The Sacred, the Secular, and the Profane

Before I go much further in exploring branding and consumerism as profanation of the spiritual, I probably should clarify the meaning of “profane” and “profanation”. In my estimation, most dictionaries get it wrong — or, at least, partially wrong — in thinking it is synonymous with “secular”, so they end up juxtaposing “sacred” and “secular” as antitheses. False logic.

“Secular” simply means the order of time and times, of the ages and the generations. It is, in that sense, probably connected with the word “sex” as progeneration. Sex is life’s strategy for overcoming entropy by generation and re-generation. So “secular” means the realm of time and temporicity. Nothing directly to do with the “profane”.

The word “profane” is Latin — a composite of “pro-” (before) and fanum (the temple). Some dictionaries therefore conclude that “profane” means anything and everything “outside” or “in front” of the temple, or perhaps “ex-communicate” from the congregation and declared therewith “profane” — outside of or excluded from the temple, church, synagogue, mosque, etc.

No. That’s not what it means. “Before” or “pro-” does not mean “outside” here, but “in place of”. In that sense, it means pretense, imitation, mimickry, substitution of the genuine and authentically sacred for the mere image or shadow of the genuine and authentic. Profanation occurs when the idols and icons cease to be transparent symbols and become opaque to insight. They become fetish and superstition. In spiritual terms, profanation is the substitution of counterfeit goods for the real thing, and which then pretends to be the real deal. And it is in that sense that the profane is the meaning of “only a hair separates the false from the true” and the saying that “Satan is but the ape of God”. What is merely man-made pretends to be the sacred wheres, at best, it is only a pointer to the sacred but not in itself sacred. And in that sense, fetish and superstition belong to the meaning of profanation.

“The law is made for man, not man for the law” is Jesus’ remark to his disciples in that regard. It describes profanation. The law that is made for man is the “truth that sets free”, and the inversion of the truth that sets free is the profane law that man is made for the law. This “truth that sets free” is an order of rank higher than “the facts of the matter”. The “facts of the matter” are, at best, a representation or mimickry of the truth that sets free, and at worst a deception. In fact, there’s a certain irony in those who claim to be influenced and descended from Plato, and his parable of the Cave, to the worship of “facts” and the factual when these are only images of truth and not the truth itself. Real truth is truth that sets free. What does not set free, but merely imitates, is what is called “profane”.

Blake’s “Ulro” (the creation of “Urizen”) is the same as Plato’s Cave — the shadowland. It is not the secular world, but the profane world. For Blake, “everything that lives is holy” and the divine is present throughout creation, so the secular is also sacred because of the latent presence of the eternal and infinite within all beings and things. The Ulro and “Single Vision” was, however, profane because the shadowland was merely narcissistic and imitative construct, no longer transparent and translucent but opaque to true perception.

The Ulro (like Plato’s Cave) is profane because it is the topsy-turvey, upside-down, inverted image of the divine that has been mystified or obscured to direct perception and insight so that the presence of the sacred within the secular is no longer perceived. Secularism is not necessarily profanation, although it may very well be and become profanation. For the same reasons as Jesus raged against the Pharisees and scribes for locking up the kingdom of heaven and preventing anyone from entering, Blake also raged against the authority of priests and religion, which he also saw as profanation, as did Nietzsche after him. Nietzsche’s “devaluation of values” (nihilism and cynicism) is just another way of saying “profanation”.

So, ironically, the sacred is even present, latently, in the profane, although well hidden. Otherwise the profane itself would have no power. It’s just perverted, and much in the same sense that Tolkein’s “orcs” (and “orcery”) are elves that were perverted and deformed by the Ring of Power. The principle of profanation is similar.

Just thought I needed to clarify this before any further discussion of “holistic branding” as profanation.

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3 responses to “The Sacred, the Secular, and the Profane”

  1. davidm58 says :

    Excellent clarification of the sacred, the secular, and the profane! Thanks.

  2. abdulmonem says :

    I also like to join in the thanks for this excellent search for meaning and clarity.

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