The Rivers of Eden

Legend has it that four rivers flowed from the Garden of Eden. The names of those four rivers were Pishon, Gishon, Chidekel, and Phirat. So debased and barbaric (one might even say “too left-brained”) have we become that many people even spend their entire lives looking for the original geophysical place called “Eden” and its four rivers, largely oblivious to the spiritual and symbolic meaning of the rivers of Eden. The same seems to be true for that “faraway land” of the Parable of the Prodigal Son.

But these four rivers are the same four beasts who surround the throne of God in the Book of Revelation. They are what Blake calls “our Energies” and which he likewise represents in the image of his four Zoas of Albion divided fourfold which is, in the Upanishads, the fourfold Atman. That this is so is even demonstrable biologically, since we are, in biological terms, a composite of mechanical energy, chemical energy, thermal energy, and electrical energy — the four energies involved in the principle of homeostasis and energy balance.

Christian iconography has depicted the four rivers of Paradise in various ways, including on old medieval maps, but I’ve selected two to illustrate here

Rivers of Paradise

This second very busy illustration represents the rivers of Eden as being the arms of the cross, and, in addition, appears to include the reference to the four beasts of the Book of Revelation, also depicted as the zoomorphic forms of the four evangelists — Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. (The copy is quite poor, and although I’m able to read Latin, I can’t make out the inscriptions accompanying the illustration).

What are described as “rivers” in the legend of Paradise are, otherwise, in China four dragons, as this illustration of the legend of the four dragons and the Jade Emperor depicts,

The Four Dragons and the Jade Emperor

As dragons or as rivers, these are common enough symbolisms of what Blake calls “our Energies”, and their sovereign — their principle of integration — is depicted also symbolically as “Tree of Life”, or “the Christ” or “Albion” (Blake) or, latterly, the Jade Emperor, or in the Upanishads as the Atman, or what Heraclitus refers to as the “Logos” or what St. John refers to as “the Word” or what is called, in Buddhism, the Buddhadharma or Buddha Nature. And the Buddhadharma and the meaning of the Buddhadharma is what is depicted likewise in this relief of the Buddha receiving the gifts of the Guardians of the Four Directions upon his enlightenment

The Buddha receiving the the Guardians of the Four Directions

Now, we see from these various legends or symbolisations that there is, here, also a very likely reflection of the four phases or truths of the “Human Cycle” described by Sri Aurobindo in his book by that title on “the psychological of social development”. Those four phases (or Ages), once again, are:

annam brahma — the dharma of Matter
prano brahma — the dharma of Life
mano brahma — the dharma of Mind
ayam atma brahma — the dharma of Spirit

These are, for Aurobindo, four aspects of the divine Atman in process of self-manifestation or self-realisation. And what is common to Blake, Gebser, and Aurobindo, and even Rosenstock-Huessy’s “metanoia“, is the conviction that human beings are on the threshold of potentially manifesting the last and all important phase – the Age of the Spirit, which would be, in effect, the Integral Age.

Rosenstock-Huessy also saw in this legend of the Rivers of Eden something of a profound pattern — a universal — the same “pre-existing pattern” that Jean Gebser detected, also, in his study of civilisations as “structures of consciousness”. These “rivers of Eden” were also represented in the structure of human grammars which, he concluded, encoded and gave structure to “the energies of social life” and which he developed and articulated into a social philosophy and a methodology — a new logic. This he illustrated by his “cross of reality”. So, if you like, you can also see the arms of his “cross of reality” as the same four “Rivers of Eden”.

Rosenstock-Huessy’s “cross of reality”

Interestingly, he originally published his thoughts on this — which came to him in the trenches of the First World War — as Angewandte Seelenkunde or “An Applied Science of the Soul”. Rosenstock-Huessy was already anticipating in that respect what was to become the central concern of Jean Gebser’s cultural philosophy and Aurobindo’s “Age of Subjectivism”, and the role of German philosophy in effecting this subjective turn — even when it took an aberrant and demonic retrogression into fascism and the domain of the Shadow and the problem of psychic inflation that is almost always misconstrued as an “awakening”.

But we see that Rosenstock-Huessy was also part of this more general “subjective turn” in German philosophy and letters that we also find in figures like Nietzsche, Freud and Jung, Edmund Husserl and Phenomenology, Thomas Mann and Hermann Hesse, Eduard von Hartmann, Rudolf Steiner, the entire Frankfurt School, and many others.

Like Blake, though (who he probably never knew) Rosenstock-Huessy was interested in how “our Energies” become manifested in social life, and he saw speech as being the principal way by which these energies were made manifest, distributed and organised according to a pattern — a mandala like pattern — already encoded in grammar, and that grammar already had this implicit fourfold structure which he made explicit as his “grammatical method”, “quadrilateral logic” or “cross of reality”, and applying this to Modern history he discovered something quite interesting.

The Modern Mind, he concluded, is the construct of four “streams of speech” — the Tribal (Age of the Tribes or poetics), the Judeo-Christian (Age of the Church or prophetics), the Greek (philosophical) and the Roman (political or legal). A little reflection might suggest that these have some affinity, too, with Blake’s four Zoas or with the ubiquitous “Guardians of the Four Directions”.

This seems especially the case if we recall the conclusion of Blake’s manifesto, of sorts, “There is No Natural Religion

   If it were not for the Poetic or Prophetic character the Philosophic & Experimental would soon be at the ratio of all things, & stand still unable to do other than repeat the same dull round over again.
   Therefore God becomes as we are, that we may be as he is.

Blake has laid out here pretty much the same quadrilateral that Rosenstock-Huessy discovers in the patterns of grammar and in the construction of modern culture — and in the origins of speech more generally. The Poetic and Prophetic characters, which are quite pronounced in Blake’s prose and mythology, correspond to Rosenstock-Huessy’s “Speech of the Tribes” and “Speech of Israel”, while Blake’s Philosophic and Experimental would correspond, respectively, to the Greek and the Roman streams. In Blake’s terms, these would be the “Guardians of the Four Directions”, or the four gates of his “City of Imagination”.

Now, it’s interesting that Blake arrays the Poetic and the Prophetic on one side of the relation, and the Philosophic and Experimental on the other. The Philosophic and Experimental are made the all-too explicit or overt, which devalues the Poetic and the Prophetic, or those matters pertaining to the metaphorical, the symbolic mode, the intuitive, the musical or artistic, and which McGilchrist associates more with the brain’s “right hemisphere” mode of perception, while the Philosophical and Experimental would be the more prosaic, the analytical, and indicatival, and as such more closely “left-hemisphere” mode of attention. These terms — Poetic, Prophetic, Philosophic, Experimental — are actually moods, or modes of attention which we can bring to life or reality, and as such are the implicit meaning, too, of Blake’s “fourfold vision”. These are Blake’s optional terms for “our Energies”, and human beings are pretty much characterised in their social type by which mode or mood they bring to life and reality, ie, their predilection. For Blake, the whole man or woman is the one who can bring all these moods or modes into play.

So, consider this part one of the attempt to present a new “doctrine of the affinities”, as it were. A second part will be necessary to bring it all together.

18 responses to “The Rivers of Eden”

  1. Steve says :

    Scott………….check out a book called ” The Logos Structure of the World ” by

    Georg Kuhlewind.

    • Scott Preston says :

      Thanks, Steve. It sounds very interesting. I’ve just downloaded it and will have a go at it.

    • Scott Preston says :

      So far, this is really good, except he makes a faux pas at the beginning: “The principal characteristic of the word is twofold, inner and outer.”, even though he points out almost immediately afterwards that words evolve, and have a history of mutations in meaning or pronunciation. That means a word has more dimensions to it than only “inner” and “outer”, but also has a past and a future — ie, a history of mutations.

      So, in effect, yes a word is twofold in Kuhlewind’s sense of having an inner and outer aspect (the semantic or morphemic and phonemic aspects) ,but it also has this history of mutations. Gebser (and Rosenstock-Huessy) employ those changes to map mutations in a consciousness structure. So, in effect, the word is also fourfold, having inner and outer, but also past and future aspects.

    • Scott Preston says :

      Here is the statement on this, what we would call the “fourfold aspect”

      “Kühlewind shows that as far back as we can trace the evolution of language, words have continuously changed their meaning. And he shows, too, that with this change in the meaning of words, the understanding by which human communities agree on how to structure the given “that” of nature also changes in a similar way. It can be shown that in the course of the evolution of language, meaning has shrunk continuously—from an all-encompassing meaning of “tree” as a manifestation of a life force, to the modern conception of a tree as timber, fuel, or cellulose (reduced to molecular structures and DNA codes). The structure that can be found in any given evolutionary period of a language thus precisely mirrors the meaning shared by the human community living at that time. Such meaning today is called a “prevailing view” or “paradigm.””

      That “paradigm” is, of course, Gebser’s “structure of consciousness”

    • Scott Preston says :

      Another statement in this respect, and this might also be said to be the meaning of Rosenstock-Huessy’s “cross of reality” and “grammatical method”, too.

      “Language is an archetypal phenomenon of consciousness. An “archetypal phenomenon” presents inner meaning and perceptible manifestation as one. If we can discover the way in which human communities structure reality, give different meanings to what they consider as “reality,” then we can begin to experience the world of the Logos. “Reality” is the outer sign for the inner understanding shared by a human community. In this sense, language may be considered a model of reality.”

      Kühlewind, Georg. The Logos-Structure of the World . Lindisfarne Books. Kindle Edition.

      • getbye says :

        Ive been reading this blog for a while, actually waiting for new posts at times. This seems very synchronistic with my own pattern of thinking at my current stage of development.

        Do you have any thoughts on how psychedelics relates to this? Especially since your talking about language now. Terence McKenna says language is everything, and relates this to the logos. The psilocybin mushroom seems to play an interesting role in this current change in the evolution of man and might be nature’s way of helping us reach this integral mode of consciousness.

        For a brief overview of some of TM ideas, his book The food of gods, and The Archaic revival are good sources. Although actually listening to him talk might be more revealing.

        Thank you for writing!

        • Scott Preston says :

          I’ve heard of Terrence McKenna. Wasn’t aware of his thoughts on language, though. I would be interested to know why he thinks so. There is certainly this in Kuhlewind’s book *The Logos Structure of the World*, which is very influenced by Rudolf Steiner’s anthroposophy. I just finished reading it, but I’m still digesting it, and may have another go at it. And it is certainly in Rosenstock-Huessy’s speech philosophy as well (and, seemingly, the *Vedas*, in which it is stated that “Speech is the essence of the human”.

          I might note, though, that Rosenstock-Huessy criticised Rudolf Steiner’s (and Carl Jung’s) “gnosticism”. I’m not sure what he meant by that, although that might be the same reason Gebser criticised Jung’s “psychism”.

          • getbye says :

            TMcKenna is great. He is well read in philosophy and religion/mythology, and refers to Blake and Jung a lot. Would be interesting to hear how you would related his field of study and his thoughts to your main ideas.

          • Risto Juhani says :

            Scott, your comment about Rosenstock-Huessy and Steiner led me to this interesting site:


            • Scott Preston says :

              Interesting. Strange connections between people sometimes. Reading of Freya von Moltke’s role here between Rosenstock-Huessy and Alan Chadwick even brought to mind Aurobindo and “The Mother”, who was also an important figure in Aurobindo’s life and teaching.

              As Steiner describes it, these earthly battles may reflect larger cosmological conflicts that impinge on realms beyond those perceptible by our ordinary sense organs.

              That reminded me very much of some similar views in Blake, and I’ve often mused about that — how certain people of very similar predilections find their way to each other and form new “we” groups.

              “The roaring of lions, the howling of wolves, the raging of the stormy sea, and the destructive sword, are portions of eternity too great for the eye of man.” — Blake, The Proverbs of Hell

              Something of the Bhagavad-gita in that, too.

            • Scott Preston says :

              If there is truth to any of this, then one can imagine, for example, that the individuals who worked together with Adolf Hitler formed one such group. These people were intensely idealistic, though that idealism was misguided and patently evil. The intense idealistic fervor that possesses a person, whatever the idea or ideology may be, is a force to be reckoned with, and is often larger than the individual person involved.

              Aurobinodo (and probably Kuhlewind too) wouldn’t exactly describe it in those terms — as “idealistic”. For Aurobindo, it was not so much idealistic as “vitalistic”, and so deficient in that respect, since it arose from the subconscious rather than from the supraconscious. A rough contrast we might use is “impulsive” rather than “intuitive”, and often these can be confused.

              Kuhlewind speaks of these two aspects of the “supraconscious” and the “subconscious”, and these would probably correspond to Aurobindo’s “supramental” and (by implication) also the “submental”, which would be impulses arising largely from the Lizard Brain. I take it that this is somewhat akin to what Blake means by “the Marriage of Heaven and Hell” and also of what Goethe meant by his “two souls”

              Two souls, alas, reside within my breast,and each from the other would be parted. The one in sturdy lust for love with clutching organs clinging to the world, the other strongly rises from the gloom to lofty fields of ancient heritage”

    • Scott Preston says :

      Steve, you are a marvel. I don’t know how you do it, but once again you’ve come up with the perfect recommendation. Kuhlewind’s book covers everything we’ve discussed here over the last two or three posts.

  2. Kim Broadie says :

    One of your best. I found this blog completely fascinating.

    • InfiniteWarrior says :

      Fascinating (or fascination) is probably not a word you want to be using around here. We know what you mean, of course. But there is that “fascinum” thing presently in circulation that is often misconstrued as fixation.

  3. Scott Preston says :

    “Neoliberalism’s Demons”, by Adam Kotsko. Looks like in might be a very interesting book. For one thing, it seems to look at an aspect of neoliberal ideology that is often overlooked — the colonisation of time (but that was already implied in Thatcher’s “TINA” principle and Fukuyama’s “end of history”)

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