says :

        It is also said that the word “Amen” that ends prayers is derived from the sacred syllable AUM as well.

        I appreciate your words. No need to ask my forbearance. You’ve been with the Chrysalis so long now, Abdulmonem, and have contributed so much to the discussion, that it is as much your blog as mine now, and you may say whatever is on your mind. You are family here.

        Wining this life is not the goal, and that is the lesson the human never learned. It is not to live because living is a must but how to live.

        Very true. The concerns of a fool are with winning or losing, but the wise one is concerned only that he or she bear faithful witness to the truth to the best of his or her ability. Whether he wins or loses is none of his concern. As long as he has been faithful to the truth he withdraws in peace in either case.

        This is the meaning of the quotation from Georg Simmel that Castaneda used to open his book The Teachings of Don Juan, and it is a beautiful statement,

        “…. nothing more can be attempted than to establish the beginning and the direction of an infinitely long road. The pretension of any systematic and definitive completeness would be, at least, a self-illusion. Perfection can here be obtained by the individual student only in the subjective sense that he communicates everything he has been able to see.”

  6. Abdulmonem says :

    Thank you Scott, I am only too happy to be one of the family. I enjoyed the beautiful statement of Castaneda.

  7. Abdulmonem says :

    We are on a continual journey , even through death, our long sleep, during which I hope our dreams be pleasant dreams.

  8. Abdulmonem says :

    Last night I was reading an article by Peter Young under the title, Ibn Arabi/ a universal view point which I found satisfying for the clarification you are seeking regarding the different religious outlooks. It is on the web of Ibn Arabi society/oxford university .I hope you will have time to read it.

  9. LittleBigMan says :

    Another masterpiece essay!

    • Scott Preston says :

      Careful. You might make my head swell up and explode.

      • LittleBigMan says :

        I’m sure there’s not even the remotest possibility of that. You would certainly be justified for any bragging rights, even if that were the case. Thank you for such enlightening and divine work. Your work is like a net that catches those who are familiar with it from sliding into darkness that is walled with ignorance and misinterpretation. May your days in the New Year be filled with the same divine energy you bring to your readers.

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